7 Quick Takes on Books, Computers, and Criticism

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Just a few weeks ago, I posted about finishing my 2017 Goodreads Challenge in October. Well, I’ve set a new record now:

I finished my 2018 challenge by reading 23 books!

I’m already done for 2018, and the year is only half over! Although I’m tempted to set my goal higher now, I think I’ll just call it a win and keep going. I’m aiming for a lifelong reading marathon, not a sprint.

— 2 —

I was saddened to read this NPR article about the rise in AI grading for standardized writing tests. The system can be gamed, of course, but it goes deeper than that.

On the one hand, I’ve been a human grader. It stinks. When I taught in Birmingham, I had to read hand-written standardized essays once. It was just me, a bunch of other English teachers, and a bunch of terrible handwriting. I’m pretty good at reading bad writing (both bad penmanship and poor skills, unfortunately), but one sample was so sloppy that I struggled mightily. I remember reaching the end of a sentence and realizing that I’d decoded all the words but had no idea what the sentence meant. I’m glad that was the closest I’ve come to experiencing any part of what it’s like to have a learning disability. I was working much too slowly for the volume of work set before us. So I get that human-grading of essays isn’t sustainable.

On the other hand, standardized writing doesn’t allow for much nuance anyway. I also understand the complaints of real graders who claim that computers can’t judge strong voice and elegant turns of phrase… but standardized scoring doesn’t give you very much credit for those things, anyway.

Overall, I’m just not ready to trust computers with interpreting writing. They’re phenomenal at transcribing speech, but those are just groups of sounds that need to be coded into letters. Dictation software still struggles with punctuation! Google might have an AI that can make me a hair appointment, but I’m not going to let it write my blog posts—or tell me how good they are.

— 3 —

Speaking of spooky computers, I came across this beautiful short film last year. It sent a chill down my spine.

— 4 —

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about criticism. The term “constructive criticism” has never sat well with me. After all, if there is a kind you can call “constructive,” then the default must be destructive, right? And it is. Putting “destructive” right next to “criticism” is a double whammy. I was never able to unpack my unease about so-called “constructive criticism” until today.

My first resource was the Gottman Institute. It’s been my best source for secular relationship advice for years. They identify criticism as one of the Four Horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. As one of the Gottman bloggers explains, criticism attacks a person’s character rather than actions and puts all the blame on the other. Instead of saying “you did a bad thing,” criticism says “you are a bad person.” The solution is to make a complaint about the way an action or statement makes you feel, as well as expressing what you need that’s different from what you’re getting. Those things are all about you, not about the other person.

So I was settled about what makes criticism feel so destructive sometimes (or a lot of the time), but something was missing. I didn’t see how criticism could ever be “constructive.”

— 5 —

I was listening to podcasts while doing my hair this morning, and I think I finally found the missing link to reconciling my dislike for “constructive criticism” with its alleged goal. It’s not just the feeling of destruction; it’s the total lack of construction.

Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List (the podcast I’ve followed the longest) interviewed Jon Kolko about creativity and critique. Jon reiterated the Gottman principle that criticism can only be good when it focuses on someone’s work or actions instead of their character, but he also pointed out that, when giving a critique, you should offer advice for construction. That’s it! Don’t just tell someone what’s wrong with their work; tell them how to improve it. Then your criticism is constructive.

I think I get it now. And it works with work as well as in relationships.

— 6 —

For Independence Day, I went to visit a family I’ve befriended and a bunch of their friends. It was a little strange to walk into a house full of strangers, but how else will they become friends? We played some trivia games, the garlic butter green beans I’d brought seemed to be well received, and I got to watch some neighborhood fireworks.

Louisville is the first city I’ve lived in where fireworks are legal. We viewers stayed way back, I was only afraid for my hair a little bit (long hair and fire do not mix), and I was only a little distracted by the sight of continuing fireworks lighting up the night as I drove home.

— 7 —

The garlic butter green beans recipe I used was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever followed. It was more complicated than just tossing some frozen cut green beans in the microwave, but they also tasted better. I might remember this one the next time I’m cooking for other people and want an easy side dish that’s as homemade and tasty as the entree.


