personal website

Thoughts on a traffic jam

April 15th, 2011 . by maria

I was delayed leaving work today, trying to get just a few more things done. Then I had to spend some time parked on the turnpike today. Not exactly what you expect, or want, to be doing on an afternoon as beautiful and sunny as today. I was mildly entertained by the games and internet on my phone, posting my status on facebook, and being perfectly willing to drive off having only learned that I was fortunate to have a smartphone.

We got moving. We struggled down the road, jostling for position. We passed the accident. We’ll just say that when it ends with a box truck and a semi being nearly unrecognizable, it can’t be good. I realized that if I had not been delayed, I could have been caught in the middle of that mess. After all, I often spend an hour and a half every day hurtling down the roadway at over 50 miles an hour, with only a little white line separating my car from a very big truck also speeding down the road. It’s dangerous, the tolerances are small, our protections are few. It’s a miracle we all survive.

Thoughts like these are nothing new for me. I grew up singing along to Amy Grant:
  God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.
  A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.
  Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,
  Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.

I also read  Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness. His car scenes with angels creating a bit of car trouble mischief to help arrange for two people to meet, and another with angels and demons battling over the fate of a van carrying a believer escaping her captors, paint the roadways as a more spiritual place than you might imagine.

Then there was the time I had a real-life near miss when my friend Kelly’s car inexplicably slipped out of gear, and she pulled us off the road just seconds before a huge roadsign flew out of the back of a workman’s truck. Who knows what would have happened?

I don’t believe in coincidence. My heart goes out to those who were in this horrible accident. But I wonder how many times we are spared from a similar fate. And how many times it is the other little, annoying delays that God uses to save our lives. Next time you’re behind a slow driver who you just can’t seem to pass, consider that God may have a perfectly good reason for slowing you down.

lotus knows – how to change the world

May 13th, 2010 . by maria
Since I don’t travel much, I haven’t gotten to see the posters in airports, or signs on cabs. This is my first “Lotus Knows sighting” in the wild. And it is a GREAT placement!


a couple of recent cards

March 10th, 2010 . by maria




invitation "epic win party"

Party Theme: “Epic Win”

March 10th, 2010 . by maria

When my son told me he wanted his party theme to be “Epic Win”, I had no idea how I could turn that into a theme. But, after working together a bit, I think we worked it out. Here’s what we did:

Invitation: we found a picture of Chuck Norris made into a faux inspirational poster with the caption “Epic Win”. This was perfect, as the boys have this game of saying “who would win, X or Chuck Norris” and the winner is always Chuck Norris. We wrote out a lot of the invitation in txt slang, like the LOLcats captions. I used black and “windows blue”, plus stars and squares, as a visual theme.

Decorations: We generally use the same ones over and over. This includes hanging large gift bags and re-inflated foil balloons. Fortunately, most of these had blue or black or stars. I also added some blue square beads in some of the hanging decorations, and a blue plastic $1 tablecloth on my main table. I had a black card table as well. We had a dual screen desktop setup front and center in the party space. If I had more time, I thought of printing and hanging the main screen of popular websites, such as facebook, google, etc. It didn’t matter with this crowd, but it would have been a theme reinforcer.

Goody bags: Notepads and bubbles with the theme paper glued on them. Cube picture frames. LOLcats bouncy balls (kitten bouncy balls from Psychadelic erasers. Black binder clips. A few other misc things.

Photos: I usually take a picture of each child with the birthday boy, print and frame it, and send it home in the goody bags. This year, I gave them each their own disposable camera ($4), marked with their name. I took pictures of my own, of course.

Foods: Pizza, of course. Gatorade bottles (mark the lids with initials with a magic marker, and everyone knows whose bottle is whose. Then you don’t end up with half-used drinks, and kids getting new drinks because they lost theirs. “I like pie” is…I don’t know, some saying they all seem to know from some cartoon or game. So, we had a huge chocolate/graham cracker pudding pie instead of cake. We had planned to have homemade waffles for breakfast, but the kids voted to have leftover pizza or pie instead, so I let them.


