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Stop Boring Your Audience

How many laborious and painful presentations have you had to sit through, and how many tiresome presentations have you hosted? No matter how great a speaker you may be, chances are you’ve bored more than your fair share of audiences. Remember that people only retain 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 70% of what they hear and see.

Speaker support presentations are useful tools to help engage your audience and pique their interest. Nonetheless, in an age of information overload, it is vital to produce engaging and easy-to-digest content that meets audiences’ expectations.  Static flat Powerpoint slide presentations are a thing of the past. If you want to get your audience’s attention, whether they be colleagues, employees, other businesses, or prospective clients, you need to hook them and dazzle them with a strong and powerful presentation.

I’ve been in the business of producing audio-visual digital content for years. I used to work in a corporate environment, where I sat through some grueling presentations. Your audience doesn’t need to see the bullet point list from your speech and if you are going to share numbers at least try and make it exciting by creating an animated chart? You’re probably thinking to yourself, who has the time, right? That’s where I come into the picture.

I can help you write your copy and create a well-designed, tailor-made presentation that will engage your audience and keep them listening. For those of you who have time and the knack, and would like to try creating your own dynamic presentation, check out the sample video below. It was created using 3 different free software tools for mac users:

  • Keynote was used for the initial slide show build, with 3D charts, text, video inserts, and transitions. An mp4 can be exported from Keynote to use as a guide for soundtrack creation
  • Garage band was used for the soundtrack and syncing to the movie file
  • iMovie was used to bring together the video and audio track, and export the final .mp4 file
Video created by Maddalena Di Gregoriio

I’ll be honest with you, it takes a little practice and a whole lot of patience to get just the right timing and pace and the right look. It took me two days to get this 45-second video just right. Don’t forget to stay in line with your branding when you design presentations.

If you don’t have the time to fuss over your presentations, hire a professional freelance digital content designer.

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The Winter of Our Discontent

Many of you are probably familiar with Steinbeck’s novel, The Winter of Our Discontent, which essentially means now we are in a period of misery. This particular phrase perfectly sums up what I fear we are heading towards this winter.

Everything is reaching a boiling point simultaneously. It would appear it all started with the Pandemic and ensuing lockdowns that paralyzed and put a deep dent in our economy.

We never had the time to catch our breath that the war in Ukraine covertly switched places with COVID. Basically, we woke up, one morning, toting Ukrainian flags without asking ourselves why, breaking all ties with Russia, and the media diligently waving in a new cycle of terror and grief to keep us all on the edge of our seats.

The global drama has been intensified by a climate crisis that gained momentum this summer, with devastating consequences.

I won’t go into the gory details, I’ll leave those to mainstream media. Besides, it doesn’t take an expert economist to figure out that the combination of extreme heat, fires, droughts, flooding, supply chain, and transportation disruption means that we will be seeing a lot less food on store shelves and the inflated cost of certain foods will make these unaffordable to many people.

Let’s not forget the disproportionate price hikes of fuel and electricity, especially in Italy and Germany, that will bust most households’ finances apart and have already forced many out of business. In Italy, small and medium businesses are shutting down and some of the larger Italian companies are moving to countries such as Romania.

They tell us we will need to turn down the heat this winter and use less gas. In Italy most stovetops are gas. So shall we just eat cold sandwiches to save energy?

How about extending daylight savings through winter this year? Think about what a difference that extra hour of light would make. That extra hour of light at the end of the day would mean all households and buildings would save an hour of energy a day.

In Italy, where I live a small loaf of cheap industrially produced commercial sliced bread costs over 3€. As for fresh baked bread and goods, bakers are getting utility bills that are impossible to contain or pay for that matter. This will force many bakeries to shut down or cut back production and increase the prices of baked goods.

Rice, is also a staple, that traditionally even the poor could afford. That will no longer be the case. Droughts have destroyed rice fields in Europe and Asia this summer. The renowned Arborio Rice used to prepare the acclaimed Italian risotto will be hard to come by soon, as a result of the very poor yields, due to continued droughts this year.

So if you were worried about product shortages, such as microchips or construction materials, think again, because trust me, food and energy shortages will have tragic consequences.

Meanwhile the rich will keep partying and flying around in their private jets just as they did during the Corona Virus Pandemic.

The Rothchilds, Gates, Besoz, and Musks of this world will keep eating risottos, oysters, and caviar washed down with Crystal and taking weekend field trips on one of Besoz’s rocketships, burning a whopping 11,000 pounds of fuel per second just for liftoff. That’s two million times the rate at which fuel is burned by the average family car. The rest of us will need to make do, get a bike, walk, sleep in our parkas, stop showering and eat cold dishes.

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How To Become An Astute Consumer

In this day and age, with the constant barrage of clever ads at every keystroke, people need to be smarter about what they buy, when, and why. There are a number of reasons for this. To start with, the pandemic, inflation and the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia have dug a deep hole in consumers’ wallets. The price of essential goods such as food, fuel, and utilities has skyrocketed in a short span of time, making day-to-day living a chore for many. Another very important reason is that consumers need to be part of the solution when it comes to waste management and sustainability issues.

For some time now, before entering any website I turn off all of the personalized ads and content cookies. The reason I am doing this is not so much for privacy, but for peace of mind. As a writer, I do a lot of research online, for blog articles, and product reviews, so you can probably imagine what my screen looks like when I go online. The sheer number of ads that populate my screen are more than a distraction, they are annoying.

Another reason I do this is that I don’t need to be teased, coerced, and prompted into purchasing anything at all. It’s ironic, seeing I am a copywriter and my job is to write content that titillates and engages consumers to either buy or subscribe so they can then receive ongoing emails written to persuade even the most difficult and discerning consumers to spend money. Perhaps it is precisely because I work as a copywriter that I have developed this intolerance for the subtle and conniving methods used to hook people online.

Advertising is nothing new, it wasn’t so long ago, that we couldn’t sit through a movie without the repeated commercial interruptions, which were usually a prompt to get a snack, a drink, or make a washroom run.

In the last 15 years, advertising and consumer habits have changed drastically. According to data, there are over 2.5 billion people shopping online.

Online Shopping

It was not so long ago that people used to shop locally. These days if you are a shop owner in a city or town wishing to attract more local customers you need to jump through hoops to stay in business. You’ll need a website and perhaps a few landing pages to direct customers to specific goods or services, you’ll need product reviews, testimonials, and a blog with articles that show new prospects that you are an expert in your field or that your products are superior, a better deal and so on. Then you will need to develop ad copy for social media and email marketing content to keep loyal customers and increase conversions. Wow, that is a lot of work and it comes at a cost. There was a time when all a shop owner needed to do was open the shop. Customers were acquired through word of mouth or simply because the service or product spoke for itself.

As much as shopping online has opened us up to a big wild world of endless consumer goods it has also opened up a deep dark vortex where people get sucked into a scrolling stupor. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and have enjoyed the convenience of online shopping as much as anyone else, especially during the pandemic lockdowns. But there is a downside to all of this. Let’s take for example the online fast fashion and high-tech industry that have grown in leaps and bounds over the last 15 years.

Fast Fashion Madness

The average consumer purchases 60% more clothing now than 15 years ago, however, these lower quality items being purchased last half as long. Cheap synthetic fabrics and badly sewn together garments create a vicious cycle that may be advantageous for fast fashion brands, just not as beneficial for the consumer and the environment.

For the last two decades, and thanks to e-commerce, fast fashion picked up speed, widened its reach, and increased production. Fast fashion brands such as Zara, H&M, and GAP, amongst others, released anywhere from 600 to 900 new garment styles a week.

Renewing our wardrobe, every season, by buying clothes that fall apart after a few washes might have been justifiable, in some warped sense, by low costs and consumers’ insatiable desire for variety, but that is no longer a viable option. The reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels is nothing new to us and it’s undeniably the backbone of the fast fashion business model due to their reliance on synthetic fabrics.

While the responsibility to break the fast fashion model lies with the major stakeholders and policymakers, we as consumers have an important role as well. We must put an end to compulsive shopping and buy only what we really need when we need it. Consumers must contribute to achieving a more sustainable future, by buying less and developing an appreciation for quality. With quality comes durability. As consumers, the time has come to choose quality over quantity.

Learn to recognize quality so you can make smart purchases, and before buying any new item ask yourself, if you really need it, how often will you use it, and if it’s clothing ask yourself whether you will wear it at least 30 times. Unless the answer is yes, don’t purchase it.

Big Tech And The E-waste Dilemna

Another striking industry is technology. Depletion of technology metals is contributing to ecological, economic, and social deficits, with far-reaching global consequences. 

These metals are the dominant materials found in e-waste, representing approximately 60% of the total waste, comprising a multitude of items, such as household appliances, IT equipment, monitors, tools, medical devices, and much more. Data indicates that 82% of e-waste generated globally is not being recycled. 

The United Nations University estimates that an alarming 45 million tonnes of computers, televisions, mobile phones, and other electronic goods are thrown away every year. An average cell phone user replaces their unit once every 18 months. This doesn’t factor in the amount of peripheral computer equipment that is also thrown into dumps around the world, most of which end up in landfills. 

The UN University and International Telecommunication Union have estimated that the raw materials in e-waste are worth $62.5 billion annually. That exceeds the GDP of 123 countries.

I still have an iPhone 8 which I purchased used. It works perfectly well for all I need and sure I would love to have the cutting-edge camera that the new iPhone models have, but hey I own several SLR digital cameras, so I asked myself whether I really needed the new iPhone for the camera and the answer was a definite no.

Consumers Claiming Back Their Right To Repair

The laptop I’m using to write this has already started showing signs of extreme fatigue. Even with the battery charged at 100%, it turns itself off abruptly, if not powered by AC. It’s five years old and according to today’s standards, should have already been replaced. 

Electronic components have their own life, and it’s normal for some of these to need replacing in time. The problem is that in many instances, laptops, for instance, are glued, or parts are soldered together, so that if one part breaks you’ll need to replace the entire unit. This is particularly frustrating and problematic when batteries need to be serviced or replaced. It is a waste, to say the least.

It should be possible to take PCs and mobile devices apart, and for consumers to replace vital components when needed. Big Tech companies should offer spare parts for several years even once the model has been discontinued. 

There are many things that can be done to produce sustainable IT products. Standardizing cables for IT products would mean fewer cables to be manufactured and this would allow their re-use on multiple products by consumers. Companies need to start designing products that are durable, upgradeable, repairable, and reusable, whether these are computers or home appliances.

Creating a circular economy is part and parcel of the overall solution. In order for businesses to achieve a circular economy, they need to redefine growth and invest in business practices that benefit society as a whole.  

Big Tech companies need to own up to their responsibilities and become active stakeholders in implementing a circular economy with designs that take into account not only the use of an object but its lifespan and recycling as well. 

In the USA the ‘right to repair’ bill was introduced and has already gained traction thanks to backing from President Biden and Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak

In December 2021, Dell announced its plans for Concept Luna, a sustainable and repairable laptop. News has it that  Microsoft is looking into Xbox and Surface devices right to repair.  All Big Tech companies should jump on board because it won’t take long for consumers to realize and appreciate the benefits. 

Checklist to become a more astute consumer and get real value for your money

  • Choose quality over quantity
  • Buy products that have long life span
  • Buy only what you need.
  • Consume less, and you will waste less

There’s something to be said for frugality these days. Impulse control is what you need if you want to be unaffected by all the eye-candy online and not fall prey to sales pitches and compulsions. From a more philosophical point of view, we could say that supporting local businesses and buying and wasting less puts us on the path to living a sustainable lifestyle and contributing to the future wellbeing of the planet and humanity.

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Confessions Of A Serial Boot Collector

When I was nine years old, in Montreal, I used to take a shortcut through a field to get to school. One winter day, crossing the frozen field, I crashed through the ice. Luckily for me, it was not deep. It was scary and freezing. I managed not to lose my boots which were weighed down with icy water. I walked in those wet soggy boots for the rest of that winter, they never dried up. I told no one, especially not my mother, for she was a very strict and incredibly thrifty woman, perhaps not by choice. Those boots were meant to be worn until I grew out of them. Raising three children on one measly salary, was a feat, requiring sacrifices and creative solutions.

My mother sewed all of our clothes. In order to save, she would get one pattern and enough fabric to sew 3 identical dresses for my sisters and me. That was in the 60s when Montreal was a fashion city and the city’s garment industry was still vibrant. Every day, on my way to school, I was awestruck by the colorful and audacious patterned fabrics, low-cut jeans, and platform shoes. Daring new designs such as collarless shirts and jackets, miniskirts, and fringes, never seen before. Everything was changing so fast. I couldn’t wait to work, earn my own money and buy my own clothes.

Funny how things work out though. In the early 70s, I left my family home, without their consent and moved across the country, to Vancouver. Life was tough on my own, working and studying, without any parental support. Not only could I not afford to buy trendy new clothes, but unlike Montreal, Vancouver was not a fashion city and the pickings were slim, to say the least. That’s when I started buying clothes in second-hand shops and vintage shops.

I would alter these, to fit me, or change the pattern altogether. I can’t even count how many zippers I sewed into sleeves and pant legs, during my punk years. At times I only bought a dress for its fabric, which I would sew into a unique top, dress, or jacket. I had fallen in sync with a whole generation of young people who were actively rejecting consumerism and the use of synthetic fabrics, whether by choice or circumstances. What happened since then?

My days of shopping in vintage and second-hand shops abruptly came to an end when I moved to the fashion capital of the world, Milan, in the year 2000.

Boots played a necessary role in my life from the day I started walking. Since I was raised in Eastern Canada, where winters are long and brutal, wearing boots for 9 months out of the year, was not unusual. I also worked in film for over a decade and I had to wear steel-toed boots on film sets, regardless of the weather conditions, winter or summer.

Following my incident in that frozen field in Montreal, I began having dreams that played out more like nightmares, for these were anxiety-ridden. There was a recurring theme centered on me being in a crowded station, street, or a dirty public washroom and suddenly realizing I was barefoot. I felt incredibly vulnerable and woke up distressed.

This might explain why I started collecting cowboy boots, tall and short and in a variety of colors. There was something about a well-crafted pair of cowboy boots that gave me a sense of security. These are sturdy, reliable, and comfortable, with a tall shaft that protects your ankles, shins, and calves and they last for years on end. I had a special walk-in closet for these and took good care of them, until the summer of 1999 when I decided to sell the entire collection, along with practically everything I owned, and relocated to Europe.

There are days, even 22 years later when I regret having parted with my cowboy boot collection. Especially given the price of quality well made footwear these days.

Once I left Canada, for the warmer winter climate of Italy, it didn’t take long for me to start working on my new collection with made in Italy boots. Initially, I insisted on wearing boots in summer, especially since it felt safer riding a scooter with boots than sandals. By 2003 with the first intense heatwave, I lived through in Milan, I put away the boots for the summer months.

In Milan, I discovered thigh-high boots to be the perfect solution for driving the scooter during the winter months and I developed a serious addiction to thigh-high boots which still persists. It is similar to having pangs for some distant lover.

Some boots I’ve worn to the ground, others are still sitting intact in my closet, worn a few times only, and these are in good company with a slew of jackets, shirts, and dresses from my corporate days that no longer see the light of day.

Several years ago I started having this nagging feeling that less was better. When I traveled I found I was perfectly happy with the few items I had stuffed in my carry-on luggage, although, even then I managed to pack stuff that I wouldn’t wear. I consequently gave away a good part of what I was not wearing to a you g mother and her teenage daughter.

How many different hoodies, dresses, jackets, and jeans do you have and yet you keep wearing the same two all year? Most people wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time and yet the fast-fashion merry-go-round keeps consumers spinning their wheels and filling up their online carts.

The average consumer purchases 60% more clothing now than 15 years ago, however, these lower quality items being purchased last half as long. Cheap synthetic fabrics and badly sewn together garments create a vicious cycle that may be advantageous for fast fashion brands, just not as beneficial for the consumer and the environment.

I went through my closet a month ago and the irony of it all is that items I purchased anywhere from 20 to 30 years ago are in better shape, almost new, whereas any garment purchased over the last 5 years is either looking shabby or ready to toss. I’ve have had to toss a significant number of boots, shoes, and jackets that literally fell apart within one or two years and could not be mended or repaired.

For example, boots made with fake leather that literally come unglued from the soles within a few months of wearing, cannot be repaired, since often there is barely enough material to work with or the material and workmanship are not conducive to repairs. Consumers have lost their right to repair anything from a pair of boots to their computers.

Fast fashion flourished in the early 2000s coinciding with H&M’s opening in New York and my relocation to the fashion city of Milan. That is pretty much around the time that polyester replaced cotton as the most in-demand fiber in the industry, and from thereon dramatic changes ensued in the production and consumption of clothing worldwide.

My mother, having been a seamstress, was what I would label a fabric snob. She was not impressed with synthetic fabrics and used to say they made her skin cringe. Of course, synthetic fabrics have come a long way since then, and now these cleverly imitate any number of quality fabrics.

For the last two decades, and thanks to e-commerce, fast fashion picked up speed, widened its reach, and increased production. Fast fashion brands such as Zara, H&M, and GAP, amongst others, released anywhere from 600 to 900 new garment styles a week.

Those days must be quickly coming to an end. The reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels is nothing new to us and it’s undeniably the backbone of the fast fashion business model. Now with water and resource shortages, and vertiginous increases in fuel costs I’m imagining it will prove difficult for fast fashion to continue in its race against time, and inflation. Add to that the fact that more and more consumers are becoming aware of the importance to reduce waste and expenses.

While the responsibility to break the fast fashion model lies with the major stakeholders and policymakers, we as consumers have an important role as well. We must put an end to compulsive shopping and buy only what we really need, when we need it. Consumers must contribute to achieving a more sustainable future, by buying less and developing an appreciation for quality.

What should determine the value of an item? In my opinion durability and craftsmanship are synonymous with quality.

Renewing our wardrobe, every season, by buying clothes that fall apart after a few washes might have been justifiable, in some warped sense, by low costs and consumers’ insatiable desire for variety, but that is no longer a viable option.

If you stop to think about it fabric is one of the most important components in our daily lives, from the clothes we wear to the upholstery of our home furniture and cars, to our bed linen.  The fabric used will determine the value, comfort, and durability of the item in question. Not all fabrics are suitable for all applications and not all fabrics are alike when it comes to quality.

For example, cheap or ill-suited fabrics in upholstery will quickly turn that new sofa into a junkyard piece as the fabric stretches, thins, fades, easily stains, and rips at the seams. Have you purchased any faux leather items for your home or wardrobe, to see these flake apart in no time even when barely used? I’ve had two faux leather jackets fall apart on their own while hanging in my closet. Maybe these items should have an expiry date, like dairy products.

Buying knockoffs can be tempting but beware of fabric quality and stitching. The devil is in the details. This image shows a badly constructed Leger knockoff, which lost its shape after the first wash and is ready to be tossed.

As a consumer, you owe it to yourself to know the difference between valued fabrics and cheap fabrics. Whether you are buying new furniture for your home, a new suit, or a special dress, the fabric used and craftsmanship will make all the difference.

High-end, natural textiles typically come with a price, however, when building a solid, timelessly elegant wardrobe, these fabrics are worth the investment. Silk, cashmere, leather, and linen have long been highly acclaimed, sought after, and more expensively priced for obvious reasons.

If your closet is full and you still can’t figure out what to wear, it may be a sign that you have too much and it is time to let go and reduce. You may have outgrown some of your wardrobe items, they may no longer be in fashion and maybe it’s stuff that you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing now.

How many items can you count in your wardrobe that you’ve only worn once, if at all, and how many did you forget you even had? Buy less and when you do buy, opt for quality, because in the long run quality and durability will pay off.

Aside from having that favorite suit, dress, or jacket still looking and feeling new for many years ahead, clothing made with quality fabrics can be resold at a good value. My cowboy boot collection sold very well.

Whether you are investing in your home or wardrobe, learn to recognize quality so you can make smart purchases, and before buying any new clothing item ask yourself, will I wear this at least 30 times? Unless the answer is yes, don’t purchase it.

All this takes me back to my mother, that throughout her life remained frugal and thrifty even when she had the money to spend. It may have been due to her being a child at the end of WWII or finding herself married with three children by the age of 24, that made her a prudent and astute consumer, either way, it stayed with her for life. I am grateful for her example. I too, like many, was temporarily swept away by compulsive shopping, but I can proudly say I am healed.

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Has Social Media Become A Tool Of Social Oppression?

Online censorship picked up momentum over the last few years, and as a result, many suddenly had something to feel offended by. Are being woke, censorship, and cancel culture intimately connected by obscure puritanical roots, or is there a more sinister plot?

Social media was the perfect platform for a contemporary revival of public shaming and scapegoating, which have been around for centuries. An excellent platform to aggregate and steer the masses. World leaders and mainstream media never had it so easy when it comes to swaying public opinion.

What Does Being Woke Mean?

Being woke means being aware of and understanding the real world, observing, and paying attention.

Some may think it’s a fairly new term being thrown around, when in fact the phrase was coined by Huddie William Ledbetter in Scottsboro Boys, in 1938, and immortalized by a union official, in an article to J Saunders Redding, in 1942.  

What exactly does being woke mean these days? According to online search results, the meaning of WOKE is being aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues. I suppose it depends on who decides what is important, at any given time.

I wish being woke meant that we have pulled the wool off our eyes and clearly see that social polarization, inflation, poverty, unemployment, censorship, and inequality are at an all-time high because that’s the kind of wokeness we desperately need.

The Past Is A Land To Be Cultivated

Remember when some got busy taking down statues and monuments of Christopher Columbus, who has been accused of favoring colonialism? Has anyone stopped to think that during Europe’s era of discovery Columbus was doing what many other explorers, being sponsored by their kingdoms, were doing? Should we erase all mention of colonialism in history books as well?

From statues, and monuments we moved on to language and waged war on Comedians. We are experiencing a redefinition of humor. Some comedians have sounded the alarm, stating that cancel culture is killing comedy. Chris Rock, Jennifer Saunders and others argue that ‘wokeness’ is stifling comedy. Has social media become a tool of oppression?

When the war between Ukraine and Russia broke out many chose to cancel Russian culture, by throwing great Russian philosophers, authors, and artists into the gutter in a gesture of protest. People seem so fickle to me when they make themselves so readily available to wave a new flag.

I agree with Italian Author Dacia Maraini when she states, in her book The past is a land to be cultivated, that canceling people and ideas of the past, because they don’t respect today’s sensibilities, is to deny history’s great metamorphic capacity. It means to defeat achievements, reject evolution, and dismantle the precious passages of time. It means we have entered a dangerous place in our collective mind.

As Spanish painter, Francisco Goya asserted the sleep of reason breeds monsters.”

What will future generations make of this? How will they judge our actions in a few decades? Will they condemn our beliefs as archaic and out of place, the way the west condemned the group known as ISIL, in 2015, when they destroyed ancient temples, religious icons, and monuments in Palmyra?

