My Loud-Mouthed Messenger

The first time I heard the name Phineas, I was in tenth grade.  Mrs. Duerkop assigned A Separate Peace as outside reading over winter break, and I remember begrudgingly slogging through what at the time I considered the most boring book ever.  I wasn’t impressed with free-spirited Finny, nor the book as a whole.  Over ten years later I came across the name a second time while teaching a pre-school Sunday School class. Three year old Phineas was much more endearing to me as he raced in each week, eager to don the Buzz Lightyear costume hanging in the back of the classroom.  This little boy was precious, and a big part of that preciousness was his name.  Phineas.  I began to love it.

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The original Phineas

I loved it even more after looking up its meaning.  It’s a Hebrew name meaning “oracle,” but one of the sites I found gave its definition as “loud mouth.”  David and I had been dating awhile at this point, long enough that I felt comfortable talking future baby name ideas with him, and I was pumped to share this information.  His initial reaction, however, was more akin to my first impression of the name back in tenth grade.   “I just don’t think I can name a kid Phineas …”  Okay, gotcha.  Too out there.  Oh well.

About a week later he came to pick me up for a date with a huge grin on his face. 

“I think I can be on board with the name Phinehas*, but on one condition.”

“Okay … what condition?”

“That his middle name be Malachi.”

See, Malachi is also Hebrew and means, “my messenger.”  Phinehas Malachi … My loud-mouthed messenger.  

“Deal,” I said.

It’s the first name we agreed on, and the second name we got to use.  

*You may notice we chose an unconventional spelling for Phinehas.  Given that the name is of Hebrew origin, (not to mention the fact that we met in a Biblical Exegesis program) we wanted to use the biblical spelling.  There are actually two Phinehases (Phinehi? 😉 ) mentioned in Scripture, and neither are very prominent.  I mean, David and Sarah are pretty big Bible names, but Phinehas?  Who are these guys?

The characters are actually a bit scandalous.  Phinehas #2 was not a good guy.  He and his brother are described as “scoundrels who had no respect for the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:12).  Neglecting their priestly duties, they stole meat for themselves from the offerings people brought to God and seduced young women who worked at the entrance of the Tabernacle.  They were later killed in battle as a result of their sins.

If that were the only Phinehas, we might have had a hard time giving our son that name.  However, Phinheas #1 is described as being “zealous for the honor of his God,” a stark contrast to the Phinehas of 1 Samuel.  Phinehas #1 is first mentioned in a passing genealogy found in Exodus where we learn he is the grandson of Aaron, the priest and brother of Moses.  In Numbers 25 we are then told an unsettling story of immorality, idolatry, and violence.  At this point in Israel’s history the Israelites are wandering in the desert and working out what it means to follow God as his covenant people.  There are cycles of rebellion and repentance, this story encompassing both.

The chapter begins in a sad state, with men engaging in sexual immorality that ultimately leads to an embracing of foreign gods.  “… Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people” (Numbers 25:3, NLT).  God commands the idolaters be put to death, and about this time a man blatantly flaunts his rebellion in front of Moses and the people.  Phinehas #1 is outraged at the audacity and proceeds to spear him (and the woman he’s with) in the act (!) in response to God’s command.  The passage explains that Phinehas’ action here is what stops the plague against the Israelites.

Okay, so that’s a terrible story.  As a modern reader, I am honestly more bothered by the spearing than the illicit sex. It makes me really uncomfortable, so much so that I almost ended this blog about five paragraphs ago.  Religious violence is verboten, an anathema to our modern sensibilities.  Why would God command that, even way back then?

The answer to that question is beyond the scope of this post although I do think the passage tells us something about the serious nature of sin and its effects on people created in God’s image.  Idolatry is no joke.  God later says to Moses that the idol worshipers had “assaulted you with deceit …” (v. 18, NLT).  Anything that draws us away from who God has created us to be is like an assault on God’s children, and as a parent, he takes that seriously.  But I digress … back to Phinehas.

After the spearing, God says to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites.  Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal.  Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.  He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites”  (v. 11-13, NIV).

A few things to note.  1) Phinehas hasn’t gone rogue.  His action, as difficult as it may be for modern readers to swallow, is an act of obedience to God’s command.  2) Phinehas isn’t zealous just to be zealous.  He is moved by his love for God and his honor.  3) God praises him for his initiative and obedience.  4) People are saved because of his action.  

Phinehas #1 shows up again later in another fairly obscure passage in Joshua 22. Here he serves as a mediator between tribes in order to resolve a conflict over the building of a second altar.  We get to see another side of Phinehas, contrasted to his earlier zeal.  He listens and then acts not in a hot-headed way, but rather in accordance with God’s commands and always in a way that encourages faithfulness to the Lord.

The last mention of Phinehas #1 is found in Psalm 106, which is an artistic retelling of the Exodus and wilderness wandering stories.  Phinehas gets a shout out in verses 28-31: “Then our ancestors joined in the worship of Baal at Peor; they even ate sacrifices offered to the dead!  They angered the LORD with all these things, so a plague broke out among them.  But Phinehas had the courage to intervene, and the plague was stopped.  So he has been regarded as a righteous man ever since that time” (NLT).

