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As I look at my stack of current to-be-finished books, I consider the recent proclamation of the death of the book, so called by some bloggers and news outlets. This isn’t really what was declared. But Seth Godin, marketing guru, announced that he would no longer publish (e-books included) the traditional way. He didn’t announce the death of reading. Though some might interpret it that way. Consider this exchange in the comments section from a blog post yesterday that elicited 2500 tweets.

Charity FootballClub: I’m SO OVER reading…it’s why i stick with twitter cos it’s quick , short and sharp. Linchpin the hard copy book is the last I bought and it’s taken a while but I’m getting to the end! as for eBooks! nah…click , close file …game over!

Then Thefriendraiser suggested that reading would help gain comprehension and critical thinking skills. To which this commenter suggested:

I disagree Thefriendraiser. I think Charity FootballClub should stop reading so he/she does not gain anymore comprehension and critical thinking skills. That way there will be one less person i have to compete with for a job!

Well said.

A story like this is a good example of how we apply our own spin, based on our fears or desires. Would-be slackers (above) see it as permission to not read, because they’re already looking for an excuse. Would-be writers fear there will be no use for the book buried inside them. The tech-obsessed feed like vultures on stories like this as proof of the e-medium’s superiority over all other mediums.

Here are two good pieces on the publishing industry. This New Yorker piece “Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?”, despite being about the battle between e-readers, nonetheless does a good job of explaining the traditional book publishing business and its impact on authors. This NY Times article on self-publishing offers some statistics on the trend.

There are three parts to this dialog: reading, books and publishing. They are independent of each other in a sense. Reading (of the deep and focused kind) is under threat from all sorts of distractions. Books (actual books of the dog-eared, margin-scrawled kind) are under threat, if you can call it that, from the electronic variety. I say “if you can call it that” because an author’s work is still being read, a book purchased. (The delicious visual pleasure of good book design might slowly disappear. But find hope in AIGA’s 50 Books 50 Covers for award-winning book design. Alive and kicking.) And well, it appears that the world is calling on traditional book publishing to change, and maybe that’s a good thing, from a democracy standpoint.

Ventures like Good Bookery, that I’m involved in, along with co-creators of the collaborative book Portland Bottom Line on small business sustainable practices, offer the potential for a much more rich, multi-faceted experience than traditional publishing—the social book, as Peter Korchnak calls it. Our Portland Story is another example that takes the tangible artifact that is book and puts a new spin on it. Collaborations are not new, but creative people, who happen to love books, are figuring out ways to make books…differently.

What I really came here for, though, was to praise books.

I will always want to smell and touch a book, to scribble notes in the margin, to dog ear pages that hold special meaning. Loaning and borrowing books are acts of love and connection. When I have to wait for weeks or months for a book from the library, I can’t help feeling connected to the hundreds of people who wanted or needed that book as much as I did. I have a hard time imagining a world where we won’t gather with strangers in a store like Powell’s Books saying “excuse me, pardon me” as we squeeze past each other in the aisles. A book satisfies like a long, deep conversation or a several-hour meal. In a book, you can fall in love, fight a war, solve a crime, cross a sea. Yes, you can do all those things online, but not in the same way. Why? Because staring at black words on a white page is like staring at a blank canvas. You can spill your mental pictures onto it, heightening the experience.

I’ll leave you with this:

The Death of Reading

By Jeffery Deaver

I’ve got what I think is the very best job.
I have no commute; I can dress like a slob.
I get paid to make up things–isn’t that neat?
Just like at the White House and 10 Downing Street.

Only in my case there’s no dereliction.
In fact, lying’s expected when you’re writing fiction.
So imagine my horror, imagine my fear
When I read in the press that the end was near.

But not Armageddon or crazed terrorists.
No, the death of reading was the article’s gist.
Teachers and parents and critics all share it:
That like Monty Python’s proverbial parrot

Reading is dead, deceased, pushing up daisies.
People are growing increasingly lazy,
lured by the siren of electronic toys
That fill up their lives with meaningless noise.

