Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Monday With a View

by Zinta Aistars

An office with a view, Z Acres

For years, I've joked about it whenever I have been at a job interview. I am seeking the job that makes me love a Monday. Only I wasn't really joking. That really was my goal, even as I knew, one after another, that the jobs I have taken over my career path have not provided that.

Don't get me wrong; I have held some really wonderful positions at some really wonderful companies, organizations and institutions. So much so that most of the clients I have listed for my first months of work at my new writing and editing business, Z Word, are those same previous employers.

I don't burn bridges. I haven't needed to. When I recently received emails from a few other writers and would-be writers, dreaming of doing the same thing of going full-time freelance, asking me how I am going to "pull this off," I could only respond: by doing what I have been doing all along. Working hard, working well, meeting deadlines, giving my utmost to provide the copy a client needs and wants. I'm doing that with the people, for the most part, who already know me and my work, and with whom I have built a strong reputation, building block by building block, to reach this place of take-off.

What is going to change is that I moved my office. And oh, is it ever an office with a view! Better than a corner office. Z Acres, my headquarters, a ten-acre farm in southwest Michigan, has all four corners covered, north, south, east, west. If I wish, I can just as easily work outside, on the deck, on the screened-in porch, or sitting on a blanket in the shade of a tree.

Even on a rainy day, the view is beautiful ...

I've had some pretty nice offices over the years, but nothing beats this. Z Acres played a great part in inspiring me to finally make the move to establishing my own business, as I realized when my last employer commented to me how she has noticed that I am most productive on the days I work from home ... and she was absolutely right. No long and wearying commute up and down the interstate. No frustrating waits at traffic lights or caught in traffic jams. No waste of time and energy and money preparing for the work day, fussing with hair and makeup and choosing the day's wardrobe. No long hours spent in meetings where little gets accomplished. No office politics.

Not that I won't have to drive out to meet and interview clients from time to time. When I interview people for an article, for instance, I often feel that seeing someone in his or her element, in that person's own comfort zone, adds an important element to my finished piece. That's why I avoid phone interviews whenever it is reasonable to do so.

But I've noticed that many of my new clients are asking to meet me at MY office. They want to come out to Z Acres to talk to me, and they are willing to drive long miles to get here. No argument from me! I love to share my great space. I have seen it many times over the past months of living here, how people transform the moment they arrive, stress peeling away, weight lifting from shoulders, frown lines fading from foreheads. People plant themselves into the lounge chairs on my deck and heave a great sigh, relaxing, maybe for the first time in a long time.

And we begin to talk. About work, about what my client wants me to accomplish with various ideas that need to be wrapped in good words, or I begin my interview with questions that will give me the information I need to construct the copy. A great office (with a view) matters. It matters in putting my clients at ease, and it matters in putting me at ease so that I can focus fully on my work.

Keeping long hours at Z Acres

I realize Mondays have lost their sting. Now that I am on my own schedule, week days shift. I may do more writing on a Sunday, put my feet up on a Monday, schedule an interview for an evening hour rather than business hours. The important thing is that I have kept the part of my work that I have always enjoyed the most, and I have pared away the parts I enjoy least.

Work is not a bad thing. Work is an honorable part of our lives. When we do the work we love, or "follow our bliss" as Joseph Campbell puts it, it rejuvenates us rather than exhausts us. Work adds meaning to our days. It is when work becomes the drudgery of merely earning a paycheck that we begin to tire and long for the weekend.

Granted, sometimes it is necessary to do work that is less than satisfactory in providing challenge and fulfillment. I've done some of that. As long as we consider it a building block to something better, it may be necessary to pay those dues. What I am doing now, heading into self-employment, is the culmination of many, many jobs that came before, of a network built since my earliest years, of a reputation built on meeting deadlines and providing strong copy over and over and over again.

Who knows what the future holds? Right now, heading into my first month, my calendar is full, and the work is bountiful. Will that hold? Will there also be quieter months when it is hard to find work? Undoubtedly. The first thing to go when one is self-employed is the security and stability of a steady paycheck, arriving like clockwork. There is definite risk in going it alone, without the protective umbrella of a big company overhead.

I'm willing to take that risk. All in exchange for a Monday that has become my favorite day of the week, and a ten-acre office with an endless view. 

A Z Acres sunset

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Z Word on Facebook

"Not just any word. Z Word."

Here it is, Z Word on Facebook.

