Discovering excellence: Why I believe in raising expectations

It’s discouraging to me that there seems to be an increasing tendency to lower expectations in our society. This can easily be observed, whether in young children or the leaders of the land. We’ve all heard phrases like “dumbing it down,” “leveling the playing field,” “lowest common denominator,” and many more. They all add up to one thing: Lowering expectations. I think that is very sad, as well as a dangerous precedent.

A phrase I’ve heard recently (although I’m sure it isn’t new) is “No expectations, no disappointments.” I get what this means: The less you expect, the less likely you are to be hurt or let down. I can’t fall out of bed if I sleep on the floor, right? I wouldn’t argue the truth of this concept; however, I do believe that by adopting this attitude, we cheat ourselves out of a lot of possibilities. Sure, something bad could happen to me, but what if I’m wrong about that?

Some of my friends who are parents of 20-somethings complain that their kids are apathetic, that they seem to have no hope for the future. The attitude of “What’s in it for ME?” is common. “I might as well not work, because Social Security isn’t going to be there for me years from now.” I can understand this outlook. It just proves my point that when expectations continue to be lowered, the loss of hope is the price we pay. We simply can’t afford that.

We need young people to grow up believing that integrity, compassion and kindness matter. That it is sometimes necessary to choose an action (or lack of action) simply because I believe it is the right thing to do. Even if you are no longer young, these things matter. In fact, these choices are critical. People tend to live up (or down) to expectations. By raising expectations instead of lowering them, we send the message that “I believe in YOU. You are important in the world simply because you are here.”

Everyone deserves opportunities. Everyone deserves to find those possibilities. Everyone deserves the chance to discover his or her passion, abilities and purpose, and to use them to contribute something of lasting beauty and value in the world. Isn’t that what we all want more than anything? To believe that, even if I am not the one who discovers the cure for cancer or who writes the prize-winning musical or who has the most money, I am here because I have a contribution to make. Grasping that belief allows hope to enter the picture.

We’re living in a sound-bite society. “You have thirty seconds or less to get your message across; the viewer’s attention span is very short, you know.” (Another example of lowering expectations.) This is especially evident in this presidential election year. I say, give the viewer a little more credit than that! Make the message more meaningful, not less. More personal, not less. More challenging, not less.

No expectations, no disappointments? Don’t you believe it. Raise the expectations of yourself first, and prepare to discover the height and width and depth of who you are, and what you can accomplish, right there, where you are today.

It certainly isn’t easy to find a balance between expecting too much and not enough. You’ll make mistakes. But eventually you will find yourself looking forward to getting up the next day and trying again. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Strive for excellence, absolutely! But don’t expect perfection. Do expect more, and better, of yourself and others, and see what happens next.

Two speaking events coming up!

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Oh boy, I love these presentations. This coming Thursday, May 19, I will be speaking at the Port Angeles (WA) library on craft distilling. I will give some background on the current legislation, as well as an update on legislation now in committee in the U.S. Senate, which will directly affect home or hobby distillers. I’ll be glad to answer technical questions about distilling, and sign copies of my award-winning book Craft Distilling: Making liquor legally at home.

 

We will start promptly at 6 PM. See you there!

 

Hens with cherry tree blossoms

Next up is the Mother Earth News Fair in Albany, OR, which runs June 4-5. Two presentations and a book signing scheduled: Poultry Unplugged, a photo-centric talk on the benefits of free-ranging poultry and how to manage predator issues and a lot more. And of course I will be doing the popular talk on Craft Distilling!

 

I hope you can come to at least one of these events, they are always a lot of fun. If you’d like me to come speak to your group or club, please use the contact form to get hold of me. I love doing small local events as much as the larger ones; for me it’s all about sharing information and ideas. And be sure to check out Pure Poultry and my new book Craft Distilling, which recently won a Bronze medal at the Independent Publishers Book Awards!

TomFoolery: Taking on yet another new challenge this year

If you follow me on Facebook (and if not, why not?) you know I will be performing the next two weekends in the musical revue “TomFoolery” at Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim. TomFoolery is a tribute to Harvard math professor Tom Lehrer, who was very popular as a performer years ago, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. His dry humor and knack for political satire resulted in songs such as “The Masochism Tango,” “Wernher von Braun,” and “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” He even pokes fun at his own career as a mathematician and scientist in “New Math” and “The Elements.”

 

This is definitely a stretch for me, having always considered myself much more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. On the other hand, lately I seem to be in a phase of gravitating to things that push me out of my comfort zone, and this is certainly one of those challenges. She understated.

