Tag: Popular

The Most Popular Blog Posts in 2020

Close up of a tabby kitten sleeping on a pillow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
“I’m Minette, three months old, and need my sleep.” Our tabby kitten is now almost nine years old.

2020 (finally!) over, I had a look at what people read here on the blog. These are the top ten most popular blog posts, an interesting mix of topics.

As expected, major life changes are always reader magnets – the top three posts are about me, leaving Microsoft after 20+ years to become an artist, and what we now call Covid-19.

The rest is evenly spread on popular culture, life, and photography; basically, what I usually write about on the blog.

This year has been horrible in many ways for the whole world (this planetary scale is mind-bending), but I’m glad that I managed to balance writing about Covid-19 and its widespread consequences and normal topics.

Covid-19 has affected everyone, and it would be strange if this wouldn’t be reflected on the blog. I wouldn’t allow it to dominate the blog, though, as hard as it’s been to go about my life as usual – when nothing was as usual.

Now, without further ado, here’s the top ten most popular blog posts list.



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The Best Books I Read in 2020

My book shelf, including the best books of 2020. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

Cicero

I’m grateful for having both, and the time and peace of mind to enjoy them. I read two or three books a week, and I read every day. I cannot image a life without books. Here are a few that stayed with me a little longer this year, in no particular order.

Best Fiction Books

  • Stephen King & Joe Hill, In the Tall Grass. This is a novella collaboration between Stephen King and Joe Hill, a short horror masterpiece. Trivia: Joe Hill is King’s son. Stephen King and his wife, Tabitha (herself a novelist), were inspired by the Swedish trade unionist Joe Hill (formerly Joel Hägglund) and named their son Joseph Hillston. When the son grew up to be a writer, he chose Joe Hill as his pseudonym.
  • Marlen Haushofer, The Wall is a haunting survival story, disturbing and beautiful, by the Austrian author Marlen Haushofer (1920 – 1970). If you love animals, you will love this book. And maybe shed a tear or two. I listened to the book first, narrated by Kathe Mazur, and I cannot recommend the audio edition enough. Mazur’s soft and calm voice deepens and enhances the text.
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic. An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . . “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico. I read this in one day.
  • Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow.  An old-fashioned novel (in the best sense of the term) about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel. The best kind of escapism, the perfect book to curl up with and forget the world outside.

Best Non-Fiction Books

  • Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes. I know I’ve just said the list has no particular order; however, I did want to put this book first. It changed my life, as dramatically as it sounds. I was looking for a better way of organizing reading notes before kicking off the research on my non-fiction book and found this book. It describes an excellent note-taking system, indeed, but its’ great benefit lies in helping you focus on thinking, understanding, and developing new ideas in writing. It sounded like it would be too good to be true, but I was intrigued enough to give it a try, and I was hooked once I did. The method was developed for academic writing, and the book is heavy on theory and light on the application. If you can stand it and give it a try, you’ll be hooked too. This site, entirely dedicated to it, is a good complement to the book. It provides more concrete examples and practical applications.
  • James Clear, Atomic Habits. Accomplish more by focusing on less.  Actionable and practical strategies to build positive habits by focusing on small improvements that would build up over time.
  • Adam Savage, Every Tool’s a Hammer. Adam Savage shares his golden rules of creativity, from finding inspiration to following through and successfully turning your idea into reality. 

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The Christmas Tree Is Up

Close up of a decorated Christmas tree in classic style with red and gold ornaments. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Close up of Christmas decorations, Nutcracker guards and Santa. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The Christmas tree and the decorations are up! The Nutcracker guards are new; I found them at our local garden center (while looking for bird feed).

Close up of a Yule goat in front of a Christmas tree. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The Yule goat is over twenty years old.

Close up of Santa ornament. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The Santa traveling by hot air balloon is from the garden center as well. I regret now not buying more of them, they match the older decorations so well.

Close up of a decorated Christmas tree in classic style with red and gold ornaments. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Christmas tree bokeh. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

Decorating the Christmas tree is one of my favorite things to do while listening to the best Christmas album of all time: Frank Sinatra’s The Christmas Album.

No Christmas is complete without a cat hiding under the tree.



