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Posted on Jun 19, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Simplicity on the Road


Early summer is scientific symposium time.  We climb onto airplanes with our Powerpoint files and rolled-up posters, travel all over, and compare notes on our research progress.

I love these meetings for the geeky excitement, and look forward to connecting with old friends. However, none of us look forward to the vendor exhibits that are always located between the entrance and the presentation, the late nights and early mornings, the inevitable travel messes.  This year, I planned to have a less hectic travel experience.  Here is what I tried.

  • Make plans in advance.  Get flights, hotel and meeting registration done early.  This saves money on flights and early registration. Results: I planned for this month’s trips two months in advance, and still had to stay in a remote hotel.  This worked out pretty well, since I am used to walking every morning and evening with my dog.  Next year, I might do this on purpose. I had to limit what was in my bag to the bare minimum, since I had to carry it around with my all day.
  • I had great seats on the flights, but this last trip, the airline had to replace the plane (twice!).  I guess there are no guarantees, but I did learn one thing. If you are delayed significantly, and the airline is at fault, you can ask for compensation. In my case, the airline was not able to find me another flight, and we passengers were sent running around the airport, eventually leaving after the third plane was fixed.  When I called and asked, the airline offered me a choice of cash or frequent flier miles.  You can find information about this here.
  • Get a direct flight, if possible. Results: I might still be in transit if I had a connection to make.
  • When you get to the meeting, you do not have to participate in every event.  You can get a coffee with a friend or go for a walk. Results: Spending some time outdoors saved a lot of stress at more than one event this month.
  • You do not have to accept the free items that the commercial exhibits give away, unless the item is something you would have bought. Results: I did pick up a dog toy…
  • It’s OK to get enough sleep, eat healthy food, avoid the morning pastries. Results: I was about 50% successful at all of these.  The big breakthrough was finding a fruit stand during my morning walk.
  • The hardest part for me is to avoid actively managing my lab during the day while keeping up with the conference. Results: I discovered that either I normally spend a lot of time troubleshooting, or my lab has extraordinary numbers of problems while I am away.

Aside from seeing exciting advances, I love one other thing about scientific meetings.  While I am listening to the talks, I know I am only required to do one thing: Learn.  This is the best part.



Photo credit: quinn.anya

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Posted on Jun 18, 2013 in My Journey

Definition Not Required

2408993662_318d0a1193_nLately, I have been participating in some yearly scientific meetings. It has reminded me that this journey to simplify my life started around the time of the current symposium two years ago. As I make my rounds, I see myself from a new perspective.  Scientific research is powered by a combination of community and competition, with a growing profit motive. To accomplish this, we tend to identify ourselves completely with our jobs, even with our individual category of study or method used to carry out our work.  As I redefine my life, I can see that this perspective cause us lose ourselves to a large degree.  I feel joyful that defining ourselves as our job is not necessary.  These definitions are an illusion, in fact. A brutal shorthand that condenses us to a single dimension of life.  When we do this, we risk assigning a value to our lives according to how well our career is progressing.  We waste precious days and years either criticizing ourselves or justifying our existence to others.  Fortunately, we require no justification.



Photo Credit: rick

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Posted on Jun 17, 2013 in My Journey

Archeology of Life


This journey of simplicity began as a life-decluttering.  I wasn’t trying to reduce the clutter in my home (although this happened), but to let go of some of the things I had attached myself to.  I wanted to let go of what was not helping me: habits, regrets and busy-work.

As I look back on this process over the past two years, it seems that our lives have many layers.  Once a layer has been removed, the next one is revealed.  With each layer, we learn more and carry less on our shoulders. We can make room for something new.



Photo credit: Ryan Somma

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Posted on Jun 14, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

How to be an Early Riser


I recently wrote a post about the benefits of getting up early and starting the day doing things you love. Changing your sleep pattern is possible, but easiest if done gradually. Here are some tools to help you have brighter morning. It’s worth the effort.

Get more sleep

  • Figure out how much sleep you need. How long do you have to sleep to wake up without an alarm? Don’t calculate how you sleep in on the weekend if you are catching up. How much sleep do you need after a week of vacation? Plan to get that much sleep every night. For most people, this is 7-9 hours.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Even weekends.
  • It will help to get to sleep each night, if your body is ready. Keeping regular hours sets your internal clock. If you need to make changes to your schedule, make it gradually.
  • Develop a nighttime routine. Another way to cue drowsiness is to have a relaxing nighttime routine. This can be yoga, meditation, reading, a warm bath. Computer, phone, and TV screens emit light in a blue range that can trigger wakefulness, so these activities should not be included in your going-to-bed routine. Dim the lights, and listen to some relaxing music.
  • Limit your exposure to light in bed. Like the light from screens, light coming from clocks, phones and chargers can keep you awake. The same goes for light from windows. Dark blinds or blackout curtains may be necessary if you live with lights from outside. If your surroundings are dark at night, sleep with the curtains slightly open, so the natural light will wake you up naturally.
  • Make a comfortable bed. You spend a lot of time in bed, so invest in a comfortable mattress, and linens that are smooth. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars, but don’t skimp on scratchy sheets and lumpy pillows.
  • Make a comfortable room. Studies have shown that a cool and quiet room supports sleep. For most people, 65 degrees is about right. Use earplugs if necessary, to achieve the quiet you need.
  • Limit strenuous exercise, heavy meals, and alcohol for three hours before bed. All of these will interfere with quality sleep. Caffeine stays in your body for a long time. Only half of it will be gone after five hours.  Nicotine will also prevent you from falling asleep.

