Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas in Sweden

Well, I guess I really took a real vacation this time. Even from blogging! Here is the synopsis of our fabulous Christmas:

12/22: I was sick as a dog and stayed in bed all day. Rebecka, Katie, Todd, Ester, and Scilla went to Stockholm and visited Junibacken and Gamla Stan. From what I can tell, they had a swell time.

12/23: I mustered up enough energy to make a day trip into Stockholm with Todd and Katie. We shopped, visited Gamla Stan (a must!), and had "fika" with my brother David and his familiy. Levi (just turned three) entertained everybody by singing in the streets.

12/24: Christmas Eve is the big day in Sweden. We spent most of the morning preparing for the traditional "julbord" (Christmas table). It includes meatballs and potato casserole, ribs, sausage, bread, cheese, and of course the Christmas ham. We ate together (all twelve of us!) and enjoyed. 3 PM is Disney time. This is the most sacred Christmas tradition in Sweden. We watch a one-hour special that has been on for decades. Later on, we delivered and received presents in a slightly chaotic manner. It was all good fun. The day ended with Christmas porridge ("risgrynsgröt") and some singing.

12/25: Relax... + Tour of Järna with my dad. We saw the areas which are inhabited mostly by "antroposofer." This is a group of people who are followers of Rudolf Steiner's teachings. He is the founder of the Waldorf method of teaching, for example. The have their Swedish headquarters in Järna and run a very successful mill called Saltåkvarn. They have very interesting architecture as well with smooth, round shapes.

12/26: Drop Katie at the airport (sad...) and then mostly relaxing. I've made quite a dent in Hot, Flat, and Crowded during vacation. I hope to finish it on the plane tomorrow.

12/27: Cleaning Day! After a week of lots and lots of people at the house, it was time for some thorough scrubbing. Todd and I went to down downstairs, while my parents took care of upstairs. We also had the insentive that we had lots of relatives coming the following day. I also went for a slightly chilly run outside. It was super refreshing. I can't remember the last time I didn't work out for more than a week. I guess that's what my body needed.

12/28: Sang in church in the morning. In the afternoon, relatives slowly trickled in until we reached 20+ people. It was nice to see aunts, uncles, cousins, and others. We ate good food and chatted into the evening.

12/29: All-day date with Todd in Stockholm. We took the commuter train into town and then the subway for our first errand. We dropped some used books at Proklama, which is a bookstore run by my aunt Margareta. I also found a book I had been looking for, so I bought it from her. We then proceeded to try to return a pair of boots I had bought the previous week. Unfortunately, there were no returns on sale items, so I had to pick out a different pair. Fortunately, I found a really awesome pair of sheepskin boots. (Yes!) Throughout our date, we fervently searched each store we passed for a special nut and chocolate snack mix we had discovered two years ago. Either nobody else realizes the beauty of this treat or it is so popular it is always out of stock. We also spent a good bit of time in a large bookstore, Akademibokhandeln. I found lots of interesting titles such as Complex Theory for a Sustainable Future, The ISIS Agreement, and The Final Energy Crisis. Todd found some Swedish books as well. We didn't buy any. Books are expensive in Sweden. We also enjoyed a very, very cozy fika at Kaffekoppen in Gamla Stan. This coffee shop is located on the edge of the main square of Gamla Stan and has the best atmosphere ever. We finished with some mandatory shopping at Åhléns before heading back on the train. Good day.

12/30: Rebecka and I took one of my parents' cars and drove west to Örebro to visit my sister Priscilla and her husband Fredrik. After getting a little lost, we finally reached their home. We enjoyed delicious soup a la Fredrik, downtown Örebro, fika, bowling, and picture sharing time with them. It was nice to get a glimpse into their life.

12/31: New Years Eve included an even colder (and longer) run - this time with Todd. He was dressed in only shorts and a sweatshirt. People looked at him kind of funny. It was an energizing run! The rest of the day was spent in preparation for the New Years Eve feast. We had an interesting mix of Mexican and Medeterranean. Something for everybody, to be sure. We enjoyed a new game called "När & Fjärran," which really exposed my lack of general knowledge, for example, aparently I don't know which president is on the one dollar bill :P (I'm OK with that). Todd and I won (thanks to Todd). We ended with a vigil led by sister Miriam and rocket watching from the balcony (documented by Rebecka on YouTube).

1/1: Wow, it's a new year! For some reason, this year I was really ready for the old year to be over and to get started on a fresh, new year. I think it has to do with all of the new ideas and thooughts I have been reading about and practicing, as well. Here are a few of my hopes/goals for 2009 and beyond:
  • I am not going to eat meat until the majority of US meat is produced in a ethical and sustainable manner.

  • I will focus on using what we already have and buy new things only when absolutely necessary.

  • We have established a giving goal and decided where most of the money is going to go month by month. (More on that in a separate post...)

  • Go for a daily walk with Rebecka and Sophie when I get home from work.

  • Learn more about sustainable business and especially the energy/efficiency business.

  • Continue to practice productivity techniques to free up time for music, reading, writing, and socializing.

There's much more, but that is a good sample. We spent most of the first day of 2009 with my brother David & fam in Bagarmossen. I recorded several tracks for the last song of my upcoming Swedish album with David on guitar and Miriam, Rebecka, and Todd on vocals. It's going to be great! It was nice to get to spend some quality time with them. We enjoyed spinage soup, reading, singing, washing dishes, and acting crazy.

1/2: Hey, that's today! And my entire family is waiting for me to finish this post so we can play one last game of När & Fjärran. We leave for the US tomorrow morning. See you then...

Happy New 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

We Made It!

This is the good news of the week. Despite all imaginable hurdles, we made it all the way to Sweden. We miraculously made our connection in Chicago (our luggage didn't, but that's OK) and almost missed our connection in Frankfurt due to sheer stupidity (or lack of knowledge, as Todd put it). For your reference, it takes an hour to get from one gate to another in Frankfurt.

What we learned (and already knew) is that we should never do another trip with two connections. Bad idea. Next time, we'll drive down to Chicago and catch a direct flight to Stockholm. I don't care if it is a bit more expensive.

Anyway, now I am down with a bad cold (typical vacation fare) and will be in bed for most of the day, while the rest of the gang take the commuter train into Stockholm for a day on the town. My goal is to recover fully today and be ready to go tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Are The Odds?

We're supposed to leave for Sweden today. Our county has gotten 10 inches of snow - and counting. It was fun walking through the snow to the club house gym this morning though...

The good news is we're going by Hummer to the airport. The bad news is I have to drop Sophie off for her sleepover first (in my Echo). The really bad news is that my dear friend Katie may have to spend a day alone with my family... Well, I guess that's not too bad.

Guh - this sux...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stream of Consciousness...

It is 5 degrees here... That is freakin' cold! Good thing I haven't had to leave the house yet... But, I will have to soon. I have to hit nine different stores today in order to complete my final pre-Sweden shopping circuit. Highlights to look forward to: World Market (for glögg), Joanne (to pick up some thinner string for Christmas present jewelry making), and Barnes & Noble (I could spend a whole day there...).

I fell asleep at 2 AM this morning. Sophie started barking ferociously around 4 AM (probably at those pesky bunnies in the back yard). I'm glad she attempts to protect us. The point is, I got two solid hours of sleep. Awesome. Today is going to be fun.

I learned how to clean UGGs today. (Yep, earlier this fall, I broke down and got my child ridiculously expensive sheepskin boots.) What I learned: Buying UGG cleaning stuff is expensive, but works well (I'm not really into the whole do-it-yourself concoction thing...), a little cleaning solution goes a looooong way, and the process requires a butt load of paper towels (sorry trees!). What I don't know yet is how long it will take for them to dry and is it going to be in time for our trip tomorrow (if not, I will be in serious trouble)?

I am a laundry machine! Well, not literally. What I mean is, I can do an awful lot of laundry in one day. It's 8:23 AM right now, and I'm already on the second load. Laundry is one of my more favorite household chores. It's way better than dusting and vacuuming (that's a really hard word to spell...). However, not as fun as washing the dishes. I haven't used our dishwasher here in months. It left these suspect white traces of something on everything. Not cool. Dish washing is pretty therapeutic, if you ask me.

Speaking of therapeutic, deep breathing totally works. I felt some severe nausea attacking me a few minutes ago and I started breathing deeply and deliberately and soon I was back to normal. It also works when you feel like yelling at your tween or when things get stressful at work.