As I revamp my website to reflect my fast developing writing and editing service, called Z Word, I am simultaneously expanding its social media reach. Because, as well all know, that's one of the ways that people network today. We have a strong web presence, we Tweet, we show our face on Facebook.

Z Word is and isn't new. After all, I've been writing and editing, well, forever. Here a bit, there a bit, evening hours and weekends. Now, at long last, I am cutting the cord with other employers and making a life on writing and editing alone. Z Word, LLC, is to become my full-time work. I am tucking my online literary magazine, The Smoking Poet, under its umbrella.

Not an easy move, as it has taken decades of working for others to establish myself on ground that won't collapse underneath me at first dry month of income. Someone asked me recently, how do I do it? That isn't easy to answer. The passion began for the child, always knowing who I was, a writer, and what I love to do, where I find my bliss--in a good word, finely turned. It never occurred to me to do anything else. Every step along the way was toward this goal.

Follow that child's dream up with a lifetime of that writing and editing here, there, everywhere I could get my word in edgewise. A lifetime of placing work in markets that would have me. Building block upon building block. Where does it begin and where does it end? It simply expands. And I have been blessed to work for others as a writer and editor for a very long time before taking the skydive alone. I've worked as writer and editor for higher education, health care and as a contractor for various profit and non-profit businesses, always learning something more to hone my skill.

At last, I could check off all the prerequisite boxes. I am ready. Even having the "office" in place, my beloved Z Acres, the headquarters that keeps on giving. Not a small thing. This office with a view (ten acres deep in the country) gives me courage, strength, respite and inspiration to work at my craft. I even bring the occasional client here.

Will I succeed? Watch and see. Better yet, hire me. Here's what I do:

Zinta offers freelance writing and editing services in:
Ad copy
Annual reports and company overviews
Book reviews
Family history
Fortune magazine's ranking applications (100 Best Places to Work)
Manuscript editing
Marketing plans
Media relations
Press releases
Resumes and cover letters
Social media
Web copy
Visit for more information, writing samples, references.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blink-and-you'll-miss-it Village of Hopkins

Finally, a Saturday that isn't busting my chops with deadlines and projects, duties and responsibilities. I hardly know what to do with myself. But that lasts only a moment. Because of living long in the shadow of deadlines and projects, duties and responsibilities, my second tier to-do list is long. Very long.

  1. Wash dog
  2. Make blackberry jam
  3. Catch up with filing
  4. Weed garden
  5. Write the 15 book reviews still pending
  6. Prepare for tomorrow's interview for article to write
  7. Research for radio interview
  8. Revamp blog and website
  9. Visit Hopkins library and get library card
  10. and so on
  11. and so forth
  12. ad infinitum
Those last several items look suspiciously like deadlines and projects, duties and responsibilities. Yes, there is always something to do. Regardless, I start the blissfully cool Saturday early morning with a cup of coffee on the deck, book in lap, and allow a daydream or two. 

Then I start on the list. Wash dog. Oh, Guinnez is not the least bit happy with me when I slip off his collar; he knows all too well what that move initiates. He's a good dog, though, and doesn't run, only slumps like dead weight as I lift him into the tub. Wonderful! I made the discovery not long ago that taking a bubble bath in a clawfoot tub is delightfully comfortable, far more so than in modern tubs, but now I see that these old-fashioned tubs are also much better for dog bathing. The sides are too high for him to make a quick leap of escape. He realizes it and doesn't even try.

Suds and rinse, suds and rinse, we are both soaked, both clean.


I skim the list and find just the thing. The Hopkins District Library is open on Saturdays only until 1 p.m., so after a quick lunch, I get going. How is it possible that I have sported a Hopkins address since March and still don't have a library card?

Several reasons. Now with technology being what it is, this book addict already has near 3,000 books, nearly all of them available free, uploaded onto my two e-readers. I also have a special shelf stacked end to end with books sent to me for book reviews. I also have three other library cards, well used, in my wallet.

Even so, it doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel like I am a resident until I have a library card in my wallet from the place where I live. I am a class B librarian myself, have worked in libraries since I was a kid, helping out at the elementary school library, paying my way through college on a librarian's salary, and working a second, evening job at the community library for extra income through much of my adulthood. Libraries are second to home for me.

As it is, I have hardly passed through Hopkins more than a two or three times since moving to Z Acres. My travels and commutes take me in other directions. And Hopkins is a pretty good distance from me. If nothing else, I'm curious.

