Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teacup Wisdom

These words by Cheri Huber always help me put things into perspective:

I have lost my favorite teacup.
I have two choices:
I can have lost my teacup and be miserable.

I can have lost my teacup and be all right.
In either case, the teacup is gone.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Advent gift for you!

Click on the image above and download it full size to your computer.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't get too comfortable!

"Life is what happens while you're making other plans"

In the past few months it has become increasingly clear that it doesn't matter how intelligent, well-educated, eloquent, good-looking, industrious, or down-trodden you are.  None of those things matter in an economic crisis.  You can do all the right things and you may still fall victim to the budgetary axe.

What can you do if you find yourself in this situation?  You have a right to ask questions, but you may not get straight answers.  You can argue that a mistake has been made, while the rest of your co-workers are inventing reasons to explain why you were cut and they are allowed to stay.  You can shout about the unfairness of it all, but very few people will listen, and even fewer will take up your cause.  You can curl up in a fetal position and whine "why me?"  but after a while you're bound to get a cramp.

My colleagues and I know these feelings all too well, having been fired on August 27.  We have done everything we could to understand why this has happened to us.  We have met numerous times with soulless administrators.  We have endured the distance and apathy of our colleagues.  We have sometimes retreated into our shells to make sense of it all.

We all do what we need to do to come to terms with misfortune, whether it's a death, a divorce, or the loss of one's job.  But eventually you have to move on.

The lesson of this story:  Don't get too comfortable.  Relish your job, your marriage, your life.  Do your best, but always be aware that your circumstances may change.  Always have a back-up plan.

Sit down tonight, and answer the question "What would I do if I got fired tomorrow?"  And if you are in the uncomfortable position of being unemployed, ask yourself, "What do I have to do to make this situation better?"  Life-changing events like these test our mettle, but also open up opportunities that we never dreamed possible.

If you're interested in becoming part of an online community of mutual encouragement, or just want to cheer us on, please leave a message in the comments. We're all in this together!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Be flexible and ready for anything!

Be flexible and ready for anything!  This is my life motto and it serves me well in times of crisis.  For example:  I am a career academic who is being fired mid-year because of budget cuts.  The likelihood of my finding a job teaching Latin, Greek, German or a combination of these languages and cultures in the middle of an academic year is very slim.  Rolling with the punches, I've enrolled in the H&R Block tax course so I have that option come January.  It's the responsible thing to do, to ensure I remain a contributing member of the community.  We'll see what direction my life takes after April 15, but in the meantime you can find me making sense out of 1040 tax forms!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Feel Good Food

I don't know about you, but my comfort food is usually very unhealthy (a box of macaroni and cheese; chocolate donuts).  But there's at least one healthy dish I crave to boost my well-being and my creativity:


One bulb of fresh fennel (should be white, no brown/yellow spots, with plenty of green fronds on top)
One orange
½ a small red onion
Juice of ½ a lemon or to taste
1 tsp of honey or to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Remove the bottom of the fennel bulb which is woody and tough.  Cut off the top stalks of the fennel, reserving some of the feathery green fronds to garnish the salad.  Slice the fennel bulb into paper thin slices.  Slice the red onion also into paper thin slices.  Peel the orange with a knife and cut into clean sections, so that only membrane remains left over.  Put the fennel slices, onion slices, and orange slices into a bowl, and squeeze the remaining orange juice from the membrane over the vegetables.

In a cup, mix oil, honey and lemon juice until it is emulsified.  Pour over the fennel mixture.  Season with salt and pepper, garnish with reserved fennel fronds.

Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.  Can be refrigerated, but should be served at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tips for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between

BREAKFAST:  Should include whole grains, fresh fruit, dairy product (milk or yogurt), and water.  Add protein (ham, turkey, egg or egg substitute) a couple of times a week.
TIP:  I am wild about Chobani Greek yogurt.  Unlike most fat free yogurt, it's sweetened with sugar, not Splenda or Aspartame.

SNACK:  Dairy (1/2 cup cottage cheese or 1 cup yogurt) or a small handful of nuts, fruit.
TIP:  Substitute peanut butter for nuts.  Spread on apple halves.

LUNCH:  Lean meat and low fat cheese OR soup and whole grain crackers, combined with fresh fruits and/or vegetables (potatoes!), water.
TIP:  Soup can be very healthy and filling.  Just resist the urge to add salt before you taste it!
Meat portions should be no larger than a deck of cards.

SNACK:  Baked tortilla chips and salsa OR veggies and lowfat dip OR trail mix.
TIP:  Tortilla chips are considered whole grains!  Who knew?!

DINNER:  Stirfry (3 oz meat & 1 cup veggies) over brown rice OR 1 cup pasta with sauce OR beans and rice.  Balance with fresh fruits and vegetables (potatoes!), skim milk
TIP:  Barilla makes Pasta Plus with whole grains, fiber and omega-3.  Looks and tastes just like regular pasta but a healthier choice!