Btw, the whole eating less sugar thing combined with regular exercise is working out. Today, I hit my "what I need to weigh before I go to Sweden" weight. Pretty exciting. This is preemptive weight loss to offset the very probably weight gain caused by my mom's fantastic cooking. We'll see how it goes.

Seems the weather in Sweden will be mild enough for running outside. It's 37 degrees there today. Nice. This will be the first time I go to Sweden for warmer weather. Weird.

Well, my guess is Target is open by now, so I should probably start my shopping round, since Sophie needs to be at her grooming appointment at noon and I need to be at mine shortly thereafter.


Later...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grattis Pappa!

My dad turns 69 today. He is one of the coolest people I know. He can do anything from fix a car to bake a wedding cake to deliver a sermon. When we were little, he was generally just as excited as we were (or more) about building lego castles or going cross-country skiing. In fact, he even participated in the worlds larges cross-country skiing race, Vasa Loppet, once.

However, the thing that I like most about my dad is his generosity. He loves giving. It doesn't matter if it is time, money, or knowledge. If he had more, he would give more. He gives freely.

I got a lot of traits from my dad (taking care of the family finances, making lists, a love of running, etc, etc). However, the trait I most wish to foster is that of generosity. I have received so much and my desire is to give back and make the world a better place. I believe I can make a difference.

Happy Birthday Daddy!

Junk Mail and Beyond

I am actively continuing my quest to receive zero (or close to it) junk mail. Since last time, I have gotten rid of the following:
  • LL Bean
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • Kay Jewelers
  • JCPenney
  • Eddie Bauer
  • Victoria's Secret

I've had a few mailings with no instructions on how to get off the junk mail list. For these, I just go on the website and email customer service. So far, it seems to be working as I'm getting email replies indicating I have been taken off the list. (Yes!)

On a separate, but related note, we had our dear Apple David and Care Bear visiting us for the weekend. We spent most of the weekend celebrating the season with good food and drink including glögg and pepparkakor. On Saturday evening, we exchanged gifts. Apple D and CB must have been reading my blog (hi guys!), because they decided to go shopping at Ten Thousand Villages for a lot of our "familiy presents." We received several cookie mixes and the like from an organization called Women's Bean Project. This organization is focused on helping women out of poverty by teaching job readiness and life skills. Very cool!

However, my favorite present was a necklace from Junk Mail Gems made out of recycled junk mail! Their motto is "Starve a landfill...Buy Junk Mail Gems!" It makes me so happy when people find a way to use at least some of the waste that we create every day. The necklace itself is fun and versatile. In fact, I'm wearing it today!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Woe Is Me...

This is going to be a complainy post (mostly)...
  • I have a headache... I don't get headaches, so getting one goes against my very being. It is so bad in fact, that I had to take medicine. And it's not getting any better.
  • I'm so tired, I can't really function. I have been lying on the couch since I got home from work. The upside of this is that I'm getting good practice at doing nothing (which I am generally really bad at).
  • Because of the aforementioned complaints, I didn't have the strength to go Christmas shopping for David and Caroline tonight. Todd is going to have to pick up the slack while I'm at work tomorrow.

Actually, those are really the only complaints I have... In fact, I think I have more happy points than bad ones:

  • Rebecka is sitting next to me doing her math homework and every now and then, I get to help.
  • Todd surprised us by coming home early this week.
  • Sophie is very snugly.
  • I'm leaving for Sweden in a week.
  • Todd just brought me some hot chocolate.
  • David and Caroline are coming into town tomorrow.
  • I'm watching the movie "The Holiday" tonight.
  • I'm going to bed early.
  • I get to work out in the morning.

Life is good.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Christmas at Luther

This weekend, Rebecka, Sophie, and I drove to Decorah, IA to see Todd. In fact, in one day, I flew from Nashville to Milwaukee and turned around and drove to Iowa. This was not planned, but cancelled flights happen.

Anyway, the reason we decided to come this weekend was so that we could attend the acclaimed Christmas at Luther concert. As PBS describes it:

"Celebrate the joy, faith and traditions of Christmas as the renowned music ensembles of Luther College bring you Christmas at Luther, marking 27 years of sharing the seasonal gift of music with an annual concert. More than 600 musicians, including six choirs, Christmas Brass and Percussion, Symphony Orchestra, and Luther's handbell choir, present traditional holiday carols and sacred Christmas anthems."

It was a well choreographed production with choirs moving around between songs and alternation of instrumental pieces, choral pieces, and sing-along Christmas carols. I was expecting at least one "Nordic" song and was not disappointed when close to the end, one of the choirs did the song Wonderful Peace (Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul). You can hear the Swedish version of it here (although it's much better with harmony).

After the event, we exited the concert hall and stepped into a small blizzard. I felt like I was in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. The Ingalls familiy actually lived in this part of the country. I can now understand why the cattle froze to death... Thankfully, we made it home OK.

Today, we spent a significant part of the day trying to fix a broken lint filter (yes, I broke it...) for the Decorah dryer. I now have super glue on five fingers. But that's a different story...

Stay warm!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Getting Rid of Junk Mail - Part 2

I discovered something cool today... Most direct mail actually has (in very fine print) a telephone number or (better yet!) a website for getting oneself removed from their mailing list!

Tonight, I took care of the following:
  • Money Mailer
  • ValPak
  • Dell
  • Guitar Center
  • Pier1 Imports
  • REI

This is fun!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Getting Rid of Junk Mail

The contents of my mailbox today: Six pieces of direct mail. Guh!

Just yesterday, I found a good article on About.com regarding slowing down the steady stream of junk mail that magically finds you whether you want it or not. It pointed out two sites which help you take the first steps toward junk mail freedom:

DMA Choice: This site allows you to take care of several categories of junk mail such as catalogs and magazine subscriptions.

OptOutPreScreen.com: This site helps you get off the lists used by credit card and insurance companies (yes!).

It really didn't take much time at all to register for these services. Now, I will probably have to notify some companies specifically to get off their lists (think companies from which I've bought stuff). This will start tomorrow with the six that were in my mailbox today.

Btw, I love the label on the "Valpak Savings" mailing: "TO THE CONSUMER AT..." I am now "The Consumer." Lovely.

The good news is that I received the following communication from our apartment association: "Go Green with Our Email Option!" I can now get all their communications via email. I'm signing up...

Now!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Prepare the Way

Happy First Sunday in Advent! Today begins the waiting... The waiting for the birth of one special child. All around the world, people are lighting the first candle and singning song about longing and waiting.

I fondly remember my first advent in small town Sweden. I went to second grade in a red painted school house with white trim. Our elderly teacher had us all bring candles to school, which we lit while we sang hymns and she read selections of the Christmas story. I'm pretty sure we ate clementines and gingerbread cookies, as we listened in awe.

Another favorite childhood advent memory is the concept of the advent calendar. The advent calendar is a pretty significant fundraising item in Sweden. Organizations from the soccer team to the local church sells them to raise money for one cause or the other. Some have chocolate, others contain winning lottery numbers, while yet others simply delight with pretty pictures. Sweden also has a special TV series for kids each year called "Julkalendern" (The Christmas Calendar). It lasts for 24 days, counting down the days until Christmas. This year, it is called "Skägget i brevlådan" or "The beard in the mailbox." Interesting...

I celebrated this day by singing my favorite advent hymn, "Bereden Väg För Herran" or "Prepare the Way," at Brookfield Presbyterian Church. I sang the first verse in Swedish (much to the delight of the descendants of Swedish immigrants in attendance) and finished up in English. I sang a non-traditional version with a folktune from northern Sweden. For this version of the song, do take a listen on YouTube. The congregation was so appreciative and made me promise to come back. The response made it so worth it.

I'm planning to include this song along with a series of my favorite Swedish hymns on a recording next year. I'm recording a few of the songs while in Sweden this Christmas and the rest in Nashville in January. It's going to be my birthday present to myself. More to come...

Sing for Joy!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gingerbread Time

Today was the annual gingerbread baking day at the Green house. Generally, we do this a bit closer to Christmas, but since we're not really going to have another free weekend in WI before we leave for Sweden (20 more days!), we decided to go for it. We spent the morning making sure we had all the ingredients and required equipment. Apparently, our cookie cutters are in storage, so we had to go buy some new ones. (Oh well...) Aside from this minor hiccup, everything went according to plans.

The dough seemed to last forever. We baked cookie sheet after cookie sheet of snowmen, hearts, stars, dog bones, cats, and more hearts. At one point, Rebecka counted 147 cookies. Then it was time for the icing. It is not a Swedish gingerbread without the characteristic white trim. The icing also lasted forever. Rebecka ate the last of it. I hope she brushed her teeth...

