Chickens at Play

A lot of people see chickens as being confined to a particular area and quietly pecking at the dirt for most of their lives. Meat chickens do have a certain lack of personality and do spend most of their time eating. However, laying hens are a completely different story. Depending on the breeds you get, you can see a wide range of interesting behaviors, some of which are quite funny.

There are still some snow hills in our yard. The other day I was looking out our kitchen window at one of them and there was a chicken at the top pecking into the top of the hill. She was obviously eating some of the ice in order to get a drink. However, it wasn’t long and another hen ran up the hill and knocked the first hen off. Now she was going after the ice. Soon, there was a general melee as different chickens proclaimed herself the queen of the hill. I was laughing so hard that I nearly dropped some dishes I was putting away. The hens looked so intent about their play and so funny at the same time.

A few days later I was out pruning our pear trees. Suddenly, one of the chickens (Daisy, an Americana) started clucking quite loudly—the sort of cluck that says, “Hey, I’ve done something really cool!” She jumped over the top of the run fence and waddled as quickly as she could to me, clucking intensely all the way. Then she curtsied. So, I petted her and told her was a good chicken she is, but the action didn’t satisfy. As I tried to go back to work she shrieked at me and curtsied again. So, I picked her up and took her back to the coop. She had laid a beautiful blue egg for me and wanted me to know just how beautiful it was. So, I accepted the egg and made a big deal over just how good a chicken she is, which seemed to satisfy her this time. Just why this particular egg was so special is beyond me.

Later in the same day, Violet, our Black Australorp, was making one of her usual speeches. She’s the queen of the coop and when she speaks, the other chickens listen. Just was she was saying on this particular occasion is beyond me. However, she was in fine form and rattled off quite a long discourse on something only other hens would care about. The other hens gathered around her and listened intently, murmuring to themselves in agreement with whatever it was that she was discussing.

There is seldom a day when our chickens don’t do something interesting and special. Even if they didn’t produce copious eggs, I’d keep them around just for the laughs they provide. I actually consider them an essential part of my health plan now. A laugh a day keeps the doctor at bay. If you do get laying hens, make sure you take time to enjoy their behaviors—you’ll be glad you did! Let me know about your interesting chicken stories at [email protected].


Waiting for Spring Weather

As I write this post, it’s a balmy 17 degrees outside my window (a mere 3 degrees with the wind chill). It’s definitely not tree pruning weather. At least, it isn’t comfortable tree pruning weather. Of course, that’s the problem of spring-trying to find time to get the tree trimming Roanoke done in weather that doesn’t promise frostbite (at least, not immediately). There is always a race that occurs. On the one hand, you have trees that are on the verge of waking up and you need to prune them before that happens. On the other hand, you have old man winter sticking around just long enough to make life difficult.

Trying to figure out the best time is made even more difficult by the weather conditions. It pays to have some sunlight when you prune so that you can see bug infestations on the trees and pick them off. For example, this is the time of year you want to find the egg clusters of the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. However, you don’t want full sun either. For the most part, you’re looking up into the trees to see where to prune next. If the sun is constantly in your eyes, you may not prune the tree correctly (not removing enough or removing too much). So, finding a partly cloudy day when the temperatures aren’t too extreme during the most perverse weather of the year can prove difficult, if not impossible. All this also assumes you can drop everything else to do the pruning. I know that some tree removal companies can also do pruning, and those who are unable to maintain their own trees for whatever reason may well choose to make use of such a service, but I quite like doing it by myself so, for now, that is what I shall continue to do.

Generally, I find that the perfect weather is nearly unattainable and settle for something that works. A little too warm is better than not warm enough, but I also have my handy wood stove to warm up in front of should things get too cold. A little hot chocolate or broth goes a long way toward making less that perfect weather endurable. Truth be known, pruning is normally a cold affair that’s enjoyable simply because the snow has abated and there is the promise of warmer weather to come.