So, Phinehas Malachi, my loud-mouthed messenger, while your context and canon are quite different in 2019, I pray that you too will be regarded as a righteous man.  I pray you will love God passionately.  I pray you will listen well and seek to discern the will of the LORD.  I pray that you will be a man of action, quick to obey and follow in the way of Jesus.  Amen.

“Praise the LORD!  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!  His faithful love endures forever.  Who can list the glorious miracles of the LORD?  Who can ever praise him enough?  There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right.” (Psalm 106:1-3, NLT)

On habits, goals, and the magic I’m looking for …

Earlier this summer I had the chance to spend 24 precious hours with an even more precious friend.  I found Stacey when I was a 21-year-old college student and she the leader of a bible study at my church.  I was so inspired by her passion for Jesus, for Scripture, and for people.  Over the next few years God used our friendship to draw me closer to Him, oftentimes through accountability.  Gut-wrenching, shame-uncovering, whole-truth-telling accountability.  We ran together, prayed together, cried together, and ministered together. I may live twelve time zones away now, but our friendship continues to withstand time and distance.

So in those precious 24 hours, we spent about 23.5 of them talking.  Stacey has always been a good listener, and she’s also a gifted encourager.  (No wonder she’s a counselor!)  It’s not enough to hear that you’re struggling; she wants to know what you’re going to do about it.  She sees the potential in you and is not content to let it go unrealized.  So while I love catching up with her via FaceTime or the once a year face to face, I also get a little antsy in anticipation of them.  I know she’ll ask me about whatever habit I’m trying to break or create, about the progress I’m making on a goal.  This summer was no exception, and I walked away with a monthly “check-in” challenge covering four areas: spiritual growth, fitness/health, parenting, and writing.  In addition to sharing our progress in the first three areas, Stacey challenged me to write at least two paragraphs once a month.  Seems simple enough, but in the chaos that was the month of July, I am lucky to be wrapping up my second paragraph here on July 31st …

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Running with her for 15 years!

David and I have also been discussing our goals for the next year, which habits we want to nurture and which we want to root out.  Looking back at the past few years, we were struck by how good we felt during our “Year of Living Minimally” and how easy it has been since then to slide back into old habits that don’t serve the people we desire to be.  Take eating out (or ordering in), for example.  Not only does this habit not serve our financial goals, it pretty much sabotages our health and fitness goals.  So we’re done … again.  For the 2019-2020 academic year, we are again limiting our eating out to book dates and birthdays only.  (And our anniversary, but then I would have lost the alliterative effect 😉 )  We won’t use this as a reason to be antisocial, however, so if a friend invites us somewhere or there’s a group gathering, we won’t be legalistic about it.  For our family, though, the new habit will be meals at home.  Other goals and habits concern finances, fitness, and family (I do love alliteration), but the no eating out resolution needed its own internet accountability measure.

I’ll wrap this up with a quote my precious friend recently shared and has framed on her desk:

People romanticize their plans but dread the execution.  The magic you’re looking for is in the work you’re avoiding.  

Here’s to a magical year!

Digital Detox – 5 Things I Learned in a Month Without Facebook & Instagram

I started reading the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport on March 31st.  In the opening pages he encourages his readers to take “aggressive action … to fundamentally transform your relationship with technology.”  What he calls “the digital declutter” amounts to 30 days of no optional online activities.  The experiment intrigued me, and even though I was only a few pages into the book, I committed to the fast.  I deleted every app I considered optional and committed to refrain from all social media for the month of April.  Newport explains, “During this period, you’ll wean yourself from the cycles of addiction that many digital tools can instill, and begin to rediscover the analog activities that provide you deeper satisfaction.  You’ll take walks, talk to friends in person, engage your community, read books, and stare at the clouds.  Most importantly, the declutter gives you the space to refine your understanding of the things you value most.”  (emphasis mine)

Well, I made it to May without FB and Insta, and I’m still alive.  🙂  More alive, actually.  And so I don’t forget, here are a few takeaways from both Digital Minimalism as well as my decluttering experience over the past month.

  1. I waste too much time on social media.  

I go through cycles of conviction on this one.  About a year ago I deleted the Facebook app off my phone and only checked it via a browser on the laptop.  However, once we announced my pregnancy, I got caught up in the “checking for likes” syndrome.  I re-downloaded the app and didn’t look back.  Then my son was born, and that like and comment itch grew.  Checking social media became a mindless time-suck, and I rationalized it telling myself, “Well what else are you going to do while you’re nursing this baby?”  Without long stretches of uninterrupted time to accomplish projects, scrolling social media for a few minutes here and there seemed innocent enough.  Those minutes add up, however, and often stretch into longer periods of zoning out and not being present in the moment.  I would shudder to know the actual number of lifetime minutes I’ve spent in a digital world.  Once Facebook and Instagram (and Settlers of Catan on my iPad) were no longer an option, I was suddenly hyperaware of all those here and there minutes and had to decide how best to fill them.