The Zone: No. 9 – Dec 10, 2020

  1. Welcome To The Zone!
  2. The Zone: No. 2 – Oct 22, 2020
  3. The Zone: No. 3 – Oct 29, 2020
  4. The Zone: No.4 – Nov 5, 2020
  5. The Zone: No. 5 – Nov 12, 2021
  6. The Zone: No. 6 – Nov 19, 2020
  7. The Zone: No. 7 – Nov 26, 2020
  8. The Zone: No. 8 – Dec 3, 2020
  9. The Zone: No. 9 – Dec 10, 2020
  10. The Zone: No. 10 – Dec 17, 2020
  11. The Zone: No. 11, Dec 31, 2020 – Special Edition
  12. The Zone: No. 12 – Jan 7, 2020
  13. The Zone: No. 13 – Jan 14, 2020
  14. The Zone: No. 14 – Jan 21, 2020
  15. The Zone: No. 15 – Jan 28, 2020
  16. The Zone: No. 16 – Feb 4, 2020
  17. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

The Map of Doom (say what?), Cal Newport on technology improving productivity, The Queen’s Gambit, and more in The Zone No. 9.

  • The Map of Doom: A 20 minutes summary of all the threats to mankind, ranked. All right, apparently still on annus horibilis. Let’s move on to less gloomy subjects, shall we?
Harry Potter inspired ASMR – Hogwarts Library
A picture of Hippocampal mouse neuron juxtaposed to a picture of a  Cosmic web to show similarities in structure.
One of these pictures is the brain, the other the universe. Which is which?
  • The Tom & Jerry movie is coming to theaters 2021. Yay! I grew up with Tom & Jerry cartoons, so I’m looking forward to it; the trailer looks promising.
A picture of the NK department store in Stockholm, Sweden with a huge Christmas tree hanging from the ceiling. The scene depicts a book signing by author Maria Varga Llosa in 2010, the year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Mario Vargas Llosa signing books at NK in 2010.
  • First Nobel Peace Prizes were awarded to Red Cross founder Jean Henri Dunant and peace activist Frederic Passy on December 10th, 1901. I would look forward to the Nobel Prize ceremonies (literature only, to be honest) and the usual book signing by the Nobel literature laureate in the NK department store every year. Alas, not this year. Everything is digital. Fingers crossed for next year. Hope dies last as they say.

A Quote I’m Pondering

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself. 

 Chuck Close

From My Photo Archives

Close up of white Christmas roses or Helleborus in full bloom. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Helleborus in full bloom. I know it’s called a Christmas rose, but it usually blooms in March here. Normally we would have a lot of snow between November and February hence the March blooming. But not this year. It seems everything is different this year.

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The Zone: No. 8 – Dec 3, 2020

  1. Welcome To The Zone!
  2. The Zone: No. 2 – Oct 22, 2020
  3. The Zone: No. 3 – Oct 29, 2020
  4. The Zone: No.4 – Nov 5, 2020
  5. The Zone: No. 5 – Nov 12, 2021
  6. The Zone: No. 6 – Nov 19, 2020
  7. The Zone: No. 7 – Nov 26, 2020
  8. The Zone: No. 8 – Dec 3, 2020
  9. The Zone: No. 9 – Dec 10, 2020
  10. The Zone: No. 10 – Dec 17, 2020
  11. The Zone: No. 11, Dec 31, 2020 – Special Edition
  12. The Zone: No. 12 – Jan 7, 2020
  13. The Zone: No. 13 – Jan 14, 2020
  14. The Zone: No. 14 – Jan 21, 2020
  15. The Zone: No. 15 – Jan 28, 2020
  16. The Zone: No. 16 – Feb 4, 2020
  17. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

Best books of the year, productivity hacks, Earth’s new mini-moon, cute squirrels, and more in this week’s installment of The Zone.

