Tag Archives: life lessons

7 Things Gardening Has Taught Me

I’m a beginning gardener, just finishing up my first year — a small backyard garden, mostly vegetables, with a few flowers. I’ve learned a lot, both about gardening and about life. Here are 7 lessons from Year 1…

Rose close-up

1. Adapt your plans to your lifestyle and needs.

I know my garden isn’t going to be tended for hours each day, so I’m keeping it small, and I’m on a mission to discover which vegetables grow best under my erratic care. Zucchini is robust? Great! Celery needs nursing? Too bad, it’s not going in my garden. If you’re in a small space or have poor soil, look into container gardening — it’s pretty amazing what you can grow in pots these days. Make gardening work for you, and it’ll be a lot more fun.

Life lesson: Whether you’re trying to make time for a hobby you’re passionate about or to fit exercise into a busy schedule, it’s easier if you can work your new activity around the lifestyle needs you already have.

2. Keep up, don’t catch up.

You can pull out every last weed, stand back, and admire a job well done. But a week later, they’ll be sprouting up all over the place again. (It helps if you can get the whole root, which is hard with weeds that have long taproots). Discouraging? Yes. But it’s easier to keep up now than catch up later — trust me.

Life lesson: Some tasks come back again and again — laundry and other chores come to mind. It’s easier to stay on top of them if you’re not always playing catch-up.

3. But…it doesn’t have to be perfect.

See the green thing on the right? That's a weed. Should it be there? No. But is it the first thing you notice? Probably not.

See the green thing on the right? That’s a weed. Should it be there? No. But is it the first thing you notice? Probably not.

My garden had weeds in it. I watered erratically, so a lot of my carrots are stubby. But even so, I got a good haul of carrots, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, and various herbs — all local, organic, and delicious. And the roses and tiger lilies put on a glorious show. That’s good enough for me!

Life lesson: Who cares if my garden (or house, or personal style…) doesn’t look like it belongs on Pinterest or in a magazine, as long as it makes me happy and gets the results I want?

4. Experiment, learn, and do better.

I didn’t get good results from bell peppers, cantaloupe, spinach, or sweet peas (flowers) this year. So next year I’ll plant more of what did work (see above) and try out a couple of new things. I’ll also try to be at least a little more consistent with watering, and more proactive with weeding.Life lesson: Try things, make mistakes, and learn from them. Experiments and mistakes are okay. It’s how kids learn — why not you, too?

5. It’s weirdly exciting to watch things grow.

Baby cantaloupe!

Baby cantaloupe!

You plant something. You water and weed it occasionally. Maybe you fertilize it. And with just that and sunshine, you get a whole new living thing. If you’re growing vegetables, you get to see what baby cantaloupe look like, or watch the whole growth cycle of zucchini. If you’re growing flowers, there’s the cycle of bud to blossom. Every week there’s something new to see. It’s pretty cool.

Life lesson: Nature is both engrossing and relaxing. If you don’t have a garden of your own, try looking at the plants you pass on a regular basis and watch how they change — it’ll give you a minute or ten of being present, unplugged, and connected to the world around you.

6. Plants are slow…and that’s a good thing.

You can’t sit there and watch them grow. You might not see a change in 24 hours (unless it’s kudzu…). If you’re growing a perennial, you won’t see real results (whether fruit or flowers) in the first year — and that’s without even mentioning trees! So gardening is an exercise in patience. In a world that’s increasingly fast-paced, watching plants is a great antidote.

Life lesson: Sometimes good things build slowly. In the hectic pace of modern life, from social media to television, it’s good to step out of the flow and move at a different speed for a while.

7. Gardening is hard work…but it’s worth it.

Carrots 2

Gardening is a lot of work, especially when you’re just starting out and don’t know what you’re doing. It’s not for everyone. But it’s good exercise, and doing something with one’s hands — something tactile and tangible — is a welcome change for a lot of us. The process is rewarding (see above!). And all your hard work gets you delicious food and/or beautiful flowers.

Life lesson: Hard work reaps rewards. Maybe not instantly (see above), but then the payoff is richer when it finally comes.

