I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

Killing with Love at Springtime

March 15th, 2013

Ah, the springtime. It's almost here. Spring is a busy time, so I'll keep this short.

If you are like me, you are ready to get out in the yard and get working on the landscape, but be very careful. Do not fall into an everybody's-doing-it trap. Instead of rewriting great advice, I'll let you read a past blog post from a friend and experienced arborist (a.k.a tree lover). The trap is shaped like a volcano. It's the common-yet-harmful practice of piling up mulch around trees. The problem, like the pile, seems to grow in popularity and size every year. Don't do it!

Learn why:

Mulch Madness from Jacobs Tree Surgery, Part I

Mulch Madness from Jacobs Tree Surgery, Part II

Scroll down to the end of the following post, just below the photo of the metal tree tag, to find examples of the proper way to mulch your trees:

Proper tree care

It's easy to love our trees to death. If you want more examples, seek out the book How Trees Die by Jeff Gillman. The content is not nearly as gloomy as the title, but it's a fast read that shows how our best intentions, like putting mulch around a favorite tree, can easily go awry.

Enjoy springtime without smothering the ones you love, even if you see "professionals" doing it.

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Five words you should never say

March 8th, 2013

To play musical accompaniment (in a new window) while reading, click here. Song: Something Good; Composer: Richard Rodgers; Collection: Rogers and Hammerstein The Sound of Music; Played by Ruth Heil

Don't you just hate it when someone says, "Don't get your hopes up." I know I do.

It's one of the most negative things a person can utter, because it countervails one of the most positive tools of the human mind: hope. Besides, most of us don't need to hear it; life has already overly prepared us for disappointment. And while it's always sad when things don't work out, it would be sadder still to give up, to never try, to restrain the part of the brain that wants to dream of improvement.

Admittedly there are times when we base our hopes on the actions of others, making this response a little more appropriate. Such as "I want to help you out but don't get your hopes up" or "Ill try to quit smoking but don't get your hopes up." We may hope for help or for the good health of others, but we do have to be careful about basing our satisfaction on other people's deeds. Aside from this though, any attempt to squash hope should be banned, barred, and illegalized.

There is always hope that the bud will open.

That's because all possibilities start with hope. Hope brings excitement to an otherwise dull day. It dreams of sunshine on the first day of spring. It teases us into feeling like we could win, pushing us towards success. Hope makes us fight to be well, better, and good, despite the odds against us. And hope is what points us towards our vision for the future.

There is always hope that the storm will pass.

For instance, a good friend of mine recently took a month-long trip to Australia. It was something she long hoped to do. Although I never asked, I'm sure there were plenty of opportunities over the years for her to abandon her idea (being a very busy executive and all) but she didn't. She went. She experienced. And when she returned she vowed to travel more. Even if only short trips or small excursions to nearby attractions, she realized how much she enjoyed getting away, letting hope guide her perpetually toward the things that make her happy.

There is always hope that the tomatoes will ripen.

Meanwhile, visualization is recommended as a way to achieve something desirable. Advisers will point out that we stand a better chance of reaching a goal when we can imagine the reality of it, like a marathon runner who pictures herself crossing the finish line.

Visualize that which you want most, and the next thing you know, you'll begin taking steps in its direction. They might be little steps at first, but momentum will build with each one. You might stumble a few times. And maybe the sun will shine the day AFTER the first one in spring. That's where resilience and perseverance come in, but the point is it all starts back at hope.

The effects are immediate, too. The instant one has hope, the moment they feel better. Therefore, I say we should not delay; we should tell everyone to be sure and get their hopes up, right away.

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Flawed performance or no performance at all?

March 1st, 2013

To play musical accompaniment (in a new window) while reading, click here.

Last Friday I sent out my bimonthly SOS Signal newsletter. The feature article looked at working person's ability to clearly tell clients what he or she does. It emphasized the importance of defining the job before describing the quality of the work. It turns out, the piece was released with two typos.

