2014 Christmas letter

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. 😉

This year has been a good one for me, I think.  A lot of things have come to completion, which is nice, and I have probably grown a lot too. Continue reading 2014 Christmas letter

Arts and Crafts

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

Starting with Why: A Path to Authenticity as an LGBT Mormon

(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.

Today, I would like to introduce a framework that has been just as liberating for me in my experience as a gay Mormon as the day that I learned that I could adjust a recipe to my taste. Continue reading Starting with Why: A Path to Authenticity as an LGBT Mormon

Top 10 Books Meme

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.

What books influence you?

Things that are making me happy right now

I thought I’d take a few moments to just list out some of the things that are making me happy these days.

1) My favorite blueberry farm opened up temporarily after having announced that the polar vortex cold of winter had damaged their crop. I picked my fill.

2) Audible.com + Bluetooth is allowing me to listen to books with reckless abandon.

3) My flowers are absolutely gorgeous. The gladiolas are blooming right now.

4) Ginger beer. Mmmm….

5) I was approved to give a TED style talk at the Affirmation conference. I’m going to apply the Start with Why principles to living an authentic life as an LGBT Mormon.

6) The 2014 Emmett Family Reunion went off without significant hitches.

7) This video from the reunion. (I love the soundtrack!)

8) Also, this video: (I feel like the soundtrack is perfect on this one too!)

9) The flavor of sun warmed cherry tomatoes.

10) The Ann Arbor District Library Summer Game. This library is awesome, and I have a good time playing along every summer.

11) My Primary class.

12) My new dehydrator, blender, and ice cream maker.  Funny how the right tool at the right time can improve your life so much.

I think things are going fairly well right now, but it always helps to stop and count the little things. What is making you happy?

Happy August!

 

Midyear Goal Introspection

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.

[ ] Say Hey Doctor K video collab 1x/month : Oh yeah, this one is on track. Have you seen them?  You should watch them all! 

[ ] Blog 2x/month: Modified this to 1x per month, and I’m hitting that one. (If I get this published today, that is.)

[ ] 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.

[ ] More steps than 2013: On track, no derailments.  As of today, I’m sitting at 1.17 million steps for the year.

[ ] 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 ok: Yes. I am ok.

[ ] Be braver: I went to Nauvoo all by myself and didn’t know anyone. That’s brave, right?

[ ] 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?

The Wrong Side of the River- My Experience at Nauvoo

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.”

Temple in the Distance
Nauvoo Temple in the Distance

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.

Tulips at Nauvoo
Tulips at Nauvoo
Redbud Tree
Redbud Tree

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.

Quary at Nauvoo
Quary at Nauvoo
Temple Close
Temple Up Close

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.

Goal Modification

This is a public restatement of my blog 2x per month goal.  I am not meeting it, and I’m not sure that my attempts to stay caught up with it are warranted.  I’m going to move it to 1x per month, and see if I can squeeze some quality out of it, rather than quantity.

Also, pester me. I’ve got some good stuff to write down, I’m just not quite getting it written down for whatever reason.

To Do List for May

This is kind of a goals post, things that I want to accomplish in May:

1) Eat Paleo – Try it for a week. If it works, try it for another. Repeat
2) Finish redoing my master closet. I’m tired of dragging my shirts around the house
3) Don’t buy any shoes, shirts, pants, jeans, or other clothing. Limit Amazon spend. Spend consciously on needs.
4) Plan out the garden, build new raised beds, plant flowers and veg, if the weather cooperates
5) Start the Lifetime Ladder. Make it a daily habit

Snap Judgement: Fitbit One vs Jawbone Up24

It is no secret that I enjoy self-quantification.  Well, if it is a secret, it shouldn’t be.  I enjoy self-quantification.

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?

Step Tracking

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.

image

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.

Sleep Tracking

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.)

Form Factor

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

App Experience

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.

Jawbone App
Jawbone App

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.

Fitbit App
Fitbit app (can you tell I biked today?)

Winner: Jawbone

Other Stuff

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.

Overall

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.

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