No, I still have not written a reply to your email.

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During the pandemic, we have seen people around us take early retirement. We have seen people quit their jobs, pack up, sell their house, and move closer to their children so they could help out with the grandchildren, either babysitting or homeschooling. We have seen people become roommates or buy a house together as going alone through a pandemic, is not ideal.

Aside from this, the job market changed. Remote working, meetings online versus crowded conference rooms, working from home, these job aspects will stay and will be key negotiating factors in job interviews. But so is mental health.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am staying away from the screen and keyboard for a while to take care of me. That was exactly a week ago today. Here’s what I noticed so far.

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1: The first two days, I checked regularly whether anyone had noticed that there was suddenly radio silence from my otherwise active SM account. I confess that I was slightly disappointed to encounter the same radio silence. But it showed me that I was right to take a break. With the humongous number of tweets it is almost impossible for an ordinary person to be seen.

Unless someone actively searches for you, your message gets snowed under. Unless you spend hours tweeting, you don’t get seen.

People often complain about the algorithm preventing small accounts from gaining any visibility. I have an account of 21K+ followers and I am in that same boat. But then I realized that I didn’t care.

So what if I slipped away for a week!

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In that week, I rediscovered some Agatha Christie books, read Pierre Bayard’s take on ‘Who killed Roger Ackroyd‘ and firmly disagree with the analyses but not necessarily with the outcome, and am now reading ‘The Harvest Man’ by Alex Grecian. I got back into daily journaling, cleaned up my playlists, listened to new music, tried out new recipes, purchased the famous stamp ‘Russian warship, go %^&* yourself‘ and now eagerly await its arrival, and I saw some of my girlfriends.

After those first two days, I didn’t check anymore. I scroll once a day while I keep a good book right next to my mobile. Scroll, done, read. And I am going to keep it like this a while longer.

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2: With being less online also came less exposure to news. Reading the new is good, crucial, but too much news drives you nuts and can aggravate anxiety. It also temps you to scroll some more, find counterarguments, and then of course, enter the discussion.

I am now less up to speed with current events as I also cut down on watching the news but it is so much quieter in my head. Before this week, I was too restless to listen to a new album in one sitting. I listened to Jon Batiste’s ‘We Are‘ and I love it. I am less anxious too with fewer dark thoughts.

The downside of this week off is of course, that work awaits me. There are cases to explore, newspaper archives to plow through, reports to compare, and let’s not forget the email inbox. Yeah, I know some people are used to a prompt reply and a quick turnaround with editing, etc. However, getting quiet in your head matters.

Mental health, strength, resilience, matters.

You will just have to wait a little longer for that new blog post, that email reply, or report.

My old friend tendinitis is back

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I am taking a break from writing online for a while to give my arm and shoulder time to heal themselves. My tendinitis is back and has made it clear it will not go quietly. So, I hope you will all still find me when I return. I will keep reading blogs in the WP reader but have to restrict screen time and scrolling.

Hope to see you soon!

Wakanda Forever

Photography Alice de Sturler

This weekend, we went to see the special exhibit at the Taubman Museum in Roanoke. Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design.

The special exhibit featured the costumes from the movies Black Panther, Coming 2 America, Roots, Selma, and others.

When you enter the exhibit, you are immediately in awe. It isn’t just the designs. It is the vibrating colours, the sketches, the textures, the jewelry, and even the mannequins are amazing. It is an overwhelming sensation of amazement and marvel.

Over sixty costumes, many sketches, clips, and other illustrations of Carter’s work were on display. I took these pictures and hope you enjoy them.

If this exhibit ever comes to a museum near you, GO!

Roots

Photography Alice de Sturler

Selma

Photography Alice de Sturler

Coming 2 America

Photography Alice de Sturler

Black Panther

Photography Alice de Sturler
Photography Alice de Sturler
Photography Alice de Sturler

Sauerkraut à la Alice

Recipe and photography AdS

Yesterday evening, I posted this picture on Twitter. I frequently post what I am cooking there. I got the request for the recipe. So, here it is: Sauerkraut à la Alice.