  • I’m sure Merriam-Webster’s word of the year wouldn’t make any best of-lists. Based on a statistical analysis of the words people searched for in their online dictionary and a significant year-over-year increase in traffic, the word of the year is (suspenseful pause)… pandemic! Says Merriam-Webster: “Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it’s fitting that in this exceptional—and exceptionally difficult—year, a single word came immediately to the fore as we examined the data that determines what our Word of the Year will be.“ With Coronavirus in the first place, quarantine in fifth place, and asymptomatic on the eighth, 2020 has been the pandemic year, indeed.
  • For those times when you feel like you live in a catastrophe movie: watch this video in which a former NASA engineer builts an epic obstacle course for squirrels. It’s about 20 minutes long but well worth the time, trust me! It takes a whole new meaning since we started feeding the birds in our backyard. But we ended up with a different solution (scroll down, please).
  • The 10-3-2-1-0 Formula to Get More Done.
    • 10 hours before bed – No more caffeine.
    • 3 hours before bed – No more food or alcohol.
    • 2 hours before bed – No more work.
    • 1 hour before bed – No more screen time (turn off all phones, TVs, and computers).
    • 0 – The number of times you will hit the snooze button in the morning.
  • Did you know that Earth picks up a new temporary moon now and then? They’re usually pretty small – we’re talking about a few meters in diameter – and can hang around for a few years before they drift away. They contain the oldest material in the solar system. They haven’t been studied much as they are hard to detect. A new one has been recently discovered and baptized 2020CD3 (CD3 for short).
  • Speaking of moons: NASA’s 4K visualization showing the Moon’s phase and libration at hourly intervals throughout 2021 is awesome. This one is viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, and there’s one for the Southern Hemisphere too. NASA creates these simulations of the moon phases every year, with no practical purpose in mind. They are very instructive, though, as so much as NASA does. Universe Today has a good article about the nitty-gritty details if you’re into astronomy like me. I, of course, have an iPhone app to check moon phases (free). There are plenty of them in the app store; I used this one for years and I’m pretty happy with it so I never looked for others.
Starfish cling to rocks as the tide comes in off the coast of Greymouth, New Zealand. Photo by Stanley Loong
  • Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and US President George H. W. Bush declared the Cold War over on December 3rd, 1989. Living in Romania at the time, I remember thinking bitterly than nobody told Ceaușescu. But three weeks later, he was dead.
  • Tomorrow is Friday and cookie day, yay! I know what I’m going to do. If you thought baking cookies, you’re wrong. Eating them is more like it.

A Quote I’m Pondering

Heaven and hell are not separate places but are already here among us on earth. What separates and protects us from hell is a surface layer that could be called civilization. A surface layer that we have realized this year is much more fragile than we thought. Dystopias are alarm clocks. *

 Jan Gradvall, Swedish journalist in Dagens Industry Weekend magazine

From My Photo Archives

Close up of a red squirrel. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
We gave up protecting the bird feeders and set up a squirrel feed station instead. Now there’s peace in the backyard.

* Here’s the original quote in Swedish:

Himlen och helvetet är inga separata platser utan finns redan här bland oss på jorden. Vad som skiljer och skyddar oss från helvetet är ett ytlager som man skulle kunna kalla civilisation. Ett ytlager som vi detta år har insett är mycket bräckligare än vad vi trott. Dystopierna är väckarklockor.


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How To Take Better Photos With Your Phone

Anse Victorin beach on Fregate Island in the Seychelles. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Anse Victorin beach on Fregate Island in Seychelles.

Continuing the theme from my previous post on mobile phone photography, I wanted to show more photos taken with an iPhone and share a few tips to help you take better photos with your phone.

A beach sign warning "Strong currents" on Anse Victorin beach on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Anse Victorin beach. The current was strong indeed.

These are some of our vacation shots from Fregate Island (Seychelles) in the summer of 2018; they are all taken with an iPhone. Considering how the world looks like today, Covid-19 et al., I’m grateful for all experiences we’ve had; it’s something to hold on to these days. I’m sure we’ll be able to travel the world and only worry about photo quality at some time in the future. Maybe not in 2021. But in 2022? We need to keep dreaming about better days.

Marina beach on Fregate Island in Seychelles. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Marina beach
Anse Victorin beach on Fregate Island in Seychelles. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Anse Victorin beach

All photos in this post are taken with an iPhone X and the only processing is using the phone’s auto-enhance function i.e. what most people would do with their images. No filters, no post-processing. No expensive, heavy camera, tripods, or filters.

Villa, palms trees and infinity pool in on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Our villa, photobombed by a bird.
An infinity pool with view over the sea and palm trees on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
The beach bar on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
The beach bar

In full light, there’s hardly any need for further processing unless you’ve taken a fancy to one filter or another. Just point and shoot.