  1. The more time you spend on social media, the more money companies make.

While I understood that social media companies made their money from advertising, I never gave much thought to the concept of an “attention economy.”  To explain this concept, Newport shares a fascinating anecdote about the penny press newspapers of the early 19th century: “Up to that point, publishers considered their readers to be their customers, and saw their goal as providing a product good enough to convince people to pay to read it.  Day’s innovation was to realize that his readers could become his product and the advertisers his customers.  His goal became to sell as many minutes of his readers’ attention as possible to the advertisers.  To do so, he lowered the price of the Sun to a penny and pushed more mass interest stories.  ‘He was the first person to really appreciate the idea—you gather a crowd, and you’re not interested in the crowd for its money, … but because you can resell them to someone else who wants their attention.’”  Newport goes on to compare the monetary value of tech giants to that of oil companies and the shift that has occurred over the past 20 years or so.  “Extracting eyeball minutes, the key resource for companies like Google and Facebook, has become significantly more lucrative than extracting oil.”  No wonder after a week or so off of Instagram I started receiving emails like these every few days …IMG_2749

  1. While social media does provide some value to my life, that value is limited.

One of my biggest hesitations in giving up social media completely stemmed from FOMO.  What if I miss out on something really important?  Well, I did actually.  I didn’t make a big announcement about my retreat from social media with instructions to contact me via text or email, and it turns out I missed my cousin’s engagement.

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The beautiful bride to be!

She had sent me a message on FB Messenger and was a bit baffled when I hadn’t responded in over a week.  But you know that that led to?  A phone call.  I got to talk to her (digitally) face to face and hear about the proposal and express my deep congratulations.  That communication was worth so much more than a like and a fleeting comment.  I do value the updates and photos social media provides, especially living so far away from so many friends and family, so I don’t plan to delete social media entirely.  However, as Newport notes, “The sugar high of convenience is fleeting and the sting of missing out dulls rapidly, but the meaningful glow that comes from taking charge of what claims your time and attention is something that persists.”

  1. There are digital resources I have no desire to give up.

I may have been a bit overzealous in my app deleting on April 1.  My phone indeed looked min-i-mal.  There were apps that I quickly added back and some I wish I had added back sooner (finance tracking apps, for example), but the experience of stripping everything down was incredibly eye opening.  Newport’s definition of the term digital minimalism is especially helpful here: “A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”  I value stewarding our money well, so I’m keeping YNAB and banking and credit card apps.  I value pursuing physical fitness, so I’m keeping 5K Runner and Netflix (to ensure I actually use 5K Runner … ;)).  I value reading, so Kindle’s a given.  I value God’s word, so Accordance and SheReadsTruth and First 5 stay.

  1. The good is often the enemy of the best.

I don’t think social media is a bad thing.  It may even be good (in some ways), but for me at least, it is often an enemy of the best things in life.  I read six books in the month of April (including the hefty book club pick, Pachinko, clocking in at 496 pages)!  I want to be the kind of person who reads six books in a month; I’m pretty sure that was a first for me.  I also want to be the kind of mother who (at least most of the time) is fully present with her children.  I don’t want my kids to associate me with my devices.  I want to spend deep, undistracted quality time with my husband in the evenings without social media’s siren song.  I want time with God to be a priority that it often isn’t.  These are the best things in my life.

So now that the 30 days are over, what’s next?  I actually hopped on Facebook this morning and was instantly overwhelmed.  I hated it.  Too much screaming for my attention, and it left me feeling icky.  Number one, I definitely need to cull my follow list.  I do value FB for updates, photos, articles, and professional and interest groups, but in order to use this media well, I have to be more selective.  My goal moving forward is to limit checking Facebook to once a week or so with a hard limit of no more than an hour spent there per week.  Instagram I intend to check once a day for ten minutes or less.  I think these are reasonable goals, but if I feel like I’m being lured in further, then an indefinite abstention may be in order.  Newport’s overriding question, “Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value?” will be my guide, and for now the jury’s still out on social media.

2018 – An Illustrated Year in Review

Another year, another “Illustrated Year in Review” … Top 10 Style (in roughly chronological order)

1. David’s Job

This past spring our school announced a slight change in administrative structure.  With our assistant academic principal leaving, it was decided that instead of replacing that position, they would instead create a new coordinator position responsible for “pastoral care.”  This seemed like a great opportunity for David and our family considering that ministry is a likely next step.  David applied and got the position, which involves overseeing student small groups and handling student discipline issues, basically promoting student well being.  He’s technically a “half-time” teacher as well although as the year has progressed, he’s had to take on some additional responsibilities there.  Overall we are so thankful for this opportunity to better serve students and our school community.

2. Pregnancy

While I didn’t write a series of blog posts this pregnancy, our journey to conception this go around was astonishingly similar.  After months of trying and beginning to dabble in assistance, we decided to take a break.  And then I got pregnant the next month.  We found out days before traveling home for the summer, and Clementine was so excited to share with family that she was going to be a big sister!  Thankfully it’s been pretty smooth sailing (no asthma issues, praise the Lord) although I am much more tired with this pregnancy … the fatigue is never ending!  Our official due date is February 5th, so all Jakarta could be celebrating this baby’s arrival with Chinese New Year fireworks!