Tonight, we enjoyed pepparkakor and glögg while playing Apples to Apples after a long day in the kitchen. It was a three-way tie between me, Rebecka, and Todd. Good times.

For an idea of how you can use gingerbread for charity (at least if you are an accomplished architect/baker), check out these Modern Gingerbread Houses for Charity. The point being that anything is possible when it comes to raising money for charity. In fact, the wackier the idea, the better.

You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Baby!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Give the Gift of a Sustainable Future

'Tis the Season for Giving... Right? But what if you don't need more stuff? What if your friends and family don't need more stuff? What then?

Oh, I'm glad you asked... I'm planning to dedicate a few blog posts to good ways to use your saved-up holiday money this year and in years to come.

Today, I'll feature the organization Heifer International. The motto of this group is "Ending Hunger, Caring for the Earth" with the simple goal of ending poverty. I firmly believe they have an approach that works. Essentially, they help people obtain a sustainable source of food and income through education and donations of animals while striving to preserve the earth. And my favorite part: "Passing on the Gift" means that people who receive animals commit to passing on the offspring of their animals (and the knowledge involved with raising animals) to others.

Heifer has all sorts of fun ways to help out. You can fund a specific project with a monetary donation, go on a tour of their work, create a registry, etc. It only takes a few minutes to create an online registry where your friends and family can purchase anything from ducks to llamas in your honor. I think this is so cool!

If you are interested, here is a link to my registry: http://www.heifer.org/myregistry/tabita

Keep sharing the wealth...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Faking it...

This year, I decided I would bypass the somewhat stressful affair which is cooking a turkey from scratch. I actually made the decision the day we ran the Jingle Bell Run, when I discovered a Whole Foods holiday menu in my post-race goody bag. Did you know you can buy your entire Thanksgiving meal from the grocery store? I guess I knew this, but I had never thought to stoop this low. However, considering our current miniature kitchen, the fact that half our stuff is in storage, and that we had no guests on the horizon, I made the decision to investigate the possibilities.

I found that the possibilities are endless... And best of all: You can order it all online!

So, I secured heirloom turkey breast (for more detail than you would ever want on heirloom turkeys and their mating rituals, see Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), cranberry relish, green beans, and pumpkin pie. Rebecka insisted it would not be Thanksgiving without our traditional sweet potato casserole, so I buckled and promised to make it - just for her. We received the recipe yesterday via email (thanks Rene!), since we had apparently misplaced it during the move. I took some liberties with it to attempt to achieve a slightly healthier version (light Karo syrup, Splenda, and whole wheat flour)... It was still extremely sweet, but oh so good.

Btw, the Whole Foods Market in Milwaukee is fantastic. I was in heaven when I went to pick up the goodies yesterday afternoon. I made a couple of impulse buys including an organic reindeer dog toy for Sophie (shhh... don't tell). I have never seen that many organic goods in one place.

Todd also did his share of shopping for the feast. When I returned home from work on Tuesday, there was Swedish "Julmust" and "Glögg" waiting for me. Yay for Todd!! We had to do a bit of searching to find some pecan pie here in the Midwest. We finally found one at Baker's Square. I figured they would be a good option, since they do specialize in pies. The fact that they displayed a pecan pie on their website was a good clue as well...

So, needless to say, I did fake it a bit (I mean, I didn't have to stick my hand into a cold turkey body), but there was also a good amount of web surfing, driving, teamwork, and kitchen time put into the creation of a wonderful Thanksgiving meal for three.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where Have All The Tires Gone?

So, Todd visited the two premier tires stores in the area. None of them had winter tires for a Toyota Corolla. We're thinking it's not meant to be.

How can the tires stores be out of tires?

Monday, November 24, 2008

To Winter Tire or Not To Winter Tire

A week ago today, Rebecka performed in a musical at a theater about 10 minutes from here. It took us close to an hour to get there (and would have taken longer if one of my friends hadn't been gracious enough to guide us to a secret shortcut over the phone). The reason: it was the first real snow fall, people were heading home from work, and I'm pretty sure most of them had not put on their winter tires yet. Everybody was going in slow motion!

I had surprised myself by actually not procrastinating regarding this matter and already had my winter tires. This was after a lengthy lecture from a couple of colleagues who insisted that I get winter tires over "all-season" tires. Todd got different advice from the folks in Iowa. They insisted that all-season tires work just fine. My tire experts at work insisted all-season tires don't cut it in the Midwest winters. I decided to take their advice.

So, I had no problem driving up and down the hills, unlike everybody else. We finally made it to the theater at exactly 7 PM (which was the start time). Fortunately, everybody else was late as well, so they waited a while before commencing. By the time the splendid musical was a thing of the past and we were driving home, the roads had been covered with layers of salt and the return trip was much faster (albeit disturbing - what is this going to do to my car??).

Now to the funny part... Here is my husband's Facebook post from last night after their first snow fall: "Todd is thinking that he might need to buy snow tires after all."

It's slippery out there.

The Art of Writing...

...is disappearing. It's so sad.

Just take a look at the comments on this blog post:

http://environment.about.com/b/2007/10/16/how-to-find-products-not-tested-on-animals.htm

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I am a Twilight Convert

Ever since we moved up north, Rebecka has been reading the Twilight series pretty much non-stop (aside from some HP and Clique books interspersed here and there). In fact, she reads so much, her science teacher actually told her during a parent/student/teacher conference she should read less! (More time for science studies...) She's tried to get me to read the books a couple of times, but I never really had any interest. I mean, I have more "important" books to read like Sketching User Interfaces, Tuned In, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle...

However, this past Friday, I took her for the opening night of Twilight, the movie. I am now hooked. It's not like the movie is an Oscar contender or anything, but something about it struck a chord in me. Needless to say, I am now 243 pages into the first book and I'm sure I'll keep reading for some time tonight (and very much regret it when the alarm goes off at 4:30 AM tomorrow morning).

Vampires are cool...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Running for Maintenance

Winter is a pretty boring time for runners. There aren't really any races to run (except a few Thanksgiving races and potentially a New Years Day race). And if you live where I do, it's too cold to run them anyway.

When you don't really have anything to train for, it's hard to stay motivated and not get bored with the training. However, it is also a good time to relax somewhat from intense training and give your body a bit of a break. I looked on runnersworld.com to see if I could find a good maintenance running plan, but there was none to be found.

So, I made up my own...

Mon: 1.5 miles warm up, 3 miles intervals (e.g. 2 x 800m; 4 x 400m with recovery periods in between), 1.5 miles cool down
Tue: 20 min elliptical + weight circuit x 3 (I use the ABS Diet program for strength training)
Wed: 5 miles easy
Thu: 20 min elliptical + weight circuit x 3
Fri: 6 miles with 1-3 miles tempo or 6-9 min hill running
Sat: 30 min elliptical (or easy run) + weight circuit x 3
Sun: Off

The experts also recommend you sign up for a spring race so you have something to look forward to. active.com is a good site for finding races in your area by type, distance, and several other criteria.

Just keep running.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Awesome Quote

In reading the eternity book Sketching User Experiences (I've been working on this book for weeks), I came accross a wonderful quote:

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Alan Kay

To me, this is wonderfully inspirational to all designers whether that is traditional product design or interaction design.

Think about it.

