I suppose it is traditional to write a Christmas letter and enclose it with my Christmas cards. I have failed to do that for the last several years. It feels presumptuous to me, I guess. I don’t really know. Maybe in the age of Facebook, I don’t feel like the Christmas update is as necessary.
There is some value in introspection though, so I’ll give it a shot.
Dear Friends and Family-
Well, can you believe it? We managed that annual trip around the sun once again. I hope this season finds you all in good health and high spirits. Just remember, winter is coming. 😉
Last week was kind of arts and craftsy for me. That makes me very happy, which isn’t too surprising. I do love creating.
Here are some of things I did.
#1 – Paper Marbling
A while back, I kind of got obsessed with paper marbling. I’m not even sure why. I probably saw a video on Youtube or something. It just looks like a lot of fun, and really cool. So for my birthday(ish), I ordered a paper marbling kit. I invited Katherine and Elizabeth, my two favorite artists and crafters, to come experiment and learn with me. Continue reading Arts and Crafts→
(This is the text of the TED-style talk I shared at “This is the Place” Affirmation International Conference 2014. I don’t yet know if there is video of the event, and I haven’t rerecorded it yet.)
Like many of you, I enjoy cooking and baking. As you learn to cook, you go through several stages of growth. At first, you follow simple recipes, you lock onto the basics. Over time you progress, learning new and different techniques. At some point, you realize that the skills you have learned are all parts of a toolbox that you can pull out and use as the situation requires. You no longer have to slavishly follow a recipe, and you can begin to improvise and experiment with techniques, flavors and ingredients that fit your taste. The day that I realized I knew enough to not be bound by a recipe, that I had a cooking toolbox available, was one of the most liberating of my life.
So there is a meme going around Facebook, asking you to list out 10 books that have had an impact on your life. My cousin tagged me, and I think someone tagged me last year. I honestly have struggled both times with this question, mostly because I read so many books that it is hard to choose 10. Thinking about it, I came up with 5 books fairly easily. I’m not sure about the other 5, so we’ll do this in phases.
Here are the five that I came up with quickly:
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin: The book helped me think about setting specific goals to be manage my own happiness and also to think about what happiness means.
Start with Why, by Simon Sinek: This book is one of my favorites and has greatly influenced the way I think about communication and leadership. My Affirmation talk was largely based on this one.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card: As a kid, this was probably one of my favorite books, and one of the books that got me into Sci-Fi. I think it speaks to smart kids a lot.
The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper: Another one of those series that I read as a kid, and I loved, and probably got me into epic fantasy. It is Arthurian legend tied up with good vs evil. You should never ever ever watch the movie that was based on this book.
The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling: I started reading the series in a three day jag, right after I came back from my mission, and it really defined the next 6-7 years of my life. I was obsessed with theories and websites, and everything to do with Harry Potter.
Those were the 5 that I immediately thought of.
While I was writing up the list, I remembered one more.
The Oz series, by L. Frank Baum: My hometown library had a fantastic old set of the Oz series, and I read every single one of them. It was a great series for a kid.
I’m really struggling to pick others, so I think I’m just going to pick some of my favorite books from the last several years.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline: I picked this one up after my local library sponsored a game based on the same concept. Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s would absolutely love it. It is replete with references to the pop culture of the time, and it is a pretty snappy read.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm: Have I raved about this book on my blog yet? Maybe? I don’t know. I picked it up at random while choosing audiobooks at the library. Didn’t know what I was getting into, but it wowed me. I made my book club read it the next month, to some degree of controversy. (It features some odd discussions of cloning and casual clone sex, so you are warned.) It was one of the first sci-fi books to deal with manmade environmental disaster, and raised some really interesting moral questions.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson: A really strange, kind of dense, have to learn a new language kind of book, but it was oddly satisfying and gripping. It’s gonna take some time to read, but in my opinion is worth the payout.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan: A koala only has one choice for what it eats: bamboo leaves. But we humans are omnivores, so almost everything is open to us. If we have all of that choice, how do we use it? What should we eat? Per Pollan: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Got me thinking about how the way eat interacts with the environment, our health, and etc.
