Category: Life

An Excuse Is Not an Exception

An abstract photo of ice and fire in hues of blue and orange. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Fire and Ice  © Mihaela Limberea 2021

It’s so easy to think, “I’ll make an exception, I’m so tired/busy/stressed” when you skip a planned activity or something you wanted to do. You still mean to eat right, or exercise, or write at least 300 words every morning, of course. You just skip today. It’s OK. You’ll resume tomorrow. Not a biggie.

The thing is, this is not an exception. It’s an excuse. An excuse not to do something that makes you uncomfortable or anxious or that scares you—a reason to take the easy way out.

It’s an exception when you have to skip the gym to take your daughter to the emergency room with a sprained ankle. It’s an exception when you sit down to write your daily quota, and your computer eats your document and its backup. It’s an exception when it’s outside your control.

An excuse is not an exception; an exception is an emergency.


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Thinking About a Major Career Change? Here’s How I Did It.

My earlier post, about the life-altering decision to follow my heart and do what I love, seems to have struck a chord with many people. However, changing career, especially from a successful one to a more uncertain one like starting your business or becoming an artist, can be daunting. Fear sets in, and fear can be paralyzing. We know that we should act, do something, but we don’t.

“Why don’t I share what I did ?” I then thought. So here it comes, my career change guide!  I’ve outlined below the steps I’ve taken once I’ve decided to leave the corporate world. 

1) Start With the “Why”

Examine your motives. Take some time to reflect on why you’re thinking about such a major change in your life. For example, are you happy with the field you work in and the company, but your boss is a pest? In this case, it would be more helpful to change roles and work for somebody else.

Or you’re overwhelmed, and tired, and stressed out? Stretched at maximum and beyond, even though you love what you do, and your boss is an angel? Changing your career may not help if you don’t learn to manage your time and stress level.

The point? You must be doing this for the right reason

It would be best if you went into a direction you’re interested in, rather than running away from something, like a bad boss. You’re just postponing the inevitable.

Find your call. Think about what fills you with energy during the day. What did you enjoy you doing as a kid? What do you do when procrastinating? What activities absorb you so completely that you forget space and time? All these are good indicators of the things you should be doing.

Steve Jobs quote

When I ransacked myself, I knew in my heart what I was burning to do. Art. Easy.

2) Do Your Homework

OK, so you’ve found your calling. You want to start a jewelry brand. A garden services company. You want to dedicate yourself to helping people in need and run a foundation. 

Whatever it is, don’t jump to the fun part like creating a fancy website (it’s so much fun, I know!) or ordering new business cards. You’d be setting yourself up for failure. 

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. - Benjamin Franklin. Click To Tweet

Invest some time to research your new field. You could, for instance, join professional associations and look up more information on the Internet. Attend meetings and join relevant groups on LinkedIn or Facebook. Sign up for alerts and newsletters. Set aside some daily search time and gather information.

Connect with people. This is key. For example, once I started getting serious about photography, I joined the Swiss Camera Club on Facebook and went to a photo walk in Lucerne to meet other fellow photographer-wannabees. I even got a photo included in the local news coverage of the event.

Talk to your mentors, talk to friends, talk to your neighbors, talk to your delivery man – they all can offer insights and different perspectives. Then, you can prepare a 30 seconds elevator pitch outlining what you’re planning and asking for input and advice.

Surround yourself with positive people who believe in your dreams

Don’t be shy and put out feelers in your network, both in real life and on, say, LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people; most people are glad when someone is interested in their particular field and expertise and are more than happy to help.

Try it out! You can start on a small scale during your leisure time, weekends and test your approach as I did. I’ve built a website, created a professional Facebook side, joined Twitter and Instagram, all during evenings and weekends – and then started posting things, commenting on other photographer’s work in their social media, and following photographers that inspired me.

3) Prepare Financially

There’s no way around this: you need to think about money. A major career change is stressful, and financial uncertainty it’s likely to top the list.

Make an honest review of your financial situation and decide what you need to do to survive during the time your new career takes flight. Don’t assume money will come on the first day if you want to start your own company. It won’t. If you feel you don’t have the skills for this or simply want a second opinion (it’s an important decision, after all) – seek professional advice. It’s an investment well worth the money. Or ask someone you know and trust who has a successful track record in personal finance. 

