Stepping Down

f0873cb39164e6d44a3405b56e2c9bc1American Idol, and other countries’ versions of the show, frequently do theme nights where each contestant must perform a song of a single artist.  There have been Michael Jackson nights, Whitney Houston nights, and, at least twice, Elton John nights.

The first Elton John night was disastrous (the second, many seasons later, was notably better – not sure why the difference).  Contestants clearly found the songs too difficult:  the rhythms too complicated, the range too large, the modulation between soft and powerful too elusive.  

Watching those songs completely humble young men and women who were clearly very talented – who had beaten tens of thousands of other contestants to be there – reminded me just how impressive Elton John’s work is.  His songs are hard, and he makes them look easy.  And he just happens to be fun to watch. First and foremost, he’s an entertainer and has spent more time on the road than at home with his family, which makes me happy at hearing his announcement about retiring and, at the same time, sad that so many people will miss the opportunity to see him perform live on any given stage.

To be perfectly honest, I fell in love with Elton’s music many long years ago. In fact, I can tell you the exact song that sold me and what was happening when I heard it.

  1. Queen and the Eagles were formed.
  2. The 43rd Annual Academy Awards was held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles in the United States. Patton (a film about an American World War 2 general) won the Oscar for Best Picture. George C. Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor for Patton but became the first actor in history to refuse the award. British Actress Glenda Jackson won the Oscar for Best Actress for Women in Love.
  3. In South Africa Jim Fouche was the State President of South Africa and BJ Vorster was the Prime Minister of South Africa. The 269m (882 feet) Hillbrow Tower in Johannesburg was completed. It was then named the J.G. Strijdom tower. In 2005 it was renamed to the Telkom tower. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) lifted its ban on The Beatles. Winnie Mandela (former wife of Nelson Mandela) was sentenced to 1 year in jail. Arthur Ashe (the famous tennis player) was denied a visa to visit South Africa in the same year.
  4. A ban on radio and television adverts for cigarettes went into effect on the 1st of January in the United States.
  5. The first ever One Day International Cricket match between Australia and England was played.
  6. The Aswan Dam was officially opened in Egypt.
  7. In the United Kingdom, the vehicle manufacturer Rolls Royce went bankrupt and was nationalized.
  8. Apollo 14 landed on the moon.
  9. The Nasdaq index made its debut on Wall Street in the United States.
  10. The daredevil, Evel Knievel set a world record by jumping over 19 cars.
  11. The infamous Ed Sullivan show aired it last episode in the United States.
  12. More than 500,000 people in Washington DC and 125,000 people in San Fransisco marched to protest against the Vietnam War. In the same year The Harris Poll claimed that 60% of Americans were against the war.
  13. The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers (a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of US political / military involvement in Vietnam between 1945 & 1967).
  14. Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors was found dead in his bathtub in Paris, France.
  15. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bangladesh and Bahrain became independent countries.
  16. The United Nations General Assembly admitted the People’s Republic of China and expelled the Republic of China (Taiwan).
  17. Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to enter Mars orbit successfully.
  18. The Intel 4004 (the world’s first microprocessor) was launched. Texas Instruments released the first pocket calculator.  The first soft contact lens became available commercially in the United States, and the UNIX Programmer’s manual was published.
  19. A Clockwork Orange (a movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Malcolm Mcdowell), Dirty Harry (starring Clint Eastwood), The French Connection (starring Gene Hackman), Diamonds are Forever (the last James Bond film featuring Sean Connery), Shaft (starring Richard Rowntree), Klute (starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland), Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Fists of Fury (starring Bruce Lee) was released in cinemas.
  20. Corey Feldman (famous for his roles in movies in 1980s), Luke Wilson (Actor), Rachel Weisz (British Actress), Antonio Banderas (Actor), Mark Wahlberg (Actor), Monica Potter (Actress), Johnny Knoxville (of Jackass fame), Kid Rock (Musician), Lance Armstrong (Cyclist), Mariah Carey (Musician), Sean Astin (Actor), Shannen Doherty (Actress), Snoop Dogg (Rapper), Tupac Shakur (Rapper), Winona Ryder (Actress), Minnie Driver (Actress), Ricky Martin (Musician), Mary J Blige (Musician), Bridget Moynahan (Actress), Gena Lee Nolin (Actress), Adriana Sklenarikova (Model) and Caprice Bourret (Model) were all born.

The year was 1971 and the Elton John’s hit single was Our Song.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin created this unforgettable melody with words that stuck in my brain and came out of my mouth every time it played on the radio. To this day, Elton performs this remarkable piece of music at every concert and he will no doubt wrap up his final tour in the United States with it as well. I’m just grateful that I received tickets to see him in Las Vegas in February, as there are so many amazing singers I missed the chance to see, including: Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, and Michael Jackson. In my book, Elton John registers right up there with them and will continue to be one of my all-time favorite artists…whether he’s tinkling the ivories on stage or not.