3. Visit Home

Our summer consisted mostly of time spent bouncing back and forth between Dallas and Abilene, culminating in Clementine’s flower girl debut at my cousin’s wedding in Cincinnati.  She out-danced everyone at the reception, at one point attempting “the worm.” 

The summer was filled good food, outdoor activities, and time with friends and family.

Clementine got to see about half of her Hall-side cousins and most of her second cousins on my side.

Best of all we spent plenty of time with Gramps and Gran and Nonny and Grandaddy, Clementine’s favorite part of the summer by far.

4. C Turns 3

Three years old!  She’s definitely not a baby anymore.  It’s incredible to see her sweet, funny, smart personality emerge more and more with each passing year.  Thanks to some family friends, C rang in her third year of life with her very first horse and tractor rides.

5. English A

For the past two years I have taught English B (basically a high level language acquisition course) within our school’s International Baccalaureate program.  However, our beloved English A (similar to AP English) teacher left at the end of last year, which meant a transition into English A for me.  While I enjoy the course even more than English B, it does mean more students, more prep time, and wee bit more pressure … : /  I love it, though.  The students are insightful and hard working, and I’m thankful for the change.

6. C Starts School

I thought I would have a few more years to prepare for this, but kids start school at three years old over here.  Clementine was so excited to be “a real student,” complete with her school backpack and uniform.  There are only seven students in her K1 class, which allows for plenty of attention and skill development.  A truly international class, her classmates represent five different countries.

7. Hong Kong

My teaching a new IB course this year meant IB training in Hong Kong.  The last time I went for training it was in Singapore, and David flew up after school on Friday to hang out with me in the evenings.  The distance and addition of a child ruled out that possibility this go around, which meant four nights away from my family.  The training was excellent, however, and I got to explore HK a bit in the evenings on my own.  Dim sum … yum.  🙂

8. Australia

The highlight of the year!!  This really should be its own post, but who has time for that …  This summer we found really reasonably priced tickets and figured with baby on the way, now was the time to make this bucket list trip.  We split our time mainly between Sydney and Adelaide with a Great Ocean Road trip thrown in to bridge the two.  The Neales moved back to Sydney in June, and we were ecstatic to spend quality time with some of our favorite people on their own turf. 

The Berrys moved away a couple years ago, so we were pumped to visit our Adelaide friends who made our first year in Indonesia bearable. 

Australia is so beautiful and despite our tropical wardrobes, it was wonderful to experience the cool spring weather of an Australian October.  We could not have asked for a better trip right up until the end when a delayed domestic flight caused us to miss our flight back home.  Three one-way tickets later and we were home, metaphorically richer and literally poorer for the experience.  😉

9. Books

It wouldn’t be a D&SH end of year blog without mentioning books!  This year was a record for me (I think … at least since I’ve been keeping records, that is) with 35.  David’s 38 still beat me despite being a record low for him. 

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Keeping track in our bullet journals!

2018 marked my third year in book club, with this year’s list including:

  • Siddartha – Herman Hesse
  • I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
  • A House Without Windows – Nadia Hashimi
  • Destiny of the Republic – Candice Millard
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  • Columbine – Dave Cullen
  • The Birdwoman’s Palate – Laksmi Pamuntjak
  • Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
  • Nathaniel’s Nutmeg – Giles Milton
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafizi

I’m proud of myself; it’s the first year I read ALL the books on our list (excepting Little Women and Columbine, which I had already read), with Jane Eyre standing out as my favorite.  2018 also marked our 5th year of #DaSHbookdates!  We started in December of 2013, so A Farewell to Arms, this year’s November pick, was our 60th book.

  • December 2017: Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  • January: Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
  • February: Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
  • March: Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  • April: Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
  • May: Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  • June: The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver (with the Lucases!)
  • July: Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
  • August: A Separate Peace – John Knowles
  • September: Othello – William Shakespeare
  • October: Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  • November: A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway

Maybe it’s because it’s so fresh on my mind, but I think it’s my book of the year (David’s was Great Expectations).  I might not have had quite Bradley Cooper’s reaction (spoilers in video), but let’s just say it was not the wisest choice to read at eight months pregnant …

10. Goodbyes & Hellos

Ugh, I wish I didn’t have to include this one!  We said farewell to some dear friends in 2018, one of the hazards of the expat life.  We had to say goodbye to my cousin (now teaching in Malaysia), our pastor and his incredible wife, and several coworkers including our sweet friends, Joel and Amanda.  Our whole family mourns their loss, especially Clementine as she was looking forward to starting school with her friend Evelyn.  While no one can replace these beautiful people in our lives, we are thankful for the new friends God has brought to us including a few families with young children around Clementine’s age.

So 2018 was a big year, and 2019 promises to be even bigger!  We hope this blog finds you well and that you richly experience the goodness of God in the new year.

