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 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!