Of course, what warms us most this time of year is the hope of spring. Even with the weather the way it is today, you see all the indicators that spring has arrived. My personal favorite is the birds; at least, until our Easter garden starts to bloom. What is your personal favorite indicator of spring? Let me know at [email protected].

Understanding the Effects of REM Sleep on Writing

A lot of people wonder how authors sometimes make the creative leaps they do in books. Of course, part of it is natural gift. Writing does involve some element of innate ability-a requirement that has been proven to my satisfaction more than a few times. Another part of the creative leap is mindset. When you spend a great deal of energy looking for something, you’re bound to eventually find it. We can target how our minds process information and therefore, control the resulting output to some degree. Hard work also comes into play-the best authors research their topic heavily (even in the fiction arena).

However, the obvious factors alone can’t account for the creative leap. Something more is at work than these elements. Over the years I’ve come to understand that part of what makes me a good author is my subconscious. An ability to take information stored during my waking hours and turn it into patterns as I sleep is part of the writing process for me and most likely many other authors as well (whether they realize it or not).

Sleep alone isn’t enough to generate the informational patterns, however. Over the years I’ve read articles such as REM Sleep Stimulates Creativity and Sleeping on it – how REM sleep boosts creative problem-solving. In fact, because the topic interests me so much, I’ve probably read a hundred or so such articles and a few books as well (such as, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative). Getting sufficient Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is an essential part of the creative process. In graphing my own productivity over the years, I’ve found a correlation between the quantity of REM sleep (and most especially, remembered dreams) and the quality of my output. Sometimes quantity is also affected by REM sleep, but the best writing I’ve done is when I’ve had enough REM sleep.

The onset of REM sleep usually occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. The sleep cycle varies between light and REM sleep depending on the person. A number of other factors also seem to play a role in my own personal sleep cycle. For example, I tend to get more REM sleep after a day of moderate physical exertion, mixed with plenty of research time (non-writing time). Marijuana is also known for its ability to help users get some sleep. Keep in mind that the amount needed for successful onset of REM sleep will differ from one person to the other. That being the case, if you are searching for answers to how much is a nickel of weed or similar questions related to marijuana units then explanations provided in BuyMyWeedOnline might help with your understanding.

Eating no more than two hours before I go to bed is also a factor and I also try to create a restful environment conducive to sleep. In fact, more than once I’ve taken a two hour nap after performing research to overcome writer’s block. The technique works quite often. (Shorter nap times don’t appear to provide any advantage because the REM sleep cycle may not even occur or is of insufficient length to derive a solution to the problem at hand.)

As part of the dreaming cycle, I’m often able to employ lucid dreaming techniques (or what is commonly called directed dreaming). However, more often than not I simply wake with the answers to the questions I had when I went to sleep and quickly write them down. It’s a technique authors have used successfully over the centuries to great effect.

The point is that REM sleep is a required component for many creative endeavors. It’s not just authors who require REM sleep, but anyone who is involved in any sort of creative effort. A lack of REM sleep may be why engineers on a team are unable to create a useful solution to problems or why developers write buggy code. There is certainly nothing mysterious about the process, except why more people don’t employ it. I’ll admit, I sometimes struggle with my REM cycles which actually made me look into pages such as this overviewing how to get your Arkansas marijuana card, recently I’ve become interested to see how medical marijuana could impact my REM sleep and therefore lead me to a more energized healthy life too.

For some people, sleep as a whole, let alone REM sleep, can be difficult to achieve. Things like insomnia can mean that sleep is a real challenge, and therefore REM sleep is unachievable. Things like turning off electronics before bed or looking into new mattresses like the Best Latex Mattress Australia based can help. Hopefully, with these small lifestyle changes, you too can achieve REM sleep and increase your problem-solving skills.

What is your take on REM sleep? Do you ever stuff your head full of information and then go take a nap to solve problems? If not, would you be willing to give the technique a try after reading this article? Let me know your thoughts (and the results of any experiments) at [email protected].

