30 July 2012

The Creative Back Road: Overcoming Writers' Block Through Art

The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things-ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea.
~ Carl Ally

very artist I know suffers from stagnation jam now and then; a traffic jam on their creative journey. 

“My poetry sounds stale.  I’m bored with it.”
“All my music sounds the same. I feel like I’m playing the same chords, the same rhythm.”
“My main character is in a tight spot, and I have no clue how to get him out.”

I get writers block so many times I begin to doubt whether I really am a writer.  And I’ve heard the same advice: to get the pen flowing, you have to just write, every day.  I’m guessing it might be similar for visual artists, poets, and of course musicians and singers (the whole practice makes perfect and fake it ‘til you make it thing).

Go on ~ express yourself!

But writing the same lines, or a bunch of stream of consciousness page after page doesn’t always help if I’m stuck in a creative traffic jam.  And I hate sitting in traffic more than anything in the world.


Take a Creative Back Road
When the highway becomes a parking lot, you don’t pull over on the shoulder and get out of the car.  Not only is it dangerous, you lose your place in line.  Instead, you ask your GPS to search for an alternate route. 

When I hit a creative jam, besides the normal alternate routes ~ walking, exercising, making dinner, talking to a friend ~ there are creative back roads I take to keep moving towards my creative destination.  If I’m writing, I try painting.  If I’m composing a song, I take a break and make a notecard for a friend.  If I’m stuck on the finding the right rhythm for a poem, I sing show tunes or folk music and dance around my living room. The point is to keep the dialogue between artist and muse going. 

Sometimes it's just a matter of reaching her through a different language.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Have you tried expressing yourself in an unfamiliar medium?  Did it help you break through the creative block?

27 July 2012

Top Five Friday: Buggin' You!

Rain makes corn,
Corn makes whisky,
Whisky makes my baby
Feel a little frisky!
 ~ Luke Bryan, Rain is a Good Thing|

he best defense is a good offense and as I mentioned Wednesday, the best way to keep your tomato’s enemies at bay is to build up the native troops.

My friend Tia, the Common Garden Spider, is one of those.  But there are other “branches” of a vast natural military that are just itching to get in to your garden and decimate the bad bugs of summer.

Some may ask why bother with beneficial bugs when you can just spray chemicals and kill all the bad ones, plus all the nasty weeds too.  Right off the bat, those sprays kill all bugs, good and bad.  I’ve heard of collateral damage, but to me, that’s just insane. 

I was taught that all actions ~ good and bad ~ have consequences.  Even if no sees you do that dastardly deed, or you think it only affects you, or the ever quoted and always wrong: “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” 

That is nonsense.

Unless you live in solitary confinement in the desert somewhere [in which case you aren’t even reading this], your life touches other lives, for good or for ill.  So no matter what you do, there is an interconnectedness with others you simply cannot escape.

It’s the same in nature. 

The most obvious example are bees.  Bees make honey.  [Yum.]  In doing that, they also help pollinate different plants. Without bees to pollinate them, certain plants would die out.  Think that doesn’t concern you?  Honey has beneficial qualities, one of which is to help allergy sufferers build up an immunity to the pollen in the region.  Not to mention, I happen to really enjoy certain flowers and wouldn’t want to see them become extinct!

On top of that, where do you think those chemicals go?  They just kill off everything and magically disappear or become non-poisonous all of a sudden?  Heck no!  They seep into the ground, get sucked up into the roots of your plants, slither into those luscious red tomatoes.  Mmmm, my favorite: tomato and cheese sandwich with a side of Round Up™.


Instead, round up the natural troops and beat those aphids and other nasties at their own game, with these top five beneficial bugs.

Going to the Ladybug Picnic!
I thought everyone knew that ladybugs were good for the garden, until I saw my mother sucking up bunches of them in the vacuum.  Granted, they were in the house and not the garden [still haven’t figured that one out!], but honestly, the vacuum?!  The best thing that ladybugs do is lay their eggs in a nice, wet, garden.  Their little brood hatch and eat up all the aphids in sight.  The adults eat some too, but it’s mainly the babes that are your hard-working bug eaters.