PlayStations, Facebook, big-screen TVs
And mobile phones smarter than I’ll ever be.
We pray at the altar of our brand-new God,
Who’s powerful and wise and whose name is iPod.

Now, if people are no longer going to read,
Then writers are something that nobody needs.
This made my heart tremble and made my hands shake
And I considered what other jobs I might take.

But looking for work to find something new,
I decided that I all I could possibly do
Involved making lattes and learning to say,
“Let me tell you about our specials today.”

But before heading off to my overpriced shrink,
I decided it might be best to rethink
these terrible rumors that we’ve all heard
About the demise of the written word.

Now, if truly readers are dying off fast,
That suggests there were masses of them in the past,
But I can hardly imagine when that might have been.
Who had, after all, any time to read when

You were fighting off lions with your bare hands
And wandering nomadic across desert sands.
True, reading wasn’t past everyone’s reach,
But stone tablets weren’t popular reads at the beach.

In ancient Rome, yes, people read more,
But not mass-market scrolls from their local drug store.
And Latin, oh, please . . . once your lessons were done
Your life span was over, and your neighbors were Huns.

In medieval times, there was always the hope
That you might learn to read—if you worked for the Pope,
Or you were a royal or other elite,
Which left most of Europe up illiterate creek

Then Gutenberg invented movable letters,
Making access to books a little bit better.
Though another small problem existed, of course,
That the smallest of books cost more than your horse.

Victoria’s queen; tuppence novels arrive.
And everywhere interest in reading thrives.
But despite what the doomsayers might be wishing,
The data show Dickens sold far less than Grisham.

Well, if the past hardly proves what the critics say,
Then how ’bout the state of reading today?
To find out if no one reads anymore
I went to–where else?—my local book store,

Which I couldn’t help notice was jammed to the gills,
And virtually every shelf was filled
With books on more subjects than I knew existed
And dozens of posters on which were listed

Upcoming visits by writers galore,
Who’d read to their fans right there in the store:
Lit’rature, poems, true crimes about killers
And self-help and travel, and—oh, yeah—thrillers.

And if crowded stores turn you into a grouch,
You don’t even need to get off your couch.
Click on Amazon’s site and browse online
For ten million titles, all day long, any time.

A few years ago when I was downtown,
Doing some shopping, just strolling around
I nearly died in a massive stampede
Of children, no less, in desperate need

To purchase their latest heart’s desire,
No batteries required, no software, no wires,
A book’s what they sought and they’d waiting all day.
Who’s this Harry Potter guy, anyway?

We love reading so much that the books we now see
Are changing from what they used to be.
Originally written in clay and on leaves,
Books are now “printed” on digital screens.

Why, I got on an airplane the other day
And I heard this announcement on the PA:
“Welcome aboard, we’ll soon be underway.
Please put telephones, e-books and Kindles away.”

So forgive me, the ghosts of Lake Windermere,
And all other poets that we hold so dear,
Not to mention the late and the great Dr. Suess,
For my rhyming transgressions and rhythmic abuse,

But I simply couldn’t sit back and ignore
This lie that nobody reads anymore.
And I’ll share some more proof that there’s nothing to fear:
Why, just look around at our gathering here.

We’ve traveled for thousands and thousands of miles
from the Mideast, from Europe, the Pacific Rim isles.
We’ve managed to get here, whatever it took.
For something immortal . . . our passion for books.

© 2006 Jeffery W. Deaver

(In the spirit of celebrating authors, if you copy this poem, please include the copyright and link to his website.)

What one book has left the biggest impression on you? Why?

A friend emailed with a problem. Her gardening club loved her tales of digging in the dirt and her near-obsessive, homesteader-like canning and preserving activities that they asked her to write an article for their newsletter.