Algorithms Of Oppression

Safiya Noble, in her book Algorithms of Oppression, discusses search engine bias in a revealing look at how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms.  

Run a Google search for “black girls”—what will you find? “Big Booty” and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in “white girls,” the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about “why black women are so sassy” or “why black women are so angry” presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society. 

I’m of the opinion that our democratic process has failed us, and that these modern cultural online movements, such as wokeness, manipulate people into taking positions that support actions that they might not have agreed to otherwise. A very effective way of controlling people, by erasing or manipulating history, culture, and language.

We could take Malcolm X’s quote and replace the term Newspaper with Social Media.

Over time people have become afraid of terms such as working class and socialism, even equating socialism to communism. That’s what they want you to believe.

Call it whatever you want, but in the end it is the difference between living the the truth or living a lie that has been insidiously perpetrated and is being dished out as the absolute truth or the only acceptable one.  

Many have fallen prey to the old strategic play: DIVIDE AND CONQUER.  Think about it.  It’s time for people to realize that they have the power. Let us remove these virtual leashes, and take our lives and conscience into our own hands. 

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Will Insistent Droughts Lead To Water Wars?

Lately, whenever I open the tap, whether it’s to wash my face or rinse vegetables, I want to cry. So many anxiety-ridden thoughts rush through my head during those few seconds that the water is running.

Apocalyptic scenarios, of the very near future, take shape in my imagination. A skeletal future where food, water, heat, electricity shortages, and rations will be routine and diseases spread like wildfire. I see herds of people, globally, falling through the cracks. From those who had planned a serene retirement, to all the young who have little to look forward to.

It’s a bleak picture, I know. But the point is there’s no need to watch any end-of-the-world fiction on TV, when according to the news reality is scarier than any apocalyptic fiction, with or without zombies.

If you type “water shortage” in Google you’ll get about 86,300,000 results and you’ll run across so many contradictory articles, that it’s hard to know what and who to believe, so I know I’m probably not alone with my dark visions of the future.

I’ve always been a conservationist and an active advocate for the environment. I’m that person who saves the water used to cook pasta or potatoes to water plants. I’m that person who uses other people’s garbage to make works of art. I’m that person who will tell you not to buy a Nespresso or any kind of coffee maker that uses pods. I’m that person who will tell you to turn off your car, while you’re waiting for a friend who hasn’t showed up yet. I’m that person who gets on some people’s nerves.

I started one of the very first paper recycling projects, in downtown Toronto’s Dominion Twin Towers, when I was gainfuly employed at Ernst & Young in the late 80s. At Sky Italia, in Milan where I worked for 17 years, I was actively engaged in creating environmental awareness, within the company, for several years.

During the years I was actively involved in introducing environmental awareness and recycling into corporate environments, reminding people to recycle, reuse and reduce waste, one of the harsh realities that I encountered was that regardless of the number of people that jumped on board, there were just as many that remained oblivious.

You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone

8 years ago, in a washroom where I worked, I expressed my disapproval of a colleague’s teeth brushing routine. Essentially she kept the water running the whole time. She gave me a look that said, mind your own business. She’s been on my mind this summer since much of northern Italy is experiencing extreme drought and some districts have been rationed. I ask myself whether she’s changed her ways.

What causes me grief is that no matter how much some of us really make the effort to reduce waste, just as many don’t, including big business and corporations to a large degree.

The general public is definitely becoming more aware of the value of water and more importantly the uncertainties posed by climate change. As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

Resource Shortages Induce Conflict

I recently discovered, while searching through google’s 86,300,000 results, that 53 international river basins are shared by three or more nations, however, these are mostly managed by bilateral treaties which can, and often do aggravate tensions in times of strife, such as droughts.

Let me use the most recent environmental disaster as an example; in July 2022, when tons of lifeless fish began washing up on the banks of the river Oder, which runs along the borders of Germany and Poland, it didn’t take long for the situation to deteriorate. Recent news reports make it clear that there is no functional cross-border environmental protection plan or program, and no efficient exchange of information between municipalities along the border either.

One would think that water issues, as in this case, would be a good enough reason for cooperation, instead, it seems it has become a source of conflict for various interest groups.

“Green politicians from the state of Brandenburg point the finger at Poland, speaking of a “failure to provide information” and call on the federal government in Berlin to intervene. Green politicians from Poland point the finger at the PiS in Warsaw.”

WSWS.ORG

At the 1992 Earth Summit, Fidel Castro said ” Consumer societies are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction. Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin the environment. Make human life more rational. Adopt a just international economic order. Use science to achieve sustainable development without pollution. Pay the ecological debt. Eradicate hunger and not humanity.”

Whether or not you were a Fidel Castro fan, it’s a little difficult to disagree with his discourse. Maybe Fidel was having a good day laying all of the blame on his capitalist rivals at the Earth Summit, still, I believe he was right and that we’ve maxed out. The planet can no longer sustain continued increases in urbanization and industrial activities.

Are We Heading For Water Wars?

In the International Journal of Water Resources Development, Volume 35 dated July 2019, they argue we should take the water crisis with a pinch of salt. According to their reports, how much renewable water a country has is not a meaningful metric, however, they do state that the amount of available water will depend primarily on how well this resource is managed.

The term Water Wars gets 654 million results on Google, clearly indicating that many of us are alarmed and some, like myself, are imagining worst case scenarios.

The International Journal of Water Resources Development advises us against this sort of thinking. The article maintains that it is wrong to think in terms of water shortages, because “A direct by-product of this current limited thinking has been the increasing focus on ‘water wars’ between countries because of lack of water, whereas the Palmer Drought Index paints a dreary picture, “2021 began with 82.0% of the West experiencing moderate to extreme drought. The percentage dropped to 79.0 percent by the end of February but shot up to 99.0 percent by the end of June 2021.”

That was 2021, can’t wait to see the data for 2022.

Fighting over water won’t magically produce more water. Many countries need to significantly improve water management practices, reduce the demand for all types of water uses, and control water contamination. Even volume 35 of the International Journal of Water Resources Development clearly outlines there is no feasible scenario where a country can increase water availability progressively, constantly, and cost-effectively without limits, forever. Only if countries improve water management practices, which some are gradually doing, water problems can be solved.

Regardless of your stance, as a business or individual, it wouldn’t hurt if we all made an effort to save ourselves by salvaging our planet. Let’s all work together to make the constructive changes we so desperately need. A little love and respect for planet earth, from each and every one of us, can go a long way in creating a better more sustainable future for humankind.

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Coffee Rituals

When I scroll through my social media feeds there seem to be a lot of inspirational quotes and idioms being shared and enjoyed. I’d like to call your attention to a very simple idiom, perhaps antiquated, yet more valid in our times than ever. I am referring to the idiom, Stop and Smell the Roses, which as we know is an invitation to take the time needed to enjoy and appreciate the finer and simpler things in life

I invite you to reacquaint yourself with one of the simple pleasures of life, which is a good rich, dark, fragrant cup of Java, prepared the old-fashioned way. A simple pleasure that many have simply forgotten, since preparing coffee at home has become an unremarkable daily activity. Where is the pleasure when you drop a sealed coffee pod in your Nespresso and push a button?

From stovetop, drips, and espresso coffee makers to Nespresso, the choices are endless when it comes to choosing how we want to engage in this daily ritualistic pleasure. This post is dedicated to stovetop coffee makers. A stovetop Moka or espresso maker, are, in my opinion, the best, cheapest, and simplest way to really enjoy the ritual of coffee making at home.

Stovetop Mokas typically produce a concentrated rich coffee brew, with a nice golden cream on the top as you would expect from a barista-made espresso. If you use less coffee and more water you’ll get a more diluted, less potent, black coffee.

You can add milk to whatever comes out of your Moka for lattes or cappuccinos.

For coffee devotees, it is no different than for tea lovers with tea rituals worldwide. Coffee also has an interesting history, for example, coffee rituals were observed as a sacrament in communal Ethiopian ceremonies, and to keep up energy.

Personally, I take an artistic ritual approach and as such, would never give up the pleasure of opening a sealed bag of fresh ground coffee and taking in the rich exotic aroma.

One of the small pleasures in life is waking up to a heavenly cup of aromatic coffee. There are many who couldn’t imagine welcoming a new day, without a cup of this dark rich nectar of the gods. A good, well-prepared cup of coffee is pure ambrosia to boost our senses.

If you are a coffee aficionado, then you know that not all coffees are created equally. To experience the full pleasure of coffee, you can’t beat coffee beans, set aside ground coffee and coffee pods, for alas these pale by comparison.

The selection of coffee beans is vast. Similar to wine, coffee can have a light, medium, or strong body, and the selection is further enriched with an array of flavored coffee beans to choose from. Flavored coffee beans are enhanced with flavored natural oils from spices, nuts, or herbs, once the beans have been roasted.

Chuck away your Nespresso and Nespresso lookalikes or any pod coffee maker if you want to experience the pleasures of java to the fullest and for a more sustainable lifestyle. Rituals are an integral part of many pleasure-related activities and the ritual of preparing a delectable cup of coffee is just as important in enhancing the overall enjoyment.

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Make It Worth My While

I’m an existing customer and I’m your best customer. Make it worth my while and watch me turn into a loyal customer.

Growing your business should not solely focus on getting new clients. Getting your current customers to appreciate, value, and continue to use your products or services more often is just as important, and provides surprising opportunities for increased revenue.

Stop Rewarding Only New Customers

As a new customer, I might subscribe to your weekly or monthly newsletter to get a discount on my first purchase, but what happens after my first or second purchase?

Has anyone ever unsubscribed only to re-subscribe in order to qualify for the discount reserved for new customers? I have, even by simply using a different email account. Stop rewarding only new customers. Existing returning customers or long-standing subscribers should get some special attention and not only new customers should be rewarded with discounts.

Online businesses generally focus on new customer activation and not so much on current customers, whether these are active or not. 

It’s Cheaper To Retain A Customer Than To Acquire A New One

Although standards vary from company to company, most online businesses, according to popular surveys show that only 25-30% percent of customers actually order a second time over the course of the first year. This is a clear indication that most new customers lose interest after the first sale. Believe it or not, it’s a known fact that, it is cheaper to retain existing customers than acquire new ones, so it’s important to include a strategy, in your marketing plans, that focuses on retaining existing customers. An offer they can’t refuse, that clearly communicates your appreciation and keeps them coming back. Make it worth their while.

Make It Worth Your Customers’ While

Last year I purchased my favorite coffee online from the company that produces this specific brand, since not all stores carry it. What bothered me is I had to purchase enough to last me a year in order to qualify for free shipment. Recently I was on my last confection of coffee and when I went to a local grocery store I found the exact same coffee for 10 cents less a pack and I could buy two or three instead of 20.

It obviously isn’t worth my while to purchase this coffee directly from the producer’s online shop since it costs me more, with the added hassle of having to order and store a large quantity. So next time I can’t find it at the grocery store I’ll probably try something new, unless I receive an email with a discount offer on my favorite coffee if I return as a customer.

Why Retaining Your Existing Customers Is Important For Your Business

  • Customer retention is much cheaper than customer acquisition, so if you’ve come this far and a customer has made a purchase, it stands to reason that focusing on retaining that existing customer will increase your ROI
  • Customer retention increases loyalty and the lifetime value of customers
  • If you’re a retailer with an e-commerce business, you can double your revenue by simply retaining 10% of your existing customers

Through focused marketing and targeted ad content, you can give your customers a reason as to why they should continue to enjoy your product or services. Take for example California’s iconic “Got Milk?” campaign, produced in 1993, which saw milk sales rise by 7% in the first year. The ad targeted people who were already drinking milk and entirely focused on the consumer base they had. The campaign made a significant impression across state borders as well.

GOT MILK CAMPAIGN

What Can You Do To Retain Existing Customers?

Online businesses rely heavily on email campaigns. So instead of focusing only on email campaigns that will increase customer activation rates, focus on retaining existing customers. Make them feel special. It’s not enough to send emails for your seasonal sales and offers. Include a voucher, coupon, or free samples, along with their first delivery. Help your new customer take action and return to your website or online store. Don’t cram their inbox with a series of emails they’ll never read or with a list of discounted products from your production, that may not interest them. Try putting a little effort into it by personalizing the email and the offer.

Following their second purchase make customers feel special by providing discounts custom made for them.

A company I purchase from online has a very robust customer retention program. Not only did I get a 15% discount and free shipping on my first purchase, but when I subscribed I also began receiving regular monthly discount codes via email, up to 30%. off, whether I had been active or not, promoting excellent products at very competitive prices, including my personal favorites. On top of it, they throw in free samples with every purchase for returning customers. I know for a fact this company did not let any of their first-time customers escape, instead, they turned them into advocates for their products.

  • Build and grow brand awareness among your existing customers
  • Provide seasonal offers, but also provide existing repeat customers with customized offers. For a seamless experience, you can direct customers to a dedicated rewards and referrals page on your website
  • Keep it simple. An easy-to-use interface for customers to take action and redeem their rewards, as simple as a Code they can apply at check-out.
  • The secret lies in turning your repeat customer into a loyal customer, one who will not consider alternatives

There is a difference between a repeat customer and a loyal customer. Loyal customers will tell their friends and family about your product or service, creating free organic word-of-mouth marketing for your business. Once you’ve built a solid loyal customer base, it will prove difficult for any competitor to take that away from you.

I am a professional content and copywriter. if your business needs well-crafted written content to acquire new customers or turn your existing customers into loyal customers, let’s connect.

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Why Do Marriages Fall Apart In The First Five Years?

Lifespan of a Marriage

Marriage is a risky business.  Studies indicate that 20 percent of marriages end within the first five years and within 10 years it increases by 12 percent. The business of building a couple is an art that requires skills and techniques. There are rules. A successful marriage starts with getting to know all the rules, be these written, unwritten, spoken, or unspoken. 

How many couples start out like they put the ‘more’ in amore, ready to pave the way together towards a rosy future, and by the time the future arrives they are either at each other’s throats or entirely dismissive towards each other?  The most commonly reported contributors to divorce are lack of commitment, infidelity, and excessive arguing

A peaceful relationship is not free of conflict.  Be prepared for the occasional fight/argument and making up after a fight.  One method which is widely practiced, and preferred by men, is “make-up sex”. Nothing like a good fight to get the blood rushing, heated verbal congress can translate into a state of arousal, and consequently, stupefying sex. Careful though, don’t start fights with your partner just for the make-up sex, they’ll figure it out faster than you think, and you don’t want to turn sex into a bartering tool.

They (psychologists) say that men talk to get things done, whereas women talk to make emotional connections and this is where many marriages lose their footing. You’ve heard it before, ‘Men talk about things, women talk about people, relationships, and feelings.’ This limiting view on gender was widely perpetuated by the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, by John Grey. While such black-and-white concepts about men and women are still being disputed, many couples still fall prey to these gender stereotypes.

Are you familiar with the movie, War of the Roses? The Roses may be caricatures, as a couple, but they also started out as lovebirds.  The rise and fall of their love story and the ferociousness of their fighting are not so far-fetched. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend you do.

You don’t fix things by trying to fix your partner, so this is where negotiating skills are useful. The purpose of negotiating is to see if you can get your interests met through an agreement.  Be Prepared. If you are not clear on what needs to be accomplished in a particular negotiation and how to get there, you can get lost in the process while getting bogged down in details and lose track of what you really want to accomplish.  An interest is why you want something, not what you want.

The most powerful negotiating skill is listening 

It is said that the most powerful negotiating skill is listening. It’s not that simple when you consider that 93% of communication is nonverbal. The tone of voice accounts for 38% and body language 55% of communication. What your body is communicating while listening to your partner may speak louder than words.

Who Calls the Shots? Imbalance of Power 

When one partner has more decision-making power it could prove to be a treacherous road ahead.

  • Who decides what you do together on the weekends and holidays? 
  • Who manages household finances? 
  • Who makes decisions on big purchases for the home? 
  • Who controls the TV remote?
  • Who’s on top?

Control Issues 

When one partner controls or manipulates the other, the relationship generally suffers the consequences. It’s quite natural to want control of your own life but not to the extent of controlling everyone around you into the bargain. 


Ineffective Communication 

This one is a definite clincher. Ineffective communication can turn into a weapon, it has the power to hurt, confuse and misinform the listener and can lead to excessive arguing.

Perpetuating cyclical arguments

If your relationship is stuck in a rut by perpetual cyclical arguments, here’s a short list of what NOT TO DO as a couple.

  • Withdraw – Give minimal responses.  Exit in the middle of a heated conversation. Be sure to send the message that you don’t care or can’t be bothered by what your partner is saying. 
  • Resentful Compliance – Be over-accommodating. Don’t say what you really think or feel. Now you’ve generated a good dose of resentment, telling yourself that your partner doesn’t understand you
  • Whine – Complain. Compete for the victim position. Be indirect about what you want.
  • Blame – Try to dominate the discussion. Refuse to take personal responsibility. Yell. Accuse. Point fingers

Excessive Jealousy

The first effect of excessive jealousy is that it causes continual fear, worry, and even paranoia in the one who is jealous.  Jealousy provokes paranoia, and paranoia provokes control and as a consequence, the object of jealousy will begin to withdraw. Jealousy, in a sense, becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy.


Lying and Cheating 

These are blatant violations of trust and the rules dictating a relationship, so if you’re a lying and cheating type, be prepared to spend a lot of time in waiting rooms as you are headed straight for a marriage counselor or lawyer. Consider the possibility you’re not cut out or simply not ready for marriage.

In the business of building a couple, it’s not the stuff in small print on the marriage contract that comes back to bite you, it’s all the stuff that’s not written. 

Lack of Commitment

This one sounds like a total contradiction, I mean why would anyone get married if they suffer commitment phobia, relationship anxiety, or fear of commitment? Yet lack of commitment is listed as the main contributor to divorces with a 74% rating.

  • If you have a history of short-lived relationships, you might want to work on your commitment issues before considering marriage.
  • If you are terrified and not particularly keen on making future plans with your partner, don’t get married. If your partner is terrified of making future plans with you, don’t et married!
  • If you would rather avoid talking or thinking about the future of the relationship, don’t get married. If your partner would rather avoid talking or thinking about the future of the relationship, don’t get married!
  • Don’t feel bad, some people are just not cut out for the mainstream relationship model. Long-term relationships, monogamy, marriage, and kids are not a good fit for all of us.

There are many ills that can plague a marriage. When a couple can’t get their marriage back on track they can always resort to a therapist, a marriage counselor, a priest, or a lawyer, depending on what point they’re at and whether or not there is hope for reconciliation.

On the other hand, some might prefer the advice of Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterward”.

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Is There A More Energetic, Happier, Healthier You Waiting To Be Awakened?

Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. Living the life you desire now is a matter of intention, gratitude, and the ability to act on the opportunities that fate presents you with. Fate represents the potentials and possibilities in your life, destiny is shaped by the choices you make.

We can make dreams come true by clarifying insights and through consolidated efforts and commitment to our vision of ourselves and our lives.

Is there a more energetic, happier, healthier you waiting to be awakened?

Everything starts in our minds. Our thoughts and feelings followed by ACTION shape our lives, and our destiny. The most important person you talk to is yourself. You are ultimately the one who makes choices and decisions.

Start being aware of your thoughts, and your intentions, to create the reality you want. Even during daily chores like washing up, and doing dishes, the thoughts that run through your mind are important. Are you always planning for tomorrow or thinking about what happened earlier, yesterday, or last year?  Are your thoughts positive, or negative? Most of this chatter happens without us being consciously aware.

Becoming aware of this process will help you dismantle any destructive or self-defeating beliefs and thought patterns. 

“If you were to hold a magnet in one hand and a needle in the other, the magnet would attract the needle to itself and hold it. The needle is powerless to change its destiny because its energy is scattered. However, if you were to realign the energy of the needle by stroking it with the magnet 20 or 30 times in one direction, the needle will become a magnet as well. We are much like that needle. We have the power to create our dreams when we use our energy efficiently. Sadly most people use their energy to create what they don’t want. ” (Neale Donald Walsch)


By doubting yourself, talking or thinking about what you don’t want, dwelling on problems, and thinking negatively, you create a spiraling effect that will attract exactly what you fear and don’t want. Our thoughts words and actions are the energy source we use to create what we want or don’t want. Avoid absolutes and exaggerations, such as, I always procrastinate, or I never finish what I start, I always overeat or I never stick to a diet, and so on.

Focus on what is possible and let go of playing the victim, with internal narratives that leave you feeling guilty for not succeeding. It’s a waste of energy and won’t manifest into anything constructive. It’s okay to fail, move on and try again with a new perspective and approach.

Don’t set unrealistic standards that you wouldn’t even expect others to meet. Expecting yourself to exceed even the best and then punishing yourself if you fail is another spiral best avoided. Focus on what is possible.

To achieve your goals, use your energy efficiently. Think and talk positively about what you want and in doing so you will attract people and situations to help you manifest your dreams. This is called synchronicity.

Synchronicity is a term coined by Carl Jung to describe the power we all have to create our own coincidences. These result from the energy we create via our thoughts, words, and actions.

“In 1952 C. G. Jung published a paradoxical hypothesis on synchronicity that marked an attempt to expand the western world’s conception of the relationship between nature and the psyche. Jung’s hypothesis sought to break down the polarizing cause-effect assessment of the world and psyche, suggesting that everything is interconnected. Thus, synchronicity is both “a meaningful event” and “an acausal connecting principle.” Evaluating the world in this manner opened the door to “exploring the possibility of meaning in chance or random events, deciphering if and when meaning might be present even if outside conscious awareness.”


Meditate and focus on the quality of life you want and ask yourself what changes you would like to see in your life. Replace your negative thinking and talking with positive thoughts, words, and actions. You have nothing to lose and only gain by becoming aware of your negative patterns and introducing new meaningful positive patterns of self-communication. Start to use your energy more efficiently and achieve your dreams and goals.

Syncronicity is an ever present reality, for those that have eyes to see.

Carl Jung
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Who’s Getting Away With Murder?

In 2018, mainstream media took a big bite out of what would become an ongoing polemic discussion surrounding Global Warming. Four years later, the climate crisis, clad in fatalistic headlines, is competing for the spotlight with the Ukraine-Russia war. All of it enhanced by the grim backdrop of droughts, fires, and impending shortages, from fuel to food. To me, it reads as though it is the end of the world as we know it.



Some would argue that had the media given a voice to scientists, and those that have been shouting warning signals at us since the mid-60s, we wouldn’t be where we are now. What if the media had jumped on board during the American elections in 2000 and unveiled the dysfunctional electoral system in Florida that allowed George Bush to win against Al Gore? 

“Had Al Gore, a politician who understood global warming, been declared the winner of the 2000 presidential election, we might have dodged the bullet. If the U.S. Supreme Court had not awarded the election to George W. Bush, climate change would have become a major priority.”

