Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reminder and Farewell

All, don't forget to go and lend some money at http://www.kiva.org/team/tablog. How cool it is to have an opportunity to help global brothers and sisters become self-sustaining!

On a separate note, I have decided to stop writing this blog after 5+ years. It's been a blast and given me a much needed outlet for my writing and thoughts. However, for several months, I have felt called to start a new blog focused on living simply and how we might be able to end poverty if we all take only our share and relearn what it means to have enough. As such, I have decided to stop writing here.

If you are a friend/family, I'll see you on Facebook. If I don't know you, but you enjoy my writing, please follow my new blog here: http://livesimplyenough.com/

Have a blessed and relaxing holiday! Remember those who have less than you and keep your friends and family near.

Peace,
Tabita

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blog with Heart

I was thrilled to read a post on zenhabits.net this afternoon with the title "How We Can Help Alleviate World Poverty in Three Easy Steps." As you know, this topic is near and dear to my heart. In fact, the topic of this blog is slowly morphing into living simply so others can have enough. It's a simple concept, really.

Anyway, the blog post mentioned the "Blog with Heart" challenge, which is a great opportunity to lend a helping hand. This is a challenge to blog communities to lend money though kiva.org during the month of December. You may recall that I tried this micro lending site out back in September.

So, of course I'll be one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. Go to the tablog team and lend a hand to an entrepreneur in need: http://www.kiva.org/team/tablog

Thanks!
Note: Picture courtesy of Agnieszka Bialobrzeska at stock.xchng.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reflections on My Internet Fast

As you may or may not know, I took the month of October off from the Internet. Well, not completely off, of course. It would be hard to do my job otherwise. I also allowed activities like getting directions, checking email (on occasion), paying bills, and looking up vital information (like how to toast pumpkin seeds).

But I didn't write blog posts, read blogs or other articles, participate in any form of social networking, or shop online.

The motivation: more time, less stress, and just to get away.

I have to say, I didn't miss it a bit. Well, I missed writing, but that was about it. I had some good blog post ideas in October, but I just let them go. Productivity was fantastic. Think about it...

You get to work early (to get things done) and turn on the computer. What is the first thing you do? Work? Probably not. You likely glance at the news headlines, and potentially get sidetracked into an interesting story. You then move on to email where you find a dozen notifications from Facebook, which leads you to that time-sucking site. You see an update from an old friend and go to her profile to see what else is going on in her world and who her friends are. You see a common acquaintance who is not yet your friend, so you send a friend request. Before you know it, it's 9 o'clock, time for your first meeting of the morning and your day is shot.

During my Internet fast, my morning started with my MITs (most important tasks) and allowed me to feel good about my accomplishments by the time 9 AM rolled around. I'm trying hard to maintain this discipline.

I also enjoyed being disconnected for a while. Checking Facebook, especially, can become quite addictive. It's not like I was on there all the time before the fast, but I felt like it was almost a duty to check in several times a day. What if somebody had a baby? What if a good friend was sick? What if, what if, what if...? Like Facebook is now the only socially acceptable form of communication?

The best part was that friends really appreciated what I was doing. Almost like, "wow, I wish I could do that..." Well, you can. It's pretty easy. Even now, 14 days into the world of Internet again, I find myself not using it at all as much. I check personal email once a day. I check Facebook when I feel like it and not out of some weird 21st century cyber duty. I read blog posts when I see a title that looks really, really intriguing, maybe one or two daily.

My fast allowed me to detach from the Internet and find out that it is okay. The world will not end if I don't show up on Twitter for a month (or two).

Nice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Needs to Happen to Save our Planet?

As I was going through my notebooks this morning, making sure that I had captured all my "todos" in a safe place (aka OneNote), I found a page that I had written a while back.

It was titled: "What needs to happen in order to save the planet?"

I am certainly no expert in the field of "Earth Saving," but I do ponder this topic a lot. Our planet is in real danger. We have abused it to no end over the past several hundred years. Things need to change and we know what changes are needed. Yet, we fail to take the steps to make it happen.

So, with no further ado, here is the list from my notebook:

  • Americans & Europeans need to stop taking more than their share. (This includes housing, transportation, stuff, food, etc)
  • Stop making poor-quality products that end up in landfills.
  • Manufacturers must be held responsible for the recycling of their products.
  • Organic farming must become the norm. (I would add that we should go back to eating local and seasonal food.)
  • Create sustainable villages where people can bike and walk. (and work!)

I think this is a good start. If we did the above, the planet (and its inhabitants) would have a fighting chance.

Want to help?

  • Buy only what you need. (This year, I started with clothes... It has been liberating indeed.)
  • Reward manufacturers of high-quality, low impact products.
  • Eat organic/local/seasonal and cut down on meat.
  • Live within walking/biking distance to work/shops/dining.

If this sounds hard and boring, it isn't. It's actually quite a fun adventure to figure out how to live sustainably. And it's amazing to discover how little you really need. Make one small change today, another tomorrow, and pass it on. We need to change our ways to save planet Earth.

It's the only home we've got...

Note: Picture courtesy of Horton Group at stock.xchng.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

IKEA and Thoughts on Cheap Food

I visited IKEA, Shaumberg, IL today. We arrived right around lunch time and headed straight for the restaurant. Todd was excited about meatballs. I was excited about dessert (since I'm not eating meat this year). We marveled over the cheapness of the food ($15 for the two of us) and wondered (once again) how they manage to keep it so cheap. Knowing IKEA's "socially responsible" take on things, I fervently hoped that the beef in the meatballs came from "happy cows" and that my salmon had been caught in the wild (and especially not raised on corn). However, one can never be sure...

So what is a closet food activist to do? Never eat out? Eat only at "Certified Green" restaurants? (Guess how many there are in Wisconsin... One: Cafe Manna)

Well, at least one can try to avoid cheap food (unless it's at IKEA...). Cheap means highly subsidised which means big company which means industrial which means hidden costs. Let's take a McDonald's burger... Imagine the energy and water that was required to produce that burger. Think about the health care costs we incur to treat people who've had one to many burgers and now suffer from diabetes and heart problems. And what about the salaries of the people serving the food so that you can have a $4.00 Big Mac? Not enough to make it above the official poverty line... Cheap food doesn't work.

A complimentary strategy is to support grocery stores and restaurants that are socially conscious and buy local food and meat from farmers who treat their animals humanely. CSAs are another good option for supporting local agriculture.

It's not going to be cheap up front, but you will feel good about putting your money where you're heart is. In addition, your money will help stop the insanity of the cheap food and hidden costs which ultimately ends up costing society more than if we had just stuck with the original small-scale, sustainable, local food economy.

Eat like food matters.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sugar Addiction

Sugar makes my stomach hurt... Why, oh why did I have that piece of cake? (Because it was in the hallway and I am addicted to sugar.)

Per "The End of Overeating," I need some cognitive behavioral therapy such as repeating to myself: "This will make me feel sick."

It's good to be back in the blogosphere!

Peace.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Taking an Internet Fast

I like the Internet. I think it's really cool how it allows people from across the world to connect in seconds (or less). However, at this point in time, I have a strong feeling that I should take a month break from this virtual world and do some more living in the physical world.

What I'm thinking here is no reading blogs, no writing blogs, no Facebook, no mindless surfing, no Twitter, etc. I will check my personal email once a week, just in case. I will also use the Internet for things like buying plane tickets and look-ups that would require a phone book (since I don't have one).

I've unsubscribed to a bunch of emails, set filters for the rest, turned off notifications from Facebook and other such sites so as to avoid inbox pollution.

I'm super psyched about this experiment and hope that you check back in November to read all about it.

Until we "meet" again...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Everyday Efficiency (or I Need Help)

One of my favorite mental activities is to think of ways that I can be more efficient in my everyday tasks. I'm not sure if this is normal or not (I'm thinking not...). Regardless, I find great pleasure in finding a new process that shaves a few seconds off of any routine.

