31 May 2008

A Thirst for the Natural

Okay, so I'm a bit of a hippie. Not in the '60s love-child, drug-induced folk music kind of way, but in the environment-loving, organic-shirt-wearing, custodians of Mother Earth kind of way. And I find myself drawn to organic foods as I learn more about my environment, body, and what growers use in traditional food crops.

And though I do look for organic foods, it never really occurred to me to seek organic coffee beans until I happened upon this article about organic coffee. It piqued my interest because, while it offers an objective glance at organic coffee vs. traditional coffee, it doesn't tell readers too much about the process of growing organic coffee, or specific cost differences, or how hard (or easy) it is to get organic coffee for those that seek it. So I decided to play journalist and do a little digging.

What is organic coffee?
I'm glad you asked! Coffee is classified as organic or traditional based on how it is grown. In order to be classified as organic, the coffee growers must meet the these conditions.

  • The coffee must be grown on land that does not use synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances, and has not for three years.
  • A buffer exists between the coffee crop and the nearest traditional crop.
  • There is a sustainable plan for crop rotation to prevent erosion, depletion of nutrients, and pest control.
Coffee farmers must not only care for their crops, but they must also care for the land they use, taking note of the long term effects on it.

According to the Organic Trade Association:
Organic coffee is grown in 40 countries including Bolivia, Burundi, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lao PDR, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timore-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, United States (Hawaii), Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zambia. The leading producer countries are Peru, Ethiopia, and Mexico.
So, I've decided I'd like to try organic coffee. Where can I get it?
While there are vastly more sales in traditional coffee over organic, it seems more and more coffee sellers are providing organic coffee, and the Internet provides the means to acquire organic coffee, even if your nearest Starbucks is several hours away. (Heaven forbid!)

I order my organic coffee from Mystic Monk Coffee. They currently offer three types of organic coffee, but with more and more demand for Earth-friendly coffee, I'm sure the companies who offer organic coffees will offer more varieties, and more companies will offer organic coffee.

Seattle's Best also offers organic coffees, as does Starbucks. There are also lots of great sources for organic coffee from smaller companies; if you want to try somewhere new, try googling "organic coffee" and see what comes up.

What is the cost difference between traditional and organic coffee?
Organic products are, overall, slightly more expensive because of the extra effort that goes into their production. Coffee is no different.

At Starbucks, a pound of organic Serena blend (a blend of organic coffees from Latin America and East Africa) is $13.45. A pound of Ethiopian Sidamo is $10.45. The cost difference is not great, and the healthy quality makes it worth it for many people to pay the extra three dollars for organic.

If you're trying to live a healthy lifestyle by eating organic food, don't forget that beverages are also part of a healthy lifestyle. Think green, and drink organic!

Looking for a cruise?

I appreciate my loyal readers, and I hope you enjoy Dana's lovely post. If you're looking for lots of great ideas by great people, please stop over at Dana's home and check out the Carnival of Elitist Bastards. I have a post there, and Dana's got an itinerary to take you across blogs to pique your interest, enrage you, make you laugh, and generally keep you reading.


I Drink the Wine... But the Taste Lingers!

(Hullo! Dana Hunter here, sneaking out of En Tequila Es Verdad to yammer about writing and wisdom for a bit. NP's been kind enough to invite me over as a guest blogger. We've swapped places for the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards - make sure you don't miss her post!)

If I told you I'd acquired my passion for ancient scholarship from a book by Louis L'Amour, author of countless Westerns, would you believe me? If I told you a novel of adventure, passion and edge-of-your-seat combat cited no fewer than 21 ancient texts within its pages and still kept the story rushing along, could you credit it? No? Can't say as I blame you.

Very few books present the man of intellect and learning as a dashing, debonair swashbuckler. When you think of a man using the wisdom acquired through such books as Avicenna's Canon and al Farabi's treatise on Aristotle to conquer his enemies, you likely think of a wan, pale academic hunched over dusty manuscripts in a musty library. Bulging muscles and a wicked sword arm weren't even in it.