Some tips for taking better photos with your phone

  • Try shooting in the morning or late afternoon for a milder light. You may have heard about “the golden hour”; this will make any photo pop.
  • Wait for a passing cloud to take photos if you have to shoot in the harsh midday light.
  • Position yourself so that you have the sun at your back. Be careful when shooting portraits, though. If you have the sun at your back, it means that people will very likely squint (if you’re quick) or close their eyes as they’ll face the light. What you can do to avoid “The Others“-like portraits is to position your subjects with their backs to the sun. As you’ll be shooting against the light, you’ll need to use the flash to lighten up their faces.
  • Use available natural light. Avoid using the flash (except for the above scenario). Flash creates a cold, unnatural light with heavy contrasts, and the result is unflattering photos.
  • Set the focus right. Phone cameras automatically set focus on the foreground, but this may not always be where you want it to focus. To make sure the intended subject of your photo is in focus, tap lightly on the screen. This will set the focus on that spot.
  • Don’t use the zoom; move closer to the subject instead. Zooming in makes the photo appear pixelated or blurry.

More Examples of Phone Photos To Inspire You

Beach and flowers on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

Using the Portrait mode: good background blur, perfectly fine photo.

A coconut on the beach, Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
A coconut tree in the making

Choosing the Portrait mode in your camera app gives your photos a nice background blur. It was meant for shooting portraits, but you can do so much more with it. Try it!

Beach panorama on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

Using the Panorama mode – not bad! The horizon is slightly uneven (maybe the photographer wasn’t fully awake, maybe it’s the camera, who knows?), but the photo is acceptable, considering the alternative. I.e., carry a heavy camera to the beach, and do a lot of post-processing on your computer, stitching together the panorama. Did you try creating a panorama on your phone?

A blonde woman seen from her back and holding a camera at Anse Victorin beach on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

One of the rare shots with me in it. You know, the shoemaker’s children …luckily, not a bad hair day! Tips: taking photos of other people taking photos is always fun.

Hornet ghost crab on the sand, Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Close up of a hornet ghost crab on the sand, Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Horned ghost crab
A close up of a Aldabra giant tortoise on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
James the Aldabra giant tortoise.
Fairy tern chick sitting on a tree branch on Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
 Fairy tern chick
Fairy terns in flight, Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
 Fairy terns in flight
A close up of a Wright's skink, Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Wright’s skink

Some animal photos. The last one, the skink, would have been better with a blurred background (using the portrait mode), but animals usually don’t wait until you set up your camera. Shoot it, or you lose it.  Overall, not bad considering animals rarely pose and are always on the move.

Sunset on the beach, Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Sundown over an infinity pool and palm trees, Fregate Island. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

And lastly, two photos in low light – taken at 6am and 6pm. All phone cameras struggle on these conditions of course. But in this size for a photo album, Facebook or Instagram they are perfectly fine.


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What 2020 Taught Me … So Far

I’ve been struggling to make sense of the world lately, like many others, I suspect. Burying my head in the sand and trying to carry on with my work as nothing had happened. While, of course, the world around me continued spinning faster and faster.

I’ve missed two family anniversaries that I was looking forward to. Before what now seems to be the second Covid-19 wave, I thought I could attend, observing all restrictions, of course. With family and friends scattered in several countries on four continents, it’s been a trying time, to say the least.

Abstract B&W  photo
Untitled from my latest photo project.

As for my work, my new book and some photo projects, well … slow progress. I’ve reached an all times low in terms of creativity. I had all this time on my hands and no lust to do anything. I forced myself to show up and do the work because I know that in the end, there’ll be something. A shitty first draft. A few photos worth including in the series. But it’s not a solution.

How to keep going? Retreating into a shell and ignoring the world is not a life strategy; it’s escapism. As always, writing clarifies things for me. As Joan Didion once said, I write to find out what I’m thinking.

Here are a few things that I’ve learned this year of the plague. So far.


Accept the current situation. No amount of wishful thinking will make Covid-19, and its restrictions go away. I’ve come to accept that I cannot travel, for example, not only in 2020 but very likely not next year either. Would a trip be possible in 2022? I hope so. But if not, I’ll accept that travel would have to wait a while longer. If I cannot go to Australia for my planned photography project, I’ll try doing it in Sweden. If nothing else, this would be an exercise in creativity; creativity thrives on challenges. 

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Acceptance is key to get through this trying time. Humans don’t do well with uncertainty, and Covid-19 is the biggest uncertainty of them all. Accept that there are things that you cannot control.


Technology can be friend or foe. When I moved to Sweden, I was still writing letters (yes, real letters, handwritten et al.); compared to that, it’s never been easier to stay in touch. One of the small things that made a great difference was using a private cloud service where all family members can upload and comment on photos and videos. We can follow what’s happening in each other’s life in real-time, and can easily call each other or have several parts conference. Technology became my friend.