Manage your debts. Ideally, you shouldn’t start your new life with debts. Clear any debts if possible or use help to create a debt management plan. For example, a mortgage is fine as long as you are confident you can keep up with the payments. Don’t take any loans, so you’d be in debt before you have even started. This brings me to …

Use free resources. Don’t invest a lot in the beginning; you can do that later when you feel confident that things are going well. There are many free options out there to get you started – you only need to do an Internet search. For instance, you can start with a free WordPress site, leverage the free themes and plugins; and look up copyright-free images and sounds. Later you can host in on your own domain if you wish, add more fancy plugins, and an online shop.

T Harv Eker quote about money

Save first, spend later. I would also recommend having a six to twelve months buffer saved. Things will happen, as things tend to do in life, and you want to be prepared when that happens. For example, say your heating system malfunctions during a frigid winter. You’d have no choice but to fix it then – you cannot wait until spring when your royalties come in. Knowing you have a buffer would alleviate the stress of the unknown.

Investigate options. Research whether there are any grants or scholarships you can seek. This way, you can get some funding without getting in debt.

Think about what you’d be gaining by earning less money. Things like more time for your family, a better work-life balance, a sense of peace, and personal fulfillment. 

4) Leverage Your Current Skills 

You may think that you’re starting from scratch in a new career. After all, you’d be doing something completely different. Right?

Wrong!

You have work experience in your current job. As a result, you can successfully apply some of the skills in your new career.

Do a skills inventory. What are you good at? What did you learn in your career? Examine your past and current roles, as well as any volunteer work. It could be communication, influencing people (all those corporate meetings selling new projects to executives, heh?), finance, marketing, or tech support. 

Say you work in marketing and want to be a photographer. You could use your marketing knowledge and experience to promote your photos. My friend’s husband, who did work in marketing, was inspired by my side photo project (at the time) and started a commercial photography business. Successfully I may add, the guy is a marketing wizard. 

I can't say it enough that learning how to learn is one of the greatest skills anyone can have. - Mark Cuban Click To Tweet

At the same time, an inventory will show you what skills you’ll have to learn. For example, maybe you’re good at designing jewelry but have no idea how to transform the raw silver into the ring or the bracelet you can see in your head or put on paper. Therefore …

Bridge the skills gap. Need a course? Search the Internet. There are plenty of free online courses, YouTube tutorials on basically everything (learning Japanese? training your dog? how to succeed in business?), and nerd blogs answering the very question you’re asking. You could also enroll in an evening course or one-day seminars or workshops.

Sign up for courses while in your current job. Communications skills, project management, or influencing without authority can be of help in any career.

5) Create a Plan 

By now, you should have a pretty good understanding of what it is that you want to pursue (for the right reason), knowledge about that new field and people who can help on the journey, the financial impact, what you know, and what you don’t. 

Are we ready then?

Not quite yet. Just bear with me for a bit longer.

Now that you have gathered the information, you need to create a plan. This will be your roadmap for the journey in front of you, the beacon of light guiding you along the way.

David Allen quote: Your head's for having ideas, not for holding them.

Make it a written planYour head’s for having ideas, not for holding them as “Get Things Done” David Allen puts it. Do you need any new skills (identified above)? Then plan for learning as well. Having a written plan makes it more real, reminds you of your commitment, and helps you track progress. 

Involve your inner circle. You may want to involve your partner, close family, and maybe a few trusted friends as this will likely impact them too. Listen to them and consider their input. But in the end, follow your gut. Don’t let others dictate your way.

6) Keep the Door Open

Don’t burn your bridges. Leave your job graciously. Hand over your responsibilities and train your replacement as you wish someone else would do it for you were the roles reversed. It’s tempting to focus on your new career and do the bare minimum before leaving. In two words: Don’t! It’s simple courtesy, and it costs nothing. Even more so if you’re not parting ways amicably, be the bigger man (or woman). You never know what happens, and you may need a way back. This is why you should …

Have a backup plan. Many people don’t want to think about failure, so they start the journey into the unknown with no plan in case things go south. Don’t do this! You know how they say, “Better safe than sorry.” It’s likely not what you want to think about, but it’s an easy investment in your future self. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’d go back to your old job, but for instance, you could come back as a part-time consultant to wait out the bad times. In the same spirit, keep up to date on what happens in your old field, renew certifications if needed, and so on.

You just need a good plan and then a backup plan! -  Katherine Kelly Click To Tweet

Stay in touch. In all that excitement and thrill often brought by new beginnings, you may forget to keep the connection to your old world alive. Your former colleagues or business partners may not necessarily be part of your everyday now, but they can be your ambassadors or mentors. They can testify about your skills and provide introductions or advice. You could invite people for lunch, congratulate them on an anniversary or promotion, and send them tips about things you know they’re interested in (send me any good tips on how to get rid of snails in the garden, and I’ll be your friend for life!). Do this regularly, and not only when you need something – people see through that. 