I believe in miracles, you lacy thing!
A pretty predator, with tiny veined wings that give it its name, the lacewing is another good defense against aphids.  I was very happy to learn that they like to lay their eggs in apple trees near aphid colonies.  As I have several apple trees, this is great news for me and horrific news for the aphids.  Mwhahahaha!

Hold your fire!
These guys are most often the victims of friendly fire.  And no wonder: they look just like the dreaded stink bug.  The difference is very slight, but because the Soldier Spine bugs are voracious eaters of hornworms, leafhopper nymphs, corn earworms and other small caterpillars, it behooves a wise gardener to look closely before squashing.

Not a bee!  Not a wasp!  An aphid-eating machine!
Another innocent victim of friendly fire is the Syrphid Fly.  Over the years, I have become less jumpy when I hear a buzz or see a black body with yellow stripes flying nearby.  Mostly because I’ve learned that buzzing things won’t sting you if you don’t bother them or their nest. So I keep a respectful distance and let them do their thing.

Now I have one more reason to be careful.  Syrphid flies look like wasps but have only two wings.  Like ladybugs, it’s the babies that are the most beneficial.  They can eat up to 400 aphids during their babyhood!  They also eat ants and termites.  Yay!  But look closely, because the larvae look like slugs.

Beetles.  Always makes me think of The Mummy.
Not all beetles are evil!  Ground beetles do tend to freak me out a little when they get in the house ~ we always called them “miller bugs” ~ no clue why, but they are the special ops of the garden, hiding under rocks and running very fast when those rocks are moved.

And I thought gardening was just about plucking weeds, watering, and harvesting!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Do you encourage beneficial bugs in your garden?

25 July 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: O What a Web We Weave!

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.
I wove my webs for you because I liked you.
After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die.
A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.
By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.
Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.
~ E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

 hen you are committed to gardening organically, without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, people often ask how you deal with bugs.

Why, more bugs of course!

Ever here the old adage, fight fire with fire?  This advice is very true in the sustainable, organic garden.  Hmmm, sounds like a topic for this week’s Top Five Friday post.  However, since today is my defacto garden post day, I’d like to introduce you to Tia, (pronounced tsee-uh) short for Argiope aurantia.    
A little bigger than our old friend, Charlotte.
Much more poetic than Common Garden Spider, or Black and Yellow Garden Spider.  I was very excited to look her up.  She's textbook perfect, down to the zig-zag line in the middle of her web.  She's actually hanging upside down, the picture isn't saving properly for some reason.

Tia is perfectly harmless ~ to you and me.  And she is great help in keeping down the fly, mosquito, and aphid populations.  Although the mosquito colonies seem to have grown especially huge this year, so maybe Tia needs some friends to help out. 

A list of which I’ll save for Friday.

In the meantime, enjoy her beauty and be not afraid!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Got spiders in your garden?  I’d love to see them!  Digitally, of course.  I like what they do, but they still give me goosebumps!

23 July 2012

The Bridge to Imagination: Overcoming Writer's Block by Stepping Outside

Every man's memory is his private literature. 
~ Aldous Huxley

  writer’s Muse, as for most artists, is his imagination.  There, the impossible becomes the commonplace; the extraordinary and fantastical, real.  Middlearth is somewhere in New Zealand, a day’s ride by horse; Hogwarts, a 9¾ platform away.

In the imagination, reality too has a place: it becomes fathomable, pain is made tolerable, abuse - healable. 

But if imagination is the gateway to art, what is the bridge to reach it?

Five Little Senses and What They Knew
This afternoon, I walked by the loading dock of a new office building.  The air whooshing out of the vents triggered a sense memory.  All of a sudden, I was 7 or 8 years old and on the second floor of a carpet store.  My parents were shopping for new carpet to cover the wood floors [I know – don’t get me started!] in the dining and living rooms. 

