Archive for August, 2009

Meditating on Traffic

I really have to apologize for not posting all week.  I really thought I could get a post in most workdays, but I have been walking during my lunch breaks and am too beat when I get home from work to turn on the computer!  I will try to improve, but I started this blog because I thought it would be fun, and I don’t want it to become a chore.  Please check back once in a while and hopefully I will get at least a couple of posts up each week.

So, at the end of the summer, I read an article about Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk dubbed “the happiest man in the world.”  I checked out one of his books, “The Joy of Living,” from the library and slowly read it over about a month (had to renew half way through reading).    My only experience with meditation was from yoga, where our instructor would occasionally have us practice a small bit.  The book was a good introduction to the basics of Buddhism and also some instruction on beginning meditation practice and I was curious and did try most of the exercises he outlined and was intrigued and want to investigate further.  Unfortunately, thus far I have not been able to commit to a dedicated practice, but I try to remember to fit in a few minutes of meditation where I can.

Last week I was coming home from work a bit frazzled.  I have one day where I need to be into campus at about 7 am to teach a 7.30 lab and then I have another class that afternoon where I have to lecture from 4.30-5.45.  It’s a LOOONG day.   I am very lucky to have a spouse who works at home and loves to cook, so he takes care of most dinners during the week.  But on this day, he had a late conference call, so I said I would put together a quick meal of spaghetti and meatballs.  I had to stop at the store on the way home, since my quick spaghetti and meatballs requires a jar of Ragu to dump the frozen meatballs into and I was a bad girl and did not have any stocked in my pantry.  By the way, my favorite sauce for a quick meal like this turns out to be Ragu Old World Style Traditional Sauce.  Cheap and pretty tasty.

Anyhow, the traffic was nasty (at least for my small town – nothing compared to big cities) and I was pretty cranky by the time I actually got to the store.  Zipped in, got what I needed, and zipped out.  I realized that I didn’t want to try try to make a left hand turn out of the lot with all the traffic, so I went to a different exit with the intent of turning right and driving around the block to get headed in the correct direction.  Just as I came to the exit, the nearby light turned green and a long stream of traffic came across my path and I knew it’d be a long time before there was a gap that I could slip into.

My first instinct was to curse, but then I thought, “well, I might as well just meditate on the traffic.”  So I watched the cars go by with no judgment or concern, just watched the colors, enjoyed the movement, and it seemed like only a few seconds before the light had turned red and it was my turn to go.  Wow, I thought, that was really interesting.  I went home and told my family and they just gave me that look – she’s gone a little goofy again.

The next morning I left for work and came to the light near my house just as it was turning yellow.  Shoot, I thought, I will have to sit here for about 4 minutes until I can turn.  Well, let’s just meditate on traffic again.  So I did.  At first I was a little annoyed that only a car and a pickup drove by and I was just sitting there at an empty intersection.  But then I remembered to just observe and not judge.  Look at the peaceful intersection, thought my mind.  Oh, look at the yellow school bus coming.  About 5 seconds later, or so it seemed, I had a green arrow.  Damn, I said, this really works!

It’s kind of crazy, but give it a try.  Meditate on traffic, just watch it as it goes by and forget about being angry, impatient, or tired.  See if time doesn’t speed up for you.  No wonder Buddhist monks are so calm.  They’ve had A LOT more practice than me!  But I do intend to research Buddhist practice and meditation further….

Best regards,



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I have to apologize – I started back to work last week after a summer off and found that putting up a daily blog post was getting to be harder than I thought.  Sometimes I can get to one during my lunch hour, but otherwise I end up posting when I get home from work and am dead tired and not entirely coherent!  I will keep trying, but if you don’t hear from me for a few days, I am just swamped.  Meanwhile, if you are a regular reader and enjoy my posts, shoot me a message to encourage me to keep it up.  My blog stats show that people are visiting my pages, but it would help to know that people are reading and actually finding my posts interesting or helpful.

Beautiful weekend here in the Midwest, if you like it on the cool side, which I do.  I am trying to get out into the garage each week to do a little decluttering.  I have set a goal to be able to pull one vehicle (the car I drive to work) into the garage before the first frost.  Last year I was scraping frost off the car each morning and that is pretty stupid when I have a perfectly good garage.

I have been going through a lot of things that have been dragging after me for 20 years or more and evaluating whether I really need to keep them.  Since I am a University professor, I am having a hard time parting with old engineering textbooks, but I have been trashing all the old notes from classes unrelated to my area of specialization.  I think I will cut down on some of the textbooks and notes I have kept eventually, but Peter Walsh suggests thinning the easy stuff first.  I have also destroyed boxes of old files related to my thesis research.  I have the theses themselves and have not had a need to go back to all my old notes ever since I graduated, so I figured I did not need them.