SNACK: Frozen fruit bar OR lowfat pudding OR whole grain crackers with cheese.
TIP:  Have you tried Edy's Antioxidant Fruit Bars?  In pomegranate and acai blueberry!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jell-O is not a vegetable!

Once when I was feeling a little depressed, I went to the doctor who first asked me what my diet was like.  I told her, and instead of prescribing pills, she told me to change my diet for a couple of weeks.  If I didn't feel better, we could talk about pharmaceutical options.

Changing my diet worked wonders.  Instead of pre-packaged foods and junk and canned soda, I started eating more balanced meals, healthy snacks and drinking lots of water. I felt much better in body and soul.

Years later I learned about a European wellness philosophy known as the Kneipp system.  Sebastian Kneipp recommended a way of living that incorporated care of the body inside and out for maximum physical and emotional well-being.
Hungarian Madonna Fountain, along the Kneipp-Meditation Path, 
St. Radegund, Austria

The first tenet of the Kneipp philosophy is water.  Drink the purest untreated water possible, but also indulge in cold water baths that promote circulation and bolster the immune system.  Water and herbal teas are the only recommended drinks according to Kneipp.  Not surprisingly the second tenet of the philosophy is the use of healing herbs:  not as processed herbal supplements but as teas, herbs added to food, or bath preparations (Kneipp makes several herbal bath products, including Sleep Well with Valerian, Hops, and Lavender).

After exercise comes diet, and the Kneipp recommendations are a little different from the food pyramid in the U.S.  Whole grains are highly recommended as the foundation of daily diet, but so are potatoes (not in the form of French fries!).  Fresh fruits and vegetables of local origin are next, followed by dairy products including milk and yogurt.  All meat, fish included, should be eaten in moderation, as should fats and sugars.

Apple harvest, 2007, Irdning, Austria

In other words, we should be eating as healthfully and naturally as possible, which is difficult in today's society.  Prepackaged meals, while convenient, contain high fat, high sugar, high salt and flavor enhancers that leave you begging for more, and no one's really sure about the longterm effects of gentech ingredients or artificial sweeteners.  So many people today are concerned about their metabolism and the right fad diet for their body type that they have forgotten these simple truths:  If you consume 2x the daily recommended calories, you can expect to gain weight.  And if you eat too much meat, your intestines will start resembling sausage.

So today's balancing act is to plan one week of healthy eating, for you and, if you can manage it, for your family.  I'll post some tips and recipes to get you started!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Confessions of a Misspent Vacation

It is a sad fact in academia that the only way to win a research grant is to have published previous research. A Catch-22 since most of us are not independently wealthy to conduct the research needed to publish, which is why we apply for grants in the first place. All this to say, I had to abandon the grant-writing venture (on the advice of the grant-giving institution) and then went off on vacation to lick my wounds.

I took work with me and didn't touch it until the plane ride home. My justification? I had taught constantly from January to July, including two full semester courses within the span of seven weeks at a European university. Whether I deserved a break or not, I enjoyed my family, sightseeing, drawing, eating fresh grilled herring sandwiches and the World's Best Donuts, beach combing, Lake Superior pedicures and lakeside meditations. I returned to the university renewed and refreshed, ready to tackle anything this semester could throw at me.

Including the dean's announcement on Friday that, as of January 2011, I no longer have a job.

Time to put this balancing act into practice!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

And follow through!

My very worst professional habit is the lack of following through.  I send out important emails, receive important replies, and then somehow let the topic languish, as though receiving the email were more important that the information it contains.  This weekend is my chance to correct the situation.  After culling through all my emails, I am going to a) get grant proposals ready and b) figure out how to get certified to teach overseas.  My deadline is August 2, after which I will treat myself to a vacation up north.  That's what Practical Hedonism is all about.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and all that jazz.  What's your worst professional habit?  Leave a message in the comments!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Muse of Organization

Organization is an art, just like music or dance-- therefore, there should be a Muse of organization.  I wonder what her name is and what mystical rites are used to invoke her. I could really use her kiss right about now, as I sit on my floor surrounded by stacks of end-of-the-semester paperwork and a suitcase that needs to be packed.

Organization is one key to success and productivity, despite those cute plaques suggesting that an organized desk is the sign of a diseased mind.  But organization takes planning and who has time for that?

You make the time.

At the very least you have to set priorities or else nothing will get done.  Perhaps you've heard the parable of the big rocks, made popular by FranklinCovey, one of the world's leading organization and planning firms.  If I may offer my own interpretation:  Think of your life as a big bucket into which you must fit various items (rocks, pebbles sand). The "big rocks" are the things that are really important to you:  things like finding a job or graduating from college with a good g.p.a. or saving a downpayment for a house.  These are the things that can change your life for the better.  The "pebbles" are the things that keep us alive and keep us sane (our current job, eating, getting a good night's sleep, balancing the checkbook).  "Sand" represents all the things we'd like to be doing, like playing video games or partying with friends or reading the newspaper or taking a nap in the garden.