I head out on a mission, and I smile at this road trip: I do love driving these "neighborhood" roads from Z Acres to anyplace remotely passing for civilization. The first half of my drive is all on dirt roads, winding through green canopies of trees. Finally hitting pavement, I pass horse farms and cattle grazing in rolling pasture. At last, a small sign points with an arrow toward the village of Hopkins.

Inevitably, I have to think about the other village where I once lived, far up north in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the Keweenaw. The village of Calumet, at least at that time when I lived there, had a population just a few heads more than 1,000. Hopkins has only about 600, so it appears I am succeeding on my life mission to downsize.

Otherwise, the village is not so very different. A few quiet residential streets branch out from the main street. About as many bars as churches. Not quite the history of Calumet, but there is the same faraway quality here to the slow pace of the people walking along the streets, some pushing baby strollers, dogs trotting along.

Regretably, no grocery store. I checked on that when I first moved. Neighboring bigger cities with their monstrous supermarkets sucked the life out of the local mom-and-pop grocery store. Sad.

But the little library is right on the edge of the center of the village, and I pull into the parking lot. Just to the east of the white building with its robin's egg blue doors and shutters is a park, and I am momentarily distracted by the lined up, classic old cars, their owners sitting beside their vehicles in their lawn chairs, ready to talk engines and gears. It's the great American love affair, citizen and his car, and I can't quite fathom the romance with metal. For me, my car gets me places where I can't quite make it on foot or by public transport, and I use it more than I like to admit ... but my heart does not skip a beat at the curve of waxed and polished steel over a rubber tire. Ever since reading Katie Alvord's Divorce Your Car!, I have become painfully aware of how nearly impossible it seems for most of us to break free of this toxic relationship. I wish I were doing better at that myself, and I aim to try.

I head into the library for books, instead. About what I expected, I suppose. A few shelves here and there, a rack of magazines, newspapers strewn across a coffee table in front of a plump sofa, a gigantic stuffed bear slumped to one side in a chair. A group of women in the back chatter softly over some activity that has gathered them together here on a Saturday morning, but I wander instead to examine the books on the shelves.

Not much here. Cookbooks are well represented, and books on crafts and home projects and gardening. I find a book that reminds me of another item on my to-do list, looking into sellling my father's artwork on eBay, and I bring Expand Your Business Using eBay to the circulation desk.

"I'd like a library card, please," I say.


"Oh yes, for a few months now." I pull my driver's license from my wallet with the change of address label on the back. And in a moment, I am the proud card-carrying patron of the Hopkins District Library, my first checked-out book in my bag. The librarian and I chat for a moment about book donations; I have more books than can fit into my little red farmhouse at Z Acres, and it is time to downsize that collection, too. Something I thought I would never do, but I figure it would be a good deed to add to this tiny library some of my own literary treasure to share.

I wander the streets of Hopkins then. There aren't many. Just as up north, the school buildings are surprisingly immense, gathering in one location all the children of the surrounding rural expanse. Home of the Vikings, says a sports score board on a green field, and another Viking head is painted on the side of a hardware store.

Another sign calls village residents to a meeting--to learn more about the process of hydraulic fracturing, called "fracking," as unfamiliar companies' representatives are knocking on resident doors offering money for mineral rights, including gas and oil rights, to their property. Environmentalists are alarmed, and from what little I know about fracking, it alarms me, too. The process pollutes air and soil with chemicals, and it depletes local water sources at a time when we are beginning to hear about global water shortages that may well make oil shortages laughable.

To my amazement, when I first saw the list of deeds to Z Acres, beginning with 1893 for the first owner, gas and oil drilling companies have been walking my land, too. No longer, not as long as I am the owner here.

These are the dramas of these small, rural villages, and they are not unimportant ones. Great wars are often fought on small fronts.

I head home again, winding back down those ever more narrow dirt roads into ever thicker green canopy. Four months since my move, my heart continues to hum with pleasure and wonder at living here, in this place so tucked away in the country, and I expect it will always do so. It is a dream worth protecting. Maybe I will do more than sign up for a library card to become a true Hopkins resident. Maybe I will attend one of those village meetings and make my voice heard, too.

This afternoon, though, is ripe for making blackberry jam.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Announcing The Smoking Poet Summer 2012 Issue!

