Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April Donations

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about giving where I announced that in 2009, our family would be organized about our giving. Since then, I have blogged each month about the recipients of our monthly donations. Today, it is time for the April edition.

Continuing with the March donations' theme, we continue to give our share to institutions of higher education with which we are associated:

Luther College is a quaint liberal arts college tucked away in the small town of Decorah, IA. My husband, Todd, currently serves this college as a visiting assistant professor. He teaches church history and related topics. I have had the pleasure to visit Luther on several occasions and I love it! What I love most about Luther is the culture of sustainability that is infused into every aspect of this school. From a fleet of electric utility vehicles to serving organic food to extensive recycling programs, Luther is in every sense a green school. You can read more about Luther's commitment to a sustainable campus here. With all this greenness, I can't really hold it against Luther that the college was founded by Norwegians (internal Swede/Norwegian joke...).

Columbia Theological Seminary is the Presbyterian seminary in Decatur, GA where Todd received is second (of four) higher education degrees (I'm so behind!). This place holds a special place in our heart as it was the first place we lived as newlyweds as well as the birthplace of our daughter, Rebecka. While law schools and medical schools generally do not lack funding, seminaries generally do not fare as well. It is important to us to continue to give back to this school who provided us with so much, including our first apartment with a real kitchen and friends for life.

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
- Maya Angelou

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cute Houses!

I know I've written about my dream house before. One of the attributes of my dream house that is quite different from many people's dream house is its size. I want a small house. Not small like 2,500 sq. ft., but small like 1,800 sq. ft. Currently, I live in a less than 1,200 sq. ft. apartment and it works just fine. But it would be nice to have a slightly bigger kitchen and an office.

Small houses/apartments are so cool because they use less energy, are less expensive, and take less time to clean! Several months ago, I was looking at some really nice plans from Ross Chapin Archtects. Over the weekend, I looked at these again, and thought I would share a few of these beautiful houses with you.

The Songbird House (how cool is that name?) is 1,525 sq. ft. It has a cute built-in reading nook and awesome hardwood floors (all of these models do).

The Plumrose House is 1,635 sq. ft. and is just enchanting. It has one of my favorite features, which is a laundry room as well as built-in bookshelves. These architects are really creative when it comes to using space, which is how they are able to keep the square footage down.

Pears and Cherries is my favorite cottage. At 1,061 sq. ft. it might be a tad snug for our family, but it is so cute! I especially love the built-in kitchen table and benches.

See more cute houses here.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Spent the weekend recovering from two weeks of insanity. This included lots of sleep, reading, running (well, a little running), eating good and healthy food, playing the piano, and watching movies.

Every weekend should be a mini-vacation.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Notebook Joy

On Earth Day, Rebecka and I went to Barnes & Noble to celebrate a couple of fantastic grades that she had received on tests that day. Earlier in the day, I had written a blog post over on Product Management Zen called Treat Everyday Like Earth Day (a play on the Elf quote "Treat Everyday Like Christmas," for those who care...). As Rebecka was browsing for a journal to give as a gift for an upcoming birthday party, I spotted an ecojot notebook that I just had to have. The quote on the front read: "Every day is Earth Day." - Unknown

It made me happy. Just thought I'd share.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

It's pretty amazing how far the green movement has come in just a year. Everywhere I turn now there are utility company newsletters telling me about how to have an earth-friendly party (read more here), new merchandise popping up so I can proudly wear my greeness, sustainable colleges, and banks and investment companies asking me to go green by switching to electronic statements. Isn't it so cool?!?!?

NRDC sent me an entire email with "Ideas and Actions to Help You Celebrate Earth Day." Here are some of the items from their "Earth Day Toolkit:"

These are just a few examples in a large pool of green activism, information, and products that are out there and available for the next budding treehugger.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

*Photo by Flávio Takemoto at stock.xchng.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Winter is Back

This is just unbelievable... One day you're really, really sure that spring is here and all is well in the world. A few days later you emerge from a non-stop work/sleep/eat routine and find that winter is back. This morning it is sleeting. Yes, sleeting.

Anyway, what do I get for working like crazy to get a major software release out the door, skimping on exercise, and not eating as well as I should? A sore throat. It certainly pays to take care of your body. I'm nipping it in the bud today by staying home and trying to take it as easy as possible. Becka is sick too. Ear infection. Does not sound like fun.