Nurture your network today and it'll be there tomorrow when you need it.

Be present. Maintain a presence and be active on professional networks, e.g., LinkedIn, by appreciating and commenting on your connections’ activities and sharing articles on topics of general interest such as time management or creativity. Make it easy for people to remember you. For example, say that one of your former colleague’s cousins works at a fashion magazine, and she is looking for some hobo jewelry for a fashion feature photo shot. Your colleague now remembers that you left to start your own jewelry business; s/he’ll pass on your name to his/her cousin. It may or may not work out in the end, but it’s the first step. Maybe your jewelry is not hobo enough for this shoot, but s/he may like it and reach out to you in the future.

7) Have Faith in Yourself

Embrace your fear. All beginnings are a thrilling mix of excitement and fear, like a rollercoaster ride. Don’t let that fear overwhelm you. You know you are doing the right thing. Trust. Have faith. True success is being afraid and still doing it anyway. It’s OK to feel fear; I would be concerned if you didn’t. But don’t let that fear stand in your way. Acknowledge it (I am afraid of this unknown), look at it objectively (it’s normal to be afraid when you’re doing something new), and then act.

The meaning I picked, the one that changed my life: Overcome fear, behold wonder. -  Richard Bach Click To Tweet

Feel the love. Know that you are never alone. There’s always help when you need it – but only if you ask for it.  Reach out to people in real life and online; ask questions when you don’t know how to do something, or things go wrong, and you need a solution. Talk it over with a friend. Reach out to formal support groups or organizations. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Marcus Aurelius quote: Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.

Overcome the biggest obstacle. You. Very often, we are our own saboteurs. We compare ourselves to others, and not in our favor. We measure ourselves and find ourselves lacking. We don’t believe we have anything to contribute. We don’t believe we have what it takes to succeed. We find ourselves incapable of acting, frozen like reindeer in the headlights.

So … I’m giving you a push. Don’t just read this article; act on it. Now. Good luck!


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The Making of a Snowman

Seashore blanketed in snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

It’s been snowing steadily these past weeks, fluffy snowflakes dancing lazily in the air. And every time it happens, I run to the window, filled with the same wonder as when I was a kid. 

“It’s snowing!” I tell my husband. He looks out, smiles, and goes back to his book. “It’s snowing!” I tell Minette, and she stares back with that sphinx look that cats use to convey how silly humans are. You can almost see the shake of the head, the soft muttering, “Humans.”

I want to run out, make snow angels in the garden and build a snowman. I would have done it too, but for the lack of a carrot. A carrot! A carrot! My kingdom for a carrot! After all, what’s a snowman without a carrot for the nose? 

My husband tells me this snow is no good for building snowmen; it’s too fluffy and powdery. Pity. It would have been such a fine snowman. I have the perfect scarf for it, a mohair thing in bold blocks of color, bright red, buttery yellow, sky blue, green, and orange wool fireworks on a cold man. The orange block would have matched the nose—the one I don’t have.

Close up of plants against a snowy background. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

I shovel the snow around the entry and create a small path to the mailbox. I’m cautious not to step outside it. I love looking at all that pristine white blanket covering the ugliness of the world. 

Maybe that’s why I love freshly fallen snow. I love the purity of the world. I love the silence pierced only by the call of a blackbird or the rhythmic toc-toc-toc of the woodpecker in the back yard. The occasional passing car makes only a muffled sound, dying quickly away. Toc-toc-toc.

Close up of tracks in the snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

The snow continues to fall in a hypnotic rhythm. I’m thinking of marine snow. Such a poetic name for the aquatic detritus slowly falling from the sea surface to the seabed that can be visually likened to snowfall. I’ve read somewhere that fish can produce light in the eternal darkness of deep seas to defend themselves. They’d make this bright flash of light to blind their attackers, and they’d use the ensuing confusion to flee. Nature will find a way. It always does.

I walk to the window and look at the massive oak tree in the backyard. No squirrels. It’s probably too cold for them to venture out. Snow too deep.

I can see deer tracks in the garden, where they have trotted during the night. A hare’s too. They’re quickly fading, covered by white fluffiness. 