  • Snowball fight (would have been sledding, but the hill melted off).
  • Pizza.
  • Coke and Mentos. I got the small plastic bottles, for less waste. We did this on the deck, so they could be as messy as they wanted.
  • LOLcats slideshow. To the tune of the Benny Hill Theme Song – no idea how they knew about that!
  • LOLcats Caption Contest: We saved 10 uncaptioned pictures. I gave each kid paper and a pencil and had them right #1-10 “like a spelling test, but more fun”. Then I showed each slide for long enough for them to write out their captions. When all slides were done, we went around the table reading their creations, and everyone voted on the best. The best one got added to the picture using a photo editing program, and we showed the final products as a new slideshow at the end.
  • Warm Fuzzies craft: glue, pompoms, foam feet, googly eyes, and pipe cleaners combine to make cute little fluffy monsters. Surprisingly, preteen boys actually enjoyed making these. Pop culture tie-in here was tenuous…I think it was on the 1800flowers commercial?
  • “Cake” and ice cream time.
  • Gift opening. (The gifts were cash, gift cards for gamestop, and Wii games.)
  • Mario Kart DS race and freetime on the DS/Wii, or in the boys’ room.
  • Rickrolled: halfway through freetime, I ran up with my laptop and said “you guys have to see this video”. When they all gathered around, guess what I played? Only a couple of them knew what a rickroll was, but it was funny just the same.
  • 11pm bedtime. We have two futon mattresses, and everyone brings sleeping bags. I allow 15 minutes or so of quiet talking (they’re gonna talk anyway) and then I say “enough” and they stop. Surprisingly, this always works, and I’ve never had a problem getting people to sleep. It might help that I also go to bed, right across the hall, and that the rest of the house is dark.
  • Morning is breakfast and more freetime, until parents come.

I had my son’s facebook page pulled up the whole time, and reminded everyone to “friend” him later. I also tweeted the whole party, and set up a desktop app to show the tweets throughout the party. These got less attention than I had hoped, but it reinforced the theme.

Result: Success. I thought the theme came across very clearly. But, the real success was mostly because my son has a great bunch of friends! This party was tuned into who they are and let them be themselves, and – from the stories they were telling their parents as they left – they all really enjoyed it.


February 18th, 2010 . by maria

When you take effective action you’re not attached to the end result, you’re committed – you make it work. Here’s the difference. Being attached to the end result means the process must look a certain way. It’s got to happen the way you think it’s going to happen. There are steps involved and it MUST BE DONE this way. That’s a clear sign of attachment. Being committed is quite different.

When you’re committed you act effectively with the end in mind. You could care less of how it happens or what it looks like. You just know that you’re going to find a way to make it happen and are open to possibilities. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, instead you adjust your actions and thought processes along the way.
– Steve Martile

As companies expand, the people within them start to specialize. At such a point, some managers will conclude that they have a ‘keep everyone on the same page’ problem. But often what they actually have is a ‘stop people from meddling when there are already enough smart people working on something’ problem.” – Joel Spolsky

Relying too much on proof distracts you from the real mission–which is emotional connection.
– Seth Godin

Once you can become restless enough to persistently challenge the status quo, you’re on your way back to being the artistic genius you used to be. – Seth Godin

“Everything should be made as simple as it needs to be, and no simpler.” Albert Einstein.

“There can be no joy in living without joy in work.” St. Thomas Aquinas

Nothing can stop a man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal. Nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong attitude. –Thomas Jefferson

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. –Viktor Frankl

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. –Dr. Seuss

This observation by Samuel Johnson keeps springing to my mind: “Since every man is obliged to promote happiness and virtue, he should be careful not to mislead unwary minds, by appearing to set too high a value upon things by which no real excellence is conferred.”

