Tips on how to de-stress

I tend to run at a medium-to-high stress level for a variety of reasons, so anytime I come across good advice for managing stress, I’m all ears.

Lifehacker pointed me to this excellent resource: a list of “52 Proven Stress Reducers”. This list is so full of great stuff that if I were to excerpt all of the ones I agree with and would like to practice, this post would be one big plagiarism. Instead, I’ll highlight my top five favorites:

  1. Be prepared to wait. A paperback can make a wait in a post office line almost pleasant. [Or knitting, or a journal, or the How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Notebook.]
  2. Don’t put up with something that doesn’t work right. If your alarm clock, wallet, shoe laces, windshield wipers–whatever–are a constant aggravation, get them fixed or get new ones.
  3. Relax your standards. The world will not end if the grass doesn’t get mowed this weekend.
  4. Do something for somebody else.
  5. Do one thing at a time. When you are with someone, be with that person and with no one or nothing else. When you are busy with a project, concentrate on doing that project and forget about everything else you have to do.

Many of these are, really, common sense — but they get forgotten enough that the reminder alone has value. I manage to be continually surprised by how effective #4 is, not just at reducing stress but also at making your day a fabulous one. Really, it works!

There are a couple of techniques I’ve found effective that did not appear on this list.

  • Get some physical exercise (like ballroom dancing or hiking, for me). Inevitably, after a dance class or a dance evening or a hike in the San Gabriels, I simply *cannot* feel stressed or unhappy. There’s too much good endorphin stuff flowing through the body to permit fretting or fussing.

  • Spend more time on processing. Most of my time is spent on input (reading books, watching movies, attending classes, studying papers, browsing the web, etc.) or output (writing papers, writing email, posting to this weblog, talking to people, etc.). I recently realized that there’s an important third category, which for lack of a better word I refer to as “processing.” This is time when you’re neither taking input or producing output, but just chewing over things that you’ve already observed. Some people call this meditation or contemplation or daydreaming. It has powerful anti-stress properties.

  • Refresh your perspective every four weeks. Each time I get a significant break from my day-to-day routine (e.g., a week visiting family or a train ride to Santa Barbara), I am suddenly able to step back and re-assess my priorities and highlight what really matters. Focusing on those items immediately de-stresses me. For whatever reason, after a few weeks I start to lose touch with it, and I’m again consumed with daily demands on my time. I can’t pull myself back far enough without a real separation of some sort (time or space). I’m finding that these breaks are so useful as to be something I should consciously plan for.

Any other de-stressing tips you can offer? I’d love to hear ’em!

How to make a potato frittata

Tonight I wanted to try a new recipe, but I didn’t have a whole lot of raw materials on hand. I scrounged around and found this recipe:

Potato Frittata (serves about two people)

  1. Peel two potatoes and slice thinly. Boil 8-10 minutes in salted water.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 F.
  3. Also meanwhile, cut up some veggies and saute them in olive oil. The recipe suggested an onion, but all I had was a bell pepper, which turned out just fine.
  4. Beat three eggs in a medium bowl.
  5. Drain potatoes and add to eggs. Add veggies. Add ~1 tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese (or other cheese). You could probably throw in some spices here, too (rosemary? basil?), although it didn’t occur to me until it was too late. Mix together and pour into a greased 9-inch round baking dish (I’m sure that the shape isn’t critical).
  6. The recipe said to bake for 12-15 minutes or “until golden brown”. It took 25 minutes to reach this stage, so my advice is to keep an eye on it and wait for the golden-brown-ness.
  7. Enjoy! Filling and tasty!

    (From The Little Big Vegetarian Book.)

How to search for email content in Pine

The mouse has its uses: surfing the web, editing images in GIMP, and doing layout in OmniGraffle are all far more convenient with point-and-click interactivity. But when I’m working with text, I have a definite keyboard-bias. I want to be able to keep my hands on the home row so that I can alternate between entering text and “meta” activities (file opening, file saving, moving text around, searching, copying, pasting, etc.) without having to move a hand to the mouse. This bias may also go back to my early college days, when Internet access came by dialing in over a modem, with a terminal connection (no SLIP yet!), so I learned to edit files using emacs (sans menus) and to send or receive email using Pine. Today, I find that working in graphical apps that were designed to take the place of these text-based options slows me down significantly. I can’t get around in Word without shifting over to the mouse or the arrow keys; I can’t save emails to folders without clicking and dragging.