 

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy my other posts on gardening (at Turtleduck Press):

Vegetable Gardening? Ooh, Shiny!

Vegetable Gardening, The Sequel: An “Ooh, Shiny!” Update

Vegetable Gardening: The Tasty, Tasty Conclusion

 

Your turn! What has gardening taught you?

10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job

This week, I went back to work full-time after a six-month sabbatical. It’s going to be tough re-adjusting to the work schedule while still making time to do the things outside of work that are important to me.

Writing fiction is the biggest of these for me. I have other hobbies, but writing is my passion.

So I’m making a plan. Here’s what I’m telling myself…

Vancouver Island road. Copyright Siri Paulson 2013.

1. Cut yourself some slack.

I’m going to be exhausted — especially at first, but there will continue to be exhausting days when one job is all I’m good for. That’s okay. My tendency to beat myself up is not the best way to get results, no matter what my Inner Critic thinks.

2. Set SMART goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. (Read more at Wikipedia.)

I want to highlight two of them and what they mean to me.

  • Attainable means realistic. See #1. My Inner Critic has entirely unrealistic expectations about what I “should” be able to achieve. But she’s not the one in charge — I am. It’s okay to start small and ramp up slowly.
  • Relevant means identifying what’s important. Networking and marketing — Twitter, Facebook, even blogging — are all good, but they’re only supporting what’s really important: the writing.

3. Build habits.

Way back, before last year happened with its home-buying and trip-planning and other good stuff, I had a habit. 9 PM to 11 PM were my writing hours. Even if I didn’t write for the full two hours, I usually wrote sometime during that period. I want to get back to that.

I also had a coffee-shop-writing habit. It’s taken several different forms over the years — sometimes Friday nights, sometimes lunch hours. The more, the better.

4. Know your rhythms.

I’ve already mentioned my 9-to-11 evening writing times. I’m a bit of a night owl, but I know exactly when my brain cuts out.

As well, I’ve been experimenting with timed writing and editing — everything from 10-minute sprints to half-hour Twitter challenges (look for #wordmongering and #editmongering) to 3-hour writing marathons (incidentally, that’s about the length a laptop battery lasts at a coffee shop).

I’m still working on identifying the optimal length of a writing session for me. Right now I’m leaning towards 90 minutes.

5. Know your weaknesses.

The Internet is mine. So I’ve been trying out Freedom, a software program that locks you out of your Internet for whatever length of time you specify. It’s great…at least when I remember to turn it on! Amazingly, when I know I can’t just check that one site, the craving completely disappears.

I also avoid getting online at coffee shops, because I know what will happen. So I compartmentalize and pretend there’s no wifi anywhere except at home. Surprisingly, it works. The brain is susceptible to being tricked…and I’m not above doing so.

6. Find the time.

We all have busy lives. But there are plenty of corners in mine that aren’t being used for anything in particular. I’ve already mentioned writing while on lunch hour. (Though I won’t do it every lunch hour, because my body needs some time off, too!)

When I do NaNoWriMo, I spend my public transit time scribbling notes and outlines in a notebook so I don’t have to spend precious keyboard time thinking.

7. Remember that baby steps add up.

As I mentioned earlier, my Inner Critic thinks anything less than a superhuman effort is doomed to failure.

However, my Inner Critic chooses not to remember that I’ve already written several novels…some during the mass marathon that is NaNoWriMo, others during perfectly ordinary months. I’ve written, edited, and published more than a few short stories. I’m the editor and co-founder of Turtleduck Press. And so on.

All while, amazingly enough, not being superhuman.

I have a feeling that, to really get my writing career going, I’ll need more than baby steps…but then again, my Inner Critic has been wrong before.

8. Just keep swimming.

Yes, that’s a Finding Nemo quote.

What does it mean here? Keep moving forward. Keep doing something, even if it’s small (see #7). Do it again the next day. If I don’t have the brain to write one day, maybe I have the brain to do something related (though see #2 — anything except writing is ancillary).

9. Find a community.

I always wanted to Be A Writer, but I didn’t really buckle down until I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2005. The hard deadline helped immensely, but that was only part of the reason. The other part was the people. I met writers that year who are still friends today.

