Category Archives: General

Everything and anything that doesn’t fit a specific categor–wait, do you really need me to describe what “General” means?

An Unlikely View…a Different Review

Great thoughts on how we approach the world and the stories we encounter there…

Sarah Cinnamon

untitledAs I sit here this evening – I am overwhelmed with words and emotion and yet unsure how to express either. Days ago, I walked into a movie theater to view a movie I had been excited about since I had first heard it was in the works. Beauty and the Beast. I was 15 years old when the animated version came out. I remember watching it with my sister when she was home on break from college. I remember at the time feeling so moved by such a beautiful movie. The story hit me personally somehow; the music moved me; the characters impacted me. I remember even then thinking – how can this beautifully crafted cartoon have such an affect on me? So to say that I was both excited and nervous about the live action version is a bit understated. Excited to revisit a favorite in a new…

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Bullet Journals are Fire

I added a couple adjustments to my Bullet Journal process since my last post on the subject. Here are a couple quick tricks that I think work for both the minimalist version and the artsy / time-consuming arrangements.

Track the workplace “fires” that you put out

If a task is REALLY frustrating, actual fire is also an option.

Office workers know the pain of watching your organized, planned-out schedule burst into flames as managers or circumstances bring you all sorts of “fires” to put out. Urgent tasks demand attention. Surprise emails reprioritize your day. The boss comes in and says “Drop what you’re doing, I need you on This now.” 

Bullet Journal is about tracking what you’ve done as well as organizing your future effort, so from the beginning I’ve written down the unplanned or unexpected tasks I accomplish. But I decided to capture these random “opportunities” with a symbol all their own: a little flame on the task. Not only does that identify the task as HOT but it also shows that I didn’t plan for this… which might explain why other tasks get migrated to the next day (yet again). 

Even more rewarding? When that surprise tasker is completed, I can draw a squiggle on the fire to show it has been put out properly. We joke about putting out fires all day—why not incorporate that into my BuJo?

Yep. I still hate the term “BuJo.”

Color code or number your top priority tasks 

When I first started my journal, I picked up a set of five ultra fine point gel pens with different color ink: black, blue, purple, red, and green. I thought I’d use them more often, but I prefer colored pencils for anything artsy. So I’ve had these things sitting in a pen case doing nothing. 

The other day, I think a motivational video or article suggested organizing or identifying certain tasks as the priorities for a given day, and hitting those first. I could use numbers, of course… but why not the pens? Now I look over my to-do list for the day and underline four tasks in priority order—red, purple, blue, green—as my primary focus items. It’s an added satisfaction to check those off as done.

Sometimes you just have to punch Monday in the junk.

Today, I knocked out everything on my high-priority list before my lunch break. Now I can get to some of the other tasks in the afternoon, with the satisfaction that the big items are out of the way.

Time Management

On a side note, when I reviewed February’s journal entries, I found a lot of references to using the limited time we’re given wisely. As I considered how to lay out March’s monthly calendar and tracker, I decided to incorporate that message into my spread as a constant reminder this month. I found a few sweet quotes that spur me on to do the most with each day:

And naturally, as a Whovian, I had to incorporate the Doctor and some items related to his adventures. Here’s my timey-wimey March page:

The trouble is, you think you have time. -Buddha

Some of the applicable motivational quotes that have come my way include:

  • The billionaire and the beggar each are given the same 24 hours in a day.
  • You will never “find” time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
  • We hold other people to guarantees and promises, like “30-day satisfaction or your money back.” Why don’t we hold ourselves to that standard? You owe you, you owe it to yourself to set such a standard.
  • It’s not a last minute “fire” task if it’s a “waited until the last minute” task. That’s just poor planning or poor execution. (That’s my own, in light of the fire symbol idea.)

Take a Bow

…and plenty of arrows. So many arrows.

Don’t mind me… just bow-hunting off the back of my robot horse.

So about a week ago the fabulous PS4-exclusive game Horizon: Zero Dawn invaded my conscious awareness, and like the horde of hostile robots filling its setting, something had to be done to address this!