If you put the big rocks in the bucket first, then the pebbles which you pour in will settle between the rocks, and the sand will settle between the pebbles.  But if you start with the little stuff, you'll find that your bucket is full in no time and there's no space to fit in the big rocks.  It's a sort of trickle-down theory:  If you are organized at the top with priorities, the rest will pretty much organize itself.

So make time to sort out your priorities.  It doesn't have to be long-term goals.  Right now it's "What do I absolutely, positively have to do TODAY to make the next day, the next week, the next month go smoothly?"

"O Muse of organization, give me the time and the endurance to sort through all those journal articles!"

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why So Unproductive?

One word:  distractions.

Think of all the things you need to do.  Now look at what you're doing.  That's right... you've surfed onto a blog on the internet.  My guess is it's not the first one you looked at when turned on your computer, and it's not going to be your last stop on the interwebs today.

But think of all the things you need to do.  Is sitting here surfing from cheezburger.com to deathlist.net to TMZ really more important than accomplishing your goals?

I know what you're thinking... and the answer is, "I can put you on the spot and ask that question because I am entirely aware that my relationship with the internet is responsible for most of my lost productivity." I'm sure there are lots of theories about internet addiction out there, but I will tell you why I spend so much time on it:  it's easily accessible, it doesn't require any thought, and it's mildly more entertaining than reading academic articles.  After a long day teaching, interacting with dozens of people, I just want to decompress.  So I turn to the internet and three hours later...

So how can you change this pattern of bad behavior?
  1. In keeping with the theme of this blog, make internet your reward.  Writing a dissertation?  Work for an hour, then allow yourself 15 minutes (and only 15 minutes!) of fun internet time.
  2. Unplug yourself from the internet when you're doing work.  Need to look up something for your novel, thesis, gardening club?  Write it down and look it up during your scheduled internet "research time"
  3. Those entertaining blogs like cuteoverload.com have RSS feeds that will deliver their content to your inbox once a day.  No need to keep hitting refresh!
  4. Set your Facebook page to deliver all notifications to your email inbox and act on them only once a day.  Better yet, tell everyone you're worried about security and deactivate your Facebook account!
  5. Block the sites that really suck you in.  Yes, like you would block porn from a 10 year old.  Even removing sites from your bookmarks/thumbnails can make them less of a distraction.
  6. When you're online and you need to get work done, make yourself invisible on chatlines.  Schedule chats with those people who mean the most to you when you can devote your full attention to them.
  7. Channel that energy into writing a blog that may actually help people be more productive :-)
The internet isn't our only distraction.  Stay tuned for more under the heading "Why So Unproductive?"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Achieving Balance

A year or so ago I was awakened in the middle of the night by such horrible bedspins I thought I was having a stroke.  I was diagnosed with BPPV, a temporary condition caused by the dislocation of crystals in the inner ear which regulate a person's balance. Although this is the physical explanation of BPPV, many people believe it is a warning sign that your life is out of balance.

Balance is the buzzword of this young millennium.  We are encouraged to eat a balanced diet and achieve inner balance through yoga.  Children are expected to balance school and extracurricular activities, college students want to balance classes and social life, and as adults we feel obligated to balance a career and family.  So when do we find time to balance our tires and balance our checkbooks?

The fact is, most of us are leading unbalanced lives.  Some of us sacrifice pleasure to do the dumb things we've got to do; others postpone the really important things to do the trivial; still others give themselves over to pleasure first, sacrificing all responsibilities.  The result is often a routine but unfulfilling existence with no sense of accomplishment or advancement.  We just go through the motions, thinking that imbalance is the norm.  But if your unbalanced washing machine is left unattended, it will spin out of control and go on a rampage.  Catch my drift?

Practical hedonism is all about balance.  It is a philosophy, a system of checks and rewards which leads to the ultimate satisfaction of a balanced life.  In short, we practical hedonists work hard so we can play hard.

My first experience with practical hedonism came when I was writing my dissertation.  With a deadline looming, I needed to convince myself that all that hard work was going to pay off.  I made a calendar defined by two rewards:  On March 14 one of my favorite performers who rarely makes tours was giving a concert nearby and on April 14 friends from Europe were due to arrive.  I allowed myself to enjoy the concert thoroughly.  Then like a woman possessed I wrote on the diss 10-12 hours a day for the next month.  There were sacrifices along the way (no television, no socializing, all while keeping one lesson ahead of my classes),   but the morning of April 14 I put the finished dissertation into the mail and picked up my friends at the airport that afternoon.  For the next ten days I had no other responsibilities.  The satisfaction of accomplishment coupled with the feeling of freedom made my time off that much sweeter.

Of course, this sort of thing does not happen on its own.  It involves the identification of goals, the setting of priorities, self-awareness and self-discipline.  That's what this blog, Practical Hedonism, is all about:  providing the resources and support to help you live a full and balanced life -- with no regrets.