Archive for March, 2009

Bitter/Sweet: Earth Hour

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Tomorrow (Saturday, March 28, 2009) from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM will be Earth Hour. Turn off your lights at 8:30 PM local time and keep them off for at least 1 hour to help reduce energy use and costs.  According to Wikipedia, 35 countries around the world participated in Earth Hour 2008 and iconic landmarks around the world turned off their non-essential lighting for Earth Hour, including:

Empire State Building (New York City), Sears Tower (Chicago), Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco), Bank of America Plaza (Atlanta), Sydney Opera House (Sydney, Australia), Wat Arun Buddhist Temple (Bangkok, Thailand), the Colosseum (Rome, Italy), Royal Castle (Stockholm, Sweden), London’s City Hall (England), Space Needle (Seattle, USA), the CN Tower (Toronto, Canada) and SM Mall of Asia & The Giant Globe (Manila, Philippines)

So far, 82 countries and more than 2100 cities are “committed to Earth Hour 2009.” If you cannot commit to going completely dark, consider turning off all non-essential lighting this weekend to help this Sweet cause.  For more information, visit the official Earth Hour website.

Bitter/Sweet: Ides of March

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

For those of you who didn’t have to read Julius Caesar in high school (or those of you who did and subsequently forgot all about it), the Ides of March referred to date of March 15th. In the beginning of William Shakespeare’s play, a sage warns Julius Caesar to “beware the Ides of March,” which later becomes the day he is assassinated.

The sage’s warning to Caesar is referred to as foreshadowing in literary terms, when a character’s words or actions allude to a future event. In the non-literary world, however, foreshadowing is usually not a term used when a person may appear to “predict” the future. We usually classify those musings as premonitions, intuition, or even forms of extra-sensory perception. We may also classify people who make such predictions as crazy or paranoid.

Sometimes, we refer to a “gut feeling,” an unexplainable inkling that something is not quite right. Anecdotal evidence may include tales of people who took an alternate route to work for no apparent reason but later discover they avoided a major traffic accident or other catastrophe. At times, we scoff these instances off as being coincidental or happenstance, but could it be we all have a mental radar that alerts us “to beware the (metaphorical) Ides of March”?

What do you think? Are we wired to sense danger through our natural evolutionary progression, or is there another explanation? Could it be we all have inner sage, warning us of impending doom? Or am I just rambling like a crazy person?

On another subject, there is the old saying that March is “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” referring to the weather and the beginning of Spring later this week. If March starts like lion and ends like a lamb, then what would the Ides of March be (perhaps a fox, raccoon, or a moose with a bad attitude)?

Part I of The State of Sleep revealed that people are getting less and less sleep as we venture into a world full of 24/7 Internet connectivity, economic potholes, and other distractions stealing time away from sleep. The negative effects of sleep deprivation on health and safety are rather shocking, ranging from depression to cardiovascular disease to traffic accidents.

Now that we all know we need more sleep, let’s talk a little bit about how to get there and things that improve the quality of the little sleep we do get. You may have heard these before, but were you really listening? Here are some tips for better sleep, adapted from the MayoClinic.com:

  • Stick to a schedule: go to bed and get up about the same time every day, even on the weekends. This reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol in the evening. Also watch fatty or spicy foods if you are prone to heartburn.
  • Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster, but not within 3 hours of bed time.
  • Your bedroom should be comfortable. The best conditions for falling asleep are cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in quality bedding, pillows, and mattress.
  • Start a relaxing bedtime routine: do the same things each night to tell you body it’s time for bed. Try taking a warm (not hot) bath, reading a book, or listening to music. Lower the lights if possible.

Eliminating distractions is also key to falling asleep on time and getting a good night’s rest. Remove electronic devices such as laptops, televisions, and mobile phones from the bedroom as much as possible. Not only do these devices cause distractions, but the blue light emitted from their screens can disrupt the sensors in your brain that recognize nighttime as time to go to sleep. Many people believe they have insomnia simply because they do not turn out the lights and go to bed.

