Bring your garden to life

Are you tired of looking out onto an unused, pristine and flat lawn? Or perhaps you’re just tired of mowing it to keep it trim, but feeling so little satisfaction for it? If you’d like to see a little more color, wildlife and plant life in your garden, then it’s time to get to work!

You can start with simple and popular ideas, such as building your own birdhouse. The design you choose should be a suitable size for common birds in your area, but should also offer some protection from squirrels. If you don’t mind squirrels, you can create your own squirrel run – a sort of mini assault course which the squirrels will happily complete in return for the reward which awaits them at the end of it. You can find plenty of designs for these things online and it’s always more satisfying to make by yourself – as that way you can make any adjustments you’d like more easily, and give it a personal touch in the process. Choose wood which is in keeping with your garden and use the correct tools – it’s important to choose a saw which is suited to you and your task, as Straight Kerfs clearly explained. Be sure, also to choose the right feed – quite often country stores and even hardware stores stock seed and will be able to advise you properly.

More and more popular are log piles. If you have a log burner, you’ll likely use most of your wood on it, but occasionally you’ll find dead wood which isn’t in a great condition for burning. You can make a pile of this in a corner of your garden. Brash also goes great with it, as does earth. Depending on the climate and fauna of the area, you could have frogs, newts and ladybugs living there before long, or perhaps bees who will pollenate your flowers. If you create a log pile in the shape of a teepee, you could attract hedgehogs, too.

Flowers are an obvious way to bring life to a garden, along with colors and smells. In your local garden center you’ll be able to get advice as to what is suitable to plant in your area and to achieve your goals. If you want to limit the amount of work you have to do, it’s better to go with perennials. Otherwise, you could chop and change as the flowers bloom and die.

A shallow-edged pond isn’t difficult to build at all and can attract a wealth of wildlife. At first you’ll see water insects, newts and frogs, but you’ll probably also attract plenty of birds, too. If you are planning to create a fish pond, ask around and do your research, as you could end up simply providing a delicious meal for the local birds.

If you have room in part of your garden, consider planting a large tree, such as an oak. Be careful with your planning, as oak roots grow deep and far and you don’t want to cause problems with your neighbor’s property or the foundations of your house, for example. If your area suffers from hurricanes or other wind storms, it’s probably not a good idea. But otherwise, large trees which grow thick, tall and old, provide a great habitat for all kinds of wildlife.

With everything to look at and look out for in your new garden, you’d be crazy not to want to spend more time there. Build and put out a table and some chairs for you to relax on. Come and sit outside at different times of day. As the sun is rising you’ll hear all manner of different calls as the wildlife wakes up. You’ll see birds in flight overhead, or returning to their nests to feed their young. In the middle of a warm day you’ll watch the bees busy at work, pollenating the flowers that you so lovingly planted.

Having such a garden and being able to enjoy it can make a drastically positive difference to your general mood and state of mind. By feeling more connected to nature and other forms of life, you feel more in tune with yourself. The inhabitants of your new garden are like a new family. Love them and treat them well.

Ways you can take better care of yourself

We all know to go for regular checkups at the doctor and the dentist, and how we ought to eat our five-a-day (or is it ten-a-day now?), do plenty of exercise, sleep well, get out into the sunlight, stimulate our minds by reading and debate and so on. And if you’re doing these things you probably feel great and are going to live a long and healthy life. But you know what? Just as your teachers in school used to say about you, you could be doing even better.

That’s right, there are even more ways to ensure that you’re really taking top-notch care of yourself, by not neglecting any aspect of your wellbeing at all. So let’s take a look at just some of them.

You already brush your teeth and floss three times a day after every meal, and have regular checkups and cleaning with your dentist. So what more could you possibly doing to ensure your oral hygiene? Well, the answer, frankly is a lot. You may be brushing your teeth three times a day, but what are you using to do it? And what kind of technique are you employing? Despite the advice of dentists around the world, patients stubbornly hold on to their plastic, manual toothbrushes. Electric toothbrushes have been around for a generation and yet, still, some mavericks go on ignoring them and trying to get by with an old relic. It’s not that there aren’t enough types or brands out there – whichever one you choose depends on your preferences.

And then there are those who live by the maxim “everything in moderation” (oftentimes including moderation itself). This basically gives the person a license to treat their body however they want to, and doesn’t usually end up meaning that they have an equal amount of healthy vs unhealthy activities and food. Rather than achieving some pseudoscientific ‘zen’ balance in their lives, they end up bingeing daily on tobacco, caffeine, sugar, alcohol and taking part in highly risky and questionable activities. ‘Everything in moderation’ is not a rule for a healthy lifestyle or a healthy mindset. Good habits must be encouraged, and we mustn’t allow ourselves to make excuses all the time. Believing that second best is ok leads to believing that being bottom of the pile is ok, when it clearly isn’t. Discipline yourself for your own sake and don’t try to divert others from the right path.

There are some people who claim to treat their bodies as temples – ingesting only the best foods in the right amounts, doing regular exercise and keeping themselves clean at all times. Unbeknown to them, however, their habits may not be as clean as they think. People like these tend to do their working out in the gym. It means that they sit in their cars for hours, without really doing anything expect for building up frustration at the amount of traffic, all the while breathing in the toxic fumes of the other vehicles on the road. When they get to the gym they use their gold membership card to enter, which cost them a fortune. It means they have to work an extra eight hours a week to afford it, which reduces their leisure time and often leaves them feeling tired, frustrated and depressed. When they get into the gym they start to work out, causing them to breathe heavily. With each breath they inhale the dirty, recycled air of the gym, which evenly distributes the germs of sick participants to everyone in the building, thus putting themselves at risk of infection.