Then panic set in, so she asked me how write an article, which is funny for two reasons. One, that she asked me; I feel like I fumble through this. And two, her emails are already full of article-ready descriptions of her fruits and her labor, like this one:

I’ve been hanging out my bathroom window picking fresh figs. I’ve got a jar of figs in vodka. Will be doing another in bourbon later. Fig jam and chutney are on the list for this weekend. I guess there are worse problems to have.

But her question made me realize that we often want to know what steps to take for a specific endeavor. There is no lack of information out there but there is often too much and not the right information…for what we need. My brother, who is a great cook, once called to ask me how to fry an egg. See what I mean?

This is by no means comprehensive or in order of importance. But this is what I told her, and it’s a good place to start:

Trust your voice. Voice is important and one already exists in your emails to me. It’s too easy to sound stiff and awkwardly academic just because you have to write for publication. Don’t let that happen.

Read similar articles. Reread articles in your cooking magazines but with a new eye. Notice how they’re constructed and what devices are used. I just read one on butter, for example, and the author started with personal anecdotes and then went into history a few paragraphs in.

Write all the way through. Then go back and edit. Don’t rethink or fuss with the words as you go. It’ll stop ideas from coming. Really, DON’T.

Make it make sense. Hint at what you plan to cover in the first paragraph. If it’s a longer piece, add subheads. I find that adding subheads forces me to create a logical structure. Ideally, there should be an overall point; and not just be a rambling essay on your thoughts about growing and preserving food, mainly because there’s too much to say on that topic in one short article.

Add a quote or cite a reference. This adds credibility and texture to an article. (I looked back in one of her emails and she was one step ahead of me as she quoted Thomas Jefferson: “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.” Note the brilliant metaphor!)

Be descriptive. As they say “Show, don’t tell.” Don’t just say fig. Instead, describe its texture and color, its squishiness. Like, “You’ll know a fig is ripe if it feels a bit like a woman’s breast.” Maybe not that, but you get the idea.

Think like the reader. What do you want when you read about the same subject? What makes you like an article? What tips do you find useful? It doesn’t hurt to ask the editor what their readership looks for.

I forgot to tell her two things. (Are you reading Eileen?)

Walk away. Then come back a day or two later. The same holds true for any creative endeavor (we’re both designers by vocation; picklers by avocation). You have to put aside your efforts and let the ideas marinate—not unlike figs in bourbon. Active thought, followed by incubation, followed by ah-ha moment…or so we hope on that last one.

Have fun.

July’s produce log has proved a little challenging to get finished. I could blame it on the fact that I’m too busy eating but that wouldn’t be entirely true.

If this is your first visit, you’re seeing a month-by-month log of fresh produce, with a tally to see how my local versus non-local dollars compare. See April Produce Log for an introduction to the project. Here are May and June. You can download each one as a PDF. Here is July. Each month includes recipe ideas, links and PDFs to download.

Scroll down for more on July’s produce, reflections on eating in summer and recipe ideas.

It’s about this time in August that I want to push the pause button. I have yet to consume vast quantities of artichokes and because of that I’m not ready to see cantaloupe or even corn. Oregon’s artichokes are about a month late due to less-than-optimal weather.

This feeling of wanting to slow the tide of earthly delights is really just silly anxiety, stemming from a desire to savor as much and as deeply as possible. No one is stopping me, of course. To savor can imply taking time to create a spectacular dish. But savoring can just as easily mean standing at the kitchen counter eating a peach and licking the juice that drips down your arm.

I wrote about the comforts of seasonal eating and how limiting to what’s in season simplifies and allows you to enjoy eating on a different level. The desire to freeze the moment is that the overabundance from the garden and the sheer variety from the market begs for more time to enjoy it. There are only so many opportunities to cook for friends, which is the best way to celebrate all this bounty. In the absence of guests, I bang on my neighbor’s window with a big zucchini, hand a big bunch of basil to the teenager walking down the sidewalk, or give strawberries to the guy across the street.