Namely purchasing and playing the game at every opportunity. (And also spreading the good news, since the game hasn’t been on my radar or that of several friends.)

I must admit, I am a sucker for pre-historic / post-apocalyptic scenarios. I love piecing together the fact that something terrible happened to humanity in the deep “past” (usually our distant future), and I love seeing the elements of human culture storytellers and artists see fit to incorporate into their ruined worlds–the metal bones of skyscrapers or the rusting panels of ancient radar dishes, the “new” Bronze Age civilizations built atop the remains of what came before, the various ways people in these worlds have adopted the scraps of technology they can’t understand.

In other words, Horizon: Zero Dawn had its hooks in me pretty easy. 


I did at least look into reviews online before putting a copy in my shopping basket. I’ve learned too many painful lessons from spontaneous purchases over the years. Based on what just about everyone was saying online–both professional game reviews and user feedback–I felt I’d get my money’s worth.

I was not prepared!

If I had to narrow down what I love so much, I’d say Horizon is like Tomb Raider meets Mass Effect… an interesting combination of sci-fi story, “open” exploration, and thrilling combat in a variety of styles.
– Fluid fighting that is fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable, and rewarding for the varied approaches available. Go stealth bow-assassin, or creep up and stab unsuspecting foes, or set a variety of traps and lure enemies into them, or use elemental weapons to render enemies vulnerable to your attacks, or just run in and spear the crap out of everything. All of them are fun and exciting methods; none feel tacked on last minute or treated like less than ideal playstyles.

A friend put it as, “The game doesn’t tell you to play this or that way. It just gives you all these tools, and you realize, ‘I could do some interesting things with these…’”

– Beautiful graphics even on my plain old normal PS4. The people look realistic without being creepy. The world looks tangible and gorgeous.
I want to explore this place and take liberal use of the in-game photo mode.

– Great voice work and interesting story line. Pre-historic / Post-apocalyptic with a heaping dose of mystery. How did civilization collapse? Where did all these robots come from? What happens when I set alight all these explosive canisters on the backs of that herd of robots? (Spoilers: beautiful, powerful explosions.)

– Indepth details you can explore to piece together more of the world’s history… along with some chilling or touching tidbits. There are text entries aplenty, but you often get to see holograms or hear audio recordings from the time before the collapse.

– A perfect in-story explanation for the “magic sense” mechanic. In other games, it’s Detective Mode because of Batman’s gadgets or intellect (the Arkham series), or some kind of Survival Instincts because Lara Croft is Lara Croft (Tomb Raider). Horizon has that, but it explains why the heroine Aloy knows so much more than a random tribeswoman should.

So far, Horizon has shattered all my expectations and reliably pulled me back in for “just another quest.” 

Well done, Guerilla Games and Sony. You have a winner here. Take a bow.

Bullet Journal Part 2: Personalization

In my first Bullet Journal post, I talked about the results I tracked during the first month testing out how I liked the system.

In this post, I wanted to share a few of the personal touches from my journal. 

A look through social media or Google Images for anything “bullet journal” might return wild results that look more like a scrapbooking site than some quick and easy system for tracking tasks.

Some argue there’s a difference between bullet journals (which have little to no complexity, basic subjects, simple uses) versus the “omnijournals” where people are tracking anything and everything, from books to read, to which episodes of Dexter they’ve watched, usually with impressive calligraphy, artwork, colorful inks, and even art supplies like stamps, stencils, and washi tape. It can get expensive if you go all out, but the system can function just as well in a 69 cent memo pad. 

While I think the minimalist version has great usefulness and merit, I’m too artsy and doodle-prone to be content with that. So when I found an article called “The Comic Book Journal” on the bullet journal site blog, I decided that was closer to what I wanted. This allowed me to capture some moments and memories, like a family trip to a restaurant, some time relaxing in the shade of Okinawan banyan trees, and a silly drawing to remind me to avoid superficial garbage and distractions. 