Los angeles times

Would Gore have led the USA towards a 21st-century energy economy, pushing the development of solar and wind power and phasing out oil, natural gas, and nuclear, setting an example?

That’s all hindsight now, yet 21 years later in an article dated November 2021, the Los Angeles Times paints a picture of what the world would be like if Al Gore had won instead of Bush, as have many others. Unfortunately, hindsight is rarely as useful as foresight.

Turning my attention to more recent developments with mainstream media, personally, I would have preferred a different coverage of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, because it appeared to me that mainstream media was the engine behind public approval for this war, and all too eager to move forward, whether it was about spending, weapons or sanctions, anything in support of this war, also known as propaganda. Hell, Euronews saw it fit to do a rebranding of the news, with a new opener, showcasing frontline action on the border between Ukraine and Russia, with journalists in daunting combat attire. I noticed they recently removed it. I don’t remember mainstream media ever being so unanimous, not even with the Arms of Mass Destruction, during the Iraq war.

Mainstream media can be a vehicle of misinformation and, at its best, it often suffers the absence of clear intent. They hold the reins and they do not deserve to. They have repeatedly demonstrated that they are either puppets or invested in some conflict of interest. Whatever happened to investigative journalism?

Many do not want the truth published, from the powerful, to the pious and corrupt. The world is full of those who want to stay in the shadows.  In 2021 alone, 55 journalists were killed because they were exposing corruption and conflict, or afflicting the wealthy and powerful by revealing the truth. In your opinion is Julian Assange a criminal or a revolutionary?

A new kind of media is needed. Don’t expect Jesus to save us.  Real bonifide journalists and the likes of Julian Assange, who sacrificed his freedom for the truth, that’s as close as we get to the messiah spreading the truth among common people on earth. 

Real Journalism is rare and the few that still dare practice it, are being hushed through censorship, arrest, and death. If those in power can put a muzzle on the media, they are getting away with more than murder.

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The Rare Magic Of Colmar

The moment I stepped into the historic center of Colmar I thought I had just gone down the proverbial rabbit hole and landed in a fairytale town, where the buildings, set along the banks of the Ill River, are made of cake, slathered in creamy colored frosting and chocolate tiled roofs, set against the sky.

Photo by Maddalena Di Gregorio

I had just driven from the Netherlands and was quite tired when I arrived. Much to my delight, this fanciful, vibrant town gave me an almost immediate lift, a rush, and injected me with boundless energy. Better than eating cake or going to therapy if you are feeling down and out.

Photo by Maddalena Di Gregorio

When you consider how urbanization affects mental health there is a lot to be said for a town like Colmar. In cities, people are exposed to many stress factors and run a higher risk of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, according to studies conducted. Colmar is a magical place that permeates all your senses and awakens your inner child.

Photo by Maddalena Di Gregorio

I visited Colmar for the first time this spring. I had only ever seen images of its legendary Christmas markets, most of which were taken at night to enhance the festive holiday feel, abound with colorful Christmas lighting. I was delighted with what I found instead. Dazzling colors, canals, and half-timbered buildings whose architecture is a pastry chef’s dream come true. The streets twist and meander into small alleys that open into small squares where traders and merchants used to peddle their wares centuries ago.

Its mostly pedestrian center is a cornucopia of brightly tiled roofs and colorful facades. Walking the streets of Colmar will transport anyone back to their childhood, from the wooden turret right out of Rapunzel’s, the tiny cottages fitting for Snowhite’s seven dwarves, and a candy-colored bakery that has Hansel and Gretel written all over it. 

You might ask yourself why the buildings in Colmar are so colorful. Some of the buildings date back to the Middle Ages, and the colors were a symbol of the owner’s profession. For example, white was for bakers, yellow for cheese-makers, blue for fish vendors, green for gardeners, and so on. 

Photo by Maddalena Di Gregorio

This small and unique town is in the Alsace region where France meets Germany. It is here that the two cultures fused to create a truly unique experience. But there is more to Colmar than its fantastical exteriors. Colmar is a town with a rich legacy of history, culture, and remarkable culinary heritage.

Colmar is also an excellent destination for wine lovers. The Alsace wine region is famous for white wines such as Rieslings, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris wines. You’ll also find Pinot Noir rosés and a local sparkling wine known as Crémant d’Alsace. 

If you’re driving through France, Colmar is a welcome respite from the daily grind. A place that will unleash your imagination, inject you with a lighter sense of being and leave you enchanted.

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I QUIT

The Great Resignation should be renamed ‘The Great Emancipation

According to major headlines, companies are facing the biggest crisis since the 2008 recession. With the tightest labor market in decades, there is one major difference, it’s the companies that are competing for people instead of people competing for jobs. No one ever suspected this would happen. People got thinking and developed a taste for a new way of life.

Startling numbers have left their jobs since the pandemic hit. Forsaking security for new adventures in self-discovery and re-evaluating their lifestyle. Some found better pay, others freedom and better work/life balance, and many, such as myself, have left the city.

The numbers alone have put into question the status quo of modern employment. ‘The Great Resignation’ has become the economic buzzword of the pandemic.

Certain aspects of life which we took for granted as a necessary evil in pre-pandemic times have been exposed as futile. There are pros and cons to remote working, and what works for one person will not necessarily be the best solution for another, but speaking strictly from a rational point of view it’s impossible to overstate the benefits of working from home, and not only in financial terms. The cost of commuting also has an impact on our carbon footprint. Since I started working remotely my diet has improved and I spend a lot less on lunch each day than I did when I was at the office 5 days a week. I’m happier and healthier.

People want more out of their short life, is that so difficult to understand? It depends on whom you are talking with. David Solomon, of Goldman Sachs, has publicly stated that “working from home is an aberration.” There are others as well, white collars that are disgruntled by a shift in power, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who according to an article I read got in the habit of touring the empty Whitehall offices and leaving passive-aggressive “Sorry you were out” notes on his employee’s desks. Not exactly a winning strategy.

The problem is not just with office jobs. In Italy, the tourism and hospitality sector is undergoing difficulties. The usual throes of young and not so young people that used to line up for the seasonal work in hotels, restaurants, stores, and so on, are no longer flocking down for the summer months, to live in cramped quarters, work overtime, and get underpaid.

Even promotions and salary increases are not keeping people on board nowadays. These last three years we’ve seen a shift so great that it can’t be ignored. A deep crack in the narrative that we used to rehearse daily has seen people awaken with a new design for themselves. Many of us realized we could live with less so we unshackled ourselves from the ties that had us bound for years.

The world seems to have turned upside down.

People are fleeing western countries such as Canada and Italy due to their governments’ unduly rash and punitive methods employed to coerce the general population into getting vaccinated. Many are taking refuge in countries that used to be considered unstable, because they feel freer and safer, ironically. Belize, El Salvador, Albania, and Mexico have become coveted destinations.


I left my job and the city. Started working as a Freelancer remotely. I relocated to an exquisitely lush location surrounded by lakes, rolling hills, and mountains in the north of Italy. I pay 1/3 of the rent I used to pay in the city. I am now looking for property in the province of Puglia, my dream place. I can finally live the way I always wanted to, so why not?


I always envied people that left the city on Fridays to head to their homes in the mountains, on the lake, or on the coast. Now I’m living it every day. Sure I don’t have the money tree anymore (regular paycheck) but what I have now is invaluable by comparison. I have newfound courage and self-confidence in myself and my abilities. I don’t need a yearly performance review to tell me that I’m doing great, because my work speaks for itself and my clients’ satisfaction is undebatable proof of my accomplishments.


I rarely had this level of personal satisfaction during my years in a corporate environment, although my work was categorized as “creative.” Having said all this, I am of the opinion that this so-called Great Resignation should be renamed ‘The Great Emancipation’

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Inexperience Can Be Expensive

As a freelancer, I am always on the lookout for new clients and new work opportunities. I have profiles on all the compulsory platforms for professionals, including LinkedIn. For well over 3 years I have been reading job posts and often I find myself incredulous at the job description and the exhaustive list of skills and experience required to qualify for the position. Essentially many companies are looking for hardcore veteran experience on an entry-level budget. They all want 20-year-old applicants with 20+ years of experience.

I’ve been contacted, on several occasions, by companies that were lured by my skills and experience, only to be turned down due to my age. Although they never admitted it, I know it was so.

Age discrimination is a terrifying reality, especially so for women.

Gendered ageism affects women at all stages of their career but most notably when they are under 35 and over 50. That gives women 15 good years, give or take.

Women face ageism earlier than their male counterparts. Lookism puts women under a lens, and as they start showing visible signs of aging they are set aside.

We live in a Gerontocracy, where leadership is namely reserved for elder men and to make matters worse women are being targeted, with long term implications for retirement.

A No-Win Situation – Not Enough Money to Retire and Limited Prospects for Work

Gendered ageism has long term implications for retirement, with more than half of those surveyed reporting that they do not have enough money to retire and nearly all (95%) of those over 53 – including those 65-70 – stating that they want or need to keep working.

Yet, more than a quarter 28% of women 59-65 thought their chances of continuing to work were “fair” or “poor”. The most common reason stated –

“My company does not value older workers”.

SourCE: FORBES

I was young and inexperienced once, but I paid my dues, worked diligently, and navigated my career from backstage, on movie sets, to Broadcast TV where I spent 20 good years, so to speak.

After my first 15 years, I was practically put out to pasture, with no more possibilities for growth. I had been discriminated against without just cause. My colleagues were as shocked as I was. I had earned myself a lot of love and a good reputation which spoke for my integrity as an employee. I sued the company, won the case, and went freelance. It was unfortunate for both the company and myself since I had an excellent record of performance, with yearly bonuses to prove it, but more importantly, I still had a lot to contribute and was not about to get sent to the slaughterhouse.

This story is not only my story it is the story of many. I was merely one of several aging employees being discriminated against. It is also known as mobbing. The objective is to exhaust and discourage you, by erasing you, giving you no work at all, and visibly cutting you out. Soon enough many colleagues start to feel uncomfortable at the thought of having coffee or lunch with you.

Many employees in Italy, where I have been working for the last 22 years, are faced with such a scenario, and just as many are too scared to take legal action, for a variety of reasons. I personally was not going to put up with it -but many do because they have a family, a mortgage, debts, and so on.

It is not uncommon for people in such a situation to spend years, day in day out, doing absolutely nothing. It is sad to see a brilliant mind, and dynamic person transformed into a stuffed animal. You can literally see their posture start to crumble, in time, like the damaged roof of a house. Someone once said ‘The sky is the limit when you have a roof over your head.’ What good is a house with no roof?

These acts, with the intent of violating the dignity of a person and of creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment are more common than one might think.

I’ve always lied about my age because I knew it to be an issue right from the start. I used to add 10 years, whereas now I shave them off. Once I used to be underqualified, so I padded my CV and now I’m over-qualified, so I trim it down. You’re dammed if you do and you’re dammed if you don’t.

During my years in Broadcast TV, I saw the results of hiring inexperienced people. There are as many unappetizing roles in TV as in any other business. What makes these roles less desirable can be a combination of factors, from shift work to poor pay or no room for growth, and this leads to a high turnover of staff. These positions are often filled by inexperienced young newcomers hoping to break into the field, alas their level of inexperience leads to errors where there is little room for error. Losing video, or audio during a world cup game is not something to take lightly in PayTV.

Inexperience may turn out to be a costly proposition, for companies, in the long run. Recruitment is one of the highest staffing expenses, wheras an older workforce reduces the need to constantly recruit.

66 percent of baby boomer workers expect to work past age 65, a Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies shows.

source: cnbc

When I read posts and articles with pointers on finding a job for those over 50, I cringe. The advice ranges from, Embrace LinkedIn to combat the overqualified stereotype, play up your experience, and be sure you sound Tech Savvy.

When I was younger I always kept older company and sought the experience of those that were light years ahead of me in their profession, and I wouldn’t do it any different if I were starting over. I have learned more from experienced pros than I ever learned in school.

Companies that don’t realize the value of experienced older professionals, do so at a loss, with a higher turnaround, and increased margin of errors.

Research shows that older employees are more likely to show up to work on time, and less likely to call in sick.

Older workers also do not switch jobs as often as their younger colleagues. Older employees shine when it comes to maturity and professionalism – resulting in a strong work ethic

source: https://vantageaging.org/blog/benefits-of-older-workers/

Myths surrounding older workers contribute to the loss of top employees from many organizations. Experienced, older workers bring qualities and skills to the table that most employers struggle to find. They are knowledgeable, dedicated and still willing to learn. The knowledge and professionalism of experienced skilled professionals should be part of a company’s legacy instead of being tossed out.

I can only speak for myself, although I am certain a lot of people over 50 would agree with me when I say, ” I have more to bring to the table now, as a mature professional, than I ever had in the past. I have more experience, maturity, understanding, patience, vision, creative intellect, and know-how than I ever had, coupled with a burning desire to contribute, make a difference and share my consolidated skills and experience with new generations. Take a chance on me.

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To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

Space travel has fascinated the collective psyche for decades, or to be exact, since October 4, 1957, when the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. There have been ongoing Mars missions launching from Earth since the 1960s, searching for water and life. 

This red arid-looking planet, named after the Roman War God Mars, has been luring mankind since it was first sighted by Galileo Galilei in 1610 and has once again gained notoriety.

Numerous Mars-bound missions began in February 2021, starting with NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter that reached Mars that month. The United Arab Emirates joined the race with their first interplanetary mission, introducing the Hope orbiter. The China National Space Administration’s Tianwen-1 orbiter completed China’s first successful mission to the Red Planet in 2021 as well.

Finding water on Mars is only one of the numerous obstacles we’re faced with in our attempt to colonize Mars. Consider this; the distance between Mars and Earth is 42 million miles. To send a signal between Mars and Earth, there is a three minutes and two seconds delay, and that’s on a good day. 

The position between these two astral bodies, as they orbit around the sun, determines the delay, so that by the time you reach Mars it could be up to 20 minutes, which would create a 40-minute hole in your two-way conversation. 

On his quest to bring people to Mars, Elon Musk’s Starship is being designed as a fully reusable transportation system, capable of carrying passengers and cargo to Earth’s orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.  

But the question still remains, how will early settlers on Mars communicate with each other and with family and friends on Earth? What about streaming videos, real-time video chats, and GPS? Are people expected to give all this technology up and rely on old radio signals? What about 5G?

Feasibility studies for the use of 5G technology in space are being conducted, however, WiFi signals are not very data efficient and lose strength, with increased distances, due to their longer wavelengths. 

This simple animation by James O’Donoghue, at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), shows the communications delay that Mars mission controllers are faced with.

Without the means to efficiently communicate with each other, life on Mars is a dreary prospect and would feel like a plunge into the dark ages for most people.  

Imagine yourself as an ex-pat on Mars, unable to efficiently communicate with each other and earth, all the while dealing with harsh living conditions. What would you do? 

Many would just want to hop right back on that Starship, ready to start their nine-month journey back to earth. If you stop to think about it, there’s a lot at stake here. There are many scenarios that would prove difficult on Mars without improved means of communication. 

Imagine having to urgently report a medical emergency, a malfunction, or a security breach. By the time the message reaches its destination it may be too late for a timely intervention. The key to the successful colonization of Mars lies in resolving the communication gap.

NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration, which launched in 2019, served as an important proof of concept for laser technology. Laser technology could very well be the future of space colonization, as it offers more bandwidth in less time, and would cover all communications around the colony, with Earth and even the Moon for that matter! 

Interoperability standards for space communications also need to be established. Simply put, it would be preferable not to replicate the model used here on earth, where for example, an iPhone user can’t airdrop files to someone with an Android, yikes. It May sound crazy, but things will be complicated enough for those brave souls willing to be the pioneers of colonization in deep space, without these added complications.

Space Debris

The vision and design for a communications network between Mars, the Moon, and Earth point to networks of fully interoperable laser-beam satellites. These would be scattered across millions of miles, also known as ‘constellations’.

Starlink plans to deploy a staggering 42,000 satellites in Low Earth Orbit, Amazon’s Kuiper will launch over 3000, and OneWeb plans to have 648. Then there’s China, with a plan to launch an internet-dedicated mega-constellation of 13,000 units. By 2030 it is estimated that about 100,000 satellites will be roaming our orbit. This solution doesn’t come without its own can of worms.

Starlink’s satellite trails and their reflected sunlight are already causing disturbances to some telescopes. If the number of devices orbiting our planet continues to increase so dramatically, the problem of mega-constellations will have a far-reaching impact on astronomical research.

A somber irony considering that the very knowledge that allowed for the development of satellite technology has its foundations in astronomy.

Source: https://www.cloudflight.io/en/blog/why-satellite-mega-constellations-could-be-a-problem/

Elon Musk’s Starlink is positioning itself to offer settlers on Mars the opportunity to keep living and communicating the way they’ve become accustomed to on Earth, at least as far as communication and entertainment are concerned. Starlink could potentially even make SETI, also known as the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, a stronger component in the search for alien life. 

Regardless of the scope, ambitions, and investments being made in this race towards space, one thing is clear, a fast and reliable communication network is the key to success if we want to boldly go where no man has gone before. 

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We Can’t Afford Another Tech Boom Here’s Why

Electronic waste disposal first made the scene in the mid-1970s, in the wake of the digital revolution which had been ferociously gaining speed since the late 1950s. It’s no coincidence that it was the year 1970 when the Recycling Logo, we’ve all become accustomed to, was designed by G. Anderson.

We embraced technology as it revolutionized the way we lived, worked, and communicated. In the decades following man’s first landing on the Moon, the digital revolution flourished and transformed life on Earth in ways most of us had not imagined. Little did Neil Armstrong know when he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The space race allowed American companies to dominate the digital revolution and transformation, for decades to come.

For decades we rushed to buy newer, slicker, faster models, whether it was phones, TVs, cars, household appliances, you name it, we bought it, and we’re still buying today, even when we don’t need to, or don’t want to.  

Most electronic devices we’ve been purchasing, for the last 3 decades or so, were designed to be replaced with newer models. With repairs, no longer featured in the design, and consumers’ insatiable cravings for the latest trendy electronic gadgets, we’ve created a vicious and detrimental loop that’s difficult to break out of. 

​​The United Nations University estimates that an alarming 45 million tonnes of computers, televisions, mobile phones, and other electronic goods are thrown away every year. An average cell phone user replaces their unit once every 18 months. This doesn’t factor in the amount of peripheral computer equipment that is also thrown into dumps around the world, most of which end up in landfills. 

The UN University and International Telecommunication Union have estimated that the raw materials in e-waste are worth $62.5 billion annually. That exceeds the GDP of 123 countries.

We’ve come a long way since the Apollo landing on the moon. The flight computer, which the astronauts used to fly to the Moon, in both the command module and the lunar module, was the tiniest, fastest, most nimble, and most functional computer that had ever been created, at the time, and so it was that MIT and NASA catapulted the computer industry. 

At that time though, NASA was pretty much the only major client for computer chips. Let’s compare that to 2021 when a total of 169 industries were hard hit by a global chip shortage, which is still ongoing. As the cost of key materials to produce microchips increases, in the midst of global supply chain disruptions, consumers are starting to feel the pinch. Prices of PCs and other IT devices are steadily on the rise. Car prices have also risen, as car manufacturers focus on building more expensive models to compensate for the lack of chips. The globe is going through a tech boom again, and suppliers simply can’t keep up. 

We Can’t Afford Another Tech Boom Unless We Start Doing Things Differently

The metal industry is a multi-faceted reality, facing immense sustainability issues, with added concerns surrounding the depletion of technology metals. These metals are vital to the global economy since they are essential components in all high-tech electronic devices and cleantech applications, for domestic, commercial, industrial, and military use, worldwide. 

Depletion of technology metals could contribute to ecological, economic, and social deficits, with far-reaching global consequences. 

These metals are the dominant materials found in e-waste, representing approximately 60% of the total waste, comprising a multitude of items, such as household appliances, IT equipment, monitors, tools, medical devices, and much more. Data indicates that 82% of e-waste generated globally is not being recycled.  As is, we can’t afford another Tech boom unless we start doing things differently.

What Happens To The 82% Of E-Waste Not Being Recycled?

A pile of electronic waste on a roadside in Guiyu. Much of modern electronic equipment contains toxic ingredients and as much as 4,000 tonnes of toxic e-waste is discarded every hour. Vast amounts are routinely and often illegally shipped as waste from Europe, USA and Japan to countries in Asia because it is easier and cheaper to dump the problem on poorer countries with lower environmental standards. Workers involved in dismantling e-waste are exposed to serious health hazards.

82% of all e-waste, generated globally, is being informally recycled in developing countries.

Ninety-five percent of the e-waste in India is being recycled in the non-formal sector and only five percent of the e-waste volume is handled via formal units. In and around the metropolitan cities of India, there are over 3000 known units operating in the non-formal sector of e-waste recycling.

Informal recycling employs crude methods of recovery for valuable metals and poses risks to untrained workers, who are often children, due to the lack of infrastructure, weak enforcement of legislation, and no adequate precautions. 

The National Commission For Protection of Child Rights in India recently reported that the segregation of hazardous e-waste is done by children as young as eight. 

Children in Ghana have been documented, by Greenpeace, dismantling computers and TVs to recuperate the metals inside.  They are at risk, working in poorly ventilated enclosed areas, without any protective equipment, and no regulations, while pollutants are being released into water sources and the land.

Populations at large, are at risk due to the contamination of their land and water. On the other hand, informal e-waste management, and recycling, in developing countries, have resulted in employment opportunities and satisfied the demand for affordable electronic devices.

Asia, Africa, India, and South America, according to a UN report, are the primary destinations for discarded electronic products via recycling programs. 

The irony does not go unnoticed when one considers that the very regions that are stripped of the resources needed to manufacture electronic devices are exactly where the e-waste is eventually dumped. 

There could be some light at the end of this dark tunnel, with companies such as E-rase your E-Waste which aims to provide solutions to informal and hazardous e-waste management in developing countries. Located in Delhi, the Catalytic Reaction Engineering Laboratory research group at the Chemical Engineering Department, led by Dr. KK Pant are researching and implementing ways to achieve target metal recovery and energy production through an eco-friendly process. 

Dr. Pant’s team believes that this can be successfully implemented, on a large scale, so as to generate many jobs in the waste recycling industry, without posing risks to workers or the environment. The team has already set up a 10kg/h (Kilogram per hour) pyrolysis plant for E-waste recycling at IIT Delhi.

Is Recycling The Solution To E-Waste?

When e-waste is not recycled, chemicals such as lead, mercury, polyfluoroalkyl substances, brominated flame retardants, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other persistent organic pollutants contaminate landfills, water supplies, and the land, so it stands to reason that e-waste management and recycling need to be improved on a global scale. 

When we think of sustainability issues, recycling is the engine that we hope will propel us to a cleaner, more sustainable future. It’s been over 50 years since recycling became a household term, we should admit defeat, or at the very least realize that recycling alone won’t cut it. 

