Writing Letters

It seems outdated, old fashioned, archaic, and all the other superlatives you can attach to it—writing letters, by hand, and then mailing them sees like something that no one does anymore. Contrary to common belief, letter writing isn’t completely dead in this electronic world of instant communication using text messages. I’ve been writing regularly to five people. Yes, I actually get out writing materials, write the letter by hand, and then put it in the mail. Of course, the question is why I’d do something so insane in this modern world. People I tell about my letter writing ask what I might possibly hope to achieve by doing so. In fact, some might even doubt my sanity.

There is something to be said for taking time to properly compose a letter. The physical effort required to write one, tends to make the value of each word more. A well-written letter is a joy to send and receive. Taking the time to pick and choose each word, to consider what really is necessary to say, makes a written letter different from e-mail or a text message. As the value of each word drops, so does the quality of the content. It’s something that has struck a chord in me as I’ve read the written missives and compared them to some of the e-mails I receive. Not every written letter is a good one and not every e-mail is poorly written, but generally, the written letters contain carefully selected, well-written material.

However, quality of content aside, there is something special about receiving a letter in the mail. There is the anticipation of sending one and the anticipation of receiving a response. Each trip to the mailbox is no longer a boring collection of bills and junk, but a contemplation of something that is truly wanted. It adds excitement to my day. As I’m getting older, I find that instant gratification lacks excitement, anticipation, and pizzazz. In order to be worthwhile, anticipation needs time to grow and mature. Hand written letters bring something back that has been lost, a kind of hope that is missing from modern society.

Even more important, a written letter stimulates the senses in ways that an e-mail can’t. I opened a box of letters the other day from my wife. She wrote them while I was in the service and I could still smell her perfume on some of them. You can’t perfume an e-mail. Her fine writing reminded me of her unique way of approaching life—the letters were both dainty and artistic. They had a flow that reflected her way of viewing life. E-mail lacks any of that sort of feel. The paper itself varied from letter-to-letter. Some of it was quite fancy; other pieces contained interesting pictures. However, each letter was unique in its own way, making the experience of reading it unique as well. All these ways of transmitting information are lost in the instant gratification of e-mail and many younger people will never experience the joy of opening a mailbox and finding a letter, a unique transmission of thought from one person to another.

One of the main arguments I hear against writing letters is the cost of doing so. After all, postage is incredibly high. I started thinking about that the other day and it doesn’t wash. Consider the cost of your Internet connection. Even an inexpensive plan would pay for quite a number of letters each month. Given the plan I have (a low cost 1 Mb/s DSL connection), I could write 40 letters every month and still not exceed what I’m paying for Internet. Actually, the mail service is still a bargain when you think about it.

This morning I also listened to a radio program that talked about the importance of the hand written letter in understanding the past. Some historians spend considerable time reading letters and drawing information out of them that probably isn’t available in an e-mail. Of course, most people erase their e-mails soon after they’re received, so there won’t be much in the way of historical data for historians in the future to use. E-mail tends to be temporary—letters can last for hundreds of years (and many do).

Of course, social media, texting, e-mails, and the Internet all have a purpose to fulfill. There are times when quick communication with a large number of people really is necessary. However, there is still a place for the more personal communication provided by hand written letters. Take time to write a letter to someone you care about today. Let me know your thoughts about hand written letters at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Caring for the Caregiver

I’ve received a torrent of e-mail about my previous post that offered a tribute to my wife (in fact, one friend wrote about the post in her blog as well). I appreciate all of your kind thoughts. It’s good to know that people do seem to care, especially when we so often seem to read news stories that tell us the world has become an incredibly uncaring place in which to live. I don’t plan to cover every detail about the journey Rebecca and I traveled, but she was sick for a long time—about 5½ years.

