Monthly Archives: August, 2015

7 Quick Takes That Are Actually Quick This Time


— 1 —

My long-term attempt to establish a bedtime has been going much better than usual over the past few weeks. I’m behind on my blog reading, but I found myself at Jen Fulwiler’s rebranded site recently reading an old post about how to survive burnout. (Thanks for the link in your Monday Musings a few weeks ago, Kim; I needed that.) Her first recommendation was to get more sleep. Message heard; life changes begrudgingly made.

— 2 —

I watched a Theology-on-Tap style presentation that Bobby and Jackie Angel gave a few weeks ago in New York City. It’s about a Catholic vision of dating, and it’s worth a watch if you’ve got some time. There are some gems in there. The best was a (parody) Catholic pick-up line dropped by Jackie:

I would say “God bless you,” but clearly, he already has.

— 3 —

My office wi-fi password has been the same since I started working for the company two years ago. It ends in a string of letters. I always thought they were random, or maybe based on someone’s name who is no longer with the company. One of the superintendents came into the office and asked me for the password, and he instantly connected those “random” letters with a phrase that totally makes sense. Never underestimate construction guys, and never overestimate yourself: lesson learned.

— 4 —

After my explanation of how finding the beat is critical to learning to dance and linking to a simple video teaching the same, my dance teacher gave a very quick lesson in doing that exact thing. It happened last week and with such uncanny timing that he might have been reading my blog! (He could be; I guess. It’s public. That’s my name and picture in the sidebar.)

It’s more likely that he just noticed how incredibly off the beat some of us were and knew he needed to fix it ASAP. But what’s life without a tiny bit of feeling like you’re being watched? Being watched in class worked out for me, because my teacher complimented me when I randomly helped him demonstrate the pattern from two weeks ago, and that ultimately led to this milestone:

— 5 —

Grammar news is not terribly frequent, so I don’t post about it here as much as I think about it in my day-to-day. I greatly enjoyed reading Neal Whitman’s essay, read by Grammar Girl on her podcast, about why English words have silent letters. That’s more of a pronunciation, linguistic, and spelling issue than a grammar one, but it’s just as fascinating. My standard explanation is that funky silent letters are found in non-English words that we have “borrowed” into English. We’re never giving them back, but we’ll “borrow” the extra letters just the same. We just won’t pronounce them. So there!

— 6 —

Continuing on my theme of “favorite topics I don’t actually blog about very often,” I stumbled across this amazing sheet of J.K. Rowling’s plot outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix via the Goodreads blog. It’s incredible!

I don’t care much about plotting vs. pantsing. Whatever she did worked out swimmingly. What sticks out to me are two of the column headings. The original poster seems to have missed it, but it looks like Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix were originally reversed! Read the columns. The things that are listed as happening to the “O of P” happen to Dumbledore’s Army in the published novel, and vice versa. I support the switch. I’m less supportive of changing Umbridge’s first name from “Elvira.” That is a much less likeable name than” Dolores.”

— 7 —

In case you missed it, I posted a reflection on some marriage advice for singles to Austin CNM last week. Even if you disagree with his conclusions, there’s some useful food for thought. Single people need marriage advice, too!

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

Booking Through Thursday: Travel


Do you like to read books about far-away places? Travel guides, memoirs? Places you’ve been or places you’ve never been?

Do semi-fictional places count? I read mostly YA fiction and Catholic nonfiction, so most of my books are about this world or very similar ones in the near future. (Gotta love dystopias.) Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are both set in what I like to call parallel worlds: they would be in this world, but something is different, or something has gone terribly wrong. Wizarding Britain is pretty far from Austin, Texas geographically, but it’s not completely foreign in terms of experience.

The only kinds of memoir I read are spiritual memoirs, so they’re less about physical travel and more about interior journeys. Then again, I glanced at the reader’s guide in the back of UnSouled and realized that it takes place all over the U.S. I hadn’t noticed that, but those kids sure do get around.

The most memorable experience I have reading about a real-life place is from Pierced by a Sword. (I’m not a fan of that book’s portrayal of LDS/Mormons, and I’ve heard some disappointing things about Bud Macfarlane Jr. himself, but I did read it.) There are several scenes set at Notre Dame, particularly in the Grotto. I read the book in high school, but I never set foot on campus until right before I started grad school there. Based on the description, I expected the Grotto to be a lot bigger! It is a beautiful place, but once you’ve been to a couple of medieval cathedrals, “big” is a relative term.