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Currently: July 2018

Currently at Lindsay Loves

Two months in a row! I’m not making any promises for the future, but it does feel great to be back in this space, even if it’s just for a little while.

Here’s what I am currently…

Celebrating: A few things, which is a lovely change! I have learned enough rumba that I felt confident about jumping in to assist my dance teacher when his usual partner was absent. St. Maria Goretti’s feast day is coming up on Friday, so I’ve been working on that novena. I finished my Goodreads challenge in just over six months.

Visiting: Many new friends. I’ve been making the most of my summer freedom by going out to meet people as much as I can. It’s much harder to get out during the school year, but I’m determined not to let school take over my life. I also visited a new-to-me branch of the Louisville Free Public Library for a Brat Pack movies event over the weekend.

Baking: A ton of casseroles. There’s no specific reason. I take advantage of weekends and other non-school days to cook dinner (which gives me leftovers for school nights). Summer is full of non-school days, and it turns out that more of my favorite meals to cook are casseroles than I realized. I am profligate with cheese, and so far my stomach and bakeware don’t mind.

Wearing: Lots of workout clothes. I’ve been taking a lot of dance classes. I had a gift certificate, I have the time, and I will otherwise sit around the house all day. Dance is my only exercise, and I really do enjoy it more when I have cute (and, let’s be real, sweat-wicking) outfits to wear. Maybe that’s superficial, but it works!

Loving: HQ Trivia, getting more sleep, and enjoying the slower speed of summer. I’ve been ramping things up a little to prepare for August, but I also have to enjoy my time while I have it.

Recapping: June

  • I celebrated my GTD anniversary.
  • I got a new job. Still teaching, still sixth through eighth grade, new Catholic school.
  • I learned to dance rumba and took private lessons in West Coast Swing.
  • I watched all of Freaks and Geeks.
  • I started playing HQ Trivia, and then I won!

So what’s new with you? What are you celebrating currently?


Currently is hosted on the first Wednesday of each month by Anne of In Residence. This month’s guest co-host is Shelly of The Queen In Between. Won’t you join us?

Sunday Style: A Firework

Guys: I finally figured out why my full-length photos are so much darker than usual. A light bulb burned out! The overhead light in my room (where I take my photos) has four bulbs, so it’s still pretty bright even with only three. I didn’t notice the burnt-out one until Sunday. I do have an affinity for bright light, and I can be unobservant sometimes, but I didn’t think I was that dim. (Pun absolutely intended.)

Sunday Style for July 1

Dress and shirt: Old Navy
Sandals: Target
Necklace: holy medals
Hair clip: random accessories store at an outlet mall

My friend Katie once told me that this dress looks like it has firecrackers on it, so it seemed timely for the week of Independence Day. I went to Mass earlier than usual for a brunch afterwards, so I wore my hair up and decided to toss in the hair clip. I can’t decide if I’m getting too old for flowers in my hair. Is there an age limit for that?

At Mass, Fr. L focused on the behavior of the woman with hemorrhages. (I managed to scribble the correct spelling in my journal, like a boss.) Most of the crowd probably brushed up against Jesus, but only she received healing. Previous homilies I’ve heard have focused on Jesus’ insight at that moment. Imagine singling out one person who touched you in a whole mosh pit of people. Only supernatural knowledge would make that possible.

But Fr. L’s point was that the woman herself approached Jesus in a different way than all the other random people in the crowd. She believed she would be healed just by touching him. She believed that he wanted to heal her, even just by his touch in a busy throng. Despite being pushed on all sides by the others in the crowd, she moved towards her goal and received the healing she knew she could have. She knew, because she had faith, that Jesus could and would heal her.

We, too, approach Jesus each time we move forward to receive the Eucharist. Are we observant enough to realize what’s happening as we make that tiny journey among a crowd of others? We touch God even more intimately than the woman with hemorrhages; do we believe that he can heal us? Are we bold enough to ask for what we want and to believe that we can receive it from his touch?

I’m sad to say that I wasn’t thinking about any of that when the Communion procession actually started, but that is because I can’t focus. The homily itself was clutch, and my journal helped me to remember the lesson now even if it didn’t sink in immediately. My memory is awful, but paper never forgets. Maybe, as with my Confirmation, those graces will be stored up for later.