On a happy note, my brother David just released his debut album in his own name (formerly Namur). The record is called We Sprout In Thy Soil and it is just beautiful. You can hear some samples here:

Congrats bro!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring is Here!

I actually got hot driving in my car to pick up lunch. Yay!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Our New York Adventure

The adventure started on Friday morning as we reached the Midwest ticket counter at General Mitchell Airport. To read more about our unfortunate events there, please see my other blog. It kind of made us a little late, but not really. The security line was almost non-existent and everything was looking good. Until... "Who does this belong to? We're going to have to check it." It was Rebecka's DVD player. They wiped it down and the machine started going off (I've never seen it do this before). All of a sudden Rebecka was getting the pat-down and a swarm of TSA agents were eagerly looking at the device going through the x-ray (again). They were so intrigued by it that they started taking pictures of the monitors.

In the meantime, our departure time was getting closer and closer. I sent Todd to the gate to "hold the plane" (yeah, right!). At one point, one of the TSA people told us they had called down to the gate. That made me feel better. They finally brought the DVD player out of the x-ray and took more pictures. They also took my ID information (hmmm...).

Finally, Rebecka and I were free to go to the gate. At the gate, Todd was trying to cajole the gate agents into keeping the door open. It was not an easy task. Apparently, a call from TSA means nothing. Todd was waiting at the empty gate when we arrived. The gate agent sourly took our boarding passes and shut the door behind us. Phew!!!

The signature seats were nice and we had a pretty uneventful flight. We took a cab to the Comfort Inn Midtown (free with my 100,000 points) and were able to check in ahead of time (I love diamond elite status!). We were half a block from Time Square, so we decided to hang out there and find some lunch until David and Caroline arrived.

On the way from lunch to the Hershey's store, we bumped into Sponge Bob. He was friendly and more than willing to pose for a tip. The Hershey's store was cool, but the new M&M store was even cooler. And huge! And crowded!! We looked around, but didn't buy anything. We then proceeded to Rockefeller Square and perused the NBC Experience Store. Since I don't really watch TV anymore, I didn't really get half the merchandise, but that's OK.

We had gotten up early that morning, so we decided to go back to the hotel for a little rest time. After a while, David and Caroline showed up and surprised Rebecka with a birthday present. It was a cool, green purse. Caroline is the only person capable of picking out purses which meet Rebecka's approval.

At this point, we decided to head on back to Time Square for dinner at Mars 2112. We stopped by the M&M store (again) on the way and witnessed excessive "sampling" by teenagers and store associates blowing horns and screaming "No sampling!" It was a zoo. We managed to purchase some M&Ms and headed over to Mars. We got to ride in a spaceship to Mars and then were seated in the great dining hall. The food quality was what you would expect at a themed restaurant, but we all survived.

After dinner, we continued to the first must-have tourist attraction: The Empire State Building. Going through the line was like running a marathon in slow motion. However, once we got to the top, it was worth the wait. The view was spectacular. We went all around and enjoyed the sights until we got too cold. That was the end of our first day.

We woke up to a drizzly and cold Saturday morning. However, it did not derail us from our morning plan to take the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Our rationale was that the lines would probably be shorter due to the weather. This was later confirmed by a friendly street musician by the shore. The line was still long and it was raining. We finally made it onto the ferry and took the short ride over to Liberty Island. We got off the ferry and realized about 5 1/2 minutes later that we would be totally miserable if we stayed on the island in the cold rain. So we ran back to the ferry and made the last call.

During the ferry ride, I used my handy dandy phone to find a pizza place in Greenwich Village. Of course, I picked the first pizzeria in the country, Lombardi's Pizza, so there was a line outside (still raining). The pizzas looked really good though (from what we could tell from gazing in through the window), so we decided to wait. We played random games to pass the time. At one point, Todd and David got into a face-off during the name-a-country-as-fast-as-you-can game. It was pretty entertaining. When we finally made it inside, Rebecka picked up the hot plate to warm her chilled cheeks. The pizza was worth the wait and we took our time and enjoyed every bite.