The only way to navigate out of this mess is to look at the big picture. We are all part of the problem and as such, we all need to play our part in the grand scheme of creating a sustainable future. 

Consumer Habits Need To Change And Big Tech Companies Need To Respond Accordingly

The laptop I’m using to write this has already started showing signs of extreme fatigue. Even with the battery charged at 100%, it turns itself off abruptly, if not powered by AC. It’s five years old and according to today’s standards, should have already been replaced. 

Electronic components have their own life, and it’s normal for some of these to need replacing in time. The problem is that in many instances, laptops, for instance, are glued, or parts are soldered together, so that if one part breaks you’ll need to replace the entire unit. This is particularly frustrating and problematic when batteries need to be serviced or replaced. It is a waste, to say the least.

It should be possible to take PCs and mobile devices apart, and for consumers to replace vital components when needed. Big Tech companies should offer spare parts for several years even once the model has been discontinued. 

There are many things that can be done to produce sustainable IT products. Standardizing cables for IT products would mean fewer cables to be manufactured and this would allow their re-use on multiple products by consumers. Companies need to start designing products that are durable, upgradeable, repairable, and reusable, whether these are computers or home appliances.

Creating a circular economy is part and parcel of the overall solution. In order for businesses to achieve a circular economy, they need to redefine growth and invest in business practices that benefit society as a whole.  

The Right To Repair

Most e-waste management models around the world are based on the EPR concept which motivates the producers to reduce consumption of virgin materials. That isn’t enough. We need designs with a new vision. 

Big Tech companies need to own up to their responsibilities and become active stakeholders in implementing a circular economy with designs that take into account not only the use of an object but its lifespan and recycling as well. 

In the USA the ‘right to repair’ bill was introduced and has already gained traction thanks to backing from President Biden and Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak

In December 2021, Dell announced its plans for Concept Luna, a sustainable and repairable laptop. News has it that  Microsoft is looking into Xbox and Surface devices right to repair.  All Big Tech companies should jump on board because it won’t take long for consumers to realize and appreciate the benefits. 

The only viable solution to the e-waste dilemma is continued commitment to overcoming the challenges linked to e-waste management and recycling while focusing on business practices that benefit society as a whole, coupled with strong legislations that regulate the lifespan and recycling of all products. 

Perhaps we ought to heed the words of Jason Hickel, in his book Less is More-How Degrowth Will Save The World, where he states:

“Degrowth begins as a process of taking less. But in the end, it opens up whole vistas of possibilities. It moves us from scarcity to abundance, from extraction to regeneration, from dominion to reciprocity, and from loneliness and separation to connection with a world that’s fizzing with life.”
We all need to pitch in if we want to keep this sublime planet and a stunning masterpiece of creation, our home.

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Long Term Food Security For Urban Areas

Urbanization, climate change, and food security are tightly linked issues. It is estimated that by 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.

New strategies are needed to ensure food supply and food security for people living in urban areas.  

Food security means achieving a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.

Cities Must Be Reimagined and Redesigned

Promoting local food production in urban areas is the key to integrating green and edible vegetation into their boundaries. Cities must be re-imagined and re-designed to incorporate agricultural practices in order to achieve sustainability.

Rooftops, courtyards, and public green areas can all be converted into vegetable gardens.

In Italy, an average of 44% of the population grows fruit and vegetables in urban gardens and private terraces.

The heritage of Italian vegetable gardens is rooted in a tradition born of a deep reverence for the earth, for growing and preparing food, and can pave the way to more sustainable urban living.

If you google “Italian vegetable gardens” you’ll get a whopping 137,000,000 results. Not only have Italian gardening traditions been maintained in Italy and abroad by Italian immigrants, in their backyards, they’ve also been adopted by other cultures. Classic Italian vegetable gardens can be found throughout Canada and the USA

Many years ago I relocated from Canada to Milan, Italy. It was in the city of Milan, where I saw my first communal vegetable gardens. 

In a city such as Milan, a private backyard garden is a rarity. Mostly I would see older Italians, tending after these communal gardens. They reminded me of summers spent at my aunts’ and uncles’ homes in Ontario. 

I grew up in an Italian immigrant family, in Canada, at a time when traditions from the old country were held onto with passion and commitment by the previous generations. 

My uncles and aunts each had an ‘Orto’, an Italian vegetable garden. At times most of the backyard was allotted to the vegetable garden. 

I witnessed frequent conversations about whether there had been too much or not enough sun and rain and which moon cycles needed to be observed for yielding the best results, as different vegetables require to be planted and harvested at specific times during the lunar phases. 

In these gardens, they grew aubergines, tomatoes, zucchini, fava beans, peppers both hot and sweet, string beans, rucola, carrots, lettuce, fragrant herbs, and so on. Italian vegetable gardens can produce a lot in very small spaces. Tiny backyard plots would feed an entire family and friends.

In the fall, endless jars of tomatoes, grilled eggplant, peppers, jams, and pickled vegetables would be stowed away for the winter months ahead

Unfortunately, these traditions were not always held onto by successive generations as many opted for a BBQ deck and/or a swimming pool in place of a vegetable garden.  

Promoting Local Food Production

Over the years, since living in Italy, I’ve seen a shift, with a passion for vegetable gardening taking a hold of the younger generation. Gardening is no longer only a pastime for the elderly.

Projects such as Coltivando, an urban vegetable garden, set up on 1000 sqm of land at the Bovisa Campus of Politecnico di Milano, is a perfect example of urban community gardening. The project was developed and designed with the collaboration of and for people from the neighborhood

Local authorities in Italian cities, organize and rent urban gardens. There are different parameters and systems for the concession of public gardens. Some municipalities may offer annual use in exchange for a small fee, while others may be reserved for certain age groups and there are those who open tenders for assignments, offering rent shares that vary according to income and age

Just 25 km outside of Milan, in the province of Lombardy, there is an experimental educational farm, the Minoprio Foundation, with the production structures consisting of greenhouses, tunnels, shadows, nurseries, vegetable gardens, and an orchard with old and new varieties of plants. 

The Minoprio Foundation enjoys and benefits from an estate of about 60 hectares consisting of a historical, agricultural, and naturalistic park.

Another initiative that got my attention is ​​MILANO GREEN WAY.  A five thousand square meters urban community green area, in the city of Milan, along the Olona river, in the Barona village district. This redevelopment project transformed a degraded urban area into a shared community garden. The project was curated by OPERA in FIORE, a  Social Cooperative, with the collaboration of inmates on leave, residents, students, and young gardeners.

With over 44% of the population growing fruit and vegetables in urban gardens and do-it-yourself terrace gardens Coldiretti’s analysis of the latest Istat data from 2019 showed a recorded growth of 18.5% in five years, exceeding 2.1 million square meters and estimates for 2020-21 indicate further growth with the introduction of vertical gardens in Milano’s latest architectural projects.

Data also shows that in one year the number of Italians living in conditions of utter poverty increased from 4.6 million to 5.6 million

To make matters worst, crop losses, from anomalous weather trends, coupled with a sharp rise in production costs, from fuel to fertilizers and an increase in energy costs, have taken their toll on Italian households.

Urbanization, climate change, and food security are tightly linked issues. It is estimated that by 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.

Perhaps being locked in for months on end, due to the pandemic, and the resulting economic crisis has ushered in a new design for urban living, with a desire to reconnect with nature, save money and eat well.  

It’s truly delightful to see gardening traditions continued, whether on a small or large scale. These practices help us understand the importance of living close to the earth and do our part in creating a more sustainable future

 It is no longer possible to remain inactive and hope for better times.

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A Daily Dose Of Happiness

What is happiness? If you look up synonyms for this elusive word you’ll find gems such as euphoria, glee, jubilation, seventh heaven, bliss, and elation.

How does one achieve such a state? Is it love, money, beauty, youth, health, success, or a combination of all of these? Hard to come by the full package, don’t you think?

I believe in a daily dose of happiness, no matter what. A permanent state of happiness is difficult to achieve and would be counter-productive. It is the difficult times in our lives that teach us to appreciate the good times.

It can be said that certain life circumstances and conditions contribute to one’s happiness, give or take.

Falling in love, getting a raise, your favorite team winning the game? But are these not fleeting moments of happiness? So what would make for long-lasting happiness? Winning the lottery? I imagine oodles of money would make many people happy, yet those same happy lottery winners could very quickly fall back into unhappiness, should their spouses, once they cash in half the winnings, choose to leave them, or if the lottery winner were to never walk again, following a head-on collision with a wild boar, while speeding on a country road in their new dream sports car.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but my point is simply that life is made of ups and downs, and these don’t come announced or have any particularly recognizable patterns. Life is full of surprises, some better than others.

I don’t believe in being happy all the time, it simply doesn’t work, doesn’t exist and the mere thought of having to be happy all the time is stressful. I enjoy crying when I have a good reason to cry. I enjoy arguing when I have a good reason to defend a position. I enjoy anger as well, as long as it is properly vented, in a constructive creative manner.

A full range of feelings must be given free reign, in order for us to keep developing our very unique identities. Life serves up all the experiences we need in order to realize our potential.

Perhaps it would be wise to get more acquainted with the sources of our unhappiness in order to navigate our way towards happiness. It’s a little like getting vaccinated. You become less prone to falling into the unhappiness rut, you react with a constructive resolution instead, and find ways to move beyond. Go ahead and scream at yourself in the mirror, but make sure you don’t take any shit from yourself…that’s the trick. Come to an agreement with yourself, no use beating yourself up. Make little adjustments to how you think and how you communicate with yourself.

The difficult times in our lives can help us appreciate the good times. Whether it is the loss of status or of a loved one, these are the defining moments that help us realize happiness, like life, is a temporal and fleeting occurrence.

Research shows that happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next, but typically involves times of considerable discomfort

Happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life, with a sense of purpose, meaning, and deep satisfaction. Research shows that happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next, it typically involves periods of considerable discomfort.

My secret is to find a daily dose of happiness. I do this by thanking the universe every morning when I wake up to a steaming cup of my favorite coffee, a flushing toilet, and the hot shower that follows. I cultivate my friendships as if they were all part of an exotic garden that I am the keeper of, and I take every occasion I can to immerse myself in nature and celebrate the beauty of life. Don’t underestimate the simple comforts in life and how they contribute to your happiness.

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New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work and Here’s Why

New Year’s Resolutions are a secular tradition. A person promises themselves to embark on a mission of self-improvement, or simply promises to be more civil with nice gestures such as picking up their dog’s poo as soon as the New Year starts.  I say, hey why not start right away ?

Forget those New Year’s resolutions. Want to quit or reduce smoking, drinking, start working out? Want to start eating healthy, working less, reduce, re-use, recycle, give up your seat bus to elders, pay more attention to your family and loved ones? Watch less TV?

Want to give yourself a boost and get back on track? Been feeling sluggish, and life seems dull? New Year’s Resolutions aren’t going to do it.


This mass-induced ritual of self-betterment, that we embrace with the entrance of a New Year, is a futile gesture considering most people will not stick to the program they’ve set out for themselves. 

Studies showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail.

Often the program is unrealistic, and part of the reason that most people postpone it to the New Year is that they want to keep partaking in their old habits, be they good or bad, for as long as possible. In this manner, resolutions become sacrifices.

Resolutions are about self-betterment, about shedding old baggage and all that stuff that apparently prevents us from being our best, and from achieving our full potential.

This lady says it well…LIFE IS THE GAME WE PLAY


I believe, beyond any reasonable doubt, that in order to reach our full potential and give birth to OUR SELVES, we need to embrace our madness. We need to not care what others think or say about us, we need to stay true to ourselves against all odds. Simply put, it means you need to listen to your inner voice. Which one, you might ask, there are several.

If you pay attention, you will be able to distinguish your own inner voice from the voices of your elders, society, friends, peers and colleagues, the church, and the media. Your voice will stand out amongst all of that caucus that lives inside your head. 

Chase out all those voices that don’t belong to you, all those voices leading you astray, that tell you you’ll never make it, that you’re too fat, too young, too old, too tall, too small, your skin too dark, that your ideas are stupid. Chase them all away and embrace yourself, embrace your madness. 

No matter how crazy your ideas may sound, even to you, go for it! So instead of wasting time making a list of resolutions, you won’t keep, why not start thinking on your feet? Why not do something to stimulate your blood flow and get your juices flowing. Somewhere in there, if we dig deep enough we all have some crazy ideas, and these very ideas may be the key to harnessing our full potential and freeing us from boredom and a life afloat in dullness and repetition.

Embracing your madness means harnessing your passions and creating something from nothing.

Here’s a couple of ridiculous ideas that made these guys a fortune.

“Back in the 70’s some guy bought a bunch of stones from a builder’s supply store, packaged them in cardboard boxes with holes (so the rocks could “breathe”), and marketed them as serious “pets”. For a production cost of less than a dollar, Dahl sold each rock for $3.95. And sell them he did. By Christmas of 1975, pet rocks were all the rage.  As for Dahl, his aptly-named Rock Bottom Productions was rolling over…. in profits.”

IFart App has Ridiculously Rich Person Behind It: Joel Comm. Estimated Profit:  $400K Somewhere, in Joel Comm’s unique mind, the iFart was conceived, the whoopee cushion for the iPhone.  What’s even crazier? He thought people would pay for the app.  iFart retails for 99 cents, and the absolutely insane part about this all is that Joel Comm was right.

The more you define who you are, the more you unleash your potential.

Who cares how much you weigh and how many followers you have.  As new adventures enter your life, you will come into your own new skin as you shed old habits. The best part is you don’t have to wait for New Year’s eve to do so, and it doesn’t have to be a million-dollar idea. 


It can simply be getting off your butt right now, picking up the phone, and getting something in motion. Doing that thing that has been nagging at you for some time. Get involved with people and make things happen, small projects that can benefit many, simply by creating a common goal, and playing together to make it happen. 

Self-improvement is a full-time activity and requires healthy doses of feeling good about ourselves, very different from what people are usually feeling when they make resolutions.

If you absolutely must stay true to tradition then here’s one bit of advice. Resolutions are more sustainable when shared, both in terms of with whom you share the benefits of your resolution, and with whom you share the path of maintaining your resolution. Peer support will increase your chances of actually sticking to your New Year’s Resolution.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and remember to EMBRACE YOUR MADNESS!

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Use It Or Lose It – Words Have Power

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell, 1984

Through the study of language, we can discover some revealing things about any given culture.  It is said that the Eskimos have over 35 words for “snow” because its exact condition is very important to their thinking. Sanskrit has 96 words for love.

Approximately 359 million people speak English as their first language. Although the English language has only one word for love, it reportedly has over 500 words for the female genitals and almost as many for the male apparatus. Merriam-Webster dictionary has 23 synonyms for the term ‘sexual-intercourse’.

How language Affects Thinking

  • Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue.
  • Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east, and west, rather than left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation.
  • The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities.
  • In one study, Spanish and Japanese speakers couldn’t remember the agents of accidental events as adeptly as English speakers could. Why? In Spanish and Japanese, the agent of causality is dropped: “The vase broke itself,” rather than “John broke the vase.”

Language shapes how we understand, space, time, and causality

It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently. 

  • Does language shape our thoughts and influence culture? 
  • Do English, Chinese, Russian and Japanese understand and remember experiences differently simply because they speak different languages?

These questions touch on major controversies in the study of the mind, with important implications for politics, religion, and sexuality. The idea that language might shape thought was for a long time considered untestable, at best, or dismissed altogether. 

New cognitive science research has shown that language profoundly influences how we see the world. 

New research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts but also shape the very thoughts we express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct our reality, and assist us in being as smart and sophisticated as we are. 

“That language embodies different ways of knowing the world seems intuitive, given the number of times we reach for a word or phrase in another language that communicates that certain je ne sais quoi that we can’t find in our own language.”

Steve Kallaugher


What role does the media play in shaping our thoughts and our language?

News coverage of the pill (in the 60’s) and of the Clinton/Lewinsky episode proved to be 2 turning points in an accelerating preoccupation by the American Media with all things sexual.

The role of the media in shaping public perceptions and opinions regarding significant
political and social issues has been the subject of both speculation and research since its inception. Now the focus has shifted to Social Media. With so much going on globally, media has the power to influence not only our perceptions it also decides what is important and what isn’t.

The Julian Assange case is a striking example of how corporate media buried news about one of the most important political trials of our lifetime.

The “power of language” not only means language in service of power,  remember that language can also undermine power

While censorship is often conducted by corporations and governments to prevent words, images, or ideas from entering the mainstream, censorship of literature was around as early as 399 B.C.  The Catholic Church had been compiling lists of banned books since 1559, and only stopped the practice in 1966. 

“Of all the weapons of destruction that man could invent, the most terrible-and the most powerful-was the word. Daggers and spears left traces of blood; arrows could be seen at a distance. Poisons were detected in the end and avoided. But the word managed to destroy without leaving clues.” 

― Paulo Coelho

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Brain Interfaces: Evolutionary Advance Or Decline?

Man’s evolutionary quest has taken us from the bottom of the ocean to deep space, now science and technology join forces to expand beyond our physical realm and explore new frontiers of communication.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink app, a new kind of brain interface being developed, one of several, would allow you to control your iOS device, keyboard, and mouse, just by thinking about it. When you stop to think about it, even the telephone was invented to meet the needs of long-distance communication.

Both the application and the implications are numerous. Consider the endless possibilities of increasing the brain’s channels of communication. These methods could be employed to treat a wide range of neurological disorders, restore sensory or movement functions, and without a doubt change the way we interact with one another.

Understanding the physical mechanisms of telepathy has inspired modern technology with the endless possibilities and applications of brain-to-brain communications. Much can be uncovered by studying the sensing, emitting, and receiving principles at work in telepathic communication.

In the realm of our physical senses-based world, telepathy has long been regarded as a controversial phenomenon. However, as of late, science and tech journals feature ever more studies, indicating telepathy holds keys to modern technological applications with designs to increase the brain’s channels of communication.

Telepathy is not science fiction. In fact, both science and technology are now drawing inspiration from the principles of telepathy to develop brain interfaces designed to increase the brain’s channels of communication.

Telepathy has long been a disputed phenomenon in the scientific community. On the other hand, it has often been perceived as a viable means of accessing the unconscious mind.

In the late 19th and early 20th Century telepathy was a topic of interest, discussed and written about, by Sigmund Freud, Thomas Huxley, W. T. Stead, and Oscar Wilde, amongst many other eminent men and women of the times. They put into question whether telepathy signaled an evolutionary advance or a possible decline.

In his book, The invention of telepathy 1870-1900, Roger Luckhurst investigates this question and many other questions, in a study that blends the history of science with cultural history and literary analysis surrounding telepathy.

Telepathy and mysticism have been intimately connected in man’s attempt to answer the most taunting questions about life. One could say that telepathy has been seen as a possible bridge to the metaphysical world.

Edgar Cayce, also known as the “Sleeping Prophet” spent over 43 years of his life as a practicing “trance physician” and telepathic clairvoyant. When Cayce passed away, on the 3rd of January 1945, he left an impressive legacy of his life’s work, 140,000 documented stenographic records of his trance readings, one of the most extensive compilations of psychic primary materials recorded to date.

Telepathic connections between twins have provided researchers with the means to study the phenomenon and have served as significant evidence of telepathy amongst humans.

 Dr. Lynn Cherkas, who studied Telepathy in twins, concluded that 20% of identical twins and 1% of fraternal twins had some type of telepathic experience with their twin. A most comprehensive survey on the history of research into twin telepathy is compiled in the book Twin Telepathy by Guy Leon Playfair.

Many people claim to have had some form of telepathic experience at some point in their lives.

Have you ever found yourself jolted out of reverie by your phone ringing and the name that appeared on your screen made your heart leap? Almost gave you the creeps? The very person you were thinking of!

Perhaps a distant friend or family member you’ve been out of touch with for years. Is it a coincidence that they happened to contact you at that particular moment or the exact day you happened to wake up thinking about them or had dreamt of them?

Often time it can be as simple as being in a room with another person and you know exactly what they are about to say, before they say it, at other times it can be a hunch that saves your life or the life of a loved one.

These types of experiences always leave us feeling as though there is some special deeper meaning to the event and give us momentary access to an otherwise invisible and complex network of communications that most of us are unable to willingly harness. They make us reflect deeply on life. The possibility of communicating at a distance by simply using our minds is both alluring and unnerving. It shakes up some fundamental belief systems.

Some people experience precognition, a feeling, or a presentiment of something about to happen or about someone, which reveals itself to be a real occurrence.

I dreamt of my grandfather’s funeral, as a child, and the following day we received news of his death. I had only ever seen my grandfather in photographs since my parents had relocated from Europe to Canada shortly after I was born, so I had no conscious recollection of my grandfather.

I have had several other premonitions over the years, one particularly stands out, involving a girlfriend I’d been quite close to and lost touch with when I moved from the West Coast of Canada back to the East Coast.

For days, following a vivid and preoccupying dream, I attempted to find her. There were few resources available, no internet yet. I managed to get an address for her brother and sent a letter, which eventually made its way to her. Years later, when we met up again, she admitted that upon reading the letter she was startled. How could I possibly have known that she was going through difficult and trying times, in a situation that had put her life at risk? The letter had been a wake-up call for her and as a result, she set herself on a new path and out of harm’s way.

How can an event that is occurring to a person at a specific time and place be simultaneously communicated to another person’s consciousness who is at a distance?

When telepathic communication occurs, place, time and distance have no bearing.

Extrasensory perception during the dream state has been studied for decades. In truth, the first attempt to study telepathic dreams experimentally is reported by G.B. Ermacora (1895) in a publication of the Society for Psychical Research. 

Most Telepathic experiences involve a direct transference of thought from one person to another. So essentially we have a sender and a receiver communicating without putting into play the usual sensory channels of communication, therefore considered a form of extrasensory perception (ESP).

Studies conducted on people experiencing paranormal phenomena have yielded significant results.

“Scientists at the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University created a brain-to-brain interface system that allows one or more people, called “Senders,” to influence the decisions of an individual, called a “Receiver”

https://massivesci.com/articles/mind-control-brain-machine-interface/

Aside from the possible medicinal uses, brain-to-brain interfaces could find interested players across many disciplines, from sports to business, the military, and civilians. If this technology were to be used on the battlefield it would enable soldiers to send and receive commands and warnings, through a form of electronic or synthetic telepathy.

There is more than sufficient evidence pointing to telepathy and its scientific possibilities. Telepathy no longer resides in the realm of superstition. According to Forbes mind sharing is definitely coming. It will revolutionize how people learn, interact and experience new things. 

Consciousness, free will, and the meaning of life have always been at the core of man’s questions about our existence. It stands to reason that our evolutionary progress should eventually take us beyond the limitations of the five physical senses we rely on and science and technology are leading the way.