This posted is linked up for Modest Monday at The Modest Mom Blog. Visit Caroline and say hello!

7 Quick Takes on HQ Trivia, Multi-tasking, and Talking Apps

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Winner!

I won HQ trivia! Not only did I win, I won it twice, and the first time, I didn’t even use an extra life!

If you missed the buzz late last year, HQ Trivia is a live, app-based trivia game. What makes it unique (besides being live and in an app) is that you have to get each question right to keep playing, and if you get all the questions right, you split the prize money with everyone else who got all the questions right. Thus, if the prize is $5000, and 5000 people get all the questions right, each person gets $1. But that, dear readers, is more than zero dollars, and for me, that’s what makes HQ fun.

I only started playing a few weeks ago, when my beloved Jeopardy! had a category called “HQ Trivia.” I took that as a sign and Alex’s blessing.

I had never won until, last Monday, the usual 3 p.m., twelve-question weekday game changed to an 8 p.m., eight-question game. In that game, I finally won… and so did 90,000 other people. Yes, that’s ninety thousand. For my victory, I received twelve cents.

You won, lndsyloves! $0.12 Congratulations!

Why were there so many winners? My guess is that the show’s question-writers and producers didn’t perfect how to balance the easy and hard questions (they start out ridiculously easy to weed out bots), so they wound up with way more winners than usual. They fixed that problem by Tuesday.

I finally figured out the (totally legit) trick to getting a free extra life without a referral on Tuesday, and then I won the 12-question game on Wednesday night, so I got another 99 cents.

I will probably use my winnings to buy a Dollar Tree lint roller. They are great quality for the price.

— 2 —

On Saturday night, I went to an event hosted by my local library. They showed The Breakfast Club and followed it up with a discussion by the author of a book about 80’s teen movies (Brat Pack America) and by John Hughes’s son, James. It was not as enriching as I’d hoped, but I appreciated the opportuty to get out of the house, see a new area of Louisville, and watch a great movie.

After I accidentally re-watched High School Musical 3 last week (it wasn’t very good either time), I needed a better movie to cleanse my palate. That did the trick.

— 3 —

One particular day during this past school year, the wi-fi was spotty, so I tried to load a page in Chrome while my computer wasn’t detecting any Internet at all. I got the default “no connection” page and accidentally pressed the space bar instead of my usual Ctrl+W keystrokes to close the tab.

Imagine my shock when I started playing a side-scrolling video game! I’d seen my students playing that game before, but I’d had no idea how they got to it. (Middle schoolers are smarter than we think.)

I only played it for a minute before I reset my Internet connection, but it was fun to stumble across an Easter egg the old-fashioned way for once.

— 4 —

I use Duolingo to practice and refresh my Spanish vocabulary and grammar. It uses computer-generated sentences, though, so some of them get a little ridiculous. I appreciated this video dramatizing some of the most ludicrous sentences Duo comes up with.

— 5 —

I completely lost my voice for five days last November. Maybe I’ll blog that story one day, but for now, I just want to recommend the app that I found to be an absolute life-saver. It’s called Talk for Me, and it’s designed for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Since I could hear just fine despite being unable to make a sound, I just needed something better than scribbled notes on a piece of paper. It was just the right thing, and it was free!

— 6 —

On about the third day of my lost voice, I started trying to consider emergency plans. I haven’t called 911 in a while, but I have done it before. If I’d suddenly needed to, how could I call for help without a voice? You can’t text emergency services; I checked.

Really, my only recourse would have been to call and leave the line open, hoping the dispatcher would approximate my location and send someone to check around. Once I found Talk for Me, I could have tried to use that, but even finding the app in the first place took a little while. I would have been left to fend for myself in an actual emergency. I couldn’t even yell for someone within earshot!

The only solution we really have for people who are permanently deaf or hard of hearing are those ancient alert buttons for the elderly or literally going to find a hearing person to call 911 for you. That doesn’t seem right.

— 7 —

Multi-tasking is a myth. The best currency in the 21st century is focus. I recently found a video to show all my haters. Seriously, try it, and see if it doesn’t change your mind about multi-tasking forever.