But L'Amour's Mathurin Kerbouchard wields both sword and pen to wicked effect in The Walking Drum. He shows that you can have brains and brawn and the girl. He makes intellect cool. He makes going to the library an actual adventure, as exciting as any quest for treasure hoards could ever be.

How different would our culture be if the thirst for knowledge and wisdom were portrayed like this more often?

Knowledge is precious. Learning is sweet. Wisdom is without price. And the seeking of them is as fraught with drama, mystery and excitement as any other quest, if not more so. Kerbouchard knows this. He also knows that quest is endless:
The wider my knowledge became the more I realized my ignorance. It is only the ignorant who can be positive, only the ignorant who can become fanatics, for the more I learned the more I became aware that there are shadings and relationships in all things.
Any seeker after knowledge will recognize Kerbouchard's lament. This is something few people seem to grasp: the more you know, the more you're aware of the things you don't know. The difference between the people who give up because they'll never know everything and heroes like Kerbouchard who never let a little thing like insurmountable odds stop them is curiosity, and a realization that learning all you can is just as important as a strong sword arm:
In my knowledge lay not only power but freedom from fear, for generally speaking one only fears what one does not understand.
Later, he says:
Wit and wisdom are the keys to open any door.
He uses those keys to open the door to fame and fortune, not to mention women. He uses them to defeat his fear and to turn his enemies' fear on themselves. He uses his mind in a fight as often as his sword. Plenty of books have cunning fighters, heroes with what you might call street smarts, but Kerbouchard's a breed apart: a true warrior-scholar, a man that makes you salivate for the taste of wine, women, and wisdom.

Kerbouchard blazes across most of twelfth century Europe, leaving behind those parts of it still mired in the superstition and ignorance of the Dark Ages. He travels throughout Moorish Spain, where conquering Islam had established a paradise of literature, learning, and luxury. He meets legendary scholars, physicians and proto-scientists. The freedom of their inquiry contrasts sharply with the men he left behind. The two do not compare favorably, and Kerbouchard leaves us in no doubt that he values seekers over the pious:

It is a poor sort of man who is content to be spoon-fed knowledge that has been filtered through the canon of religious or political belief, and it is a poor sort of man who will permit others to dictate what he may or may not learn.
This is the sort of phrase we should tack to every schoolroom wall. In a civilization that is once again elevating deliberate ignorance as a virtue, this devastating counter-blow becomes ever more necessary. It's a poor sort of man, not a good and virtuous one, who swallows reflexively the poor fare he's fed. And a poor sort of man can't create a stunning and vibrant civilization.

We hear so much about the need for more religion. Society, we are told, will go to hell in a handbasket without it. But too many religions teach unquestioning obedience and seek to impose their questionable authority on every aspect of life, impoverishing our intellectual life, crippling progress. And so I find myself in complete agreement with Kerbouchard when he states
...What the world has always needed is more heretics and less authority.
Civilization has never advanced by getting stuck in a rut. The heretics are there to jolt us out, while authority, fearing loss of its control, orders us to stay in. Intellectual pursuits are anathema to dogma and authority, and thus ridiculed by them, denegrated and declared evil. If that's how they feel about it, well, I'm happy to be an evil intellectual, thank you so very much. Kerbouchard, not some meathead who can't think his way out of the pages of his society's sanctioned norms, is my hero.

And I hope the heroes of my own books will be as wise. I owe it to the world to give it role models who seek, who learn, who question and challenge. L'Amour gave me a great gift in this book: the keys to thousands of years of human endeavor, and the passion to seek out everything wise and wonderful in a hundred civilizations. Because of this book, I can quote from the Qabus Nama, a ninth-century Persian manuscript that Machiavelli might have wanted to get his hands on before writing The Prince. "Ever remain aware of your enemy's activities, secret or otherwise," it advises, and we would do well to remember it.

