Friday, February 14, 2014

Here Is A Writing Exercise That Will Make Your Life Better

Let's start with the assumption that every time we write something, we're trying to evoke a mood in the reader. One valuable tool to use here is description of the setting. The words you choose when you're writing about the environment your characters are in will shape the way the reader sees your characters and their experiences.

As a writer, you want to be able to convey as many different moods as possible. I've found I'm really good at articulating some emotions and really, really terrible at others. Here's an exercise I use to help me build my descriptive skills:

Every couple of days (and this is important - you could do this exercise every day if you wanted to, but don't go more than a week without!) stop what you're doing, and really look at the spot you find yourself in at that moment.

You don't want to think about ANYTHING besides really looking at whatever is around you. What do you see? What does it look like, sound like, smell like? You don't have to write a word of this down, you know: the point here is the observing. Spend a minute or two focused on being very aware of your environment.

Now stop. Shift into writer mode now. How would you describe this scene if you were happy? How would you describe it if you were sad? How does the landscape look to an angry person? How would it be seen by a person bubbling over with excitement? Again, you don't have to write this down - just think through the language you would use to express that mood to the reader. I usually do this for a mood or two and then move on with my day; over the course of regular practice, you'll have an opportunity to practice viewing the environment through a wide range of emotions if you switch it up each time.

That's it. That's the whole exercise. It'll make you a better writer. When you're writing a scene, stop and ask yourself how your characters see where they are. Share that information with your readers. It'll make your text better and more rewarding.

Here's the nifty off-label application. Don't forget that you are the main character in your own life. Every now and then, stop. Take a look around. Become aware of how you feel right now. Ask yourself "How would I describe this if I was happier?" Just going through that process boosts the mood. It's a little jolt of positivity that can come in really handy sometimes.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Adapt & Endure: Is This Our Future?

 President Obama announced that his administration is launching seven "Climate Hubs", mostly throughout the Southern US, to help ranchers and farmers deal with the impact of climate change. It is important to understand that the government has long had a role of using science & research efforts to assist and guide farmers. It was the change from straight line plowing to contour plowing (in which the farmer follows the landscape more) that helped mitigate some of the worst effects of the Dust Bowl. These new Climate Hubs are going to focus on ensuring food production remains at acceptable levels despite intense storms, droughts, and subzero temperatures.

This is a tall order. Let's talk about what it means for the home gardener. I believe that the days where growing some or all of your own food won't just be a hobby or a political statement: it's going to be a necessity for anyone who wants to eat well, regularly, on a budget.

There are several factors to consider when we're thinking about what to plant. It's easy to let habit guide us: if our family grew tomatoes and lettuce, we grow tomatoes and lettuce. But we can look a little further into things. What crops will grow best in your garden? I'm not sure the Zone System is enough of a guide when it comes to choosing appropriate crops. You want to examine whatever information there is available about how hardy the plants are. Can they handle a little drought? What happens if you get an early cold snap? If you can't find this information on the seed packets, go online and do some research.

Other factors to include is how productive the crops are, and how you're going to store and use the food. This is an area I've struggled with, personally: over the coming year, I have to become much more adept with my canner, as well as expanding my freezing and drying efforts. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed with how much produce you wind up with: this is the time to be mindful things don't go to waste.

Part of the story about the Climate Hubs said we were going to need to adapt our practices if we were going to be able to endure our changing future. One way that we may need to adapt is rethinking how we garden. Container gardening, vertical gardening, hydroponics: these may all have a role in how you feed yourself and your family. The smart use of greenhouses to extend the growing season may become much more vital if we're seeing longer, colder winters.

What do you see being important for the gardens of the future?

Monday, November 25, 2013

There's Always More Than One Solution To Any Problem

My hubby and I were on the road the other day when we saw the scene in the picture playing out. Talk about re-defining the meaning of the words "Tractor Trailer"!

There's always more than one solution to any problem. We need to remember that. These farmers, for example, needed to move the trailer - a job that is by no means inexpensive when you do it through 'traditional' methods - hiring a big rig moving company. But they used the resources they had on hand, some teamwork, and accomplished their mission.

