Friday, January 30, 2009

Six Red Roses

When I arrived home late last night after a week of travel, the first thing I saw when I walked in the door was this beautiful bouquet of red roses saying "I love you!" and "Welcome home!" It made me happy.

What I didn't know at the time, is that the arrangement and the vase with its red bow was not a packaged deal. My beloved husband actually arranged it himself and tied the ribbon around the vase. He is sooooooo sweet!

I love you, babe!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Peeled Snacks

I'm in the Nashville airport. It's 7 PM. I haven't eaten dinner, but I'm not super hungry, because I had a big lunch, ate the leftovers for my "afternoon snack," and subsequently had a Starbucks hot chocolate around 5 PM. I don't want anything sugary. All the bags of nuts contain at least four servings. (And I will eat all of it once I start...)

What to do??
Then I see it, hanging innocently on the rack with the rest of the "health food": A bright, happy, red bag of goodness. I have discovered peeled snacks. Two modest servings of fruit and nuts. No more. No less. No added sugar. No added fat. Just the following ingredients: Dried fruit (peaches, apples, Bing cherries) and dry roasted nuts. 300 healthy calories. Just what I need - andit tastes heavenly!
If I could just get all airports to carry this fantastic product, one of my travel stresses would go away.
This product rocks!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Taking care of stuff

Reading the book Three Cups of Tea, which includes description of extreme simplicity and inherent sustainability, has reminded me of something I've been thinking about for a while. Something that is at the core of sustainable living, voluntary simplicity, etc:

We don't know how to take care of stuff.
At least, I don't. In the past, I have often joked about my lack of "practical intelligence." However, the more I learn about sustainable living and read about people in remote/poor areas who use a 100th of the resources I do, I realize that this is a real problem and something I should try to do something about.
Think about it... If you knew you wouldn't be able to get another [favorite jeans, TV, car, etc] once your current one wore out, how would that change the way you took care of it? Also, how much effort would you put into trying to repair it when it broke rather than giving in to "Oh, I can just buy another one..."
Here is my plan to fix this constant turnaround of stuff:
  • Buy high-quality items to begin with.
  • Learn (and employ) basic fixing skills like reattaching buttons, patching a hole, screwing things back together.
  • Take maintenance seriously (e.g. get the oil change done on time).
  • For things that I can't fix, see if there is someone who can fix it or at least can use the parts.
  • Use things until they wear out. (I'm pretty good at this, but there is always room for improvement...)

I'd like to propose a fourth 'R' to the existing three 'Rs': Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:


Friday, January 23, 2009

A Book That Made Me Break My Rule

OK, I broke my rule about "not buying new books from until I read the ones I have" (still three to go). This is because I found out that the wonderfully inspiring book I just finished today, Three Cups of Tea, is now available in a new version adapted for young readers.

A few days ago, I had tried to get Rebecka started on the original version, but there were "too many big words." I was kind of bummed about it, because I really feel that every child in the developed world should know this story in order to better appreciate the privilege of free quality education. Then today, I joined the Central Asia Institute Facebook group and followed a link to an MSNBC interview with Greg Mortenson and his daughter, Amira. I checked it out and realized it was a promo for this new book. Two minutes later, I purchased it on (along with a few more books to get the order up to $25.00 for the FREE Super Saver Shipping) for Rebecka.

If you haven't read the book yet, please do. It will change your life and how you look at the world, priorities, and the ability for individuals to make a difference.

Peace to you...

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Subzero Workout

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I promised myself that no matter what, I would make the frigid trek over to the apartment complex workout room in the morning. I hadn't worked out for the past two days (I did have "surgery" after all... and it's been freakin' freezing!) and knew it would soon start affecting my mood if I didn't get my blood pumping a bit. In order to ensure success, I even followed the time-proven approach of sleeping in my workout clothes. I reminded myself of how cool it would be to tell people that I worked out on the coldest day of the year (it better be!).

I woke up at 4:30 AM (on my own, which is cool) and thought, "perhaps I should check the temperature. These are after all 'dangerously cold' temperatures. Heck, the schools are even closed due to the 'bitter cold'."

-15 F (with a wind chill of about -30 F or -34 C)

"That's cold. In fact, I think that definitely qualifies as dangerously cold. I might freeze to death. It is worth it for a workout?" I determined it was not.