Here’s what worked for me: 

Beyond the basics (index, future log, monthly spread, daily entries), I adopted a more complex monthly format that allows tracking of recurring activities–great for building habits and checking progress toward goals. 

A lot of the purpose of the bullet journal is to serve as a brain dump memo pad which can quickly feed into indexed sections based on the content. Someone recommends a good book? Jot it in the daily notes, so that later you can put it into the “books to read” spread. Hear a line that inspires you? Add it to a motivational quotes spread for mental fuel when you need a pick-me-up or a kick in the procrastination. When the spouse says “We need toilet paper next time we go to the store,” or when you realize the car needs a tune-up next month, put those on financial spreads split for short-term and long-term expenses. 

I loved pictures I found of a bookshelf spread with books you color in as you finish reading them, or popcorn kernels for movies you want to watch.  

Watching movies is clearly easier than reading books…

I have some fitness goals I want to reach, so I set up a tracker for push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and generic strength-focused workouts. I also put in a page for meal plans, so I can easily grab the right ingredients and put together lunches for a few days at a time. For my writing efforts, I put in a year-long word count spread with a color code for how many words I manage on a given day, and space to jot down writing ideas.  

It turns out twelve hour fly days don’t help me get a lot of writing done.

Some of the artistic pages incorporated ways to track or focus on gratitude, which I thought would help me maintain positive energy. I liked the gratitude “sunburst” the most, with rays for each day and then some.  


I viewed that as part of my month-long tracking, so a new sunburst got added for this month right before my February spread. The habit trackers have been great for pushing me toward making better decisions and achieving my goals. For example, last month I tracked whether I logged all my meals in my fitness pal, but this month I added a box for which days I kept below my calorie count. And while I don’t drink alcohol all the time and keep it to a small amount (a couple shots max) whenever I do imbibe, I decided a box for “no alcohol” was a way to force a conscious decision of “do you really want a drink?” The mental reward of checking a box that said I didn’t partake is enough to make me hesitate and actively consider the question rather than drinking just because it’s there. 


The artistic aspect of the way I’m doing my journal lets me capture memories and moments in pictures. Maybe it’s a character’s silly expression or a mindless doodle, but sometimes it’s an attempt to capture the way the sunrise painted amber on the tips of purple clouds, or the hilltop view overlooking the ocean with islands on the horizon. For me, these also break up the monotony of tasks and appointments in my journal, giving me something cool to look at when I flip through the pages.

A drawing of some sunrise clouds with touches of amber on the tips.
A view from a high hill overlooking the sea on the horizon

All of that said (and shown), this is just what I found kept me motivated and engaged in these areas I wanted to track. My format might not work for every reader. 

The personalization makes all the difference. 

I have a co-worker friend of mine who started setting up his Bullet Journal, and he paged through mine to get some ideas. We talked at length about what I used and why, but from the get-go, he proclaimed he wanted the minimalist arrangement, nothing elaborate or frilly. I stopped in his office today and saw a Leuchtturm 1917 opened with a number of familiar spreads–all of them clean and neat, black and white, crisp and sharp. Most of all, I noticed the bright smile on his face as he showed off his work in progress. I recognize that happiness–it’s the same sensation I feel about my Bullet Journal, even though mine is full of varied letter shapes, random doodles, and colored pencils. 

Do you “BuJo” ? (confession: I hate that word and I won’t be using it any more.) What have you found works for your needs? Do you go artistic or minimalist in your journal? Let me know in a comment. I’d love to see how you set up yours–maybe I’ll get a new idea for mine!

My Brain on Paper

About a month ago I found an article introducing the Bullet Journal, which is an old-school pen-and-paper method for organizing tasks. The original system put to the public three years ago was designed to be minimalist and quick, allowing one to track past tasks completed and progress toward goals, organize current schedules and priorities, and plan for future efforts or upcoming issues.

The Bullet Journal is essentially your brain in a notebook

…except it remembers everything perfectly.

It’s quick to start and manage, and flexible enough to adapt to any number of specialized uses.