Most of that time I cared for her at home because I work from my house. Even so, it would have been impossible for me to care for her at home if a relatively large group of people hadn’t donated their time and resources to helping me. Caring for the caregiver is something you seldom hear about, but it’s an essential component of making home care of someone who is quite ill possible. A caregiver who is well supported by others can focus attention on the person in need, rather than constantly fending off requests (and requirements) for other needs.

I’m not going to name all of the people who helped me because I’d invariably leave someone out and hurt feelings that I never intended (nor wanted) to hurt. However, the group is relatively large and is made up of friends, family, people from our church, and hospice volunteers amongst others. In fact, some of these people probably helped without my knowing it and never asked for any thanks in return.

There is at least one incident where I know someone helped me and I don’t know who they are. I was in the hospital, waiting for word about my wife’s status, and fell asleep on an incredibly uncomfortable couch (it most assuredly was stuffed with rocks). I remember waking briefly as someone brought a pillow, helped me lay down, and covered me up. They simply said that I couldn’t help my wife if I made myself sick. If I said anything in response, I don’t remember it. I had been up for three days and was exhausted from the ordeal we had been through. I asked the hospital staff the next day about it and no one knew who might have helped me. If you’re that person and you’re reading this post, please accept my grateful thanks long after the help was offered.

My blog focuses quite a lot on self-sufficiency topics. However, no one is an island. Even the most self-sufficient person in the world is going to need help from someone at some time. Rebecca and I have actually received a lot of help over the years from a lot of different people. When our garden failed to produce something we really needed, we were often able to exchange something we had in excess for the item we needed. The act of interacting with others, helping others, meeting people’s needs in small ways is what makes life worth living. So, the next time you read that truly downer story in the newspaper, remember that this blog post exists. There truly is hope. A lot of people have cared for this caregiver in the past and I plan to help others in the future.

 

A Tribute to My Wife and Friend

Those of you who know me well understand the role that Rebecca has played in my life for the past 33+ years. We weren’t just husband and wife—we were also the dearest of friends. Over the years our love has grown substantially until it’s almost hard to define where one of us begins and the other ends. Everything in our lives was shared completely and there was no task that one did that the other didn’t participate in. Rebecca and I didn’t just live together, we worked and played together as well. If you have reviewed the posts in this blog very often, you’ll see that the two of use did absolutely everything together. People have grown used to seeing us working, playing, and living side-by-side. Today, all that has ended. My wife and friend has departed this life and gone to heaven.

Rebecca and I grew food together, preserved it, and then enjoyed the fruits of our labors during the winter months. When I went out fishing, she was there with me. One of us never went to the movies without having the other in tow. I cut the wood and she stacked it. Even in my writing, Rebecca was always there by my side doing her part. She did the proofreading, filing, research, phone calling, and a great many other tasks that were all necessary to make my books the great products they are. In short, she was a very dear part of me.

As part of her legacy, Rebecca was known as the cookie lady. She has made more cookies than anyone else I know and not just one or two kinds. It would be hard to count the number of different kinds of cookies she tried during her life. One thing is certain, they all tasted great. I never met a Rebecca cookie I didn’t like (and many other people can say the same).

Her loss will be felt a great deal by our community. Rebecca was always the public face that people saw. Everywhere she went she spread happiness and her smile is the stuff of legends. I often thought her smile was the best part of her. It’s the part that I’ll miss the most and she kept it until the very end.

It is with great sorrow that I bid her body farewell today, but her spirit will always remain a part of me. I’ll continue writing and practicing the self-sufficiency techniques that the two of use have created during our time together—to do any less would be unthinkable. I do need time to recover from such a great loss. Yes, I’ll try to continue providing you with great blog posts and yes, I’ll answer your reader e-mails as soon as I can. I hope that you’ll bear with me though because some delays are inevitable during this time of grief. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

 

A Diversity of Skills

A lot of people write me and ask what it’s like to be self-sufficient. After conversing for a while, I often get the feeling that they’re viewing self-sufficiency as just one or two skills. The more enlightened readers sometimes know that self-sufficiency is more than that. In reality, self-sufficiency requires a host of skills. The simple act of growing a garden and canning the results means that you must not only have gardening and canning skills, but you must also have other skills required to make the process work properly. Here are just some of the skills required:

 

  • Math: Yes, you must have math skills to figure out whether growing an item is economically worthwhile for you and to also perform those gardening and canning tasks.
  • Building: Creating a place to stored your canned goods is important. Most shelving you can buy in the store won’t hold up and you often need to build your own to maximize use of space.
  • Cleaning: Keeping the canned goods in good shape means cleaning the jars from time-to-time and examining each jar to ensure it’s still sealed.
  • Organization: Ensuring you rotate your stock and get rid of old stock is essential if you want to remain healthy. In addition, you need to know which items your larder lacks before planting your garden in spring.
  • Research: Often you need a solution to a problem and you need it fast. You eventually do create a store of knowledge that helps you overcome most problems, but it’s still important to know when your knowledge falls short and where to look for an answer to a problem that will work.
  • Creative: I often see puzzlement when I mention you must be creative to be self-sufficient, but the fact remains that you really do need creativity. Sometimes nature throws a curve and you must be willing to figure out what to do with unexpected gardening results.


The likelihood of just one person having all the skills required to be fully self-sufficient are relatively small. In fact, it’s often counterproductive for someone to go it alone. Having someone to work with isn’t absolutely essential, but it does help. On the other hand, having friends and other relations to discuss gardening with is essential. You can’t easily succeed without the input provided by other people because one person simply can’t see all the potholes and potential solutions for problems.

Self-sufficiency surprisingly requires good relationships with other people. Yes, you’re raising your own food and creating the kind of food store that you’ll enjoy eating later. However, the input from other people will help make the task significantly easier.

Of course, once I reveal this information to people, many of them bring up the wealth of books and magazines available on the market today. Yes, these resources truly are helpful and potentially essential. However, they discuss gardening and other self-sufficiency topics in a general way. Your friends and neighbors can discuss specific topics as they apply to your area of the world and can account for variances such as weather.

Have you maintained good relations with friends and neighbors who can help you create a better self-sufficiency environment? How do these sources of information help you? Let me know your thoughts on the topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Silent Conversation

He spoke not a word,
had nothing to say,
as we went out to work each day.

Yet he said it all,
revealed to me his mind,
that he was wise and humble and kind.

He spoke to me in riddles,
in sunsets and storms,
in billowing winds and still other forms.

We conversed in new born kittens,
using fresh mown hay,
and watching the birds so hard in their play.

The delight of a raindrop,
the rush of the wave,
filling a creek bed that snow melt gave.

In smelling the air,
odors both subtle and gross,
the churnings of nature that he loved the most.

And when the day was over,
he told me good night,
the only words spoken, made the day just right.

Copyright 2014, John Paul Mueller

Perfect Love (Reposted)

I had a number of requests to post this poem again for Valentine’s Day. It’s my hope that you find perfect love during this Valentine’s Day celebration.

Perfect love casts out my fear.
Keep your perfect love so near
that I never fear again.
Perfect love for you attain,
‘til my heart with love is filled
and my spirit never chilled.

All around the world I see,
how a perfect love could be,
an answer for mankind’s woes,
when hatred and evil flows,
fueled by fires of doubt and fear,
no one lets the other near.

Open eyes to perfect love,
gift of wonder from above.
A love that gives, never takes,
love that grants others mistakes,
that counts no loss and no gain,
that makes our hearts young again.

Copyright 2012, John Paul Mueller

 

Encouragement, A Self-sufficiency Requirement

I’ve received more than a few e-mails over the years about the seeming impossibility of working closely with a spouse in our self-sufficiency efforts. Actually, husband and wife working together toward a common goal used to be the normal experience—working separately is a modern event and one that probably isn’t very good for relationships at all. In Making Self-Sufficiency Relationships Work I talk about the need for respect. Doing simple things that mean so much when it comes to displaying your respect for the other person and not simply assuming the other person knows that you respect them. As important as respect is to a self-sufficiency relationship, encouragement is even more important.