 

The one thing I had going for me coming into this new experience was my familiarity with Tom Lehrer’s music. My father was a big fan of Lehrer’s, and had several of his earlier recordings, which we listened to as we were growing up. I remember laughing hysterically to “Masochism Tango” long before I had any idea of what it meant. Back in February, when I happened to be on the Olympic Theatre Arts website, I saw that this show was coming up and had a wild idea about auditioning for it.

 

I have no clue why, but I decided right then that if I summoned up the guts to audition, I would sing “The Elements,” a fairly frantically-paced list of 102 chemical elements, set to the tune of a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. My husband David (who obviously knows how to push some of my buttons) challenged me by claiming it was impossible to memorize such a song. His theory is that memorizing any song without anything repeated in it simply can’t be done. (Actually I had already disproved this theory when I memorized the wonderful song Waters of March.) I said, “Bet you $5 and a ham sandwich that Tom Lehrer memorized it; no way was he reading off a script while performing at that pace.”

 

So for the next 6 weeks or so, I worked on The Elements, and finally got to a point of being fairly comfortable with it (I’m not kidding) just a few days before the first audition in late March. We all sang our audition songs a capella, and I did in fact sing The Elements. I came back for a second audition a few days later, singing “We will all go together when we go” that time. I thought I did better at that audition but I was still totally taken by surprise a couple of days later when the director, Anna Andersen, notified me that I was going to be in the cast.

 

I am lucky enough to be part of an ensemble of seven, of which I am the one true novice. It’s been a bit intimidating being a beginner in a room full of professionals (she understated again), but I have learned a lot and certainly feel a lot more comfortable now. Having had quite a bit of public speaking experience over the last 5 years, I am used to being up in front of crowds of people. But believe me, this is WAY different. First of all, I am singing, not just talking on a subject I know well and taking questions. In addition, most of the songs (including my solo, The Elements) involve walking off the stage and on the floor in and among the audience. It is a very intimate setting, to my mind very conducive to this type of show.

 

The revue has 19 songs, solos and ensemble pieces, which I won’t tell you too much about because I want you to buy tickets and come see the show! It opens this Friday at 7:30 PM; call the box office between 1:00 and 5:00 PM at (360) 683-7326, or stop by to buy tickets. It’s a whole lot of show for only $10; I hope you can come to see it!

Craft Distilling wins!

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I actually didn’t even know my new book, Craft Distilling: Making liquor legally at home, was in the running for an award. So imagine my surprise when my publisher notified me last week that the book won a Bronze medal at the Independent Publishers Book Awards, in the how-to category (click the link and scroll to category 59).

 

Possibly I am unreasonably excited about this, but honestly I am thrilled. And very grateful. As you know, this is only my second book, and I am still learning a lot as I continue to write and navigate the publishing process. I remember reading somewhere that “Writing is an art, and publishing is a business.” While I understand that concept in my head, still I find it so interesting how the two combine to eventually produce something like a finished book. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I can’t take all the credit for this award; the wonderful people at New Society Publishers took a chance several years ago on a completely unknown writer, and after a lot of hard work on all sides, I am now the proud author of two books, and working on the concept for my third.

 

Those of you who follow me on Facebook have been a constant source of encouragement and support throughout this process. Thanks to all of you who have cheered me on, come to my speaking and signing events, and even bought my book! It might sound like a cliche, but I truly feel this has been, and continues to be, a team effort.

 

 

Bound for North Carolina!

Well, it’s that time of year again: Another Mother Earth News Fair happens this coming weekend in Asheville, North Carolina. This will be my first time at this venue, indeed my first time visiting North Carolina. Would you believe, this is my 12th Mother Earth News Fair since I had my first experience in public speaking back in 2011? Later this year I will be traveling to Oregon, Pennsylvania and Kansas to speak at the Fairs there, in addition to other local and out-of-state speaking engagements.

 

As you know, my second book, Craft Distilling, was officially released in January. Since then I have been keeping busy with events at bookstores, libraries, even a coffee shop or two. Mainly these events have been about promoting my books, but while it’s always nice to sell books, the most important part for me is connecting with people, answering questions, and getting feedback. Whether I’m in front of 10 people at a bookstore or 350 at a speaking event, I love these events and am grateful for every single opportunity to get out there, meet new people and share some of what I’ve learned in my 10 years of off-grid homesteading.

 

Also coming up are two presentations at the Port Angeles, WA library. On April 27 I will be doing a presentation on the basics of raising poultry; on May 19, the subject will be craft distilling. Both these talks are scheduled for 6 PM and will run about an hour, maybe a bit more depending on how many questions I get.