So, fairly successful listing, I guess. The last 4 are good ones, but I could have listed 6 or 7 other unique sets of 4 too. It’s hard to choose.
It’s the middle of the year, I’m stuck for a blog topic, and it’s an eep day to boot. Looks like it is time for some introspection about how my goals are going. Here are my goals and how they seem to be doing:
[ ] Create more – I seem to be on track
[ ] Constellation Quilt: I’ve been a little stalled out on this one. Quilting isn’t a summer thing, plus I’m down to the stars on the section that I’m working on, and I really haven’t figured out to do those efficiently. But all in all, it has gotten a lot of work, and will get done.
[ ] Daily Diary: On track. It’s sometimes hard to find something to write down, but the fact that I am space constrained helps a lot.
[ ] Be kinder: Hard to measure. Anyone want to give me anonymous feedback. Am I doing a good job of being kinder?
[ ] Be more active – Seem to be on track, I derailed once on purpose in order to spend out on a relationship.
[ ] Symbolic Bike Riding Goal (tbd): The tbd is sitting at 500 miles at the moment. I haven’t really figured out what that symbolizes. I have logged 165.5 miles as of today. I have derailed twice, paid my fine, and am on track presently.
[ ] Do more yoga: Completely off track. I didn’t set up a beeminder on this one, and I haven’t really done any yoga at all. I’m kind of thinking of a monthly daily goal in August or September to try to remedy this.
[ ] Cook more – I am on top of this one. I have been on a cooking jag all year. I have days when I don’t feel like cooking, but overall, my habits have changed significantly.
[ ] Plan meals: Have I sung the praises of eMeals? Oh, that’s right. If you listen, I have probably talked your ear off about it. I highly recommend it for people like me who have a hard time planning. It has taught me a lot about menu development. I have used the Vegetarian and Paleo meal plans, and like both of them. I am spending more at the grocery store, but less for lunches at work, and I’m throwing away less food. Here’s my referral link: eMeals.com
[ ] More Vegetarian Meals: Thanks to eMeals, I consider this one a success, even if I am currently on the Paleo plan, which is very definitely not vegetarian.
[ ] Spend out: I feel like I’m doing ok with this. I spent out on a closet system that is making my life better. I got some art I love and some other tools that I am using (hello, new ice cream maker and dehydrator and shelves). Also, some concerts!
[ ] Plan better: This is a perpetual problem for me. I’m starting to get a system down at work, and need to transition that into my personal life.
[ ] Plant a garden: Planted
[ ] Eat what I grow: So far, the harvest has been green beans, sugar snap peas, squash and zucchini , and herbs. Yummy. Looking forward to / slightly terrified by the prospect of the tomatoes
[ ] Be a good Primary teacher: I think I’m doing ok. I just changed classes from the 9 turning 10 class to the 7 turning 8 class. That’s a whole new ballgame, that is.
[ ] Deliberate practices – 1000 paper cranes: Paper cranes are all over my house. I have folded or caused to be folded 541 so far.
[ ] Host more dinners: 6 so far, my favorite was a waffle party.
[ ] Invest in relationships: I’m trying, but I sometimes let my emotions and Eeyore side get in the way.
[ ] Take a class: I’ve taken 2! Both at Zingerman’s. I may need an intervention, and/or enablers and gift cards.
[ ] Do things I’m not good at: I’m not sure. I’ll have to introspect on this one a bit more.
So, that’s where I am at. I feel like I’m doing pretty good. I’m most happy about the Be More Active and Cook More goals, plus the collab goal with Kara for Say Hey Doctor K. Those three seem to be my brightest successes.
Here’s to the best of the rest of the year. How are you doing with your goals for the year?
About a month ago, I took a quick roadtrip from my home in Southeast Michigan to Nauvoo, Illinois for a weekend retreat hosted by Affirmation. I plugged the address “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” into Google Maps on my phone, and off I went.
I suspected when I entered Iowa that I wasn’t quite on track, but I figured that Google Maps knew where I wanted to go, so I followed the course it laid out for me. I soon found myself on the western banks of the Mississippi River, headed south. I figured that there must be a bridge or something that would get me to Nauvoo faster than having stayed on the east banks.