Hence, I decided I would devise my own workout routine at the apartment. I started with five minutes of marching with high knees and swinging arms. I felt like I was back in my daycare teacher days: "Let's march, march, march, march!" As this didn't get my blood flowing as much as I had hoped, I switched to jumping jacks. Oh yes, jumping jacks always do the trick. Five minutes later, I figured I had enough of a warm-up and decided to move on. Squats, lunges, other physical therapy leg exercises for my knee... Then on to abs including a couple of planks and finally some stretching. I looked at the time and realized I had actually managed to work out for 30 minutes! It felt good.

Now, I'm eating my post-workout meal consisting of an english muffin with sliced boiled eggs, fresh dill, and a touch of Swedish caviar along with a bowl of Kefir with organic granola and raisins. If there's one thing I learned from my mom, it is this: Eat well and eat food you like. Life is too short to eat boring or distasteful food. And after a good workout, it tastes even better!

Stay warm...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dental Fun...

When I went to my new dentist for a routine checkup a few weeks ago, he determined that I had some decay under my one and only (and very problematic) crown. Sweet! In order to be able to eat all the Christmas goodies (including some very sticky and chewy stuff), I decided to hold off until after the holidays. Until today, in fact.

Yes indeed, starting at 9 AM, I had massive amounts of shots in my mouth (I prefer that to any risk of real pain), my current crown (which was not good enough) popped out of my mouth, and an hour of laying back with a plastic shield stuck in my mouth while Dr. Tang removed the decay and rebuilt my tooth ($200). They then did all the "putty" stuff for my new porcelain crown ($1,200 - thank God for dental insurance!), which I messed up on the first try by opening my month (I was mildly scolded for this incident) and finally stuck a temporary crown on my stump of a tooth.

Post-op (didn't know this was considered surgery, but anyway...) instructions: 400 mg of Motrin every 4-6 hours for 3 days and peroxide and water mix two times a day until the next visit (yay - there's a next visit!). Sounds manageable. Last time, I think I just suffered in silence after the same procedure.

Now I'm just waiting for the numbness to go away, because I'm starving!

I think some ice cream is in order...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturdays are Cool!

Woke up early, wrote my list of things to do this weekend, and started executing. Empty trash, work out, laundry, trip to Milwaukee Public Market for lunch (cool place!), continue to Whole Foods for grocery shopping (yay!), return home, put up purchases, continue laundry, file the big paper stack on the filing cabinet, clean out Rebecka's drawers and closet, key the Goodwill items into It's Deductible, load iTunes gift card in for Rebecka, more laundry...

Yep - good times.

Next, we're off to Caribou Coffee for some fun-filled family time.


Friday, January 09, 2009

Giving is a Gift

When Todd and I started our marriage over 13 years ago, we were the recipients of many gifts. There were times during seminary when we didn't know if we were going to be able to make it to the next paycheck. And every time, a check magically appeared from a generous relative, church, or other source. When we moved to Waco and it was my turn to go to school, we continued to receive gifts beyond our wildest imagination. For example, due to the generosity of the then US Ambassador to Sweden and others, I received a bachelor's degree from Baylor University. We also received free pediatrician care, eye care, babysitting, and more from generous members of the 1st Pres congregation. We would not be where we are now without the gifts from dozens of friends and family members.

Now, it is our turn to give back. For the past several years, we have dutifully given to the church and randomly responded to requests for funds from educational institutions, hospitals, and other charitable organizations. However, when we got to the end of the year, we always realized that we didn't quite give as much as we would like to and our giving didn't necessarily reflect our values.

For this coming year, we decided to change that. We determined up front how much we wanted to give based on our current income levels and which organizations we wanted to support. Based on that, I simply worked our charitable donations into the budget with specific target recipients each month.

If you are interested, here are the organizations we ended up with and the reasons why:
We're big fans of higher education and hope that our gifts will give other students a chance to live out their dreams. The above organizations very much illustrate our desire to give back.
  • Carbon Fund: We give to this organization to offset our cars and other travel.

  • Conservation International: This organization works to preserve our planet and makes a big impact everyday around the world.

  • NRDC: Another organization which works for the environment from every angle including politics.

  • Slow Food USA: The vision of this organization is a world where everybody has food to eat which is good for them and which is produced in a manner which is good for the planet.

  • Heifer International: Great organization which helps people all around the world make a sustainable living in an earth-friendly manner.

  • Plowshare Center: Part of the Ten Thousand Villages organization, this cozy store offers fairly traded products from around the world (more to come on fair trade...).
What the above organizations all have in common is a vision of a healthy planet with healthy people who have the means to support themselves in a manner which in turn promotes the health of Mother Earth. That is my definition of the "Circle of Life."