For me, reading is less about traveling to new places through the pages and more about journeying through new minds. Literature teaches us what it means to be human; location doesn’t matter.

For more short queries about books and the reading life, visit Booking Through Thursday.

What I Wore Sunday: Birthday Balloons


I didn’t get quite as much done this weekend as I hoped, but I was pleased with what I did accomplish, and I even made it to Mass on time! (Not as early as previous weeks, but any improvement counts.)

What I Wore Sunday, August 23

Dress: Marshall’s
Shoes: Payless
Earrings (barely visible): super old gift
Necklace: holy medals

Yes, those are birthday balloons! My birthday has always fallen at a strange time of year. (It’s always the same day, but you know what I mean.) When I was a kid, it was right at the beginning of the school year. The only friends I could celebrate with were the ones I had from year to year, and when you’re a military brat, there are no constants except Uncle Sam and your immediate family. Now, as an adult, I have to contend with end-of-summer vacations and Labor Day Weekend.

My solution to having an awkwardly-timed birthday is to throw a party well before my actual birth anniversary. For the last two years, I co-hosted with my roommate whose birthday is at the beginning of the month. Mine is at the end, so we threw a party in between. This year, I hosted alone. I have a friend who throws a tea party every year, and she claimed next Saturday (the closest to my actual birthday) ages ago. So this past weekend was my best option, and it was delightful. The balloons were a gift.

That was the long version of explaining why I wore one of my favorite dresses, picked out one of my fanciest pairs of shoes, posed with balloons, and was not as early for Mass as usual. Post-party time is sleeping in time.

I was well-rested before Mass, so I was able to pay attention to Fr. Pastor’s homily. His theme was challenges, specifically those in the first reading and the Gospel. In the Old Testament, Joshua prepares the people to enter the Promised Land by demanding to know who they’re going to serve: the convenient local gods or the less convenient God who has been with them all along, delivering them from slavery and hunger. In the Gospel, Jesus challenges his apostles specifically to stay with him despite the “hard teaching” of his Real Presence in the Eucharist or to walk away from it all.

Fr. Pastor pointed out that people today don’t like to be decisive. We prefer to keep our options open, especially when it comes to marriage. Spouses might not say it, but they speak it with their hearts.

“I’ll live with you for as long as it works out. We’ll get married later. Maybe.”
“I’ll be your wife as long as you make me happy.”
“I’ll be your husband until you lose your looks and I trade you in for a newer model.”
“I’ll leave you if we can’t have kids.”

God’s promises don’t work like that. He promised the people a land of their own, but he didn’t say what challenges they would face along the way. My thoughts took that even further: he didn’t say who exactly would make it to the Promised Land. The original people who walked through the Red Sea never saw the Promised Land; they were so rebellious and whiny that they all died along the way. We never know how God will work things out, but he always does.

I had one spot of disappointment on my heart. We heard the long form of the second reading, the one that makes people uncomfortable. But Fr. Pastor did not mention it at all. I’m grateful that he didn’t dismiss it or explain it away, but that was also a great opportunity for catechesis. So many people probably heard, “wives should be subordinate to their husbands,” thought, “nope, that’s wrong” and walked away without understanding. I hope the Spirit gets into their hearts another way.

For the record, that part doesn’t mean, “wives, be doormats.” But that is a discussion for another day and a brighter mind.

For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Fine Linen and Purple.

Wunderlist and GTD: Projects vs. Areas of Focus

In my “vision of wild success,” as David Allen puts it, this would be just one post in my beautifully organized series on how I use the Getting Things Done methodology (GTD). In reality, I detest long comments on blogs and forums, so I wrote this post just to avoid that. Skip down if you’re just here for the answer.