Some would argue that we are not ready for this leap and that our innate telepathic abilities are meant to be matured and accessed organically, so to speak, without the aid of technology.

These developments would greatly increase both the efficiency and power of select individuals and organizations to monitor, regulate and respond. Just as we use tools to shape our world, the tools we use shape us.

In our quest to make great leaps, with science and technology at the helm, perhaps we should ask ourselves the same question those luminaries from the early 20th century posed themselves, ‘will it lead us to an evolutionary advance or a possible decline?

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Why Comedy Should Not Be Censored

Given the recent outcries from the LGBTQ+ community over Dave Chapelle’s recent material I’ve given much thought to WHY COMEDY SHOULD NOT BE CENSORED.

We’ve been Laughing at jokes about Blacks, Asians, Jews, Blondes, Mexicans, Americans, Italians, the size of dicks, tits, and noses, fat and skinny people, sex, religion, the KKK, politics, and more, for decades.

Comedy has historically pushed boundaries and poked at sensitive issues and topics. As with all other art forms, comedy is also hatched in a dark, deep personal realm where everything is unfiltered. Many comedians draw from personal experience.

Take Richard Pryor for example, who through his own personal experience and raw, uncensored brand of humor brought to light issues surrounding poverty, racism, and drug abuse.


Lenny Bruce was another pioneer who pushed the boundaries. “Lenny worshipped the gods of Spontaneity, Candor, and Free Association. He fancied himself an oral jazzman. His ideal was to walk out there like Charlie Parker, take that mike in his hand like a horn and blow, blow, blow everything that came into his head just as it came into his head with nothing censored, nothing translated, nothing mediated, until he was pure mind, pure head sending out brainwaves like radio waves into the heads of every man and woman seated in that vast hall. Sending, sending, sending, he would finally reach a point of clairvoyance where he was no longer a performer but rather a medium transmitting messages that just came to him from out there — from recall, fantasy, prophecy.”

“Lenny Bruce worshipped the gods of Spontaneity, Candor, and Free Association.

Comedy is an art form and as such should not be censored. People need to learn how to laugh at themselves again. Without shock, subversion, and a little bit of transgression and irreverence, comedy cannot fulfill its important social function. Laughter is revelatory and can awaken our awareness of injustices.

I read somewhere that humor can turn anger and frustration into fine art. Even science advocates the value of self-mockery

Comedy is very much like a pressure valve, releasing us from our daily challenges and existential strife. If you want to read more about the value of comedy and laughter in our lives.

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Have We Forgotten How To Laugh At Ourselves?

Revisiting classic movies can be a seriously startling experience. Last night I watched some scenes from Death Wish 3. The story of a once mild-mannered liberal, New York City architect, played by Charles Bronson, who snaps when intruders break into his home, murder his wife, and violently rape his daughter. His frustration with the police, unable to find the intruders, leads him to moonlight as a vigilante, and gingerly gun down any criminal that crosses his path.

There is a scene, in Death Wish 3, where an elderly Jewish couple’s home is broken into by local scoundrels that have been terrorizing the neighborhood. This scene, by today’s standards, would be considered inappropriate, tasteless to say to least. The stereotypical representation of the elderly Jewish couple is both comical and dismal, not to mention the character that leaps in through their window, like a flying monkey version of Rick James, in a crop top, may he RIP.

This got me thinking and reflecting on some of the classic movies I grew up with, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I asked myself, how does Mickey Rooney’s stereotyped performance as Holly’s Japanese neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi, fare by today’s standards?

Hell, they’ve even censored Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry for depicting racial stereotypes and caricatures.

Recently we’re seeing more and more censorship, and Disney is a perfect example. They’ve edited and censored everything from the movie Splash to Toy Store. What exactly are we concerned about?

They say humans start laughing as early as three months, in life.  “In a study of thousands of examples of laughter, the speakers in a conversation were found to be 46 percent more likely to laugh than the listeners.” This is because laughter is also a way for us to signal that we want to connect and collaborate.

laughing baby
They say humans start laughing as early as three months.

Laughter may have evolved as a way to enhance connectedness in societies but it goes far deeper. Have you ever asked yourself why people will laugh at the misfortunes of others and in the realization that a norm has been breached?

Plato, along with other ancient Greek philosophers maintained that people find humor in, and laugh at, earlier versions of themselves and the misfortunes of others because they feel superior. The bottom line is that people are attracted to authenticity since it stands to reason that by revealing our own flaws in a humorous way, we can build bridges so that others might feel comfortable lowering their guard.

Several centuries later Freud advanced the notion that laughter is a release, allowing people to let off steam or release pent-up “nervous energy.” This theory also explains why tabooed scatological and sexual themes and jokes hinting at those familiar thorny social and ethnic topics are amusing to some.

There are many definitions of humor, yet it still seems to be elusive. However, whether it’s slapstick, double entendre, or ethnic jokes that induce laughter, these all have one aspect in common; A person realizes that an ethical, social or physical norm has been violated and that this violation is not reprehensible. 

Chris Rock, Jennifer Saunders and more have argued that ‘wokeness’ is stifling comedy.

Shock, subversion, and transgression are essential elements of comedy. Nowadays we are experiencing a redefinition of humor. Some comedians are sounding the alarm, stating that cancel culture is killing comedy. Chris Rock, Jennifer Saunders, and more have argued that ‘wokeness’ is stifling comedy. Has social media become a tool of oppression?

Comedy has historically pushed boundaries and poked at sensitive issues and topics and as with all other artforms, comedy is also hatched in a dark, deep personal realm where everything is unfiltered. Many comedians draw from personal experience. Take Richard Pryor for example, who through his own personal experience and raw, uncensored brand of humor brought to light issues surrounding poverty, racism, and drug abuse.

I read somewhere that humor can turn anger and frustration into fine art. Even science advocates the value of self-mockery. In a recent study, researchers discovered that self-deprecating humor improves our health. It goes without saying that one shouldn’t use self-deprecation in order to camouflage insecurities, however in this study, it was observed that people who regularly poke fun at themselves exhibit greater levels of emotional well-being.

“In particular, we have observed that a greater tendency to employ self-defeating humor is indicative of high scores in psychological well-being dimensions such as happiness and, to a lesser extent, sociability,” the study authors wrote.

Having a good laugh is excellent for reducing stress and it makes us more flexible, creative, and effective in the face of challenges. Comedy is very much like a pressure valve, releasing us from our daily challenges and existential strife.

Without shock, subversion, and a little bit of transgression comedy cannot fulfill its important social function. Laughter is revelatory and can awaken our awareness of injustices, as well as open our eyes to what is wrong in our world and needs fixing. Laughing unites people.

“In order to truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it. “

charlie chaplin

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Will Cryptocurrency Transform The Way We Do Business?

Although not all of us may be driven by money, most of us are familiar with how uncertainty about the future and the lack of confidence about a sustained income can lead to anxiety and insecurity, which in turn can upset our sense of well-being and continuity in life. I mean, astonishingly, even the wealthy live with fear, insecurity, and a sense of inadequacy surrounding their wealth, namely for fear of losing or of being cheated out of it. At the end of the day, it turns out that money is intimately connected to our emotional craving for stability and livelihood.

Since the pandemic has swept across the globe, financial insecurity has spread like mold and at the same time, we are seeing a silent revolution at work.

Money has been around for a good 3,000 years, whether a shell, a metal coin, or a piece of paper was used, the value was determined by the importance that people placed on the medium of exchange. Now Bitcoin, along with 10,000 different cryptocurrencies, has emerged as a new medium of exchange, and some have already seen astounding returns over the past decade.

From the moment that humans harnessed fire and chemistry, we journeyed from the Stone Age through the Bronze and Iron Ages, to our modern developed society, and to this day we remain dependent on metals and alloys for survival. The European conquests abroad provided them with constant new sources of precious metals and as a result, until the 16th century, metal coins were the sole form of currency in Europe.

American Express was vital to the evolution of currency and took us from metal to paper, to the invention of the credit card. Once a product only for the wealthy, accepted at only a few places, credit cards became available to millions of people, and the most accepted form of payment worldwide. Who would have thought that a plastic card would take us so far?

The Gemini card is bringing crypto to the mainstream and this is a serious indication that the world of crypto is growing, as digital currencies and blockchain technology keep edging closer to the mainstream by simply providing crypto in a way that doesn’t alter consumer habits. 

Many are embracing the idea of cryptocurrency simply because it removes central banks from managing the money supply. More and more companies are warming up to the idea of cryptocurrency. Institutions are climbing on board in a significant way for the first time, while the tourism industry is ahead of the game boasting some impressive partnerships with some of the world’s biggest online travel brands, all of whom are embracing crypto.

For example, 700,000 Expedia Group hotels and accommodations have been available via the crypto-friendly booking platform Travala.com since 2020, and it is expected that new generations of travelers will demand and embrace new forms of payment for travel.

Is Cryptocurrency going to pave the way? It is not an easy concept for everyone to wrap their head around, but what it boils down to is trust and the importance that people place on the medium of exchange, which will determine its value. Does anyone still write cheques? I haven’t for years, yet at one time, a cheque had a value, yet it was a simple slip of paper, and although many of us saw our fair share of bounced cheques, it was still an accepted medium of exchange.

The fact is that no one really needs gold nor paper, for that matter, but everyone needs to feel safe and to exchange goods and services. The market for cryptocurrencies has exploded and is currently estimated to be worth about $2 trillion, so it would seem many people have given it a vote of confidence. Crypto currency security may still be a concern, however innovative solutions are being found, by the cybersecurity sector, that address these concerns.  

Cryptocurrencies were the result of a radical desire for access to assets not controlled by governments and central banks. Ironically, regulations are now being considered to guarantee transparent pricing and security for investors. Many believe that new regulations could help cryptocurrencies become a bigger part of our daily lives.

Will cryptocurrency transform the way we do business? Some say it already has and it could eventually make banks obsolete. One thing is certain, cryptocurrency has transformed the money and finance landscape.  

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Facial Recognition – Friend or Foe?

Many feel that Facial Recognition Technology may be the latest step on the march towards total surveillance and Totalitarian New World Order. Invasive surveillance is nothing new.  Monitoring, activities, behavior, and information for data mining and influencing people did not start with the internet. Electronic means of surveillance and data gathering were being deployed way before the advent of social networks and search engine bots. 

Research on facial recognition technology dates back to the mid-1960s when Woody Bledsoe along with Helen Chan Wolf and Charles Bisson began working together, and the US government has been putting the technology to the test since the 1990s.

We’ve come a long way since, as facial recognition is becoming increasingly more diffused, which leaves us facing ethical issues that have come into play. Issues that both businesses and consumers should consider.

Facial recognition is but the tip of the iceberg when you stop to think about the risks each and every one of us takes every day online. If you feel you are being watched or listened to, it may not be paranoia after all.

Corporate surveillance, data mining, and profiling, GPS tracking, and wireless tracking have enhanced surveillance to new dizzying heights, never known before. Following journalistic investigations, it was revealed that location data is tracked by a wider variety of parties for a greater number of purposes, and in ways that exceed our understanding or control. With companies hungry to feed us customized savory digital bait, the sheer volume of location data tracked, disclosed, and repurposed has become gargantuan and the tension has risen between innovation and privacy.

How Much Privacy Are You Willing To Sacrifice?

The biggest fear, surrounding facial recognition, is that identity theft would be rendered possible by anyone. For example, Google Glass has sparked debate over privacy, for the simple reason that a total stranger could quickly access all your social profiles, along with personal information about you, simply by snapping a shot of you while you are shopping, having a coffee or walking down the street. I could argue that a total stranger can also come across your FB profile picture and used it for similar purposes, which as we know has been done on many occasions. However the implications of Facial Recognition reach much further and deeper.

Those in favor of facial recognition will cite the many benefits:

  • Easier to track down burglars, thieves, and trespassers. The technology can also analyze the feed of private and public CCTV camera networks.
  • By singling out suspects among crowds, face recognition technology could help decrease stops and searches on law-abiding citizens.
  • It could be used to help find missing children and seniors.
  • Face recognition could make security checkpoints at airports less intrusive to passengers.
  • Facial recognition could be used to battle banking frauds.
  • Face recognition technology could be used to improve attendance at work by putting an end to time fraud. Employees would be required to check-in and out via a face-scanning device for work. 

Those against facial recognition technology, such as Civil liberties groups, are concerned over threats to privacy, violations of rights and personal freedoms, potential data theft and other crimes as well as the risk of possible errors due to flaws in the technology.

Facial Recognition technology promises benefits at a cost. How far are you willing to compromise and sacrifice your privacy?

I always envisioned a technology-driven future and amongst my favorite authors were visionaries, such as Arthur C. Clarke, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Frank Heinlein, H. G. Wells, and William Gibson.

We are living at a time when the boundaries between science fiction and reality have thinned exponentially and we are now faced with a perplexing scenario. The questions we all need to ask ourselves are, how much privacy are we willing to give up for the benefits derived from technology and most importantly what else are we giving up?

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Ever Thought Of Pursuing a Career As An Adaptation Technologist?

Have you ever asked yourself who the people behind frontline aid work are and how did they end up dedicating their professional lives to pursuing solutions to age-old plagues such as war, famine, natural disasters or drought? These brave individuals are known as Climate Change Adaption Technology Specialists, and they help and train affected communities by introducing them to self-sufficiency and focusing on effective, sustainable, recovery solutions.

Implementing effective strategies for sustainability in aid work is very sought after. Assisting post-disaster and poverty-stricken areas by designing sustainable systems that can withstand climate change can make a real difference to the quality of life and help communities rebuild quickly. 

Most methods of adaptation involve technology, materials, equipment, and most importantly diverse forms of knowledge. The forms of technology for adaptation are often quite familiar and have been tried and tested over generations, such as coping with floods by building houses on stilts or by cultivating floating vegetable plots. Other more recent forms of adaptation involve the use of advanced materials, science, or remote satellite sensing. Take for example how Adaptive Technology is the focus of an extended Egyptian climate project.

If you have an adaptive mindset and enjoy fostering innovative solutions to global environmental issues, training is available worldwide.

Green Warrior Permaculture‘ specializes in frontline aid work and for anyone interested in becoming a professional Climate Change Adaption Technology Specialist, they offer a 2-year apprenticeship program. Once the initial 10-week hands-on internship is completed, the trainee will be assigned to various projects at one of their many field school sites. Students can develop projects to test their skills and gain experience alongside other Permaculture teachers and practitioners. “Permaculture Aid gets real results by helping the people restore their community using local resources. They grow their way out of poverty”. 

Students practice in the field, where they develop all the necessary skills to bring self-reliance to people needing aid. Students must complete several small-scale projects, such as construct safe wells, build community infrastructures, implement waste management solutions, or build nurseries, to list but a few. The projects are conducted in real communities, where students get to solve real problems.

Upon completion of the 2-year program, one is qualified to co-teach for 2 years, after which one can open their own Permaculture Field School, with the option of branching out on their own or by joining forces with a guild of trainers. 

A 10-week Climate Change Adaption Technology Specialist apprenticeship is also being offered, as a stand-alone course, for those with some previous experience. Courses can be customized for people with specialized skills or previous experience in the field. 

These courses are run through Green Warrior Permaculture’s new facilities at the ‘Centre of Advanced Permaculture’. All of Green Warrior Permaculture’s programs and field courses focus on how to adapt and mitigate climate events. More in-depth information on Green Warrior Permaculture field courses can be found on their website: https://greenwarriorpermaculture.wordpress.com/category/what-is-a-green-warrior/

If Green Warrior’s program is not the right fit or location for you, check out these other options for training as an Adaptation Technology Specialist:

https://cat.org.uk/adaptation/

Studylink

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat and the Expert Group on Technology Transfer carried out an extensive review of adaptation technologies and assessed their possibilities in five sectors:

  • Coastal zones
  • Water resources
  • Agriculture
  • Public health
  • Infrastructure

This review gives you a pretty good idea of the challenges that lie ahead for mankind and the opportunities to make a difference. The review is published as a technical paper, and can be found on the UNFCCC website (www.unfccc.int).

The global climate system has always confronted human societies with extreme weather events and we can expect future climate change will simply exacerbate these type of events, increasing their scale, duration or intensity, which should be possible to adapt to some extent by modifying or extending existing technologies.

If you are interested and would like to read an in depth publication which provides an overview of the old and the new, clearly showing us that we have been using existing knowledge to adapt to changing environments and that new adaptation technologies and methods are available and are being developed. Download this publication as a reminder of what is possible and how you can make a difference by becoming an Adaptation Technologist.

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How To Tell Quality Fabric From Cheap Fabric

If you stop to think about it, fabric is one of the most important components in our daily lives. From the clothes we wear, to the upholstery of our home furniture and cars, to our bed linen.  The fabric used will determine the value, comfort, and durability of the item in question. Not all fabrics are suitable for all applications and not all fabrics are alike when it comes to quality.

I grew up with a seamstress for a mother. Spent many days down long aisles of fabric stores in Montreal’s St-Laurent area, the heart of the city’s garment industry back then. Rows and rows of shelves lined with fat rolls of fabric. An infinite array of textures and colors to choose from. You could always tell who worked in the store since they had measuring tapes hanging around their necks and long sharp scissors always on standby.

The best part of going fabric shopping with my mother was that I was allowed to touch the merchandise on display. This never happened anywhere else. I mimicked my mother’s meticulous perusals of fine threads. I listened to her rumblings when she was not satisfied with the quality or price. Without realizing it I was learning about the fine art of textiles through my fingertips and my mother’s unintentional coaching.

As a consumer, you owe it to yourself to know the difference between valued fabrics and cheap fabrics. Whether you are buying new furniture for your home, a new suit, special dress, or bed linen, the fabric used will make all the difference. If you are going to spend money on a classic suit, special dress, or important piece of furniture for your home or office, you’ll want it to last and to look good after some wear or use.

Cheap or ill-suited fabrics in upholstery will quickly turn that new sofa into a junkyard piece as the fabric stretches, thins, fades, easily stains, and rips at the seams. When it comes to clothes or bed linen, your comfort is largely dictated by the fabric used. High-quality fabric will ensure that your suit or tailored summer dress will not turn into an incubator on a hot day. 

When it comes to bed linen, the sensation on your skin when you come into contact with finely woven Egyptian cotton, versus regular cotton is notable even by a novice.  Egyptian cotton sheets may cost more, however, the longer you use them, the more cost effective they become. Let’s just say that you get your return on your investment. What makes Egyptian cotton special is partly the high number of threads per square inch. Egyptian cotton sheets resist pilling, easily absorb vibrant color dyes, and are so much softer than most other sheets. I purchased two sets of Egyptian bed linen and comforter covers, and I’ve never looked back. They look and feel as good as when I purchased these 12 years ago, the colors are as vibrant as day one, and every night when I slip into bed my skin thanks me for not having bought Ikea bed linen. 

If you’re like me your bed linen is part and parcel of your home decor, so why not invest a little extra in top-quality Egyptian cotton that you know you can enjoy for years to come. Enjoy not only for its esthetic values but also for that unprecedented and truly lush experience that only the finest of fabrics can give you. 

Textiles can be seductive, exciting, intimate, and, even shocking in some instances. Take for example to use of PVC for fetish wear. Lace, silk, and satin have long been considered sensual textiles. Why is this? Because as you touch these fine fabrics your senses are awakened through your skin and touch. Who doesn’t like the soft furry feel of mohair knit or the provocative touch of plush velvet? The delicious draping of silk taffeta is something for our eyes to behold. Textiles offer us a multisensory experience. 

How To Tell Quality Fabric From Cheap Fabric

Whether you are buying a suit or bed linen, start by reading the label. It helps if you have some knowledge of textiles. Here are some useful pointers to help you understand the difference between quality and cheap fabrics.

  • Fiber Weave: High-quality fabrics feature fibers that are closely and tightly woven together. There should be no obvious gaps between fibers as that’s often an indication of weakness in the fiber quality and they can tear easily. High-quality fabrics have a more well-balanced combination of vertical and horizontal weaves, which make for a stronger fabric surface.
  • Color: Look out for unevenness in tone throughout the surface of the fabric. There should be no streaks or spots. Test fabrics for colorfastness as well.
  • Thread Count. This refers to the number of thread strands per inch. A higher thread count means the fabric is tighter and more durable.
  • Finish. The fabric should show no uneven weaves, unusual creases, or stretching in the corners.
  • Price. Quality comes at a price, and usually cheap items are an indication that corners have been cut either by using cheap material or cheap labor (or both). The price point should match the item in appearance and quality.
  • Finished Product. High-quality linens and apparel have a distinct appearance. The seams should be well sewn. The buttons should be clean and even.
  •  Longer fibers, such as those in Egyptian cotton can be spun into a finer yarn. Fine yarn can be more tightly bound, which makes the resulting fabric stronger and more durable.

High-end, natural textiles typically come with a price, however, when building a solid, timelessly elegant wardrobe, these fabrics are worth the investment. Silk, cashmere, leather, and linen have long been highly acclaimed, sought after, and expensively priced for obvious reasons.

There’s also a case to be made for sustainability. Instead of buying a cheap garment which will fall apart at the seams and need replacing in no time, try spending a little extra and you will have saved in the long run. Aside from having that favorite suit, dress, jacket or sofa still looking and feeling new for many years ahead, clothing or furniture made with quality fabrics can be resold at a good value.

Whether you are investing in your home or wardrobe, learn to recognize quality fabrics, make smart purchases and you’ll never look back.  

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Beginners Guide On Using Hickory and Mesquite For Smoking Meat

The heat is on! Summer is here and it’s perfect for grilling and smoking meats outdoors. For those of you not familiar with using smoke for cooking, it is important to understand the variety of woods that can be used, whether you are smoking brisket, pork ribs, fish, or poultry. Think of using smoke in the same way as you would use spices, garlic, ginger, curry, or basil in a dish you are preparing. Each one of these will give a distinct flavor to your dish and will either work for or against your dish, depending on how you use them.

Meat should be smoked prior to grilling for that special flavor. You don’t need a dedicated smoker. Here are some handy solutions for smoking meat using your gas or charcoal grill.

If you’re new to smoking meats, you should familiarize yourself with a variety of woods to choose from, suitable for smoking meats. Many fruit trees are suitable for smoking meat. Apple, cherry, pear, plum, and almond woods will lend a sweet, fruity flavor to most meats.  Apple wood is a very fine option as it results in a light, fruity, sweet smoky flavor.

We’ll start with Hickory and Mesquite since these are amongst the most popular woods used for smoking meat. Both Hickory and Mesquite are high-quality hardwoods, so in order to choose between these two firewoods, you’ll need to know more about their individual characteristics, flavor, smoking point, and burning time.

Hickory vs Mesquite

In order to get the best results, when choosing which wood to use when smoking meats, a good place to start would be to examine the differences between Hickory wood and Mesquite wood. These are both hardwood trees, which means they make for high-quality firewood.