For example, my evening bathroom routine consists of seven steps (worst case):
  • Remove contacts
  • Wash off makeup
  • Apply toner
  • Apply moisturizer
  • Brush teeth
  • Floss
  • Use mouthwash

I have devised a process that minimizes the time I have to spend on these activities, so I can get to a more enjoyable activity (read in bed!). Here it is:

After washing off makeup, rather than moving on to apply toner, I brush my teeth, floss, and then while I'm swooshing mouthwash around in my mouth for 60 seconds, I apply toner and moisturizer.

I know! Groundbreaking, isn't it? I mean, over the course of my life (assuming I live to 90, which I plan to do) I will save 167 hours by using this process. That is not a trivial amount of time. Everyday efficiency rocks!

This one's for you, Katie. :)

September Donations (and related Books)

I recently read the book "Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money" by Woody Tash. This book is all about investing in sustainable agriculture and food companies as if good and healthy food matters. It's an inspiring and fairly dense book which outlines the principles of the Slow Money Alliance. As soon as I finished reading the book, I signed up to become a member of this organization. It makes so much sense to invest in the earth without which we cannot survive on this planet. It's so sad to read about farmers struggling to get by and the big corporations taking over everything. Irresponsible farming and other malpractices are destroying valuable topsoil that takes hundreds of years to build up. Drastic times call for drastic measures. I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in socially responsible investing.

One of my other favorite books of the year is a book called "The Better World Handbook," which I picked up at the Luther College bookstore. One of the authors, Brett Johnson, is a professor there (along with my dear husband). It is a great tool for coming up with more and more ways to make the world a better place. It is specifically geared toward people like me who work full time and probably don't feel like they have the time to really make a difference. But we do! Every little thing matters. From transportation to eating, there are good choices and not so great choices. The one area that I've been wanting to do more with is "money." We've kind of settled for the default options that come with work and the city in which we live. For various reasons, this is not a great time for us to make a bunch of financial changes, but I wanted to do something! So, this month, I tried microlending for the first time. I went to kiva.org and signed up to lend a certain amount of money to Afi Katako in Togo. She is essentially the village cook and needed a loan of $875 to buy more supplies to meet an increasing demand. She is now fully funded and is on a 17 month repayment plan. What an awesome concept!

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

-Chinese Proverb

Note: Farmer image courtesy of Hans Thoursie at stock.xchng.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Poem on Injustice

Am I So Valuable?

Am I so valuable that I should earn more money each day than many people earn in a year?

Am I so valuable that I should have others do my cooking and cleaning and gardening and childcare?

Am I so valuable that I should have too much to eat while one billion brothers and sisters around the world go hungry every day?

Am I so valuable that I should have a comfortable home while others live in the streets?

Am I so valuable that I should have the right to consume the world's resources to a point of unsustainability?

Am I so valuable that I should have ready access to the doctor of my choice while billions live without affordable health care?

Am I so valuable that I should enjoy a long life while many children do not see their first birthday?

I think not.

-----

I think I am valuable. But I think the single mother who is struggling to raise three children, the teacher working in a rural Afghani school, and the 12-year-old boy who is now head of the household after his parents died from AIDS are just as valuable.

Everybody should be able to eat healthy food, drink clean water, have a cozy place called home, enjoy excellent education, and have access to quality health care.

Anything else should be considered gross injustice.

Injustice is the enemy of peace.

NOTE: Photo by Charlie Balch at stock.xchng.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Cutting Down on Processed Food

For a long time, I have been thinking that cutting down on processed food would probably be a good thing. The more I read about slow food, local food, and fresh food, the less I want to eat food products that have been processed to the point of unrecognition. However, I was finally convinced when a friend informed me the other evening that processed food actually slows down your metabolism. I did not know this!

I know that sugar and fried foods, as well as lack of sleep, slows down your metabolism. But I didn't know about processed foods. It makes sense. Processed foods are much harder to break down, so the body doesn't have a choice but to slow down.

So, here is another beginning... Eventually to eliminate highly processed foods from my diet. I'll start off with simple stuff like granola bars and factory-made cookies and snacks. The harder part will be Bumpers. I'm pretty addicted. It has nine ingredients. Another processed food I cannot live without is soy milk. This will just have to be treated as an exception.

I'm not sure what the definition of "highly processed food" is, so I'll just make up my own.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Another Beginning - Eating Local

There was another beginning that I meant to include in my blog post on September 1. In fact, it was one of the key beginnings that I wanted to highlight, so I feel kind of foolish for forgetting.

Anyway, September 1 marked the beginning of the 2009 Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge. The point of this two-week event is to raise awareness for the beauty of local food. The Braise Culinary School summarizes well the top five reasons for becoming a "locavore:"

  • Helps to support family farms
    • Retains food dollars in the community
  • Exceptional taste
    • Unique varieties not found in stores
  • Maximum freshness
    • Grown locally instead of traveling thousands of miles
  • Helps to sustain the environment
    • Promotes stewardship of the land
  • Nutritious and affordable
    • Promotes healthy lifestyles
The good thing about this challenge, is that it is completely up to you how far you want to take it. Perhaps you want to try to eat 100% local (hard!) or maybe eat one local meal per day. My own challenge is pretty loose... Buy mostly local produce (can't live without bananas just yet) and buy local dairy and meat products.

Just now, I had some of the best yogurt I've ever tasted (at least in the US) from Kalona Organics in Iowa (I am in Iowa right now). It's appropriately named "Cultural Revolution." It's the real deal. Sure, I probably had to pay a bit extra for it, but it was so worth it. I can't even eat the "normal" yogurt you find in the grocery store. It's too sweet and slimy.

Once you get used to eating local, you'll wonder why we ever stopped.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Living in a Messed-Up World

As I walked through Terminal C at the Atlanta airport the other evening, I saw something that reminded me (once again) of how messed up our world is. An airport employee was taking all the left-over food from one of those "street corner" food stands and dumping it into large, black trash bags. Salads, sandwiches, fruit cups, and the ubiquitous yogurt and granola parfaits. Perfectly good food being dumped as waste into those thick black bags. To be sent to a dumpster. To be sent to a landfill. To sit there and decompose for years.

How hard, I wondered, would it be for someone to come to the airport each evening and pick up all this food and distribute to the city's homeless? Or at least, compost the leftovers and recycle the containers…?

As I returned, a day later, to the Milwaukee airport, I got on the moving walkway to get to the parking garage where Elmer was waiting (Elmer is my car). This got me started on the messed-up world thoughts again. We have created escalators, elevators, and moving walkways to reduce the amount of energy we have to expend getting around at airports, malls, apartment buildings, and office buildings. And rather than using our own energy (which is free and clean), we use electricity (which is expensive and dirty) to power these "human energy savers." In addition, we spend $147 billion annually on treating obesity-related illnesses, the occurrences of which could be greatly reduced if we just moved more.

At this point, the floodgates of my mind were opened and I knew I had to write a post about this craziness. What follows is additional evidence that we're living in a messed-up world with a final plea help for ideas for how we can affect change. (Also, when I say "we," I really mean "we." This is not criticism, but rather reflection.)

The average American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. That's a lot of CO2. What happened to eating local? When I was growing up in Sweden (not that long ago!), we ate food that was in season. We enjoyed strawberries in June and apples in September. What we couldn't eat, we froze, pickled, canned, or otherwise stored in the root cellar. I didn't even know that you could buy applesauce in the store until I moved to the US.

We have created cities that are so spread-out that some people can't even get to the grocery store without getting in the car. Let alone work, school, the library, shops, place of worship, friends, and family. So much unnecessary disconnection and pollution.

We work long and hard hours to make lots of money to buy what?
  • Professional-looking clothes required for work.
  • A nice car to get to work.
  • Lunch out with colleagues.
  • A spectacular house to impress said colleagues.
  • Expensive vacations to recover from work.
  • Dinners out, because we're too busy to cook.
  • The latest electronic toys which a year later will find itself in a landfill.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't work, but do we need to work as much and as hard, especially in jobs that are not fulfilling? Is it worth it?

The distribution of wealth and income is getting larger and larger and larger. Woody Tasch asserts that "the top 0.1% of Americans collectively enjoy almost as much income as the bottom 50%...". That's messed up.