Ingredients:

-oil
-garlic
-onions, I like to use green onions to keep the sauerkraut taste dominant
-hotdogs, cut up into little pieces, or ground beef
-black pepper and salt to taste
-chives
-parsley
-paprika
-sauerkraut, drained as much as possible
-tomato paste
-ketjap manis (sweet or demi-sweet) or soy sauce
-sambal goreng or chili paste to taste

Work order:

Put the oil in a non-stick pan, add garlic and onions, and stir until brown.

Mix in the hot dogs pieces or the ground beef. If you use shawarma beef it might clash with the taste of the sauerkraut. Add all the dry spices and keep stirring to get the meat done and prevent the powdered spices from sticking to the pan. Add the sauerkraut and mix it really well. This goes best if you add it bit by bit. I just use my hands, grab a hand-full, and place it in the pan. Stir, next hand-full, etc. When all is added and mixed well, turn heat down to medium.

In a cup, mix in equal parts the tomato paste and ketjap manis or soy sauce. For a 1 lbs. package of sauerkraut, I use 3 table spoons of tomato paste and ketjap, mixed well. Add sambal goreng to taste.

Add the tomato-ketjap mix to the beef, turn it up briefly, taste to see if you want to add more salt or sambal goreng but be careful not to overdo it as the sauerkraut has such a unique flavour. You can also later add the sambal goreng to your rice.

Once you add the tomato-ketjap mix and are happy with your spices’ mix, turn the heat low and keep the lid on, serve promptly.

I like to eat this mix with rice and fresh veggies like carrots or corn, or raw veggies like fresh red bell peppers. As for the rice, either white or brown will be tasty and you can even use sticky (sushi) rice.

Enjoy!

Book Review: All That Remains

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The book cover suggests a factual, maybe even clinical assessment of what remains (of us) when we die. However, the book combines deeply personal reflections on death including the deaths of loved ones, with the cold, hard process of decomposition.

I reviewed this book on my website. However, I refrained there from personal information. But here, on my blog, it is more appropriate to discuss them. Truth: I was uncomfortable reading this book from the beginning.

Why?

Sue Black is a skilled writer and scientist who combined a journal, a memoir, with forensic knowledge into one book. I have never had problems reading about autopsy reports, remains, death, or decomposition but this time, it got to me.

I could not put my finger on it other than that Black describes deaths in her own family from a very personal point of view. We get to know the person who passed away, the relationship that she had with them, and how she processed their deaths.

Then in Chapter 10 about Kosovo, it became clear what was happening to me. On page 249, Black describes how one person in her team “had made the cardinal error of mentally transposing the face of his own young daughter on to the mutilated body of this little girl and he was finding it difficult to cope.”

And that’s what happened.

Throughout the book, all these personal reflections on loss and death made me relive deaths in my own family. The causes of death, the ways of burial, the deceased’s personality, in every one of her cases I had seen someone of my own family. And with that I relived my own memories and grief.

So, if you decide to pick up this book, and I do recommend it, make sure that you do not transfer any personal memories or mental pictures onto Black’s memories.

If you read the book, let me know what you think.

Monday Morning

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Last evening, another one died. I think that we have killed about five electric water kettles during this pandemic. No matter the brand or the luxurious model, eventually they all succumb to the rigorous tea drinking routine in our household.

Tea cups here are around 12 to 16oz and when one of us is out of tea, the kettle goes back on.

When we started to get supply chain issues, I stocked up on some items. And I knew that I had bought a spare water cooker, but where was it?

Last evening, I opened every kitchen cabinet including the annoyingly small and unreachable ones above the fridge. I dug into the unfinished basement, scanned every shelf in the pantry, I even checked the linnen closet. No spare water cooker.

Turned out, it is in my husband’s office at work.

I checked online and found great models at Home Depot, Lowes, BB&B, Target, even Kroger. So this morning, I started with Kroger. None in stock. OK, so I drove to the next town. I visited five stores and all were out of water cookers, nothing in stock, and yes, we should have updated our website with the current inventory.

I was a bit steaming and fuming by the time I entered Target. The fumes disappeared rapidly when I saw that they had a few electric kettles left. I check for content, ease of use, and that reduced the selection to two. So I bought both.

Now I am back home, sipping tea, checking email, making notes, and I even had a bite to eat.

All is well with the world again.

How much social media do you need?