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

The One Tool That Makes GTD Work for Me: My Done Journal

Today is my fourth GTD anniversary! I started using GTD (by taking baby steps) all those years ago. It changed my life. I mean that sincerely.

In celebration of that anniversary, I’d like to share the one tool that has made my use of GTD (Getting Things Done) about more than just following the rules. I have one tool that makes the system come together for me in a way that the official parts of the methodology just don’t.

It’s my Done Journal.

What is a Done Journal?

I got the idea from Josh Medeski. The concept is buried in a post that is otherwise about why he gave up bullet journaling:

I created a Done Journal, writing down the day’s accomplishments and meaningful events. It was fun being able to flip though pages and remember the past, but I stopped the done journal after a couple months because it sucked up time and energy I thought could be better spent on my digital journal.

I’ve been blogging for over 15 years, so suffice it to say that I love having memories of the past. Josh didn’t give any details of the format for his Done Journal, but it sounded like a fantastic concept and name. I adopted it and made it my own.

Why I Keep My Done Journal

In Step 4 of the GTD process (Review), creator David Allen recommends looking back at your calendar from the previous week and looking forward a week or two. The goal is to identify any incomplete actions from the previous week and to spot any new Next Actions associated with upcoming events. When I was using Wunderlist to do my Weekly Review, I used that principle to delete the completed tasks from my account.

The part with all the deleting was initially just about Wunderlist‘s features and flaws. By default, the search feature includes completed tasks. That drove me crazy! The only solution was to delete all of my completed tasks. Can’t search them if they’re not there. And that is what I did for the three years I used Wunderlist. (I switched to Todoist last year, which searches completed tasks only when you specifically ask it to.)

So I deleted my completed tasks every week, but that made me sad. I worked hard to complete those tasks! I wanted some credit!

Enter the Done Journal. I keep it as a simple Google Doc, so it’s accessible in all the same places as my task manager (Todoist). It has been an amazing tool for reflection, review, and simply inspiring a sense of progress.

Computer keyboard, hand on mouse, and a coffee mug.

How I Use My Done Journal

I write an entry in my Done Journal each week, after I clear out my inboxes (digital and physical). The process goes like this:

  1. I open my Completed Tasks spreadsheet. Todoist compiles completed tasks automatically, but I find the interface too cluttered. I don’t need to see that many pictures of my own face! Instead, I use an IFTTT applet to create a Google Sheets file of each completed task with its date and project.
  2. I open my Done Journal, add today’s date, and start my two weekly lists. The first list is my top 3 completed tasks for the week. The second list is the top 3 things I’m thankful for from the past week.
  3. I review the past week on my calendar. This usually gives me at least one “thankful” item.
  4. I scroll through the Completed Tasks sheet, reviewing each row, remembering what I did and identifying items for my lists. I type them right in as they qualify.

That’s it! When I finish my lists of three items each, I close my Done Journal and add a “Weekly Review” line to my Completed Tasks spreadsheet so that I know where to start reviewing the next time.

My Monthly Review

At the end of each month, I do a Monthly Review. That’s not part of GTD either, but it’s critical for me. I review the past month’s worth of weekly entries in my Done Journal and write a paragraph-style summary of where I am in my life right now and what I anticipate for the next month.

Then I keep going. I started my Done Journal on March 10, 2015, and I have made an entry for every Weekly Review and Monthly Review since then. I’ve missed a few weeks, so I give myself more than three items per list when that happens, but I always use it to review what I’ve done. Sometimes I feel accomplished. Sometimes I struggle to pick out tasks that don’t seem tiny or “thankful” things that feel significant. But I always do it.


Do you use GTD? Have you found a tool that makes GTD “click” for you that isn’t officially part of the methodology? One blog post helped me so much—your comment could do the same for someone else!

Sunday Style: What’s in a Name?

Nope, nothing about roses here. Just a big focus on names in the homily I heard this week. First, here’s what I wore.

Sunday Style for June 24

Dress: Target
Shell: Old Navy
Shoes: Target
Necklace: souvenir from Belize

This is a pretty standard summer dress. I bought it on a bit of a whim, but I like it a lot.