The average NFL football player gets $1.4 million per year to chase a ball (and knock opponents to the ground). The average public school teacher gets around $50,000 per year teaching, mentoring, and caring for our children. That's even more messed up.

65% of all grain grown in this country is fed to cows. Cows are not supposed to eat grain. Cows are a huge source of pollution. Yet, we continue to eat beef like everything is OK. While 1 billion people in the world are starving.

We eat "food" that has been processed to the point of unrecognition and contains more ingredients with longer names than players on the Finnish hockey team. And we're OK with paying more for it than we would in its unspoiled and natural form. Because it's convenient.

I could go on, and on, and on, but I won't, because I think you get the point. It's messed up. We need to do something. How does one bring about change at this level? I know it starts at home, but then what?

Is it an unrealistic dream to think that the world could be a better place? (Please say no.) Where everybody has food to eat and a warm place to sleep. Where every child has an equal opportunity to get an excellent education and good nutrition. Where community reigns and loneliness is eliminated. Where we eat when we're hungry and not because we're bored, sad, lonely, or stressed. Where we get to experience nature on a daily basis and breathe clean air.

Is it?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Day of Beginnings

Today is a day of beginnings...

A pretty obvious one is that it is the beginning of September. This morning, Rebecka kindly reminded me of this fact and pointed to our "Glimpses of Bangladesh" wall calendar (created by my cousin Jacob) which was stuck in August. Later when I got home, I flipped the page to find a semi-toothless older man and the words "Rural life in Bangladesh." I learned that rural life is slow-paced and families are mostly self-reliant. The main things they purchase are kerosene and tools. I need to visit!

Today is also the first day of school in the fine school district of Elmbrook. Rebecka said goodbye to summer with mixed feelings. She definitely enjoyed lazing around and traveling all over the country this past summer, but is also excited about seeing old friends, meeting new friends, and taking some new classes (including Build a Business!). I packed her lunch, complete with a special first-day-of-school Hershey's bar and relished the realization that our routines are back to "normal."

As I took Sophie for a very early (pre 4 AM) walk this morning (she definitely hasn't caught on to the back-to-school routine yet), I had the privilege of breaking open a new roll of poop bags in the apartment complex poop bag station. Even poop bag rolls have beginnings...

I am also starting to read a new book today. I finished "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert (awesome read) during lunch. Now it's on to "Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money" by Woody Tasch. I'm pretty excited about this concept. My understanding of the full scope of the book is limited, but I know at least one of the premises is putting money back into farming and the earth. Makes sense. We need food to live. Shouldn't we invest in it?

Finally, I am flying AirTran on purpose for the first time this afternoon. I haven't had great experiences with AirTran to date, but they had the best schedule, were pretty cheap, and now they have WiFi. Although, one of the things I like about flying is being disconnected... So I may not go there. It's just nice to have the option.

Here's to new beginnings!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Sabbath

I'm a big fan of Sabbath. In fact, I think this is one of God's best ideas ever. It's so essential to take a break and relax from the daily grid.

I also don't think Sabbath has to happen on Sunday. Really, just find a day each week when you take a break from work and enjoy spending time with friends and family (or yourself).

Last week, I had a Saturday Sabbath. I woke up at a hotel room in Chicago with Todd and Rebecka. At 6:40 AM, we took the shuttle over to Midway Airport (love Southwest!) to escort Rebecka to her flight to Orlando and Disney World. Once she was airborne, we took the train up to Loyola University, where we started walking to a restaurant that I had picked out for our brunch. It is a place called Uncommon Ground that has the country's first certified organic rooftop garden. How cool is that? We both decided to go with the granola pancakes and it was a good choice. Those may have been the best pancakes I've ever had (it's a toss-up between these and the sweet potato pancakes at the Pancake Pantry in Nashville).

After a leisurely brunch, we took the train even further north to Evanston. This is one of our favorite spots in the Chicago area. It is the home of Northwestern University, including the Kellogg School of Management (I can always dream...). We walked around the campus for a while and then started wandering along the lake shore. We passed through a neat park and continued walking through what must have been one of Evanston's more affluent neighborhoods. The proud old houses are so beautiful and inspiring. Why did we stop building houses like that?

We eventually ended up in downtown Evanston (thanks to Todd - you know me and directions...). It is so nice to see a town with a real downtown. Feels like Sweden. When we started getting hungry, we found the cute little Italian place we went to last time and ordered delicious food off of their ridiculously cheap lunch menu. We sat there for a good while enjoying the atmosphere and the food, of course.

Finally, it was time to go so we could catch the 5:08 PM train back to Milwaukee. Seems like every time we manage to be running late for the train. We were slightly lost (mostly my fault), so I asked some people, who looked like locals, for directions and we arrived at the gate just as the train was boarding. At least we didn't have to wait around in the less-than-attractive Amtrak "lounge."

It was good to be welcomed home by a tail-wagging Bichon and settle in for a calm and quiet evening.

Sabbath at its best.

Biggest Loser Update

So I was doing really good the first week. I got down to 137.6 lbs. Not bad for one week. Then we went to Chicago (see next post), and I had a business trip, and I stopped by Kopp's yesterday because the flavor of the day was Red Raspberry (my favorite). And it's almost the end of summer.

However, it's all good. I'm back on track today. Will probably be until Tuesday when I leave town again. Travel and eating healthy do not go well together. Any suggestions on this?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Biggest Loser - I Continue Alone

This morning, I stepped on the scale and the unforgivable happened... The digital display crept up over 140 lbs. It used to be that my max threshold was 135 lbs. After overindulging during several trips to India followed by two years of intense travel, the threshold increased. Last year, I lost some weight and was feeling great. Now my jeans are tight again and I'm feeling heavy during my runs.

Even during our Biggest Loser contest, I got really close to 135 and then I'm not sure what happened since then. I've been pretty diligent about exercising. I've been eating a very small meal consisting of a sandwich and tea at night. What the...?

Well, I suppose there are a few causes... I've been trying the "Eating for IBS" diet over the past week or so. This is pretty heavy on soluble fiber (think white bread, pasta, rice, etc) and does not restrict sugar at all. My stomach has been better on the inside, but is growing on the outside. Hmmm, interesting dilemma. We have also frequented Kopp's (awesome custard place) a bit more than we should this summer.

So, I am now ready, once and for all, to get back to my old threshold of 135 lbs. My goal is to be below this weight (like 134.9) by the time I run the Race for the Cure on September 27.

Here is the plan:
  • I have started using fitday.com again to monitor my calorie intake, at least for a couple of weeks. This is a pretty awesome site and they've added lots of features over the past few years.
  • Per fitday.com, I need to reduce my calorie intake by 495 calories per day to meet my goal. What I'll do is increase calories burned by 200 by adding 30 minutes of cardio each day and reduce intake by 300.
  • Go cold turkey on sweets (candy, cookies, ice cream, desserts, etc)
  • Start drinking tea without honey (if I can stand it)
  • Avoid foods with more than 10 grams of sugar per serving
  • Drink herbal tea at Caribou/Starbucks rather than sugary drinks
  • Eat less at each meal (isn't it sad that so many people around the world are starving and I have to force myself to eat less. There is something really wrong with this picture.)
  • Don't eat within two hours of bedtime
  • Drink more water in the afternoon (I do pretty well in the morning)

I feel confident that I can do this and keep my stomach happy at the same time. Please hold me accountable. I'll provide a weekly status update on my progress.

Off to ride my bike with my beloved husband...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie & Julia

Todd and I went to see Julie & Julia yesterday afternoon. We were in a sold-out theater with mostly retired folks and a few other "young" people like us. It was a totally inspiring and creative movie with lots of laughs, a few tears, and lots of great food. It reminded me that it is never too late to start the process of changing the world.

I must say, I was relieved that I had cooked salmon, new potatoes, and fresh summer veggies as well as an apple crisp earlier in the day. It made me feel like a respectable cook.