Two fawns in the grass. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

There are two fawns born in our backyard last spring. They were minutes old when I found them in the tall grass around the big birch tree, barely able to stand. The mother stood a few meters away, watching me anxiously. The little ones were so trustful, looking big-eyed at this new thing – the world. Imagine feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time. The low buzz of the insects in the grass. The calls of the birds.

I had gone there to check on the compost, and I almost stepped on them, well-hidden in the grass. I backed in surprise, not trusting what my eyes were telling me. I snapped a couple of pictures with my cell phone (the best camera is the one that you have with you) and then went back to the house, leaving the new mother to take care of her babies. They were gone in a few hours.

I guess they’re not fawns anymore; they’ve grown so much this past year! Last night they munched on the remaining pumpkins, leftovers from Halloween. They were completely hidden under the blanket of snow, of course, but they knew where they were and dig them out.

A doe in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A deer in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

And during the time it took me to write this post, they came again, going back and forth in the garden, looking for sunflower seeds. Life.

I return to my desk with a sigh. I have to get back to work. A new chapter awaits. The snowflakes swirl around, racing each other to the ground.

I make a mental note to buy carrots. And more sunflower seeds.


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Fight or Flight?

Close up of a a red squirrel. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Old hands in the garden

The usual squirrels haven’t visited for a couple of weeks now. I guess they’re all hiding in their dreys, munching on their nut provisions. It’s been very cold, and they must be as reluctant to go out in that frozen world as humans. 

A red squirrel in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
The new squirrel, so tiny in the deep snow.
A red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
She appreciated the nuts. Very much.

A new one came twice, much smaller and thinner than the others. She must have been desperate for food. The first time it was wary of me, darting away at my smallest move. The second time, still suspicious, she let me come much closer. I took a few pictures, but then I let her eat up the nuts and the sunflower seeds. 

Her eyes were continuously scanning everything around her. She took only a fraction of a second break to pick up a new nut; the rest of the time was spent munching on the nut at turbo speed and checking the perimeter. 

I saw a small squirrel once, chased by a large cat in our garden. The cat was very bold, indeed. I had to push her, physically, to get her away from the tree where the squirrel had climbed in panic. She came back as soon as I turned my back. You cannot be too careful.

Eurasian jay in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A jay who managed to steal some nuts from the squirrel. Squirrels and smaller birds have a healthy respect for jays.
A blackbird in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A blackbird, with own nuts. The only way to keep the peace in the backyard.

It’s the same with the birds. They have to if they want to survive. They fly into the trees at the hint of a movement. Flee first, check later.


This is the same fight or flight mechanism humans have as well. Our ancestors faced mostly physical dangers in their environment, like a lion. The hormones released by the response to the threat would ensure that the body was primed to deal with the threat, either fight the lion or run away as quickly as possible. A survival mechanism, simply put. The threat of lions is gone for modern humans, or most of them, in any case. The threats are now mental, but the body response is the same. 

An important presentation at work, speaking in public, being late for a critical meeting, and so on. All the perks of modern life. The brain perceives them as threats and instructs the body to prepare for fight as it did millennia ago on the savannah: you start breathing faster, the heartbeat quickens, and your entire body becomes tense and ready for action. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Reeds. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

It’s not so surprising. We’re not so much different from our ancestors, after all. We just have more technology; monkeys with smartphones.

What’s more, the brain only needs the thought of a threat. I.e., it will respond to imaginary threats as well. Hence, the phobias.

Luckily, this works the other way around, too. This is why visualization and affirmations work.


The fight or flight response is a fine-tuned survival mechanism, but we have to learn to handle it when the mental stressors trigger it. If you’re in a car accident, it’s a great way for the body to increase your survival chances. If you’re in a meeting you dread, not so much.

For my part, I learned the hard way (including a trip to the ER with a panic attack that felt like an infarct) that breathing and calming my mind helped. But that’s another story to be told, maybe, in a future post.

For now, I’m happy watching the little squirrel and hoping she’ll make it through the winter.


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Time Cannot Exist in the Zone

A little more than one year ago, my life was a frenzy of conference calls, online meetings, e-mails, projects, and what have you. It felt like being on a bullet train, the landscape whooshing by at such speed that all you could see was a blur. Time was speeding up more and more every day. It was Monday morning; then I blinked, and it was Friday again. I was barely aware I was living. Weeks and months flew by, growing into years faster than I wanted to admit. 

And I was wondering whether this was how my life would continue, years and years flying by faster and faster, and me barely able to tell them apart.

I managed to jump off the hamster wheel of my corporate job eventually. I had realized I couldn’t continue living at lightspeed. 