 

I hope you can make it to at least one of these events. It’s a great opportunity to learn a lot, for little or no cost, and maybe even buy a book. I would love to meet you, or catch up if we’ve already met, so save the dates and come on out!

In case you were wondering what I do in between speaking events…

Right now I have a few weeks at home before traveling to Asheville, North Carolina in early April to speak at the Mother Earth News Fair. I just finished up our income taxes and started pruning the old apple trees, while I mull how to organize a food garden around book promotion activities.

 

Periodically I go through my writing files, which mainly contain pages of ideas, half-written articles and essays, and a few finished pieces patiently waiting for me to do something with them. This is usually a fun exercise since I almost always come across something I’d more or less forgotten. The other day I skimmed a few of these files, moving a few to the “active” file (whatever that means). I’d like to think that this means I’m getting more ambitious about submitting articles every week to a wide variety of magazines, but actually it mostly means that I’m a bit saturated with the latest book project and want to turn my jaded eyes to something relatively fresh.

 

The other day I found a short essay I wrote a couple of years ago. Those of you who subscribe to Writer’s Digest probably know about the column they had on the last page called Reject a Hit. For those who don’t know, this column was open to submissions and invited writers to pretend they were a clueless editor who unwittingly rejected a book proposal from a famous author. For example, how would you like to have been the editor who decided War and Peace had no future? The columns were usually quite funny, and one day I had an idea about submitting a “rejection letter” myself.

 

Let me preface this by saying that I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone; in fact, I worked very hard to be as inoffensive as possible. The book I chose to “reject” was the Bible. (Not surprisingly, Writer’s Digest declined to print it, but they did send me a very encouraging personal rejection letter.) The reason I thought of writing about the Bible was mostly that it has obviously been a best-seller for many many years. My intent was definitely not to poke fun at anyone’s beliefs; like all submissions to this column, it was merely intended to poke fun at a mythical editor for not seeing the potential of a hugely successful book. I could probably have done more with this, but the column was limited to 300 words. And credit where it is due, my husband David gave me some valuable input and feedback. We had a great time with this, and the other day when I pulled it out of the file we had yet another good laugh over it.

 

Click on this link to read my submission, and please read it in the spirit in which it was intended.

5 down, 3 to go!

 

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I’m just catching my breath for a minute after three wonderful book events this past weekend. Friday night I was at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. It was a small group but the discussion was lively! For small groups I like to sit down there with the audience and just chat, and it worked out great. There were a lot of questions, and I got to tell a few stories about my adventures trying to obtain a distillery license, learning to distill liquor, and how I ended up working with WA State and Federal lawmakers to change the laws in favor of hobby distillers.

 

I love this kind of interaction with people. There are some questions I usually get at every presentation, but I almost always get at least one question I don’t know the answer to, so it’s a learning experience for me as well.

 

Saturday I was at Burien Books, a small bookstore in south Seattle. Sunday afternoon I spoke to a small group at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, on my way home to the Olympic Peninsula. That was another delightful conversation, lots of good questions, and Suzanne Selfors, the owner of the store, also joined in. I’m glad to be back home for a few days, but it was such a fun weekend talking with people about Craft Distilling.

 

Conversations like this positively energize me! For me these events are not just about selling books, although that of course is always nice. Ever since David and I moved to the farm back in 2006, we have been on a continuous journey of learning to do things differently, in keeping with our values and daydreams. Since early on in this process, we both have felt a responsibility to share what we have learned along the way. I never expected back then that I would now be writing books and traveling around speaking on sustainable-living topics, but here I am! So much of what I am doing now is part of that bigger picture of continuing to learn and to share our experiences with other people who are also trying to do things differently, a step at a time.

 

I’m so grateful for the opportunities I now have to make a contribution. I think everyone wants to feel that they are doing something that positively impacts someone else’s life. The events that I speak at are so much fun, the energy is so inspiring, because everyone is there to learn. Just now I am working hard at improving my skills at writing and speaking, as well as doing all I can to promote Craft Distilling. Thanks once again to New Society Publishers for giving me the chance to connect with a larger audience with two books (so far). And a huge thank-you to Mother Earth News, and my friend Jeannette Beranger at The Livestock Conservancy, who are responsible for my becoming a speaker back in 2011.

 

This coming Thursday, January 21, I will be speaking at Powells in Portland at 7:30 PM. Friday I will be at Third Place Books (Ravenna location) in Seattle at 7:00 PM. Rounding out the January schedule of book events will be Village Books in Bellingham, on Friday, January 29 at 7:00 PM. I hope you can come to at least one of these events, I promise they are always a lot of fun.