"If a pot is cooking, the friendship will stay warm."
- Arab Proverb

Taking the High Road

Yesterday, the sermon at the church we attended was something like "Taking the High Road." In the sermon, the minister referenced the website www.ehow.com where there is actually an entry for "How to Take the High Road." Check it out: http://www.ehow.com/how_2063030_take-high-road.html

Saturday, August 08, 2009

August Giving

I'm sure you've heard the expression:

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”

I am a big fan of this concept. I mean, I appreciate the importance of emergency relief in disaster areas. However, I don't think continuously giving people money/food is good use of time and money. Rather, we should educate and empower people so they can make a living (i.e. make enough money to live on) for the rest of their lives.

One organization that is very good as this is Heifer International. Heifer reaches out to depressed areas of the world and teaches people to farm in a sustainable way. They may give a family a few animals to get started and the know-how to care for the animals and create a business. The best part is that recipients of the animals commit to "passing on the gift" to another family in the community. For example, if there is a new baby goat, this is passed on to the neighbors. This way, it is really a gift that keeps giving.

Heifer has a great gift catalog where you can select to give (among other critters) a cow or a llama or a flock of geese in honor of a loved one. We like to do this around Christmas time and for birthdays. You can also fund a project, which is what we did this month.

It's a really neat organization. Check it out!

Ending Hunger, Caring for the Earth
-Heifer International

Saturday, August 01, 2009

July Giving

During Christmas break, I read a most fantastic book called Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It is a touching story of a middle-aged mountaineer stumbling into a Pakistani village and thus receiving a calling to make the world a better place. This month, our charitable giving goes to Greg's organization called Central Asia Institute. The organization's mission is "to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan."

July also called for the renewal of our Slow Food membership. It was timely considering our recent viewing of Food Inc. as well as a documentary night at home with Super Size Me. It's a sad state in which we find ourselves. Slow Food is all about enjoying healthy food that is good for the earth as well. It is also about preserving diversity of food and making good food accessible to all. We're looking forward to attending our first Slow Food potluck next weekend!

"He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much."
-Lao-Tzu

Monday, July 27, 2009

Starbucks and Recycling

Last week, I met up with a friend at a Starbucks in Nashville. We had a good time in the warm evening air, catching up and talking about changing the world. We specifically talked about how crummy the recycling opportunities are in Nashville, especially compared to Sweden, where we both grew up. In Sweden, recycling has basically become second nature. This is a combination of education, convenience, and culture. My parents even receive special green bags for compostable waste. (Btw, my spell checker doesn't recognize the word "compostable." That tells you something.) Heck, McDonald's restaurants have recycling stations in Sweden!

When the time came for us to get out of our seats and go our separate ways, we both looked at our empty plastic frappuccino cups and decided that they were very much recyclable. I was pretty sure this Starbucks did not offer recycling, but we decided to go inside and look. Nope. Just a hole for trash. So we decided to ask the barista.

"Where can we recycle these?"

The poor guy looked at his shoes and indicated that they don't offer recycling. He said they did at one point, but customers didn't properly sort their trash, so it didn't work. We gave him a little bit of a hard time and then ended up throwing our cups away. (Yes, I know. I should have taken them with me, but I was in a different city, so I gave in to convenience.)

I was both saddened and excited about this exchange. I was sad about the huge amounts of trash that Starbucks customers generate every day. I was excited to think about the possibilities for positive change. With over 16,000 stores worldwide, Starbucks has a great opportunity to make a huge difference as it relates to contributing to the trash piles.

I was tempted to boycott Starbucks until they start to provide recycling, but I thought I'd do some research first. When I got back home, I went to the Starbucks website and quickly found that they have an entire site dedicated to social responsibility, called Shared Planet. Very cool! I honed in on the "Environmental Stewardship" section. Here are their main bullets on this topic:
  • We've always believed in caring for the environment.

  • Toward 100% reusable or recyclable cups.

  • Toward 100% recycling in our stores.

  • Taking on climate change.

  • It takes all of us. (i.e. bring your own cup)

I read on and discovered that Starbucks has the following goal:

"100% of our cups will be reusable or recyclable. We will significantly reduce our environmental footprint through energy and water conservation, recycling and green construction. Starbucks ability to recycle varies based on the level of commercial and residential recycling services offered in our store communities. We are committed to making 100% of our cups reusable or recyclable by 2015. In the meantime, there are two ways you can help to reduce the environmental impact of our cups: ask for your beverage in ceramic 'for here' or use a commuter mug 'to go.'"
This is pretty exciting. The only sad part here is that even if Starbucks wants to recycle everywhere, the communities in which they exist may not offer the available services. This is where local politics become important.

So, I won't boycott Starbucks. However, I will continue to ask about recycling and I will get better about taking recyclable cups back home where I can recycle them in the basement.

"You and Starbucks. It's bigger than coffee."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Slow Down and Pay Attention!

With the longer and warmer days of summer, I have been doing more walking and running outside in our neighborhood. On fine weather days, Todd and I like to end our day with a brisk walk and a reluctant Sophie (our Bichon Frise) in tow. She likes to stop and investigate EVERYTHING, especially fire hydrants and flowerbeds.

Indeed, we have something to learn from Sophie. In our fast-paced life, we allow the world to fly by and don't really even notice what is going on. Think about it... When you're in an airplane, you pretty much don't see anything that is happening in the world. You're traveling at jet speed (literally) and clouds often obscure your vision. If you slow down to a car ride, you see more things, but everything is buzzing by so quickly, that you can barely register them. How often has your child (or somebody else in the car) exclaimed: "Look, a deer!" and by the time you get around to looking, you're down the road and the deer is out of sight.

When I started biking to work, my appreciation for the route changed drastically. I could smell the trees and the flowers. I saw bunnies hopping across the bike lane. I noticed houses I have never noticed before. It was exhilarating! I also felt my muscles working hard to get up the hills and sweat forming on my forehead as I reached the top. The whole experience created a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction which is not possible with a car ride.

I am able to take in even more of the world when I am running or walking outside. The other day, I was joined by a deer on my morning run. I saw her out of the corner of my eye as she pulled up next to me and then veered off to nibble on a neighbor's landscaping efforts. How magnificent! When I walk, I notice trash on the ground that I sometimes pick up to throw away. I see people that I pass and have a chance to offer them a smile. Perhaps I am able to brighten somebody's day. That is my hope.

The point of this illustration (or is it an allegory?) is to show that the more we slow down, the more we will be able to see the world more clearly and joyfully. This is important for a lot of reasons:
  • You'll know what's going on with the people around you and be able to act accordingly. "Did you have a tough day at school today, honey?"

  • You'll know what's going on in your community and find ways to get involved. I've found an organization called Urban Ecology Center that helps restore and maintain neglected parks in underserved areas of Milwaukee. I've signed up for Park Ranger duty (i.e. picking up trash).

  • You'll know what's going on in the world and may be compelled to help. Have you noticed how many people in the world are starving? Over 1 billion... That's 1/6 of the population.

  • You'll be a healthier person. "Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness." (Richard Carlson)

  • You'll enjoy life more!

We live in a beautiful world. Yes, it's a little messed up, but it is beautiful. Slow down and enjoy the small pieces of beauty that are all around you: A child dancing to the music, a blooming tree, fresh strawberries, a flowing river, a warm smile, a cup of Chai tea, a good book. The list goes on.

Slow down and make the world a better place!

NOTE: Photo by Bev Lloyd-Roberts at stock.xchng.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Food, Inc.

Last fall, I read a powerful and personally influential book on food called "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. In this book, I learned about eating local food, the disturbing facts surrounding the food industry in our country, and how to get turkeys to mate.

As a result, I purchased a "happy" turkey (heirloom variety) from Whole Foods for Thanksgiving and on Jan 1, 2009 took the final step in my protest by giving up meat for a year. So far so good. However, I still have improvements to make. I occasionally purchase "regular" roast beef for Rebecka's lunches and we definitely don't discriminate when we go out to eat.

Last night, Todd and I went to see the much anticipated (at least in slow food circles) movie, Food, Inc. This excellent documentary takes the audience behind the covers of the machine that is the US food industry. As they say in the film, the creators "lift the veil" to uncover the dark and dirty secrets that allow us to buy "cheap" food. It is disturbing, moving, but also provides some hope that things can change for the better. One important take-away for me is that the basic economics 101 principle of supply and demand applies to organic and locally grown food as well. If consumers demand organic food, the mega-retailers will supply it.