Rebecca and I encourage each other daily in both small and large ways. A peck on the cheek when the other person looks down is just the tip of the iceberg—sometimes the other person needs a hug instead. Being the other person’s cheerleader is a major part of keeping the other person active so that the two of you can meet the requirements you’ve set for your self-sufficiency efforts. A little encouragement goes a long way toward making an impossible goal quite achievable. Doing the impossible with less than nothing at times has become a somewhat common occurrence in our relationship. Believing that you can do something is an essential element in actually doing it. Knowing the other person believes in you too tips the scales in your favor.

Of course, the other person can fail despite the best encouragement we can provide. When failure occurs, it’s time to think about the failure and assess what went wrong. There are actually benefits to failure and failure is a natural part of life. Sometimes a little more encouragement will help the person get back up and try again. Other times, you must conclude that you’ve learned one more way to avoid failure and move on to something new. The point is that failure doesn’t mean the encouragement or idea were ill conceived or wasted—it simply means that you need to do something different. The world is full of untried possibilities, so pick one and give it a try.

When it comes to self-sufficiency, partnering with someone who understands the benefits of both respect and encouragement is a far smarter choice than choosing someone with skills. Anyone can learn a skill—not everyone can encourage another person and there is most definitely a lack of respect between people today. If you’re just starting your self-sufficiency efforts, don’t become discouraged. Anything worth doing takes time and patience, and requires a partner who both encourages and respects you. Certainly, the two of us have done both for each other over these many years. Let me know your thoughts about encouragement and respect at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Harvest Festival 2013

Normally Harvest Festival is a well-organized event for us. I plan the time carefully and include a week out of the office to ensure I have time to harvest the last of the garden and all the fruit without problem. However, all the planning in the world won’t account for the vagaries of nature every time. Even though the Harvest Festivals in 2011 and 2012 went off precisely as planned, the Harvest Festival this year ended up being one emergency after another. It started when our fruit ripened three weeks sooner than expected—make that half the fruit. The other half of the fruit is ripening this week on schedule. The odd ripening schedule points out another potential issue with global warming, but more importantly, it demonstrates the requirement for flexibility when you’re self-sufficient. Yes, it’s possible to plan for a particular outcome, but what you get could be an entirely different story.

This year’s Harvest Festival was stretched out over three weeks while I continued to write and do all of the other things I normally do. (Fortunately, Rebecca was able to put many of the tasks she needs to perform on hold.) Of course, the dual work requirements made for some really long hours. Creating an enjoyable work environment is one of things that Rebecca and I work really hard to obtain. It’s part of our effort to make our close relationship work. So, this Harvest Festival included all of the usual music and other special environmental features we normally have. Lacking this year was much in the way of game playing, but it was a sacrifice we needed to make.

One of the bigger tasks we took on this year was processing four bushels of corn that someone gave us (all in a single day). Actually, the corn came from a few different sources, but the majority came from a single contributor. Of course, we started by husking the corn and getting all of the silk off.

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The next step is to cut all of the corn off the cob. This step can be a little tricky. You need a moderately sharp knife around 8″ long. If the knife is too sharp, you’ll take off some of the cob with the kernels. A knife that is too dull will damage the corn and make a huge mess. The knife needs to be long enough so that you can remove the kernels safely—a pairing knife would be an unsafe option.

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We use a raw pack approach when working with the corn. You want to be sure to pack the corn firmly, but not crush it. Rebecca always takes care of this part of the process because she has just the right touch.

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Each pint or quart is topped off with boiling water at this point. We don’t add anything else to our corn. The corn needs to be processed in a pressure canner because it’s a low acid food (the processing time varies, so be sure to check your canning book for details, we rely on the Ball Blue Book and have never had a bad result).