Assuredly a most benignant power built up the majestic fabric we inhabit,
and framed the laws by which it endures. If mere existence, and not
happiness, had been the final end of our being, what need of the profuse
luxuries which we enjoy? Why should our dwelling place be so lovely, and
why should the instincts of nature minister pleasurable sensations? The
very sustaining of our animal machine is made delightful; and our
sustenance, the fruits of the field, is painted with transcendant hues,
endued with grateful odours, and palatable to our taste. Why should this
be, if HE were not good?
-Mary Shelley, The Last Man

I am glad now to feel the current of thought flow through
my mind, as the blood through the articulations of my frame; mere existence
is pleasure; and I thank God that I live!
-Mary Shelley, The Last Man

Goethe wrote: “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.”

Tasks, plain ordinary work, done with purpose and in love have such incredible meaning. – Joan B.

More people are killed by deer than sharks, but you don’t see park rangers running around like nutcases.
– Seth Godin

More time does not create better decisions. …More information may help. More time without more information just creates anxiety, not insight. – Seth Godin

“It is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbors, or even our relations.” –Bertrand Russell

I’m awfully sorry for people who are taken in by all of today’s dietary mumbo jumbo. They are not getting any enjoyment out of their food.

You must have discipline to have fun.

Sooner or later the public will forget you, the memory of you will fade. What’s important are the individuals you’ve influenced along the way.

– Julia Child

Part of the debtor mentality is a constant, frantically suppressed undercurrent of terror. We have one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the world, and apparently most of us are two paychecks from the street. Those in power — governments, employers — exploit this, to great effect. Frightened people are obedient — not just physically, but intellectually and emotionally. If your employer tells you to work overtime, and you know that refusing could jeopardize everything you have, then not only do you work the overtime, but you convince yourself that you’re doing it voluntarily, out of loyalty to the company; because the alternative is to acknowledge that you are living in terror. Before you know it, you’ve persuaded yourself that you have a profound emotional attachment to some vast multinational corporation: you’ve indentured not just your working hours, but your entire thought process. The only people who are capable of either unfettered action or unfettered thought are those who — either because they’re heroically brave, or because they’re insane, or because they know themselves to be safe — are free from fear.
from The Likeness, a novel set in Ireland, by Tana French.

Spanish proverb, “He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”

Your motives are more important than your abilities.
Young Professionals: Cultivate the Habits of Friendship
by David Maister 2005

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
–T. H. White, The Sword in the Stone

Break the Rules to Lose Weight

February 7th, 2010 . by maria

There are lots of rules, or guidelines, that we learned growing up. Breaking a few of these rules might help you expend a few more calories, breaking your weight loss plateau. If you know me, you know I’m not much of a rule breaker. BUT I’m going to give it a shot…

Break this Rule: Clean your Plate
Cleaning your plate is important for a growing child, but not so much for an overweight adult. If you’re full, or there’s something you don’t like, do not force yourself to eat it. If you are making up your own plate, put less on it and skip the things you don’t care for. (As long as you’re still getting a healthy balance on a regular basis.)

Break this Rule: Waste Not, Want Not
There’s this little bit left on your plate, or on your child’s plate. Or, there’s this tiny bit of leftovers in the fridge, just going to waste. What do you do? WAIST not. Don’t eat it; don’t let it go to YOUR WAIST. I don’t care if you pitch it, feed it to the dog, or add it to a baggie in the freezer to be turned into casserole. but do NOT let that go into your mouth.

Break this Rule: One-dish Meals
OK, this isn’t really a rule. But we’ve all been conditioned that one-dish meals are easier. Here’s the thing – they aren’t healthier. Sometimes, they have more ingredients than they would probably have if you cooked a meat, veggie, and starch separately. Plus, everything soaks up the grease from the meat, and you can’t choose how much of which things you will eat. When you make separate items, the kiddos can load up on the mac-n-cheese, and mom can load up on the broccoli. If someone really wants theirs mixed together, let them do it on their own plate.