Inspired by the film, I returned home and wrote an email to the White House encouraging President Obama to see Food Inc. As I was perusing the White House website, I stumbled across a month-old blog post about the White House garden harvest. I listened to the First Lady's speech and it was encouraging. She obviously gets it.

Here are some other things that you (and I) can do to "vote" with our grocery money and encourage sustainably grown/raised food:
  • Shop at the local Farmer's Market. Don't hesitate to ask the vendors if the food is organic.

  • Buy organic, when available. Unfortunately, this is generally more "expensive" than conventional food, but when you think about the gains (health, energy, sustainability), it pretty much makes it all worth it.

  • Buy local food whenever possible. This includes tuning in to what is currently in season. For example, tomatoes are in season July - early October and apples are in season August - October. If you're hardcore, dry/can/freeze produce to eat during the winter months.

  • Ask your grocery store to carry more organic/local food. I sent an email to my grocery store this morning letting them know that I appreciate the amount of organic food they already have and encouraging them to carry more local and organic produce.

  • When the cashier asks "Did you find everything you were looking for?" politely tell them you didn't find locally-grown organic produce (or whatever you are looking for) and that you will have to buy that elsewhere.

  • Find out where your restaurant food came from. Reward restaurants who use mostly organic/local/in-season food for their menu.

I encourage all of you to see Food, Inc. and tell your friends, family, and coworkers about it. This type of awareness is needed in order to affect change. As the Slow Food USA organization states in their vision: "Food is a common language and a universal right." All people have the right to healthy food which is raised humanely and with the planet's best interest in mind.

Imagine the possibilities!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

June Giving (or Better Late Than Never)

OK, so I know it's already past the middle of July, but I just realized I never blogged about our June donations. I don't like to leave things unfinished, so here we go...

June was kind of a hodgepodge of donations to several cool organizations:
  • Conservation International: This environment-focused organization does lots of great things to protect forests and other threatened habitats as well as endangered species.
  • Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC): I learned about this organization from a lady at the "gym." This is a great activist organization that keeps members abreast of environmental problems (such as wolves and polar bears disappearing) and encourages political action.
  • VHI Save the Music: I cannot imagine what my life would be like without music education. When schools start cutting music, art, and physical education you know it's time to move (or do something about it!).
  • Zen Habits: Zen Habits got me going in the right direction related to simple living and simple productivity. I owe Leo a lot and want to help support his writing.
  • Just Hope International: This Nashville-based organization helps end the cycle of poverty by providing basic needs and helping people build micro-businesses so they can take care of themselves. My dear friend Melissa travels to distant lands to do photography and videography. You can see some of her work here.

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." [Acts 20:35]

Sunday, July 05, 2009

My Weekend and Related Thoughts

I spent this 4th of July weekend alone with lots of time for introspection, retrospection, and future-spection. Todd and Rebecka left for Washington D.C. early on Saturday morning and I returned to a quiet apartment (aside from an occasion outburst from Sophie when another dog passed by in the hallway).

One of my goals for the weekend was to bake some bread. Good, Swedish bread. I have tried it a couple of times since we moved here and it's never worked out quite right. This time I decided to read the instructions on the yeast packet carefully and follow the directions. Things were going pretty well until I tried to turn on my fancy, red Kitchen Aid mixer. It wouldn't turn on. I tried a different plug. I tried detaching and re-attaching the bowl. I tried detaching and re-attaching the dough hook. No luck. Well, I thought, people have been making bread for thousands of years without Kitchen Aid mixers (red or otherwise), so I'll just do it by hand. It was hard work, but the awesome thing is that the bread turned out just right! We think we're so dependent on our electronic gadgets that do everything from giving us driving directions to letting us know if our guitars are properly tuned. It was a great Saturday morning reminder.

After a delicious lunch consisting of fresh bread with sliced hard boiled eggs and dill, I decided to head over to a nearby mall (more specifically to Barnes & Noble). Since the morning, I had experienced a really strong desire to read the Bible (it had been a while...). I searched around for one at the apartment, but all I could find was an old KJV and the old Swedish version. I wasn't about to suffer through that... It was a nice day, so I decided to bike the three miles to the bookstore. People looked at me kind of funny as I biked through the mall parking lot. Not a common sight, I suppose. I didn't really care. I found the Bible shelf and couldn't find what I was looking for. I was tempted by "The Green Bible," but thought it was a bit expensive. Instead, I started browsing the "Inspirational" section. I wasn't hopeful that I would find anything worth reading, but as I was glancing through the rows of "devotionals," I spotted a book that stood out among the glossy, colorful majority. The front looked like it was make of cardboard. "Promising," I thought as I reached for it. The title said "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical" by Shane Claiborne. That name rung a bell in my brain. I was associating the name with my brother, David. As I read the back cover, it clicked. This is the founder of an intentional community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way. Bingo! This was just what I needed. I bought a Chai Latte (soy milk, no water) and poured over the book for about 30 minutes. It drew me in like a magnet.

I had to interrupt my reading and ride home to get ready for an outing with a friend. We were bound for downtown Milwaukee for dinner and later a concert with The Fray at Summerfest. It was a good time, but when I got home (way past my bedtime) I couldn't help myself but to continue reading my new book. The intentional community concept is extremely intriguing to me. Sharing common spaces and possessions just makes sense. Why does everybody need their own lawnmower, car, washing machine, etc, etc? The answer is, we don't. The thought about belonging to a community like this where love of God and neighbor is the central "mission statement" is even more intriguing.

I woke up early with the chirping birds. It was another beautiful day, so I decided to forgo the treadmill and go for a walk around the neighborhood instead. As I walked past the big houses with their tennis courts and swimming pools, all I could see were prisons and barbed wire. I couldn't shake this vision. I started thinking about that image. We have created these neighborhoods with the over-sized houses and yards and they are really two-way prisons. They do not let people in (or at least not the people from the "bad part of town") and they imprison the people who live there. With a huge mortgage and maintenance costs, these families have to continue to work long hours at jobs they may or may not enjoy to keep up the lifestyle. We are prisoners in our grand homes.

It was a sobering thought. I thought about how many families could fit in each of those houses. Families who could share meals and enjoy that type of community. Sharing responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking, and washing the dishes. Raising each others kids. I've heard it takes a village.

Later on, I packed a lunch and biked over to the park we went to last Sunday. I found a quiet spot on the lake and enjoyed my simple meal and continued to read my book. It was pretty serene until a pesky mosquito (or two) bit me on both my feet. Ouch! However, it didn't deter me from staying a bit longer. Once a bee started buzzing around my head, I decided it was time to go.

I spent the afternoon playing guitar, reading, napping, playing the piano, taking Sophie for a nice, long walk (hopefully she'll sleep well tonight). Once I'm done with this post, I'll continue reading about The Simple Way. I'll leave you with a section from the book that ties in quite well with my morning vision:
"One of the things I think Jesus is doing is setting us free from the heavy yoke of an oppressive way of life. I know plenty of people, both rich and poor, who are suffocating from the weight of the American dream, who find themselves heavily burdened by the lifeless toil and consumption we put upon ourselves."

Note: Image by Miguel Saavedra at stock.xchng

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Biggest Loser Winner: Todd

I can't believe it's already over! Todd is the man. He lost 11 lbs. in a month. I lost two... Todd gets a new outfit and a romantic dinner at the restaurant of his choice. Ready when you are!

Congrats babe!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Random Biking Leads to Beach

Sunday is our day off from running. So, on Sunday mornings (weather permitting), Todd and I hop on our bikes and ride for about an hour. Yesterday, we decided to take a new route to check out a park we had seen in the distance while taking our Corolla to the Toyota dealership.

After three miles or so, we arrived at the park. To our delight, we discovered that the park had a little lake with a sandy beach. It also had a trail around the lake, which we circled twice. It was beautiful.