Boy was I wrong.
It turns out that, for reasons unknown, Google Maps thinks that “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” is co-located with “Main Street, Montrose, Iowa.”
As I was pulling into Montrose, I could see Nauvoo across the river. I quickly recalibrated my phone with my actual desired destination, and as I headed out I realized that if this wasn’t a great metaphor, then Dieter F. Uchtdorf has never flown an airplane.
I have found that sometimes life takes me in directions that I don’t anticipate. From a vantage point I did not anticipate, I end up looking at my desired destination across a gulf or a river or a gap I didn’t mean to put between me and my goal.
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Actually, having my retreat weekend begin on the wrong side of the river gave me some excellent perspective. I got to see the Nauvoo temple the way that the Saints would have seen it as they completed that first step of their no-turning-back journey. Being afforded that view, when we later discussed the reasons we serve and the things that sustain us, I felt a stronger kinship with the families who lined up on Parley Street and left their beautiful Nauvoo behind. I could imagine those lingering glances over their shoulders as they began their migration westward.
After I got myself oriented and found the nearest bridge, I also enjoyed a beautiful riverside drive that I would have missed if I had not taken a wrong turn. (It was also very fun to drive that winding road!) I was reminded that even when my life detours in unexpected ways, I can always find some joy in there somewhere.
The remainder of the weekend was a refreshing journey. I was shy, but I did make some connections with others on similar paths as mine. Together, we looked across the metaphoric river that stands between where we find ourselves and the destinations where our lives may have originally taken us.
We discussed the revelations received by Joseph the prophet while in Nauvoo. In D&C section 127, he commented that “deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel… to glory in tribulation.” This became a secondary theme for us that weekend. Life as LGBT Mormons and their allies isn’t easy swimming, but like Joseph, we gloried in our tribulations.
We also pondered how the early saints built Zion among them and how we might do the same. I took a few minutes during our free time to meditate at the site of the original temple stone quarry. I find peace in old sites where there had once been furious activity but now sit silent and off the beaten path.
In the evening, we gathered in the Red Brick Store’s upper room. Among the speakers there, Carol Lynn Pearson shared a story about one of Emma Hale Smith’s final interactions with her husband, the Prophet Joseph Smith. On the day that Joseph was to go to Carthage Jail, Emma felt the need for a blessing. With all of the goings on, Joseph didn’t feel he had the time so he told her to write out the best blessing that she could think of, and that he would sign in on his return. Emma did just that. She wrote it out, but because of Joseph’s death, it was never signed. It is beautiful though. Emma desired wisdom, strength, and the ability to understand the will of God, things I think we all desire. (Read the whole thing here: http://www.the-exponent.com/emmas-blessing/)
Our weekend ended with a story sharing testimony style meeting in the Seventies Hall. It was a comforting to hear and be with so many Saints who desire the best things in life, to live a full, authentic life, who may have found themselves on the other side of a river they didn’t anticipate. I left feeling uplifted, braver than before, and believing that I could find my way forward, just as the Saints did as they left Illinois for a place of peace.
I have been using a Fitbit since 2011, so I’m starting to get a wealth of data out of it. One of the ways it has been most useful is through its integration with Beeminder, which charges me money if I don’t keep up an average of 6500 steps a day. (Which I sometimes struggle to do)
Last year, I told my friend Abe (who is gainfully employed by Jawbone) that I like the concept of the Jawbone Up, but I wouldn’t get one until it had wireless syncing and integration with Beeminder. Late last year it got both, but didn’t have Android compatibility, so I waited. This spring, it finally did get the Android app we have all been waiting for, and I decided to try it out, to see what I liked and didn’t like about it.
I’ve had a Jawbone Up for about a month now, and I have thoughts about the differences and benefits of each. Which I am now sharing with you. Because I can, and because why not?
Well, the Jawbone and the Fitbit are tracking different motions to estimate steps, so there are bound to be differences in the step counts, right? The Jawbone tracks on the wrist, while for me, the Fitbit is on my hip.
How do they compare? The Fitbit is almost always higher. On average, if I exclude Saturdays from my count, the Fitbit is on average 1086 steps per day higher.