If we were to measure Hickory and Mesquite on a spectrum that spanned from mild to strong, we would find Hickory in the middle, along with other woods, such as maple and oak. These woods are excellent for smoking pork and bold enough to smoke beef, and game meats as well. Mesquite is in another category, all of its own. It produces the strongest tasting smokey flavor and should be used in moderation, or combined with other woods when smoking lighter meats. Let’s have a closer look at the characteristics of these two fine hardwoods.

Hickory Chips

Hickory

Hickory is the longest-burning wood of the two, it is high-quality firewood and because it has quite a high heat output, Hickory tends to last longer than many other kinds of wood and delivers consistent smoke throughout the entire cooking period.

Hickory is a versatile smoking wood that works well with most types of meats and is the classic choice for bacon and turkey. Just about anyone is familiar with hickory bacon. Hickory produces a strong-flavored smoke, slightly more intense than alder and other fruitwoods, such as cherry wood or applewood, and Hickory has a milder profile than Mesquite wood does. Many Pitmasters will pick Hickory because it adds a dark coloring to smoked meats.

Hickory is a clean-burning wood that provides longer slower smoking times and can be mixed with other wood types if desired. With Hickory, you’ll have less to worry about when cooking different types of meats together or steaks of various thicknesses. Hickory is a simpler choice, for anyone who is new to smoking meat.

Mesquite Chips

Mesquite

Mesquite is also a prized wood for both smoking and grilling meats because it produces a lot of heat and gives the meat a deep flavor. Mesquite has a unique, pleasant scent and flavor, both strong and tangy. However, Mesquite burns faster than Hickory.

Mesquite also produces long-lasting coals, although not as long-lasting as Hickory. More smoke is produced when using Mesquite than any other type of smoking wood because it contains higher levels of Lignin, which gives us that fantastic BBQ smokey flavor when burned

It is recommended that Hickory be used as the base, and Mesquite be added either at the beginning or near the end of the smoking process. Mesquite should be added in small amounts, or you risk turning the meat bitter tasting, and so as not to overpower the meat.

Generally, when smoking light meats, Mesquite should be used moderately. For those who prefer a more robust smokey taste, then Mesquite is for you. However, remember that if you need longer cooking times, Hickory is a better choice.

Depending on the meat you are smoking there are some combinations that are proven to be winners. The general rule of thumb is that Mesquite is more suitable for smoking dark red meats. and game, because of its strong-flavored attributes. Meats that need less cooking time are best for smoking with Mesquite wood, as these don’t risk staying on the grill long enough to turn bitter.

Is Hickory or Mesquite Preferable On Different Meats ?

Smoking meat before and during grilling

Hickory or Mesquite For Chicken

Poultry is an excellent meat to add flavor to by smoking. Poultry meat will take on any wood smoke and will work with most woods. It is a matter of personal taste. Super strong woods like mesquite may be overwhelming for those people who prefer a milder smoked chicken flavor. Hickory is not as strong as Mesquite and works wonders with Turkey and Chicken.

Hickory or Mesquite For Ribs

Both Hickory and Mesquite work well for smoking ribs. Hickory is the preferred choice for a traditional Southern barbecue. It imparts a strong, sweet smoky flavor to meats and is used mainly to smoke pork shoulders and ribs. Mesquite will give a more robust smoky taste to your meat dishes, which works very well for ribs and any other strong-flavored meats.

Hickory or Mesquite For Pork

Traditionally Hickory is used for smoking pork. Hickory will give a rich flavor and darker coloration to the meat. You could try adding a little Mesquite at the end to add a little extra smoky and tangy flavor.

Hickory or Mesquite For Brisket

Mesquite can be an acquired taste, however, if you’ve been dying to try Mesquite for smoking, then brisket lends itself perfectly to the task. Since it is a richer meat than most, it can handle the stronger smokey flavor of Mesquite. Being a fast-burning wood makes Mesquite the ideal choice for authentic Texas-style brisket.

Hickory or Mesquite For Steak

Mesquite burns faster than Hickory and is suitable to use for quick cooks like steak. Mesquite will add color to smoked meats, although it’ll be a bit lighter in color than meat smoked with Hickory. If you have not used Mesquite before then try mixing it, using Hickory as a base.

Hickory or Mesquite For Burgers

Both Hickory and Mesquite are favorites for smoking burgers. Hickory will impart a nice, bacon-like taste and aroma, whereas Mesquite will lend burgers a steak-like quality.

Hickory or Mesquite For Pulled Pork

You’ll find people debating online on whether to use Hickory or Mesquite for Pulled Pork. Generally, Hickory is favored, but in the end, it is a matter of personal taste.

Hickory or Mesquite For Jerky

If you like that bacon flavor in your Jerky, then Hickory should do it or try adding a little Mesquite if you want your Jerky a little smokier, and stronger-flavored.

Hickory or Mesquite For Bacon

Hickory has been a longstanding favorite for Bacon. For those who enjoy stronger smoke-flavored bacon, you’ll find Mesquite bacon to be tangy, savory, and surprisingly delicious.

Smoking does more than add flavor to meat dishes, it also tenderizes and adds an appealing color to the meat itself. Hickory is partially popular because it gives the meat a rich, dark color, which makes the meat more appealing and appetizing to the eye.

Although Hickory is the more popular smoking wood, Mesquite is perfect for wild game, beef brisket, duck, and lamb. For some people’s taste, Mesquite might be too strong, used for smoking chicken, fish, or even ribs, and pork shoulder. Mesquite also adds some color to the meat, but generally, not the rich, color that Hickory imparts.

Mesquite and Hickory both have their unique flavor and are high-quality smoking woods. However, the general consensus is Mesquite should be used sparingly unless you would rather opt for a richer, deeper, and stronger taste. When you need longer cooking times, as for poultry, and you prefer a slightly milder, sweeter, taste, Hickory is the right pick. For shorter cooking times, Mesquite can be used, depending on personal tastes.

The rule of thumb is to smoke the lighter meats, with the milder woods, in this instance, Hickory, and the heavier meats with the stronger flavored woods, such as Mesquite.

If you don’t have much experience with smoking meats and you want to play it safe, Hickory is a good wood to start with. It’s easy to over-smoke meat with Mesquite and you risk the meat tasting bitter as a result. With Hickory wood, you don’t risk changing the taste of the meat, and it won’t turn bitter even if you over-smoke it. Hickory is forgiving and more flexible than Mesquite. Hickory will lend a deep and rich quality to your dishes and is an exceptional choice for any meat you want to smoke, from beef to pork, poultry, and fish.

You can experiment by simultaneously using a mix of Hickory and Mesquite, or Hickory with other mild fruit woods such as cherry or apple. Hickory and Mesquite combined together, will result in a flavor that is stronger than Hickory but lighter than Mesquite. You’ll appreciate the earthy yet sweet and mellow flavor that the blend of Hickory and Mesquite will give your meat dishes.

If you’ve never tried smoking meat, when grilling, you have truly missed out on one of the great culinary pleasures. Smoked meat is super tasty, and tender beyond comparison. The results will astound your palate.

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The Evolution Of The Seductive Shoe

Fashion is ephemeral, constantly throwing new styles, shapes and colors at us as it mirrors societal changes. Historically, Fashion turned what used to be a necessity into an artistic expression of the times, cultural norms, sensibilities, sexuality and morals. Fashion ushered in a world where novelty, rapid changes in taste, and societal trends attributed a new significance to clothes and footwear.

As early as the mid 14th century, Fashion had become a system of rules by which people could express their disapproval through ridicule, criticism and ostracism. Fashion was driven and associated to extravagance and wealth.

Louis XVI’s brother, Count d’Artois, was known to order 365 pairs of shoes per year, revealing him to be far more of a shoe hound than Marie Antoinette ever was. Although in all fairness, it should be pointed out that in mid century France, interiors, even in palaces, were very dirty, muddy and often there was animal excrement about. For those who could afford to, shoes were disposable and replaced on a daily basis.

The Turning Point For Shoes

French Silk Damask Shoe with buckle c. 1760-65

Until the 14th century, shoes for men and women were similarly fashioned, sporting flat soles and almond shaped toes. With the shortening and tightening of clothing, in the mid 14th century, for both men and women, shoes came into full view for the first time and this caused ripples throughout all of society. Shoes had become as important as a hat, and needed to be “au courant,” lest one wanted to be the brunt of ridicule.

French Silk Damask shoes with fold-over tongue, trimmed with silver lace c. 1720-30

This was a turning point for shoes, when they went from being a necessity to becoming a fashion statement and an indicator of societal status, which still holds true to this day. The infamous first lady, Imelda Marcos, was heavily criticized for her collection of fancy footwear, amounting to 3000 pairs of shoes. She was a hard contender to beat. Some quick calculations clearly demonstrate that with 3000 pairs of shoes, to her name, Imelda Marcos could not have worn the same pair of shoes more than once, for a period amounting to eight years.

Platforms, pumps, stiletto-heeled sandals or ballerina flats, shoe trends come and go and return. An ongoing debate, has been raging since the late 1800’s, with regards to high heels, posture and related injuries, and pointed toes were also put into question. Health concerns influenced the mainstream and by 1904 the masculinization of women’s footwear was well underway. These concerns resurfaced again decades later, which gave birth to Dr. Scholl and Birckenstock shoe Brands.

Very few fashion items have been regarded with as much passion as shoes. In 1939 the editor in chief of American Vogue pled with the Fashion Guild to stop the promotion of the open-toed, open-backed shoe. She represented a large number of consumers, who at the time, preferred good old fashioned closed shoes. The real issue with open-toed shoes was that women’s stockings, at the time, had toe and heel reinforcements, a small detail, which nevertheless was considered in bad taste, and going bare legged was entirely out of the question. Stockings without reinforced toes and heels hit the market in 1940 and women have not looked back since. By the 1990’s, most women had opted for comfort and freedom and chose to leave their legs bare.

New heel styles were introduced by the early 20th century. Oxford pumps and sandals dominated shoe fashion in the 1930’s. Toe baring sandals were first introduced in the late 1920’s, as beachwear. Platform shoes, which made their first appearance in the late 1930’s, were originally classified as beachwear. Platforms saw periodical comebacks over the decades as these were reinterpreted by designers.

If 19th century rules of fashion, whereby popularity was the ruler by which a design’s success was measured, were applied in today’s market, then it would be correct to say that the biggest selling shoe style of the past 80 years has been the rubber soled trainer, which went on to take many shapes and styles. The personal fitness rage, which took over the 1980’s, ushered in some creative takes on sports footwear, including sneakers with stiletto heels.

Boots And Wartime Restrictions

Until the late 1780’s women only wore boots for horse riding, at some point they began wearing boots for walking as well and so it was that the fashion for boots gained popularity. Boots became the chosen footwear for bicycling and walking until skirt hems rose, and the shafts of boots grew taller. Unfortunately wartime saw a demand on leather required for military use and as a result, in 1917, boot height was restricted to eight inches in England.

Boots have come a long way since, and boot lovers can now choose boots for functional purposes, such as work boots, motorcycle boots and climbing boots, or simply choose to wear boots as a fashion or sexual statement.

American Nylon Stockings Boots with Plexiglass heels – 1967-

Shoes And Sexuality

“Shoes figure prominently in stories and fairytales, including Cinderella (a highly sexualized tale in it’s more original versions), Puss ‘n’ Boots, Seven League Boots, The Wizard of Oz, The Red Shoes, and The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, as well a more contemporary tales. Shoes and our desire for them are the objects of art, satire, museum exhibitions, [and] films. And they are the objects of a growing number of histories, catalogs, essays, and tributes…As all of this attention suggests, what we wear on our feet is far from a matter of indifference or utilitarianism” 

It has been reported that that 80% of shoes are bought for purposes of sexual attraction.

Since the mid 14th century, fashion has faithfully continued to be influenced by popular culture. Designers have since skillfully broken the boundaries of gender roles and identities in clothing and footwear. Take for example these Oxford Pump knock offs for men.

The Future Of Shoe Design

We’ve seen futuristic shoe design such as the self-lacing Nike or gravity defying moonwalker boots, and maybe these are an indication of what to expect in the future of shoe design. However if we’re to use the last 700 years, in the history of shoe design, as any indication of what to expect in the future, then it is safe to say that shoe design will continue to take inspiration from the past, and add a new twist or some extras. here and there. There is rarely a style that is completely new. Take for example these black leather colonial pumps, with silver buckles, by John Fluvog c. 1984.

These were clearly influenced by colonial Fashion, which in turn was influenced by earlier trends dating as far back as the 14th century France, flat with exaggerated pointy toes.

These leather pumps by John Fluvog were clearly inspired by Colonial fashion, which in turn had found inspiration in earlier designs, as far back as 1795, as can be clearly noted in the long pointed toes and flat heels. Buckles were also trendy for men’s shoes as far back as 1760 France.

The consensus is that the future of shoe design will be centered around sports and comfort. I am willing to wager that shoes who’s sole purpose is seduction, even at the price of comfort, will continue to be coveted and desired by both men and women, far into the distant future.

SOURCES

  • The Seductive Shoe by Jonathan Walford
  • Psychology Today

Featured

Would You Rather Go To Mars Or Rebuild Earth?

Almost two decades have been marked by record-breaking hurricanes, floods and heatwaves. It is snowing plastic in the Arctic, our shorelines and marine life are choked and bound in plastic, yet conditions continue to deteriorate further. Since the 2020 pandemic began, there have been an estimated 194 billion disposable face masks and gloves being tossed every month, washing up on shorelines, worldwide.  

Almost 15 years ago, ‘sustainability’ became an overnight household term. From one day to the next, practically every existing corporate company had put in place a sustainability program, recycling bins, dedicated staff and budgets. Never before have the concept and implications of sustainability reached so far, as they have in the last two decades. Yet in the blink of an eye, it has been put to rest with the arrival of Covid-19. 

The long term impact of our day to day actions, on the environment, have been a concern for mankind far longer than most of us realize. As far back as the 17th century, Forestry was the first economic activity where people were confronted with the long term issues surrounding forestry and sustainability.  

Following the USA’s first landing on the moon, in the 1970’s, there was a strong stirring with concerns for the future of our planet. In just a few decades we’ve reached a critical point. Now that we have the resources, tools, knowledge and technology to save our planet, those with the means to do so have turned their eyes, power and wealth towards Mars.

New Frontiers To Fight Over Are In Cyberspace Or Outer Space

In the midst of a global pandemic, China managed 140 launches into orbit. With an exhaustive five year program for their new orbital space station, the retrieval of Martian samples and a Jupiter exploratory mission, for starters. 

India launched its ‘Defense Space Research Organization’ which is charged with finding and implementing defense applications for India’s entire spectrum of space technologies and protecting India’s interests in space.

So far, NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates all launched missions to mars in July, 2020. Always follow the money if you want a glimpse of the future. We are living at a time when the new frontiers to fight over are in cyberspace or outer space. 

We all know where Musks stands when it comes to ensuring the survival of the human race. He is a firm believer that a permanent and self-sustaining presence on Mars is needed, in case earth is left uninhabitable and he has put his money where his mouth is.  

A Martian city is being designed in the Dubai desert, made up of pressurized bio-domes, covered with transparent polyethylene membrane, like those we’ve seen in many sci-fi movies and series. 

So far, NASA, China, and the United Arab Emirates have all launched missions to Mars in July, 2020. Always follow the money if you want a glimpse of the future. We are living at a time when the new frontiers to fight over are in cyberspace or outer space and 2021 promises to be a competitive race for all invested parties.

We were promised a sustainable future, with cars that don’t burn oil, a future where central power stations would be redundant, and carbon emissions, a thing of the past. Where industries no longer dump toxic waste into our waters. We have the resources and the technology to do all this and we are already seeing important changes in the automotive industry.

Surely between climate and marine policy advisors, activists, technology, and science, we should stand a chance of saving the planet, but will this happen? How can this happen when countries, governments, top scientists, researchers, architects, and tycoons are invested in an evacuation program to Mars?

Regardless of the scope, ambitions, and investments being made with this race towards Mars, one thing is clear, Mars represents something other than a solution to our dying planet, and it will permanently alter our world’s geopolitical equilibrium. New powers will emerge. 

Earth Or Mars?

I have a foreboding that sometime soon the planet will be polarized and split into two, between those that believe the future of the human race can only be ensured by colonizing Mars and those that believe we can fix Earth. Which of these two factions would you side with? 

Call me old world, but I happen to love planet earth and have intuitively known since I was a child, that it was the only planet I could call home. Sure, like most kids, I had my share of fantasies about space travel, and going to the moon, after all my generation grew up with the space race between Russia and the US and witnessed the first landing on the moon. 

As magical, life-changing, and mind-bending it was to watch Neil Armstrong do his moonwalk, I was grateful we had earth. 

It has been said that Modern man often lives detached from his environment and has long lost the understanding that we are one with nature. Perhaps we don’t deserve this exotic paradise we named earth. Perhaps we deserve to live under plastic domes on a desolate, unwelcoming planet such as Mars?  If so, how will future generations feel about not having had the chance to live their lives as earthlings? In most sci-fi stories, they always want to find a way back to earth, even if it means dying.

If nothing else, at least our stories speak loud and strong about our passionate love for planet earth.  In a world divided by frontiers, race, religion, and politics surely we must be able to identify as earthlings, at the very least.

It is frustrating to see so much money and resources being invested in a space race when these powers could join forces to save our planet. How ironic and sad, to think that all that awaits human civilization, in the near future, is a desolate, harsh planet where people live in bubbles, imitating earth. 

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How To Take The Lead As A Newbie Copywriter

I felt compelled to write this article, following my own decision to embark on a career as a copywriter. There are many blog and copywriting gurus, out there, promising to share their trade secrets and help you pave the way to becoming a highly paid copywriter, double and triple the traffic to your blog, or turn you into a famous blogger.

They’ll promise you writing material you can’t buy anywhere or from anyone else and zillions of hours of content and templates, all organized to save you loads of time, and double or triple your blog’s traffic.

There are no shortcuts and no get-rich-quick schemes. The best way to learn to be a writer is by writing, every day and reading what others write. I literally dove into writing overnight. I had been writing short stories, mostly fiction, for my own amusement and for some close friends. About two years ago I left my job of 20 years, in television, and I embarked on a full-time writing career.

How I Got Started As A Copywriter

I took a few grammar and writing tests online, with a couple of agencies. I jumped on board with the first one that let me in, I was eager.

I will be brutally honest. The pay sucks and it is often difficult to get inspired by the client briefs. Although that could have been a personal setback, due to my bout with writing fiction, I made an exerted effort to stick to the task at hand, which was to learn the trade. Client briefs can be totally incoherent, inexistent, or exhaustive. Guess what, it’s the perfect boot-camp experience for any newbie copywriter.

Your Toolkit As A Copywriter

No matter where or how you decide to embark on the copywriting train, make sure you’ve done your homework and honed your skills before you enter the arena.

You must have polished writing skills, know how to write powerful headlines, and have an awareness and empathy for user experience and marketing. After all, copywriting needs to reach the niche needs of consumers.

Every sector has its own language, at times quite technical. It is imperative that you be able to swiftly grasp and synthesize the basic concepts you are to communicate in writing and do so in a way that elevates the brand and user experience. The tone and language you use need to be in sync with the topic, the client’s brand, and demographics.

Copywriting takes on different forms, from copy for advertising, websites, blog posts, UX writing, landing pages, brochures, product descriptions, and reviews, lead magnets, white papers, and more. Do some research and study these different formats. Do get familiar with SEO writing techniques as most web content requires this. Read as often as you write.

Set Goals For Yourself As A Copywriter

You need to set goals for yourself. My goal, starting out as a ghostwriter online, was to get promoted to a higher tier of writers, where I could access high-paying assignments, I gave myself one month to reach my goal. If I could get over 40 five-star reviews and recommendations, I could make it, and I did. There’s something to be said for setting a goal.

In order to achieve this, I needed to get some repeat customers. I managed to secure three loyal clients, who gave me first dibs on their requests. In one instance, it was the client who contacted me after reading the first article I had written. I also tried to pick clients with multiple assignments and write at least two articles for them, this was a good way of starting a working relationship with that particular client. In this manner, I secured two more loyal customers. They were very pleased with the two articles I had written and asked me if I would be interested in writing all of their content.

I love baptism by fire. What I mean to say is, I enjoy learning on the go and under the gun, so to speak. I perform well under pressure. In those four weeks or so, not only did I manage to get promoted to a better pay rate, the most important accomplishment was writing article after article, day after day, for three different clients, whose businesses, brands, and messages had nothing in common.

As a writer, I spend 60% to 70% of my time researching and 30% to 40% writing. Writing 40 articles covering the ins and outs of any topic can be an education in itself. Having a couple of websites where you get to write all the content, is an excellent addition to your portfolio. A writing portfolio and client reviews will give you credibility as a copywriter.

Build A Track Record As A Copywriter

As I mentioned earlier, the pay sucks, but that shouldn’t matter when you are starting out. The reason being, if you are a newbie copywriter, chances are, you have no track record. You’ll need to build a portfolio and get reviews and recommendations. This is the only way to build credibility and gain trust from prospective clients.

This is exactly what I did, working on a poor paying platform, for a couple of months. I wrote for numerous clients, until three of them became loyal clients. They were very pleased with the writing and the turnaround time so I got an exclusive, which also pays a higher rate, although that was not where my motivation lay. My goal was to reach further, one step at a time and move off the platform.

For my first client, I wrote the web content for a Generic Viagra online store, all of it. From the About Page, to disclaimers and a mountain of product reviews. I learned everything there is to know about erectile dysfunction, every possible treatment available, and what works best for whom. It was an interesting assignment, which definitely put my empathy and writing skills to the test. The five-star reviews from this client were abundant and seriously complimentary. His astounding reviews were, in part, what helped me secure my next two loyal clients.

For the second client, I wrote numerous blog articles, as a call to action, designed to attract local online businesses, to their marketing services. I gained a wealth of information researching the material, which in turn proved useful in marketing my own small business. I received excellent reviews both on the writing platform and LinkedIn, and was tipped generously by some clients.

For the third client, I completed a package of 40 articles with a call to action, for an aesthetics clinic’s website. As a result, I now have in depth knowledge of any and every procedure which can be performed on any part of the human body. Laser treatments are trending for anything from hair restoration to vaginal rejuvenation. You may be laughing right about now, or not. The fact is, the client has since offered me an exclusive long term blog writing contract for which I get to name my price.

What To Expect Starting Out As A Newbie Copywriter

Yes at first the pay is sad, but the paybacks are plentiful. You need to have realistic expectations and work your way up. Once you have what it takes, I call it ammunition, then you’re ready to play with the big guns.

