Category Archives: Books

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.

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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.

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 …