Freezing the moment is what seasonal eating does, for better or worse. You’re up to your eyeballs in basil but you have to enjoy every leaf. For soon it won’t be there (except in frozen form, which is pretty darn good).

What’s Cooking?

Berries. Three visits to a local farm yielded 11 pounds of berries (a couple more visits needed), most of which go in the freezer. But not before making blueberry sorbetto topped with raspberries, with a little pinot noir thrown in for fun. And also not before making berry crisp, with marionberries and peaches. For those who don’t like to bake, this is a crowd pleaser and idiot proof (unless you burn it under the broiler). Make your own raspberry vinegar by tossing a handful of raspberries in some champagne or white wine vinegar in a mason jar and let sit in the sun. Strain out the berries once the vinegar has turned nice and red.

Carrots & Zucchini. I bought a large bunch of carrots and then pulled more from the garden, which is too many if you don’t love carrots. So I experimented with pickled carrots (refrigerator style) to make use of them. I loosely followed this recipe but I think I should have cooked the carrots longer. Together with my pickled zucchini (which I modified to make savory with no sugar, added garlic, dill, onions and coriander seed), I have ready snacks to put out when guests come over. See June’s log for other zucchini recipes.

Arugula. It’s growing like gangbusters this year which means eating a salad a day, sometimes two. Because of arugula’s peppery flavor, the sweetness of a raspberry vinegar dressing compliments the kick. When you have too many greens you have no choice but to start eating breakfast salad. There’s at least one other person out there who wants savory for breakfast. Use any lettuce or vegetables you like. Pictured is my take on it with arugula, shredded carrots and sunflower seeds, along with the soft-boiled eggs.

Beans. Last year, my beans died a horrible death. This year, I can’t keep up. I’m growing the Italian romano beans—a long, flat, wide bean with a nutty, sweet flavor that almost double in size overnight. My father used to make stewed beans that we had with polenta—the polenta being a poor man’s substitute for meat in Italy. I loved this dish; there was something wonderful about how the beans almost fell apart. I now know it’s called fagiolini in umido. Like many Italian recipes there are no hard and fast rules, unless it’s the rules of the person whose recipe you’re using. I don’t blanch my beans first and I also add torn fresh basil and shaved parmigiano at the end.

Artichokes. Sorely missing from this month’s log, a bag of baby artichokes are sitting in the fridge. I couldn’t want till next month to encourage trying this recipe. La vignarola is a Roman spring vegetable stew. Because Oregon’s artichokes are late, one can enjoy a spring dish in summer. The Italians are always improvising with what’s available. The catch here is that fava beans are called for and the planets didn’t align properly for the two vegetables to co-occur. The overabundant beans (see above) will have to be the understudy for favas.

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Phew. A long post but there’s a lot to say. If you use one of these recipes, let me know how it goes. If you have a favorite recipe using one of these fruits or vegetables, please comment!

This week ends National Farmers Market Week. Even with access to one of the consistently rated-top farmers markets in the country—Portland Farmers Market— I’m still surprised there is such a week. In spite of the gloomy picture of the health of the average American and the crushing power of the industrial food complex, we have something to celebrate. There are now about 6100 markets across the country, a 16 percent increase over last year. Go here to find a farmers market near you.

Following is a tribute to the impact of farmer’s markets, with a focus on the Portland Farmer’s Market and highlighting one of their sustainability efforts. Their clearly defined mission and success at executing goals is an inspiration for any business or nonprofit.

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Beyond Food: A Success Story

One look and it’s easy to imagine how farmers’ markets nurture communities—piles of lush, colorful bounty and smiling people milling about. But behind the sights, sounds and scents are well-crafted success stories. Like many markets, Portland Farmers Market (PFM) has a mission to sustain local growers and food producers, strengthen the local food economy and create community gathering places. There are also peripheral, sometimes overlooked, side benefits that inspire, delight and sustain us all.