[Why do I exclude Saturdays? Two reasons: #1 I usually grocery shop on Saturdays, and if I am pushing a cart, the Jawbone does not pick up steps reliably (given that my wrist is fairly stable). #2 I have been going to the gym on Saturdays and riding a stationary bike. Because I keep my Fitbit in my pocket, I pick up a ton of “steps” that the Jawbone doesn’t see. Last year when I was rowing on the erg a lot, the Fitbit didn’t pick anything up. I kind of wonder what the Jawbone would do with an erg. (I did discover that kneading bread is a great way to rack up Jawbone steps.)]
Winner: Neither has an obvious advantage here. I think that if you are consistent, you can estimate your activity level with either. They aren’t directly comparable though.
The Jawbone has a distinct advantage for Sleep tracking. I absolutely hate the way Fitbit does sleep tracking. I have to get out my special velcro wristband, and fumble around after I’ve taken my contacts out to get the Fitbit in its special pocket, and then try to push the button, and then hope that the Fitbit doesn’t fall out in the night. Then when I get up, I have to log on to a website to see the details of how I slept. You can imagine I haven’t tracked my sleep with the Fitbit in a long time.
With the Jawbone, because I am already wearing it on my wrist, all I have to do is push a button to start the sleep mode, and push a button to stop it when I wake up. The data is (almost) instantly sent to my phone and I get a notification in the app showing me how I did. It is easy as pie to use.
I like the silent alarm feature on the Jawbone, which allows me to set a regular alarm and/or set a smart alarm which will wake me when I am not in deep sleep, up to 20 minutes before I need to be up. I have used the silent alarms on the Fitbit, but not for waking up, so I don’t have a direct comparison.
Winner: Jawbone, by a long shot.
(I also have the capability to integrate my Jawbone with my SmartThings house using IFTTT, so when I indicate that I have woken up on my Jawbone, the light in my room also turns on, so I don’t have any excuse not to wake up.)
The Fitbit One is a small fob that I generally keep in my coin pocket. No one has to know its there.
The Jawbone Up is a bracelet that sometimes doesn’t play nice with my sleeve cuffs. Anyone who is paying attention knows it is there, although they might not know what it is. Is there an etiquette yet for asking people about their self-tracking devices?
Winner: Fitbit for inconspicuousness
In my opinion, the Jawbone’s app really shines. It just has a friendlier interface, and I think it does a good job bringing the data you need straight to the user’s attention. I particularly like the cards that pop up every day giving me information about how my habits stack up and how I can improve them. On the downside, the Jawbone App tends to be a bit crashy for me. Don’t know if that is just me and my phone, or if it is a common problem for others.
I don’t have anything bad to say about the Fitbit app, but I don’t have anything great to say about it either. It is functional, it does what it is supposed to do.
Little things I like about the Jawbone Up:
Inactivity alarms – they wake me up at work and remind me to get up and move around
Powernaps – when I need a quick nap, it will rouse me in about 25 minutes. Perfect!
Integration with IFTTT – Makes getting data into Google Docs really simple, plus SmartThings integration!
Little things I dislike about the Jawbone Up:
For the life of me, I cannot get the Stopwatch mode to fire consistently.
It doesn’t have a website where I can check data. I don’t like being constrained to my phone. Also, no tablet app?
I can’t get instant feedback from the device about step count without going to the app
This is tiny, but I hate that for Android it has to display a permanent notification that it is syncing via BlueTooth. I understand why it has to be, but I don’t have to like it. My notification space is precious to me.
Little things I like about the Fitbit One:
The Fitbit website has your data visible and you can do crude analysis there. I like the previous version of the site better than the current iteration.
Chatter – When I pick up my Fitbit, it greets me by name, tells me , and sometimes tells me that it loves me. 😀 Who doesn’t love a pocket computer that cheers you up?
Instant feedback – If I want to know how I’m doing, I just pull it out of my pocket and push a button.
Little things I don’t like about the Fitbit One:
It is hard to get the data out of Fitbit’s greedy little hands. It is doable, but it is not easy.
