Monday, January 28, 2013

Soothing the soul

I just placed an order for 100 trees and shrubs. Keep in mind that I don't live out in the country, not even on a small acreage. I think 100 trees might be a bit much for my family's quarter-acre property, and we're not planning to surround our house with a forest.

by Amos Oliver Doyle

Why, then, would I order so many? To start with, because I have to. It's the minimum order I can place with our natural resource district. Also because I want a nice privacy screen between my house and the neighbor who lurks in his garage smoking cigars. It would seem that he's our self-appointed neighborhood watch. While that has its benefits, I don't like that my windows are in his direct line of sight. I work at home. And every time I look out the window, he's there.

But the main reason is because I want to create a place in our yard where my kids can play, where they can explore the natural world and all it entails. Where they can pretend they're in a forest or a fort or a cave. Where they can experience nature first-hand and reap the benefits.

I'm working to create a place that will keep them, my husband, me--even that neighbor--healthy.

Because when trees die, so do people.

This article in The Atlantic describes the most recent piece of research linking trees to human health. The researchers discovered that as ash trees in the Midwest began to die by the million (thanks to an introduced pest, the emerald ash borer), more people in the areas with dying trees died of cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illnesses. Now I'm not suggesting that if a tree in your neighborhood dies, so will you or one of your neighbors. But the relationship is there.

We need nature, and we are just beginning to understand the extent of our dependence. Sadly, we are dangerously close to the tipping point--the point at which we will have pushed nature beyond its ability to spring back from the punches we keep delivering.

But it's not too late. We can take small steps to help heal the natural world. Small steps to heal ourselves, as well.

My husband and I are replacing large sections of our yard with regionally-native plants. No sprays, no fertilizers, but lots of habitat for wildlife (including our boys). If the rest of the yard turns out as well as the small strip of native plants we put in last year, it will thrive even in drought. To watch something thrive when everything around it struggles? That's good for the soul.

As for the eighty-some trees and shrubs we won't use? We'll share them with others. We will happily give them away to friends and neighbors who want to add a little nature to their yard. I can only hope to find each seedling a home.

Out of curiosity, do studies like the one above make you stop to think about your relationship to nature? Why or why not?

Monday, January 21, 2013

In search of the perfect workspace

I have lots of goals for the year (though I'm not going to disclose most of them), one of which was to write without pain. That's right: was. Past tense. Because even though we're only three weeks into the year, I've already accomplished this one!

I'm one of those people who has a terrible time with neck, shoulder, and back trouble, especially when I sit for long periods of time. Yoga helps, but not enough to counter the sitting.

Toward the end of last year, as my writing career started taking off and I found myself spending more time sitting in my desk chair, I started to have hip pain, too. It was awful, to the point where I seriously wondered if I would be able to continue writing.

So one of my goals for 2013 was to write without pain.

My original plan was to get a treadmill desk. We don't have a treadmill, which meant that not only would I have to buy the desk for one, but I'd also have to buy a treadmill. And that gets really expensive really quick.

Factor in my tendency to stop walking when an idea pops into my head, and I wasn't sure a treadmill was what I really wanted. The last thing I needed was for a treadmill to shoot me off the end and into the bookcase on the far wall. Kind of goes against the whole pain-free thing.

I looked into manual treadmills, given their potential benefits: less expensive, non-motorized and therefore incapable of throwing me against the wall, and environmentally friendly (relatively speaking) because they don't use electricity.

Naturally, all the reviews I found indicated a manual treadmill wouldn't work. It turns out that you have to hold on in order to gain enough traction to make the tread go. Kind of defeats the purpose of having a treadmill desk if you can't type when you use it.

And then, just to further complicate matters, my husband said he wanted to be able to use the computer. The kicker? He wanted to be able to sit down.

I threw my hands up in frustration, and started researching desks all over again. And guess what? I happened across this blog post, which addressed every single issue I'd encountered.

I researched the components individually, weighed people's complaints against what I was looking for, and took the plunge. This is the result:

The Ergotron Workfit S workstation (the thing on the desk itself) raises and lowers with minimal effort (you do have to adjust it so that it stays when you move it, but once you get it set right, it's a piece of cake). In its lowest position, I can sit, but I rarely do. I'm usually on the mini-elliptical, although sometimes I move it out of the way and just stand.

It takes getting used to the up-and-down motion, but I find that if I go slowly enough, it's not a problem. Except when I need to use the mouse. Clicking on a link is nearly impossible while actually ellipticating (that's a word, isn't it?), so I've had to learn a lot of keyboard shortcuts. There's a bit of time invested in that, but once I've got them down, it's much faster to get things done, whether I'm using the elliptical machine or not.

The one thing I would love to add is a dynamo. How great would it be to charge up the dynamo with the elliptical, and use that energy to power the monitor? Talk about motivation to keep moving! But that's somewhere down the line.

But I absolutely LOVE this set-up. I'm far more productive with this than I ever was sitting in a chair. I'm no longer in pain. And I've already accomplished one of my goals for the year.

Do you experience pain when you work? How do you deal with it?

Monday, January 14, 2013

It lives!

Those were my husband's words when the 4YO bounded down the steps, chattering away like a happy, non-feverish child (for the first time in a couple of days--thank you flu virus, for invading our house before our vaccines could take effect).

Like a child awakening from a long, feverish delirium, the blog is making a similar comeback. It might be sluggish at first, or it might burst with energy like the 4YO. I really don't know how that's going to play out--it will be interesting to see.

I was actually planning to get back to blogging right at the start of the year. I sat down, ready to write a post about my goals for 2013, when a friend sent me this:

How could I possibly share my goals with the world--or the very small part of it that stops by here (I love you all for doing so)--when sharing them would stop me from accomplishing them? Then I realized that not posting about my goals was stopping me from accomplishing at least one goal--blogging. Make of that what you will.

But here I am! I do plan to get back to blogging. Be forewarned that the topic of my posts will focus less on writing (thought there will be some--always) and more on environmental stuff.

Don't worry. You will not find any out-to-scare-the-pants-off-you posts about how the world is going to end if you don't sell your car and become a vegetarian. Not here. I promise. Doomsday predictions accomplish nothing but an overuse of hashtags (#apocalypse, anyone?).

I'm all about sharing the latest research on changes we can make to improve our lives. And not only ours, but the lives of our kids and their kids and generations to come.

I realize it's infinitely easier to keep on keepin' on, but I'm not talking about major changes. I'm talking about small things. Things you can do at home, at a local school, in your town or city. Things that will benefit YOU. The kinds of things that will reduce stress, improve health, make your neighborhood safer, and save you money (zoiks, I sound like a used-car salesman). Things that will make life different--but better. Really.

But as I said, it won't just be about the environment. I'm sure I'll share my new writing set-up soon (because I loves it, Precious, loves it). I have a delightful author lined up for a new Marketing Monday. And I'll be unveiling my new citizen science project soon, too.

Welcome to the 14th ba'k'tun! It's a brand new world (literally, for the Maya). What wonderful things is it bringing you?