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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Big Little Change Digest - November 2013

Weekly challenges Week 1 - go primitive and rough it.

My husband and I live in the mountains of North Carolina, in the no man's land between small towns of Hendersonville, Mountain Home, and Fletcher. There is no cable where we live - literally, they haven't pulled it this far up the mountain yet, the satellite reception is sketchy, and frequent thunderstorms often knock out electricity. As we are on a well, no electricity means no operational well pump, ergo, no water. Excessive rainfall also causes flooding, which makes it impossible for us to get down the mountain. The same thing happens when there is a snowfall or an ice storm - the roads become impassable and one must simply wait and be patient.

While this can all be rather inconvenient, we do our best not to freak out when these things happen. Keeping ice, drinking water, plenty of canned goods and firewood for the woodburning stove on hand is routine. People in this area are seldom daunted by having to haul water from the nearest creek or using camping stoves to prepare meals when mother nature is feeling cranky.

Of course, this area, with its mountains and vast national parks, draws many tree huggers, hikers and campers, because half the time, living here is like being on a camping trip where you can bring along your house. And you know what? I recommend it.

You can rough it by going hiking or camping, or you can try it at home, if you want a safety net. Consider what you would do if you had to entertain yourself without any electronic devices. What sort of a meal can you prepare on a grill or on a camp stove? Can you bake potatoes on hot coals?

And what about your kids? Are they so plugged in that they would go nuts without their game consoles and cell phones? What would you give them to do?

It's amazing how much you find out about yourself and people around you when you have to go without modern conveniences. It's also an excellent tool to prepare for true emergencies.

Week 2 - do your job as if you were your own customer.

Many years ago I worked as a project engineer for a small, privately owned food manufacturer Baldwin Richardson Foods. The company is still around - you can see their Mrs. Richardson's ice cream toppings and Nance's mustard at many grocery stores. This wasn't my first experience working in manufacturing environment, but definitely my first in the food industry. I was struck by how many safe-guards were put in place to protect every... single... container of product that came off the conveyor. It was unbelievable. It was then that I realized that for every scandal, every recall we hear about there are thousands, tens of thousands that are prevented every day.

Food is very personal. We can all believe different things, read different books, watch different movies, but we all have to eat. So, the attitude at that factory was that if we didn't take care of the wholesomeness and integrity of everything we sent out for distribution, it could be one of us or one of our loved ones to pick up a contaminated container of food off the shelf the next time we went grocery shopping. It was a very sobering thought, and the one that motivated most people who worked there to treat everything we produced as if it was going straight to their table.

Now, let's extrapolate this to all other jobs. I know not all of us work their dream jobs. I know how it can be. I have waited my share of tables, washed my share of cafeteria dishes, and done all manner of other menial tasks that had nothing to do with my education. Sometimes, such is life and such is necessity. But what if we all imagined that the job we were doing was for ourselves or for our friends, or spouses, or children?

Week 3 - know your buttons, hot and cold.

Isn't it amazing, how we can gracefully soldier through all manner of hardship, illness, breakup, and death, but sometimes a casually dropped comment by someone we don't even know very well can leave us feeling gutted? These days, with all the social media exposure, the latter can happen pretty much at any time. So, to save yourself some emotional energy, it helps to know what might set you off in the wrong direction.

There are, of course, the basics:

- know how much abrasiveness you can take in people and what they say.

- don't ask a question if you think you might not like the answer.

- if you choose to share something pertaining to a controversial topic, be prepared for some disagreements. Things like that happen. It's life.

In addition to knowing what stings you, it also helps to know what relaxes you and helps you feel better. Here is an example: as I mentioned before, like so many other people, I often go grocery shopping after work, which is always tough. There is an upscale consignment shop next to one of the grocery stores I go to. The store always has a beautiful window display, including gorgeous wedding gowns, pretty purses and hats, and vintage jewelry. I love beautiful things, and I know that looking at them always perks me up. So, when I pull out of the grocery store parking lot, I always make a point to drive by that consignment store and look at the window.