Our next stop was the famous cupcake bakery, Magnolia. Todd and I got hot chocolate while the others ordered the cupcakes. We enjoyed our cupcakes out on the street (no more rain!) and gobbled them up in no time. Mine was dark chocolate with cream cheese frosting. Oh yum! After dessert, we made our way back to the hotel for nap time. It felt so good to lie down!

An hour later, it was time for Broadway! We had tickets for the 8 PM showing of Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam Theater. On the way, we stopped at a Brazilian place for appetizers and drinks. I had an excellent Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon. Todd had some scary sweet drink. Rebecka had Pepsi. Soon it was time to move on to the theater. We walked (or rather pushed ourselves) through the crowds in Time Square. It was pretty nuts. The New Amsterdam Theater is beautiful, but has very squished seating. Not too bad for me and Rebecka. Not great for the rest of the party. The show was extremely well done. My favorite scene, Step in Time, went off without a hitch. The cast was amazing. Yay! After the show we stumbled back through the crowds and into bed.

On Easter morning, I decided to snooze while the rest of the gang went to hang out on the set of The Today Show. They picked a good spot and got a lot of air time!! This was definitely Rebecka's favorite New York moment. I got to watch on TV! Todd had a short interchange with Jenna which he described on Facebook:

Todd was emasculated by Jenna during some off-camera banter. When Jenna saw Todd rubbing his hands together to stay warm, she remarked that she doesn't normally see guys doing that. Then she said, "You need to man up." Todd is still trying to think of the comeback he should have had waiting for her.

When the TV stars returned, we headed up to Central Park. Our favorite! We went for a buggy ride around the park and then posed for pictures. It was cold! We vowed that our next trip to New York would be warmer and that we would spend more time in the park. We headed over to Lexington Ave and found a nice little Asian place to satisfy my sushi cravings. On the way out, we stopped at the pet store next door and marveled over the cute little puppies. Rebecka decided that she is going to get her next dog at this store. We took the subway down to Macy's to find that it was closed for Easter. Oh well.

At this point, we were pretty exhausted, so we said sad goodbyes to Caroline and David who had to go catch their bus back to D.C. and headed over to Barnes & Noble for some old fashioned book "sampling" and hot chocolate. I found an interesting book called Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy. I have been thinking about blogging about this topic on PM Zen, so I was intrigued by the title. It was good! It is now on its way from an amazon warehouse to my office.

After B&N, we made our way back toward the hotel, paid one last visit to the M&M store (fresh M&Ms are way better than the stale ones you find everywhere else), and took farewell of Rockefeller Plaza. We found a taxi driver who thankfully did not drive like a maniac and made it safely to La Guardia. The check-in and security process was smooth and we spent our last hours in New York at gate B1. I finished reading Presentation Zen (book review to come) and Todd and Rebecka watched First Contact on above mentioned DVD player. We made it home safe and sound and had a lot of trouble waking up on Monday morning.

New York City rocks!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pre-Vacation Frenzie

Crazy day! There was a reason I had planned to take this day off...

Here is the synopsis: work, drive home, pick up child, drive to guitar lesson, run over to Target for Easter Bunny shopping, go crazy on travel-themed Easter basket items, pick up child, sneak Target bounty into apartment, start water for dinner, take/make last-minute-pre-vacation phone calls, cook dinner, eat, wash dishes, assemble Easter basket...

Savor the moment of oooohs and aaaahs as Narnia movie, Anne Frank book, Hershey's bunny, Lindt bunny, and various other goodies are pulled out of the basket by ecstatic 12-year-old.

Exchange hugs and conversation...

Wrap up last minute work stuff on computer, pack (we're going to NYC!!), write list of things to pack in the morning, blog.

Good night!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

On Being Mindful

Read my thoughts about being mindful over on Product Management Zen.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A Not So Perfect Morning

My not so perfect morning started at 1:37 AM. I woke up from the sound of my bedroom door opening and saw the fuzzy silhouette of my tall "tween."

"What's going on?" I asked.
"I can't catch Sophie," she responded.
"Where is she?" I continued (hoping that this would not involve me leaving my bed).
"In my room," she advised.
"How can you not catch her in your room?" I said (ooops, did I say that out loud? That wasn't very kind...).

I guiltily got out of bed and followed Rebecka to her room. I had Sophie on her back the the "I give up" position in about three seconds.

"You'd better take her outside," I told Rebecka. "Come see me when you're back inside." I crept back into bed.

