Travel daydreaming

This is a big planet we live on. I’ve only seen a little bit of it. These maps make that pretty obvious.

When I sat down and wrote down the big themes of my life, travel is one of them. I love seeing new places, meeting interesting people, eating unusual foods, etc.

Then why haven’t I been traveling? It’s because I don’t always focus on those big themes. Daily life intercedes. I focus on what seems to be urgent, what’s right in front of me, not far away. It’s not so much making excuses, but just forgetting … “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” So it’s good every once in a while to review your list of themes to see what important things you have been missing.

But I’ll blog about creating that list later. Right now, you can get your travel daydreams going by making your own visited country maps at World66.





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Sleep hacking justified!

As I’ve written before, I have been getting up at 5:00AM for over 6 months now. It has been working very well for me. I get more done during the day, I’m more alert all day, and have no trouble sleeping either at night or during the occasional nap.

I have been a little concerned about what it might be doing to me to reduce my sleeping hours to 6 or 7 per day. But the article Sleep Deprivation: The Great American Myth in LiveScience says it’s ok, and may even be a good thing, “From a six-year study of more than a million adults: People who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep.”

And for my friend who is on a polyphasic sleeping schedule (which Steve Pavlina has also converted to), the news is just as good, “The Cancer Prevention Study II even showed that people with serious insomnia or who only get 3.5 hours of sleep per night, live longer than people who get more than 7.5 hours.” (Perhaps I’ll try it someday when my life settles down a bit.)

The article also has tips on how to get the best rest. Interestingly, these are many of the same recommendations that Steve Pavlina had in his How to become an early riser article.

  • Do not take sleeping pills. This includes over-the-counter pills and melatonin. [Nor do I use caffeine to wake myself up]
  • Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy. [This is the second most important, and also increases your productivity because you get more “good” hours in your day.]
  • Get up at the same time every morning, even after a bad night’s sleep. The next night, you’ll be sleepy at bedtime. [This is the most important tip. 5:00AM for me!]
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, get out of bed and return only when you are sleepy. [This never happens to me, since I’m sleepy when I go to sleep. The worst that will happen is that I might wake up early, in which case I’ll get out of bed and be thankful for the extra time.]
  • Avoid worrying, watching TV, reading scary books, and doing other things in bed besides sleeping and sex. If you worry, read thrillers or watch TV, do that in a chair that’s not in the bedroom.
  • Do not drink or eat anything caffeinated within six hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol. It’s relaxing at first but can lead to insomnia when it clears your system. [It’s interesting that I stopped drinking alcohol around the time I started my new sleep regimen. So the artificial sleepiness from alcohol hasn’t affected me.]
  • Spend time outdoors. People exposed to daylight or bright light therapy sleep better.

(And it’s so interesting to see memes propagate around the internet, BoingBoing picked up Steve’s original sleep article today)

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I’m not really interested in any big way in juggling, but it’s always been one of those “I wish I could…” things. I’ve tried juggling a bit and even looked at the Klutz juggling book but it never really clicked for me.

But a friend sent me this amazing video of comedian Chris Bliss doing a juggling routine in time to the music of the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers.”

And then I passed it on and a friend sent a link to juggler Ben Jennings: check out his videos.

It’s funny how memes come your way, so I figured I’d pass it on, and since juggling is one of those things I’d long ago written off as something I can’t do, I’ll add it to the list of things I will try to learn, right after I’m a bit more proficient in French 😉

Reminds me of one of my favorite fortune cookies: “As soon as you feel you’re too old to do something, do it.”


Ten steps aid keeping your cool

I saw this in the local paper today and thought it was worth “clipping” to the blog.

For me, meditation has given me more space between thought and action. That is, it seems like I have time to watch my thoughts and then make a good decision about how to act, or (most often) just let the thought go. No need to act on everything you think!

Ten steps aid keeping your cool
By Barton Goldsmith, Scripps Howard News Service
March 18, 2006

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”

Keeping your wits about you when the kids are acting up, your boss is getting down on you, and your mate is all over the map can be a challenge.

Here are 10 tools to help you manage your mood and maintain your balance:

1. Think before you act.

Putting your brain in gear before engaging in an assault of any kind will help you prevent any escalation and keep the situation under control.

2. Think before you speak.

Saying to yourself what you might say to another, and imagining how he or she will take it, is a great way to prevent downward spirals from occurring.