We spontaneously changed our plans for the day (I know, this is unheard of!) and picked up Becka, packed a picnic, and headed back to the park with the sandy beach. Aside from being super windy, it was an awesome time. Rebecka had to take a swim test to get access to the "deep end," which she managed just fine. I got in for a little while, was miserable and goose-bump-covered most of that time, but emerged from the water feeling overwhelmingly refreshed. We had to drag Rebecka from the beach two hours later so Todd could make it home for the soccer game. :)

Moral of the story:
Unknown paths often lead to delightful destinations.
-Tabita Green

Note: Photo by Keith M at stock.xchng.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Exciting Legislation

The House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill yesterday. Pretty exciting!

If you participated in calling, faxing, or emailing congressmen and women, thank you. It was a close call with a vote of 219 to 212. Activism works.

Here are the details from the government's site (which is currently down):

  • Requires electric utilities to meet 20% of their electricity demand through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency by 2020.
  • Invests $190 billion in new clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, including energy efficiency and renewable energy ($90 billion in new investments by 2025), carbon capture and sequestration ($60 billion), electric and other advanced technology vehicles ($20 billion), and basic scientific research and development ($20 billion).
  • Mandates new energy-saving standards for buildings, appliances, and industry.
  • Reduces carbon emissions from major U.S. sources by 17% by 2020 and over 80% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. Complementary measures in the legislation, such as investments in preventing tropical deforestation, will achieve significant additional reductions in carbon emissions.
  • Protects consumers from energy price increases. According to recent analyses from the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency, the legislation will cost each household less than 50 cents per day in 2020 (not including energy efficiency savings).

The green wave is here to stay!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Errand Week

How many errands can a family fit into one week? Well, here's our list:
  • Sophie Grooming
  • Todd Grooming
  • Tabita Grooming
  • Rebecka Dentist
  • Tabita Dentist
  • Elmer Emissions Testing and Vehicle Registration (Elmer is my green Toyota Echo)
  • New Contacts
  • Todd Dr. Appointment
  • Target (twice!)
  • Grocery Store (at least three times...)
  • Sophie Doggy Daycare
  • Waterpark visit (not sure if this counts as an errand, but anyway...)
  • Bank

Whew...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Great Post on Raising a Happy Child

Sean Platt of the Writer Dad Blog has a really awesome post on Zen Habits. Check it out if you have kids, are thinking about having kids, or there is even a slightest possibility that you might one day have a kid.

I especially agree with his thoughts on limiting media. We have observed a direct correlation between excessive computer and TV use and crankiness.

TV is evil...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Biggest Loser - Green Edition

A couple of weeks ago, Todd and I both decided that we wanted to lose 10 lbs. And since I am highly motivated by competition, we decided to race. The winner is to get a new outfit and a romantic dinner at the restaurant of his/her choice. Not bad...

Well, two weeks into it, Todd has lost six lbs and I've gained one. Not good (for me). Todd basically just had to stop drinking soda and eat junk food and the pounds melted off. I had unfortunately already cut most of that type of "food" out of my diet.

So what am I going to do to catch up?
  1. I'm going on the Abs Diet. This has worked for me in the past and includes food that I enjoy eating anyway. It is based on twelve "powerfoods" and eating six times per day. Perfect.
  2. I'm going to add an additional (light) workout every day (Todd's idea). For example, a 30 minute walk at lunch or a bicycle ride after work.
  3. I'm going to increase my weight routine from two to three circuits and switch up the exercises every month.

Stay tuned for more on the Biggest Loser.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Windy City - Part 2

Day two of our visit to Chicago started with a walk up Michigan Ave and an oatmeal breakfast at Corner Bakery. When we returned to the hotel, it was almost time for Todd and Rebecka to head back to Milwaukee. Rebecka had plans and needed to get back for school as well. They took bus 151 to Union Station and I was alone in Chicago.

I spent some time on the computer and then headed out to Millennium Park for the Chicago Gospel Music Festival. The first sets were held at the Walgreen's stage close to Michigan Ave. The first performance was really good. After that, it started going downhill a bit. After the second quartet, I decided to go check out the Youth Stage. Good call. The choirs and groups that sang on that stage were absolutely fantastic. I have never in my life heard that much sound from a children's choir. One of the choirs, Voices of Tomorrow, had a lead singer, Dylan, that cannot have been older than five and was totally amazing and so cute!

After about an hour and a half or so at the Youth Stage, my ears were ringing (it was inside with very large speakers) and my stomach was growling, so I decided to find some food. However, first I went on a mission to scope out the main stage to make sure that I could find it later and get a good seat for the evening show. People were already starting to line up, so I figured I better get there in good time.

I found a good and cheap place to eat across the street and sat there and read a magazine on Obama's first 100 days in office. Since I would be waiting a while, I also went next door to Caribou Coffee (my favorite!) and picked up a soy chai latte.

With tea in hand and the magazine tucked under my arm, I walked back to Millennium Park and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I found a decent seat and sat down with a sigh of relief. I had planned to continue reading, but there was way too many exciting people and activities going on around me. For once, I realized what it is like to be a minority. I was one of perhaps 100 Caucasians in a sea of African American gospel aficionados. It was great!

The concert finally kicked off and much dancing, singing, raising of hands, and shouting commenced. Dr. Charles G. Hayes and The Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir was followed by an amazing choir called New Direction. This insanely energetic group of young singers blew me away. After a not quite as exciting section called “A Touch of Chicago's Gospel Pioneers/Legends,” we saw the return of Evelyn Turrentine-Agee (she opened on the Walgreen's stage). This lady can dance! She is 63 years old, has 11 living children, and 54 grandchildren. Quite an accomplishment...

While the stagehands got everything ready for the next performance, the MCs brought a 9-year-old girl on to the stage to sing a couple of measures. She had apparently sung on the Youth Stage the previous day and had impressed the festival coordinators. The depth of her voice, the range, and pitch was incredible. She definitely had the potential to be "Chicago's Fantasia."

Speaking of Fantasia, she was next! Another super energetic performance, including a song with her mother and another song with her minister and his wife. Unfortunately, a lady across the aisle from me had a minor stroke during this part of the concert, so there was much anxiety and frantic activity going on around me. It took forever for the paramedics to get there (they came on bikes...), but finally the situation seemed to be under control and the poor lady was wheeled off on a stretcher followed by her somber family. My heart went out to them.

Had it already been four hours...? Apparently so, because before I knew it, it was time for the final (and most anticipated) performance: Kirk Franklin. I've been a fan forever and had never seen him in concert before. It would've been worth coming Chicago just for his hour of the festival. The music was perfectly rockin' and touching all at once. I was also impressed by Kirk's humble nature on scene. He repeatedly pointed to himself while shaking his head, then pointed up to heaven and nodded his head to indicate our praise should go to God and not to him.

The whole experience was surreal, divine, and uplifting. My step was light as I moved (danced) with the crowds toward my hotel and my heart was singing "Hosanna."

Gospel music is the best.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Windy City - Part 1

Yesterday morning, Todd, Rebecka, and I took the convenient Hiawatha Amtrak train from the Milwaukee Airport to Chicago's Union Station. After a quick bus ride (could've been quicker if I hadn't led us to get off at the wrong bus stop) and an even quicker stop at Dunkin' Donuts to quiet complaints about severe hunger pangs, we reached our hotel on Michigan Ave at the heart of downtown Chicago.

The main objective for the day was to go up to Evanston, home of Northwestern University. After a quick rest at the hotel, we headed out to find the Red Line. It was tricky, but we eventually found it. We headed north for around 30-40 minutes and then switched to the purple line to reach our final destination.

By the time we reached Evanston, it was lunchtime and we were all starving for some good Italian fare. We passed two promising restaurants, but they were not open for lunch. Doh! We finally stumbled across a cozy-looking place, which seemed to have a good menu, called Tattoria Demi. It was exquisite. The food was so good, in fact, that I couldn't not try their Tiramisu (I'm on a quest to find the best Tiramisu in the world). Oh yeah - it is now topping my list. It was a perfect blend of sweet, coffee, liquor, and mascarpone. So good!

After our leisurely lunch, we were fueled and ready to go explore the Northwestern campus. While we were at lunch, the temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees, but we zipped up our jackets and started the short walk to the university. The whole area is completely amazing. The buildings express a deep sense of history, dignity, and creativity. The streets are clean. People are walking and biking to reach their destinations. Vegetation is abundant.