The Innocent Man – A Worthy Netflix Binge

After a thoroughly exhausting week at school, David and I collapsed onto the couch Friday night and happened upon Netflix’s new true crime documentary, The Innocent Man.  Fans of Making a Murderer and The Keepers, we made it two episodes into the series despite our extreme fatigue (32 weeks pregnant + parenting a preschooler + end of semester teacher duties = I’m dying).  Years ago I had read John Grisham’s non-fiction book of the same title and was eager to see how Netflix would handle the adaptation.  

Sophie Gilbert’s review in The Atlantic argues the series doesn’t go quite far enough.  She asks, “What is it about Ada, otherwise known as the birthplace of Blake Shelton, that made it host to two such horrific acts of violence against women, and two subsequent botched investigations? What is it that compels people to confess to crimes they haven’t committed? As the series nears its end, it throws out a handful of truly shocking allegations involving both habitual arrangements between corrupt police officers and drug dealers and the ongoing sexual assault of women in the prison system that deserve much closer scrutiny than they end up getting.”  Her critique is valid, and I would certainly binge another series that dove into such questions and issues.  However, even as it stands the documentary is worth watching, especially for fans of similar true-crime fare.

The series particularly sparked my interest based on an interaction I had with a woman in Oklahoma over ten years ago whose brother’s story was featured in the book (see below).  I was interested to see how or if he would be included in the doc series.  We finished the last four episodes over the weekend, and while Greg Wilhoit’s story didn’t make it to the screen, I appreciated the innovative retelling of the gruesome crimes, especially the interviews with family members of the victims.

From my long abandoned, pre-David blog circa November 2007:

Earlier in the year my attendance was required at an on campus conference for everyone under the umbrella of Administration and Finance, of which Housing had recently become a part.  One of the main objectives of the conference (other than “inspiring” us via “inspirational” speakers) was to have us intermingle with the various departments on campus, as was evidenced by our assigned seating at tables with complete strangers.  During one particularly cheesy inspirational speech, we were told to go around our table and share an experience that had greatly impacted our lives.  My cynicism soon turned to pure fascination as one of the ladies at my table volunteered her story.  It turned out that back in the 80s her brother had been wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife.  Greg Wilhoit was sentenced to death, and lived on death row five years before his appeal was heard and conviction overturned.  The death penalty had always fascinated me, and I was shocked to meet someone so deeply affected by it.  My curiosity prompted a long discussion between the two of us later that day, and Nancy even gave me a DVD with the 20/20 and American Justice news stories about her brother.  John Grisham’s non-fiction book, “The Innocent Man, Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” chronicles the conviction and near execution of Ron Williamson, another Oklahoma man wrongly convicted.  Ron’s cell happened to be just across from Greg’s, whose story also finds a place in Grisham’s book.

The death penalty concerns me for many reasons, the possible execution of innocent people being one of them.  Add to that the astronomical cost of death penalty litigation and the fact that minority convicts are more likely to get the death penalty than whites, and my concern grows.  And then there’s the question of whether or not it even deters crime.  Even if the state has legitimate authority to put a person to death, should it?  I know I’m a little Derek Webb obsessed, but there’s another quote that fits.  “How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love?  My enemies are men like me.  I will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well.  My enemies are men like me.  Peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication.  It’s like telling someone murder is wrong and then showing them by way of execution.”

Last week I was thrilled to notice a blurb in Centralities (the daily UCO faculty/staff campus news email) about Greg Wilhoit speaking at UCO tomorrow night.  Sadly, I’m already in Texas for Thanksgiving, but I thought I’d pass along the info for anyone else interested.  Seriously, someone needs to go and tell me all about it!  From Centralities:

‘The Innocent Man’ Greg Wilhoit Visits Campus, Nov. 20 

The College of Liberal Arts Speaker’s Series welcomes “The Innocent Man” Greg Wilhoit for a lecture on his five-year death row experience and life after exoneration at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, in Pegasus Theater, Liberal Arts. Wilhoit was the first person in Oklahoma to be exonerated from death row.

Wilhoit’s story was told in last year’s novel “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham. For more information, visit http://www.libarts.ucok.edu/speakers.htm .

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 7 – The Conclusion to “Our Year of Living Minimally”

2017, Our Year of Living Minimally, has come and gone and it’s time for some reflection on how the decision to buy (almost) nothing for a year has impacted our family.  We are not the people we were at this time last year as this experiment has affected us in almost every way imaginable.  So here I share our five biggest benefits and takeaways from this project as well an as answer to the question for this year: What now?