America Recycles Day

Today is the 11th annual America Recycles Day (ARD). Per the website, it "...is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to encouraging Americans to recycle and to buy recycled products."
There are a lot of things which can be recycled and some of them you may not even know about. earth911.com is an excellent resource for recycling anything from hazardous waste to electronics.
Obviously, the best thing to do is to purchase items which don't leave a whole lot of waste behind and were produced using recycled materials (if applicable).
Check out Repurposed 4 You for some fun recycled goods shopping.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Effectiveness 101

I've spent a good bit of time this fall reading about ways to become more effective and get the essentials done in less time. I wanted to take a moment to share some of my favorite findings with you...
  1. Check email 2-3 times per day: This is definitely my #1 tip. If your job involves a lot of communication via email, this will make a huge difference. My set times to check email is 1 PM and 4:30 PM. The key thing is to not check email in the morning, because it will get you off track before you've been able to accomplish anything.
  2. Complete three Most Important Tasks (MITs) each day: This is another huge one. I had actually already started doing this before I found out there was a name for it. Each day, determine which three tasks are most important to accomplish the next day. Don't do anything until you finish those tasks (e.g. don't check email). It will make you feel so relaxed the rest of the day. I try to get my MITs done before 9 AM each day. This isn't always possible if your MIT involves a conversation or has a dependency on somebody else, but for everything else, it works.
  3. Don't write a lot of emails: You won't get as many...
  4. Get out of non-essential meetings: You won't miss anything. Along those lines, make sure every meeting has clear objectives. I state the objectives of the meeting for 90% of the meetings I host. It's the courteous thing to do.
  5. Schedule "Doing Time": I schedule around 20hours of "Doing Time" in my calendar each week. This is my time to get my own work done. Much of this time is early in the morning before most people get to the office. Which leads me to my next tip...
  6. Get up early: I get up at 4:30 AM most mornings. I am at the gym by 5 AM and at work by 7:30 AM. This head-start on the day provides a mental boost and makes the rest of the day more relaxing.
  7. Simplify your space: Due to various circumstances, we now live in a less than 1200 sq. ft. apartment. In order to fit into this space, we got rid of a lot of stuff. Having less stuff makes it easier to keep the space clean and requires less maintenance. It's great! The same concept works at the office. A clean work space minimizes distractions and makes you look organized.
  8. Fit activities to your time slots: A lot of time I find myself with 15 minute pockets of time (between essential meetings...). It's a good idea to have a list of quick tasks ready in order to take advantage of these small pockets of time. E.g. File expense report, review sales presentation, call Bob to follow up on X. Save more complex tasks for the larger blocks of time you scheduled in tip #5.
  9. Take advantage of travel time: If you travel a lot (like I do), my favorite travel tip is to use the time to read. I have an email category called "Read/Review." Before I leave the office for a business trip, I look at my "Read/Review" category and print out items to read on the flight. It is amazing how much material you can get through on a 1 1/2 hour flight. Make sure to bring a good book as a backup in case you finish faster than you expected. (You don't want to be stuck reading the airline magazine!)
  10. Be careful with the Internet: The world wide web can suck up more time than TV. If surfing the web is your passion, then obviously do it. However, if you have other interests and you're trying to be more productive so you can have time for these interests, I suggest cutting down on the surfing. I limit my blog reading to a few good blogs which I enjoy in the following categories: Simple Living/User Experience/Product Management. That's it. Now, shopping online (especially on zappos.com) can save time, so use the interweb to your advantage!

"Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things."
-Peter F. Drucker

Monday, November 10, 2008

Green at Work

The past couple of weeks really flew by. So fast, in fact, that my TreeHugger training concluded without notice. (I blame the election, travel, and more travel...)

Anyway, week seven of Ready, Set, Green is called "Getting to Work: Building a Better Office." It addresses the obvious topics like paper waste, energy-saving equipment, and electricity use. However, it also discusses "The Triple Bottom Line," which essentially claims that companies will generally do best in the long run when three things are taken into consideration:
  • Profit
  • Environment
  • Society

Believe it or not, it's not all about the money. It's also about how your business operates to reduce negative impact on the earth and how it contributes to the "greater good." This is the main theme of one of my favorite business/management books: Good Business. Read it!

I definitely tend to favor businesses which I know contribute to the environment or society (or both!). I realize some companies may over-advertise these contributions as part of their marketing strategy, but who cares? At least they're doing something. I like to "vote" with my dollars and wishfully imagine that it matters.

I think it does.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Run Baby Run!

Today, my baby (that would be Rebecka) finished her first 5K! We both participated in the Jingle Bell Run at the Milwaukee County Zoo. We defied the below freezing weather in double, triple, and quadruple layers. Between the two of us, we raised $115 for arthiritis.

The cool part about this race was the vast diversity of runners/walkers from hardcore runners in shorts (crazy!) to parents with kids in strollers to wacky 20-somethings dressed up like Pac-Man characters. It was also fun to look at the animals along the way. We encountered pinguins, bears, monkeys, and elephants among other animals.

Rebecka and I alternated between running and walking and made it all the way to the finish line. It was pretty much one big fartlek. Rebecka decided it wasn't terrible enough to never do a race again - I got a maybe. I can work with maybe.

The warm shower which followed was magnificent (until our uber-small water heater was unable to keep up). We've both been in PJs ever since (and do not intend to switch out of them until tomorrow morning). Hopefully nobody at Caribou Coffee or the Co-op will care.

Time for some peppermint hot cocoa.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Change

For people who work hard to earn a living, I hope for change.
For those who cannot afford proper healthcare, I hope for change.
For the kids on the wrong side of the tracks who need an excellent education, I hope for change.
For those who simply cannot take care of themselves, I hope for change.
For people working to change the world, I hope for change.
I hope...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Chicago

This weekend, Todd, Rebecka, and I went to Chicago for the annual (and very exciting) AAR conference. Todd was there to schmooze and deliver a paper. Rebecka and I were there to see Chicago. Amazingly, this is the first time I've been to Chicago to see the city. I've spent numerous hours in the airport and traveled there for business, but never just for fun. However, I've felt for some time now that Chicago and I would get along very well if we just gave it a chance. I was right!

On Saturday, Rebecka and I walked probably six miles or so up and down Michigan Ave. We stayed at the Chicago Hilton, so we had a little ways to go to get to the hardcore shopping district. Rebecka finally got to experience her dream of visiting a Hershey's store. I was happy for her.

In the evening, we attended the Vanderbilt reception. We got to see some of our friends from Nashville, so that was delightful.

On Sunday, we got brave and took bus 22 north to Clark and Foster to see Andersonville. This is the Swedish part of town. We ate lunch at a cute little restaurant called "Svea" (which only accepted cash, sending me down the street to an ATM where I had to pay a $3 fee). Then we visited the Sweden America Museum. It was educational. I didn't know the founder of Walgreens was Swedish. Now I know.

It was all good and fantastic.
We'll be back soon.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I'm proud to announce that I have not had a single piece of candy today. The best part is that I haven't really been tempted to eat any. Sugar cravings disappear pretty quickly. Good thing.

On another note, I found a new pair of shoes (out of three that came from zappos.com today). Size 6WW and they're still slightly narrow. Insane!

We're leaving for Chicago tomorrow. Should have some fun stories from there.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sugar

I recently read an article on Zen Habits called Beat the Sugar Habit: 3 Steps to Cut Sweets (Mostly) Out of Your Life. The author describes the various bad things sugar does to your body (yikes!) and provides lots of helpful tips on how to break the habit. Of course, it ends with the tip "Enjoy Life," which essentially reminds the readers that ultimately, you don't want to be so regimented about anything that you forget to live.

For some time, I have been thinking off and on about cutting sugar and to what extent, etc, etc. I've done it in the past for specific occasions (wedding, trip back home, etc), but not as a lifestyle change.

I think I'm ready to try it.

I am going to start with cutting the obvious sugar - like food that exists purely because of its sugar content (ice cream, candy, cookies, etc). Then I'll monitor the difference in how I feel for a few weeks. My guess is that I'll feel so fabulous that I will want to continue cutting down (e.g. replace butter and preserves on the english muffin with peanut butter).

OK - it's official.
I can do this!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dressing Up: Clothing and Personal Care

Thus beginneth my sixth week of TreeHugger training. My book says: "...it's time to start wearing your heart on your sleeve."

This seems to be more challenging than the whole food and energy thing. I think fashion is slightly behind the curve when it comes to using organic materials and fair labor. It's hard to even know where to start. Some companies do call out on the clothes that they are 100% organic cotton (e.g. Levi's with an embroidered lowercase "e" inside the front pocket). However, they appear to be far and in between.

The classic example of an environmentally conscious apparel company is Patagonia. They are also mentioned in books like Good Business for their overall contribution to the "greater good" as part of the business world. They have set some pretty awesome examples as to how a company can be environmentally responsible and still do very well. Now, their clothes are not cheap, but from what I understand, they last a long time. And the coolest part is when you're done with your garment, you can send it back to Patagonia to be recycled.

I found another site called green loop that sells environmentally responsible fashion. It has some pretty nice stuff. (As my TreeHugger teachers point out, dressing responsibly doesn't mean you have to look like a Hippie - not that there's anything wrong with that...) I bought the shirt shown above. It's called "Sun Rays." That makes me happy.

I tried going to zappos.com (my favorite shoe store) to find some eco-friendly shoes. My guess is the suppliers have not tagged all their shoes properly with this classification, because it only produced six results in women's shoes. My guess is this number will be very different in a year.