"Words that turn the page to flame."
Photography by Eleanor Bennett

In Southwest Michigan, where The Smoking Poet is based, we are in the midst of a heat wave. Triple digits. Gasp! But far, far up north, in that gorgeous wild of Alaska, cool things are happening.
It’s been a long time since I was in Alaska myself, but the vivid beauty of the tundra, the Brooks Range, the fields of crystalline snow, and a proliferation of wildlife stays with me still. I’ve long wondered how living in such wild beauty might inspire one’s creativity. For me, it was a time that I had my first taste of newspaper writing in a small town a boat ride north of Juneau.
Wonder no more. One of my favorite poets, in fact, lives in Fairbanks—Derick Burleson. Derick has been a feature poet in TSP in an earlier issue, but now he returns with a bevy of his creative writing students from the University of Alaska. My introduction to Derick was by reading his poetry collection Never Night, published by Michigan publisher Marick Press in 2008. Stunning work. And apparently it rubs off, because in a collection of works by his students in this issue, it’s all stunning. Dip your reading pleasure into these cool waters and be refreshed.
Also in our summer issue, you will see the photography of Eleanor Bennett. Eleanor is all of 16 years old. With such a well developed eye for memorable imagery and composition, I’m keeping my eye on this new talent.
We offer you pages of fiction, nonfiction and poetry as always, but be assured, there is word art here such as you have never seen before. Kalamazoo and Beyond brings local talent to our Michigan readers with Hedy Habra, and our book reviews, updated throughout the coming season, may inspire you to pick up a book you might otherwise have missed—and shouldn’t.
I’m feeling cooler already.
With a good word,
Zinta Aistars
Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Second Wave: The Business of Beekeeping in Southwest Michigan (Z Acres!)

The business of beekeeping in Southwest Michigan

The demand for honey is up and that's good for beekeepers. Now if only they can keep the bees alive. Zinta Aistars talks to Jon Noble about a business that literally buzzes.
Published in this week's issue of Second Wave Media, my article inspired by Jon the beekeeper and his beehives on my own Z Acres ... don't miss the wonderful photos by Erik Holladay!
Jon the beekeeper at Z Acres (Erik Hollada photo)
Jon Noble’s calm gaze follows the buzzing flight of the honey bee without worry.

"If I’m going to get stung," he says, "then I might as well do the beekeeping myself." That was Noble’s thought growing up and visiting his grandfather’s farm near Grand Rapids. He started beekeeping there as a hobby, keeping two beehives on the farm and checking on them a couple times a month. He was fascinated to watch the bees then and the fascination remains.

Jon Noble and his bees produce Noble Honey. He and wife Kari live in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Watson in Southwest Michigan, but his bees -- they live all over the place. Well, not quite all over the place. Noble places his hives at various farms and properties in and about Watson, along the 131-interstate corridor...

Read the FULL ARTICLE on Second Wave Media, with more stunning photos.

Jon checking hives for honey at Z Acres (Erik Holladay photo)


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Doing the Rain Dance

by Zinta Aistars

Before heat wave
After heat wave

For a moment, the skies open. A steady rain comes down, and I run from my century-old farmhouse out into my enclosed porch, and dance. One does rain dances to seduce the skies to spill life-giving water, but I dance now for sheer joy. For well over a week, the temperatures have soared to a blistering 100, even 103 degrees Fahrenheit, heat index as high as 111 degrees, and the sky remained blue, blue, blue.

Now the rain splashes to the ground, and I can smell its fresh, wet scent through the screen surrounding the porch. I can hear its song. I can hear the rustle of dry leaves and grass as the rain comes down. I can hear the earth humming in relief.

Too long since we have been blessed with rain, and the forecast for the week to come is no better. Cooler, yes, but no rain for a while yet. My lush Z Acres has turned from emerald green to pale yellow. Once green grass now crackles beneath my feet when I venture outside to water my parched vegetable garden. The garden is the only spot of life behind my house. All else is dry and wilted and colorless.

I never get cabin fever in the winter, because winter never keeps me inside. I can always pull on another sweater, double layer my woolen socks, choose a warmer coat and wrap my scarf around and around my neck to keep me toasty warm.

But this? This sweltering and blistering heat? It takes my breath away, and not for joy. When I open the kitchen door for just a moment to let my old chow pup outside to relieve himself, the thick and milky air squeezes the oxygen from my lungs and leaves me gasping. My chest hurts. My face flushes. And that is just in the moment of opening the door and quickly slamming it shut again. The dog quickly returns from his business and asks to be let in.