Not an exciting memory, I grant you.  But a memory that can be plucked and re-planted in a short story.  Or in a poem about the sense of smell. Or in an essay on the perceptions of childhood.

Sometimes a sound will trigger a memory (the ice cream truck jingle that reminds you of the day you realized you were poor), or taste (a bite of a fresh picked strawberry and you are back in your grandmother’s kitchen making shortcake).

You may be out walking in the rain and the splash of cars in puddles triggers, not a memory, but a scene that you’re working out for your new play.  The steady beat of the rain suggests a way to end the chorus of a song you’re stuck on.  The sight of cows munching in the field becomes the first stanza of a poem.

The Muse is all around us.  We just have to look, listen, touch, taste and smell her presence.  The rest is up to our imagination.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What inspires you?  Share your favorite memory with us in the comments!

20 July 2012

Top Five Friday: Berry Delicious

Since you're all obviously stuffed with berries, I'll just tell Frau Schimdt to cancel your dinner!
 ~ Captain Von Trapp, The Sound of Music

  uly is National Blueberry Month (who knew?) and yesterday was Raspberry Cake Day.  So in honor of both, here are my top five favorite recipes using blueberries or raspberries. . . or both!

Lemons and raspberries – the perfect couple!  These are great to make for brunch and serve with a pitcher of fresh made lemonade or a cup of lemon-ginger tea.

These remind me of linzer cookies ~ only easier to make.  Perfect for a tea party!   

Too much soy is not a good thing, especially for women who haven’t reached menopause yet.  Phyto estrogens are still estrogens!  I substitute coconut milk for the soy milk, and cultured coconut milk for the yogurt, since I don’t eat dairy.

You can use fresh-picked blueberries too; just stick them in the freezer overnight before putting them in the tea.

Nothing beats my grandma’s crazy crust cobbler recipe, but this one is pretty good.  If you’re super comfortable in the kitchen, you can make the shortcake from scratch.

Time to go berry picking!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

When was the last time you went berry picking?  What are you favorite berry-filled desserts?

18 July 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: Solar-Powered Fountains

Three coins in the fountain, which one will the fountain bless?
~ Sammy Cahn, Three Coins in the Fountain

 ater is life.  We can’t live without it.  The average human body is 57 - 60% water and we can live longer without food than we can without water.  We drink it.  We wash with it.  We cook with it.  We cool off in it. We are calmed by it.

Perhaps that is part of its beauty: it is precious, it is life-giving.  And no one knew this better than the Romans.  Their elaborate system of aqueducts was an amazing marriage of form and function, some of which still operate today.

Last week, when I thought of putting in a fountain that would be off the grid, and talked with the resident guru at the garden center, I thought of the Romans.  
Me: “I want to have a fountain that isn’t on the grid.”

Guru: “Well, there are solar-powered pumps.  But…they don’t work at night, of course. The technology hasn’t gotten there yet where they can store the energy.”

Wow.  But I have lights that store the energy and light up the walk way at night…?  Maybe a submersible pump just needs more.

Me: “What about wind-powered?”

Guru: “Yeah, but what about when there’s no wind?”

Me: Stumped. “Battery operated?” I know that’s not really green, but it’s better than being on the grid!

Guru: “Nope – batteries can’t get wet.”

Me: Thinking hard.  “But the Romans didn’t have electricity.  How did they do it?!”

Guru: Stumped. “Well. . .uhhhh. . . I don’t know!”
Guru status: lost.

So, I did some digging (haha) on my own.  And I found out that the famous aqueducts, plus gravity and underground springs are the secrets to the success of such breathtaking beauties like Trevi Fountain. 

Imagine a garden built around that!

For me, there are no underground springs (or if there are, we don’t know about them).  There is a whole lot of standing water around the orchard, but it’s flat there, so gravity can’t help (although I’ve been told a French drain can).

I was ready to give up and then I decided to look up solar-powered pumps.  The way the guru was talking, I expected to find one or two and that’s it.  Imagine my surprise when I typed “solar-powered pumps” in Google.  A bunch of sites, from 1000Fountains.com, to Target and the omnipresent Amazon have solar pumps.   Huzzah!