  1. Perhaps the most tangible benefit to this undertaking is simply the amount of money we saved, or in our case, the amount of debt we were able to pay off.  We are teachers; we don’t make a lot of money, and for the past year and a half we’ve been living off 1.5 salaries (and just one the year before that).  I used to get really discouraged when thinking about how long it was taking us to pay off our school debt (Wheaton grad school loans are no joke, people); I felt like we would be stuck on Dave Ramsey’s baby step #2 FOREVER.  However, this year has cleared up a lot of that discouragement haze and allowed us to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
  2. Maybe the most surprising benefit is how our decision has affected our health.  David has always been fairly thin and fit, but this year he’s gained more muscle and speed than ever before.  He’s getting closer and closer to achieving his audacious goal of a sub-5 minute mile.  I, on the other hand, will be happy to get back into sub-10 minute mile shape, and I’m not that far off.  🙂  By making the one decision to limit our eating out to approximately once a month, we are both so much healthier.  From January 1 to January 1, I am down 32 pounds, and it honestly wasn’t that hard.  By preparing our food at home, we are able to control both the content and amount we consume.  And if I’ve gone to the trouble of cooking, you can bet that we try to stretch that meal out into leftovers.  Rarely do we go back for seconds but rather eat a piece of fruit or nuts if we’re still hungry … cost efficient and healthy.
  3. By outlining guidelines at the beginning of the year, we avoided decision fatigue and the often resulting poor spending choices.  By eliminating many options ahead of time (clothes shopping, buying gifts for each other, eating out, etc.), we simplified our lives and freed up mental energy for other pursuits.  I have spent my time this year reading, teaching, cooking, working out, playing with my daughter, and relaxing with my husband, all of which I argue are infinitely superior to going shopping!
  4. The biggest takeaway I would say is our change in mindset.  Honestly, that first month of eating out only for book dates hurt a little.  I was in withdrawal, and Friday nights hurt the worst.  However, now it’s the new normal, and I don’t even really think about it.  Or if I do (on the rare occasions we do eat out), I think about how much money we’re spending and how much I could have bought at the grocery store with that amount!  Eating out has become a treat, something to be thoroughly enjoyed, savored even, not taken for granted.  The same goes with any purchase.  If something is a true need and we’re going to depart with our hard earned money to buy it, I want to ensure that it will last, that it’s actually worth the cost.  If it is, then we work to take care of it.  We are learning to be faithful stewards of what’s been entrusted to us whether that’s time, energy, money, or possessions.
  5. The most surprising takeaway would be an increased confidence in our ability to do hard things.  The only thing I’ve ever given up for a year was soda, and it wasn’t that hard.  However, as I was hearing stories of people’s journeys and experiments with shopping bans over the course of a full year, I was incredibly inspired.  All these people were doing this really hard thing!  We could surely do it too, couldn’t we?  Yes, we could and we did.  We didn’t do it perfectly, but when I look back at my life years and years from now, I am certain I will consider 2017 a catalyst for the achievement of many audacious goals.

So, what now?  Are we done?  Do we now get to buy all the things?  Nope.  We’re signing up for another year … or 50.  We’ve discussed our needs for the upcoming year and have settled on some guidelines to see us through 2018.  Our eating out plan is still in place as is our clothes buying ban excepting some athletic wear we’re both in need of.  I don’t think I’ll churn out a post a month (considering I didn’t even meet that goal this year), but I do plan to keep writing about our experiences in frugality and minimalism mostly for selfish purposes in that it keeps me accountable to the guidelines we set.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2018!

 

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Enjoying her once a year Antipodean French toast!

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 6 – 2018 and Beyond

David and I aren’t career international teachers.  We didn’t move over here planning to retire in Indonesia; rather we were seeking to be faithful in “next steps.”  It began as a two year commitment and has grown into five.  This is our fifth year living overseas!  It doesn’t seem that long although I imagine our families would beg to differ.

Last year I went back to work part time teaching one section each of 11th and 12th grade English, and I could not love it more.  I always tell people I get the best of both worlds.  I get to spend time with my daughter as her primary caregiver while also taking on something mentally challenging and exercising my gifts.  It’s a sweet spot, for sure.  I’m not ready to go back full time, and for now we’re thankful to be in this somewhat odd situation that allows so much flexibility for our family.

Next year C will begin K-1 (school starts at 3 years old over here), and she’s already so excited about going to school “as a student.”  I’ll be able to teach while she’s in school and be there for drop off and pick up each day with the peace of mind that both David and I are in the same building with her should anything happen.  Our decision to renew contracts for another year was a bit tougher this year with my mom’s health issues, and we’re certainly keeping everything in mind moving forward.  For now we are looking forward to spending quality time with her and the rest of our family over the summer before returning to Jakarta for a sixth year in the fall of 2018.


I’ve fallen a bit behind on these end of year updates due to 1) potty training the first week of Christmas break, 2) an amoeba that destroyed our Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning, and 3) a desire to finish 30 books in 2017 … I finished the 29th today.  I’ll wrap up this blog series with a reflection on our Buy (Almost) Nothing Year sometime early in the new year, but for now Happy New Year to all and to all a good night!

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 5 – Money, Health, & Time

If 2016 was the year of decluttering and minimalism, 2017 was the year of intentionality and frugality.  The year began with a sharp focus on our finances with the advent of our “Year of Living Minimally.”  As the year progressed, however, I noticed my focus and interests broadening to other areas that could use the same level of scrutiny, namely health and time management.  Outside of book dates and book club, my reading (and listening) this year has been fairly concentrated in these three areas.  Because, like my husband, I love categories and lists, here is a list of some of the more helpful books, blogs, and podcasts I’ve read/listened to this year.