To date, I have written articles promoting procedures, treatments and cures for every possible condition that ails humans. Following a mountain of DIY’s and product reviews, spanning from power tools to sex toys, I took a break and whipped up a few Bios for artists. I needed to change flavors. Then I moved on to wellness, which was a booming industry, following global lockdowns, due to COVID-19. Sex, as always, is a heavy contender in the virtual arena and maintains its poll position, so I took an assignment masquerading as an article on eroticism but was in fact a detailed review on different porn platforms. I was flabbergasted at how much porn has changed since blockbuster days. Wrote a couple of landing pages for online Cannabis dispensaries in the USA and Canada and these made me wish I lived there.

I enjoyed the variety and I find it keeps me fit and interested, as a writer. It’s almost as though I’m exercising different muscle groups, depending on what I’m writing about. It’s like wearing different hats and speaking different languages. You don’t need to go about it this way. You may be an expert in a certain area or prefer writing for a special niche and that’s a great way to go about starting your copywriting career.

Since I started my journey, only a few months back, I have secured two copious copywriting assignments on my own, one of which is a long-term assignment, and I get to name the price for both jobs. By my standards, it’s a notable accomplishment, as a newbie copywriter. My secret? Keep it real.

Keep It Real And Take The Lead

If you choose to start copywriting, via an online writing platform such as iWriter, Upwork or fiverr, you should know the competition is fierce but don’t let that get in your way. Not everyone is as good a copywriter as you are, remember that!

Any unoriginal or plagiarized content is immediately rejected. You may write a 1500 word post for a blog and it might get rejected, even though it is an authentic original piece, without you even getting a chance to rewrite. If this happens have a look and see what, if anything, you could have done better and move on to your next assignment.

Sometimes the briefs are misleading or lacking the necessary information. You’ll need to reach out and consult with your client. Maybe their title or the subheadings they’ve requested are not effective. If so, you need to take the lead and propose alternatives that will knock their socks off. Your client will appreciate your genuine interest, commitment and professionalism. This is how you can secure loyal customers for yourself as a copywriter.

The request for written content, whether it is for social marketing or to populate websites, has increased exponentially. The subject matters are infinite and cover every topic imaginable and unimaginable.

If you are serious about being a writer, then you need to write. No one can give you or sell you a magic, out of the box solution that will turn you into a famous, high paid copywriter or blogger, in a short time. It comes with practice, diligence, discipline, and passion. There are plenty of opportunities, to get started, if you are willing to do the work, keep it real and take the lead.

Becoming an accomplished writer is similar to forging a blade. A blade needs to be tempered through repeatedly heating, hammering and folding it, until the blade is fine, strong and sharp. The process can be demanding and laborious, if you want to secure your place amongst the sharpest of writers.

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Why You Need A Brand Toolkit For Your Business

A brand is not your logo, a brand is a brand ambassador for your business and speaks on your behalf. It represents your company’s culture, image, reputation, and what it stands for. Your brand identity and your brand story are intimately connected. They are the emotional links and the lifeline between your company and your prospects. 

A brand kit is a customized kit, designed to assure that your brand identity is consistent across all social platforms. If you run an online business or use social media to promote your business online, your brand identity needs to be consistent across all your social media profiles. You will require banners, images, covers, features, posts, stories, and ads, and although social media platforms require different formats, your content should always be in line with your brand identity.

Designing an ad, or a post on Facebook and slapping your logo on a picture won’t cut it. In order to keep your brand identity alive and make sure people recognize you, you need to have consistent branding, which includes graphics, style, design, color palette, and fonts.

Below are some examples of a brand toolkit I designed for a client who is opening an online store specializing in high-quality truffles and all-natural truffle by-products, such as condiments, oils, and sauces.

The client is a truffle hunter, who lives with his hunting dogs, in Italy. He wants to distinguish his products and brand by making a connection with people who demand excellence and this means unadulterated products that are 100% natural.

His product line is small, selective, and top-quality. In designing the elements, I took these factors into consideration. The choice of colors and the brushstroke for the logo name were not casual choices. The irregular symbol next to the logo has an organic feel, reminiscent of the irregular shape of truffles. The customized toolkit reflects the brand identity the client wishes to build and promote.

A brand toolkit gives clients ready-made templates where images can be placed and this can make all the difference. Whether you are a small or large business, the same rules apply when it comes to brand identity and consistency across all platforms. Need help with your social network posts, covers, banners, and ads? A customized brand toolkit will boost communications and save you lots of time and grief. Contact me for a free consultation.

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CHIMERA -CHAPTER I

A ray of light spills through a slight gap in the curtains, a slash across Anna’s face, like a glowing blindfold. The quality and color of the light suggests it is artificial light and still dark out. 

Anna is heaving, as another wave of nausea washes over her.  She will never get used to the state in which she wakes up, almost every day, lately.  The void in her head, the sickness in her gut.  

She fumbles for the light switch on the wall and the room is instantly bathed in bright incandescent light, which momentarily soothes Anna.  This momentary respite is cut short the moment she spots a man’s suit, on the armchair, across the room.  It is a pearl grey,  sharkskin suit.  She hurriedly hurls the covers off the bed.  It is clear from the indentation in the mattress and pillow, next to her, that someone else had been in bed with her. 

She leaps out of bed, naked, except for her flaming red ponytail and a pair of leather panties constructed entirely of intertwined leather laces.  Her arms and legs are exceptionally long.  Although she has a slender build, her breasts are round and full.  She looks around the room, it’s a hotel room, nowhere to hide really.  Did the mystery man leave without his clothes?  She can’t remember a thing.  She stumbles towards the washroom where she vomits violently.  She rinses her face, then takes a hard look at herself in the mirror. She rips off her red mane, to reveal a bleached blonde.  Next she rips off the false eyelashes and removes her contact lenses to expose steely, sharp, blue eyes which had been masked by the lush green lenses. The transformation is notable. 

As Anna heads back into the bedroom she spots a pair of feet protruding from underneath the bed.  Her initial reflex is to jump back.  She takes a deep breath, then haltingly approaches the bed and crouches.  She gently touches the left foot, there is no movement, then she shakes the entire foot, still no movement.  The palms of her hands are sweating.  She is uncontrollably shaking as she wipes her hands on the bed covers, then latches on to both feet and starts to pull with all her might.  

Anna’s sympathetic nervous system has been activated by the sight of the dead body under the bed. She is experiencing accelerated emotional, psychological and physical changes.  Emotionally, she feels intense fear.  Psychologically, her senses are heightened enabling her to make fast decisions.  Her heart rate has increased and blood flow diverted to essential parts of her body, furnishing Anna with increased strength and stamina.

She has dragged out most of the body from under the bed and can see it is a white older male in his late fifties, privy of clothing.  The corpse’s head is still hidden under the bed.  Anna gives the body one last pull.  Nothing. It appears the dead man’s chin is lodged against the lower edge of the bed frame.  Anna leans in and attempts to turn the man’s head on its side, so as to clear the bed frame.  The body has stiffened.  No matter how hard she tries, the head is not budging.  Rigor mortis begins with the eyelids, neck, and jaw.  

Anna is resolute as she stands up and positions herself with one foot on either side of the body. She then leans over and with gargantuan strength, lifts the front end of the bed just enough for her to use her feet to push the body outwards and clear of the bed. She is careful not to make any noise as she slowly places the bed back down.

Who is this man?  He seems familiar to her.  She feels his pulse, no sign of life. There is no blood.  Did he have a cardiac arrest?  She then spots the angry red markings on his throat.  Strangulation?   

She fetches the suit jacket and rummages through the pockets where she finds the dead man’s ID.  A dark realization wipes across her face.  Of course when you’ve never seen a person naked, it’s possible not to recognize them immediately, should you find them dead and naked under your bed. 

Anna turns back towards the naked corpse, “Judge Czerny, now how the fuck did you end up dead under a bed in a hotel room and what am I doing here?”  

Judge Czerny had presided over one of the cases Anna had interpreted, on behalf of a plaintiff and the plaintiff had lost.  Anna had secretly disagreed with Judge Czerny’s deliberation and final judgement, that still did not explain what he was he doing dead under the bed in a hotel room, with her.  She had quit legal interpreting once she started modeling. Almost two years had gone by since.

A calmness has descended upon Anna, the initial fear has been replaced with alienation. She throws on a bathrobe and hurriedly steps out of the room, carefully and quietly shutting the door behind her.  Her emotions have flattened, she has gone into automatic mode.  When someone finds themselves faced with an unavoidable task, as in Anna’s case, a certain mechanical involuntary reflex kicks in. 

She may have had sex with the Judge, either way her DNA was certain to be on him.  She would have to shower and scrub him to make sure no trace of her could be found on his body.  She would need to clean the room just as meticulously and leave Vancouver at once.  

It is 5 AM, the hotel is deserted as she silently creeps down the hall in her bare feet, she checks and is relieved to see there are no security cameras in the hallway.  She quietly makes her way to the end of the corridor where there is a storage room.  She finds an empty laundry cart and hurriedly fills it with towels and bed sheets that are all neatly folded on shelves.  She grabs rubber gloves, industrial strength cleaners and a scrub brush, tossing everything into the cart.

Once she is back in the room Anna proceeds to drag the judge into the washroom.  She struggles to set the body into a sitting position which is proving to be impossible. She would need to break his back to bend him.  She gets an idea.  

She runs out of the washroom and into the bedroom, where she grabs four decorative, weave rope, curtain holders and runs back to the washroom.  

She struggles as she pulls the body up from the armpits and into the shower stall. In order to stop the body from sliding down, she leans into it hard with her own body, keeping it in place, as she proceeds to tie the judge’s wrists to the safety bars, with the curtain holders.  A tub would have made the entire process so much simpler, she thinks to herself.

She puts on a pair of rubber gloves, grabs the cleaners and a brush from the cart then steps back into the shower.  She begins fiercely scrubbing down the judge, using a brush which is normally used for scraping stubborn stains from floors and floorboards.  She instinctively turns away when she reaches the judge’s genital area.  She is relieved there is no blood, just a dead body.  

Once she’s done scrubbing him from head to toe, being careful not to break his skin, she dries him.  Although she had used force, the skin had not changed color, it hadn’t turned red as it would have, had he been alive.  What strange thoughts are these, Anna asks herself as she hurriedly wraps the dead man’s body in the sheets. 

Once he is all rolled up, she ponders how to get his dead weight into the laundry basket. He is too tall to fit unless she can manage to fold part of him over. 

She rolls the dead body out of the sheets again and rolls him over on his stomach.  She grabs onto the left leg. If she can manage to get the knees in a praying position, it would work.  Luckily for Anna, in most rigor mortis cases, the manually perceptible resistance is not only related to the intensity of rigor mortis but also to total muscle mass. The judge’s legs were thin and lacking any real muscle mass.  

Once Anna has successfully bent both legs at the knees, she proceeds to use the curtain holders to tie his legs in this position.  She then wraps the body up, sets the cart on its side and rolls the stiffened corpse in. She tosses in sheets and towels to conceal the corpse.  The Judge’s clothes and wallet she would dispose of elsewhere along with the sheets that were on the bed.

Next she sets to the task of wiping down the room and furniture, she would leave no trace of ever having been here. Once she is done, she removes the rubber gloves and places them in the bag she will dispose of.  She dresses, makes the bed up with a set of clean sheets so as not to awaken any suspicion when the room is being cleaned.  She grabs the overnight bag which she had brought along and quietly exits the room.  It’s  now 6.30 AM, she is able to safely dispose of the body and leave the hotel unseen.  

What delineates good people from bad people? It is not always clear who is the aggressor and who is the victim.  

IF  YOU ENJOYED THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THIS SHORT STORY YOU CAN PURCHASE IT ON AMAZON, ebook and paperback available  BUY NOW

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THE GIFT THAT LASTS FOREVER

I was a small inconsequential man, yet my actions, or lack thereof, have had their consequences.  Stripped of love, self respect and a future, even an insignificant man, such as myself, becomes capable of doing the impossible. Only once I’d lost everything and everyone that mattered to me, only then, did I find myself and my life mission revealed to me.

It was in this manner that I discovered my true mission in life to be death.  

I have embarked on a path of solitude, although my solitude is not entirely self imposed. 

When I look ahead there is only fog, thick and cold, promising more emptiness. With nothing to lose I have nothing to fear. My shadow and I are inseparable.  

Once, I was no one, now I am everyone’s nightmare.  I have found my place in the dark recesses of your mediocre minds.  Any who dares walk away from my shadow will not be spared, of this I am certain.  

You read about me in the morning paper as you sip your fresh brewed coffee in your favorite mug, that reads, “The World’s Best Dad.”  

You serenely send your children off to school. Absently kiss your wife goodbye without even a glance, just another empty gesture.

You are so distracted by the seemingly important chores of your mundane life, not knowing that today will be the day that will break you, reshape you, twist your insides out, cut your breath short and slowly, silently, contort you into an unrecognizable version of who you’ve been until this moment.  All your dreams will be crushed in an instant. Your reality, altered forever and they say nothing lasts forever. I bring you the gift that lasts forever. 

You may not appreciate this sacrifice of life, that frees you from your stupor, from the Xanax blindfold you willingly wear, which smothers the outlines of your life with an iridescent blurry glow, softening the edges of your constructed reality, making you feel safe. No one is safe in life or in death.  

Once you awaken to the reality that you are alone, your deepest dreaded fear, the fear of being alone will be replaced with something new. A numbness which will brew and turn into a deep spiral of dark and torturous thoughts. Regret and guilt are perfect partners in crime and are always by my side. 

Rebirth often feels like death. Do not hate me or try to avoid me for I am your destiny. I am true to my nature which is more than you can say for yourself.  I am not your chance at redemption, do not mistake death with life.  I am the doorway through which your volatile splintered self can be released. In my company you will die many times, before you die. As I reveal my dark and punishing eyes to you, I will lead you towards a more authentic experience of yourself. Truth will rise and set you free of your greatest fears.

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MATING RITUALS

“I don’t like the way I acted towards Barbara last night. I was experiencing her as a very attractive woman, yet the whole time I acted like a single-celled, lower-level asexual organism. When I feel like a man, I want to act like one and not like a polite eunuch.”

“When you say you didn’t act like a man, do you mean to say you were not comfortable being yourself?”

“No, what I mean to say is she makes it impossible. This is our third date and I’m starting to believe she does it intentionally. She emanates superfluous amounts of sexual energy, but it’s as though she has a shield and I’ll get electrocuted if I as much as touch a finger of hers or even lean in too close as I speak. I mean I can actually feel this sort of energy shield – I can’t see it but it’s there and it’s scary.”

“We both know that is unlikely Benjamin.  I do register a high level of anxiety on your part. Do you know what it is you are afraid of? Rejection?”

“That’s the least of it, rejection ha, if only it were so simple. When was the last time you dated Doctor Thompson?

“What about the other woman you are seeing, Emma?”

“She’s getting married soon and that won’t be with me. It’s just great sex between us. We don’t even like each other, I mean she dislikes me a whole lot more than I do her. She hates absolutely everything about me, the way I look, especially my ears, she told me, my drinking, smoking, the music I listen to, everything. But the sex is, was great. I imagine it will be over soon, at least I think so, we never really discussed it.”

“I see. How do you feel about it?

“How am I supposed to feel? Feels like summer is over, you know. Time to buckle down again. Women, so much work really and for what? I mean it’s as though I have to clean up all of Disneyland for 1 free ride.”

“So you’re saying that the women you meet are not inclined to invest any real-time or energy, leaving you to do all the work for just a bit of fleeting joy, why do you think that is Benjamin ?”

“How am I supposed to know that? You would have to ask them.”

“Have you thought that perhaps it is you who chooses these women, for exactly those reasons? I want you to reflect on that Benjamin and I want you to try something.  With women, try not to have any expectations, especially of a sexual nature. Try to get to know the other person and be yourself. Try doing simple things together like going for a walk in the park.”

“What? You mean instead of doing shooters at Hooters?”

“I’ll see you next week Benjamin .”

Benjamin leaves the doctor’s office and heads outside where his friend Tony is waiting for him in a convertible lemon yellow Mustang. He hops in.

Perhaps the saying that the greatest friendship is that created of opposites, might explain Benjamin and Tony’s friendship. Two men made of entirely different cloth and weave. Benjamin is a tight weave, like expensive Egyptian cotton compared to Tony’s weave, which is as loose as a fishnet made for catching big fish.

“How did it go with the shrink?

“There are no immediate solutions.”

Listen to me, Benjamin. What is your objective? Getting chicks?

“It’s not like that.”

“Ok maybe I’m not a gymnast with words  like your shrink, but if you want to score with women you need a dog.”

“Are you kidding me? What would I do with a dog?

“ It’s the easiest way to meet women.”

“While I’m picking up my dog’s excrement. Huge dollops of stink,  that is how I’m going to meet women?”

“Trust me, a cute little puppy will open a lot of doors for you. A shrink can’t do that for you but a little furry puppy, with floppy ears and big doe eyes, can make miracles happen. Besides, if you get a small dog, one that won’t grow too big, they poop like rabbits, small stuff, easy to handle.”

The Mustang pulls up in front of a store window with a large sign that reads, ‘Adopt don’t Shop’.

“ Let’s go in and get you a miracle worker.”

“ An Animal Shelter, Tony? Are you sure? I mean aren’t these all abandoned, mistreated, traumatized, dying, or dysfunctional?

“They have puppies, come on let’s have a look.”

They enter the animal shelter. “See, what did I tell you, there’s a cute pup.”

Benjamin leans down to take a closer look at the dog Tony is pointing out.

“How much do you actually know about dogs, Tony? Just because a dog is small does not make it a puppy. Look at it. It’s so old its eyes look like soft boiled eggs.”

“How about that little guy over there?” Tony is looking at a cage where a perky Jack Russell Terrier is housed.

“See what did I tell you, floppy ears, furry and small, chick magnet.”

Tony is referring to the red-haired young woman standing next to the cage housing the Jack Terrier.

“At least this one is still standing. I’m referring to the puppy,” says Benjamin.

The puppy is wagging its tail, executing little jumps while circling the cage.

“Hello and welcome to our shelter, I’m Wendy, This is Jackie Chan. We named him after the actor, Jackie Chan for his agility. How can I help you today?

“Hello, Wendy. Hello Jackie. My friend Benjamin here is looking to adopt. He wants a dog that won’t grow too big.”

“This breed tends to reach their full-sized framework between six and eight months old, and they typically fill out to their full weight by 12 months old.  Jackie is almost two years old.”

“Right, well I would need to give it some thought. I’m not very good at keeping things alive like plants and so on.”  Benjamin turns on his heels heading for the door when Tony grabs him by the forearm.

“Always kidding around, he can’t help it, he’s a natural-born comedian. Excuse us just a moment.” Tony leads Benjamin away from Wendy’s earshot.

“This one is perfect, think about it. Women won’t be able to resist the colossal amount of cuteness that little furry fella can generate. You won’t regret it.”

3 DAYS LATER:

“There you are, what took you so long.” Benjamin almost pounces on Tony entering his apartment.

“Whoa, take it, easy buddy.” Tony shuts the door behind him with his foot. He is holding a box.

“In this box is everything you’ll need to get a handle on your situation.”

“My situation is your doing Tony. Why did I listen to you? My home can be officially classified as a disaster area. Look, just look around. There is nothing that the dog hasn’t chewed on. That’s not the least of it. I have  been scooping up dog feces and urine off of my floors for 3 days now.”

“Don’t you take him out to do his business?”

“How am I supposed to know when he needs to do his business? It’s not as though he says “Hey Benjamin, I’ve really got to go to the loo!”

“You’re doing that funny voice, Benjamin .” Benjamin’s voice rises 3 octaves when he’s stressed.

“Fuck that Tony. You take the dog, I can’t deal with it, him, whatever. I’ll have you know that I did take him to the park, once. He was dragging me the whole way, pulling on the leash like some big Ox.”

“You just need to let him know who’s boss Benjamin. Dogs can be trained to be obedient.”

“Tony, this dog is possessed. I actually think he is the reincarnation of an old pervert. He pissed on a woman who was napping on a blanket in the park. It was horrific! She was furious at me. I was not the one who urinated on her!”

“He’s your dog, your responsibility.”

3 WEEKS LATER:

Benjamin is in the park attempting to walk his puppy, Jackie Chan. To anyone walking past, it appears Jackie is walking Benjamin.

“What a beautiful puppy.” says a young woman walking past. She stops and crouches as Jackie takes a flying leap towards her. Benjamin loses his balance and trips as the leash violently tugs at him unexpectedly.

“Spirited puppy as well, what’s you’re name? She asks Jackie as she rubs his ears.

“Jackie Chan, on account of his superior agility. He is, you know, more of a monkey than a dog. In that sense. If that makes any sense.” Benjamin is recovering from his fall, dusting himself off.

“The name suits him. I am Chloe, nice to meet you, Jackie.” Jackie jumps up placing his two front paws on her thighs and Chloe leans over to kiss him.

Benjamin can see Jackie is getting aroused. He tugs at the leash and jerks the dog back.

“We really need to get going. Nice meeting you Chloe.”

“Maybe I’ll see you around Jackie. Well goodbye then.”

Benjamin is pulling at the leash and it’s a tug of war.  Jackie barks and cries at the same time, he wants to follow Chloe.

“Well, this is embarrassing.” Benjamin takes a step back as Jackie growls at him.

“Is it your first?” Chloe is amused, Benjamin seems out of his element.

“Is it that obvious?” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My friend Tony convinced me. But I’m not so sure anymore. It’s as though we speak different languages.” Benjamin is still pulling tight on the leash.

“Just give it some time and you’ll be best friends.”

“You really think so?”

“Having a puppy is like having a toddler, I had 2 dogs growing up. Why don’t I walk with you and Jackie, that is if you don’t mind.”

Benjamin loosens his grip on the leash, his jaw drops by 4cm as he tries to believe his good fortune. Jackie practically jumps into Chloe’s arms.

“Well, that settles it then. Jackie is seriously smitten by you Chloe  and he’s made it quite clear he won’t move unless you come along.”

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LIVING WITH THE DEAD

“Lucy, are you dressed yet? 

“Be right there Mom!”

“Hurry or you won’t make it back on time for lunch.  You know how your father hates it when lunch or dinner are served late.”

It is morning, on the eve of Christmas, in Montreal. Lucy’s mother is yelling above all the chatter in the kitchen.  Christmas is a highly charged time of year for an Italian family, immigrated from the south of Italy.  The preparations begin days in advance, with all the matriarchs busy creating their magic in the kitchen.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t run down the stairs, I swear you’ll break your neck one of these days.” 

Lucy enters the kitchen ready to head outdoors into the cold. 

“What did I tell you about having your boots on in the house? Just because we’re at your aunt’s house, the rules don’t change.  Now do what your aunt tells you.”

 Barely eleven years of age, Lucy is the eldest of three sisters. A tall spindly girl with big brown eyes and thick stubborn hair, which drives her neurotic mother crazy, as nothing seems to tame Lucy’s unruly mane.