Here’s some context for everyone else: I have mentioned a few times that I am using GTD to get my life together, with spectacular results. I started drafting a blog post about my GTD conversion in January of this year. My GTD implementation relies heavily on my use of the marvelous app Wunderlist. Since I started using Wunderlist last fall, there have been some huge improvements to the app, and I have refined my GTD implementation and use of Wunderlist, so that drafted post is still not ready to publish. #bloggerproblems

In the meantime, I have been following a support thread for Wunderlist to keep up with others who are using it for GTD. A fellow Wunderlist user asked a great question this week. I think I have a solution, but it took way too many words to explain in that support thread. So I wrote this post and linked to it. Problem(s) solved.

The Question

Jon P. writes:

How do you or anyone here treat projects that aren’t really projects[?] My interpretation of a project is something that can be completed at some point. I tend to have lifelong jobs that require action like “parenting” or “home improvements”. These lifelong jobs all have many smaller projects and actions associated. For instance in my parenting folder I might have “BMX Project with my son”, and one of the actions is to “buy a bike hook for garage to hang the bmx on”, another action might be to “research handlebars”. These projects exist as sub projects under their respective lifelong area. But it seems strange to put “parenting” as a project under “active projects” when really it’s something that’ll never be completed all the time I’m a Dad.

Key Terms

You can take my English classroom away, but I’ll always be a teacher. Definitions first!

A GTD term. A Project consists of two or more individual action items and a defined outcome. The Project is complete if and only if all the action items have been completed and the desired outcome has been reached.
A GTD term. A Project must have a defined outcome, i.e. how you know when the Project is complete. This can be an action item or a description of the situation after the last action is completed. “Publish a book” is the outcome for a Project also called “Publish a book”; there are several steps to take to reach that goal.
A core Wunderlist feature. A list is a group of tasks/items. The number of lists per user is unlimited.
A recent Wunderlist feature. Folders are groups of lists.
Next Action (NA)
A GTD term. A Next Action is a single, physical task you can complete in one sitting to move toward your Project’s desired outcome. If you need to do anything else before you can begin a task, it is not your Next Action. “Search my favorite magazine to find out if they accept submissions” is a Next Action for the “Publish a freelance article” Project.
Weekly Review
Part of the GTD process. The Weekly Review is a once-a-week, comprehensive read-through of everything in your GTD system and anything still in your head.

My Answer

“Projects that aren’t really projects” sound exactly like Areas of Focus (AoF). “Parenting” is a quintessential AoF.

Here’s how I set up Projects vs. AoF in Wunderlist:

I have a list called “Projects” that contains all of my defined outcomes, starting with action verbs. Projects, per GTD, can be completed: “Purge closet,” “Go see the musical,” and so on.

I have a separate folder called “Project Plans” that contains one list per Project. I sync this by hand with the”Projects list during my Weekly Review. Each list in Project Plans corresponds to one of the items in the Projects list and contains Next Actions, future action items, and reference URLs for that Project. These lists substitute for the files that GTD recommends keeping for Project Support Materials. I just don’t have many paper or electronic items for my projects.

I have another folder called “Areas of Focus” that has one list per AoF: Friends & Family, Household, Health, Dance, etc. These lists contain Next Actions related to each AoF, such as “Go grocery shopping” and “Watch this YouTube video on West Coast Swing anchors.” No Projects are included in these AoF lists.

Here’s an example of how I decide what goes where:

I go see the outdoor summer musical in my town every year. I organize a group of friends to go with me. I don’t stop associating with my friends after the musical (not if I do it right!), but I only go see the musical once. “Go to the musical” is a Project. That goes on my Projects list. All the actions to make that happen (Pick a date, Invite people, Send reminder texts, etc.) go on the list called “Musical” in my Project Plans folder. Friends is an AoF, so it’s a totally separate list in my AoF folder. “Go to the musical” is not on my Friends list.

There’s currently no link between my Projects and the AoF’s they fall under, but that’s okay for me, for now. I could use tags for that, but I don’t. Resolving that disconnect is an item in my Personal Growth AoF!

I also don’t have a solution to scrolling through all your lists when you are organizing tasks on mobile. I usually use desktop for that! Click & drag is easy.


“Parenting” is not a Project at all. It’s an Area of Focus. Organize your Projects and Areas of Focus separately.

As you can see, GTD has helped me do things as simple as remembering what YouTube videos I want to watch and things as complex as making sure I get to see the Zilker musical with friends before it closes. Implementing GTD has truly changed my life for the better. I’ll post more soon.