The “Bullet Journal” concept has since grown into a large community of people who incorporate a wide variety of artistic designs and complex tools into their bullet Journals. Instagram, Facebook, and the bullet journal site linked above all have an array of photos and ideas ripe for the picking.

I started mine in a cheap notebook to get used to the idea, then upgraded to a long-term version.

the Leuchtturm 1917 lines of dot grid notepads are popular choices.
 

I decided to give it a shot for a month before posting my thoughts on the process, along with an intro of my journal and an explanation of what I found worked well for me. 

The system feeds off the satisfaction that comes from the visible reminder of task completion, the mental reward of checking off tangible lists, and the relief of jotting down notes to reduce the busyness in our scattered minds.

(Pic)

All those efforts go back to one concept:

  • You can’t make progress when you’re not aware of your current circumstance.
  • You can’t be aware of what you don’t monitor.
  • You can’t monitor what you don’t track.
  • You can’t track what you don’t measure.

Similar to the year-long word count spreadsheet (which I posted about at the start of the new year), my Bullet Journal gives me more insight and detail on what I’m doing that is or isn’t intentionally moving toward the goals and desires I say I want to achieve. 

In the end, after a month, I looked back and discovered I had done the following:

  • I watched 10 movies with the wife and/or the kids.
  • I recorded and posted 8 songs with my wife or on my own (not counting instrumental jam sessions).
  • I wrote 32,887 words and kept above the 1K / day goal I set for this year.
  • I did 1,140 push-ups, 2,180 sit-ups, and 39 minutes of plank.
  • I filled a gratitude log with daily entries and several bonus lines.
  • I logged 24 of 31 intentional morning routines.
  • 17 of 31 days writing 1K words or more.
  • 25 of 31 days logging all food intake for weight loss
  • 26 of 31 days walking 5K steps or more
  • 17 of 27 days drinking >64 oz of water (added this a few days in)
  • 10 of 21 days doing 100 push-ups (added a week and a half into January)
  • 10 of 21 days doing 200 sit-ups
  • 7 of 21 days doing strength workouts
  • 7 of 21 days doing 5 minutes of plank
  • and 10 of 12 days being intentionally outdoors for >15 minutes (not just walking to my car, etc)

Looking back over the journal entries, I saw trends and thoughts that needed repeated emphasis. I also saw places where I came up with a solution or plan, and found that it worked.

All in all, like many systems, gimmicks, and gadgets, it comes down to individual preference.

A Bullet Journal is great if it works for you, and if you keep it up. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and intend to continue using the system. In my next post, I’ll show some ways I adapted the journal to my interests and needs.

Dear United States,

Saw this on a friend’s FB wall and thought of this post:
http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/refugee-stories

Cherry-picked instead of the “randomly selected” that the page implies? Sure. Maybe. Cynical me admits that’s possible.

BUT these stories are also just as likely true. These experiences I’ll never understand are some people’s daily life. If I can talk about how pro-life I am and how much I love Jesus and how bad the world needs the Gospel, then maybe I can look at these people’s desperate needs and not see only an ISIS ploy.

“We should be careful, though,” caution says, parroting the words fear whispers. “We should be wise as serpents.”

Yes, let’s. Wise as serpents, we’re to be–but not actual snakes.

Mike Patz

I love you. (I love us.)

I thank God for our nation and our liberties and our diversity and our exceptional approach.  Jon Stewart is right: “This ain’t easy … America is not natural. Natural is tribal. We are fighting against thousands of years of human behavior and history to create something that no one’s ever done. That’s what’s exceptional …”

Which is why I plead with us to consider these four words: Fear not. Forget not.

Fear not.

Do not live in fear.

Do not lead from fear.

Do not look at people through the lens of fear.

Let’s be a land of the free and a home of the brave. Especially to any American who follows Jesus, I remind us that our way is not the way of fear. Our path is not the path of paranoia. I do not suggest that we abandon wisdom, but we are commanded to be anxious for nothing.

My…

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Intentional

Early this year, a click-bait style post came across one of the writing groups I follow. “This one notepad will get rid of all your productivity apps!” or something like that.