3. If someone hurts you, let him or her know it.

Don’t hold it in or act it out. Simply say, “What you said hurt my feelings. Please don’t do that again.”

4. Learn about your triggers and avoid them.

For example, if traffic makes you crazy, take the scenic route. If you absolutely hate the checkout lines at the market, most places now deliver if you order online. It may take a little inventiveness, but eliminating the stress is worth it.

5. The old trick of “counting to 10” works.

If you’ve never tried it, I suggest you give it a shot. The next time something or someone frosts your cookies, just slowly count, and with each number remind yourself that by getting upset you are only hurting yourself.

6. Pretend you’re above it all.

Being truly gracious means that when the limo driver is late, or you have to go through security before your private jet takes off, you can keep things in perspective. After all, you have a great life and these minor inconveniences are just a part of the real world that we all have to live in.

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Birth and death are the only two biggies in life. Everything else is not worth getting your knickers in a twist. Learning to let go will help you to live longer.

8. Take a few deep breaths.

It’s amazing how many people hold their breath when they get upset. Forcing fresh air into your lungs sends oxygen to your heart and brain, and acts as a calming agent. Breathe slowly and be sure not to hyperventilate. If you get really upset, breathe into a paper bag.

9. Check in with your heart.

Asking yourself if this is truly where you want to be, and how you want to feel or act toward another person (or in front of strangers), can be a great reminder to hold your tongue.

10. Ask yourself, “Am I a positive person or a negative person?”

This question has inspired many people (adults and children) to keep their attitudes in check. Keeping a positive attitude is not just a cliche; it makes your world a better place to be.

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is the author of “Emotional Fitness for Couples.” Contact him at

Updated Shopping List

I’ve gotten some good feedback about my original post about Saving time at the supermarket with a shopping list. I spent some time revising the shopping list to help in a few ways:

1) Now I have the week’s menu on the list itself. Before I would write the menu on a sticky, but now I find it’s nice to reference the menu in the store in case I think of something else I’ll need to go along with it.
2) I’ve added boxes for all the stores I might shop at. I do shop sales sometimes, so if an item I want is on sale at a particular store, I’ll buy it there. And I found that I don’t buy much at King Sooper anymore as we’re pretty much converted over to natural foods, which I get at Vitamin Cottage.

Here is the revised shopping list, in Word and PDF formats:

MS Word format:Shopping list-1.doc

PDF: Shopping List-1 PDF Format

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This Body is Not Me

(As you might know, my wife is dying of cancer, that’s why you’ll see a bunch of death related posts on my blog for a bit.)

I first heard this poem sung as a song by Sister Chang Kong at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. She talked about how she had sung it at the bed of a dying friend, and how it comforted him. It comforts me too.

This body is not me; I am not caught in this body
I am life without boundaries,
I have never been born and I have never died.
Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies
All manifests from the basis of consciousness
Since beginningless time I have always been free.
Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out.
Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.
So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye.
Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before.
We shall always be meeting again at the true source,
Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

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Exercising your brain, Part 2: Do different (updated)

Like my last post on exercising your brain by learning a new language, here’s another worthwhile endeavor to exercise your brain: Do something different every day.

Every time you do something different your brain takes note. It’s given new stimuli, it has new things to think about, and see and do.
Because of all this new stuff, it has to work a bit harder and make more connections, and that’s good exercise. The more new connections it has to make, the richer your brain becomes, and the better off you will be now and as you age.

It’s also good practice for dealing with change, which is inevitable.

So what should you do differently? Here are some ideas:

  • take a random route to work, or to the store, or wherever you are driving.
  • go for a walk down different streets in your neighborhood.
  • cook a new recipe
  • read a genre of book you don’t usually read
  • add a new exercise to your routine.
    For me, I realized that doing 100 crunches and 30 pushups were becoming routine, so over the last week I’ve increased them to 120 and 35. now I feel more challenged.
  • travel
  • pick something from a Sark poster and do it, like “invite someone dangerous for tea”
  • tie your shoelaces differently, see Ian’s Shoelace Site [via Seth Godin’s blog]
    Seth says he ties his shoelaces in a different way to, “reject the status quo.” While that’s a good enough end in itself, looking one level deeper you might see that a worthwhile life is one of constant change, constantly rejecting the status quo in favor of dealing with what is happening on a moment-to-moment basis. That is, the “status quo” is about what was, not what is.
  • tie your tie in a different way. Did you know that there are 85 possible ways to tie a tie?
  • Update: Peel your banana from the other end. (I’m still tickled by this one every time I do it.)