Marriage Advice for Singles: Scott Stanley on How to Lower Your Risk of Divorce

In case you were wondering, I am still not married. Thus, I still keep my eyes and ears open for marriage advice to tuck away for later (thanks, secret Pinterest boards!) and for advice on how to become unsingled. That’s like a conscious uncoupling, but in the other direction.

Not all of the advice I gather is specifically religious. As many popes and Catholic scientists have reminded us, the Church is not opposed to science. Even Pope Francis studied chemistry. In the “soft” sciences, I’ve always been fascinated by research done in psychology and sociology, although I have no desire to enter the field myself. I seek to understand humanity on an empirical level as well as a spiritual one.

I’m learning plenty about building strong spiritual foundations for a lifelong marriage. Unfortunately, investigative data into what makes a marriage last until death (i.e. not end in divorce) is hard to come by. As University of Denver researcher Dr. Scott Stanley points out, in addition to the problem of all the subjects outliving the researchers, by the time anyone gets the results, the generation they apply to will already be dead or divorced. That’s actually the goal, in a backwards sort of way: in order to see whether a specific group of marriages end in death/widowhood or divorce, you have to wait until almost everyone dies. When you finally have results, they apply to a generation that is mostly dead. Thus, the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistic literally does not apply to people marrying today. But it’s not zero, and that’s not good. So, scientifically, what can we do to aim for the best camp, the marriages that last for a lifetime?

Looking at the brighter side, Stanley offers a list of advice for singles about how to lower the risk of divorce. That’s right up my alley. He summarizes the conclusions from research, his own and others’, regarding factors for risk of divorce. Compared to reading all the studies yourself, his articles are a piece of cake.

Advice for lowering your risk of divorce that is a piece of cake. Wedding cake. See what I did there?

Wedding cake. See what I did there?
(Photo by Victoria Watkin-Jones. CC BY-NC-ND.)

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

What I Wore Sunday: My Old Friend


Somehow, I managed to be running early for most of the day. That was a good feeling. It led to my realizing that I hadn’t worn this dress yet since last summer, so it was a win on many counts.

What I Wore Sunday, August 16

Dress: Converse
Shoes: Famous Footwear
Necklace: gift

Among the benefits of taking selfies every Sunday is that I can confirm that I don’t actually wear the same thing to church every week, even when it feels like I do. According to my camera roll, I have not worn this dress yet since it got warm. I’m not 100% sure how that happened, but it made picking today’s outfit much easier than usual.

I lectored again this evening. I checked the ministry scheduling program, and we are on a really short rotation for the 5 p.m. Mass. If you happen to live in my area and like lectoring, we would love to have you. On a barely related note, I spotted frequent reader Dan C. from my prime position at the ambo. Had I not been lectoring, I would have been sitting in that very same pew. Mass seat twinsies!

Fr. Associate Pastor gave a delightful homily. I’d imagine it must be a great opportunity when they get this month every three years to hammer the Eucharist into our heads, yet it must also be challenging to preach on the same topic for so many weeks in a row. Today was heavily directed toward the actual eating and drinking part of receiving the Eucharist, as opposed to last week’s earthly bread vs. heavenly bread spiel. As Fr. Associate pointed out, people ask how often they have to go to Mass, but no one asks how often they have to eat a meal. We eat as often as we can find time and money. He even encouraged us to work toward attending Mass and receiving Communion every day! Nice plug, Father.

Continuing the recent streak, he told a fairly funny joke. It was toward the end, so that softened the blow. Fr. Associate is from India, however, so when I miss a word because I haven’t mentally adjusted the pronunciation, some of the wordplay gets lost. The joke was about a half-pound (the British pound, the currency) and a penny who were friends and went their separate ways but agreed to meet up and share stories later. When they reunite, the half-pound says it was exchanged for many valuable goods and gifts. The penny saw mostly slot machines, newspapers, and debt payments, but it never missed Mass. The problem was that I heard “half-cow” at the beginning of the joke. It wasn’t until the punch line that I realized the real word. A dollar would have made more sense than a half-pound. Then again, who pays debts with pennies? I will trade my student loans for those debts any day.

What have you been hearing about the Bread of Life this month?