Money:

  • frugalwoods.com – I found this blog last January just as the blogger was launching her first “Uber Frugal Month Challenge” (which I highly recommend, btw) and have gleaned so much from her wisdom and unique perspective.  While David and I don’t share the same goal as The Frugalwoods of retiring in our early thirties (it’s a little late for me anyway …) and moving to a homestead in Vermont, we do share the same desire to be intentional with every dollar (or rupiah) spent, making sure that our financial decisions align with our values.
  • youneedabudget.com – I kept hearing people rave about this app, and after months of tracking our spending on an Excel spreadsheet, I finally caved a few weeks ago and signed up for a free three month trial.  I had listened to the YNAB podcast a few times and appreciated the simple principles espoused, an updated/digital envelope system a la Dave Ramsey, if you will.  I never liked carrying around cash, so this system is perfect for our needs, and I plan to continue past the trial period.
  • Your Money or Your Life – I’m only about halfway through this one, but I highly recommend what I’ve read so far, chapter four especially (“How Much Is Enough? The Nature of Fulfillment”) with gems like: “You may discover that you’ve been measuring your fulfillment, or lack of it, by what those around you have or by what advertising says you should want.  Being fulfilled is having just enough.  Think about it.  Whether it’s food or money or things, if you don’t know, from an internal standard, what is enough, then you will pass directly from ‘not enough’ to ‘too much,’ with ‘enough’ being like a little whistle-stop town.”
  • Honorable Mentions: The Millionaire Next Door and Broke Millennial

Health:

  • Foodist – I think I came across summertomato.com a few years ago in a Fitstar (now Fitbit Coach) newsletter, but only in the past year have I really dove in to the blog and listened to the Foodist podcast.  I read her book back in March and love how un-faddy it is.  The author’s focus is on eating real food mindfully and building healthy habits that are sustainable.  Her post on “home court habits” is especially worth the read.
  • Honorable Mention: livestrong.com

Time Management:

  • Getting Things Done – It was kind of a tedious read at times, but the two-minute rule alone is life changing.  The system works especially well with the concepts behind bullet journaling, and differentiating between simple tasks and multi-step projects has helped me bring so much order to both home and work life.
  • Triggers – Not exactly focused on time management, per se, but I deeply appreciated Goldsmith’s analysis of the environmental factors affecting behavior and his suggestions for creating environments that support the achievement of goals rather than their derailment.
  • Honorable mention: Crazy Busy

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 4 – #DaSHbookdates & Book Club

2017 marked our fourth full year of #DaSHbookdates!  The one planned exception to our “no eating out rule,” these dates are LIFE to me.  🙂  I am sharpened and challenged by our book discussions and always walk away from them with a much greater understanding of the book.  No wonder I assign so many Socratic Seminars and Lit Circles to my students!

Last year I posted that we were reading Anna Karenina as our December book, but we actually shifted to Shusako Endo’s Silence as that month’s “work in translation” (our December theme).  AK is supposed to be this month’s read, although we still have quite a few pages to go …

This year we also began rating our books on a five point scale, which I recorded in my trusty bullet journal and will share now with you fine folks:

  • December 2016: Silence, Shusaku Endo – 3.5
  • January: The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead – 3
  • February: The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough – 4
  • March: Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami – 3
  • April: The Awakening, Kate Chopin – 3.5
  • May: A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens – 4
  • June: A Death in the Family, James Agee – 4
  • July: The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood – 3.5
  • August: Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen – 3
  • September: Franny and Zooey, JD Sallinger – 4
  • October: American Gods, Neil Gaiman – 3.5
  • November: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne – 3.5

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Bonus Book Date!

2017 also marked the second year of Kemang Book Club.  I absolutely love meeting with such intelligent and well-spoken women to discuss literature.  Two books a month between #DaSHbookdates and book club was sometimes a challenge hence my absence at a few of this year’s meetings.  Sometimes I was able to double dip if the chosen book was interesting to David and would work well for a book date.  A new member introduced the idea of rating on a ten point scale both prior to and after our discussion.  I might be the harshest critic in the group based on my ratings.  My favorite book club book of the year was far and away Half of a Yellow Sun.  I’m eager to read more of Adichie as many people have recommended Purple Hibiscus.

  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (didn’t read)
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon (didn’t read)
  • Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami – 6
  • Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 8
  • Beauty Is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan (didn’t read … gallbladder surgery)
  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood – 7
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife (didn’t finish … and didn’t want to)
  • Circling the Sun, Paula McClain – 3
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman – 7
  • In Order to Live, Yeonmi Park – 5

What were your favorite books of the year?  We’re always looking for great book club suggestions …

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 3 – Digital Discoveries & Decisions

I am neither a Luddite nor an early adopter when it comes to technology.  I think there’s plenty to be leery of in terms of cost (in both time and money), but I sincerely appreciate devices, sites, and apps that make my life easier or provide quality entertainment.  Neither David nor I are what anyone would consider “tech-y,” so we mostly benefit from the wisdom of friends (looking at you, Randy Lucas and Jeremy Davidson) and even students when it comes to technological trends.

