Friday, March 29, 2013

Welcome to Spring 2013

We might as well welcome change of seasons because they will happen whatever.
December and January are respites from the garden. I know that my battle with the cocky Chickweed will re-engage before I’m ready. And as I tug and shake the roots, there are tendrils left in the soil waiting for me to become occupied with other fair weather pursuits. They will then creep to the surface and spread a base of support, flat round happy green leaves from which will spring a single, hair-thin stem for the inevitable, cheerful flower. I know this because Chickweed and I are in our second go-round this year. And once that flower appears, the exploding seeds liberated into next year are not far behind.
That happy, keep growing attitude may be one of the reasons I detest this weed. In another place they might be welcome, like the dandelion I appreciate waving at me from fields along the highway. I would even enjoy watching the seeds burst from the flower. But not in my garden where bare soil, warm and brown, frames my iris, daffodils, hyacinths as they flower, and other perennials as they build their leafy base for emergence in the warmth of May and June.
A Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood wrote: "Gardening is not a rational act. What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient ceremony of which the Pope kissing the tarmac is merely a pallid vestigial remnant. In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."
Seasons are transitional. Our accomplishments are temporary so that we will be encouraged to leave off hibernation, change, grow and stretch toward whatever service needs us. In a sense change is death, and how horrible to never experience dying like the seed, rebirth in a new challenge, stem and flower in a field or a vase. And here is the cheerful chickweed to remind us that neither change nor sameness will be perfect.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Surviving Without a Computer

Guest Author Moira Allen


The one light of consolation in my valley of desolation was the knowledge that, just a few days previously, I had completed one of my massive backup jobs.  I'm a compulsive "backer-upper."  I have a second, terabyte hard drive on "The Beast" itself, upon which I back up new and changed files daily, basically as they happen.

Once a week, I back up my collection of new and changed files onto an external drive that lives in the desk drawer.  (To make this simple, whenever I back something up onto the second computer drive, I also toss a copy into a "Backup" folder on that same drive, so that it's easy for me to locate for the weekly backup.)

I also prefer to keep a copy (or two) of materials off-site.

Initially, I did this by burning DVDs and sending them off to my mother-in-law to store.  Now I keep another terabyte external drive in a safe deposit box at my credit union.  Once a month, I retrieve it, back up everything that has accumulated, and then stick it back. 

These days, for many of us, our business, and a good portion of our personal lives -- photos, letters, journals, etc. -- reside on our hard drives.  If something happens to that hard drive, a big chunk of your life could abruptly go down the electronic drain. 

So back it up.  Then, if the screen goes dark, you have the consolation of knowing that, even if you have to buy a new computer and start from scratch, you'll be able to pick up where you left off.  In the meantime, you'll have the fun of rediscovering whatever it was we did when we didn't have computers!

from Maxine:

Moira suggests we backup to a “Cloud Server.”

There are many available; the one that seems to offer the best deal for large quantities of data is Carbonite.  (Most of the others charge by volume -- and if you're like me, with tons of photos and high-volume files, this could add up in a hurry.)  These services load a program onto your computer that automatically backs up and synchronizes your files.  If anything happens to your computer, you can access the files from another computer or laptop. 

I disagree. We live in the age of cyber theft and anyone with a keyboard and internet connection in Nigeria, China, Russia, Hoboken can hack into these servers. The only secure backup for your TurboTax, pictures, or other documents you would be decimated to lose is an external hard drive. They are inexpensive, and can be programmed for automatic backup. Mine happily hides behind my monitor and after a fiasco like Moira’s in January 2011, I sleep at night. (I also maintain old fashioned paper files.) As Moira suggests, there are smaller versions you can disconnect and keep in a safe deposit box in case of flood or fire.
The deciding question: What would losing your saved documents cost you in time and expert help if the unthinkable happened?
Back It Up

You can follow Moira at



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Surviving Without a Computer

Guest Writer Moira Allen
I often wonder how we managed, back in the dark ages... You know, those ages when one's household was "dark" because it wasn't perpetually lit by the glow of one or more computer screens.  Well, last week I got a chance to recall those ancient days.  It was rather like being a guest on "Pioneer House" or "Victorian Manor," only without the interesting clothes and weird foods!
It began when my antivirus program -- a well-known, trusted program -- informed me that a "new version" was ready to install and would I be so kind as to download it now before it shut off my computer and life-support and did it without me?  I complied, downloaded the new version, declined to shut down my computer right that very moment, and went on my way.  The next morning... wonder of wonders, "The Beast" (which is my pet name for the computer) would not reboot. 

Fortunately I was able to reboot in "last known good configuration" and all went well. A week passed, and then, lo and behold, an announcement came from my antivirus software, with yet ANOTHER "new version" -- which suggested to me that they'd figured out there were bugs with the previous version.  Joyfully, I installed that.

The next morning... well, what a surprise, "The Beast" would not boot.  Only, this time, not only would it not reboot, a red-flagged warning appeared upon my screen declaring that I needed to reset my parameters in the BIOS as it could not boot from the current set-up. 
Now, to me, "BIOS" is something I put at the end of my articles, NOT something I muck about with on my computer -- which was now doing a marvelous imitation of a very large paperweight.  Time to call in an expert.  The expert poked, prodded, grunted, and made noises about "maybe it's time you upgraded to Windows 7" -- but reluctantly acceded to my request to put everything back just the way it was.  And, miraculously (he honestly wasn't sure it would happen), he did so.  But... it took almost a week.
A week without my key programs.  A week in which I couldn't update web pages, or load them online even if I could.  A week in which my scanners sat idle.  A week in which I kept wondering, "How on EARTH did we cope?"
Granted, I had a lap-top, which enabled me to check e-mail and do basic writing tasks, but most of my programs and hardware weren't loaded. In addition, many of the programs I use are downloads, so I couldn't even install them from a disk.  And granted, I did have all my files, but I balked at trying to load them all onto the laptop and then have to remember which ones I needed to copy back onto the computer when (and if) it came home again.  On the bright side, at least I had no trouble downloading my favorite games!!