Outside of science fiction, scientists are rarely portrayed as heroic although they are among the greatest heroes our world has ever known. Too often, the scientist in popular fiction is an amoral enemy, or a supporting character, or the bumbling egghead whose pursuit of knowledge endangers the whole of civilization until a meathead saves the day. The heroism of science, its power to save millions of lives, the enthralling search for the solution to a mystery of the cosmos, the turmoil of seeking answers, is seldom portrayed. Why did it take a book set in the twelfth century, long before the Enlightenment brought us the scientific method and launched the Age of Reason, to show us just what it means to be a scientist?
...Question all things. Seek for answers, and when you find what seems to be an answer, question that, too.

We only become impatient with endless questions because we are taught to seek one answer and then stop. Too much in life and literature mocks continued inquiry. It doesn't portray that endless quest with the excitement and awe that The Walking Drum does. It's really time we got into the habit of enjoying the journey more, don't you think? After all, the Taoist masters teach that "the journey is the reward."

A book can change a life. The Walking Drum changed mine. It showed me a world I'd never known and left me starving for more. It destroyed my certainties, but gave me something far more valued than certainty: wonder and delight, curiosity and excitement. It gave me a deep draught of intoxicating knowledge and left me with an abiding thirst for more.

Kerbouchard was speaking of women when he spoke of that thirst, but he would apply his words equally to wisdom:
I drink the wine and I put aside the glass, but the taste lingers... The taste lingers!
Let us bring that taste to the rest of our world. We can even buckle some swashes while we're drinking deep of wisdom's wine, and that heady bouquet will never leave our tongues.

30 May 2008

The Anti 9-to-5 Action Plan Update

So...originally I had a really great timeline worked out detailing how I'd work full time as a freelance writer this summer, drop back to part time during the school year, and then in January 2009, go to full time for the foreseeable future.

Since developing the timeline, my plans have changed. Instead of waiting until January 2009 to quit my day gig and become a full time freelance writer, I've decided to do it now. June 11th is my last day "in the cube," and beginning June 12th, I'll officially be a full time writer.

This decision is one of the biggest, scariest, most exciting decisions I've ever made. Part of me is afraid because I don't know what's going to come in the future, but the majority of me is excited about writing full time and eager to work on something for which I've had a passion as long as I can remember.

I know it's going to be a difficult rest of the year--we've been relying on my day gig income for our bills--but this is the best decision for me, and for our family. I may have to work 50, 55, 60 hours a week at first in order to get to where I want (and where I need) to be. And really, I'm okay with that. I love writing. Even if I'm just making a grocery list, I love writing. So I'll work as hard as I have to in order to accomplish my goals.

So here's my revised timeline:

June 11th--Done with day gig
June 12th--Start writing
June 13th--Keep writing
Repeat every day.

28 May 2008

Work at Home Mom Revolution

I just discovered a great blog for women who want to work from home. If you fall under that category, I suggest you take a look!

26 May 2008

Not enough blog content to satisfy your thirst?

My dear friend, who I affectionately call "Frazzoo," has started a writing blog, that I encourage you to check out. She's awesome!

24 May 2008

One foot suspended over the abyss...

I have a website! It's not fully functional yet, but it's there, and I'll be working on it over the next couple of weeks to get it up and running. And when I do, I'll have a little grand opening to celebrate!

22 May 2008

Happy "But Earth Day Was Last Month" Day!

Yes, our earth is important. And it takes everyone's effort to help preserve our planet for the health and happiness of future generations.

In an effort to remind people that "every day is Earth Day," my English classes are Earth-friendly today.
  • We are not doing any writing assignments in an effort to save paper.
  • We will be going the day with 1/2 the lights off in an effort to conserve energy.
  • The A/C will be set at 75 the whole day in an effort to conserve energy.
Each student is also expected to perform at least one Earth-friendly task during the day. These tasks can be anything from using recycled paper, picking up trash on the ground, or tossing their soda cans/bottles into a recycling bin instead of the trash.