Moving on to makeup... I'm slowly trying to wean myself from makeup. So far, I've cut out blush. Next will probably be eye shadow. However, I'm probably not going to get away from foundation unless I want to look like Rudolph. I've been happily using Clinique products for 15 years and have never considered anything else. Unfortunately, I cannot find anything on their site which indicates they are doing anything related to trying to save the earth... I may have to look at alternatives. Mary Kay plants trees. Then there is Ecco Bella which is all about healthy beauty. The Body Shop has been working for all kinds of causes for as long as I can remember. They would be another good option. So, next time I run out of foundation, I'll definitely be trying one of these out.

One more thing on clothing... Obviously, the best thing to do is to wear your clothes as long as possible and use second hand clothing. I must say, I can't really do the second hand thing - mostly because the stores are generally super unorganized. However, I do try to buy clothes that will last for a while.
With that, I'm off to the mall.
I'm a budding TreeHugger, OK?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Positive Thinking

I'd like to reflect for a moment on the power of positive thinking. I'm sure there tons of books and articles and research papers out there with much more insight on this topic, but I still feel like sharing some thoughts on it here...

The other morning, Rebecka stumbled into the kitchen and groaned: "It is going to be a horrible day!" I took a deep breath and started talking about the fact that her attitude about the day probably wasn't going to help it much. Magically, she agreed. We then proceeded to break down the day class by class and talk about the challenges and potential solutions to each segment. Once we were done, the day seemed a lot more manageable and she left happily for school. It ended up being a better day than initially expected!

This is a good example of how simply looking at something in a positive light can have a profound impact on reality. Thinking positively about a presentation, meeting, or dreaded party will most definitely make it more enjoyable and less stressful.

I also use positive thinking to try to stay well. If I feel like I might be getting sick, I start thinking positive thoughts to put a stop to it right then and there. It usually works! I can't tell you why or how, but it does. Every now and then, I will also accompany this with a half day of rest to "nip it in the bud." It has proven a very effective mechanism to avoid long drawn-out illnesses.

Finally, there are obviously days where I cannot muster up enough positive energy to pull all this off. Those days, it's important to know what your limits are. Is there risk you might blow up in a meeting? (Maybe that's just me...) Then reschedule and go to a coffee shop, chill out with a good book for a couple of hours and come back refreshed. Or take a brisk walk and get all the negative thoughts out of your head. It's amazing what a beautiful autumn day can do for the psyche.

Think positive and watch your world transform...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Greening Your Home

Week five of my TreeHugger course passed by in the blink of an eye. I traveled to Virginia for an overnighter during which I did not get my bag until after the client meeting. I missed two days of running and was in a constant daze from lack of sleep.

Not a great week.

Needless to say, I didn't have a whole lot of opportunity to think about energy consumption, water, and building (the sub-title of this week's chapter). The good news is that I have already incorporated into my everyday living some simple ways to decrease utilization of energy and water (do these at home and when you travel, as applicable):
  • Set the thermostat appropriately. 67 during the winter is absolutely adequate.
  • Don't let the water run when you're brushing your teeth or washing dishes.
  • Turn the lights out when you're not in a room (and open up the shades during the day for natural light - it's the best kind).
  • Replace your most frequently used lightbulbs with compact flourescent lightbulbs (more expensive up front, but will save you in the long run).
  • Unplug electronics when you're not using them (it's the safe thing to do as well).

Pretty easy, huh? And the beauty of all this: You save money! I know we can all use the extra cash these days.

Furthermore, I'm taking care of one of the "So You Want to Do More" options today: Signing up for "green power" with Alliant Energy. This costs more, but in my mind, it is an investment in the future.

Have a great Saturday!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Walking the Walk

As part of the 2008 Blog Action Day, this post will be centered around the topic of poverty.

Poverty is a tricky subject. As far as we know, poverty has always been around. The Bible indicates that we will always have poor people among us. In fact, most religions have some form of religious practice which involves giving alms to the poor. Poverty is a generally accepted part of our overall global economy.

However, does this mean we should sit still in acceptance and carry on with our lives pretending that 20,000+ children aren't dying from poverty each day? A lot of people think not. Many organizations are out there trying to make a difference in people's lives every day. And they are. My favorites are organizations such as Heifer International, which provide animal gifts and training on how to become self-reliant. With a few goats and hens, a family can get milk, cheese, and eggs and earn a simple living to buy other necessities. Another family may learn how to keep bees and produce honey. This type of aid is a lot more meaningful than dropping packages of food from a helicopter and taking off (although I understand the need for emergency food supplies).

This past Sunday, Rebecka and I participated in the Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk at the beautiful lake front of Milwaukee. The youth gathered donations from church members and friends and family to support self-help organizations like Heifer. The theme of the CROP Walk was "We Walk Because They Walk." Thinking about children walking miles just to get clean water and then carrying gallons of it back home made our two mile trek around the lagoon seem like a vacation. However, it felt good to know that we were participating in making some family's life better - for the long run.

But there is more...

As much as I believe in this type of fundraising, I firmly believe that if we are to seriously make a dent in poverty and allow all people to live a quality life (define quality!), we in the developed countries must take a smaller wedge of the overall earth pie. Jim Merkel describes it well in his book, Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth:

"Imagine you are at a potluck buffet and see that you are the first in line. How do you know how much to take? Imagine that this potluck spread includes not just food and water, but also the material needs for shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. It all looks and smells so good and you are hungry. What will you heap on your plate? How much is enough to leave for your neighbors behind you in the line?"

These are thought-provoking questions. The unnerving reality is that we are taking too much and our quality of life isn't all that much better. In fact, some would say there are people who we would consider "poor" (i.e., they don't own a TV or a computer) who have a much better quality of life. This makes me want to point out that there are different types of poverty. Basic needs poverty is unnecessary. The earth buffet has enough for everybody (at least for now). Spiritual, emotional, and social poverty are the negative side-effects of our over-consuming society and is more difficult to tackle.

So what can we do to address basic needs poverty and take less of the pie?

  • Eat what we need. No more, no less.
  • Try to eat local food when possible. (And no, Bob the Banana Grower is not going to suffer any more than he already does, because Dole and Kroger is already taking most of the money...)
  • Live in a home that is the appropriate size for our family.
  • Buy quality products that will last and recycle products that we no longer need so they can become somebody else's treasure.
  • Donate excess income to organizations like Heifer to provide a life-time of earnings for other families.
  • Buy products that are fairly traded. (Click here to learn more...)
  • Get involved! There are so many ways to help. Pick an organization and go for it!

And guess what?

When we walk the walk...

Our lives and the lives of others will be richer.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall is Here!

I was driving to work this morning, happily wailing along to some rockin' black gospel music, when I looked up and realized that my route had exploded into a vibrant autumn palette. Reds, oranges, yellows, and browns were all around as far as I could see. It put a big smile on my face.

I love fall.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Highlight of the Day

When a member of the congregation we are currently visiting asked me: "Which school do you go to?" (And he was serious!)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

P.S.

Carbon offsets on Carbonfund.com are tax deductible... How awesome is that?

Carbon Offsetting 101

As promised, I spent some time this week looking into the phenomenon which is Carbon Offsetting. I started my quest at treehugger.com and quickly found a good starting point:

EcoBusinessLink has a good survey of various carbon offset companies and organization with details around price, project types, offset types, and certifications. I decided to check out Carbonfund.org, because they have multiple certifications, are not for profit, and allow a choice of which project type to support (e.g. Efficiency & Carbon Credits vs. Renewables & Methane).

The process was surprisingly straightforward. You simply pick a calculator (I picked "Flight," because I want to offset my upcoming flight to Sweden), enter airport information, click calculate, and add to cart:

My carbon offset price ended up at $15.22. I chose to funnel that money to Reforestation & Sequestration. I like trees. It took approximately three minutes to complete the entire order.

I'm hooked.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sohpie's First Day

Sophie woke up yesterday, like any other day, thinking about how she would spend the day: "First I'll nibble at my breakfast, then I'll go outside, then I'll sleep on the big chair, then I'll bark at the bunnies outside the window, then I'll sleep on the couch, then I'll play with my family, then I'll nibble at my dinner, then I'll go out, THE END."

However, little did she know that this was no ordinary day. This was Sophie's first day at Doggy Daycare at Central Bark. In fact, it was the assessment day to ensure she would get along with the other dogs and not tear them to shreds and steal their toys. Sophie was wild with anticipation as I put her in her car seat (yes, it's true) and we started the drive out to Central Bark.

Geno, the incredibly enthusiastic owner and a friend of a friend, greeted us when we arrived and put Sophie up to wait for the rest of the dogs to arrive. We went through the paperwork, I confirmed they would call me if something happened, and drove on to work.