I also keep a wide selection of music in my car, and know exactly the effect each CD has on me. Opera Babes' "Beyond Imagination" is girl power. Garou's "Gentleman Cabrioleur" is sass. Elton John's "Good bye, yellow brick road" is a bit of rage and a bit of nostalgia. Knowing this allows me to either boost the mood I am in or change it, if necessary.

A positive trigger can truly be anything - a sight, a sound, a scent, even a touch, or a combination of some or all of the above. Identify your "good" buttons, and keep them handy.

Week 4 - whenever you are tempted to say "it's easy for you to say", don't.

The truth of the matter is that everyone has problems. Life is wonderful and exciting, but easy it is definitely not. Nor is it straightforward. Sometimes, the cheeriest exterior hides the darkest secrets and the worst tragedies. Some people like to wear their lives on their sleeve. Some don't. Nothing wrong with either way of handling life's challenges. However, one thing to remember is - just because someone doesn't complain as much doesn't mean they have nothing to complain about. They just choose not to.

So, please, never, never, never, assume that someone's life is easier than yours.

Week 5 - learn to ask for and accept help.

You will ask - but isn't it a contradiction with one of the prior weeks' challenges about being self-sufficient? Not really. It's the other side of the balance. Many of us struggle with this. Somehow, somewhere, someone pounded it into our heads that asking for help is a weakness, but forgot to explain the difference between constantly leaning on someone for assistance and knowing when to make do on your own and when to rely on others. As the result, we proceed to shoulder more and more, until we collapse - physically and mentally.

By all means - be independent, know your stuff, be tough, be brave. But also, know your limits, recognize it when you are starting to crack under pressure, and give people around you the benefit of the doubt. If you ask for help graciously, they will not laugh at you, they will not berate you for being weak or somehow deficient. There are tens of thousands of amazing stories out there about this very thing - people providing help, when and where it is needed, and everyone coming through a better person as the result.

So, this is your challenge - find that balance between self-sufficiency and ability to ask for help when needed, and accept it graciously when offered.

Member contributions

Simple pleasures can often surprise us. Yesterday I was taken off blackberrying, on the private land of someone we know slightly. I picked about 3 or 4 pounds of luscious blackberries (will be going for sloes in a few weeks) put the world to rights while we did so and when we went down to the river, we were greeted by a kingfisher. I now have a lot of blackberries to enjoy in the colder months and a lovely memory of a bright October afternoon, and a sense of having made the start of a friendship.

Last month I went to an organized food swap, which was great but required organization, a venue and many slips of paper. Here among our neighbors, barter is alive and well: we've received beans, tomatoes and beetroot in exchange for plums, apples and jam. Further afield, a kind person gave us a bottle of wine for 5 lb of damsons. And there is a person (not me) leaving bags of damsons on door knobs around the village!

I thought this was a real eye opener in terms of the differences between developing countries and first world countries. A photo series of one week's groceries in different parts of the world.

Excellent summary on what we can grow in the winter and still enjoy some fresh greens and veggies.

The Landshare program - sadly this is UK only, but maybe there's something similar in the States?

I know I have many nature lovers here in general, and wolf lovers specifically. If that is the case - this book is for you. We have a copy, and it is absolutely beyond marvelous.

A word from our resident Guinea Pig, "Natural guinea pig toys!!!! Forget those plastic thingies and mirrors and fleece tubes. Weee don't need things to play with. What makes MEEEEE happy??? TONS of timothy hay. I can make a pigloo and a tunnel and hidey house -- AND I can eat the hay!!!! Hay keeps me warm in winter and cool in summer, too. And it's good for me. It's got vitamins and roughage, and I can eat all I want without worrying about getting chunky, AND I can wear down my teeth. Rodent teeth grow continuously, you know. We need wear them down or else they get long and cause problems."

Got the latest Heifer catalog couple of days ago. Of course, instantly had fantasies of doing $15,000 to buy goats for a village, or $5,000 to do the Heifer ark. Unfortunately, not at this point - not yet. But I am definitely doing one of the easier ones - the chickens, the geese, or the rabbits.

Public service announcements

A source of medicinal herbs.

Information about local incentives, rules and regulations for using solar.

And a very happy Halloween to you all. http://simplemom.net/chocolate/

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