The email problem has been particularly thorny. I use Pine when I want to file messages away from my inbox and into folders. I would just use Pine all the time, except that I really need to be able to search for messages with certain content, and I didn’t know how to do this with Pine. The w key lets you search through the current message, or the current folder listing, but it doesn’t search across a whole folder’s contents.

But yesterday that all changed. I learned how to search with Pine! And here it is:

Hit ; (select) then t (text) then a (all text), and then your search phrase. All matching messages are marked with an “X” and, since they are selected, can be “zoomed” by hitting z. This restricts the display to the selected subset of (matching) messages. Hitting z again zooms back out to the full folder.

I love this. It’s so amazingly fast! It feels like flying! I can zero in on the messages I want with ease and speed. And there are options: instead of [a]ll text, you can restrict the search to the To/From/CC/Subject/etc. fields. You can even go up to your list of folders and search across all of them, or [z]oom in on a subset and search those, etc. I’d used the select facility in Pine before, but only for selecting groups of messages for mass filing or deleting (also very handy), which meant selecting by Number or Date. I’m thrilled to have learned how to select by Text (content).

Update: I forgot to mention that for the ; key to work, you have to go into your Pine preferences (from the main menu, [s]etup, [c]onfig), page down to “Advanced Command Preferences” (or [w]hereis ‘aggregate’, to let Pine find it for you), and check the box next to “enable-aggregate-command-set”).

Save dialog boxes just got a lot better (Mac)

I’m running Mac OS X, and my upgrade to 10.4 a few months ago came with a nice new feature when saving documents: each app remembers the last five or so folders in which you saved documents, so you can quickly go back to them without navigating manually. But today, I learned about something even cooler that these save dialog boxes can do, thanks to Lifehacker and OS X Daily:

If you type ~ or / when the focus is on a Save As… dialog box, you will get a popup in which you can just type out a pathname, as if you were in the shell (starting from your home directory or the root directory, respectively). You even get tab completion!

I knew there was a reason why I love my Mac. *smooch* I only wish I’d heard about this sooner!

Update: Apps where this doesn’t work (no smooches for them till it does!):

  • Keynote 3.0.2
  • OmniGraffle Pro 4.1.2
  • Preview 3.0.8

How to snip chutney

Last night, I decided to try a new recipe for dinner with a friend: Chutney-Filled Chicken and Pastry Bundles. As expected from the name, the recipe calls for chutney. I’ve never cooked with chutney before, but I found a couple of jars of it in the store and settled on some Pear-Cardamom Chutney that claimed to go well with chicken. Imagine my surprise when I got home and started the recipe, only to encounter this instruction:

Snip chutney.

Snip the chutney? How do you snip a sauce-like substance? My friend and I wondered if chutney were also some kind of snippable herb, like parsley or cilantro, and maybe I’d just picked up entirely the wrong thing. We decided to go for it anyway (did I mention that it claimed to go well with chicken?). While I continued to cook, she went and got “What Einstein Told His Cook” off my shelf. No mention of chutney, snippable or not. She then checked “What Einstein Told His Cook 2”. No luck. I mentioned that we could just google for it, but by then we were nearly done cooking and the chicken-stuffing mixture with the pear-cardamom chutney had passed several initial taste tests as is. In fact, 30 minutes of baking later, the result was absolutely delicious (I’d cook it again!), so it no longer mattered.

But that didn’t really resolve the question, so this morning I googled “chutney” to find out if it were some kind of herb. No luck there, but I found the solution when I googled “snip chutney”:

“Snipping” is a common instruction in recipes involving chutney. Since chutneys often include chunks of fruit, snipping is recommended to cut up the larger pieces of fruit.

So I did have the right ingredient, and the book wasn’t wrong, and we made the recipe correctly (the only chunky pieces in this chutney were raisins, and they were just fine full-size). And guess what: it went well with chicken!

Older entries »