At Central Bark, they actually have a Daily Activities schedule much like a daycare for human children would have:
  • 7:00 - 8:00am Arrivals

  • 8:00 - 11:30am Morning Activities

  • 11:30am - 12:00pm Individual Attention

  • 12:00 - 2:00pm Nap Time (lights out with classical music)

  • 2:00 - 4:30pm Exercise

  • 4:30 - 5:00pm Individual Attention

  • 5:00 - 6:30pm Chill Out/Pick-Up Time

Sophie was in for quite a different day! When I came to pick her up around 5:30 PM, Geno went through her assessment with me. She had no problem with human contact (she loves everybody indiscriminately). As far as the other dogs were concerned, she was not so sure. Under the "Introduction to other Dogs" section, she fell into the following categories:

  • Initial Contact: "Hey, what are you doing?"

  • Comfort Level: "I'm a bit out of my element."

  • Play Bow: "You want to do what??"

The good news is that she was not possessive and allowed the other dogs to share treats and toys. Overall, Geno felt that Sophie would be just fine once she got used to it and that this might be just the place for her to build up some confidence around other dogs. Phew!

Sophie's only comment at the end of a long day of trepidation and excitement:

I'm pooped!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Green is All Around

I don't know if it's just that I'm paying attention more now, but it seems like everywhere I turn people, organizations, and companies are "going green." Just in the last week, I've encountered the following fantastic efforts to save the planet:
  • One of the little churches that we visited this past Sunday (Todd did communion and Rebecka and I "shared our musical talents") had a sign in the foyer encouraging church goers to recycle their bulletins after the service.

  • The Brentwood Summit News devoted an entire page to curbside recycling. (Too bad we don't live there anymore...)

  • The latest issue of Runners's World has 22 pages devoted to "The Runner's Footprint." (I never realized how much waste is created by high performance running shoes...) It includes "30 Ways to Be A Greener Runner."

  • Alliant Energy sent me a pamphlet about how I enroll in the "Second Nature" program to support the growth of renewable energy in Iowa. For approximately $12.00 more per month, absolutely!

  • Our Luther College purchases this weekend came in recycled plastic bags. Luther is all over the "going green" thing. They stopped using trays in the cafeteria, most of their bathrooms are paper towel-less, and they have removed almost all driving possibilities on campus (and no more smoking!).

I think there may be hope for Mother Earth after all...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My Dream House

Several years ago our family hosted a house warming party shortly after we moved into our house on Chepstow Drive in Nashville, Tennessee. Toward the end of the evening, one of my friends (originally from New Zealand) said something that has stayed with me ever since:

"So you have achieved the American Dream... You have a great, big house and no time to spend in it."

This statement obviously didn't make me go quit my job or sell my house (in fact, we still have it, if anybody's interested...). However, I have pondered this off and on since that autumn evening. This memory has floated back into my consciousness a lot more over the past couple of months as I've been reading about simple and eco-friendly living.

Why do we need huge houses that take up lots of space and use up lots of electricity/gas/water? According to my sources, it is a status symbol. You buy a large house to show the rest of the world that you have succeeded in the game of life. (Unless you have eleven kids and you simply need the space.) I honestly bought a big house so I could comfortably entertain my friends. However, everybody always ended up in the kitchen (and on the deck) anyway. The other rooms stood there empty and lonely. More to clean, more to insure, more to pay taxes on, more to heat, more to cool, more to maintain, more to sell...

Now that we have the opportunity to select a new home in a new location, we are thinking differently about what kind of house we want and where it should be located:

  • Close proximity to grocery shopping and other necessities so we can walk or bike.
  • Well insulated with Low-E glass windows and preferably solar panels for renewable energy.
  • A root cellar would be cool.
  • A lot of wood and natural materials.
  • Close to work.
  • Wide open spaces and lots of light.
  • Scandinavian design.
  • Just enough space for the four of us - no more, no less.
  • Close to nature/parks/green stuff.
  • Enough space for a baby grand (for me) and a library (for Todd).

When I was in Decorah the first time, Todd drove me by a house that pretty much exemplifies what I want (at least the general exterior design):

Rebecka is already working on our version in SketchUp.

She wants to be an architect.

How convenient.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Traveling Light: Transportation

Week four of TreeHugger training is all about transportation. I am both good and bad in this category:

Good
  • I drive an Echo. It gets 40 miles per gallon when I drive the speed limit.

  • Proximity to work is fairly good. If I was a fully developed TreeHugger, I would bike.

  • We live within walking distance to a grocery store and a farmer's market. (Too bad the Co-op is so far away!)
Bad
  • I travel a good bit for work.

  • My vacation often involves flying across the Atlantic.

  • Either Todd or I drive somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 miles most weekends so we can spend time together. (Totally worth it, btw!)
My goal this week is to find out more about purchasing carbon offsets so I can feel better about those trips to Europe and Iowa.

I'll let you know what I find...

Monday, October 06, 2008

Cleaning House

Last week, I was charged with "greening up my act" as it relates to the home front. Considering that we live in an apartment, there is not much I can do as it relates to wallpaper, paint, etc. I'm also not in the furniture shopping business, so not much to do there. Finally, I definitely do not have a kid in diapers, so I can't help prevent the massive landfill problem (third largest source of landfill waste - ugh!). Hence, I stayed focused on products which keep my home (and my family) clean. I feel like I've come pretty far:

  • Seventh Generation bleach, detergent, and dish washing liquid, kitchen cleaner, toilet paper, facial tissue, and paper towels (it's just like the Swedish variety...)

  • JASON shampoo and conditioner

  • green works cleaner (for the floor)

I also got unbleached parchment paper and baking cups for future baking adventures!

It's amazing how easy it is to find earth-friendly alternatives for pretty much any cleaning job. (Btw, I think I'm going to buy some for the clubhouse cleaners... I had another bad encounter with killer spray this morning.)

Spread the word!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Day in Decorah, Iowa

This weekend marks my second weekend of making the four and a half hour trek across the Midwest to visit my husband, Todd, in Decorah, Iowa. He is a visiting Associate Professor at Luther College which is located in Decorah. Hence, he lives there during the weeks and some weekends. Initially, I was making fun of going to "the middle of nowhere" for the weekend, thinking it was going to be a drag. However, I quickly discovered that it is the perfect getaway after a stressful week at work.

Decorah is a small town, but has lots of character and is progressive in nature. It boasts a great co-op and is actually mentioned in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for its "Seed Savers Exchange," which is a network for sharing heirloom seeds. In addition, it was founded by Norwegians, so it has a Nordic flavor to it from Norwegian flags on the architecturally interesting houses to a Viking mascot at the local high school.

A Saturday in Decorah starts by sleeping in and then staying in bed until Sophie starts barking at the neighbors' dog. We slowly roll out of bed (which is a close to the floor IKEA bed) and make our way into the kitchen for a bowl of Peanut Butter Bumpers (best cereal on earth). We lounge around for a bit, reading Runner's World, checking email, and waiting for Rebecka to wake up.

When everybody is dressed and fueled up, we head down to Luther College to work out at the gym. We work out for as long as we want, because we can. After a nice, long workout, we head back to the house for showers and grooming (Sophie got her grooming last night though and she was not pleased when I had to cut a mat off her tail). At this point, we're all starving, so we get in the car to find lunch.

Today, we ended up at a Chinese place with a fairly good buffet. Of course, buffets generally invite overeating, so I did a little bit of that, but not too badly. Regardless, it hit the spot. A few other "errands" included getting Luther sweaters for Rebecka and Todd (I got an Ecology Man key chain, because I already have a Luther hoodie - and it's the best!) at the Luther bookstore, practicing our songs for church tomorrow in the music building, and making some copies in Todd's building.

Time for custard! One of the best things about the Midwest is the custard. Since there is always a "Flavor of the Day," it never gets boring. We got a brownie variety at the local Culver's and sat down on a bench in downtown Decorah to enjoy. Once we finished, we made the obligatory stop at the co-op to pick up some delicious, locally baked bread (including Swedish Rye) for our evening meal.

We drove back to the house with our purchases and took a little reading/sleeping/internet break. Then it was time to introduce Sophie to Luther College. Todd and I took her for a long walk around campus while Rebecka parked under a tree with her book and a blanket. The weather was perfect. We walked slowly through the beautiful campus and watched with amusement Sophie's attempts to attack the campus squirrels. When we got tired of walking, we found a bench and played closing scene of Notting Hill. Except, instead of a book, I had a Bichon sitting on top of me. It was relaxing. I took deep breaths and enjoyed the calmness it brings. We talked about the future and our dream home (which is less than 2000 sq ft, btw).