One way we can start reclaiming our economic power is to start practicing solving problems for ourselves. Rather than default to calling in the pros, do you have the skills, ability, creativity, or resources to fix the problem yourself?

You might not need to move a house trailer - but you might need to fix the dripping kitchen faucet or do some other home repair. Taking on these tasks, you may find yourself surprised with what you can actually do for yourself! Get in the habit of appointing yourself your first go-to repair company. After a year, you'll be amazed at what you've done, and how much money you've saved.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Five Things You Should Know About Firewood

If you're new to heating your home with wood, you may be surprised to learn that the process isn't as simple or automatic as you might think. There's a lot to learn about firewood, and the more you know, the more effective you'll be at keeping your home warm. Here are five points to keep in mind:

Conserve Energy: Quality Counts: While every tree burns in a forest fire, not every tree does an equally good job of heating your home. When you're cutting wood, you're going to want to concentrate on those trees that are good firewood first - these would be fruit woods, harder woods - and leave the not so great wood, such as softer, wet woods - for when you have excess energy or no choice.

Don't Burn Up Useful Trees if You Can Avoid It: While fruit and maple trees produce magnificent firewood, these trees are likely to be of more use to you as a source of fruit & maple syrup. Think ahead, because once the tree is cut, it's cut - you can't put it back up!

There's No Shame in Buying Wood: Using a woodstove doesn't mean you commit to procuring every bit of fuel on your own. Buying wood from neighbors & local vendors is a good way to keep money in your community & out of the hands of big corporations.

Make sure to compare prices, and keep an eye to make sure that what you've paid for is what's actually delivered. A face cord should measure 8 foot long, 4 feet high, and however wide you've agreed to with your firewood dealer. It's a really good thing if the firewood you buy actually fits in the wood stove you have, otherwise, plan on doing a whole lot more cutting!

Approach Downed Wood With Your Eyes Open: When you're out after firewood, discovering that a tree has fallen over, been snapped off by the wind, or has dropped large branches onto the ground can feel like you've got a winning lottery ticket. However, before you do the happy dance, check the wood out.

Some wood may have be too rotten to be useful to you -remember, decay is an inevitable natural process! - and other wood may still be burnable, but so full of bugs that you won't want to store it in the house. Finally, wood that has been laying on the ground, depending on variety, can drink up water like a sponge, which makes it useless as firewood. 

Stove Maintenance Is Important: Some types of firewood, especially pines, create creosote that clings to the inside of your chimney. Creosote is extremely flammable, and chimney fires are no joke. It's much better to prevent a fire than to try to recover from one! Regular cleaning of your chimney, the safe disposal of ashes, and other stove maintenance tasks are an essential part of burning your wood safely.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Points of Post-Consumerist Philosophy

Buy less, do more. We are impoverishing ourselves, individually and as a nation, buying things we don't need and don't actually want. If you have closets, garages, and storage lockers full of stuff you're not using, you don't need any more stuff!

Educate yourself continually. Ignorance makes you vulnerable. It is easy for people to take advantage of you, rip you off, and abuse your rights when you're not informed. Choosing to be ignorant means saying "Here, other people in the world! Why don't you run my life for me?"

Depend as little as possible on others. No man is an island, and it's impossible to do everything in this world entirely on your own. However, you should be very mindful of what you're choosing to have other people do for you. You may be better off doing it for yourself.

Make purchases mindfully. An aware consumer makes better choices than a consumer who is functioning on auto-pilot. Think about what you buy, where you're buying it, and why you're buying it. Make sure your purchases are in alignment with your belief systems. Think about what things cost to produce and market: if you're paying an exceptionally low price for something, you can be sure that someone else is paying dearly, generally in terms of their labor/quality of life.

Make creativity central to your life. We were given imaginations for a reason. Creativity is as vital to our well being as physical exercise. It doesn't matter if you never 'learned' how to be creative: something as a simple doodle can be the gateway to an innovative solution to a tough problem. Humanity survived & thrives because it is innovative and has the ability to transcend history, seeing beyond what has always been done. This power is inside each of us: don't think it belongs to ivory-tower academics and government think tanks. But you have to use it, or you will lose it.