Sustaining Local Economies

Every dollar spent at a farmer’s market guarantees the continued existence of farms. The loss of these farms would mean a risk of overdevelopment; the reduction of healthy food options, jobs and local dollars; and an increase in reliance on fossil fuels used to ship food long distances. It is suggested that ninety cents of every dollar spent on locally grown food remains in the local economy as opposed to twenty-five cents if spent on food that is shipped in. In an inspiring reversal of a century-old trend, there has been a rise in new farms—many small and many women-owned—as consciousness rises about the need for more meaningful connection to the sources of our food.

Planning for Change

Farmers’ markets can be agents of change beyond creating thriving local food systems. PFM’s strategic plan includes a number of sustainability efforts—one being a 3-year waste-reduction program named Evergreen. PFM exceeded their first-year goal of a 50-percent diversion rate (from landfill to recycling/composting). With this robust program, PFM calculated waste, set attainable targets, created stations and signage, as well as education resources for vendors and shoppers.

All organizations face challenges when they embark on sustainability efforts. Recycling and composting standards change and vary from place to place, which means that the Evergreen program needed to be flexible to accommodate this uncertainty. An example is what is considered compostable in one jurisdiction might not be in another. Food packaging that claims to be compostable may not meet existing standards. Greenwashing is an ongoing problem, which makes it hard to validate products and services. And like most nonprofits, budgets and staff are often limited, making it hard to do all that you want with a program like this. But as Anna Curtain, brainchild of Evergreen, says, “We try not to let the perfect get in the way of the good.”

Collaborating

Without doubt, these efforts require pooling knowledge and resources. PFM collaborated with many entities—too numerous to list. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a great staff to use the village to create a vigorous commons. They took advantage of a Mayor’s grant to fund the planning and execution of the Evergreen program and sought the expertise of an event greening company to help them measure and predict waste. Adapting an existing model of a farmer’s market recycling station from another organization allowed them to put their energy into tailoring features specific to their needs and our local community.

Fostering Goodness

It is said that shopping at a farmer’s market creates ten times the interactions than at a typical grocery store. These connections that develop among and between shoppers and vendors satisfy a craving that people have to connect in more authentic ways than today’s world often allows. Musicians entertain, chefs inspire, farmers teach. Portland Farmers Market has created programs that range from greater access for low-income individuals to buy market produce, a market-friendly bike station, recipe station, and kids cooking events, to name a few. And many food purveyors like picklers, chocolatiers, popsicliers and bakers have had their start at the market. Over the years, 50 such vendors then blossomed into bricks-and-mortar businesses. There is a ongoing effort to nourish these budding foodpreneurs.

Pictured above (L to R): Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans from The Farmers Feast cooking up mushrooms, Patreece DeNoble with her artichokes, and a market shopper sampling from 30-plus tomatoes at the Tomato Fiesta event. Evergreen booth: photo by Allison Jones.

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Do you have a farmer’s market near you? What do you get out of visiting your market, aside from the food you take home? Has it changed the way you eat?

There comes a time when it happens to the best of us, and it can happen for different reasons. A fumble in the client’s accounting department that takes weeks to sort out, a bankrupt organization or business, or you found the wrong client. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Worse is when you have to pay a subcontractor with your own money because the client didn’t pay.

This happened to a colleague recently. His situation falls into the third category, but my guess is, the wrong client doesn’t think of themselves as such. And for good reason. Problems in business relationships are rarely about business, but we have to pretend they are. In other words, the human condition is at work—fear, confusion, ambivalence, lack of clarity, insecurity, guilt, ignorance, shame, to name a few. As soon as one of these conditions sets in, it is hard to solve the problem by reviewing agreements—however clear and in writing they are. A creative person managing a project might have explained the entire process. But there can still be assumptions made on both sides that weren’t communicated. A project gone awry does not mean it wasn’t well planned. Stuff happens. Visit AIGA’s Design & Business section of their website for good information on business practice for creative professionals.