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I could not list all the social media (SM) platforms there are today if my life depended on it but I can answer this question: how much social media do I need. Answer: one to interact (Twitter) and one to post images, which I do on Pintrest.

Now you may wonder how I got to that answer. It was trial and error.

When I started my website in 2009, I jumped on all the then available SM platforms after finishing my post. I would share on my feed, in groups, and for a while even participated in ‘comment-for-comment’ groups just to get the cases in more newsfeeds. It was exhausting. I had private and professional accounts, had to keep track of what to post where, remember several sets of passwords, and had to continuously come up with new ways to present these cases.

I wish I had known then what I found out later because not only do these three points below make sense, they produce great results.

Three things to consider

1: How much time do I really have to dedicate to SM?

2: What is the quality of my followers’ list?

3: Where is my site’s audience?

Time to spend on social media

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I will be the first to admit that my scrolling time increased during the pandemic so maybe that isn’t a good measure. But, pre-pandemic I really watched how much time things took and, at what times I didn’t mind spending that time.

It is easy to say that your screen time should be limited however, that might not enable you to reach your goals. The better way to keep screen time in check would be to decide on a goal when you log in.

Uploading a new case or a post does not take much time. WordPress can do this for you if you use Publicize and grant WP access to your social media accounts. You can tailor the headline, add a brief description, and schedule the time and date. Once you set up Publicize posting is easy. What you now need is to get people to read and share your work.

Getting your readership engaged to the point where they actually share your work, is time-consuming. You cannot expect others to read and share your work if you never return those favours. What so I do?

On Mondays, I follow #MondayBlogs on Twitter and that streamlines a lot. I usually try to read four to eight posts and then share those on my feed. I do that in the morning and the afternoon. To make sure I get a good selection of blog posts I search for the hashtag MondayBlogs and select not just the top tweets but also the latest on Twitter. I have also made private lists that do not get shared. This way, reading up on your posts is easier as you are all on one Twitter feed. For the rest of the week, I use the WordPress Reader. I try to read up daily in between writing breaks.

Now, to answer the question how much time this all takes, it really depends on your work output and of course, what is going on in my life. I really cannot guess how much time. But you see, that doesn’t matter as it fulfills my goals: reading and sharing. And I learn a thing or two from all of you. What comes next is more important.

The quality of your followers

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Whichever SM platform you use, unless you have a private account, you will gain followers and not even notice it. I’d like to encourage you to check from time to time who is following you though.

You see, one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that a big Twitter following amplifies their ability to get shares, likes, or retweets. It doesn’t. Retweets do not come automatically once a follower scans over your post. That retweet can only come from the follower themselves. That’s why the quality of your followers matters so much.

You will find that followers can trickle in one by one or they come in bursts. Some have a big following and some don’t. Which kind of follower is better?

The people who consistently show up in your mentions are the ones to place on a private list. Those are the people reading and sharing your work and you should return the favour with theirs. Now I can hear you wonder ‘what if only two or three people are in my mentions?’

No problem. These two or three people share your work with their followers setting the amplification in motion which gradually expands your reach, getting your work into new people’s feeds and new networks. Two people consistently sharing your work are better than hundreds of followers who never engage.

Your audience

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After you have been online for a while, check where your readers are. You can use WordPress, Google Analytics, StatCounter, etc. Do most of your posts get seen by people through SM? Email subscribers? Which other sites refer to yours?

Most of my website readers come from keyword searches, google snippets, Wikipedia, or other crime website references. Most of my blog readers come from the WordPress reader and #Bloganuary.

Having this information for my website made it easier for me to decide which SM platforms to keep so I can use my screen time to achieve my goals. I deleted all other accounts. It didn’t hurt my readership or SEO ranking. Pintrest is fabulous for sharing images. I just upload and done. I do not engage much there. Twitter is best for starting interactions, conversations, and collaborations.

Knowing that most of my website readers came from keyword searches, I pay close attention to SEO, tags, and the accuracy of my website’s databases. I link back to other people’s work, to newspapers, and magazines. For my personal blog, I follow back other bloggers, try to comment, and read posts of those who comment on mine.

Is this a perfect system? Probably not. There’s always room for improvement but for now, it works.