Her mother is high-strung, chain-smokes, and keeps a tidy house.  “You’re putting too much flour in the mix, it’s gonna bake as hard as your head.” She punctuates her comment with a fake slap across the back of her husband’s head.

The entire family has gathered at Aunt Angelica’s home for the Christmas holidays as is customary.  Aunt Angelica is the closest thing to a grandmother Lucy has since she’s never met her grandparents, who lived and died in Italy.  Her aunt Angelica is dressed in black, from head to toe.  Her widow’s pale skin and tiny frame are misleading, she is far from fragile. Aunt Angelica is a lioness, fierce, loyal and at times scary, or at least this is how Lucy perceives her.

“Lucy, remember,  light 3 large candles, one for uncle Fabio and 2 more for your grandpa and grandma, then 2 smaller ones for the twins, God bless their souls. Don’t forget to say a prayer as well, asking God to let them out of purgatory.”

“What is purgatory like Aunt Angelica?”

“Purgatory is like a waiting room Lucy, a place where you wait your turn, where all sinners go and have to wait their turn.”

“Like going to the Principal’s office at school?”

“Purgatory is not meant to be easy Lucy, it’s a place where we pay for our sins, in order to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the gates of heaven and that can take years.”

“Years?  That is a long time.” Lucy tries to imagine what years must feel like. Time is funny that way. She’s noticed that when she is waiting to see the Principal, for example, or the dentist, it feels like forever and even the clock on the wall moves slower.

“Some people sin more than others, so you see Lucy, the souls in purgatory need our help.” Angelica hands Lucy a pile of change, “Your uncle Fabio he was a good man, bless his soul, but he was no angel either, he could use a little extra help.”  Lucy puts the change in her coat pocket.

“Lucy, Lucy, men are weak when it comes to sins of the flesh, the flesh is weak. One day, when you‘re a woman, you’ll understand what I’m telling you.” Lucy makes a mental note, not to commit any sins of the flesh, as these sound serious.

Lucy understands more than the adults give her credit for.  She has seen some of the boys at school give away their lunch money so they don’t get beat up.  It’s all clear and straightforward to Lucy.   In order to avoid unpleasant circumstances, trade-offs are necessary even for the dead.

“Be careful now and don’t stop,” Lucy interrupts Angelica, “to talk to strangers, I know aunt Angelica.” Lucy gives her aunt a kiss on each cheek and heads out into the cold bright morning.

It had snowed all night, big fluffy flakes. The sun is blinding, as it bounces off the icy blanket of snow, as far as her eyes can see. This is North Montreal in the mid-sixties, flat open fields, ready to dig and start building as soon as the snow melts. Not a single tree left to stop the wind from blowing the powdery snow in swirls and gusts.

As Lucy makes her way towards the Church she ponders upon her uncle Fabio’s predicament.  She tries to put herself in his place or the twins, she imagines it can’t be very pleasant being in-between places, paying for sins.  On occasions, she’d been sent to the  Principal’s office, where she was told to wait outside, in a small adjacent room, and sit on a hard polished wooden bench.  On these occasions Lucy recalls her tummy feeling all knotted up in anticipation and fear of the punishment which might be awaiting her. The Principal is a very serious man,  just like God, he never smiles and whenever the children have done something deemed inappropriate, they are sent to the small room with no windows and the hard wooden bench, where they wait in angst to pay for their wrongdoings.  Similar to purgatory but not as bad, at least she gets to go home after detention.

Lucy and her sisters often spent the holidays at their aunt’s house, their aunt being the eldest Matriarch in the family who had immigrated to Canada. Lucy gets to sleep in her aunt’s bed, now that her uncle is in purgatory.  Placed on the dresser, in her aunt’s bedroom,  is a small oval picture frame with a black and white photograph of her dead uncle Fabio’s head.  His picture is lit by a tiny bulb, which is encased at the base of the frame. In order to avoid her uncle’s floating head and unmoving stare in the dark, every night, Lucy turns on her side, her knees curled up to her chin and pulls the blanket over her head.

Lucy has reached the Romanesque church with its two steeples.  She is playing with the loose change in her pocket.  She feels very small once she finds herself reaching for the immense bronze cast doors.  She steps into the cold, echoey interior, her boots make clickety-clack sounds that reverberate throughout the church. 

There is no one, it is empty at this hour. For the Christmas midnight mass, only a few hours away, there would be standing room only.

Lucy removes her mittens and dips the fingers of her right hand in the holy water recipient, a marble carved vessel, framed by three winged chubby cherubs.  She executes a quick sign of the cross, realizes she crossed over to her right shoulder instead of her left.   She immediately corrects this, then heads towards the bank of votive candles on the far left wall.

The morning light spills through the stained glass windows depicting the Sixth Station of Christ when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. There is a strong scent of amber and frankincense in the church.  Lucy twitches her nose, she does not care for the smell.

She is debating whether to follow her aunt’s instructions entirely or make slight adjustments, as she did on previous occasions.  Lucy retrieves the coins with which she has been entrusted, to save the souls of unknown dead relatives. 

The church offers 3 different-sized candles, for different budgets, which clearly indicates, God is not one to judge the dead by the size of their candles.

Lucy lights 3 medium votive candles for the dead adults, they cost less than the large ones and one medium-sized candle for the twins to share, leaving her some spare change. 

She performs a rapid sign of the cross, accompanied by a clumsy curtsy in place of saying a prayer, as she had been asked to by her aunt Angelica.  Lucy doesn’t feel comfortable asking God for favors or anyone for that matter, she prefers to keep her transactions with God simple and detached as she does with the Principal. She finds it’s best not to get noticed at times.

She doesn’t exactly like churches either and the only time she goes is when her Aunt Angelica is around and during the holidays. Lucy is grateful that her parents are not churchgoers. They never pray at home, not before dinner, nor before bedtime. One last sign of the cross and Lucy hurriedly dashes for the doors without looking back.

Once Lucy is out on the street, she feels relief rushing through her.  She crosses over to the other side of the street, where she walks into a shop. The sweet scent of chocolate and vanilla brings an instant smile to her face, it is a nice respite after the amber and frankincense that still clung to her clothes and nose.

“The usual young lady?” Asks a friendly face, from behind the counter, at the pastry shop where Lucy has practically become a regular client.

“I will have two chocolate eclairs today please, thank you.”

“Two eclairs! That deserves a nice box with a pink ribbon then.” The man behind the counter places two eclairs in a small pink box with fancy gold script on the lid and a pink ribbon to match.  “There you go Miss, two chocolate eclairs, that will be 50 cents.  He hands over the box to Lucy and she places the change in the small plate provided on the counter.

On her way home, Lucy stops at a nearby park, where she brushes the snow off one of the swings and sits down, placing the box of pastries on her lap. She slowly unties the ribbon and opens it. She picks up one of the two eclairs and takes her first bite.  Her eyes close as she sinks her teeth into the crisp coating of dark chocolate, followed by the velvety cream filling flowing into her tiny mouth.  She saves the second eclair for later and heads back to her aunt’s for Christmas Eve preparations.

That night, as soon as her mother has folded Lucy into her aunt’s bed and turned off the lights, Lucy finds herself alone with her dead uncle’s floating head, again.  She has been practicing staring back at her uncle Fabio in the dark and she can now manage several seconds before shutting her eyes.  In the dark Lucy pulls out the pink box, from the night table next to the bed, slowly and quietly opens it.  Thoughts of purgatory and chocolate eclairs are colliding in her little girl’s mind, as her uncle’s severed head watches her biting into the pastry shell, savoring the cream and chocolate mix.

Lucy gasps as she sees her uncle break into a smile.  She shyly smiles back and as she does, the tiny bulb flickers and dies, her uncle vanishes, swallowed by the darkness.

The following morning, Christmas morning, Lucy is eager to tell her Aunt Angelica the good news.

“Uncle Fabio is out of purgatory Aunt Angelica, You don’t need to worry anymore.”

Angelica is moved by the child’s statement. “Sweet sweet child, it is true then, God does speak out of the mouths of babes,” she hugs Lucy, “the best Christmas gift I could ask for.”

Everyone is happy just as Lucy intended. The wait is over for Uncle Fabio.  Aunt Angelica no longer needs to worry about his soul.  There is one less soul to rescue, which means one less candle to light at church. One could say Lucy has found her own way of living with the dead.

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LAVATORIUM

Leo Roger’s shiny black patent leather loafers pitter-patter down the hall of the 31st floor, which is off limits to employees. Leo’s Secretary, Greta, sits at the end of the hall, in a padded shell-shaped cubicle, strategically positioned by the elevators, where she can greet, interrogate and deliberate on whether people are deserving or not of Leo’s time.  She has diplomatic immunity by sheer association with Leo and is the only person allowed into his quarters. Greta has the personality and the girth to make any man shake in his trousers.

She has been by Leo’s side since the startup of the company. She has grown old, getting underpaid for the privilege of looking after his affairs and being one of the few operatives granted close encounters with him. 

Greta was quite the looker as a young woman. Athletic build, swimmer’s shoulders, 19-inch waist, generous breasts, high cheekbones, full lips, fair skin, and dark blue eyes. She never married. She has been secretly in love with Leo since the startup. Not only have her youth and beauty slipped away, but her weight gain has also slowed her down and turned her breathing shallow and heavy.  Her neck is now the size her waist used to be as a young girl and the only dark blue that stands out now, is the blue in the circles around her puffy eyes.

Leo has also aged, although his pace is still sprite compared to Greta’s.  With age, Leo has shrunk, except for his midsection which has increased in girth and now makes his shoulders look oddly narrow.  He still sports a full head of hair which has gone from jet black to snow white.  

 “Yes Mrs. Rogers, I’ll take care of the reservations for you. No, no it’s no bother, that’s what I’m here for, ok, will do. Goodbye then.” Greta secretly disapproves of the new Mrs. Rogers.  She opens the top drawer of her desk where there are several chocolate bars, all neatly lined up, and picks one out.

Greta knows beyond a grain of doubt that Leo has been played by this woman, who conveniently got pregnant with twins!  There had been no children in Leo’s previous marriages.  She is much younger than Leo, forty years younger. She wants Greta to make reservations for a ski lodge. Leo can’t possibly keep up with her. She will take him to an early grave, Greta can feel it, as real as she can feel her arthritis kicking up. 

Her diet isn’t going very well and she’s only managed to lose two Kilos in 4 months. She knows it’s nerves, she eats because she’s nervous or anxious, although about what, she’s not sure. 

Leo has made his way to his personalized washroom facilities. The door opens up onto an anti-chamber, where four finely carved original Louis XV gilt-wood armchairs come to life. Curvy Rococo pieces, with a carefully pierced crest, chaotic and intricately carved rocaille over asymmetrical scattered hanging foliage and floral motifs.  These had been revamped with plush Royal Blue velvet. The wall scones flicker on and off and stay off, leaving Leo in the dark.  He makes a u-turn heading straight down the hall towards Greta’s cushioned cubicle.

One could say that for a man, such as Leo, who has reached his apex, there is a propensity towards the eclectic, which increases in proportion to the accumulation of wealth and power. Leo’s advertising company occupies an entire glass tower located on the most expensive piece of lakefront property in the city of Toronto. Leo no longer desires much. He has his own plane, helicopter, and landing pad, properties worldwide, two ex-wives, and a new young wife recently added to his portfolio.  He has been featured in all the important trade magazines. He could have run for politics had he wished. 

Greta hears Leo heading towards reception before she can see him. He looks tired. She can tell the twins are too much for a man Leo’s age. He should have been a grandfather at his age and certainly not a father to newborn twins.

“How are the Twins doing, Leo?

“The twins? Yes, they’re fine, they’re a handful, mind you, thankfully we seem to have finally found a suitable nanny.”

“That’s great news, now you’ll both rest better, you look like you could use it, Leo. At our age, we need to be more vigilant about our health.”

Leo has momentarily forgotten what he needed Greta for until his bladder reminds him. “Greta, please call maintenance and have them send an electrician up at once. There is something going on with the lights in the washroom, it’s pitch black in there.

“Use my washroom Leo, you don’t want to end up like Walter.”

“Walter?”

“Yes, Walter had to have his entire jaw wired for six months after he fell and landed chin first on a piece of furniture. Had him on a liquid diet for six months, he lost all the extra weight he used to carry.”

“I see, well I best be  moving along, have a goodnight Greta and don’t forget to call maintenance.”

“Right away, Leo. Goodnight and drive safely.” 

Leo has his own elevator as he prefers not to consort with his employees. He never personally attends the meetings held for upper management or his shareholders.  Leo handles all his affairs with remote video conferences, which Greta presides over.

On his way down Leo realizes he should have taken Greta up on her offer, but he’s not about to turn back now. His prostate is acting up and his frequent need to urinate has become a compulsion.

The elevator doors open up onto the main lobby where there is a security guard sitting at reception.  There is a security room behind reception where the CCTV monitors are under watch by 2 guards 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The hallways are empty, as Leo follows the signs, leading to the men’s washroom.

This particular washroom serves the main floor of the main building. An estimated 80 employees and visitors use it. There are four stalls. On this particular day, two of the four stalls are out of order. 

Leo enters the grimly lit washroom, the mirror above the sink is reflecting back a version of Leo, which looks like he has been stricken by Greenman’s Syndrome. He turns around to carefully peruse the four stalls facing him. He takes a handkerchief from his pocket, careful not to make contact with any of the surfaces, he checks the two functioning stalls individually, but neither seems to pass his inspection. After careful deliberation, he enters the last stall, which appears to be the cleanest. 

He needs to sit to urinate alas. “Sitting creates a more favorable urodynamic profile, which helps ward off prostate problems.” This is what his doctor had told him. 

He wraps the kerchief around his left hand, so he may hold the door shut without touching it and lowers his pants with his other hand. Leo is well aware the building is empty and the chances of someone walking in are scarce, still, habits are difficult to change. He is a terribly private man and had it not been such an urgent situation, he would never have found himself in such a position, literally and figuratively. 

He crouches, painfully attempting not to touch the toilet seat.  His cell phone rings.  As Leo reaches for his phone in his pants, now heaped around his ankles, he lets go of the door, which bounces open and slams him hard in the forehead.  He reaches out and shuts the door with his left hand. The call gets transferred to his answering service. He then closes his eyes as if to remember where he was when he got interrupted.  Very similar to when you fall asleep reading a book and the next time you open it, it goes without saying that you need to back up a few paragraphs or pages, in order to get back on track. The moment had been ruined.  Leo is finding it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand in the squalor and bacteria-infested washroom.  When he opens his eyes, he spots something on the door which makes him squint and curl his nose as if a very strong and vile odor had permeated the washroom stall.

Taped to the door there is a group photograph of the company cleaning staff, with brooms, mops, and buckets, posing as musicians. The message in big bold letters on the bottom of the picture says “LEAVE THE WASHROOM AS YOU FOUND IT!  

Leo practically leaps off the toilet seat rapidly and clumsily pulls up his pants as though the people in the picture were actually in the washroom stall spying on him. He rushes out of the washroom. He’ll have Greta investigate the washroom situation tomorrow. In fact, he would have maintenance do a check on all washrooms in both buildings. This was unacceptable.

Leo enters the parking lot, which is empty except for a few cars and a white van. He crosses over to the white van and does something which he would personally condemn. He stands behind the van and unzips to relieve himself. Unannounced, the sliding door to the van opens and a young man with a toolbox steps out.  Leo’s heart skips a couple of beats as he stuffs his penis back into his pants while stumbling towards his car.  

The young man with the toolbox is talking on his cell phone, but he still could not have missed Leo as he made his wobbly exit. The young man’s name is Max, and he’s the fix-it man around the company.  Max is young and easygoing. One could say he is a B-type personality, whereas Leo is most certainly an A-type, competitive, highly organized, control freak, ambitious, impatient, and highly aware of time management as opposed to the Type B which is generally more relaxed, less neurotic & frantic, with no particular need to be in control all the time. 

Max drops by his workstation where he picks up a ladder. He heads up to the 31st floor where he has an urgent maintenance request.

Max exits the elevator and walks out into the lobby of the 31st floor, where he spots Greta. She looks like a giant snail inside a shell to Max, whose imagination often gets the best of him.  It could be all the weed he smokes, he’s not sure himself.

Greta spots Max, she gets up from her overstuffed chair and shuffles her way around the crescent-shaped desk. 

Max notices her feet look incredibly small to be carrying such a load.

“Hello Max, that was fast!

“I was already on a call, so I thought I’d drop by here first.”

“Good thing you did, because Leo’s washroom needs tending to, he said the lights won’t turn on. It’s dangerous for a man his age to be moving around in the dark.”

“That explains why I thought I saw the CEO taking a leak in the parking lot, behind my van.”

Greta is incredulous, “that’s so not like Leo, it must have been an emergency. Now I trust this information will stay between us?” Greta is very protective of Leo.

“Sure, no problem.”

“Good, here you’ll need this to get into the Executive Washroom, down the hall, turn right, first door to the left. Leave the card on my desk when you’re done. I’m leaving now.” 

Max heads down the hall with his ladder hanging on his right shoulder and his toolbox swinging in his left arm.

He reaches the main door of the executive washroom, where an antique sign which reads LAVATORIUM is attached to the door. He uses the card Greta gave him and enters the washroom. The lights should have turned on with the sensor as soon as the doors opened. He fetches a flashlight from his pocket and finds the main light switch. The lights flicker for a few seconds before turning on. Probably one of the bulbs needed replacing, or loose contact.  

Max is frozen in awe, he sets the ladder and toolbox down as he takes in his surroundings.  

The washroom is larger than his entire apartment. Over 150 sqm. lavishly boasting all the amenities one might expect to find in a 10-star hotel.  Flat-screen TV, wifi, speakers, music, shelves lined with books and trade magazines, shower, sauna, jacuzzi for 4, and a designer bidet from Italy. 

He spots a set of sliding doors that lead to the relaxation area, pushes the button which slides them open and little miniature led lights on the ceiling turn on. They look like stars against the dark background. A waterfall is gently flowing into a pool. The sound of the running water makes Max want to pee. 

He heads back into the lavatory where he spots a remote, resting on a ‘Boca do Lobo’ designer side table, although Max doesn’t know what a Boca do Lobo is.  This extremely expensive table is strategically positioned next to a NEOREST 600. The Neorest 600, is a toilet with a wide range of digital features. 

He picks up the remote, pushes a button, and a small built-in monitor, mounted on the wall above the toilet, lights up with a menu displaying a variety of customizations.  Max proceeds to customize and enhance his washroom experience. 

First, the lid pops open with a sound suggesting it is vacuum sealed. A padded backrest, with neck support, slides into place.  

“So this is a lavatorium. Well, allow me then.”

Max is impressed, as he sets the temperature for the toilet seat to 27° Celsius, lastly, he sets the toilet to perform a ‘Cyclone Flush’.  

He grabs a magazine from one of the shelves, the remote for the TV, and makes himself comfortable. The look on Max’s face says it all, as he sits himself down on the throne to shame all thrones.

Once he’s done relieving himself, Max stands up, the NEOREST 600 immediately seals itself before performing the programmed cyclone flush. He’s getting hungry, it’s way past his dinner time. He grabs his cell phone and orders a pizza and beer, then proceeds to check out the rest of the amenities.

The following morning, Max awakens to the sound of whispering voices. He opens his eyes finding himself under an umbrella of vaguely familiar faces. It’s the cleaning crew. They are all leaning around him, heads bent and obviously concerned. There are sounds of relief as they see Max stirring awake. 

“He’s not dead,” screams one of the cleaning staff.  “He’s not dead,” the others repeat in relief. They all look genuinely happy to see Max waking up.

Greta has come to investigate what all the noise is about just in time to see Max as he leaps out of the jacuzzi, dripping wet in his birthday suit. He leaps across an almost empty pizza box and more than a few beer cans strewn on the floor when he spots a slice of cold pizza still untouched, he grabs it and places it between his teeth.

“Max what on earth are you doing here and this mess? What happened?”  Asks Greta, her voice shaken by the sight of the naked maintenance man and Leo’s Lavatorium, which is in total disarray.

“The lights are fixed, it was more complicated than expected and took all night, I must have dozed off. “Sorry about the mess and don’t worry about the parking lot incident, my lips are sealed.” Max grabs his clothes which are scattered here and there, then silently tippy toes out, as if this somehow makes him invisible. 

Can You Trust Your Intuition?

How often have you found yourself regretting not having followed your intuition? Careful don’t confuse intuition with instinct.

Intuition Vs Instinct

Intuition is insight, it is not a reaction, whereas instinct is a natural automatic reaction or response to a situation. Instinct, also known as a gut feeling, is connected with fear and survival. It’s about doing whatever is necessary to stay safe and alive. By comparison, intuition is a higher level of awareness, it is the capacity to sense energies and use these to make wise choices.  

Humans do not make purely logical decisions. Our brains use a combination of logic and emotions when formulating all kinds of decisions. Intuition is an intrinsic human trait.

“Intuition is when your mind takes in massive amounts of information, and processes it so thoroughly, and quickly, that you are unaware of the process, but are left with the answer.” Intuition is the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.

What Are Some Examples Of Intuition?

Intuition can refer to a feeling about a situation or a person, without any rational explanation. It can be as simple as “having a feeling” that you should leave your vacation a day earlier than planned, only to discover afterward that you dodged two earthquakes.  This happened to me, on a road trip visiting friends in California, in the summer of 1992 when two of the strongest earthquakes hit southern California on a single sunny morning.

You have no idea how many times you’ve averted danger, simply by listening to your inner voice. When you chose to take an alternate route, leave early or later, or maybe cancel the appointment altogether because you were feeling uneasy about a situation. You might even twist an ankle or you might miss your flight, along with a variety of apparent mishaps that turn out to be blessings in disguise, so to speak.

Sometimes it feels like divine intervention.  Take as an example the stories of those New Yorkers who, for a series of apparently frustrating reasons, were running late or couldn’t make it to their office in the Twin Towers on the morning these collapsed. Had they made it to work on time, they would not have lived to tell about it.

At times it’s simply listening to your intuition. It’s not foretelling the future but it’s a heads up of sorts.

Is Intuition Real?

People often look for guidance in life. There are those who search for answers through prayer, those that consult fortune tellers in the hopes of seeing a glimpse of the future or to find answers that will help them make a choice in the present.

Many powerful and successful individuals, throughout history, are known to have employed the services of astrologers, card readers, and clairvoyants.

Foretelling the future has always been in demand.  In our day and era, advice and all kinds of divinations are available online. Promises are made, to resolve all kinds of troubles, reunite lovers, eliminate misfortune, and much more. Just type Astrology in google and you’ll get about 413,000,000 results. 

Type Tarot and you get 243,000,000 results 

We possess the capacity to feel, and thereby the ability to know things without consciously reasoning. Intuition is real, and we use it all the time, even if we are not aware of doing so. Ultimately we make decisions based on massive amounts of information already available to us even when we are not conscious of the process. Intuition is as close as we get to foretelling our own future.