A challenging client might trigger a gut-level reaction early on. But we ignore it for the multitude of reasons we ignore signs and signals. Maybe the client suddenly became worried about spending money or they lacked a clear vision (and embarked on a project before having clarity). There’s nothing like getting any ball rolling to highlight uncertainties! Hope is a wonderful thing, but not if it prevents us—client or creative person—from speaking up. This is not to excuse bad behavior, only to explain it. There is no choice but to take responsibility.

This post is not about all the steps to take to avoid nonpayment (future posts). It’s about what to do next if a project is cancelled and/or the client just won’t pay. The course of action is not necessarily different from dealing with a flaky accounting department or a bankrupt company. But it does need a different kind of reflection. Note: this assumes you were clear about process, had an agreement, provided a written estimate with terms and developed a clear brief about the goals of the project.

Clarify the client’s position. You may not get paid but there might be useful information to carry into your next project. The client’s reasoning—whether you agree or not—will determine your next step. Ask if there was something specific they did not understand about the process. If they were confused, was there a reason they didn’t speak up earlier? This shows you are eager to understand, and, at the same time, the client reflects on their part in the process. You may find out if they lack funds (and are ashamed to admit it) or are choosing to withhold payment.

Own your part. A martyr is a person who takes more than 100 percent of their share of the responsibility. A victim is one who takes less than 100 percent of their share. Note the emphasis on their share. Taking 100 percent of your share may only mean 30 percent of the total shared between parties. Put your part into perspective. Review it objectively. Mistakes are golden opportunities (you’re laughing now) to improve. If you were clear verbally but didn’t put something crucial in writing, note that, and do it differently next time.

Send an invoice and follow up with a late one. It may not get paid but this is an important step because carrying out your normal business operations takes the personal edge off and gives you some confidence. Describe the work done. Attach the original agreement with terms, if one existed. Follow up, multiple times if necessary.

Clarify your intellectual property rights. If you have provided tangible solutions, explain that their use is a violation of your copyright. Even if it was your intention to allow the client use of or alteration of the design work, that right is understood to be transferred upon receipt of final payment. This is important, not as a threat, but as an education. You help pave the way for future creative consultants by having educated a client. You won’t get a “thank you,” but you’re saving the client embarrassment or a possible law suit. Perhaps you’re not feeling generous, but the good will come back to you another way.

Negotiate partial payment. Restate your case and appeal to the client’s sense of right and wrong. You might just settle on an amount you can both live with. It may happen that the amount is a reflection of each party’s responsibility for the situation going awry.

Surrender attachment to getting paid. I’m not certain what amount of money would cause me to sue for nonpayment but I know that the psychological cost of a law suit, however justified, would be too high. Bad psychic mojo would wreak havoc on me. Sometimes there is power in walking away, but not until after you’ve done due diligence, of course.

There are true creeps but they are few and far between. I have friends who live to tell it. It is little comfort, but a nonpaying client is most likely feeling shame or fear, or both. You can always find more money. It will be harder for the client to bounce back from their actions. If this kind of thing has happened more than a couple of times, your instincts may be in need of a tune up. If you’re sure you were professional throughout, you are better off walking away (after taking the above steps). Gather up the pieces quickly and put that otherwise wasted energy into your next project.

Google the phrase “Good Fast Cheap Pick Two” and you get over 78 million search results. There are only 1.7 million for “Fountain of Youth.” Apparently people desire good, fast and cheap more than they do the secret to staying young. At the risk of spilling more e-ink on this topic, it seems that there are more and more requests like this. Is it the economy? Is there a growing sense of entitlement? Or is it more benign than that—people don’t realize that a request for good, fast and cheap are not useful descriptors in seeking what they need?

Removing the yuck factor of entitlement, there is a real need behind this request. But it will be overlooked by the people most likely to help you…and do it right. Who would buy a car, build a bridge, hire an electrician or find a mate with these three criteria? Not many.