Summer is my least favorite season, and my comfort zone melts away as temperatures rise above 65 degrees or so. The older I get, the cooler I like it. While others retire to warmer climes, I have always eyed the wild north. Only now, since I have moved to these ten acres in southwest Michigan, has my wanderlust cooled its heels. I have found Home, and it is surprisingly cool, the little red farmhouse set into a secluded valley and surrounded by thick woods, only the back five acres open for tilling and crops.

I am incredulous at how cool the house remains. I figured adding central air conditioning would be my first home repair upon moving, but with pleased amazement, I have realized I won’t need it here. Not even in this hell-heat. Suburbia has done itself an immense disfavor, clearing away trees and leveling rises in the earth. That is precisely what is saving so much energy for me here. I run a ceiling fan in the living room and a small window unit in my loft bedroom, and I’m set. Those who know my near legendary intolerance of heat know these are words of high praise. Nature knows how to care for itself; we are wise not to interrupt its healing and balanced ways.

Only in the earliest hours of the morning, as the sun just begins to rise, do I dare to go out. I need to go out. I long to go outside, and breathe, and connect with this wonderful world in which I now find myself—so blessed. Every dawn, I go outside to water my vegetable garden, examining the row of tomato plants, each one of the dozen a different variety. I peer at the beans, take a sniff at the two types of basil—oh, what a beautiful smell that is!—and grin in satisfaction over the peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, red cabbage and eggplant. It’s a small garden this first summer here. I am already preparing to expand next summer, tossing grass clippings and compost and hay over a large square on one side where I plan to till up the ground next spring.

One of my favorite spots, by the pond in my front yard
There has been so much to learn this first year—about the farmhouse, the land, the woods, living in such seclusion and aiming for increasing sustainability. All roads to this place lead to independence, and the land has so inspired me, affected and strengthened me, that I recently made yet another decision for yet another leap of faith. I am about to leave the steady and more-or-less secure (is anything, really?) world of working for a large corporation. I am going to start my own business, a writing and editing firm I am thinking of calling …. Z Word? What do you think? Hmmmmm.

It seems to fit. All parts of my life at long last integrated. My life on Z Acres, my work at Z Word, my artwork signed with a simple little flourish: Z.

At last, I belong. In a place I have created, have been creating since I was a little girl, with first seeds of first dreams rooting and sending up a first green sprout of a leaf.

Rain comes down, washing the earth clean of its dust, returning life to the dry grass and withered leaves of the trees. It stops too soon, the earth still clamoring for more, but it is enough to return hope for cooler, more refreshing days.

When my son drops by a few days later to bring the riding mower to life with a roar, the earth is dry again, and the fields of grass rather like hay. I watch the dust swirl up behind and around him, a golden cloud enfolding him as he circles the field, the sun starting to dip toward the horizon behind him.

I suppose there is a beauty even in this—the parched heat, the dry days of holding in one’s breath, waiting to exhale. I watch him, and I can tell he is enjoying his work, carving pathways through the field, even roaring up the hill through the woods to create a path to the cottage I have up there. The dust pastes itself to my skin as I stand watching, one hand shading my eyes from the sun.

Soon, I know, the rain will return. And so will the cool. And the green. It must. With it, I will take long, deep breaths and fill my lungs, feeling life return to my entire body, head to toe. Shake off the lethargy of these long, hot days. Take that next leap—and see how it feels to catch the cool wind, and fly.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Can I Do It? I Can.

by Zinta Aistars

Z Acres

I think I can ... I think I can ... I think I can ....

The little engine that could, that was the little engine's mantra, and now, mine. This has been the year of leaps for me. Leaps of faith. And so far, every time I have made such a leap, I have been rewarded. Why not this time?

2012 has been my year, and I have one more big dream to realize. It's also been a year of facing down fears, doing battle with a few demons, and, happily, conquering them. What's one more?

If there is one thing I know, and have tested over a lifetime, it is that achieving dreams goes hand in hand with risk. Over a lifetime of observation, I've noticed that we all dream ... yet few are willing to reach for those dreams at the cost of giving up security and routine.

Hey, I get it. Risk is scary. That's why so many dreams stay on the shelf. The very moment I had moved over the halfway line into the area of pursuing this last big dream, I felt the terror. Everything in my life, all the recent ups and downs, all the recent steps taken, all were moving me toward this: to cut my ties with my employers and declare myself a free agent. I want to be a full-time writer, self employed, my own boss, maybe even call it ... Z Words? Try my writing hand at full-time freelancing.