Working with Procedures

Procedures, a description of how to perform a task, form the backbone of most non-fiction books and even appear sometimes in fiction books. The process of doing something is the reason that many people buy a book. It’s important to realize that most people buy books to fulfill a need—often to save time and effort. Yes, it’s important to present information in the most professional manner possible, but the accuracy and completeness of the information you provide is actually more important.

Some authors make the mistake of thinking that books only contain one type of procedure. This perception can be reinforced by books that follow a certain style in order to create a book brand that offers the reader a consistent experience. However, authors can actually choose from a wide range of procedure types:


  • Numeric Steps: Step-by-step procedures are the kind that most authors think about immediately. This type of procedure has the benefit of clarity and of a visual presentation that the reader will understand quickly. However, they lack depth and when an author needs to explain a process in detail, numeric steps can become cumbersome and difficult to use. In addition, numeric steps are often limited to just two or three levels and some processes may require additional levels.
  • Running Commentary: The author places each step in an individual paragraph. The first sentence normally provides an overview of a more complex process that the step must fulfill. This type of procedure allows the author to provide much needed detail and to emphasize information in ways that would be difficult using numeric steps. In addition, this kind of procedure is often viewed as friendlier and more accessible by the reader (especially novices who want to learn a process in detail). Unfortunately, the reader will have a hard time finding this sort of procedure because it doesn’t generally stand out from the rest of the text. In addition, this form doesn’t offer levels, as such. It’s basically a single level procedure.
  • Outline: A complex process could be explained using an expanded outline format. Each heading is an individual step. Depth is achieved through the use of subheads and the number of layers is limited only by the number of heading levels (generally between four and six) that a book design accommodates. Readers can usually recognize this sort of procedure visually, especially if the headings include numbers to indicate steps. The problem with this format is that it tempts the author to provide too many unneeded details, a wealth of asides, and even to get completely off track.
  • Graphic: Some processes aren’t easy to describe using a written procedure. It’s possible to use a flowchart or organizational chart format to describe many processes in a manner that the reader can grasp almost immediately. The down side to this kind of procedure is that the author must be extremely terse. There is only so much space for text in a graphic procedure.
  • Hybrid: Using links makes it possible to combine approaches when necessary. For example, a graphic procedure could include references to pages that contain detailed information. The pages could then employ any of the other procedure formats to enhance the detail offered by the graphic format. In fact, it’s possible to link multiple graphic presentations so that one flows into another.

These are just a few of the common offerings at an author’s disposal. There are many ways to format a procedure so that it conveys the information the reader needs in precisely the right way. Experimenting with procedural formats will help you hone your skills and to choose just the right form for your readers. Let me know if you have any questions about writing procedures at [email protected].


Possum’s Surprise

Little possum thought it best,
to spy out eggs in the chicken’s nest.
So in he swooped,
to the chicken coop,
to see what he could find.

The chickens took,
just one look,
a nod, a wink, a little blink,
and possum found trouble before he could think.
His tale is one of woe.

Before he knew,
just what to do,
the chickens came thumping down,
and broke his crown,
they pounced and pecked and tore.

Possum growled and hissed,
his exit missed.
As round and round he tore,
he missed the door.
The chickens pressed their advantage sore.

It was with relief,
the respite brief,
as the farmer came to seek,
the sounds of noisy chicken’s beaks,
and gave possum his chance to leave.

Never again will possum seek,
the eggs so sweet.
He’ll look for easier prey,
during the day,
in the woods he knows so well.

Copyright 2014, John Paul Mueller


Replacing Salt and Sugar with Herbs, Spices, Color, and Texture

A lot of books and articles you read talk about giving up salt and sugar in order to maintain good health and ultimately save money in the form of reduced medical expenses. The whole problem with the approach that is taken most often is that people end up with boring, bland food that a normal person wouldn’t feed to anyone. If you really want to make positive changes in your diet, then you need to do something positive. The excessive salt and sugar in many people’s diets today are viewed as a negative by the medical community—simply telling someone to reduce their intake won’t have an effect because it’s a negative request. What the emphasis should be on is to replace sugar and salt with something positive. Making meals an explosion of the senses so that the salt and sugar aren’t even missed is key.