Finally, it was time to go retrieve our little girl and head back home. On the way to find Rebecka, a vicious, unleashed dog appeared out of nowhere, barking and charging right toward Sophie. In a heroic gesture to save Sophie from the beast, Todd yanked on her nylon leash and scooped her up in his arms just in time. The evil pooch's owner called him back and we continued on our merry way... until Todd realized blood was dripping from his finger from the friction of the leash against his skin during the Sophie rescue. He went to find a sink with soap and paper towels and I went to find Rebecka. She looked like a mini college student with her new Luther jacket and my bumble bee sunglasses. We walked toward the building into which I had seen Todd disappear and met him halfway. He had a paper towel wrapped around his finger, but knew it wouldn't stop the bleeding (it was a pretty deep gash). So, we drove to the nearest gas station and got their last pack of bandages. Once we got home, Todd was able to get cleaned up and bandaged (on his own... Rebecka and I are both too squeamish to be helpful in these situations) and Sophie got to drink some water and plop down on the couch for a well-deserved nap.

The evening will end with a simple supper followed by hot chocolate and reading/TV watching/conversation until we get tired and roll back into bed for a good night's sleep.

Until Sophie starts barking again...

A Budding Runner

I've always dreamed of sharing my love of running with my daughter, Rebecka. (Well, at least since I've been a runner and she's been old enough to run.) In the past, I've made a few futile attempts to get her to run with me on a regular basis, but it always fizzled out due to life (travel, illness, cold weather, you name it...).

After the 5K fun last weekend, I decided to invite Todd and Rebecka to run the Jingle Bell Run with me. For Todd, this is cake, considering that a 5K run is an "easy" day for him. For Rebecka, however, running even 0.5 miles is generally a stretch (she recently came home from school huffing and puffing because they made her run the aforementioned distance at gym class). So, we turned to runnersworld.com to see if we could find a good beginning runner's training plan to get ready for a 5K in six weeks. Sure enough, the running experts beat my expectations with a five week plan that starts the budding runner off at 10 minutes of running and gradually gets her up to 3.5 miles.

Rebecka faithfully followed the plan this past week and today, she ran two miles! I am so proud of her!! And it's not like she ran two miles and then collapsed. No, she cooled down with a slow walk, biked a mile while I finished my run, and then we did a full session of strength training together. With five weeks to go until the race, we should all be in great shape to finish the race and hopefully not freeze to death.

Persistence does pay off...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Anti-bacterial or Anti-shmacterial?

My third week of TreeHugger training is related to the home... "Greening Up Your Act: Cleaning and Interior Décor." Probably the scariest part to me is the section on "Antibacterial Products," which starts with the sentence:

"With our society's increasing tendency toward hyper-cleanliness, we are weakening our bodies and creating virulent strains of resistant germ and bacteria."

You know what's scary about this? (Aside from the fact that we are ending up with germs we can't kill.) We already know this and we keep using the anti-bacterial stuff! I am guilty along with everybody else. My kitchen soap is anti-bacterial. We have anti-bacterial wipes for wiping down sinks and counters. Because it seems safe.

However, recent research (this decade) seems to indicate that anti-bacterial cleaners and soaps are the opposite of safe. Regular soap and water is just fine unless you have someone who is seriously ill or has low immune system in your household. Those marketers got us again, making us believe that we need the spray that will kill 99.9% of those pesky bacteria. (I guess the 0.1% are the virulent strains we've created...?)

And it's not just cleaning. I mean, you can actually buy anti-bacterial clothing for your newborn baby. If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself: Baby Pink or Blue. Or how about anti-bacterial placemats? Now that's a good start to your kid's life - weaken that immune system while you can!

Needless to say, one of my goals will be to rid the house of anti-bacterial everything.

One bottle at a time...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

To Negative Split or Not to Negative Split - That is the Question

I ran my first 5K in about five years today. My goal was to cross the finish line in less than 30 minutes. I had been training to a slightly slower goal pace (10 min/mile), but I thought the adrenaline would probably help me get there.

I placed myself in the 9 min/mile section at the line up, knowing that most people don't pay attention to the signs and I didn't want to be trying to navigate strollers and walkers once the gun went off. The crowd I was surrounded by went out pretty hard. After a few minutes, I was thinking to myself, "I'm running at least a 9:30 min/mile pace. Hopefully, I will be able to keep it up."

Todd and Rebecka were on the curb cheering for me as I ran by the first water station (why they even have water stations at a 5K is beyond me, but whatever...). I slowed down so Rebecka could snap a picture:

I kept running, thinking that surely I would have passed a mile by now. Looking at the stop watch (which was Rebecka's pink cell phone), it said 11 minutes and something. Yeah, I was definitely past the one mile mark. Great - I had no idea how fast I was going. So, I continued at the same speed. It was hard. I was starting to get worried that I would not be able to achieve the negative split effect (running the second part of a race faster than the first part) and croak and pass out on the sideline before I reached the finish.

However, before I knew it, there was the (very small) sign for mile 2. I glanced at the pink phone. 17 minutes! Good Lord - I was going fast (for me). An 8:30 min/mile pace is unheard of in Tabita race history (fastest 5K was 8:36 min/mile, but that was five years and five less pounds ago). It was a relief to know that I would definitely make the 30 minute cutoff. At the same time, I wanted to finish strong and I was tired. I slowed down slightly (agaist the definitive rule of the negative split) to make sure I would make it all the way. I focused on my breathing and tried not to let it bother me that people were passing me left and right. I trudged on for a few minutes knowing that I was getting close. And sure enough, there was the finish line ahead. Running is 75% mental (in my opinion). Once I saw the goal, I forgot about being tired and started picking up the pace. I finished in 27:48 (unofficial time a la pink phone). Thrilling!

After hugs, pics, bananas, water, warm shower, and yummy lunch, I went to sit down to look at my upcoming training schedule (yep - I'm a little insane). I know I mentioned in a previous post that I would do a 10K training plan next, but I got so pumped by the race today, that I decided I would focus on some more 5K training (plus, I'll most likely be running a 5K, not a 10K). I went to runnersworld.com and started looking for articles on 5K training. The first one was called A Fast 5K. Sounded good to me. To my surprise, it talked about recent studies showing that for moderate runners (like me), going out fast actually works better than the traditional negative split. Wow - it seems I was onto something! The next article, Race Your Best 5-K Ever, contained the same message: Negative splits or even a steady pace is not the way to race your best 5K!

Then I went back to my original 5K training plan (after all, it worked out pretty well) and noted that under "Race Day Rules," the author quotes: "It's all about negative splits." Interesting...

This is my conclusion: I'm going to use the same training plan, but adjust it for a 26:30 finish time (that would be a PR for me) and forget about the negative split.

Jingle Bell Run, here I come!

Eating Your Way Green - Results

According to my TreeHugger training program, I was supposed to accomplish the following this week:
  • Buy at least three organic vegetables or fruits
  • Research Farmer's Markets and CSAs in my community
  • Eat one or two fewer servings of meat
  • Use reusable bags for grocery shopping
  • Recycle any remaining plastic bags

So - how did I do?

  • Well, I'm definitely trying to buy as much organic (and local) produce as possible. In fact, I'm rather suspicious now to anything conventional (although I can't let go of bananas). And as much as I love "fresh" berries, I have decided that I will wait to buy berries until they are in season in my region. One thing I've decided is that starting to eat local in the fall is not a great idea, because it doesn't give you a chance to preserve the delights of the spring and summer. So I'll spend this winter learning as much as I can about local foods and eating it as much as possible and then try to become a more hardcore locavore come spring.
  • On the second goal, I have tracked down all the Farmer's Markets in the area. The most convenient location being across the street from where we live. I haven't had a chance to do the CSA research, but I'm sure I'll have lots of time this winter. Finding Outpost was a great step forward as well. I'm now a member and plan to go back today and get my produce for the week.
  • Since I don't really eat much meat anymore, this one didn't really apply to me. However, for our weekly dinner out on Friday, I twisted Todd's arm (Rebecka chose to stay at home) and took him to a totally natural, vegetarian restaurant called Cafe Manna, where the floors are made of bamboo and the menu covers wear a soft cork. I had the special (yum!) and Todd had a noodle dish with tempeh, which was adequate.
  • Hello - I've been using reusable tote bags for my groceries since we moved up here! Every now and then, I forget and feel really guilty. I was excited to find that our grocery store for the basics, Pick N Save, conveniently located within walking distance from our apartment, gives you a 5 cent credit for each reuable bag you bring when you shop. That makes me happy!
  • N/A - got rid of these a long time ago.