The point is that these people would do well to make less of a show of keeping themselves in good shape and just go about it in a more natural way. Doing outdoor work and outdoor sports is usually much better for one’s health than going to a gym. Even very specific workouts can be done outdoors. Rather than polluting the atmosphere and damaging your nervous system by sitting in a car, trying to get to a gym, simply jog until you’re out of the city. And even if you’re stuck right in the heart of the city, you can benefit from doing your workout outdoors and in public. It wasn’t just by chance that this worked so well for Rocky Balboa.

Life as a correctional officer

Sitting back on the couch the other night, wondering if I was going to fall asleep or not, I stopped flicking through the TV channels and started paying attention to a series that was being broadcast about rookie correctional officers at the toughest prison facilities in New Mexico. It was pretty interesting stuff, but a little short on depth, focusing more on showing the audience how messed up some of the inmates are and how well (or badly) the rookies deal with them. The main reason it caught my eye was that it made me think of an old buddy of mine who, after he left the Air Force as a police dog handler, went back to North Carolina to be a corrections officer. The next day I called up my buddy and told him about the series, which he knew all about, but started telling me about what it’s like in reality to be a corrections officer.

The first thing you should know about this guy is that he is a bit like a man-mountain. He arms are seriously bigger than most guys’ legs and his neck is as thick as their torsos. It’s obviously essential to be strong and in good shape and there is a weights gym for the officers in the correctional facility. Just building muscle is not enough, however – if you’re thinking about going to the correctional officer academy and are still undecided about the best way to get fit, you’d better figure something out quickly!

The officers often have some kind of combat training, from boxing and wrestling to MMA. It takes a certain type of person to do the job as you can’t be afraid of running headlong into a fight between gangbangers to break it up. Yes, you could say you have to be a little bit nutty.

This is far from a job just for knuckleheads, though. You really need to be a focused and mature individual with strong reasons for pursuing this career. You need to be able to take on board and be able to utilize many different types of training, from physical stuff like handcuffing procedures, use of tear gas canisters and so on, to psychological training to understand the mindsets (and mind games) of the inmates. On top of that you’ve got training on cultural sensitivity, tattoo and gang signal interpretation, legal rights, what to look for during a shakedown, riot control and then a lot of mundane paperwork and procedural training! In many ways it’s like learning to be a police officer, only you’ll be mixing with the most dangerous people on a daily basis and without a firearm.

In return for the complicated nature of the job, the high-risk and high-stress situations, corrections officers are paid reasonably well and given great medical benefits and good pensions. Most rookies are there to work hard and as a result end up taking on senior and better remunerated roles. There is a problem in all correctional facilities, and has been for years of understaffing while the inmate population is well over capacity at the same time. This is probably the main cause of challenges at work, but corrections officers have that platoon mentality that they are a unit and they’ll all put in the work to make sure everyone’s back is covered and nobody is put in danger.

It’s one of the toughest places to work, you’re constantly faced with abuse, the threat of gang members who will try to kill you any way they can if given the order, never being able to fully relax, always being on the lookout. I asked my buddy if he didn’t miss playing with his dogs on some far-eastern air base.

“Not really”, he answered. “My heart’s in this now. I feel like I’m making more of a difference than I have ever done.”

And I guess that’s why they do it.

The perfect office space

When you first start to take on office staff for your company, they usually get slotted into whatever corner of your office is still not yet taken up. That could be next to the draughty window or the leaky radiator, perhaps just behind the door so that when someone enters the office they get a slap on the back from the door. The moment arrives (often much sooner than you expect) when it’s time to get your staff into a proper office. Make them feel like they belong with you, in an environment which encourages the values and practices that your business is founded on. 

That’s what happened in my company. For a whole year we all suffered, crammed into a cold, windowless office with brick walls painted in a sickly bright yellow. Every day we would grit our teeth as we tiptoed around each other until eventually I admitted that an office designed specifically for each of our work needs was well overdue. 

I decided that we would need a much larger room. This was for two reasons: Firstly, because everybody currently needed more space. Secondly because I wanted to create an environment which would allow people to communicate easily, to relax and share ideas without feeling too restrained or tied to their desks. I remembered one particular office I had seen in lower Manhattan – from one angle it looked like a traditional office working space and from the other it looked like a grown-ups’ playpen. Or just a playpen. 

I was looking to create something along those lines but I wanted my staff to have as much input as possible too. Once we had the room we quickly came up with a basic layout plan and which we set about creating and developing as we went along. We decided we would have people’s workstations facing the two walls with large windows. The two walls without windows were used for notices, shelving and cabinets. We also have the photocopiers there and our coffee machine. Actually, the coffee machine was the single item that took the longest to agree on, so if you are thinking about changing around your office, be prepared for this! My staff assured me they would be much more content at work if they could have a fancy (and more expensive) coffee machine, so, encouraged by Espresso Gusto, we finally settled on one which I’m glad to say, everyone is happy with. The centre of the room is what surprises most visitors. There is a mini golf, a ping pong table and a punch bag which has a selection of different faces and costumes. There are small tables and chairs in this area, too, if people just want to take a breather without leaving the office. 

At the far end of the room we put up a partition which created another room was doubles up as both a meeting room and a teleconferencing room. 

The difference between coming into work now and one year ago is immense. I really have to thank my staff for putting up with the miserable and cramped conditions they were in at that time. I was lucky they didn’t all just get up and walk out on me. Now there is a really positive air about the place and people seem to get on much better. There’s less shyness about approaching each other and people can easily have a quick meeting or discussion over a round of golf or table tennis. 

If you want to improve teamwork and morale in a small to medium sized business, improving your work environment is one of the easiest ways to do it. I just wish I’d known that from the start!