And you know what? Life slowed down. I slowed down. Time slowed down.

It did take a while, and a lot of soul searching. But once I’ve done that soul work, looking at my values, thinking about what was important for me, and deciding on a course of action, everything changed.


Living intentionally, with a purpose, based on values that were important to me, slowed down time. 

I’m in my bubble every morning, writing my morning pages as soon as I’ve completed my morning ritual (I’ll write a separate post on my ritual). The outside world ceases to exist. It’s only me and the sound of the pen moving across the paper. I lose all track of time. Time ceases to exist. Time cannot exist in the zone

I lift my eyes to the oak tree I see from my window. A woodpecker stares back at me. The little red squirrel that comes by every few days flies graciously from branch to branch. This irritates the woodpecker, and it flies away. 

I go out and put out walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds for the squirrel who was waiting for me. She’s stopped raiding the bird feeders. She waits for me. The camera is irritating, I know, so I try to give her time to eat before I start clicking. I toss her a few nuts, and she walks, ever so cautiously, closer. No more than 1.5 meters for now, but my 300mm lens gets the job done at that distance. I didn’t invest in a wildlife telelens; I’m not a wildlife photographer. But there’s magic happening in my backyard, and I’m trying to catch these ephemeral moments.

Another bubble wraps around me. I forget the time when I’m taking photos. I have to set the timer on my Apple watch to remind me to get back for lunch.

Writing (morning pages, blog posts, poems, my book), taking or editing photos, gardening, reading, watching the birds and small animals in my backyard – this is my new life.

Marveling at this amazing world makes time disappear. Time doesn’t speed up; we do.


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First Anniversary and Some Reflections on 2020

Happy Birthday, an anniversary watercolor

Happy Birthday! Today is my birthday, and the blog celebrates its first anniversary. A few reflections on this first year of creative freedom may be in order.

2020 was not what I expected, and it’s not what you think. Yes, Covid-19 wreaked havoc with our lives and certainly with mine too. But it’s more than that.


I had resigned from my corporate job at Microsoft to do one thing: create. Finally, I would focus on my art and do all the things I was dreaming of when stuck in endless conference calls (I lived quarantine life before Covid-19 imposed it on the rest of the world).

It sounded simple, and I can see now that how deceptive this simplicity was. Hindsight makes things easy to see for what they are. This simple one word, create, encapsulated so many things that I was lost. By trying to do too much, I did nothing in the end. It’s not an excuse, just a late epiphany. Here’s a passage from one of my blog posts in late 2020.

My To-Do list had over 200 items on it (properly categorized, of course). The length was not, in fact, the issue, but the prioritization. What would be the best use of my time? Write every morning, then work on photo projects in the afternoon and read in the evening? What about the blog? I loved blogging and wanted to make room for it. And social media? And I don’t mean watching cat videos on YouTube (even though this may happen more often than I’d admit), but my Facebook photo page and Instagram (posting well-curated photos, of course). 

Where would I then fit drawing/painting/making music/going to art galleries/reading New York Review of Books/going to yoga/making tasty-yet-healthy smoothies/creating a new garden/gardening/listening to thought-provoking and inspirational podcasts/watching interesting and motivational TED talks/learning more about astrophysics, or 19th-century explorations, or psychology, or fractals – to say nothing about the mundane things like cooking (healthy, mostly vegetarian and locally sourced), or nurturing relationships, or just having plain, old fun?


Well, Covid-19 did take care of the art galleries or yoga (although the devil’s advocate could argue that you could manage both online), but the rest? The paradox of choice. So many things to do, so little time … no wonder I was anguished.

Fear played a role, too. Of course. I was afraid to finish anything because that would expose the big fraud that I was to the world, and I realize now that I was just hiding behind that huge to-do-list.

Follow your dreams watercolor

The way I choose to look at it is that 2020 was my learning curve—a year of discovery. I had to be honest with myself and face my fears. Revisit my values, review my goals, and decide what mattered and where my focus should be. Less social media and news, more arts and culture.

Post less, create more.

My 2021 mantra is, “I don’t have time for that.” No time for fear, no time for distractions. Ars longa, vita brevis.


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Hindsight Is the Cruelest Adviser

My head hurts. I’m not awake yet, not really. I fight to stay asleep, my throbbing head a harbinger of the day ahead; no deeds will be done today. Not with a jackhammer drilling the top of my head.

It doesn’t work, of course. I know that but hope does die last.