Since then, I’ve met a lot more writers. I have a group born out of that year at NaNoWriMo, a real-life critique group, a close-knit group on Facebook, and a variety of loose-knit groups on Twitter. All of them help keep me accountable and help me nurture my passion in various ways.

10. Listen to Joss Whedon.

Wait, what? Yes, that’s what I said. Go read this. I’ll wait.

Your turn! What are your best tips for following your passion while also meeting the demands of Real Life?

5 Tips for Prospective and New Home-Owners

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

This weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of moving into my first house. To celebrate, here are some lessons from my first year of home-ownership — things I wish I knew going in.

1. When you’re looking for a house, be flexible.

We had specific criteria when we were house-hunting. We wanted a nice family home that was:

  • newly renovated
  • on the subway line and close to our jobs
  • fully finished in the basement (because we were moving my in-laws in…but that’s a whole ‘nother post)
  • …and, of course, within budget.

The house we ended up with, after viewing quite a few and rejecting many more listings, was:

  • unrenovated — some parts were done in the ’80s, others not at all
  • not on the subway line and no closer to our jobs than our previous place was
  • not fully finished in the basement
  • within budget (whew!).

But it was also:

  • unmarred by cheap renovations that ignored the age and character of the house (we saw lots of these)
  • on a dedicated streetcar line — not quite the subway, but close
  • big enough so my in-laws could live on the main floor, my significant other and I could live upstairs, and we could co-habitate without stepping on each other’s toes too much.

And…the truth is, logical or not, we kind of fell in love.

Our poor real-estate agent was flabbergasted when we bought the place.

So…what about all our initial criteria? Do we regret going off our list and buying the house we did?

Not even a little bit.

As you can see by the bullet points above, we dug deeper, identified the reason for each of our criteria, and found another way to meet them.

2. Renovate before you move in.

This was something we did right — and we were so glad we did. The renovations weren’t extensive, but they would have taken a lot longer if we’d been living there. It was painful to hand over the keys the day after closing, but a lot less painful than dealing with dust and paint.

We’ll do more renos in the future, but I’m glad we did what we could up front.

A tip for renovating — hire a general contractor who can oversee and coordinate specific workers like electricians and flooring companies. That way, the headaches are mostly his (or hers), not yours.

Another tip — if at all possible, even if you don’t do anything else, redo surfaces and a few cosmetic things. Get the floors refinished, the walls painted, or new light fixtures put in. The place will feel a lot more like yours.

3. Having an outside is more work than you think.

Sure, you’re mentally prepared for the recurring chores of mowing in summer and shovelling in winter. But there are bound to be other things that pop up, from a collapsing fence to rampant weeds. Those take a lot more thought and time and effort, especially if (like us) you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

4. Remember to have fun anyway.

While you’re busy weeding and mowing, plant a few vegetables or flowers so you’ll have a reward later. Even if you’re not the decorating type (and we are so not), if you have to buy a welcome mat to scrape dirty shoes off, buy a funky one instead of a basic, utilitarian one. Paint one room a strong colour just because you can.

5. Think long-term and short-term.

Assuming that you’re planning to be in the house for more than a few years, remember that you have time. You don’t have to get it all perfect in the first month or even the first year. Things will happen little by little, and that’s okay.

Sometimes short-term solutions are okay too — for example, don’t live without a patio set just because you’re dreaming of an expensive one. Get a cheap one now so you can enjoy your patio while you’re saving up.

Your turn! If you have a house, what did you learn as a new home-owner? What do you wish someone had told you?

Ten Lessons Learned in 2012

2012 was a year of change for me. My life circumstances morphed in several ways — all for the better, but I found myself tested pretty severely at times. I came through stronger, though. Here’s what I learned…

Decisions

  • I hate making choices, especially important ones with lasting repercussions, so making a lot of them in a short period of time isn’t good for my mental health.
  • Despite that, I can still be a decision-making guru when I need to be and not fall into a million wibbling little pieces…mostly.
  • Even though decisions are hard, most decisions aren’t life-altering.
  • With the ones that are, I’ll just know the right path, even if I’m scared. Or the path will turn out to be right, one or the other.