Realizing I was moving toward making that final decision, my head began to hurt. My heart hammered. Breathing became strained. I woke in the middle of the night, eyes popping open to stare into the dark, a cold sweat coating my skin, and every imaginable fear crept out from the walls to take a swipe at me.

What if I fail? What if can't make enough to live on? What do I do for health insurance, at least until 2014 when it should become available to the sole propietors like me? What if I can't pay my mortgage? What if go hungry? What if the sky falls?

At that point, my rational brain would kick in and roll its eyes. My fears were increasingly sounding irrational. Sure, some of these issues would need research. I would need to do some math. How much do I need to cover the basics? What is my minimum that I need to bring in? And what indeed would I do about health care? Dare I go without? I've been healthy as heck, but you know about Murphy's Law ... if something can go wrong, it probably will. Am I ready to take all that on?

In daylight, night fears put to bed and my mind clearer, I made a list and started my research. I listed my fears and then listed various ways to take care of them. What would I need to do to realize this last dream?

Indeed, it was my first dream, not my last. Alongside that childhood dream to own a place in the woods, live on land that provided sustenance and solitude, a place where I could pursue my art, was this dream--to pursue my art with everything in me. I had achieved the other. I had found, purchased, and moved to what I now call Z Acres in March 2012. It is Home. Home with a capital H, the place I had long seen in my dreams, where I can put down lifelong roots, enjoy nature, solitude, and be inspired by my environment. I have never been happier than I am now, living here.

Part of that dream, a big part, was that this place will rejuvenate me, inspire me, nurture me as an artist. Two dreams, hand-in-hand.

This Sunday morning, as I do every morning, I went out to walk the property with my coffee mug in hand. My old chow pup, Guinnez, walked alongside, as he always does. We usually begin by going out back to investigate the vegetable garden. What's new? How do my vegetable plants look this morning? Everything healthy? I pulled a few weeds, added a bit of fresh hay for mulch, flicked a bug off a tomato leaf, inspected the burst of little yellow flowers that would soon become my bounty of tomatoes, smiled at the sprouting of my mostly recently planted seeds, placed new and taller stakes for the beans, tasted a basil leaf. All is well. Sipping coffee from my mug in one hand, I held the soft spray of water from the garden hose over the garden while Guinnez settled in for his favorite activity, chewing a twig down to neat little pieces.

Next, I checked on the berry bushes. Black raspberries are ever more profuse. My coffee cup empty, I now filled it with just ripened berries. Some would go into my morning oatmeal, some would go into the refrigerator to scatter across my yogurt later, and some I would set aside to freeze for later enjoyment.

Guinnez and I checked the flower beds. Not only the tummy, but the eye, too, needs to be fed. These past weeks have been hot and dry. Nearby farmers are worried about losing their crops if this drought continues for a couple more weeks. Farmers ... I respect their living with constant risk, ruled by weather. The hardiest and best planners survive.

I watered my flower beds, but most would have to wait for the elusive rain. Since move-in day in March, I hadn't seen the land so barren. Almost nothing was blooming anymore. While spring had brought a profusion of blossoms of every type, shape, color, and early summer had its own beautiful peonies and wild roses and bleeding heart and irises, now all I saw was the sturdy day lilies. The most determined and well-rooted survive.

Walking through my kitchen to drop off my mug filled with berries, old chow pup and I walked through the front door to the front of the house. We enjoy checking on the pond. As we walk up to the edge of the water, bullfrogs belch alarm and plop one by one into the water, sending up a series of splashes and ripples. Guinnez walks up and down the edge of the pond, making them jump, and I chuckle to watch him. He loves to freak out the frogs.

I settled into the old chair that the previous owner had left behind the barn, but that I had brought up pondside and padded comfortably with new chair padding. This was one of my favorite places to sit and contemplate. From here I could oversee the pond, but also hear the little waterfall to my side, where the overflow of the spring-fed pond flowed away toward the neighboring wheat fields.

Guinnez settled in next to me to chew up another twig.

Thoughts of my life dreams and how to realize them flowed back over me, even as I listened to the soothing flow of running water. When I made the decision to purchase Z Acres, I knew it was a leap of faith. I was in transition from one job into another, changing from health care in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to become a contract worker with a global company based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was now project manager for a large project over an expanse of about four months, with a possibility of a permanent position at its end. It's an intense and challenging project, and I've enjoyed the team I have joined to complete it. Along the way, I have been asked to take on other writing and editing responsiblities, too. So, should I stay?
Or ... was this the perfect opportunity to launch myself to that freelance dream?