I go about my business in slow motion. I know better than to try to do something important. Years of excruciating headaches taught me that there weren’t many things I could do. Low priority tasks on my to-do-list such as website maintenance (but nothing major), cleaning up the photo library (a Herculean task), or vacuum cleaning (now you know why my house is spotlessly clean). Note to self: never, EVER, upgrade the operating system of your computer if you have a headache!

A distorted tree image to illustrate a headache. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I’m thankful that this is only the mild variant when I can still do something. The other one I don’t argue with; I just go lay down in the dark, earplugs in, sleep mask on. And pray that it’ll only last a few hours.

My worse headache moments involve the other one, of course.

  • Holding an online demo for over a hundred participants. I had scheduled the demo early in the morning when I’m at my best; training sessions are taxing. I woke up with the other one and it was too late to cancel, not with so many people, not on such an important matter (controls and compliance stuff, how could I ever think it was so important??).
  • Presenting to a senior executive. You don’t cancel on them. Unless you’re dead, or almost. If I could talk, I would walk.
  • Traveling, especially on long intercontinental flights. I still have nightmares, walking zombie-like in a busy airport, running late, being at the wrong gate, not being able to think clearly, etc.; you get the idea.
  • Holding a workshop with participants from the whole world after traveling on that long intercontinental flight. We usually had two to four days workshops, and the agenda was down to 15 minutes points. I couldn’t take the day off.

I have to admit that this doesn’t happen as often as before, i.e., since I left the corporate worldHindsight is a great adviser, “the cruelest and most astute” (R.J. Ellory). I can see now that a whole lot of it was stress. It was high tempo, aggressive commitments, unrealistic expectations, and perfectionism. It’s a wonder it didn’t get worse. Well, actually, it did, but that’s a different story for another post. 

I’m grateful that a headache is just a mild annoyance nowadays. Mild enough, apparently, to write a blog post about it.


Here’s a poem I wrote over ten years ago when my head had almost exploded with pain. It was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting The Broken Column. The poem appears in my first poetry book in Swedish, this is a quick translation I made for this post. A complete translation of all poems is on the way.

The Broken Column

(Frida Kahlo, 1944) 

Pain arrows 

piercing the body,

swirling in the blood,

hammering in the temples, 

sawing the ankles.

The wrists,

slashed

by glowing knives.

Pain

Never stops.


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Happy Australia Day!

The flag of Australia. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

Happy Australia Day!



Rainy Days and Purring Cats

Burning logs in a fireplace. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The snow of yesterday turned to snowy rain today. And it’s dark. Again.

I’m sitting by the fire with a good book, a cup of hot chocolate, and a purring cat. What can be better than this? 

Oh, I know! More chocolate. I’d better get going!



Winter Solstice Blues

Black and white photo showing a human silhouette against a fence to illustrate the longest shadow of the year during the winter solstice. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

It’s the winter solstice today, marking the first day of winter. Check your shadow at noon if you live in the Northern Hemisphere: it’ll be your longest noontime shadow of the year.

It’s also the shortest day of the year, and it never felt darker. We haven’t seen the sun since November 28th in Stockholm; it’s the darkest of December in almost a hundred years.

There is a scientific explanation for it, although a reason doesn’t help the mood: a high pressure over Russia which has formed an inversion (weather phenomenon when hot air cannot rise as it usually does). This high pressure has created a kind of “lid” of hot air that prevents the ground air from rising and cooling. And that, together with the humid air, creates this strangely foggy and rainy December.

You wake up in the morning, fumbling around in the darkness, waiting for daylight – and I mean light in the loosest meaning of the word; it’s more like 50 shades of gray, pun intended – until after nine in the morning. That’s it; that twilight zone gray is the daylight. And at two in the afternoon, the gray starts to fade to black again. At three is pitch dark again. I imagine the apocalypse would look like this.

Close up of a red squirrel

We have a few regular visitors in the garden like the cutie above, so I soldier on and take photos, but my camera struggles with the darkness. I keep increasing the ISO until 12.800 for a decent photo.

No light without dark, I keep telling myself. And I’m thinking about people in Murmansk (Russia), Thule (Greenland), or Tromsø (Norway), where total darkness reigns this time of the year. We do have six hours of daylight, whether gray or not.

To end on a more optimistic note, let’s rejoice in the fact that the days are getting longer as of tomorrow!

A sun illuminated path in the forest. Photo by Mihaela Limbertea.
Lidingö (Stockholm, Sweden)

Here comes the sun!


Bonus: Nina MacLaughlin’s Winter Solstice column


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