A sleeping tabby cat on sheep fur
Minette broke her leg and the whole family could follow her convalescence and provide moral support (mobile phone photo).

However, technology can easily become your foe. Like everyone else, in the beginning, I’ve spent a lot of time watching the news and reading everything about pandemics and viruses, antibodies and vaccines, intensive care and protection measures. How could I not? Everything was so readily available. The whole world at my fingertips, everywhere I turned. But the more I learned, the less I knew; even the experts had more questions than answers. The news reports became harbingers of doom. I was sucked into a maelstrom of catastrophic news reports (when it’s the last time you’ve seen good news?), comedy sketches, and cliffhanger series that made me even more depressed.

With no end in sight, the pandemic, combined with the recent changes in my life, was getting to me. I realized that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life. Covid-19 clarified my priorities.

I’m watching less TV now, especially the news. I keep informed, but that’s about it. I (no longer) binge-watch series but decide what really matters to me and stick to it. I didn’t watch Games of Thrones or The Crown. I did watch Stranger Things and Chernobyl. I have limited time and more important things to do.


Doing things around the house and crossing off tasks on my To Do-list make me feel good, as I had accomplished something (which, in fact, I had) and helped silence the monkey mind.

A sunny room
The guest room is ready! Unfortunately, no guests due to Covid-19.

Since we moved into our new house last year, we had a lot to do, and boy did we do it! We still have a few pictures to frame and the home office to figure out, but everything else is pretty much done. All that work did take my mind off things, and, in the process, I knocked off almost all items on my moving to-do list. Note to self: keep busy; keep busy; keep busy; keep …


Doing things I love with no ulterior purpose is relaxing; do more of them. I’ve started drawing again for the first time in several years. My drawings don’t look like much yet, but the concentration they require and my pleasure in what I’m doing make me forget the world. Right now, that’s a good thing.

A tabby kitten with a teddy bear
Minette and Patrick the teddy bear

Photography is work, of course, but taking photos of my cat or my garden just for us, for the family album, with no pressure, doesn’t feel like work and allows me to get into the zone and shut off the world.


A foggy forest in the autumn
A photo I didn’t post on Instagram. I was too busy scrolling.

Spending too much time on social media is counter-productive. Using Facebook to stay in touch with friends or YouTube for tutorials is one thing; spending hours scrolling through Instagram mindlessly and calling it “staying updated” is just wasting time. And likely to make me feel inadequate. Ask me how I know.


If you’re struggling as I did, I hope you’ll find this post helpful. I found that knowing you’re not alone is one step towards feeling better.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 


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The Unexpected Desolation of Getting What You Always Wanted

A close up of a Japanese anemone in black and white.
Japanese Anemone. One of the photos that didn’t make it to the photo gallery.

Do you lay awake at night, tossing and turning in bed, thinking with dread about another day at work? Feeling trapped in your cubicle, stuck in a Groundhog-Day, and knowing in your heart that you should be doing something else? I know I did.

I’ve always wanted to write, to paint, to make collages, to make art with my hands, and with my head, and with my heart. When I was ten, I had three library cards and read voraciously. I knew I would be a writer someday. There were no questions about that, no doubts.

I was also taking ballet lessons (not my best inclination as it turned out, but I did try it, didn’t I?). Attending art workshops for kids after school. Making collages with clippings from old magazines, painting, drawing, playing the guitar and writing songs, forgetting time, and forgetting the gray everyday life in communist Romania.

I continued to immerse myself in art in all forms throughout high school and university. 

But something happened.

Reality happened. Or so I thought. 

The Romanian revolution in December 1989 opened the doors to democracy after decades of communism. New opportunities and new challenges. 

When I graduated, my fresh Master of Arts didn’t get me very long in the job market, and I didn’t see myself in the role of the penniless, tormented artist. I focused on getting a job in a multinational company that offered the best career opportunities at the time. I started at Procter & Gamble and learned a lot at one of the best business schools. I continued at Microsoft for over 20 years and learned more and more.

I Should Be Doing Something Else

One of my (few) early photos that I was pleased with.

But despite my “successful career,” I wasn’t happy. I had this horrible feeling that life was getting me by, and all I had to show for it were SAP implementations and business process design. Was that really everything there was to it?

I started on a personal development journey, and the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that I should be getting back to what I loved, really loved. 

Art.

“So why didn’t you”? Fair enough. I was not happy, and I’d discovered what would make me happy. Simple, right?