When you don’t get a good night’s sleep

  • Make up the sleep the next night. Don’t wait until the weekend.
  • Get a short nap the next day. Make sure not to sleep longer than 20-30 minutes, or you will reach a deeper level of sleep. If you sleep longer, you will want to sleep for hours, and this will interfere with your sleep schedule.
  • Don’t hit the snooze button. Studies have shown that this doesn’t help. You don’t really rest in the short time between buzzes.

During the Day

  • Have something to look forward to each day. Remind yourself of this when you first wake up. Try to have something nice to do even before you go to work.
  • Get exposure to light in the morning. It will help you wake up, and help set your internal clock. This is especially helpful if you are trying to change your sleeping schedule.
  • Get some exercise. While strenuous exercise is not good right before bed, exercise in general supports good sleep habits. Exercising early in the morning in the sunlight is even better.
  • Start out by sitting quietly. Many of us hate mornings because of the rush and chaos that often come with them. Start your morning with only a few minutes when you don’t expect anything productive of yourself. You can meditate, but you could just sit for a moment and think quietly or listen to some music.
  • Prepare the night before. If you find yourself rushing in the morning, prepare your lunch, set out your clothes, and plan your schedule for the day before you begin your bedtime routine. This will give you a more pleasant start, and may help you sleep better if you don’t have to worry about what is ahead in the morning.
  • Drink some water, then have a cup of coffee or tea. You are dehydrated after a night of sleep.
  • Have a nutritious breakfast with some protein. This will stick with you, so you don’t have a drop in energy before lunch.




Photo Credits

Bed: Nakedsky

Coffee cups: vastateparksstaff

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Posted on Jun 12, 2013 in How to simplify, My Journey

How I Cook Only Once Per Week


When I started thinking about how to save the money I needed to buy a new car, I looked closely at my monthly spending (more about this in a later post). I noticed that after housing, food was the next highest expense.

I also noticed that I had two habits that accounted for just about half of my food budget.  One was eating lunches and dinners out, and the other was dropping into the store on the way home from work to pick up “just a couple of things.”  This last habit has a double risk that comes from shopping while hungry and standing in long lines to check out.  I realized that I developed a habit of choosing what to eat for each meal as I was about to eat it. Form many years, I have lived in places where I walked home, and passed several stores along the way.

On top of all this, (I’m ashamed to say this) I often went on a big shopping trip and bought healthy food, then didn’t get around to preparing most of it before it went bad in the fridge.

This had to stop.

I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to plan better, and that I would never want to spend an hour after work preparing a meal.

Here is what I did:

1. I shop one day a week.  I did this by looking over the weekly specials, and choosing ONE STORE to do all of my shopping that week.  This cuts down on my time spent shopping, and gives me some limits to choose what I will prepare.  Limits can enhance creativity!

2. I cook one day a week.  In a way, this means that I always eat leftovers, since I usually cook after dinner one evening of the week.

3.  I cook things can be incorporated into several meals.  Maybe a roasted chicken, and individual foil packets of salmon with lemon and herbs.  I usually make one pasta, rice or couscous dish, and in the winter, some kind of soup.

4.   I spend an hour each week washing, peeling and chopping fruits and vegetables.  I package some for work lunches, and the rest is incorporated into dinners.

5.  My normal lunch is raw veggies, steamed in the microwave with a foil package of fish, frozen shrimp or some other meat.  Yes, I take the foil off first!  In the winter, I trade off with soup.  I eat salads in the summer.  This helps save money, since fresh veggies are expensive in the winter where I live, and I grow tomatoes and lettuce in the summer.

6. I have an array of sauces, frozen chopped herbs, and spice blends that I add to the meats and veggies over the week for variety.

7.  I use my freezer a lot.  Most things don’t keep in the fridge for a whole week, and roasted chicken gets dry and boring after a few days.  An individual bag of pulled pork, or a container of chili can save the day.  And it allows me to change my mind about what I want to eat for dinner.

8. I keep fresh fruits, baby carrots, roasted almonds, yogurt and hummus around all the time.

After all of this planning and pre-preparation, I discovered that I was eating healthier meals.  I don’t always eat fancy food, but there is always something nice available even if I don’t want to cook at all.  I don’t have a lot of people to feed, but these same methods will work for a crowd, especially if you have a large freezer.  Even if you cooked two meals at the same time, you could cut your kitchen time in half.

When I have guests over to dinner, I can enjoy planning and cooking a special meal, but I don’t have to do it every day. I can spend my time with my friends, family and dog.

What would you do with the extra time?

Note: just posted about how to store food so that it stays fresh longer.

Photo Credit: wickenden

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