That being said, in this post I want to share three “digital discoveries” I happened upon and two “digital decisions” I’ve made over the course of 2017.

Discovery #1: Spotify’s Discover Weekly I’ve heard it said that most people stop listening to new music at around 30, which has actually been somewhat true for me.  I guess that shift coincided with moving away from Chicago and beginning a career that doesn’t allow for much music listening throughout the day.  I dearly miss XRT, how it exposed me to so much excellent music, both old and new.  We’ve had Spotify since we moved over here about five years ago, but I’ve never really taken full advantage.  It’s just so vast, and who has time to navigate all that content?  Enter Discover Weekly.  I happened upon an article that finally brought my attention to this delightful feature a couple months ago.  Who doesn’t want a new playlist perfectly curated for them each week?  I mean, especially in light of these rave reviews:

Discovery #2: The Potential for Being an Insta-Story Creeper … : /  I have not yet (and likely never will) jumped on the Snapchat train.  I am just not a cat/princess/whatever-other-face-filters-are-out-there kind of person, but hey, that’s just me.  Neither have I yet (and likely never will) created Snapchat-esque “stories” on Instagram.  I do love sharing photos on Instagram and Facebook, but the disappearing stories about how you went to the dentist that day don’t really appeal to me.  I sometimes watch other people’s Insta-stories and am usually (but not always) a little underwhelmed.  Not having created a story myself, I didn’t totally understand how they worked.  There’s no like button, so how am I supposed to show someone I watched their story and actually liked it?  There’s a message function, but that just seems like a lot of work.  Give me a like button any day.  Discovery moment: SNL Scrudge skit in which a Scrooge-like character tells another character he knows a woman’s been watching his Insta-stories.  What?!  People can see when you’ve watched those things??  Lesson learned: do not hit “Watch All” unless you want your former student creeped out by the fact that his 9th grade English teacher is watching videos of his cat …

Discovery #3: Facebook “Add to Collection” Function  I have 4881 articles saved on Facebook.  (Still working on minimalism breaking into my digital world …)  I follow a lot of blogs, news organizations, and groups relating to my interests, so often things come across my feed that I’d love to bookmark for later.  Once my saved list became so massive, however, it was apparent that I would never get to everything, especially with it all lumped together.  The other day I found a new (at least to me) feature that allows you to categorize all your saved items into collections.  I’ve started the arduous process of both weeding out now unwanted saves as well as moving the things I still want to read into helpful collections.  Yay.

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Hassan (RIP) hanging out in our Dominion boxes

Decision #1: Time Wasting Accountability  The summer before we got married, David and I were both job hunting in Texas but a state apart as I was in Oklahoma for a summer internship.  He would drive up to visit me and we would mostly play games together because we were both jobless and had no money.  I don’t know how many hours of Dominion we played that summer, but I would be slightly embarrassed if I did.  Before we moved to Indonesia, we bought every version available and carried the cards over here in baseball card containers to cut down on the bulk of the original boxes.  We don’t actually play a whole lot over here due to the inconvenience of setting up games.  However, over the past year or so I began playing online.  We never paid for access to the expanded card sets, but you could play against people who had.  Sometime this last fall I realized how addicted I had become to this stupid online game.  I would come home in the afternoons, put Clementine down for a nap, and play mindlessly sometimes until David got home.  I would stop playing for a weekend or a week, but I didn’t like the draw the game had over me, and I especially didn’t like how it was wasting my time.  There is definitely a place for down time and relaxing, but this was quickly becoming more than that.  I decided that I wanted to cut it out indefinitely, and the only way to commit to that and stick with it was to tell someone.  I texted a friend to say that I was quitting and that I was only ever allowed to play again if after a face to face conversation with her, we both agreed that it wouldn’t be a detrimental distraction to the life I’m meant to be living.  That was over two months ago, and it has been such a welcomed change.

Decision #2: Taking Facebook off My Phone & Tablet  A few months back I also made the decision to take the Facebook app off my phone and iPad with the intent of only accessing it on the computer.  Why did I not do this sooner??  There are several things I appreciate about Facebook, namely that it allows me to stay somewhat connected with friends twelve timezones away and also that it connects me to news and ideas that I would otherwise have to be much more proactive in gathering.  I actually prefer Facebook to Twitter in that I can see the photo attached to an article and read the first few lines sans character limit.  All that being said, Facebook is also a huge time waster.  When I had the app on my devices, I caught myself mindlessly scrolling, sometimes for embarrassing amounts of time.  Whereas I really needed (and continue to need) a total Dominion detox, limiting Facebook to our jointly shared computer vastly reduces the amount of time I spend on it.  Sure, I may miss some of my friends’ posts, but when it comes to significant milestones and events, they usually let me know in other ways.

Now I’m curious to know your digital discoveries and decisions in 2017!  Is there a life-changing app that you now can’t live without?  Flipboard and Pocket have served me well in place of Facebook in many ways.  How has technology benefited or burdened your life this year?