Ironic? I suppose not.

The imperfections in the newsletter turned out to be an appropriate case-in-point. I hate the fact that they happened, but they speak to the topic at hand for a number of reasons, especially for those of us who want to do an A-plus job, 100 percent of the time. Our desire to meet such high standards is often exactly what holds us back from taking risks, moving forward, and sharing ourselves.

Calculated Risks

In my personal life and in my work, I must prioritize objectives in order to achieve them. My blog and newsletter are produced on a regular and consistent basis, molded to offer support and encouragement, without advertising. Those are my priorities. Now, if I was writing for hire (i.e., a paid job), perfection would shift up the priority scale, and so I would employ a proofreader to catch any missed errors. Every goal is wrought with calculated risks. To meet the objectives, investment must therefore be based on calculated priorities.

Pushing Onward

The errors were the result of a tradeoff between delaying the publication or delivering the finished job on schedule. Now, I don't like sloppy work and every piece I produce is a sample of my ability, but at some point I need to stop checking for accuracy and "roll the presses," otherwise the paper won't get delivered. Plus, the more I worry about perfection, the more I am crippled. This happens for performers, athletes, and everyone. Ski down a hill thinking about nothing other than falling, and you will most certainly plant your face on the ground. In order to move freely forward, we must let go.

The Main Point: Sharing Ourselves

Most important: I'm not perfect. I am a flawed individual who writes about her experiences and thoughts so that other individuals may feel connected to them. I fight through the terror of publishing my words because I am compelled to do so. Sadly, I can get 2,000 words down and out, but the only ones I remember are the two I typed incorrectly, all the work, thought, molding, and courage ruined with two little words.

This is the world we live in, intolerant to mistakes, from others, from ourselves. In the case of a surgeon such is a good thing. But in the case of the average person, particularly the average artist, it's debilitating and it limits our experience. How many paintings and sculptures and screenplays are stuffed into closets because the creators fear the critique's evil standard? What do we deny ourselves out of reluctance to risk a mistake? How many words are in need of saying that don't get said because the sayer can't say them perfectly?

Musical Examples

In addition to being a writer, I am also a musician. I'm not a professional or even an "amateur;" I just play the piano. Music is an art that, like writing, requires accuracy. Hit the wrong note or lose control of your voice and your audience will cringe if they notice.

Most of you don't know about my skill because I don't perform in public. Why? My playing is riddled with mistakes. I have a bookcase full of songs which I enjoy, but I have no desire to sit and repeat and repeat and repeat the same song until I hit every note perfectly in order to make it performance-worthy; I just want to make music that satisfies my mood.

Meanwhile, I've heard it said that God's gift to you is your talent, and your gift in return is sharing that talent with others. How true! But compared to the remixed, remastered, studio recorded, uncovered prodigy, Idol groomed, expensive ticketed, mass produced ridiculousness that has become America's music scene, how can a middle-aged piano player who makes too many mistakes have anything to offer?

Such a question is a crippling result of the perfectionist standard: God-given talents deemed unworthy by human snobbery. "Find out who wins after this commercial break."

Have you noticed the copycat redundancy in Top 40 soloists today? There's a certain over embellishment, a let-me-prove-how-super-strong-my-voice-is pattern running amuck today. For instance, few people I know enjoy the way the National Anthem is sung at big games now, yet someone, somewhere has determined there's a new way to make it "perfect." The notes might be right, but in my opinion, the quality is anything but. True perfection in this case should have nothing to do with the singer, and everything to do with the song. By focusing so much attention on the soloist's ability, the song's meaning -- a great country shared by people of all talents -- is screamed out of earshot.

Meanwhile, have you noticed that vinyl records have fallen back into favor? I love old vinyl because, even though the albums were studio recorded, they have a raw feeling of wonderful imperfection, like a true live performance complete with lint- and scratch-infused background noise. There's a passion that comes through, passion otherwise sterilized by digital conversion.

