Archive for July, 2010

Bloomberg Business Week Magazine (Businessweek.com) ranked the country’s laziest states based on five years of data (2004 – 2008) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey, which averages the time spent each day on various activities across the population ages 15 and older, including people who did not do the activity at all.

They evaluated the amount of time spent on physically inactive pursuits, such as sleeping, watching television, relaxing, thinking, socializing, playing board games, and surfing the internet. They considered these metrics against factors such as time spent exercising and playing sports in each state, time spent working, and the state’s median age. The final ranking only includes states where residents spend more free time doing sedentary activities than the U.S. average.

States on the East Coast are heavily represented on the list. Climate and age play a factor in slowing down the pace of life, as does the local lifestyle.

Of the top 20, Maine came in 16th.

Even though Maine offers a lot of outdoor sports, residents spend more time than most doing sedentary activities. The magazine cut us a break by saying that it might partly be because of the low temperatures during the winter. 

The magazine states that Mainers sleep an average of 8 hours 50 minutes a night. Not necessarily a bad thing, we all do need our rest.

That we spend an average of 2 hours 34 minutes watching TV. This is more than in our house, but then again we do not have any cable.

We spend 14 minutes relaxing and thinking. I am thinking of how I can relax and think more.

We spend 41 minutes socializing. This makes me happy since I greatly value my friendships.

We spend 3 hours 22 minutes working. By working they do not mean at your job but work that you do during your leisure time, like in your yard or home. 

Our median age is 41.5. That makes us America’s oldest state. There are a lot of retirees in Maine and not many young families. I think it is because it is hard to find jobs here out of college, especially ones that pay decently. 

Our obesity ranking is 29 or 25.8 percent. Ouch.

We ranked second for time spent playing games, such as board games, cards, puzzles, and computer games. I played a board game with Colby last night. Mouse Trap – do you remember that one?

Maine residents also spend the most time using the computer and surfing the internet for leisure. Guess I am not the only one blogging.

So how does it feel to be lazy? Honestly, not that bad. Isn’t leisurely time supposed to be lazy? Okay, so the high obesity number is not good and we do need to exercise more. But I think it is great that we make time to play games, spend time with our friends, have great looking yards and are well rested. To me, these are the things that are a part of the recipe for happiness.


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Henry David Thoreau, a North American naturalist and author, was best known for his book Walden, the earliest piece of literature to specifically address the issues of simple and sustainable living.

The book was the result of a social experiment where Thoreau moved to a small self-built house on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the shores of Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts. 

Thoreau did not intend to live as a hermit. He hoped to isolate himself from society to gain a more objective understanding of it. He had visitors and visited other people. His cabin was not in the wilderness but at the edge of town, not far from his family home.

Walden recounted the two years, two months, and two days Thoreau spent at Walden Pond but compresses that time into a single calendar year, using the passage of four seasons to symbolize human development. Part memoir and part spiritual quest, Walden had few admirers at first but is now regarded as a classic.

Here is a great story about a modern-day Thoreau:

Unsung fortune: A rich man’s secret
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 26, 2007

Hal Taussig wears baggy jeans and fraying work shirts that Goodwill might reject. His shoes have been resoled three times. At age 81, he doesn’t own a car. He performs errands and commutes to the office by bicycle. And he has given away millions. Given the fortune that Taussig has made through Untours, his unique travel business, and has given away through the Untours Foundation, you could call him the Un-millionaire. If he so chose, he could be living in a Main Line mansion and driving a Mercedes.

But he considers money and what he calls “stuff,” beyond what he needs to survive, a burden, an embarrassment. In many respects, he’s a 21st-century Thoreau. “Let your capital be simplicity and contentment,” the sage of Walden Pond wrote. “Those are my sentiments precisely,” says Taussig, who has three children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

He directs the Untours Foundation, into which he pours all his profits – $5 million since 1992. The money is used to make low-interest loans to ventures and projects that help the needy and jobless – from a craft store in Hanoi to a home-health-care cooperative in Philadelphia. “I invest in entrepreneurial efforts to help poor people leverage themselves out of poverty.”

“In America, we worship success,” he says. “It’s a shoddy ethic that leads us to value who we are by what we are.” The motto of the Untours Foundation is “a hand up, not a handout.” It provides low-interest loans, here and abroad, to create jobs, build low-income housing, and support fair-trade products: goods such as coffee that are sold at a price that guarantees producers and workers a fair wage and decent livelihood.