Break this Rule: Sit Still
We don’t need recent scientific studies to tell us that you burn more calories by fidgeting than by sitting still. I don’t want you to drive people crazy, but there’s nothing wrong with some musical toe-tapping now and then. And, if you’re in a cubical or office where nobody else can see you, break all the rules – get up and do a little dance when you complete a project. What’s stopping you? Nobody will know, and you’ll probably feel awesome afterwards!

Break this Rule: Be Efficient
We try to carry all our bags from the car in one trip. We look around and think what else we need before heading downstairs, so that we dont’ have to come back up the stairs. We save all the memos we need to deliver, and then give them all out at once. We email or IM instead of walking down the hall. We hit the bathroom, then get a drink, then check the mail – all in one trip. These things are more efficient, and some of them are like second nature now. Stop being so darn efficient! Really, would it kill you to go up and down the stairs a few more times? And, you’d probably have a better relationship with that difficult coworker if you met face-to-face once in a while…if not, well, at least you burned a few calories and got out of your cube.

Break this Rule: Eat 3 Meals a Day
I recently saw a TV show where the girl lost 50 pounds by skipping meals. All of them. She ate only the snacks she would normally have eaten. It wasn’t healthier, but it was less food. The show’s hosts, to their credit, did teach her how to choose healthy meals instead of skipping them. But…if you’ve been snacking all morning, and you’re too busy to sit down with a salad, you are better off skipping lunch than grabbing a Big Mac. Seriously. I give you permission to skip lunch…as long as you have eaten something else. (I do NOT advocate skipping eating all day, as you will only eat more/worse later, you’ll feel terrible, and you’ll teach your metabolism to hoard those calories when it gets them.)

Break this Rule: Save Money; Buy in Bulk
If you buy a 12pk of Coke each week, guess how much Coke you will drink? If you buy candy bars at 3/$1 instead of 50 cents for one, guess how many candy bars you will eat? Unless you have plans for those extra units to be immediately and irrevocably passed on to someone else, buying in bulk is actually NOT saving you anything. You may be spending less per unit, but those extra units are going “to waist”. (If I can continue beating you with this pun.) Instead, splurge for the single 50 cent candy bar once per week, eat only the one, and tell yourself that if it is worth the calories, it is worth the extra 17 cents. (Or, tell yourself that 17 cents is the fine for eating the candy bar. Whatever works for you.) Along the same lines, don’t buy those treats with your regular grocery shopping. That’s too easy. Instead, tell yourself you HAVE to make a special trip to the store just for that item, only when you need it. Chances are, it isn’t worth the trip most of the time, and you’ll be just fine without it. The few(er) times you do get it, it will be so much more special. The only thing you should buy in bulk are staple grocery/household items… and diet foods.

Break this Rule: A “Real” Workout is…
If you aren’t going to get a real workout, then it doesn’t count, right? A real workout is aerobics and weights, right? A real workout has to involve some kind of equipment, or an instructor, or at least gym clothes, right? You have to get 30 minutes. You have to sweat. You have to get your heart pumping. What other rules have you learned about exercise? Well, unlearn them.You burn calories just sitting there, and everything beyond sitting is an improvement. So, go play with the kids, dance to the music, take a swim, or swing at the park. If it is more than you are doing now, it counts!

Can you think of any other rules to break?

Relatedly, I have given myself a “100 walks” challenge. I want to take my dog for 100 walks, and when I have done that I will give myself permission to take $100 out of savings for a special treat. Given that there are 336 days left in the year, it should be no problem to get in 100 walks by year’s end…but it sure would be nice to have that money for a spring/summer mini-vacation.

iPad reviews are out

January 28th, 2010 . by maria

Charlie Sorrel over at Wired’s Gadget Lab gives us his Ten Things Missing From the iPad . I won’t run them all down, as a few comments basically sum it up:

  • little more than a giant iPhone
  • The iPad is meant to be an easy-to-use appliance, not an all-purpose computer.