Kaylin’s Bucket List

cleaning_service_bucket_with_sponges_chemicals_bottles_and_cg1p70148695c_thIf you don’t live your days by goals and plans, chances are you spend most of your time caught up in a flurry of day-to-day activities and self-imposed obligations that you can’t seem to complete, no matter how hard you try. Do you ever feel that your days are passing you by without any tangible output to speak of? What did you accomplish in the past 3 months? What are your upcoming goals for the next 8 months? Look at the things you did and the things you’re planning to do next — Do they mean anything to you if you were to die today? Having a bucket list reminds you of what’s really important so you can act on them.

Even if you frequently live by goals or to-do lists, they are probably framed within a certain social context e.g. performance, career, health. A bucket list opens up the context. It’s a forum to set anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to do, whether it’s big, small or random.

It’s just like planning ahead all the highlights you want for YOUR whole life. 😀 Even though goal setting is already my staple activity, I still found many new things to do while I was writing on my own list. It was an incredibly insightful exercise. What’s more, coming up with my list gave me a whole new layer of enthusiasm knowing what’s in store ahead!

The objective of creating this list isn’t to instill some kind of a race against time or to create aversion toward death. I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — our physical lifespan is but a short speck of our existence in the universe.

The whole point of creating your list is to maximize every moment of our existence and live our life to the fullest. It’s a reminder of all the things we want to achieve in our time here, so that instead of pandering our time in pointless activities, we are directing it fully toward what matters to us. So with this in mind, here is my current bucket list. Things that I long to do before taking my last breath:

  1. Travel: I have literally been around the world via airplanes and cruise ships, but there are still a few places I’d love to see in this lifetime. These unique locations include: Chile, India, Cuba, Argentina, Egypt and Finland.
  2. Experiences: Keeping in mind some of these countries, imagine journeying the entire length of Chile’s Pacific coastline. You’d start in the lunar-like Atacama Desert and end in a land of water and ice, as the country splinters away to the Tierra del Fuego — a gateway to Antarctica. In between lie the Lake District’s volcanoes, valleys blanketed with vineyards, and the stark mountains and rock formations of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine. Then, far away from the mainland, seemingly marooned in the ocean, is enigmatic Easter Island. India, Cuba, Argentina and Egypt are easy when it comes to adventures. There are hundreds of things to experience there: visit the Taj Mahal, taste Havana rum, meet gauchos, and view pyramids. But nothing beats sleeping under the Northern Lights in a glass igloo and sledding with reindeer in snow-covered Finland. Or snorkeling in the glaciers of Iceland. Now that’s what I call fun!
  3. Personal Fitness: I’m notorious for savoring wine, eating on the run, snacking while writing, and taste testing dinner so I can get to the yummy desserts (especially if chocolate is involved). Exercise is the last thing on my mind every day, especially when I wakeup and remember a dozen things that need to be addressed. But the only way to fit back into the new wardrobe I recently bought is by shaving off a few pounds, reducing my wine intake and eating sensibility. So my list needs to include a healthy regiment and fewer trips to the plastic surgeon’s office for botox and liposuction procedures.
  4.  Mentoring: Obviously, teaching is one of the most rewarding things we can do. No matter how old you are, even if you are in your teens, you are always in the position to mentor someone else — perhaps someone who is more junior than you or someone who is older but can benefit from a particular expertise you have. Mentoring others is also a great way for you to develop yourself too and to share your abilities with others. So maybe it’s time for me to reach out and offer up some writing tips and advice to others.

Do you have a bucket list? A collection of dreams you’d like to turn into reality? As I’ve learned after losing wonderful people to diseases and tragic accidents, life is much shorter than we imagine, so don’t wait too long to act. Find ways to make yourself happy and to push yourself beyond your limits and comfort zone. The memories you’ll be left with are the material stories are made of, whether they be written down or told time and again.

A little Irish humor goes a long ways…

MercedesOn a golf tour in Ireland, Tiger Woods drives his Mercedes into a petrol station in a remote part of the Irish countryside. The pump attendant who knows absolutely nothing about golf, greets him in a typical Irish manner completely unaware of who the golfing pro is.

“Top of the mornin’ to yer, sir,” says the attendant.

Tiger nods a quick “hello” and bends forward to pick up the nozzle. As he does so, two tees fall out of his shirt pocket onto the ground.

“What are those?”, asks the attendant.

“They’re called tees,” replies Tiger.

“Well, what on this god’s earth are dey for?” inquires the Irishman.

“They’re for resting my balls on when I’m driving”, says Tiger.

“The Devil you say”, says the Irishman, “Mercedes thinks of everything!”

The Writer’s Greatest Enemy

Laptop computer and coffee in the gardenIt happens to every writer. It’s inevitable. Your prose has turned to mush, you don’t have a creative bone left in your body, and you want to throw in the towel.