Back when I was living in my apartment in Austin, I had to walk my rent to the leasing office in person. (Someone was apparently stealing checks from the drop box, so the management nailed it shut and just inconvenienced everyone forever. I moved.) One month, I walked over on a Sunday afternoon to give my check to a staff member. She was wearing this exact dress in black, but without the shell underneath. As she pulled at the midpoint of hers, visibly uncomfortable, she commented that mine was much more modest.

That’s the goal. It’s amazing what a little layering can do.

At church, Deacon K focused heavily on John the Baptist, which was appropriate considering that we were celebrating his birth. I can’t remember the last time it fell on a Sunday; I don’t think I knew that his nativity feast takes precedence over an ordinary Sunday.

As the deacon said, we generally only give names to people to whom we are very close. Parents naming children is the obvious example, but also consider nicknames. You don’t nickname a stranger—unless you have the feeling that you’re going to be good friends upon meeting. I guess that happens sometimes.

He also shared that the contentious-at-the-time name “John” means something like “God is gracious” or “God gives grace.” Thus, John’s prophetic message was that God would be bringing the gift of salvation to his people very soon. That was why it was such a big deal that John’s name wasn’t Zechariah. We got no comment about how confusing it would have been to have two Zechariahs around. Did it work like today, with some ancient Israelite form of “junior”? I don’t know.

What did you learn in church this week? Have you ever run into someone wearing the same outfit?


This posted is linked up for Modest Monday at The Modest Mom Blog. Visit Caroline and say hello!

7 Quick Takes on Makeup, Freaks, and Prayer

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

I have been using Mary Kay powder foundation for a few years now, and until today, I always suffered when I was almost out of product. I was stuck tapping forever on the container to try to get the last bits of powder to sift through. It’s not a cheap product, and I paid for all of it, so I want to put all of it on my face. Reasonable, right?

It didn’t occur to me to Google my problem until this morning. Thanks to YouTube, I now have easy access to that pesky last bit of powder. I just removed the sifter! (Note that I didn’t actually need pliers as shown at the end of this video; I just kept pulling gently with the tweezers until the sifter popped out.)

— 2 —

That was good news; here’s some bad news. Although I have attended more than a few Masses that include a couple’s renewing their weddings vows, that’s not technically a thing. As Fr. McNamara, liturgy Q&A columnist for Zenit, explains, the couple can receive a special blessing, or they can express their intent to renew their commitment, but the vows are only exchanged once. The vows make the sacrament what it is, and you can never redo a sacrament. The couple should be celebrated and encouraged. And who doesn’t love a blessing? But the vows are technically not renewable.

— 3 —

I just finished watching my way through the cult classic TV show Freaks and Geeks. I liked it! It suffered part of the curse Firefly by getting a terrible time slot, but I think it also aired at the wrong point in TV history.

It’s amusing to see F&G described as the anti-Dawson’s Creek since Busy Phillips moved on to that exact show. I kind of enjoyed that the story wasn’t full of wins for the characters. (I also recently saw Rogue One, so I might just be in the mood for stories with messy endings.) I also appreciated the way they moved through different characters’ point of views without the sheer weight of an ensemble show. Maybe that was unintentional, but it worked.

— 4 —

In my quest to read as much about Freaks and Geeks as possible, I discovered that there is a precedent for Marshall’s amazing short list of songs on How I Met Your Mother. Jason Segel apparently learned to play guitar in order to write a terrible, wondeful song “by” his character for another. I was delighted to dig up such a gem.

— 5 —

I was sad to read an article from Aleteia about the role men play in getting women the medical care they (often obviously) need. Sad, but not surprised. I can think of examples from my actual life when I have taken a man along somewhere simply to be present and to advocate for me. Seriously, all I needed them to say was, “Listen to her.” The article reminded me of one of the last few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, when Bailey was having serious heart trouble and wasn’t believed despite being a doctor and the chief of surgery of a large hospital. She was a woman, and everyone knows that women exaggerate. Except when we don’t. Like any human.

— 6 —

If you’ve ever struggled over whether to pray grace when appetizers arrive, whether soup counts as a meal, or what to do when the Mexican restaurant hits you with chips and salsa when you’ve barely sat down, I found the answers for you!

(Yes, I know it’s a joke. Just go with it.)

— 7 —

This is the story of my life.

I just want to read books and ignore all my adult problems.


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