Stability in lifestyle had its own rewards. Throughout my contract employment, I had diligently saved all that I could, knowing that at the end of my contract, at the end of July, I would have to make my decision. One of the most important requirements to attempt a freelance lifestyle was to have sufficient savings to cover at least six months of basic living costs. By now, if I was doing my math right, I had my six months and then some. Maybe I could even stretch it to a year if I lived lean. I had enough to bring the dream within reach.

What else would I need?

The tools of the profession. I still needed to buy a good printer, but these days I found I rarely used one. So many jobs required only electronic submissions. I had long been submitting much of my freelance work as Word documents, with photos as jpgs if needed, through email. But I had a new laptop, one I had purchased when I began this contract job. I was electronically connected to all the resources I would need.

And that was perhaps as important as having a buffer zone of savings for expenses--having a strong network of freelance markets in place. Over the years, no matter what job I held, I always kept up at least a few freelance jobs on the side. No matter how busy I got, I knew that if I ever did want to realize this dream, I would need this network in place, of editors and communications people who knew my work and were willing to pay for it.

I made a list of these markets, rating them for income. Here were my pretty-darn-sure markets, here were my reliable and already-in-place markets, here were my potential markets, here was a list of contacts. It was an extensive and encouraging list. Side by side with my basic expenses, it started to look quite possible I could meet my expenses if I worked hard and planned well.

I had made an appointment with a financial advisor and sought out an accountant with good references from writing friends I trust. I would need to get on a quarterly schedule of paying taxes, and I would need a tax ID number, and I was pretty sure I wanted to make myself an LLC, a limited liability company, to protect myself financially and legally.

I had even found a health insurance plan that was quite reasonable for those unforseen health costs. I was pretty sure I wouldn't need it, being healthy as heck, but one never knows. (I am, after all, eyeing my first chain saw at the hardware store to prune my forest at Z Acres and also provide cold weather burning wood.)

My list went on, and I had either checked off the items as done or written in scheduled appointments to get in place what was needed to check them off. I had about one month to go to get everything in place.

By golly, I think I can .. I think I can ... I think I will.

Bullfrogs belched around the perimeter of the pond. Guinnez had chewed his twig to little pieces and was looking for another. Suddenly, there was a crashing in the trees and shrubbery behind us, and a large wild turkey flew low out from the trees and across the pond. Yes, turkeys fly. Wild ones, that is, as the factory farmed turkeys are so malformed with breeding for large breasts that keep them from moving normally, let alone taking wing ... but who needs to move when you are cramped into a tiny cage?

One of the greatest pleasures of Z Acres was renewing my connection with the natural world around me. I eat only organic food, sustainably raised. Wildlife was a daily part of my life here. Deer paused in my yard. Birds were too many to count, including hawks and sand cranes. Raccoons, muskrats, packs of coyotes howled at the moon, fox trotted through the bush.

My happiest work days are those when I escape the office and telecommute from home. I do this now at least two days of the week, but why not five? Working from Z Acres beats any office I can conceive in my imagination. Nothing better. I've found that on those days that I work from home, I am actually most productive.

I knew going freelance would mean long hours, and long hours here, at my beloved Z Acres, made work worthwhile. I did not fear hard work. I fear meaningless work. As they say, no one says on his or her deathbed, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more hours at the office." But this was a different kind of work that I was contemplating. This was about doing what I love, what I would do regardless, what I do even for pleasure and to add enjoyment to my life. This was about pursing my art and doing what I do best, and finding a way to make it pay the bills.

The wild turkey landed on the opposite side of the pond, took in, no doubt, my human presence and, no doubt, the canine presence alongside, and quick as a flash took wing again and flew back into the woods. A mere glimpse and he was gone.

Life flies fast like that. Blink and you miss it. Waste it in drudgery and you will reach the finish line with regrets.

My heart wasn't hammering anymore. Tension eased from my body, and I relaxed in my chair, letting my eyes wander around the pond, back to the little red, century-old farmhouse. Why fear my destiny? Why fear what I had wanted since I was a little girl, now at long last at hand? After all, worst case scenario, if things didn't work out for one reason or another, I could return to the traditional job market and work for a traditional employer again.

Meanwhile, I found I was counting the days. Less than a month ... and another dream would unfold.