For whatever reason, I clicked and watched the introduction to the Bullet Journal (a.k.a. BuJo).

The system is intended to be minimalist: fast, easy, helpful for tracking what you’ve done, focusing your efforts now, and planning your future.

“Interesting,” I thought, and moved on with my mindless Facebook browsing. But then the concept kept bouncing around in my head. Soon I found myself looking at ideas in their blog posts, discovering co-workers who already follow the system, then looking through piles of new ideas posted to Facebook groups. The artistic versions caught my eye.

Also a set of colored pencils and pens appeared randomly, demanding use. (And I learned to make an origami bookmark, because reasons.)

One of the spreads I’ve seen in numerous Bullet Journals is the “word of the year,” something that captures a person’s intended focus area for attention or improvement. I liked the concept, but there are so many words! Who could choose just one to capture everything they really want for 2017?

I chose intentional as my word of the year, because of how often I find myself wasting time and energy on superficial garbage through lack of decisions or purposeful effort. For example: “I never have time to write, I’m sooo busy. I think I’ll take this hour to play phone games and scroll through Facebook some more.”

Googling images others have used to capture the idea of “intentional” resulted in two personal faves: a brick wall being built out of Lego, and a direction sign shaped with a pointed end. The bricks convey the idea of step-by-step effort toward any goal. Results don’t appear out of thin air, but usually out of doing the same, simple task over and over until it becomes easy. I liked the sign as a way of capturing motion in a chosen direction instead of flailing around aimlessly through life.

To incorporate both, I drew a brick wall with the pointed sign hanging on it. Over the year (or however long my journal lasts) I can incorporate new words that strike my fancy or contribute to a fuller picture of what I mean by intentional living.

img_2326
A more complicated BuJo is also a fun artistic outlet.

All of it goes back to my favorite verse right now: 1st Corinthians 9:26 (ESV) – “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” The Chinese translation puts it, “So I run not as one without a destination.”

I’m still digging into what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ll do a full intro / personal take on the process once I get my new journal set up and going. (The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 dot grid seems to be the most popular option.)

Anyone else BuJo? What spreads work for you? Let me know in a comment.

Cacophony

I’m enjoying an afternoon with the wifey at an on-base coffee shop. It’s built into the Airmen’s Club, as an off-shoot of the snack bar. They renovated a few months ago (or more?) and the atmosphere is usually perfect for a quiet relaxing coffee outing or for some focused writing.

That back corner screams “writing nook” in my mind.

The Club’s PA system is playing a steady stream of 80s and 90s music, stuff you might hear in any store. And the snack bar / coffee shop has their own music playing. Loudly.

I’ve got a lighthearted yet punkish rock song playing at a decent clip in three-four time with some heavy bass, and on the other side is Take a Chance on Me.

Sitting where I am, I’m right between both sounds and it’s atrocious. The snack bar’s music is loud enough that I’m pretty sure it can be heard anywhere in their section (kind of the point, I suppose). But regardless of the comfortable, cozy atmosphere of that picture, the sound is just wrong.

I’ll mention it to the managers. It makes everything seem off. Ever been in a place like this, where one easily corrected aspect ruins all the hard work that obviously went into the rest of the setting?

Too Young For This

“You are one of the old guys!”

I know it’s rare that we catch our aging in progress; it’s difficult for us to notice the process taking place. There’s often a moment of sudden, painful clarity. 

The above quote was one of my moments. 

“You should talk to one of the old guys,” I believe is what I said just before the fatal blow to my youthful pride. In the middle of a conversation with military coworkers, I thought of myself as roughly their peer, in age and experience. One young woman informed me ever so gently that this was not the case.

I joined the Air Force early, at age 17, which required a parent’s signature to approve. So I have often been the young one in any group. Once that changed, the reactions shifted to “whoa, I didn’t realize you’ve been in the service that long.” Even those eventually ceased.