I truly believe the statement in the title of this post. The ability to give is a gift. Not only does a gift benefit the recipients of the gift, but it also benefits the giver in innumerable ways.

No one has ever become poor by giving.
- Anne Frank

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Love to Read...

Yesterday, my 11-year-old used the phrase "recreational reading." I don't think I've ever used the phrase "recreational reading." In general, her vocabulary is pretty spectacular for her age. She uses words I didn't learn until I moved to the US in my 20s. Her extensive reading may have something to do with this. She can finish a 500+ page novel over a weekend (as long as it is about wizards or vampires).

On googling "Recreational Reading," I found a USA Today article, called Americans close the book on recreational reading. The article essentially states that the amount of reading for pleasure is going down and with that social and civic engagement. Sad.

However, I can totally understand how this happens. I grew up reading everything in sight. I spent recess in the school library (I know, it's surprising...) and weekends in the city library. I won all the reading contests at school and even got to have lunch at McDonald's with the principal once. (That's a big deal when you're seven.)

Anyway, I got busy with school and work and before I knew it, I was no longer reading for pleasure, or even reading at all! I woke up about a year ago and realized I hadn't read for years (except for the mandatory Harry Potter books). And I missed it! I missed being so lost in another world that I lost track of time and forgot to eat (OK, that last part didn't happen often...). I missed learning new things like how to exercise while on the road or how to write awesome use cases.

So, I made a promise to myself to start reading again. Not every now and then, but every day. This may sound impossible, but it actually isn't. It's like anything else like exercising or practicing a musical instrument... You just have to schedule the time. This is how I do it:

4:30 AM - Wake up and eat a small snack and READ for 15 minutes before going to the gym.
6:45 AM - Eat a post workout meal and READ for 15 minutes before leaving for work.
12:00 PM - Take a break from work, have some lunch and READ for 30 minutes.
8:00 PM - Snuggle up in bed, turn on the reading lamp, and READ for 30 minutes until it is time to snooze.

OK, so most days I end up skipping one of these sessions, but regardless, I get at least an hour per day. That's not bad. Reading keeps me alive and engaged. In fact, it even helps me get out of bed in the morning knowing that I'll have some reading time before the day's craziness begins.

Are you pumped about reading now? If yes, then here are some tips from my fall collection:

Simple Prosperity
Radical Simplicity
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Don't Make Me Think
Designing The Obvious
Sketching User Experiences
Tuned In

Warning: Once you get hooked on reading and, you may end up buying more books than you can afford (or have time to read). I have curbed this addiction with a simple rule: I can't buy a new book until I have finished reading the ones I have. It works. I currently have 40 books saved in my amazon shopping cart waiting to be purchased, read, and loved.

Enjoy your recreational reading!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Take Action!

A few weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with a lady at our gym. We talked about this and that and eventually slid into the topic of the environment (imagine that!) and what can be done, etc. She mentioned that she is a member of Sierra Club, but liked the publications of the NRDC better.

"NRDC?" I asked (slightly embarrassed - seems like something I should know).
"Yes, the Natural Resource Defense Council."
"Right..." (Still no idea... Made mental note to google.)

Anyway, today, after reading about this organization several times in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, I went to the website to check it out. It's a cool site. And guess what you can do there?

You can send a letter to our President-elect, Barack Obama.

No joke.

So I did... I asked him to please establish some laws that would provide some incentive to VCs to invest in clean energy. I asked him to make some laws against ridiculously large vehicles. And I told him I'm available to help. Click here to send your letter (there's a form letter if you don't feel like writing your own).

Enthused by this new-found direct access to the President-elect, I went to his site to check out the latest on the Energy/Environment front. And guess what you can do there?

You can submit your ideas for changing the country (and in effect, the world).

How cool is that?

I haven't actually done that yet, because it requires a bit more thought and I really wanted to share all this with you as soon as possible.

Anyway, the point is that it is time to take some action. It's all well and good to talk to people in the gym about the environment and how you can help by walking to the grocery instead of driving, but it's not enough. Our leaders need to hear from us, the people, that we care. We care that animals are going extinct and that people are dying from lousy air. They need to hear that we are willing to drive less, take more public transportation, and invest in clean air, if given the opportunity. And they will listen, if enough people give them the same message.

Speak up or forever hold your peace.
Time's up.