Of course, there is a lot more to do under the "So You Want to Do More" section:

  • Avoide purchasing two or more processed foods (bye bye Balance Bars...)
  • Bring your lunch to work (always!)
  • Read labels and find out what's local (very challenging in regular stores, but Outpost rocks when it comes to labeling local/regional foods)
  • Plant your own garden (OK, this is one I'm going to be reading up on this winter)
  • Read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (I chose Animal, Vegetable, Miracle instead)
  • Join the Slow Food movement (I'm in! And $60 poorer...)
  • Purchase extra fruit in the spring and fall and dry or can it (back to my point about starting locavorism in the spring rather than the fall)

Hmmm - I'm doing better than I thought I was...

I'm off to run a 5K!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Training Plans Totally Work

I am two days away from my first race in about 17 months. It's a 5K Race for the Cure (Milwaukee version). Thanks to a runnersworld.com training plan, I feel totally prepared.

The beauty of training plans is that they allow you to not have to think at all about what your run should be (which is especially challenging at 5 AM in the morning). You don't have to wonder: "Should I do intervals or a tempo run or is it perhaps time for an easy run? How far should I go? How fast should I go? It's all there handed to you on a silver platter (or rather a 8.5 x 11 printout). As long as you can figure out converting meters to miles, you're good to go. An added benefit is that a good plan prevents over training, because it inserts "off days" every here and there (great time to do weights!).

The very best part is the feeling of getting stronger, more in control, and more confident. I'm such a fan of training plans that I've already picked out my next one: "Your Ultimate 10-K Plan." I don't have a 10K to run yet (and there doesn't seem to be one in the vicinity), but there is always the 2008 Jingle Bell Run.

I've always wanted to run with jingle bells tied to my shoes...

Ummmmm...... ME!!!!!!!

This is a guest post by Rebecka:
\ /
that should b easy 2 figure out!!!!!!!

heeeeeeyyy every1 its me tabitas AW-Some daughter doing a guest blog. why? i have absoLUTEley no idea!!!!!!!! if u cant read my lang. SORRRY!!!!!! you shouldve thought of that!!!! now...... y am i not using my own blog? well,..... bcause......... idk i guess im lazy!!!! weelll now i guess most of u hoo check this site out daily,,,,,,, u saw my horrible day yesterday,, yes those days do happen (sigh)....... if u had a bad day 2 well,...... :( sorry... but I had a much better day 2day, w8 of course i did its friday, duh!!!

4 those of u who dont know (which u should) i started school,,,, 4 wks ago, yup 7hrs of long droning lectures from teachers..... PURE TORTURE on mon., tues., wed., half of thurs., .....lunch and p.e on occasion when they dont make you run half miles w/o stopping... oi!!!!!

well, THATS all out of my system and i cant think of anything else 2 write about sooooooooo........ byebye and have a good weekend/life!!!!!!!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tabita and Rebecka's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Because I'm so exhausted from my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, this post will mostly contain bullet points of events and allows you to piece it all together using your imagination:

- Day started off great: When I turned VH1 on in the workout room ("gym" is a stretch), the latest John Legend video was on. It's my favorite.
- Half-way into my workout, one of the cleaning guys (the tall, skinny one) came in and started spraying down the equipment, as usual. However, this time, something was different. I felt the chemicals settle in my throat and turned to see what in the world he was spraying. 409. Great - that stuff will kill a jumbo roach with 1-2 sprays. Opening the windows did not help. I cut my workout short and headed back to the apartment feeling nauseous.
- Showering and grooming was uneventful. However, when I walked into the living room, ready to head out to the office, I found little Sophie chewing on the remnants of a pen I had left on the kitchen table. This is a fairly common occurrence (Sophie loves pens!), but this time there was blue ink on the carpet (a lot of blue ink). I went to get our miracle stain remover solution (really!), but I guess it doesn't work on ink. I rubbed and rubbed, but it would not come out.
- Work was fine aside from not looking forward to the evening ahead (Thursday is Cleanning Day).
- At school, Rebecka suffered from heat (no A/C at her school) and hyperventilated as she completed a science project involving circuits in 30 minutes.
- When I got home, Rebecka was in the bathtub and there was a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Let the work begin!
- Rebecka had to help with my part of the cleaning, because I was grumpy and stressed. She did a great job dusting and vacuuming.
- Thursday is also Soup and Swedish Pancake Day. When I went to get the ingredients out of the fridge, I noticed there was water all over the bottom shelf. On further investigation, it was actually Rebecka's last bottle of Propel. No Propel for Becka's lunch tomorrow.
- Rebecka had used up almost all the ReddiWip for her spa treatment (remember the bath...?), so we only ate one pancake each (it's just not the same without fake whipped cream).
- As part of the spa treatment, Rebecka had dripped her honey and cream mixture on her bath mat. So I decided to wash them (it was time anyway). Half of the mats ended up as fuzz in the washer. I spent about ten minutes picking fuzz off the mats and out of the washer. (They're currently on their second round of drying - I'm scared to see the results.)
- After dinner, we had a language arts fire drill. Rebecka had to find a realistic fiction book set in "the present" at her reading level (why did the child have to score so high on the diagnostic??). After much agony and amazoning, we decided that The Penultimate Peril (part of the A Series of Unfortunate Events collection) had to be realistic fiction.
- This led to a walk to the library (with evil, ink-stained Sophie). At this point, we were both delirious and basically laughed our way all the way over there. Sophie made lots of friends while we stood outside waiting for Becka as she retrieved the book.
- During and after the walk, things got progressively better: I proved my theory about the buttons for the cross-walks, Sophie did her business, I had some yummy yogurt, and Rebecka had a big glass of milk.
The moral of the story is this:
Bichons cannot be trusted.
Do not buy bath mats from Target.
When you think things can't get any worse, they can.
Do not store Propel bottles horizontally.
Always keep an extra bottle of ReddiWip around.
Laughter is the greatest medicine.

My Grandparents Had It Figured Out

In the spirit of my TreeHugger-in-Training theme of the week, "Eating Your Way Green," I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In one of the first chapters, Kingsolver points out that over the course of a couple of generations, we have unlearned how to take advantage of locally grown food and make it last throughout the year.

I have made the same observation as I have been inhaling "Simple Living" books for the past several weeks:
My grandparents had it figured out!
Let me explain. My maternal grandparents had a huge yard and garden surrounding their quaint, yellow house in the small village of Rappestad in southern Sweden. There grew every fruit tree imaginable (at least the cold weather varieties), berries ranging from raspberries to red and black currants to gooseberries, and beds and beds of vegetables.
As a child, I got to help thin the carrots to allow the remaining carrots to grow big and strong. If we needed chives for dinner, we would just run outside with a pair of scissors (OK, don't run with scissors...) and cut a few stems. Likewise, during the summer months, lettuce always came from the garden.
Every summer and fall, we harvested the bounty: Apples, cherries, pears, berries, rhubarb, potatoes - you name it. Then the fun began as we converted these gifts into goodies which would last all year. We filled dozens of jars with fresh apple sauce (in fact, I didn't know you could buy apple sauce in the grocery store until I was in my late teens), black and red current jelly, and picked onions. Strawberries and raspberries were turned into "saft," the Swedish version of juice concentrate. We packed the freezer with blueberries, rhubarb, and strawberries to fill pies and cobblers and top our ice cream during the cold winter months (yes, we eat ice cream in the dead of winter). Nothing went to waste.
My paternal grandparents had the same concept going on, but on a slightly smaller scale. Yet, they managed to fill their root cellar with winter apples which lasted all the way until Christmas. We ate local, because it tasted good and it was available.
How sad it is that most people in my generation and definitely my daughter's generation have no idea where their food comes from. We eat it because it is available, not because it's good. Strawberries have lost their magic for me, because I can get them year around. It used to be that the best weeks of the year were when the strawberries were ripe. At least once during these golden weeks, we would go to a strawberry farm and pick, eat, and pick some more all day long.
It was magical.
The good news is that my parents still have these skills. They still freeze blueberries for the winter and they still make applesauce. I intend to start paying attention and learn from them and make sure I pass on the knowledge to my child - because she will most likely need to know when we run out of gas to haul strawberries from California so we can eat those poor, tasteless specimens whenever we want.
Why did we ever forget?