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We had four fresh meals from the four bushels of corn. There is nothing quite so nice as corn roasted on the barbecue. We also gave the chickens an ear (plus all of the cobs). They seem to have quite a good time pecking out all the kernels.

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Even with these few subtractions, we ended up with 42 pints (each pint will last two meals using the recommended serving size of ½ cup) and fourteen quarts (used for soup and for company) out of the four bushels of corn. As a result, we have enough corn in the larder now for about 1½ years (a total of 140 servings).

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Our Harvest Festival this year included processing pears, grapes, apples, a wide variety of vegetables, and even some of the meat chickens (125 ¾ pounds worth on a single day). The point is that we did get the work completed and we did it while still having as much fun as is possible. We’re both admittedly tired and still resting up. Still to come is the garden cleanup and the wood cutting, and then we’ll have an entire winter to rest up for next spring. Let me know about your latest self-sufficiency emergency at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Vacation Time Again!

Today is my last day in the office for a little over two weeks. Of course, I’ll still be doing quite a lot, but it won’t be in the office. I’ll see you again on July 15th. In the meantime, it’s time to rest for a while and recharge my batteries so I can continue to do a great job helping you with various technology and self-sufficiency issues. I’ve written about the need to unplug before and I highly recommend that everyone do it from time-to-time. Life is too short to spend all of it in front of a computer monitor .

In the meantime, if you do encounter problems with one of my books, please be sure to check the blog posts I’ve provided. Each one of my current books has its own category with a number of helpful posts about issues readers have encountered. If the posts don’t quite do it for you, be assured that I’ll start reviewing and answering e-mail the moment I return. I want to be sure you have a great reading experience and discover as much as you can.

While you’re reading, I’ll be fishing and gardening (amongst other things). There will be a picnic or two and barbecuing every day. The annual puzzle is a big event (and I may actually review the puzzle when I get back). Most of all, I’ll spend the time with my lovely wife, and that’s the most important part of all.

 

No, I Don’t Know Everything

A reader was taken aback the other day when I uttered the words, “I don’t know.” Three little words (actually four, since one of them is a contraction) seemed to send this poor soul reeling. As an author, I often need to utter those words because it’s a fact that I truly don’t know everything. If I did, life would be boring because there would be no challenge. Looking at the situation logically, there isn’t any way for me to read the daily output of millions of computer scientists—it’s physically impossible. Comprehending and remembering all that output would be a gargantuan task inconceivable in its execution. Keeping up with a modicum of that output is still an immense undertaking, but one I do with joy and a desire to know more.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a societal enmity toward those words. For a professional to utter, “I don’t know” seems to diminish the professional’s stature both with peers and those the professional serves. We expect our professionals to have answers (the correct ones) at all times, which is clearly unattainable. Yet, uttering those words requires courage and someone uttering them should be admired for being truthful, at least.

Of course, uttering the words and doing something about the utterance are two different situations. Generally, after uttering the phrase, I feel obliged to do something about it, assuming that the question is within my purview of interests (which range widely). Most professionals, curiosity piqued, will delve into the abyss and come back with an answer after some period of study. However, by that time the questioner has often pursued other interests, leaving the professional to wonder whether the question really was important.

The answer is always important, if for no other reason than the professional has added new knowledge and opened new avenues of intellectual exploration. Even so, a little patience on the part of the questioner would have been nice. Any voyage of discovery takes time, no matter how mundane the trip might appear at first. In fact, many of my most memorable discoveries came as the result of a seemingly routine question on the part of a reader.

When I utter the words, “I don’t know” to you as a reader, it doesn’t mean I lack experience or knowledge—it simply means that I haven’t yet explored the area of information you desire. In many cases, I’ll take time at some point to explore the area and present you with my opinion on it, but you’ll have to be patient until I’m able to discover the answer for you. In the meantime, it’s my hope that you’ll continue to ask questions that cause me to utter, “I don’t know.”