Herbs and spices are your first line of defense against excessive salt and sugar use. For example, adding four parts cinnamon, two parts nutmeg, and one part cloves at a level you can just barely taste to meats will allow you to reduce your salt usage on that food by at least half, if not more. Give it a try and you’ll find that you enjoy your meat a great deal more. Another good combination is a mix of 3 parts garlic, two parts rosemary, two parts ground ginger, and one part orange peel. This mix works especially well on white meats. Don’t overdo it—a little goes a long way. Try increasing the amount of the mixture until you can just taste it and then cut the salt dramatically (by half is a good starting point). When working with herbs and spices, the idea is to provide your nose and mouth with something interesting that will maintain your attention throughout the meal.

Some herb and spice combinations require a heavier touch. For example, when using a mix of rosemary, sage, and thyme on chicken, you want to add enough to really season the meat. A mix of paprika and garlic on pork should be somewhat heavy. Everyone has different tastes (and it would be a really dull world if we didn’t). Experiment with various combinations to see what meets your needs best. The point is to provide your mouth and nose with something interesting and stimulating.

While you tantalize your taste-buds and waft through a sea of smells, you should also give your eyes something that appeals to them. Color is essential in meals. Meat and potato combinations are blah—you have to salt them just to get rid of the sad look of such a meal. A better choice is to have a small amount of meat and possibly potato (try substituting brown or wild rice for potatoes whenever possible), but to also have some reds, greens, oranges, blues, and purples in there. For example, purple cabbage is a great addition to a meal because it has a wonderful color that doesn’t cook out and an amazing taste. There are also useful staples to a meal such as corn, carrots, green beans, and peas. Try supplementing these staples with kohlrabi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and Swiss chard (to mention just a few). The Swiss chard actually comes in a number of beautiful colors. Make your meals a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach and you’ll find that you need both less sugar and less salt to satisfy.

Most people have probably read about the use of herbs, spices, and color to make meals more interesting, but the one factor that is left out most often is texture. The simple addition of mushrooms or nuts to a meal can make the entire experience of chewing so much better. These items also add flavors and smells all their own. However, the use of texture also affects the eyes and even the sense of touch. Your hands will become involved in the eating process because forking up green beans alone is much different than forking up green beans garnished with sliced almonds or mixed with mushrooms. In some cases, even hearing becomes involved, especially when you add crunch to the collection of textures. Corn mixed with colorful sweet peppers is so much better than corn alone. Rice with walnuts and raisins tastes a whole lot better than just plain rice.

The bottom line is that you really shouldn’t be giving anything up—you should be replacing just two negatives (salt and sugar) in your diet with a whole host of positives. Over the past six weeks we’ve managed to get by without adding any sugar or salt to our diet. At this point, we don’t even notice that they’re missing. In fact, some foods simply seem too salty or sweet to enjoy at this point. Give it a try and let me know your thoughts about replacing the negative items in your diet at [email protected].


Odd Nature of Chicken Eyes

When it comes to thinking about how input is perceived, few people think about chickens. However, the whole range of perception has attracted my attention because I see the topics as being interrelated in various ways. I find it interesting that chickens actually have a kind of vision that most of us can’t really imagine. For one thing, instead of the orderly array of cones that humans have, chickens have a disorderly set of cones that actually rely on a different state of matter from those in human eyes. Chickens see color better than humans do and they see a wider range of colors. Humans see red, green, and blue. Chickens see red, green, and blue as well, but they can also see ultraviolet and have a special motion detecting cone (for a total of five cone types to our three).