In addition, I've encouraged all my students to wear green (I'm wearing my 100% organic t-shirt), and will be offering a few points extra credit if they do.

I encourage you to participate in some way on "But Earth Day Was Last Month" Day to remind people that every day is Earth Day!

Think green!

20 May 2008

Aw, thanks!

It has recently come to my attention that people actually read my blog.


Since my day gig is almost done until the fall, I'll have much more time to devote to sprinkling bits of wisdom to you. I hope you enjoy.

Love and ink,

19 May 2008

Ray Bradbury says...

The act of writing is, for me, like a fever--something I must do. And it seems I always have some new fever developing, some new love to follow and bring to life.

I've never doubted myself; I've always been so completely devoted to libraries and books and authors that I couldn't stop to consider for a moment that I was being foolish. I only knew that writing was in itself the only way to live.

And in that expression of the need to write is summed up the reason I intend to become a full time writer. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for expressing so eloquently my feelings on the matter.

16 May 2008

Stare at screen. Bang head on keys. Repeat ad nauseum.

As geared up as I am for the summer, I can't seem to get motivated to write this week. I don't know if it's because I'm burned out from catching up at work, or if I'm just unmotivated, but last night when I sat down to work on the coffee house book, I sat for about twenty minutes and didn't type a single word.

I've been trying to temper my grading/lesson planning/end-of-the-year-ing with preparing for my summer job so as not to burn myself out, but obviously what I'm doing isn't really working.

I keep telling myself I have nothing to complain about, really. With my teacher's schedule, I have ample time to write some afternoons, weekends, and all summer. I've read about writers who had to scribble their novels on the subway every morning and evening, or only had an hour to write each morning before work, and still managed to turn out award-winning work.

However, all the time in the world is meaningless without the motivation to write, and there's just something in this coffee-addles brain of mine that isn't letting me write.

I blame the day gig.

After I've finished my grading for the weekend, my intention is to spend some time cleaning out my desk and thoroughly organizing my writing space for the summer. (I have to do something productive this weekend!)

Only 14 more days until my summer vacation! Woo hoo!

13 May 2008

15 Days 'Til Writing Full Time!

I'm counting down the days until the last day of classes this semester. Not only does it mean I won't have to grade on the weekends, but I'll be able to devote my days to writing the coffee house book and working on freelancing.

I feel terribly behind on the coffee house book--I'd intended to get some writing done over the long weekend I had, but my family surprised me by coming down to visit for my birthday (Hooray!). My computer was off all weekend.

There's a lot I need to do to get ready for writing full time this summer.

I need a website. For now, the blog is working nicely, but I need a place that gives me a bit more flexibility with layout, and gives me the opportunity to create a business-type site for Coffee-Stained Writing.

I need business cards. I have a logo I've designed and an idea of what I want for the look of the logo on the card, so I just have to design and order them. I want to get the website up and running first, though, so I can put the web address on the cards for contact info.

I need to organize my portfolio. I kind of hve everything all together, but I need to revise a few pieces and get everything in .pdf format to put up on the site once I get it up. I also need to email my college advisor to get a copy of a story I had long ago and can't seem to find anywhere anymore. It, too, needs to be revised, but it definitely goes into my portfolio.

I need to set up my summer writing schedule. I find I'm much more productive when I have set hours for writing. And it will help keep me from over-working myself and, in the process, neglecting my darling Hubby.

So the rest of this week I'll be scrambling to get work stuff done so I can spend my weekend building a website and ordering business cards.

There are only 15 school days left, and then I'll be able to write full time. Hurrah!

I feel awfully hung over for not having an alcohol this weekend...

I'm sorry I haven't posted lately. Much to my happy surprise, my mother, brother, sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law arrived at my door for my birthday! Hooray! It was a busy, crazy weekend with lots of talking, hugging, and sight-seeing, and it was over much too quickly.