A few weeks ago, I started listing things on eBay that I knew I did not want, but that may have a bit of value.  I decided not to overwhelm myself, but to try to put up 3-5 listings each Sunday.  Sunday is a good time for me to spend the afternoon listing things (it takes longer than expected even though the process is MUCH easier than it was 10 years ago when I first signed up for eBay) and is a recommended time to have auctions close, since more people have time to surf eBay on a Sunday afternoon.  Before I spend a lot of time and listing fees putting things up, I do a search for completed auctions on similar items to get an idea if it’s worth the time and energy to list my items.

Last week, my first auctions closed and I got bids on 2 of 3 listings for a total of $26.  This week I have 7 listings up and currently have bids on 2 items totally about $60, but I hope they go a bit higher before they close.  I have a few things up for auction that I would not have expected to have any value and are doing quite well.  That is always a nice surprise.    Yesterday one of the shades of our kitchen pendant lamps broke (cheap pieces of junk, it turns out), so we’ve decided to replace them with nicer ones that unfortunately are also more expensive, so I’m hoping for some good eBay outcomes to help pay for those.

This afternoon’s task will be to find 5 more things out in the garage to list on eBay and also go through a few more boxes.  Slowly but surely I am making progress.  Let me know how you are doing.

Best regards,


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When my son was in 4th grade, his teacher told all the parents that she had told the students something like – “Your parents have already passed 4th grade.  Remember that this is your material to learn, not theirs.”  It’s easy to want to help our kids when they are struggling and that is great, but we have to remember that they won’t learn if we do all the work for them.  That same teacher commented to me later in the year that she knew my son did his own math homework because he always did better on the tests than he did on his homework, whereas some kids that were doing great on homework bombed the tests and it turned out that their parents were “helping” just a bit too much.   We were both very aware of my son’s talent for zipping through homework so we were not surprised that he would do better when it “counted.”

When my kids are struggling, I try to ask them questions to lead them down the right path, or start them on the first few steps.  Yesterday, my son asked for help with physics.  I got a piece of scratch paper, read the problem with him, named a few variables and set up the first equation.  He immediately said, “ahhhhh,” grabbed the paper and headed off.  I try to pause as I do things like this with him so I can hear the “aha” moment and know when to stop. Sometimes just talking through the problem statement with them can help.

This wraps up education tips for the week.  No idea of a theme yet for next week so let me know if you have any ideas.

Best regards,


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Start as early as possible training elementary school kids to do their homework when they get home from school or soon after.  I know scheduling conflicts can make this tough, but if you’ve ever had a frustrated, tired kid trying to do their math at 9pm at night after sports practice, music lessons, and dinner, you know that high levels of frustration can go with doing homework this late.

When my kids were in elementary school, they got home between 3 and 4pm, depending on the grade.  They’d usually relax for 15 minutes to a half an hour, then get busy on their homework.  Because it was fresh in their minds and they weren’t too tired, they usually were able to get done in a reasonable time.  They were then able to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening and so were their parents!  Now that they are older, it is second nature to get homework out of the way early and they usually don’t have to be nagged about it, which is a plus.

If you have difficulty finding time for homework before dinner, ask yourself whether your current schedule is working for you.  It is great to expose kids to lots of opportunities like sports, music, and arts, but it is also easy to over-schedule them.  Consider limiting participation to one or two things a season.  I have always felt that a kid’s biggest jobs are to do well in school and enjoy being a kid, in that order.  Anything else has to fit in after sufficient time is left for the first two items.   Our kids play two instruments each, so we work around weekly music lessons and band events, but I think we would all go crazy and school work would suffer if we were constantly running to practices and other organized activities every day.  Naturally, your family will have to find what works for you.  But do consider whether you are leaving enough “prime time” for your kids to get home work done.  Helping them find this time is a great step to helping them do well in school.

Let me know your thoughts.

Best regards,


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I think kids are more inclined to be ready to get to work at school if they start their day well-rested, well-fed, and not stressed from a hectic scramble to get ready for school.  How to accomplish this?

First off, bed times, even for older kids.  We have a rule that through middle school, kids must be in bed by 10pm and in high school by 11pm.  Before Middle School, bedtime was between 8 and 9 pm depending on age.  If they are really not tired, they can read in their room for up to a half hour.

Second, getting out of bed should be routine and happen fairly easily, but not jarringly.  I wake my kids up by beginning to speak to them as I enter their room, maybe turn a light on using a dimmer, and sit down on their bed to tap them on the shoulder and start to wake them up.  If they are still sleepy, I might ask a question – what do you want for breakfast?  They have to be at least half awake to answer.   Most important, don’t leave the room until they are up and moving.  I may occasionally have to turn down covers to get people moving, but do it nicely – no one wants fighting or trouble in the morning.

Breakfast is important.  Nothing big or fancy is necessary, but they need fuel.  My kids might have some milk and cereal or a bagel or some yogurt.  Occasionally an egg or some toast.  I sit and eat with one or the other of the kids (they are usually not quite on the same schedule).  I have enjoyed this quiet time with them since grade school.

Leave yourself enough time so eating and getting ready is not rushed.  If you have a slow poke, keep your eye on the clock and check on them while they are brushing teeth, etc., so they don’t fall behind.