I still want to tool around the different sites and find feedback on the options, but I’m leaning towards trying out the Sunjet Solar 150.  The price is low enough that if my dream of a garden fountain comes crashing down around my trowel, I won’t feel quite so bad.

How Does Your Garden Grow?
In other garden news, the tomato plants are looking hale and hearty, but still no fruit:

And the basil has grown mammoth.  I pick from the top and the sides to keep the plants producing.  Don’t they look beautiful and yummy? 


Since I don’t have tomatoes yet, I stopped by the farmers market and picked up some heirloom beauties and ate them with the fresh-picked basil, a little sea salt and a dash of olive oil.  Heavenly.

Maybe next year I’ll be eating them next to my solar-powered fountain.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Do you have a fountain in your garden?  Share your pictures!

16 July 2012

Clutter vs. Chaos: Finding the "Write" Balance, Part I

Without atmosphere a painting is nothing.
~ Rembrandt

he same can be said for writers.  Or at least for this writer.   Oh, I’ve written, scribbled, jotted, agonized over many a dangling participle on trains, in planes, park benches, grassy knolls, empty rooms, and trash-filled dorms.

With ball points, fountain pens, pencils, even markers.  Scrap paper, napkins, restaurant receipts, backs of envelopes, ruled notebooks, leather journals, and thick parchment style paper. I have even been known to use a computer once in a while.

But I simply cannot write, I mean, physically write, while surrounded by chaos.

Now where did I put that piece of paper?

Chaos is different from clutter.  A space can be cluttered yet orderly.  The desk in my home office is cluttered with crystal glasses filled with pens ~ one for each colour, as well as jars for scissors, exacto knives, letter openers and the like.  There is a decorative box filled with fountain pens, and another one with stamps and return address labels.  Not to mention the keyboard, mouse, and monitor for my desktop (I know, how archaic!), and a stack of letters waiting to be stamped “Answered On_____” and then filed away.  And to top it all off, a little fan (no air conditioning unit in there.  Whew.)

That is clutter.  It is not pristine, sleek, empty.  But it works.  It is still ordered.

The rest of my home office, however, is. . . well, let’s just say it looks like a derecho whipped through it.  Stacks of 12x12 paper, sheets of stickers, and books of card stock (I make cards for friends) rest precariously on the floor next to my desk and on top of the bed, boxes and bags of books sit next leaning towers of books.  Because as with most home offices, mine serves three functions: home office, guest room, and library.  And as with most writers, that last is an ever hungry monster.  I always buy more books before I’ve even finished reading the ones I just bought two weeks ago.

Can I write in such an atmosphere? 

Of course.

Do I want to write in such an atmosphere?


You are shocked ~ I can sense your vibe from here. (I told you last week I was iNtuitive!)  Ah yes, creatives are stereotyped as being clutterbugs who either love their mess or don’t even notice it.  (ok, fine ~ that last is actually true most of the time.  I am as far from OCD as one can possibly get without calling a health inspector.)

I’m also very dramatic and am always exaggerating.

Most creatives live the majority of their life in their imagaination.  That's where all the real work begins, after all.  BUt if it's going to change anyone's life or touch their heart, it has to live Nevernever land and come to roost on the printed page.  And when one can't find just the right sticker, or that specific piece of scrapbook paper, or mysteriously disappearing tape runners, or the notebook filed with handwritten story ideas and quotes, well, there comes a point in every creative life when something must be done.  And I, dear readers, have reached that point. 

Either I go, or the couch goes.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Tune in next week to find out more!  Meanwhile, what about you?  Does atmosphere help or hurt your creativity?  What does your creative space look like?  Post links to your pics in the comments!

13 July 2012

Top Five Friday: On the Road!

Try to relax and enjoy the crisis.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

On the road and out of pocket today.  Get off your computer and come outside with me!!  There is a world of creativity out there!  Let's get drunk on it!