To get a little bit more granular:

Charlie also points out that it “can’t run applications in the background…If you are authoring content, like this post, then multiple browser windows, a text editor, a mail client and a photo editor all make sense. If you’re reading an e-book, not so much.” Well, you know, most people don’t need to multi-task. It’s not like so many people, like, blog or anything.

Charlie contradicts himself a little later on when, talking about the iPad’s base price of $500, sans $70 keyboard, he quips “Why bother with a $400 netbook when you can have this instead?” But, I am sure he’s just being sarcastic. My $300 netbook (Acer Aspire One) comes with a keyboard…and USB ports, slots for memory cards, webcam…oh, and I can run applications in the background. The iPad…has a shiny touchscreen.

I’m sure there are people for whom the iPad will be an ideal device… Wait, actually I don’t think so. Techies will quickly realize the limits of a device which can’t be hooked up to any of their other gear, (not even a printer!), rendering it useless for anything other than browsing. It might work for someone who isn’t very tech savvy, the way those email readers worked a few years back. But then it will run into the same problems as those email readers. Those users will have relatives who will send them files, or link to content (like Flash), that the device can’t access. Or worse, those users will want to start actually doing things on their computer, like downloading pictures from their phone or (egads) printing. About that time, they’ll realize they’ve been had.

breaking stagnancy

January 24th, 2010 . by maria

I’ve had a certain phrase on my mind for the last few days: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. (I picked it up from Gretchen, at The Happiness Project.) This phrase has helped get me moving in a variety of areas.

At work, there was a project our group has wanted to do for years. We never did on it, because we felt it had to be done a certain way. Recently, we had an urgent need to create something similar, so we included an ‘imperfect’ version of our idea as well. Now, something that SHOULD have been done years ago will be done. It won’t be perfect, but it will be a lot better than it was…when it wasn’t done at all.

Since moving to PA, I’ve been … inconsistent…about attending church. The problem, I always said, was that none of the churches I visited felt like home. Applying the “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” rule, my kids and I picked one of these imperfect churches and went this morning. Sure, it wasn’t ‘like home’, but at least we went. The kids agreed it wasn’t so bad, even a little fun, and we’re planning on going every Sunday from now on.

Scrapbooking. I have several years worth of pictures waiting to go into scrapbooks. I have tons of scrapbook materials, and received a bunch of albums for Christmas. The problem is…I can’t afford to print all those pictures yet. So, I printed pages with thumbnails of all the pictures (Windows Picture and Fax Viewer). Using these to guide me as to what pages I need, I am making the albums without the pictures. I will get a few pictures printed at a time and go back and fill in the albums as I can. They won’t be done right away, but it is more progress than I would make by waiting until I can get all the pictures printed…and it gives me an incentive to get them printed!

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (Or: better done good, than not done perfectly.) It is a phrase that is breaking me through stagnation in a number of areas. It pops into my head all the time now, and I’m sure it will continue to be a phrase of growth for me. It might even get me to blog more often!

handy yahoo tip – unit conversion

January 21st, 2010 . by maria

I checking Leiham’s homework, and found this handy tip. You don’t need to search for a unit conversion on Yahoo. You type what you have and then “to” and then the type you want, and the first result will be the answer. For example, type “5,000 mg to kg” and click search, and you get “5000 Milligrams = 0.005 Kilograms”.

Pretty handy!

nature poetry

January 19th, 2010 . by maria

I don’t know if it was the reappearance of the sun, or the slightly warmer day, but on my drive to work this morning, I wrote two poems:


two metal towers:
our local economy…
found in corn silos

Free form:

Tan fields of corn stalks cut down for winter
Brown hills dotted with white homes and churches
Purple mountains, low but majestic
Pink and gray clouds scuttling along the bottom of a bright blue sky
This is the landscape I see on my way to work

« Previous Entries     Next Entries »