Until recently, it required a computer connection to sync. That was annoying if I was travelling and wanted to make sure I didn’t hit a Beeminder eep! day. Now it will sync with my phone.
It is super easy to lose. I have never washed it, but it has fallen under my bed and gotten temporarily lost on numerous occasions.
Winner: Tie, probably.
At the end of the day, both of these devices seem to be good activity trackers. They both have their quirks, and they both approach the question of self-quantification from different angles. The only place where there is a clear outstanding winner is with Sleep Tracking. If you are interested in that, Jawbone Up is the way to go. Otherwise, it really comes down to personal preferences. Each does some things better than the other, but I don’t think there is a clear standout.
I recently finished reading Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service. I’ve been obsessing with Zingerman’s Bakehouse breads lately and I have a Zing BAKE! class on my schedule for later this month, so when I saw this book on the audiobook shelf at the Library, I jumped at the chance.
It was read by the author, Ari Weinzweig, who outrageously gave his office phone number out at the beginning, saying that anyone who had questions could just call his office to discuss. Talk about service! Anyhow, he talked a lot about ways that good companies could give good service, and while I have forgotten the finer details of it, I do know that I know great service when I see it. (Here’s a link to their 5 steps for dealing with a complaint, along with some of their other customer service mantras)
I wanted to call out and give examples of two companies that recently left me pleasantly surprised by their approach to customer service.
The first is Woot.com. I had recently ordered a box of batteries. (Skynet is eating them for lunch.) When I got the box, I opened it up to find that instead of 72 AA batteries, I had 72 AAA batteries. In all of my life, I don’t think I will use that many AAA batteries. I wrote in to ask about an exchange, because I really did want those AAs. I got a quick email acknowledging that my correct order was on its way.
A day or two later, Woot sent out the following email, presumably to all the customers who had purchased batteries during that particular sale.
Dear Battery Lover,
How many times have you gone to the store to buy AA batteries, picked up what you thought was the correct package, paid for it, taken it home… and only then noticed you bought the wrong freakin’ type? You always feel kinda dumb, right? Now imagine if you did that something like one thousand times in a row.
Which is our way of saying that yes, we DID finally notice that we sent you the wrong batteries. If you ordered AA you got AAA and vice versa. We’re the goofballs here and we’re sorry for the mistake. Now, let’s tell you how we’re makin’ it right.
FIRST: keep those batteries we sent you. Put ’em in your remote or your smoke detector or penlight or whatever. They’re yours now. Enjoy!
SECOND: Be aware we’re sending you the batteries you actually wanted, at no additional charge. They’re the ones you asked for, right? Of course you still want ’em!
And please, learn from our mistakes. Always count the number of A’s in your battery type. Always.
Super awesome, right? Here’s what they did right:
#1 – They acknowledged that there was a problem
#2 – They apologized sincerely and with a sense of humor
#3 – They made it right, and they made it easy. (I was ready to ship the AAAs back to them)
I have long loved Woot for the sense of humor that they bring to everything that they do.
The second example I wanted to share was the great way Nature Box handled my request to cancel my service. Let me tell you right up front, I like Nature Box’s service. Basically, you sign up for a $20/month subscription and they send you a box of snacks each month. I felt like it was good value for money, and the snacks were tasty and healthy. I decided ultimately that mye money was better spent on something else, but I highly recommend the service. (Try the Lemon Pucker Pistachios. You won’t regret it!)
Normally, you don’t praise a company for how they treat you when you cancel, but they did me right. I knew that if I called they’d try to keep me subscribing, so I went the email route. This is how it unfolded:
I’d like to cancel my subscription please and thank you. It is a lovely service, but I think at this time, my priorities lie elsewhere. I have enjoyed my time with you, and let me assure you, it’s not you, it’s me. 😉
Thanks so much for your message! I’m sad to hear that you want to cancel your NatureBox subscription
You have been a wonderful customer of ours for so long and I can’t explain how much we appreciate that! We miss you already just thinking about it. [yadda yadda… retention sales pitch deleted here – bpe]
Don’t feel bad if you are not interested, I really just wanted to let you know about this before you go. If you would rather part ways, let me down easy with a simple response to this email 😉
Thank you very much for all you have done for our company. If you have any questions, I am all ears. I really look forward to hearing from you soon!