A good start to the day is nice for your kids but nice for you too.  Who wants alot of stress first thing in the morning?

Best regards,


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This week’s theme revolves around ideas to help your kids excel at school at any age.  A tiny, tiny bit of bragging here – I am blessed and priviledged to have two bright children who do really well in school.  How did I get them?  Was it Nature, Nurture, or just plain Luck?  Actually, I think it is a bit of all three.  But once we’ve got ’em, about the only one of the three we can address is the nurture part.

Read, read, read to your kids starting at as young an age as you can.  We read board books to them over and over again when they were babies and read every night before bed from about age 2 well into grade school.  Even when they could read on their own, I would read to them at bedtime.  It was soothing and calming to both kid and parent and let them enjoy the ebb and flow of words without the effort of reading themselves.

We occasionally used to read out loud as a family, taking turns.  We went through a whole Harry Potter book this way.  To this day we have this crazy Christmas tradition of reading aloud Santa’s Evil Twin by Dean Koontz.  It is a picture book and epic poem and each person reads a page, then passes the book on.  My kids think a lot of things I come up with are corny, but for some reason that tradition is one they like to maintain.

We bought them as many books as we could and checked even more out from the library.  I really think all the early reading helped both kids develop good vocabularies, understand the structure of grammar, and helped them learn to read on their own.

Let them see you reading.  My husband and I both read a lot.  The kids see us reading fiction or other books (my husband is partial to things like a big fat Einstein biography and I like all kinds of self help books).  I keep a stack of magazines on the coffee table and read whenever I have a few spare moments.    We get a daily paper and the kids see us read it most mornings.  As soon as they could read enough to read newspaper articles, we started passing them the paper when there was an article of interest – “Hey, they wrote about your school in the paper….” or “There’s an article here about your trombone and guitar teachers….”  It helps them see that reading is a normal adult activity, not just something you do at school.

My daughter continued to be a voracious reading right into her teen years, but like many boys, my son would only do school reading after about 3rd or 4th grade.  Not long after that, he begged me to take him to go see a thriller/horror movie that was coming out at the theaters.  It just so happened that I had read the book the movie was based on and knew it was action packed.  I told my son I would take him to the movie if he read the book first.  He started to read the book just to see the movie, but soon he was hooked and devoured the book.  Turned out the movie was only VERY loosely based on the book, but he enjoyed both.  I realized I could get him to read books by certain authors in the action/adventure/thriller/horror genres.  My husband also managed to get him hooked on the Anne Rice vampire series as a teenager.

Some good authors I like for teen boys with good reading skills who need to be lured back into reading:

Anne Rice vampire series

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs (there is a movie version of one of their books (Relic) that is pretty good and my son liked both)

James Rollins

Jeff Long

Kids’ interest in reading can ebb and flow, but just keep giving them opportunities.  What are your thoughts on kids and reading?  Let me know!

Best regards,


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I find it a real effort to find interesting non-alcoholic cocktails that adults will like.  I have a book dedicated to non-alcoholic cocktails, but most of them are just glorified milkshakes and smoothies.  Often I am after something that is not too cloying that can replace something like a Manhattan, a Tom Collins, or a Gin & Tonic.  Fortunately, we discovered just the thing several years ago in Julia Child’s Menu Cookbook.  She calls it the “Angosoda Cocktail” but we have been making it for years and calling it “The Julia” in honor of that incredibly exhuberant icon of cooking.

BTW, I can’t wait to see “Julie & Julia” but we generally don’t go out to the show much, so I will wait until it comes out on DVD.

My husband and I like an evening cocktail before dinner most nights, but occasionally we just don’t feel like alcohol, so I will poke my head in his office (where he is frequently at work almost right up until dinner time) and ask “How about a Julia?”  Without further ado, here’s how you make one:

The Julia (non-alcoholic cocktail)

Ice (cubed or crushed)

Angostura Bitters

One fresh lime

Club Soda, Sparkling Water, or Seltzer

In either a large wine glass or a Collins glass (tall and slim), add some cubed or crushed ice – fill just short of halfway.  Use a nice glass – presentation helps this feel and look like a real cocktail.  Put one or two thin slices of lime on top of the ice, then shake a few dashes of bitters into the glass.  Fill the glass with seltzer and serve.   This drink has a pretty light rose color from the bitters and a clean refreshing taste.

A few comments:  I often have lime wedges pre-cut in my fridge.  In place of the lime slices, you can squeeze a lime wedge into the glass, then drop it in.  Do not neglect the bitters or you are just drinking seltzer.  If you are not a regular bitters user, give them a try – I was initially a bit apprehensive about using them but they give an interesting depth to many drinks.    We always have several cases of canned seltzer on hand.  My son often likes to have a seltzer when it is not a “soda day” (our kids are only allowed one soda every other day) or when he is going down into the basement, where kids are not allowed to bring pop.  Kroger sells the “Big K” brand of sparkling water in 12 packs and you can usually find it on sale for $2 or less per case.

I am always on the lookout for interesting cocktails of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties.  If you have one to share, please leave a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

Best regards,


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