One of my favorite spots on the Northwestern campus is the Shakespeare Garden. This time of year, it contains splashes of color from pink to purple to yellow to green. What a great spot for quiet contemplation or for reading a classic. In fact, we left Rebecka to read in this spot (she never leaves home without a book) while Todd and I walked around a bit more. There were nice little paths winding between the trees that made me appreciate landscape designers who take serenity into consideration.

We then headed out toward the lake. It was cold and windy and exhilarating. It's like being by the ocean, because you can't see the end of it. It's just water, water, and more water. Rebecka found a cozy spot on the rocky shore to continue her reading, while Todd and I took some pictures. At this point, we felt the first drops of rain and decided to check out the student union building to see if there was any hot chocolate and chai tea latte available. Todd came to the rescue by finding a Starbucks on the second floor. We sat there for a while sipping our hot drinks and feeling our bodies warm up slightly. I picked up the latest edition of the Northwestern Business Review and enjoyed reading it very much.

Once it stopped raining and we were done with our drinks, we headed back to the CTA station to catch the train back to downtown Chicago. I had planned to go to a concert at Millennium park later in the evening, but it was just too cold (I did not pack for the weather...). Instead, we had a light dinner at the Corner Bakery and then hung out in our warm hotel room for the rest of the evening.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bike to Work Update

I biked to work again today. That's two weeks in a row. I'm pleased.

It didn't rain, but it was pretty cold. But, cold is better than hot.

It took 30 minutes - again. I guess rain or shine doesn't matter.

Next week is "Bike to Work Week."

Perhaps I'll bike to work twice...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

I know, I know. Mother's Day happened a couple of weeks ago. In the US, that is.

Today is Mother's Day in Sweden. So, I thought I'd tell my mom Happy Mother's Day! (I called her as well, but one can't get too many well-wishes...)

I also received a belated Mother's Day gift the other day from my favorite daughter (which she found when she cleaned out her locker). It is one of the most awesome gifts I've ever received. The outside is unassuming (a simple notebook), but the inside holds a 6th grade Poetry Journal.

I thought I'd share one of the poems (haiku style) with you:

Trees

Trees looking peaceful.
Swaying, blowing, and growing.
Birds, leaves, and much more.

By Rebecka Green

I like trees. A lot. I can see the green trees, standing tall and slightly swaying in the wind. Birds are flying to their nests to feed their young ones. The air is fresh with tree fragrance.

What a wonderful gift. I wish more gifts were of this kind. Creative, sustainable, loving, simple, and personal. Think about a gift you can give that is really from you. Perhaps it is a knitted scarf (like I received from my mom last Christmas) or a painting. It could be a tin of homemade cookies or a babysitting gift-certificate for tired parents. Or why not record a CD of yourself singing or playing?

The opportunities are endless. Get creative with your gift-giving, have fun, and make someone feel incredibly special.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Biking in the Rain

Last Wednesday, I didn't bike to work because I had clients in the office. I was worried that my carefully straightened, professional-looking hair would be smooshed by the helmet. (I know, this is an embarrassing confession, but it is the truth.) I was starting to wonder if I would ever meet my goal of biking to work at least once a week.

Last night, I checked the weather and saw to my chagrin that there was a 40% chance of rain for today. I determined that this would not bring me down, but rather went about my preparations for the bike ride like thinking about what my lunch would be (needs to be easily packable) and packing a change of clothes.

I woke up in the early morning hours from the patter of little raindrops on my window. Nooooo!!! I decided to take a quick shower and hope that the rain would stop. And it did! When I took Sophie out 20 minutes later, it was actually looking pretty good. I happily went about my morning activities and got all decked out for the bike ride.

I said goodbye to Rebecka, got my bike out of the storage space, put on my helmet and gloves and cool sport sunglasses, and headed out the door. It was raining just a little. A light spring rain... Definitely not enough to stop me at this point.

Aaaahhhh - there is nothing like being on a bike in the early morning hours when the world is waking up and there are hardly any cars on the road. I biked up and down the hills toward work full of energy and joy. Pretty early on, the light rain turned into heavier rain. Oh well, I was destined to get wet anyway. I kept on going.

I felt the rain wash my face and drip in behind my sporty sunglasses. Around the half-way point, my "fog-proof" sunglasses were quite fogged up and obstructing my sight, so I decided to take the off and stuffed them in my pocket. That was better (aside from now having zero protection from the aggressive drops that continued to splash on my face).

I wondered what the people in the cars were thinking. "Crazy lady!" or perhaps a secret "I wish I could bike to work..." The ride made me think of living in Sweden and my university days when a bike was my only means of transportation, even in the winter. I thought about people who don't even have a bicycle. I felt privileged to be riding my bike in the rain.

Toward the end of the ride (it takes about 30 minutes), I was wet to the skin. I peddled slowly up the last hills to my office, warm from the exercise and chilled from the wetness that surrounded me. I looked around for a place to secure my bike. Nothing. So I hid it as well as I could behind the building and stepped inside. I fumbled through my wet backpack to find my notebook with the code for the alarm (I really need to memorize that code) and finally made it to my desk.

I pulled out my change of clothes (which were only slightly wet) and headed to the bathroom. I looked like a mix between a member of KISS , a troll, and a tired soccer player. Nice. It felt so good to get into an (almost) dry shirt. My pants picked a perfect place to be damp - right in the crotch. I didn't care. Fortunately, I had an extra pair of shoes at the office. Unfortunately, I didn't bring extra socks.

My maiden voyage confirmed and taught me several things:
  • I should wait and put mascara on at the office to avoid the KISS look.
  • 6 AM is a good time to bike to the office. (Not a lot of cars on the road...)
  • Rain will not be an excuse for not biking to work.
  • I need a rain cover for my backpack.
  • I should keep an extra change of socks at the office.
  • Biking makes me feel alive!!!

Looking forward to the return trip!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Excursion in the Woods

This weekend, Rebecka, Sophie, and I drove the four hours to Decorah, IA to spend the long weekend in the country. The air was fresh and smelled like freshly-cut grass, flowers, and happiness. The sun was shining, but it was not too hot. These were the perfect conditions for an excursion in the woods.

Hence, while Todd was at commencement, decked out in his Vanderbilt regalia, Rebecka and I sought out a quiet little piece of the earth to go exploring. We parked by the river and started walking toward a nearby park. There, we found some steps which led up, up, up a wooded ridge. We climbed and climbed and climbed. It was a good workout! At the end of every set of stairs, we stopped to admire the view. It was spectacular. We could pretty much see all of Decorah (and beyond) from up there. When we reached the top, we followed a trail across the ridge. We walked at a moderate pace and took it all in. Flowers, bugs, sticks, and stones. Talk about relaxing!

Eventually, we got hungry and decided to head back the way we came. We made it all the way down safely and went to the local co-op for grilled sandwiches.

It was a perfect morning.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

May Donations

This month, our philanthropy dollars go to the following worthy recipients:

The Divinity School at Vanderbilt University: This is the school where Todd received two of his four post-secondary degrees. One might think that a school like Vanderbilt doesn't need more money, but divinity schools are often strapped for money. Our hope is that our donation may contribute to enabling a student achieve his or her academic goals.

CarbonFund.org: This is a neat site that provides you with calculators for offsetting your home and transportation. Their motto is "Reduce what you can, offset what you can't.™"

“He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.”
- Lao-Tzu

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Story Of Stuff

I always liked stuff... I figured out at an early age that if I wanted more stuff, I needed to make some money. So I made my bed, sold stuff door to door, washed dishes, waited tables, and babysat little children. I bought a cool bike, clothes, a KORG keyboard, a motorcycle helmet, a camera, a stereo, more clothes, and lots of books. I never spent one minute thinking about where this stuff came from and where it would go when I was done with it.