I’ve already done my 20 years. Two days from now, I will finish my 22nd year of active duty. My hair is going gray (so my daughter likes to remind me), I sometimes limp, and I serve on a no-running profile, so age has taken its toll. 

Speaking of the daughter, one of the surprised reactions I get is at the fact that I have two teenaged children. Maybe most folks have better sense than to start so young, or maybe there’s still a touch of “I didn’t know you were that old” left. 

But today after flying for twelve hours, I got my own surprise reaction when my daughter’s Facebook profile revealed she is engaged to her boyfriend of over a year.

Gah!

There is a ring in the middle, among the pearls.

Now this is nothing out of the blue–they’ve been talking and plotting for quite some time. But a distant concept that “someday soon after I turn eighteen I plan to marry him” is different than a public proclamation of “this is happening.”

I will turn 40 just before she turns 18, so it’s not like I can say I’m still young. I’m just not old enough for this quite yet.

After its reign of terror through Hollywood, the music industry, and the Cincinnati Zoo, 2016 struck one last, very personal blow.

Bring on the new year, this one sucks. 

…but maybe not too fast. There are only so many more moments left, like snowflakes falling on a warm winter day, melting and vanishing before they touch the ground.

One AM Christmas

As is our custom, each member of my family opened one Christmas present on Christmas Eve, a little pre-celebration or appetizer for the main event. We did this fairly late in the evening, after a drive to purchase a festive meal of curry from Coco’s and to look at Christmas lights.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

So it was pretty late when we decided to watch Middle Son’s chosen gift, the Tim Burton movie, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Not exactly Christmas fare, perhaps, but it’s one he wanted and half the family hadn’t seen it yet.

By the time the movie ended, it was about 1 AM. I’d blame military life and the chaos it sometimes brings, but the fact is we’re pretty much night owls when our tired bodies can put up with the strain. Wifey stays up all hours of the night, and so do I if caffeine and work commitments permit. The teens will try to watch movies at midnight if they can get away with it.

So everyone came to the same conclusion: It’s already Christmas “morning” at this point. The allure of a pile of presents under Christmas lights proved too great to resist… Except for 6-year-old Dude, who was passed out during the early part of the movie (where I admit I also stole a nice catnap).

Once he woke up, groggy and stretching, we asked him if he wanted to open presents. Silly question, of course the answer was yes.

The author, caught by his traitorous wife in a Scrooge moment

This year’s haul was pretty good for all parties.

We set out to make it special for everyone–knowing the cost associated with that–because it’s likely the last Christmas with all six of us together under one roof as one family. Despite any contrary advice or warnings received thus far, Teenage Daughter has an unwavering resolve to move out shortly after turning eighteen and marry her boyfriend, who will probably join the Air Force at that point. (The good news is he’s a pretty decent individual.)

Wifey’s love language is gift-giving, and this year she definitely hit several home runs. Her influence shows strong in our daughter, who also came up with several “OMG it’s perfect” reaction gifts.

My 34-ounce French Press gift is already in use this morning as I make eggs, cherry pancakes and corned beef hash. Teen Son got a much-desired Study Bible, a couple of anime movies, and a giant-size Uno card deck, a game he loves playing with his friends or with our little Dude. Teen Daughter got a collection of art and makeup supplies along with a laminator for photos she intends to print. The Dude and Middle Son got a nice collection of toys and movies they love. Wifey made off with a movie and some high-ticket beauty supplies she probably thought I’d never buy.

Sadly no one thought much of the gift of sleeping in. My work schedule builds in a habit of rising early even if I want more sleep, and Middle Son is a natural early bird. Things could be worse… We have a relaxing yet full Christmas schedule today. A chapel service, a large but non-traditional celebratory meal, an evening visitor, and some live streamed Christmas music on Facebook… And probably more I’m forgetting.

As a touch of holiday cheer, I’ll post some of the Christmas music on my Facebook author page if I can overcome my technological limitations.

Speaking of gifts, Diffraction, my fantasy novel, is free on Kindle through the end of Christmas Day.

I hope your holidays are bright and full of good food, fellowship, and fun.