Continue reading

7 Tips for Dealing with Life’s Curveballs

This week, life threw me a curveball. Due to a freak folk dancing accident, I’m going to be hobbling around for a while. Sucks, right? Yes. But not as much as one might think.

At another time in my life, I would have been a complete emotional mess if something like this happened. Waterworks (tears), worries running rampant in my head, growling at my loved ones. But that’s just not the case right now. Sure, I’m a little worried, and yes, I shed a few tears, but overall I’m pretty mellow.

What’s changed?

First of all, it helps that I’m pretty happy with my life right now, and I don’t have any urgent plans that have been thrown into disarray (like, say, moving into a new house or going to a writers’ convention). Second, as disasters go, this one is pretty minor. But those are factors you can’t control, so I’m less interested in them for the purposes of this post.

So what have I learned about dealing with injury and other curveballs?

1. Acknowledge your emotions. First, it’s important to let yourself feel fear, or grief or whatever you need to feel. Share them with someone who’ll listen, too.

Continue reading

6 More Things I’ve Learned from My New House

Back in July, I blogged about 6 lessons I learned from my first month as a new homeowner. That was three months ago, so it’s high time to give you an update on my adventures. Now that I’ve been through one full season, here’s what I’ve learned…

1. Opening your house to other people rocks. In our little one-bedroom apartment, we didn’t have enough room to throw parties, so we’re completely inexperienced hosts. But now our linked living room and dining room fit 15 or 20 people. So far we’ve had two parties and played host to both our families, and let me tell you, even though we’re both introverts, it feels great! (Though we might not have hung our dining room chandelier so low if we’d anticipated moving the dining table off to the side during parties….)

Continue reading

Seeking Productivity Tips

Okay, blog readers. I need your best tips.

I recently finished a major project (not a writing project, alas) that was sucking up all my time and energy. That was over two weeks ago. I’ve been reading and relaxing and recovering, which is all fine and good, but I’ve been having a heck of a time getting anything done. It’s sort of like post-NaNo slump, except I don’t feel drained, just unmotivated.

Continue reading

Autumn Love

I love autumn.

maple leaf

Copyright Siri Paulson, 2011

After a long, hot summer, I love the novelty of actually needing coziness and warmth, whether it’s my favourite chunky sweater, a warm latte or hot chocolate, or a hot soup. I love warm blankets on cool mornings (less so getting out of them!).

I love the sense of new things starting, kids heading back to school, energy building for NaNoWriMo. Often I feel as if the new year begins in September, Jewish-style.

Continue reading

Remembering This Summer

This has been a long, hot summer — glorious or tiresome, depending on your preferences — but it’s drawing to a close at last. Over the past week I’ve felt a chill in the air, the first hints of autumn. Another season almost over.

It’s been an eventful and hectic summer for me. As I look back on it, I’m trying to fix in my mind the way I want to remember it…

Continue reading

6 Things I’ve Learned from my New House

It’s been almost four weeks since my significant other and I moved into our first house. We’ve had a steep learning curve. We were coming from a high-rise apartment building; the house is about 80 years old and mostly unrenovated, except for some basics like wiring.

So far, we’ve faced more logistics than we would’ve thought possible, which has been exhausting…but we’ve also fallen in love with our new neighbourhood (while not forgetting the old) and we’re still glad we moved.

Things I’ve learned so far:

1. Number your boxes. I numbered off the rooms in the new house, then numbered each box as I packed it: Room 1, Box 1, short description of contents. Boxes with higher numbers got packed later, so I knew the items in them were used more often and therefore they should be unpacked first. Bonus: the movers knew which room to put each box in. We’ve had almost no trouble finding anything. (We also haven’t unpacked everything — but that’s a post for another time.)

2. Be flexible. Our freestanding wardrobe wouldn’t fit up the stairs. It has now been repurposed as a pantry, supplementing our kitchen storage. I did have to mourn the loss of it in our bedroom, as well as come to terms with the way it dominated the kitchen, but I have to admit that it’s very useful in its new home.

Continue reading