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:

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... disappearing. It's so sad.

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

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 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. 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 " 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. 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 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


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


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.