I intended to lounge around all weekend reading, grading, and writing, but I didn't turn my computer on the whole weekend. It was wonderful!

Unfortunately, now I have quite a bit of work to catch up on both at work and in my home office. Don't worry--blogging is on the list, but there are a few things that have to get done first.

If you're sad at the lack of rambling information from yours truly, you should check out the fun going on over at En Tequila Es Verdad. There's always something fun to read there!

08 May 2008

The Coffee-Stained Writer, Resolved

Tomorrow is my birthday, and in an effort to remind myself of my dedication to my writing career, I made “New Year’s Resolutions” to begin Friday. It’s a new year (for me), so it’s a time for new beginnings, change, and jettisoning old habits. Some of my resolutions have to do with writing, while others have to do with my personal life. This is what I’ve resolved (in no particular order):

I will make at least $5,000 between now and May 2009.

I will create and maintain a website for Coffee-Stained Writing.

I will finish and submit for publication my coffee house book between now and May 2009.

I will read at least one book a month.

I will experiment with at least five fiction genres outside my comfort zone.

I will spend less time in front of the TV and more time with my husband.

I will do yoga at least three times a week.

I will take an evening walk at least once a week.

I made New Year’s Resolutions in January, but I was awful about sticking to them. These will be better. Not only are they more realistic, but I feel more energized about making life changes now than I did in January, so I’m more motivated to stick to them.

I think this is going to be a good year, actually.

05 May 2008

The Anti 9-to-5 Guide Update

After reading The Anti 9-to-5 Guide by Michelle Goodman, I followed her advice for an action plan. Friday was the deadline for Stage Two, and I'm happy to say I've more than completed my Action Plan so far! Here's what I've done so far (quoted from Goodman, but what's in the brackets was added by me):

  • Brainstorm time! Jot down any activities, jobs, classes, or volunteer stints you've enjoyed to date, even if you were seven at the time. [This didn't take very long since I already know what I want to do!]
  • Scrutinize your lifestyle. What expenses and vices can you jettison? Vow to ditch at least one today. [This, too, didn't take very long. When you're on a budget already there's not much to "jettison."]
  • If you're prone to bouncing checks and racking up late-payment fees, get a grip. [Nope--we're careful about our finances.]
  • If your credit card debt is out of control, consider consolidating through an organization like Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS). [See above note.]
  • Think about whether you'll need to move to another city or state to pursue your dream gig (or to cut down on living expenses). [Thankfully, we live in a great city with lots of opportunities for me, and we don't need to move!]
My next step is to figure out a timeline of how long I think it will take me to get to where I want to be: freelancing full time. According to the Action Plan, I have until May 30th to do this, and I'll probably enlist Hubby's help for it. He's my business guy.

I already have a rough timeline in mind, but I'd like to get a firmer grasp on it. Ideally, I'll get a calendar and map out my own action plan for becoming a full time freelance writer.

Lots to do this month!

01 May 2008

Prasad(a) is Given Voice!

I've had a breakthrough with my coffee house book. I think I was having trouble getting into it because it was a rather large undertaking that didn't have a real direction. It was a collection tied loosely by a fine thread, but I've come up with a connection that I think will greatly strengthen the book.

Prasad(a) is food that is offered to a deity, and then given to believers by a saint/religious leader. I named the coffee house Prasad(a) to play with the idea that coffee is divine and a gift, and the baristas are like priests and priestesses passing out this blessed food at a sort of altar to believers: the customers.

So I'm altering the "chapters" of the book to fit into this religious framework. I think it will give the book a much-needed unity, and will be a hell of a lot of fun to write.

There's more, but I don't want to reveal too much. When (if?) I get the book published, I'd much rather have you clamoring to read it than ready to review it because you read my blog regularly.

So I'll be dropping hints, perhaps posting snippets, and enticing you until you're ready to help me write queries in order to get it published!