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 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


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: "'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 (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


Carbon offsets on 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 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, 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:

  • 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!)
  • 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 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...