My not so perfect morning continued at 3:27 AM. I woke up to the sound of a bichon throwing herself at the bathroom door, hoping to break it down so she could be free to roam around the apartment. I figured she might be lonely, since she'd gotten used to sleeping with humans lately, so I went to get her and put her in my bed. She jumped right off and ran to the living room. There, she waited for me in her "catch me if you can!" pose. I sat down and waited for her to run herself tired and then caught her. We decided to go for a walk. Once we got outside, Sophie started running like she was being chased by wolves (or whatever animal would most frighten her). So I ran. We ran together for a few minutes (me in my striped fleece PJs) until she decided it was time to stop. We returned to the apartment at 3:38 AM. Sophie went to her corner in the bathroom. I went to bed.

My not so perfect morning officially arrived at 5:15 AM when I woke up and realized that I had missed my window of opportunity to go to the gym (at least for any substantial workout), so I stayed in bed until 5:45 and then got ready, ate breakfast, and went to work. I did get to work at a decent time, so that was good.

And I forgot to start the laundry...

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Perfect Morning

Have you ever had one of those mornings where everything goes exactly according to plan? Meaning no dog pee to clean up in the bathroom, no forgotten laundry in the dryer begging to be folded, no emergency homework assistance, no sleeping too late, etc, etc.

I had a perfect morning today. Check it out...
  • Woke up at 4:30 AM (no alarm needed these days)
  • Ate my pre-workout snack of Cheerios, 1/2 banana and soy milk and finished chapter 1 of "Presentation Zen"
  • Assembled Rebecka's lunch and did a quick tidy of the living room
  • Got to the gym right at 5 AM
  • Worked out for exactly an hour
  • Showered & dressed
  • Cooked oatmeal and tidied the kitchen
  • Ate breakfast and started chapter 2 of "Presentation Zen"
  • Put on makeup
  • Washed the dishes
  • Drove to work and walked in the office door exactly at 7:30 AM

I wish this could be every morning.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Simple Weight Loss Tips That Work

As I mentioned in the last couple of posts, I am working on getting back to my normal weight after having had just a few too many "special occasion" desserts and forgetting about weight management best practices.

The good news is that after three days, I'm just a pound away from my normal weight (lost about 2.5 pounds)! I am by no means a proponent of rapid weight loss. I'm actually quite surprised that I was able to shed the pounds this quickly. But I thought I'd share my techniques, because if you're also looking to lose a couple of pounds, this really works...
  • Reduce sugar intake. This is key. Sugar is evil and does bad things to your body. I did this by cutting out obvious sweets (ice cream, candy, desserts) and replacing higher sugar foods with lower (or natural) sugar foods (Cheerios instead of Bumpers, banana instead of granola Bar, peanut butter instead of butter and preserves, etc). The first day is hard, if you're an addict like I am, but then it gets progressively easier.
  • Drink water before and after each meal. Water fills you up and also helps with digestion. You'll feel great!
  • Make dinner your smallest meal. Load up on breakfast and lunch and eat something light for dinner. I like to toss spinach with whatever is available in the fridge (left-over peas, avocado, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, feta, apples, pears, cucumber, carrots) and top it with a tablespoon of Newman's Own Lighten Up Balsamic Vinaigrette. It's better than most restaurant salads out there. Add a slice of toast and some cottage cheese, and you're all set.
  • Eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime. This is another key best practice that I've found works like a charm. Your body needs some time to break that food down before it goes into hibernation mode.
  • Don't eat anything after dinner. This may seem obvious based on the previous bullet, but I wanted to call it out. The late-night snack can ruin an entire day of "being good." Not worth it!
  • Get enough sleep. This is the one I have the hardest time with (there just aren't enough hours in the day!), but something that experts claim to be true. Good, quality sleep actually helps you burn more calories. There are many studies on this, like this one from Web MD.

Pretty easy, right? Try it for a week and see how you feel. You obviously want to continue with whatever exercise program you're on or start moving if you're not. Exercise is good for both the body and the soul. You're depriving yourself if you don't allow your body to move and get your heart pumping.

Well, I'm off to the gym with Todd.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Day 2 of Less Sugar Habit

No sweets aside from the little mint in the restaurant lobby after dinner. I'm having less cravings already. Life is good!