There are a number of reasons I’m interested in the topic. Of course, we raise chickens and the more I know about them, the better. My interest goes way beyond just raising the chickens though. When I wrote Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements, I experimented with all sorts of techniques for improving a human’s ability to interact with the world. A lot of people might think the book is focused on special needs, but really, it’s focused on accessibility of all sorts for everyone. When a hunter uses a scope to see a long distance in order to hit a mark, it’s a form of interaction that could easily fall into the accessibility category. The hunter is compensating for the lack of long range vision by using a scope (an accessibility aid of sorts). The scientific examination of chicken eyes could lead to discoveries that will help us create accessibility aids that will allow humans to see a vast array of new colors naturally, rather than through color translation (where a color we can’t see is translated into a color we can see), as is done now.

The potential for such study goes even further. Most people don’t realize that men are naturally less able to see color than women. For example, 8 percent of men are colorblind, but only 1/2 of one percent of women have the same problem and usually to a lesser degree. Even odder, some women possess a fourth cone so they can see a vast array of colors that most people can’t even imagine. Only women have this ability. However, it might be possible to provide men with the same color perception through the use of an accessibility aid—one possibly modeled on the research done on chicken eyes.

The ways in which this research could help us out are nearly endless. For example, we rely on the superior smell capabilities of trained dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs. Chickens, as it turns out, can be trained as well (not to the degree that dogs are trainable, unfortunately). It might be possible to train chickens to alert to color discrepancies that only they can see. We could use trained chickens in the same way we currently use dogs.

There are other ways in which this research could benefit us. The actual chemistry of a chicken’s eye is unique. Studying the chemistry and discovering how it works could yield new compounds for us to use.

We look at various animals and think they’re only useful in one way. However, the more time I spend interacting with our animals, the more I come to realize that they really are useful in a host of ways. The next time you look at a laying hen, consider the fact that she can see things you’ll never even imagine. Let me know your thoughts about chickens, the unique nature of chicken eyes, and accessibility at [email protected].


Having a Reader Focus

I get a number of reader e-mails each month about writing in general and becoming an author in specific. A lot of people write to say that they feel they have one or two books in them. In fact, it’s entirely possible that most people have one or two books that they could write, but becoming an author is more than simply having a good idea. In fact, it’s more than even having talent or education. Yes, good ideas, talent, and education all help, but what an author really needs is a reader. Actually, a whole bunch of readers is important.

When I start to consider a new book idea, I write down goals, topics, and needs that a reader would have (see my post entitled Developing the Reader Profile). There is none of me in that list. It’s the reason I spend so much time encouraging you to write. The more I know about you, the more often I interact with you, the better I become as an author. The whole purpose of writing a book, any book, is to serve the reader. Fiction books provide entertainment and possibly some enlightenment, while non-fiction books tend to educate, enlighten, and possibly entertain the reader. A book that doesn’t serve the reader is doomed to failure. That’s why many vanity books fail. Most vanity books are written to serve the author, not the reader.

It’s fairly common for me to write back to someone about their book idea and get a response that discusses an author need. In all reality, it’s a human response. Giving up self in order to serve another, especially someone who you have never met (and may never meet), is one of the hardest parts of becoming an author. Writing is about helping others in some way, not about making money or becoming famous. There are millions of authors, but there is only one Isaac Asimov (replace Isaac with your favorite author). Authors who make tons of money and achieve lasting fame are extremely rare, but the contributions made by authors as a whole to society could never be met by the few famous authors out there.

Of course, I don’t mean to discourage anyone either. Creating a piece of literature that helps even one person is a rewarding experience. The thank you e-mails I receive each month are worth their weight in gold. It’s not that I want applause—it’s simply makes me happy to know that some bit of information I have learned the hard way has helped someone else do something interesting.

Developing the relationships I have with readers has also helped me considerably over the years. I’ve learned a great deal about places I’ll never see from people I’ll never meet. Working with people from various countries has also broadened my horizons and has enabled me to see things from different perspectives. All of these benefits, and many more, come to the author who has a reader focus. If you really want to be successful, make sure you write for the right reasons and with the correct viewpoint. Let me hear your reader focus questions at [email protected].