When you only get two:

Fast and Cheap. With this option, high-quality is likely to suffer in the form of creative output, research time, accuracy, and ability to test and consider options. Make sure you are comfortable accepting some or all of these. Ask questions. See below for defining good.

Good and Fast. To get these, extra time beyond the normal work hours is involved. For a designer, this means nights or weekends which usually carry a rush fee. For a printing company, it might mean paying a premium to bump another job.

Good and Cheap. A designer or printing company reduces a rate for a charity in need. Or it might be a pro bono project. But in order to do good work and keep costs down, this project can’t be made a high priority. It will most likely be done only after commitments to normal-fee jobs are met.

Be wary of those who jump to fulfill a request like good, fast and cheap. If you leave your criteria as open ended as this, you’ll be unhappy with the results. Only through communicating what good, fast and cheap means to you will you get the results you are looking for.

Here are better approaches:

Define good.
Develop the ability to evaluate or describe the good you need. This way, you don’t waste your time or that of another, or worse, find out that your visions of good don’t match after you’ve already invested time. Share printed samples or website links if you’re trying to express your idea of good to a designer. Similarly, request samples if you’re looking for a printing company. Use meaningful, unambiguous words most likely to paint the right picture for the other party. A good printer to one might mean flawless ink coverage, but to another, good means the pages are merely in the right order.

Plan.
This is so often overlooked it needs to be included, even if it is obvious. We need fast when we don’t plan or we are surprised by an opportunity that we want to seize. Transferring our lack of planning onto another party is uncool, but it does happen. Many designers and printers will bend over backwards. Cherish (and reward) that person who is willing to dig you out of your hole. This can be in the form of patience, money, loyalty, appreciation or creative freedom. Or all of the above!

Have a budget.
Second only to planning, budgets are often absent. What many don’t realize is that everyone wants affordable—no matter the actual available funds or the size and caliber of the company. Affordable is meaningless because one person’s affordable is another’s too expensive. The desire for cheap, without definition, leaves you too vulnerable to a mishap. Instead, strive for value—the specific benefit you receive at the specific price you pay.

The more well defined and specific these requirements, the more likely you will end up with a timely and cost-effective end product whose quality you are happy with.

People give away advice, time, sex, clothing, brides, secrets, pieces of their soul, professional services, to name a few. But these aren’t all equal. Any of these given away in excess can be a problem. But so can never giving them away (except maybe a bride, in my case).

So, how do you decide when giving something away is a good thing or a bad thing? Do you give the wrong stuff away, say, sex or advice, too easily? And maybe not enough of the good stuff, like your free time or excess veggies from your garden? Does giving away stuff make you feel proud or righteous? Or does giving something away make you feel crummy?

In life, there are few right and wrongs, which guarantees that life stays interesting, if uncertain. Giving away advice is only wrong if it’s unwanted, and if you never take it yourself. But giving away excess garlic presses is nearly always a good thing. Freeing yourself of unused and unwanted items doesn’t create only physical space but psychological space as well. It leaves you with a feeling of lightness of mind that didn’t exist. That space is now a vessel that can be filled with something more nourishing than stuff. It also reminds us that we don’t need as much, not to mention that others may need them more than we do.

Motives play a big role in giving things away. Some of us give pieces of ourselves away too freely and are left resentful. We do that because we’re insecure or fearful. We viewed a gesture as kind or maybe even a sacrifice, only to not get something in return. Is it the recipient’s fault? Or is it ours for giving it away with a motive attached (a motive we may not have realized was there)? A consultant can give away their proprietary services in the hopes of paying work down the road. Is that an act of generosity, a good tactic or a strategy that can backfire because it’s motivated by fear of loss?

Giving something away seems easier when we’re feeling abundant. But spiritual wisdom suggests the reverse—that giving something away creates a feeling of abundance. This is difficult if you operate as though there is not enough love, stuff, time, food or friendship to go around.

Are there things you give away out of fear? Are there things you don’t give away out of fear?