So yes, there were regrettable typos in my SOS Signal. If I took this too seriously, I would write less, not more. Life itself is such a performance, one with plenty of lint and scratches. As much as I'd regret stumbling on stage, I'd hate it even more if I hid behind the curtain instead.

What about you?

NOTE: The recording linked at the top of this page was of me, playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on my piano at home. It's as perfect as I'm ever going to get it. Nothing to offer? Depends on who you ask, I guess.

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What Do You Do?

February 22nd, 2013

The Write Beat's latest SOS Signal newsletter is ready for reading, this one offering advice for clearly describing your work.

Click here to read the latest SOS Signal.


The Great Pharma Flush

February 15th, 2013

"I don't know why the doctor gave me such a strong prescription. The drugs made me comatose, so I flushed them," I overheard the food server tell her customer and friend.

Unless you're hiding something from the approaching cops or making a bold statement to a troubled member of your household, there is no reason to flush the drugs, ever.

The advice to send chemical compounds down the toilet or drain is as expired as the medicines we want to get rid of. Where authorities once said this was a good idea to keep poison away from children and pets, today they know better. They now realize that pharmaceuticals are bad for our water supply.

Although it may feel so, water-down-the-drain never goes "away," neither do the compounds dissolved in it. Whether you care to think about it or not, the water that leaves your toilet (or other drain) does not evaporate from the planet's ecological system. Therefore, what you flush, you risk feeding to the fish.

A public sewer system uses state-of-the-art processes to separate the non-water content from the water and then sends the blood-of-life back to where it supports fish, plants, humans, and more, often getting recaptured for drinking water further downstream. One treatment plant's discharge becomes another plant's intake. Such is the cycle of water use.

But if you've ever gotten your water tested, you've learned that the laboratory can't tell you if your water is pure; it can only tell whether the contaminants being testing for are present or not. The waste water treatment process is similar; operators can't account for what they don't know is present. Furthermore, only an advanced lab can test for pharmaceutical compounds.

Authorities are on constant guard, looking for impurities so they can remove them before the water is sent to the river or the tap, but the process is almost like a mathematical crap shoot, safety being determined by matters measured in parts per billion. Still, our public waste and drinking water treatment technology is an amazing, vigilant, scientific advancement, a key ingredient to the maintenance and protection of our current population as well as our planet, one that has long been underappreciated. In some cases, the water from the city tap might possibly be cleaner than the water from a country well, given the fact that there are so many contamination sources (oil leaks, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) on land, too. But this is not about alarming your distrust in your water source; it's about raising awareness of your role in its protection.

Over-the-counter or available-by-prescription, the drugs we didn't take should be landfilled (or returned). Landfills are designed to contain pollutants (making landfill waste a forever thing, which is a topic for another day). It's true that a percentage of the drugs we ingest pass through our bodies and hit the toilet anyway. But we shouldn't be adding to the problem, especially as the nation increases its reliance on pills.

Scientists are monitoring and addressing concentration levels and their long- and short-term effects on environmental, aquatic, and human health. For instance, The Philadelphia Water Department has been committed to contributing data to the research, thus is contributing to the knowledge. Pharmacies are implementing take back programs, and educators are spreading the news that we must keep the drugs out of the water. Since we must also continue to keep them out of the wrong hands, new advice for proper landfill disposal is available at SmaRxt Disposal.net.

I kept quiet as I waited for my lunch order out of respect for a private conversation. The girl speaking was young, had endured a painful back injury, and was frustrated with a lack of holistic, organic care. She was right to stop using pain meds that were causing more harm to her body than good. And hers was similar to a scenario I had witnessed myself, multiple times, through practitioners from the dentist to the OB/GYN. But as I walked away, I realized that were it not for my education in watershed issues, I too would have used the toilet to trash the meds.

Campaigns have been launched to re-educate the American population, but re-education can be more difficult that education. You can help by passing this along to one person, thus contributing to the protection of that which makes life on earth possible: clean water.

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