Yes. And no. Because there’s a big gap between “thinking” and “doing” (duh!) I knew what I should be doing, but I didn’t. For years.

I was scared of what people would think of me when “throwing away my career” to do something so “flimsy.” Scared of the potential financial losses and the change in status. The uncertainty of the future. 

During one of those endless nights, I finally realized that all those obstacles were in me, not in the outside world. My mind created all the hurdles I saw. And that I could change.

And so, after some reflection time, I resigned and changed gears. Almost one year later, I do what I love, writing every day, reading every day, doing photo projects, going back to that art world I had cast aside years ago. I’m happy as one can be. Or am I?

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it – Oscar Wilde

Getting What I Wanted

In the beginning, I thought that quiet-but-growing-stronger apprehensive voice in my head was the “I just resigned & moved country”-jitters. These past months, it’s been a turbulent period, with a lot of bureaucracy and changes related to my resignation and the move. Say nothing about Covid-19.

When we’ve finally crossed the finish line, i.e., moved to our new house in Sweden, job and worries left in Switzerland, I was too exhausted even to celebrate. Slowly, boxes were unpacked (all 250 of them – don’t judge! I have many, many books); rooms decorated; Christmas cards written.

Several weeks later, with the house in order and more sleep under my belt, I decided it was time to get started with my new awesome artist life. 

I had finally reached my lifelong goal.

Now I would finally do what I fantasized about for such a long time. Now I would focus on writing, reading, taking photos, doing photo projects, and a million other things on my list. Drawing? Check. Painting? Check. Making collages? Check. The list went on and on and on …

I’ve got what I wanted. Now what?

I had dreamed about this for such a long time that getting what I wanted paradoxically paralyzed me. I didn’t feel any different. I certainly didn’t feel ecstatic. Or creative. Especially not creative. I felt more like … empty? Given the major changes in my life, maybe it’s not that surprising, I reasoned. I may need some time to unwind. To adjust. Find my zone.

However, after several months, I had to acknowledge that something else was at play. I was struggling to find routines for my new life. At Microsoft, I had honed them to perfection. I was very well organized, had a to-do list, and had my priorities, and I would work through my to-do list based on my priorities. Perfection is the enemy of done, as Adam Savages puts it in “Every Tool’s a Hammer,” so “good enough” was my mantra. I never missed a deadline or let any boll drop. I was the Queen of “Getting Things Done.” 

But now … 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? 

Because – and this is typical of me – I had no relaxation in my schedule. None. My days were packed to the brim with “things to do” in an attempt to do it all. How could I not pack them full? I was finally FREE to be an artist, goddamn it!

That was the first problem.

In the end, I had to admit I was too ambitious. I wanted to do too much, too fast, and do it well. So, I slowed down, went for long walks along the shore (one of the perks of living on an island), and thought about it.

However, there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that routines (or lack thereof) were, really, not the issue at hand. Sure, I had to re-orient myself and create new routines, but I was the uncrowned Queen of “Getting Things Done,” wasn’t I? This was more like a challenge to which I was to – successfully – apply my skills, not a crisis.

The routine stuff masked something else, I thought. Now I was getting somewhere. But what? More walks, more quiet time. And, gradually, the growing insight that I was simply scared. 

Fear of success. That was the second problem. The only problem.

Of course. I could see it clearly now. No pretense, no “I’m too busy.” I had all I needed to do what I was supposed to do, and I was afraid that the result would be … lame. Worse than bad, like bad writing or uninspired photos; just ordinary; banal; trivial. You name it. 

This was my time, and I got performance anxiety, all the while the clock was ticking. I only had three (three!) photos in my photo gallery because I wanted to showcase only my super-duper best photos on my website, and very few photos met with my approval. Nothing I produced was good enough for me.

Did I mention that I got a couple of texts published, sold a few photos, and grew my reach on social media during this time? Obviously, other people had a different opinion.

But while everyone congratulated me, I felt evaluated, judged. I felt weighed, measured, and found wanting.

This was the turning point.

Now that I had a clear problem statement, I could do something about it. 

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. – Frank Herbert, Dune

I WILL FACE MY FEAR.

Photo taken with my cell phone. Conquer your fear instead of buying expensive gear.

OK, so maybe my artwork isn’t ready for the Met, or my book wouldn’t even get published. But few artists produced masterpieces from day one. Self-doubt and rejection are part of the process. Ask any creative person. Successful people have their moments of self-doubt or fear too, but they are able to overcome that resistance and push on—every single day. 