…of mice and men go oft awry (English translation) from a poem by Robert Burns called “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough.” It was the inspiration for the title of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. 

This is just another way of suggesting we live in the present, a practice that is worthy if only because, as implied above, we have little control over outside circumstances that can conspire to cheat us of our desired results.

That’s not always a bad thing, and it may even better than achieving our primary goal. But most of us are so focused on the hoped-for prize that we don’t notice we might have gotten something even better by not getting the prize. This is true whether it’s taking a trip, planting a garden or drawing a picture.

Often we are so sure what our primary goal is, and for good reason. Some situations depend on good planning and intended result. Without them, we  might be acting carelessly. But assuming there is nothing huge at stake, how often do you find yourself focusing on what went wrong when you don’t get what you intended?

After a grueling breakup, for example, when you’ve picked up the pieces of your life, you might realize you are much better off. In fact, maybe the ending of that relationship caused you to try something you’d always wanted to do. We all know that what seems bad at first, naturally diminishes with time. And that any situation has its costs as well as its rewards. This is not to suggest that living on the street, for example, is preferable to living in a house. But living in a house does come with responsibilities like fixing leaky roofs and paying utility bills.

All things are not equal. But not all things are as unequal as we think.

Appropriate mourning and adjustment periods aside, what if we recognized not six months or a year later that we aren’t so bad off, but in the moment? What if we remembered that there is always a positive outcome, even if we don’t quite know what it is going to be at that moment?

If you’ve ever been a slump after losing a major project or been annoyed that your trip to Venice was derailed because of train strike, you probably know the amount of negative mental energy you expended. Perhaps this lasted only a few minutes. Other times our obsessive thoughts last hours or even days. But losing that major project might have meant a summer free from working nights and weekends to meet a crazy deadline. Not making it to Venice might have meant discovering an untrammeled little town with phenomenal food.

To some, brushing off unintended results might be second nature. But to others, the primary aim might often seem like a non-negotiable. This idea hit home to me when I first started becoming aware that all undesirable situations have some positive outcome. Once I realized that the secondary results were as good or perhaps better than the primary goal (which are almost always different from one another and, therefore, easy to miss), I started paying more attention.

Then I began putting the idea into action before the primary goal (say, winning a major project) was in sight. I found that simply because of that mental shift—that reminder that if I didn’t get A, then (unknown) B will happen—the amount of obsessing over the loss was greatly diminished. Don’t get me wrong, I still get very disappointed. Often it’s at those small irritations in life, like a store being closed when you most need something. 

But since life almost seems to guarantee that our best laid plans will go awry, a little practice in non-attachment can go a long way. You never know which unintended goodie you’re missing while you’re spending your time kicking yourself.

“Hello beautiful,” the hostess at an airport restaurant said as I approached the hostess stand. I was aroused from my airport stupor at the unfamiliar phrase. I hadn’t even been in the airport that long. I was simply tired and hungry and had opted for a later flight (and a free round trip ticket voucher) and had time to sit and enjoy a meal.

Her simple, yet rare these days, hospitality gave me a jolt. Immediately, my shoulders loosened and I smiled.

“Can I have a…,” I started to say, before she cut me off.

“I’ve got you covered sweetheart. A table with an outlet next to it. I see you’re a woman who’s a smart professional,” she said with a big smile.

I didn’t have a visible laptop case and don’t normally carry a computer, except on this trip I had one. I hardly looked professional and didn’t feel particularly smart in that moment.

I sat near the hostess stand and listened to her greet everyone who entered the restaurant. The most sour-looking frowns morphed into smiles upon her greeting. Later I called her over and asked what was her secret. How did she get to be so positive? A year ago she was out of work and was flipping through the channels on her TV. Today, she as a job and feels blessed.

“I meet the most beautiful people in this place. All the people coming and going from interesting places. What is not to feel positive about? I love people. I love my job.”

What I forgot to do was tell her boss to give that woman a raise.