 

I have a lot more speaking events lined up for 2016, and I am truly excited and looking forward to each one of them!

Seattle book-launch events coming up this weekend

Most of the Craft Distilling book-launch events this month were scheduled several months ago, so it seems almost surprising that they are finally happening! I had a great time last week with events at Nash’s and Rainshadow Coffee in Sequim. This coming weekend the focus shifts to the Seattle area, with events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

 

I’m thrilled to have been invited to talk about Craft Distilling at Elliott Bay Book Company, a Seattle landmark since 1973. I will be there at 7:00 PM this Friday, January 15. On Saturday I will be at Burien Books from 1:00-3:00 PM, then round out the weekend at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo; that event starts at 2:00 PM. I will talk a bit about the book, and of course about distilling! Also I will be happy to take any questions you might have, as well as signing copies of Craft Distilling.

 

Next week’s events: I will be speaking at Powells in Portland on Thursday January 21 at 7:30PM, then I head back to Seattle for an event at Third Place Books (Ravenna store) on Friday the 22nd at 7:00 PM. For those of you who live north of Seattle, come see me at Village Books in Bellingham on Friday January 29 at 7:00 PM!

 

I truly enjoy these events. Anyone who knows me knows I love talking about anything I feel passionately about, and this is definitely one of those subjects. Please do come out if you can, it’s always a lot of fun. See you soon!

Craft Distilling book launch parties are just around the corner!

 

 

Craft Distilling is officially off-press! I got two copies of the book in the mail the other day, and I’m so excited to share it with you. I now have eight book-launch parties scheduled in January, including two at locations here in Sequim. Check the January page under Speaking Engagements for the latest event schedule.

 

There’s still a room in the calendar for signing events. I’d especially like to line up more local signings in Sequim or Port Angeles. No event is too small; book groups, librairies, your homebrew club or wine shop… I’d love to come talk about Craft Distilling and answer your questions. Contact me for more information or to book your event!

 

Craft Distilling book in production!

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It won’t be long now before my second book, Craft Distilling: Making liquor legally at home, goes to press! There’s still time to pre-order it at a discount from the publisher, New Society Publishers. Click here for more information or to pre-order.

 

As the production process moves along, I am also working on the legislative piece of the puzzle. The current laws, which prohibit distilling liquor without a license, are completely unfair to people like me. Why? Because they are designed specifically for commercial distillers. So what it amounts to is this: I am required to have a license to legally make distilled liquor, BUT they won’t give me a license unless I’m going to run a distillery as a business.

 

Turns out I’m the first person in Washington state to apply for a craft distillery license as a private individual. At this point I have read through all of the state legislation related to distilled liquor, and I was not all that surprised to discover how many of those provisions date back to around the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Some are clearly outdated considering we have been able to legally make beer and wine at home in this country since 1978 (thank you, Jimmy Carter!).

 

So I am on a mission to get the law changed. I have learned from my contact at the WA Liquor Control Board the reasons why the government considers distilled liquor to be different from making beer and wine, and I’ve come up with a proposal that addresses these concerns. The outline of my proposal is included in Craft Distilling. I’ve also included some of the history of liquor licensing and taxing in the US, which helps give some context to my argument that the laws are unfair and ought to be changed.

 

And, of course, Craft Distilling is mostly about distilling liquor! It is entirely written from my own experience, including the process I’ve been through with attempting to license my tiny farm distillery. You’ll learn what I’ve been learning, from mashing and fermenting to distilling whiskey, rum, tequila, brandy, gin and vodka. It’s been a fascinating process, and I can sure understand why distilling is such a popular hobby these days.

 

I recently learned that Craft Distilling is the first book on the subject written by a woman! I guess it’s not that surprising considering distilling is such a male-dominated industry. On the other hand, on the homesteads of the 18th and 19th centuries, it was usually the women who were running the family stills. Craft Distilling is also unique among recently-published books aimed at hobby distillers, in that it promotes making liquor legally. Of course, we have to get some laws changed to make this possible! I promise, I’m working on it. I knew even less about the legislative process than about distilling when I started this project, but in its way, it’s just as fascinating (and at least as slow) as distillation.

 

There are already several book-launch parties scheduled at bookstores in the Seattle and Kitsap Peninsula areas shortly after the scheduled publish date of January 12, 2016. Watch the “speaking engagements” page on this site for dates, times and places as we get closer to January. In the meantime, please pre-order Craft Distilling and enjoy the early-bird discount. Thank you!

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