So, I decided there and then that I would do better. I may still experience fear or self-doubt but will not let them stop me anymore. If I’m not my own supporter, how can I expect other people to be?

Besides, doing the work, doing what I love is the reward, not the external success. I had to remind myself that I was at my happiest when fully immersed in my work; time flies, and the world is far away. 

Success is getting and achieving what you want. Happiness is wanting and being content with what you get. – Bernard Meltzer

I’m thankful that I can do what I love every day. I have worked hard to be able to do so I won’t let negativism take that away from me. The days are long, but the years are short. – Gretchen Rubin We all have a limited amount of time, and I’d rather spend it doing what I love than wasting it on beating myself up for not being good enough.

What about you?


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Garden Life

Bumblebee on echinacea (Echinacea purpurea var. Magnus). www.limberea.com
Summer garden with lots of echinacea (Echinacea purpurea var. Magnus). www.limberea.com

All the hard work of the last four months has paid off (thank you, Covid-19, for the unexpected time off). The garden is lush and vibrating (literally) with insect life; as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I planned the garden to attract wildlife.

Painted lady butterfly (Cynthia cardui) on echinacea (Echinacea purpurea var. Magnus). www.limberea.com

Painted lady butterfly (Cynthia cardui) on echinacea (Echinacea purpurea var. Magnus).

Tortoise-shell butterfly (Aglais urticae) and bumblebee competing for the same echinacea flower. www.limberea.com

Tortoise-shell butterfly (Aglais urticae) and bumblebee competing for the same flower.

Tortoise-shell butterfly on aster (Aster amellus). www.limberea.com

Tortoise-shell butterfly on aster (Aster amellus).

Painted lady butterfly in a sea of echinacea.

Painted lady butterfly in a sea of echinacea.

A bumblebee hard at work on a pink echinacea.

A bumblebee hard at work on a pink echinacea.

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) on echinacea.

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io).

Bumblee on great masterwort (Astrantia major).

Bumblee on great masterwort (Astrantia major). Notice the raised leg, warning off other insects from the flower.

Two brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni) have a meeting on a pink echinacea flower.

Two brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni) have a meeting. Exchanging tips on best echinacea, maybe?

Painted lady butterfly (Cynthia cardui) on echinacea (Echinacea purpurea var. Magnus).

Now I’m off to the garden again, weeding, and deadheading, and watering, and, and, … work never stops in a garden. Or fun.

I hope you have a good summer, considering Covid-10 et al. Stay healthy, stay calm, and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 


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The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

One thing that seems to be spreading faster than the coronavirus is fear. I’ve stopped checking social media and the internet in general to avoid conspiration theories, self-appointed pandemic experts, and doomsday prophets. I sometimes browse both for a few minutes (who am I kidding?) for a couple of hours, and it scares me (pun intended)—every time. Fear is now tangible. Palpable. Everywhere.

There are a lot of questions and few answers.

How long will this virus keep the whole world in its grasp? Will there be a vaccine? Will my family or I get sick? What happens with the economy? My job? Will life go back to the normal, ever?

Fear is normal. It’s a complex survival mechanism that serves us well. Living in a constant state of fear is not. Scared people are dangerous people. You never know what they’ll do, how they’re going to react when things get worse or when the reptile brain would simply take over and overwrite common sense and decency.

Others may become completely paralyzed, like deer caught in the headlights, incapable of action.

F. D. Roosevelt knew this. Here’s what he said in 1933, in the midst of another global crisis.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, from the speech at his first presidential inauguration on March 4, 1933.

Another Roosevelt, Theodore, laconically advises us what to do: 

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Yes, fear is normal in the middle of a pandemic with so many unknowns. But we should not give in to fear. As I’m writing this, the sun is shining over Stockholm in a cobalt blue sky, and the birds twitter, drunk with spring and sunshine. This, too, shall pass.

I found the poem below in Tim Ferriss’ newsletter from Friday. A poem speaking of fear and despair, but also hope and resilience. Take a break, take a deep breath, take the time to read a poem, and pause this whirling world for a moment.

Nature is therapy. Pause and smell the flowers. Photo © Mihaela Limberea

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing. 

– Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM*
March 13th, 2020

The Order of Friars Minor, also called the Franciscans, the Franciscan Order, or the Seraphic Order, has a postnominal abbreviation OFM. 

Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 


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