Writer’s block. Every writer struggles with it. But what you do with it is what really matters. Before I write about solutions, though, it’s important to understand the problem.


Common causes of writer’s block

The reasons for your block may vary, but some common ones include:

  • Timing: It’s simply not the right time to write. Your ideas may need to stew a little longer before writing them down.
  • Fear: Many writers struggle with being afraid, with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and critique. Fear is a major reason some writers never become writers and never fulfill their dreams.
  • Perfectionism: You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. You try to get it perfect in your head and never do, so you never begin.

So how do I vanquish this enemy?

It’s a tough question to answer, and I’m afraid I don’t have a great solution. I’ve personally wrestled with writer’s block on numerous occasions, and each victory looked different.

That’s the thing about writing: it’s an art, not a science. And you’ll have to approach it as such. There is no formulaic fix, no “7 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer Now.”

Well, except for one. But you already know what it is: Start hacking away. Begin trying stuff. Sometimes, the quirkier, the better. The trick is find something that works for you.

Creative solutions to writer’s block

Here are a few ideas to help you work through your creative constipation:

  • Go for a walk or a short drive. I find nothing works better than a ten minutes trip through the garden or along a peaceful waterway.
  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off the radio, television, even your phone if necessary.
  • Do something to get your blood flowing. Stretch, grab a cup of coffee…whatever it takes.
  • Change your environment. If working behind a desk on a computer becomes intimidating, try putting your feet up on a recliner and typing on your laptop.
  • Read a book. Sometimes words and scenarios from other authors can inspire you.
  • Write nonstop with only the ideas of your story or character conversations in mind.
  • Listen to music. Try classical, easy listening, blues or jazz…and mix it up a bit to spark ideas.
  • Relax your mind with a small glass of wine. This is definitely a tension reliever. But don’t finish off the bottle.
  • Start a routine. Many famous writers have daily writing schedules to summon the Muse.
  • Spend time with someone who makes you feel good. A fellow writer, a grandchild, even a puppy.
  • Call an old friend and catch up on each other’s lives.
  • Brainstorm ideas in bullet points or by creating a board on Pinterest.
  • Read some inspiring quotes in books or online to get you started.

The possibilities are endless, but movement is critical. You need to generate momentum to get out of your funk.

Once you start heading in a direction, it’s easier to pick up speed. And before you know it, your block will be a distant memory and you’ll be doing what you once thought impossible. You’ll be writing!

The fail-proof solution

If you’re still not satisfied, you have one last resort, an ace up your sleeve. The silver bullet solution. The fail-proof way to overcome writer’s block is one you already know. In fact, you’ve been avoiding it this whole time, because it’s precisely what you don’t want to hear.

You overcome writer’s block simply by writing. Start somewhere, anywhere. Write a few lines. Say anything. And see what happens. Don’t think about it too much or make any fancy announcements. Just write. It doesn’t need to be eloquent or presentable; it just needs to be written.

And remember…write for the joy of writing. Because you can’t not do it. Don’t try to say or produce anything; just get some words on paper, now. No more excuses or justifications.

You can write. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Just type a few words. They don’t have to be good (all first drafts suck). It just has to be written. Then at least you have something to work on.

If you do this, you’ll get past the hump. I promise. The difference between professional writers and amateurs is this: Both encounter blocks, but one pushes through while the other gets paralyzed.

So get busy. Write like there’s no tomorrow…and when it comes to creativity, don’t let anything stand in your way.

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Exciting news for wine lovers!

0000060ef-wine_scientist-630x420Chemists from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Canada have discovered 23 new and potentially health-enhancing molecules in red wine, which they think could lead to medical breakthroughs in the future.

The team of scientists expected to find molecules called stilbenoids – said to provide health benefits – in the red wine, but were surprised to discover no fewer than 41 stilbenoid compounds, 23 of which have never been found in red wine before.

“These new molecules are likely to have very interesting biological properties and may contribute to the benefits from drinking red wine,” said Assoc Prof Cédric Saucier.

Prof Saucier, who runs the enology laboratory at UBC’s Okanagan campus, made the discovery in partnership with researchers from Australia’s University of Adelaide and UBC graduate student Ryan Moss.

‘”Who knows where this could lead? Perhaps new drugs and medicine for the future?” he added.

The discovery was made by concentrating red wine extract and separating the compounds so that the researchers could examine and create a fingerprint of each one individually.

The 23 newly discovered molecules are related to resveratrol, a chemical found naturally in the skin of red grapes and known to have a potential impact on age-related human diseases. However, even though this is exciting news and a potential breakthrough, moderation continues to be the key to good health. So above all, be sure to drink sensibly.

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Twisted Threads Book Trailer

I’m thrilled by the tremendous success I’ve received for my new TWISTED THREADS book trailer, created by Film 14. The views I’ve had on my Facebook page alone have exceeded more than 42,000 since it was posted in late November. If this was any indication on my book sales, I would be a best seller right now. 🙂