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The notion of voluntary simplicity has been around for centuries, one of the oldest examples being Buddha. I was intrigued by the references to Buddhism in Eat Pray Love so I thought I would learn more.

Here is a summary of Buddhism from BuddhaNet’s Basic Buddhism Guide (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm). It was prepared by Brian White 1993, with thanks to Ven S. Dhammika.

The word Buddhism comes from “budhi” which means to awaken.

Buddhism has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was awakened at the age of 35. Siddhartha Gotama was born 563 BC. At 29 he realized that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness. After six years of study he finally found “the middle path” and was enlightened. Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism, called the Dhamma or Truth. Buddha was not a God. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience.

To many, Buddhism is not a religion but more of a philosophy. Buddhism depends more on understanding than faith. Its tenets are to lead a moral life, to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and to develop wisdom and understanding.

Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries because it has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and effective.

The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble truths

  • Life is suffering
  • Suffering is caused by craving and aversion
  • Suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained
  • The Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering

The Noble Eightfold Path

  • Being moral
  • Focussing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions
  • Developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths
  • Developing compassion for others

The moral code with Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are:

  1. Not to take the life of anything living
  2. Not to take anything not freely given
  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence
  4. To refrain from untrue speech
  5. To avoid intoxication/losing mindfulness

Karma is the law that every cause has an effect or that our actions have results. It underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions.

Buddhism teaches that wisdom should be developed with compassion. At one extreme, you could be a good-hearted fool and at the other extreme, you could attain knowledge without any emotion. Buddhism uses the middle path to develop both.

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Colby came down with a bad bug on Monday night so I was able to stay home from work with him and Sawyer yesterday. There is nothing worse than when your child is sick and you can not do anything about it. You have to wait until the virus runs its course.

When Jay got home last night I said, “I really hope Sawyer does not get it” and he said “Or you.” Oh yeah, I forgot about me. It was a good reminder that I need to take care of myself in order to be a good Mom to my boys.

Things I need to work on:

  • Stop putting myself last on my list
  • Try to eat right and get enough sleep
  • Exercise – More family walks and yoga with Colby
  • No time or money for a trip to the spa – have to settle for pampering myself at home. I do things like give myself a pedicure, or sometimes even taking an extra long shower without Sawyer in the room is a treat.
  • Time alone – Most of the time I have to myself is during my lunch hour at work, but this past Saturday I started reading a book that I can not put down. Last night I ended up reading it until 1 AM. Everyone else, even Wilbur, had gone to sleep hours ago. The house was so quiet – it was really nice (This totally contradicts what I just said about getting enough sleep.)
  • Do not let myself over-schedule our family. I am trying to leave one day a weekend for family time to catch up, to relax, and to get ready for the week ahead. When we do not have that day, I can really see the difference. Every single one of us is dragging by the end of the next week.

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Buy Local

There is a bit of a controversy brewing between two of the Buy Local organizations in Southern Maine.

According to the Portland Independent Business and Community Alliance (www.portlandbuylocal.org) for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 stays in the local economy, creating jobs and expanding the city’s tax base. For every $100 spent at a national chain or franchise store, only $14 remains in the community.

But in Biddeford Saco (www.biddefordsacobuylocal.org), they are taking a different approach to buy local. Leaders there recognize that big box stores do play an important role in the tax base and employ local people. They say if you are going to shop at a chain store, at least do it in your local community.

On the National Buy Local Now website (www.buylocalday.org) it says “Big box stores like Wal-Mart and the Gap are steamrolling their way into cities and towns throughout the country, pushing down wages and forcing small, local businesses to close because they can’t compete with these mega-companies’ predatory practices. But there’s something we can do! Let’s send a message that we support our hometown businesses and oppose the negative impacts of chain stores and big box stores on our communities.” It seems that the Portland Buy Local group’s beliefs are more aligned with the national organization than the Biddeford Saco one.

I am not sure what I think. I understand what the Portland group is saying, but I can also appreciate Biddeford Saco just trying to be realistic.