When I pondered what I should do when I grew up, I focused on what would allow me to make lots of money. Not because I really needed more stuff, but because I wanted to have a big house and a nice car. Because that's what matters, right? You are valued based on your stuff collection, your BMW, and your neighborhood. I also wanted to be able to travel all over the world and not have to worry about money. So I got a college degree which led to a good job. I worked really hard at that job and that led to promotions and more money. (Aka "The American Dream.")

One day I woke up and realized had all the stuff I needed and money to spare. I also realized that I wasn't really happier than I was before, even though I had more and bigger and better stuff. I was living the "money doesn't buy happiness" saying. On top of this, I started to realize that more stuff meant more maintenance work and more harm to the environment. Not cool. So I started to declutter. I gave a lot of stuff away to people who needed it more than I did. I moved to a small apartment. I started to make buying decisions based on need vs. want, environmental impact, and quality. I started researching other ways to help the environment and make the world a better place.

I'm still working on it. I could get rid of more stuff. I could buy less books and use the library more often. I could stop buying bananas (or at least offset the fossil fuels used to transport them all the way to my kitchen). I could bike to work every day instead of once a week and get rid of my car. But that's part of the fun... Getting better over time. Doing more good and less harm one day at a time.

The Story Of Stuff is an awesome 20-minute film that talks about how obsessed we are with stuff and what our level of consumerism really does to our planet. It is wonderfully simple and thought-provoking. Give it a try!

You will never think about stuff the same way again.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chicago Green Festival

On Saturday morning, Rebecka and I boarded the "Hiawatha" train in Milwaukee to embark on a fun-filled ride to Chicago. More specifically, we were destined for Chicago's Navy Pier and the 3rd annual Chicago Green Festival. The train is an awesome alternative to driving to Chicago. If you've ever driven through Chicago, you know what I'm talking about. I received a slight scolding on the train for presenting unsigned tickets to the grim attendant, but other than that, the trip was wonderfully uneventful.

After a long walk around Union Station, we found bus 124, which was to take us the final stretch to Navy Pier. We were pretty confident that we were on the right track considering the appearance of our fellow bus riders. Definitely treehuggers... You could tell by the wild beards, stainless steel water bottles, and hemp clothing. Yes, I know these are all stereotypes, but they were valid in this scenario.

We walked and walked and walked through the never-ending corridor of stores and restaurants in Navy Pier and finally reached the festival registration line. Our bus tickets got us $5.00 off, which we donated to recycling efforts. We received our first sample of the day, wonderfully scented soaps from Pangea Organics.

Next followed a hunt for a free tote bag. We saw people walking around with bags that said something like "Smart Home." We searched and searched, but could not find the location of that booth. Finally, I took a closer look and read "Museum of Science and Industry." Aha, this was enough information to look it up in the festival guide. Five minutes later we had our tote bag and could freely walk around and get samples.

We gathered everything from organic makeup to fair trade honey to elephant poo business cards. Some samples we devoured immediately such as Organic Valley cheese, Luna bar pieces, and Divine chocolate eggs (leftover from Easter? I don't mind!). Rebecka was in sample heaven.

We also purchased some goodies including hazelnut butter and a tofu cookbook. The book-selling guy told us he's been vegan for 30 years and that he hasn't taken antibiotics in 25 years and doesn't even have a doctor. Hmmm, perhaps I will try it for a week and see how it goes. The thing I would miss the most would be Kefir. I know that's probably weird, but that's me.

Throughout the day, we gathered information about all sorts of interesting topics like eating veg, responsible investing, eco-friendly vacuuming, fair trade, and how to start your own farm (Todd, don't worry...). It was encouraging to see all the people there, the number of good products that are available, and to experience the joy that surrounds people who live "more good, less harm."

We returned home good and tired and pumped. The event reminded me that every choice matters and that even though the environmental problems we face seem insurmountable, I can make an impact.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Biking Update and 1Sky

My first week of biking to work didn't go so well. My planned biking day (Wednesday) suffered from lots of wet, stormy weather. I'm not quite equipped for that. I had hoped to substitute with Thursday, but remembered late last night that my dog goes to doggy daycare on Thursdays. Hmmm... What is a bike-loving girl to do?

Well, I woke up, gulped down some water, swallowed a handful of Bear Naked granola and headed out for a bike ride around the neighborhood. I got a good 30 minute ride in and it felt great! My entire backside (and my bike) was covered with mud after the adventure, but that just made it so much cooler.

On a different, but related note, I just joined 1Sky, which is this environmental activist site focused on pressuring local politicians to do something about the current crises. Very cool. I'm the eight person joining from Wisconsin's 5th district...

Go Green!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek Fun and the Joy of Biking

Yesterday afternoon, the whole family went to see Star Trek. Todd had reserved tickets for the 3:30 PM showing in the "dinner theater." Instead of normal seating, the theater has tables and waiters walking around taking your orders. It's pretty sweet. We left an hour before the movie was supposed to start so we could get seats together and it was a good thing, because there were already a bunch of people there. The movie was awesome. Star Trek holds a special place in my heart, because during our first year of dating (spring semester), I would leave the library every night at midnight and go over to Todd's dorm room and watch an episode of the original series. Todd wrote an award-winning paper on the social commentary of Star Trek: cold war, feminism, racism, etc... It was a great introduction to US culture.

Anyway, when we were getting ready to leave the theater, I noticed that Todd had left his watch on the table. So I said in a pretty smart-ass tone: "Do you want to keep your watch?" I then spotted Rebecka's iPod on the table. I asked her the same question. They were feeling slightly sheepish and I was feeling pretty smug when Todd picked an object off the table and asked: "And do you want to keep your sunglasses?" Classic...

This morning, I took my bike out for the first ride of the year. I decided to bike to my office to see how long it would take, since I've been thinking about biking to work on Wednesdays. It was awesome!!!! I forgot how much I love biking. It took exactly 30 minutes, which is perfect. That way, I'll get my hour of cardio for the day and transportation to and from work as a bonus. There is one scary part where I have to cross a fairly large road, but I think it will be OK. I'm looking forward to getting the routine started this week. Biking makes me happy.

Live long and prosper.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

We Sprout In Thy Soil

My brother, David, recently released a new album called "We Sprout in Thy Soil." The song with the same name is now on YouTube. I have at least five relatives in this video including an aunt and uncle, my paternal grandfather, a great-aunt, and my mom (right at the end with turquoise dress - at least I think that's her). I'm just a little hurt that I didn't make the cut. I was around 5 months old when this event occured and kept peering out the side of my carriage to take part of the action. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My Husband

Today marks the 14th anniversary of our wedding day. In honor thereof, I thought I'd dedicate this post to my wonderful husband, Todd.

I first met Todd on the porch of the ATO house at Birmingham-Southern College. He was drinking a beer and I was new, foreign, and fairly intimidated by the whole setting. However, he comfortably lured me into conversation and we ended up debating the difference between "sarcastic" and "ironic." You see, in Sweden, "ironic" is used as "sarcastic" is used in the US. As you can probably tell from this, he was an English major, and a darn good one at that. I had finally met my match as it related to obsessive studying and drive to excel in the academic world. The next day, Todd found me in the library. He was so sweet and gentleman-like. We continued "bumping into each other" in the library day after day. I loved his gentleness, his willingness to help me with my papers (and I needed it!), and his close relationships with his friends.

I wrote to my parents and indicated that I had found "The One." They especially liked the part about "he takes care of me." Which he did, and has continued to do throughout our marriage. He is always available to listen to my trials and tribulations, joys, and hopes. We dream together about the day when we'll all be together again in our little dream house with no geographical distance separating us from each other.

I admire Todd's unceasing dedication to his work and especially his students. He makes himself available to help them through his class in a way that is unprecedented in my experience. He truly cares about teaching them to think critically and be better citizens of the world. I wish I had studied under Dr. Green when I was in school!

Finally, I love Todd, the dad. He literally raised Rebecka on his own for several years when I was traveling all the time and otherwise preoccupied by work. And he did a fantastic job! He connects with Rebecka on a wonderful level and doesn't hesitate to take a break for a Harry Potter game on the PS2, "stuffed animal church," or a trip to the movie theater (Hannah Montana comes to mind...). Rebecka is a lucky girl!

Looking forward to many happy years ahead
and Paris in 2010!