In general, be aware of the ruts that you are in, and climb out of them. The view is much better up there.

What sorts of things can you do differently?

Some apropos quotes from my Worthwhile quote database (you see a random quote from this database on the top of the main page.):

  • “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.” — Gail Sheehy
  • “Security can only be achieved through constant change, through discarding old ideas that have outlived their usefulness and adapting others to current facts.” -— William O. Douglas, American jurist, Supreme Court justice (1898-1980)
  • “If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens” — Fay Weldon

    Sark Poster

Keep your brain active: Learn a new language!

As many studies show, your mind is a “use it or lose it” proposition. (see, Mental Exercise Nearly Halves Risk of Dementia, for example). That is, your mind will inexorably decline as you age (just as your muscles will) if you don’t continue to stimulate it.

This is one of the reasons that I decided to learn French. I’m also hoping for a trip to France this year. And, frankly, I always thought French was too hard to learn, so I decided to challenge myself! (Turns out it is pretty difficult to get the pronunciation correct, but not at all insurmountable.)

It’s really quite stimulating to learn a new language. I usually do one lesson per day, while in the car. Sometimes I’ll repeat a lesson if I don’t feel familiar with the new material. I feel like I’m progressing quickly, and am really enjoying it.

One interesting side effect is that my Spanish is improving too. Since it’s the same part of the brain that’s getting exercised it stands to reason, but I was surprised to find that the Spanish I already know comes out more fluidly now.

Whatever you do, do something out of the ordinary with your brain. Many people swear by crossword puzzles as a way to exercise your brain. I’m sure it works, as it forces you to think of things that aren’t part of your normal life. But for me, I want an activity that seems like a worthwhile use of my time. That’s why I’m learning a new language. Maybe you should try it too?

To learn French, I’m primarily using the Pimsleur course, which I highly recommend. It’s especially good for learning good pronunciation. I’m also trying out the Rosetta Stone language learning program. It is also good, but it excels at teaching vocabulary; I find it not as good for pronunciation as Pimsleur, though they are different paradigms. Pimsleur is an audio course, and the Rosetta Stone is a computer program.

TIP: Pimsleur CDs and Cassettes can be checked out from a library for free. Note that there are new editions of French (and probably other languages) to account for the currency change to the Euro, and other improvements, I’m sure. So be sure to get the most current one. I started on the previous edition, and find the sound quality better on the new edition that I got.

French I (Pimsleur)

French II (Pimsleur)

French III(Pimsleur)

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So it goes

From “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Kurt Vonnegut):

“When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes’.”

Saving time at the supermarket with a shopping list

I created a shopping list that saves me a tremendous amount of time when shopping. It’s organized by store, and by aisle in the store.

At home when I use something up, or will need something in a recipe, I write it down in the aisle where it will be found. Then, when at the store, on my old shopping lists, I’d have to scan and re-scan the list to see if something I need is in the aisle I’m in, but now I just look in the section for that aisle. Simple!

This also saves money because I only buy what’s written down (with some exceptions for things I know I’ve forgotten, or stuff I find on good sale.) Without a list, I’d often just “browse” to fill the pantry, and buy a bunch of stuff we didn’t use often.

Over the several months I’ve been using it, this list has really saved me time, and made shopping easier. I never have to backtrack in a supermarket to get something from an aisle I’ve already been through because I just noticed something on a list. Saving that frustration alone, makes this list worthwhile.

I’ve attached the current version of my shopping list in both Word and PDF formats. Obviously you’ll probably have to modify these for your stores, but it’s a start…
MS Word Format: shopping list.doc

PDF: Shopping List

Note about the organization of the list: I mainly shop at three stores, and they’re represented in different spaces on the shopping list. I tried to arrange the stores in the actual order of the aisles to make it even easier. You’ll note that the “Whole Foods” section is just one big box. This is because I usually buy everything I can at Vitamin Cottage (where it’s 10-20% cheaper than Whole Foods), and then if I can’t get something there I buy it at Whole foods. The “Whole Foods” box is just for the few things that I know I’ll buy there.

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