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Homelessness and Poverty

One of our son’s best friends just got a new house. Kids think if their friends get something, they should too. He asked me when we were going to get a new house. I told him that we were not and that we should be grateful for the house we have. That so many people do not even have a home.

When you think about, we really do live in such big houses today. Most of our parents grew up in smaller houses and shared bedrooms with their siblings. When did we start expecting to keep moving to larger and larger homes?

As if the television were listening to our conversation, a news report about an area in Ohio came on NBC. This area is one of the poorest areas in the country. The story featured a woman who is trying to run a food pantry and soup kitchen to feed them all. It also featured two families – one family with a mother, father, son and daughter all living in a trailer with no running water and a single mom and her three children who are living out of their car. This caused all sorts of questions from our son. He could not understand how that family could not have a home. Even though I had told him there were families who were homeless only a few seconds ago, it obviously did not sink in as much as actually seeing a family in that situation did.

Another part of the story was an interview with the Governor of Ohio. He himself grew up extremely poor in that area of the state. He spoke about a prejudice for poverty and a selfishness that people have that is accepted by society these days.

Some people do believe that poor people are lazy, unskilled, substance abusers that have a victim mentality. In reality, less than ten percent of the homeless have addictions or mental disorders. Most are people with some skills who have worked most of their adult lives, but have fallen out of the system due to lack of jobs, family breakdown, or poor health.

America is supposed to be the most compassionate country in the world, but people are hesitant to help people now because we think we are being ripped off. We think we pay our taxes which pays for welfare so we have done our duty. Our own finances are tight so we do not think we can help. I know that I blogged about shutting off our cable. It strikes me now that for so many families cable was never an option, they worry about having money for food or electricity instead.

This all made me think about what our family can do:

  • Buy local. By keeping our money in our town, state or country we are creating jobs for our neighbors who need them.
  • Donate to the food banks and food pantries like the one featured in the story. Because of the recession these places are more in need than ever before.
  • Donate clothing. If something is just sitting in my closet, someone else could be using it who really needs it more. Plus I will be de-cluttering my closet at the same time.
  • Volunteer. Before I had kids I volunteered weekly at a development center for children in Portland. Most of the children were refugees from Somalia or Sudan. In the almost five years since I have had children I have only volunteered a day or two here or there. What am I doing? It is more important that I volunteer now so that I can teach my sons a life of service and giving back.

After the story was over I tried to discuss what we could do to help with my son. One of my suggestions was that instead of gifts for his birthday this year he could ask everyone to bring one unwrapped toy that we could donate. I explained how he has so many toys and so many children do not have any. Even though he was very concerned about the family without any home on tv, he was not a big fan of my idea. He very quickly and furiously started shaking his head back and forth to say no.

Yet the last time I told him we needed to go through his books and toys to clean out some we could donate, I had to pull him back. He wanted to donate everything he did not play with any more so I had to explain to him that we need to keep some of his old toys for his little brother. That might not be a sign of brotherly love, but at least it is a sign of progress.

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Not So Big

The Not So Big House and The Not So Big Life are two books by Sarah Susanka that I am really looking forward to reading. I can identify with the Not So Big House especially. Every time we have moved to a bigger space – from our apartment, to our condo, to our house – no matter how big the new space is we always fill it with stuff. Does that stuff make us happier than we were in our first apartment? Not really.

From the Not So Big website (www.notsobig.com):

The Not So Big House

How big is Not So Big? Not So Big doesn’t mean small. It means not as big as you thought you needed. But as a rule of thumb, a Not So Big House is approximately a third smaller than your original goal but about the same price as your original budget. The magic is that although the house is smaller in square footage, it actually feels much bigger.

The Not So Big Life

The bigger-is-better idea that triggered the explosion of McMansions in home design has spilled over to give us McLives. In her bestselling Not So Big House series, Sarah Susanka showed us how to change the way we live by adjusting the physical space we inhabit. Now, in The Not So Big Life, Sarah takes her revolutionary philosophy a giant step further by showing us how to change the way we live by fully inhabiting each moment of our lives.

The Not So Big Life reveals that form and function serve not only architectural aims, but life goals as well. Just as we can tear down interior walls to open up space, The Not So Big Life shows us that we can tear down our fears, assumptions and conditionings in a way that opens us up to new possibilities so we can start passionately engaging the things we long to do.

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