For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Fine Linen and Purple.

7 Quick Takes on How to Find the Beat and How Not to Miss the Company Meeting


— 1 —

I wrote last week’s takes long before I published them, so I wasn’t able to include my most recent dance intro because it hadn’t happened yet. I took a friend to Newcomer Night several months ago to learn a sprinkling of Foxtrot and Jitterbug. Last week, I took a different friend to refresh my Salsa and learn a sprinkling of Bachata.

She got there a little late, so I had to leap right into the Bachata lesson. By listening, I was able to pick up that all I’d missed were discussions of walking steps versus triple steps. NBD. It was relatively easy to reprogram my brain for Bachata since that started by moving side-to-side (whereas West Coast Swing and Two-Step move mainly backwards and forwards).

— 2 —

I also learned that I should stop taking beginning Salsa lessons. I think that was my fourth overall. I have a total of three moves, but I am a pro at those three moves! If I get some extra cash, I might dip into Salsa 1 at my studio. It meets right before my regular West Coast Swing class. Maybe that’s not a coincidence.

— 3 —

My company has a quarterly, off-site, all-hands meeting. They are scheduled at the beginning of the company year in February, but our COO usually sends a reminder email about two weeks in advance. You know the kind: “Be there. If you think you can talk your way out of it, you have one week to do so.”

This time, we did not get that reminder. If I hadn’t overheard one of my project managers talking to my old boss about it in the hallway, I would have forgotten completely—and I don’t think I would have been the only one. It worked out in the end, but I have little doubt that if I hadn’t been cubicle eavesdropping, I would have been sitting at my desk, happily typing away, when people started leaving for the meeting.

The moral of the story: always look ahead on your calendar.

— 4 —

I’ve been learning to dance West Coast Swing for a few months now, but (of course) I can only dance it with someone who can lead it. In the course of my Internet research (you are not surprised that I do research), I found a video showing probably the easiest dance on planet Earth that is not the middle school sway.

See? Even if you think you can’t dance, you can probably learn to do that, especially to something with a strong, thumping bass. DJ Snake songs are some of my favorites to dance WCS to, actually. The beat drops, and all is well.

— 5 —

The creator/author of the previous video, James Joseph, also has one on how to find and count sets of 8. I used to play instruments, so that’s second nature for me. I have actually physically stumbled when someone starts on 2 or 6 because I can feel in my body how unnatural that is.

James Joseph makes a point I have yet to see anywhere else: all dance teachers expect you to know how to find and count beats of music, but none of them teach you how to find and count beats of music. In their defense, they’re not music teachers. Yet you must know how to find 1 if you’re ever going to learn to lead a dance to music. When your teacher kicks you out of the nest and says, “Here’s some music; start on your own,” you must fly!

If you know me in real life, I can help you learn this. I have rhythm and a teaching degree (in English, but it’s more broadly applicable than that).

— 6 —

Dennis, Nell, Edna, Leon, Nedra, Anita, Rolf, Nora, Alice, Carol, Leo, Jane, Reed, Dena, Dale, Basil, Rae, Penny, Lana, Dave, Denny, Lena, Ida, Bernadette, Ben, Ray, Lila, Nina, Jo, Ira, Mara, Sara, Mario, Jan, Ina, Lily, Arne, Bette, Dan, Reba, Diane, Lynn, Ed, Eva, Dana, Lynne, Pearl, Isabel, Ada, Ned, Dee, Rena, Joel, Lora, Cecil, Aaron, Flora, Tina, Arden, Noel, and Ellen sinned.

That is a palindrome. Mind. Blown. Courtesy of Grammarly.

— 7 —

I was so excited about this last week that I forgot to blog it: the relics of St. Maria Goretti are coming to the U.S. this fall. She is my absolute favorite saint. I pray her novena every summer. Her relics have never been brought to the U.S. before, and one of the cities she will visit is just a few hours away from me: Houston.

I don’t really believe in coincidences, but I do believe in small miracles. I just happened to be living in the perfect region to fairly easily see Pope Benedict when he visited the U.S. I won’t be able to see Pope Francis in Philly, but not taking the time and money to do that will enable me to take the time and money to do this.

Really, what more could I ask for?

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

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