Professional Snack Concierge since 2013
I really think we should see other people. Maybe at some point in the future (I really liked the Lemon Pucker Pistachios. Those were good times.)
Let’s remember the good in the relationship. 😉
Thanks for cancelling my account!
Thanks for kind let down haha I speak for the entire NatureBox family when I say, I am sad to see you go 🙁 That being said, I’ve gone ahead and cancelled your subscription. We will not charge your card from this point forward and you should receive an email confirming this shortly.
Remembering the good times,
I don’t know if you caught that, but my professional snack conceirge played along with me. He had a script, sure, and what kind of customer service rep doesn’t, but he broke out of it to respond directly to me and it honestly left me with a huge smile. If I didn’t have a rule about how many subscriptions I can have at any one time, I totally would have resubscribed right then and there. I still highly recommend it (If you want to try it out, this is my referral link: http://fbuy.me/MFds you get $10 off, and I get a $10 credit, which I will happily spend).
So, that’s how you do great customer service. Have you had any good experiences with customer service? What about awful ones?
PS If you want a revelation, try Zingerman’s Chocolate Cherry bread. If you are family, and you come visit me, I will buy you some. 😀
February is usually the longest month for me. I usually suffer my annual breakdown in February where I am deeply and desperately despairing for spring and light and meaning and love.
This year, I don’t feel like I had that breakdown. I’m very happy about that. I think it is mostly due to some pharmaceutical interventions, which I will take, but I also think that I am in a healthier place over all.
I checked my diary just now. Yeah, you heard me. It is a daily record book, which is what diary means. And I have a very manly leather cover, so stuff it. Men write diaries. Shut up.
In February, I whined a lot about the weather. To be fair, Detroit has ranked #1 in the Winter Misery Index this year. So I feel totally justified.
I taught the lesson in my Primary class a few times. (So glad for co-teachers). I’m still a little unsure of my footing there. I figure no one has burst into tears yet, and they are mostly listening and occasionally expressing insights (and begging for treats at every possible opportunity), so that’s a good thing. Plus I like Sharing Time a whole lot more than I like EQ.
I started a meal planning service this month. I love to cook, but I’m terrible at planning, so I’m constantly buying food that gets thrown away. But with this service, I get a weekly recipe list with shopping list. Since I know how to cook, it’s not a big deal, and I know how to substitute things in and out. I’m also trying to be mostly vegetarian at home, so it is helpful to have someone else take the pain out of trying to figure out what that actually means. I have found that making 4 to 5 of the meals each week on their 1-2 person plan gives me enough for both dinners and leftovers for lunches, and the variety is pretty awesome. I also like that I can try other meal plans if I want to switch things up. (I’ve been wanting to try paleo, for example.) The service is eMeals, and if you want to try it out, this is my referral link. I have learned that there are lots of discounts and also that there is a Groupon or LivingSocial deal fairly regularly, so you can get a year for incredibly cheap if you try.
I also fixed a leaky toilet this month. I felt very much like a successful home owner when I took the thing apart and put it back together with a new seal. It only leaked a little at first and that was nothing that a little tightening of the nuts and bolts couldn’t fix.
My favorite creation of the month was a chocolate bread pudding made with Chocolate Cherry Bread from Zingerman’s. It was very rich and decadent. I based my recipe on this one from Serious Eats. Substitute in any chocolate bread, but especially a chocolate bread from the Zing, and you are golden.
Other goals are coming along well. I finally started making some progress on my star quilt when I got a quilting hoop in. I have figured out the running / hand quilting stitch and I’m getting good at it. The number of times that I had go to Joanne’s to get one more thing is amazing. (Also learned that they will accept coupons from your phone, so always google Joanne’s coupons while you are standing in line.)
Also, got the second edition of Say Hey, Doctor K edited and uploaded. Have you seen them yet? They are really fun, and I’m learning a lot about editing and video production. I think I made Doctor K a little nervous with how long it took me to get started this month, but we got there in the end. Here’s one of them: you should subscribe!
That’s the highlights of my February. Hope yours was great.