See y'all next week!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

11 July 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: The Case of the Barren Tomato Plant

Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there. 
~ Thomas Fuller

o you remember that Smith Barney commercial with the stately old guy who looks at the camera, leans in, and says:

“We make money the old fashioned way.  We earn it!”

Last weekend, I felt like that guy.  Only instead of earning money, I earned a tan, some burned calories, and even a buried treasure!

With Independence Day being in the middle of the week, I had decided to take some time off to relax.  Apparently, my idea of relaxation is to work in the garden, drive up and down the I-495 beltway, and help one of my best girlfriends move ~ all on one of the hottest weekends on record in the Old Dominion.

So much for relaxation!

The driving up and down and moving part of the weekend happened Friday afternoon through Saturday night.  So all day Thursday and Friday morning I was free to work in the garden. And digging in the garden is relaxing to a point, I must say.  There is something satisfying about pushing a shovel into the soft earth, pulling up weeds, and talking to the plants and any butterflies or dragonflies that may wander by.

But it’s not all cooing and sighing over green growing things.

Some of those green things are monsters that suck all the nutrients away from my precious tommy toes, basil, and rosemary plants.  Green monsters like this guy:

I don't know what your name is, but you need to leave this patch NOW!

And the bane of my gardening existence:

Hell thou name art crabgrass!!
Once I got to digging, pulling and pitching, there was no stopping me. I loaded up the wheelbarrow and started another pile just over the border of the garden.  I even accidently dug up some Paperwhite bulbs.  And then I saw it.

Buried treasure!

Didn't George Washington make bricks?  I bet he made these!
There used to be a brick fire pit in the area next to the garden.  And the base is still there ~  handmade Virginia brick from who knows how long ago.  What a perfect place to build up a little bench and water feature!  One itty bitty problem: I’m trying to be sustainable, eco-friendly, and as off the grid as I can be without sacrificing style or comfort.

So off to the garden center I went to find out more about how to build a water feature without electricity.  And what is the first thing I see? 

A magnificent fountain? 

Well, yes.  But run with electricity.  And no, that’s not what I mean.  I saw . . . .

Tomato plants.

In flats.

With tomatoes on them!

With my mouth hanging open, I pointed at the plants and said to the resident garden guru:

Me: “ You have tomatoes on those plants!”

Guru raised her eyebrows. This customer must be a city slicker. “Yes?”

Me: “I transplanted my tomato plants about 4-5 weeks ago – no tomatoes!”

Guru’s face shows relief (She's not a crazy!) and curiosity: “Did you fertilize them?”

Me: “Yes”

Guru: “Are they planted in full sun?”

Me: “Yep.  Cheerful pause. And I water them faithfully every day – sometimes soaking them for 4-5 hours.”

Light dawns in Guru’s face, as well as, what is that….pity?

“Ahhh.  They’re drowning.  Most people kill their plants with overwatering than not watering enough. 

Me: Crestfallen face.

Guru: “No worries. Just let them dry out for a couple of days.  And then only water them once or twice a week.”
So on the hottest weekend on record, I neglected my garden.  On purpose.  I felt wretched.  What kind of gardener turns her back on her plants when it’s 105 degrees!?  This must be how parents feel when they have to discipline their kids.  It’s for their own good.  But man, does it feel counterintuitive!

When I returned late Sunday morning, I raced to the garden to see how it had fared without me and water for two days.  And what do you know?

It worked!

My tomato plants had been healthy, but still kind of scrawny.  Now most of them were robust, stretching up, up towards the sun, and at least 3 of the bigger ones had tiny yellow flowers all over.  And you know that that means ~ the tomatoes are coming!

After this latest learning adventure, I will definitely be able to say that I got these tomatoes the old fashioned way.  I earned them!

By the way, my friend got moved back down to Virginia with nary a mishap and lots o’ sweat. 

Oh, and the fountain idea?  The garden guru had some interesting things to say about it.  More on that next week!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Have you ever killed a plant by watering TOO much?