Looking for more Sweet tips to increase the quality and quantity of your sleep? Check out these resources from WebMD’s Sleep Disorders Health Center:

Alternative Treatments for Insomnia

10 Tips to Get Better Sleep

Sleep 101: Getting Back to the Basics of Sleep

More information from the MayoClinic.com:

Foods That Help You Sleep

**JENN’s DISCLAIMER**
Once more, with feeling: Please note that I am not a physician. I cannot diagnose insomnia or sleep disorders, nor can I prescribe treatment. The preceding is simply the result of my own online research and personal experiences, meant to inform and entertain. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, please consult a medical professional immediately.

Bitter/Sweet: The State of Sleep, Part I

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Daylight Saving Time may have you feeling a bit groggy from losing an hour this past weekend and shifting daylight from morning to evening, but the truth is that Americans may be getting less sleep now than ever before. CNN reported that the average amount of sleep people get per night has decreased.

The primary culprit? Living in a 24/7 instant connection world. The Internet is available virtually everywhere and to anyone with a mobile phone. Email and social network sites make it easy to reach friends, family, and complete strangers in a matter of seconds.

Stress from the economy is also contributing to more tossing and turning at night. People may also be working longer hours, contributing to sleep loss. Other distractions like television are also keeping people out of bed for longer amounts of time.  

Light pollution, such as increased street and parking lot lights, store signage, animated billboards, and other forms of artificial light during the night, can make it harder to fall asleep. Noise pollution, such as air craft and other motor vehicles, can also lead to sleep disturbance. Neighbors are also likely to stay awake later and longer, leading to additional noise and light disturbance.

Sleep deprivation can have devastating effects on the mind and body. According to US News, skimping on sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, increased blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, obesity, diabetes, and lower life spans in generally.

Adults suffering from sleep deprivation are more likely to be involved in a traffic accident, while older adults may lose balance and suffer more falls. Children with sleep deprivation are more prone to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders.

Feeling Bitter about lack of sleep and its potential implications on your health? Stayed tuned for The State of Sleep, Part II for some Sweet advice for increasing the amount of sleep you get each night (and maybe ward off some of that insomnia).

Spiced Lentil Tacos

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Tacos, oddly enough, are one of my favorite foods. I could make tacos back when I didn’t even know how cook, and it still felt like a real meal. Tacos are actually the first thing I ever made for James. Since then, my taco recipe has evolved into a delicious dish that I still make on regular basis.

In honor of Frugal Nation, I thought I would give it a go with lentils. I have never been a big fan of beans (though I am trying to catch on, I didn’t think Great Northern Beans would make good tacos), so I used some French lentils I picked up at the Fresh Market before they closed up for good. This is a hybrid of my favorite taco recipe, combined with a few tweaks I picked up from Epicurious, though their recipe used a packet of taco seasoning (not in my kitchen, I say!).

spiced-lentil

Spiced Lentil Tacos

1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp salt
olive oil
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup lentils (black or green), rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 can (14 oz) corn
taco shells, tortillas, or chips
toppings, as desired (rice, sour cream, cheese, lettuce)

Over medium heat, saute onion, garlic, and salt in olive oil under tender. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and lentils and saute until fragrant. Add tomato sauce and water, bring to a simmer.

Reduce heat and cover. Cook until lentils are soft, 25-30 minutes (or longer, depending on how soft you want your lentils), stirring occasionally. Add additional water if needed. Stir in corn and heat through. Serve as desired.

spiced-lentil-tacos

Frugal Breakdown:
1 onion: $0.50
1 garlic clove: negligible
1/4 tsp salt: negligible
olive oil: negligible
1 tbsp chili powder: $0.50
2 tsp cumin: $0.20
1 tsp dried oregano: negligible
1 cup lentils: $1.34
1 can tomato sauce: $0.89
1 cup water: negligible
1 can corn: $0.86
flour tortillas: $1.29
TOTAL: $5.58

Verdict: A rousing success, with money left for toppings or chips. Though I would argue this recipe is excellent on its own, I will admit to sprinkling some cheese on mine. Chopped spinach is also a great choice over iceberg lettuce.

This particular lentils were a bit more expensive than what I found at the grocery store, so a cheaper bag would bring this price down even more.

spiced-lentil-spin