Thankfully, "The Beast" is back home safe and sound, and I'm back in action.  But the experience was a reminder that all of us who depend upon computers for our livelihood -- and especially those of us who keep our life's work stored on those computers -- are just one bad software download away from catastrophe.  So let me take this opportunity to leave you with my regular reminder and warning:


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to Care for Aging Parents

Guest writer: Alice Kalso


Remember Dr. Benjamin Spock, the child-raising guru?  When baby wouldn't stop crying, we went to Dr. Spock's tome, "Baby and Child Care." Ditto when potty training drained all our energy.

Now many of us care for our aging parents.  The issues are daunting:  medical, legal, financial, and relational.  One great book that covers these issues is Virginia Morris' "How to Care For Aging Parents."  

Although the second edition was published in 2004, its main tenets are still true today. Morris' tone is loving, respectful and practical as she sprinkles anecdotes of real-life situations throughout the book to drive various points home.

"Be Prepared" seems to be Morris' mantra.  She advises, "The most important thing you can do for your aging parent and for yourself is this:  Be prepared for what might come." 

Specifically, she says:  If your parent's arthritis is worsening, talk with him about what he might do if he can't manage alone. 

If your mother has Alzheimer’s, talk about her wishes for her future and where she will live once the disease has advanced.  And start making plans. 

Morris tackles difficult subjects including dealing with guilt, sibling conflicts, getting Power of Attorney, caregiving from a distance, an explanation of hospice and more.  She even includes a chapter on funeral preparations, and another, for Boomers, on preparing to grow old.

Morris advises adult children and others involved in the care of elders to resist reading the whole book from start to finish. Instead, she encourages readers to use various chapters as needed.

This book is a great reference book for those times when caring for your aging parent has drained your energy, and you don't know where to turn.

Have you found a resource book to help you with your aging parent?

Friday, March 8, 2013


Guest Writer: Amanda Laughton. A Teeny Tiny Blog
As an artist or writer or anyone engaged in any type of project that you're sharing with other people in some way, you can expect to receive criticism about your creative work. I'm not sure that receiving criticism ever gets easier, but fortunately, you can get better at handling it over time.
The first thing to do is to try and depersonalize the feedback you receive. Hard as it can be to separate yourself from your work, if you can take this step back, it will help you have the perspective to distinguish between criticism directed at your work and criticism directed at you as a person.
This sounds like a cliché, but truly: it's not about you.
If you receive especially harsh criticism, see if you can redirect your thoughts and think about the person volunteering the feedback. Why might this person be making such rough statements about your work? Did the person have a bad day? Has there been some kind of misunderstanding?
Ask yourself some questions about the intentions behind the criticism. Is the person an expert in this subject matter? Is it possible that the person is trying to help you but isn't very skilled at framing suggestions in a constructive way?
Try not to let even the most difficult criticism get blown out of proportion. People criticizing your work aren't saying that you're a poor artist or talentless writer or unhelpful webmaster or clueless entrepreneur. They're simply offering their individual opinion on one particular piece of work of yours. You can create plenty of other projects in your lifetime. Criticism isn't a definitive statement about you or your career.
Allow yourself some time and space for private reflection. Freewriting or journaling can be helpful in getting your feelings out and not letting the criticism overwhelm you.
Last but not least, connect with your community. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague about the feedback you've received; together, you might be able to view the critical words in a new light and find ideas to consider for revisions or future projects. On the other hand, your friend can also help you assess which aspects of the feedback aren't relevant to your work right now.
Just because someone criticizes your work doesn't mean you have to accept the criticism and make changes because of it. You and only you have responsibility for choosing and maintaining the boundaries of what you do and don't want to do in your creative work.
"Creativity takes courage," said Henri Matisse. Remember that you're not alone in your efforts to handle criticism. In fact, you're in very good company.
Amanda Laughtland is a poet, collage artist, and teacher based in Seattle. She offers affordable 100% online writing classes for writers all over the world. To see samples of her work, check out her blog, where she posts poetry and handmade collage art.

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Monday, March 4, 2013


And now the calendar has flipped to March.

In his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton relates passages of time and his travels throughout his early years, observing from his mature and converted perspective many years later. He insists that no experience or folly was wasted by God.

“I had come very far, to find myself in this blind-alley: but the very anguish and helplessness of my position was something to which I rapidly succumbed. And it was my defeat that was to be the occasion of my rescue.”

Of this we can be certain, time flies whether or not we are having fun. In our contemporary society payment is commensurate with what we contribute to the bottom line. Being bombarded with opportunity we may allow ourselves to be pushed into stress to succeed. And then becoming exhausted we re-evaluate our success. Of course we have failed to do everything and disappointment may be our reward.

Spring is a wonderful opportunity to attack sections of weeds and allow others to propagate until another day. For around the wretched weeds are snow flowers, grape hyacinths, purple crocus and even last year’s artichoke struggling to free itself from winter cover and mulch.

There is enough trouble for one day, let alone taking on the universe until we drop from the exertion. And today there is sunshine enough for all to stand, face lifted up, and breathe.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


With so much of the country swaddled in snow we are thankful, but Spring has arrived in the Pacific NW wet and windy.

Q: In Seattle what do you call the day after two consecutive days of rain?


A: Monday.