Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Morning Haiku

Pregnant women prove
The old adage: Emotions
Make you cry sometimes.

Last Night an IPhone Saved My Life

As crazy as it sounds, I am not the most organized person you will meet. I know, from a superficial look, it seems like I have it all together, but the truth is that it takes a team of people and a staggering amount of technology to keep me on track. (Ironically, it is usually the technology that is distracting me anyway, in the form of video games or Internet articles or blogs or video games, but more on that another time.) However, in the last three months or so, since I joined the millions of mindless drones that make up the IPhone continuum, I have discovered that the very device that has become so distracting and fun can also be the device that marshals my time and energy and turns me into a organizational powerhouse. So, in order to help those who follow me, I'd like to discuss the five most useful apps in my IPhone.

1) Todo by Appigo, Inc. This simple yet perfect task list organizer looks just like the Dayplanners and agendas of the past, which looked the way they did for so long because people could figure it out. I tried several of the other apps that promise better, more intuitive experiences, but found them to be neither better, nor intuitive. If I can't figure out how to add a task or change it in less than five minutes, it's too complicated, and that was exactly my experience with some of the competitors. Todo works just like I expect it to, every time, and now only allows me to prioritize and postpone tasks, but even lets me create projects made of individual tasks and checklists of tasks, as opposed to simple calendared items. On top of that, it syncs across IOS devices and the website application, so you can update it anywhere you are. These days, every time I get an assignment, think of something I need to get done, or tell someone I'm going to do something, I just record it and prioritize it in Todo, and it generally gets done.

2) 30/30 by Binary Hammer This app has really streamlined the way I sit down and get to work. Gone are the days of promising myself just five or ten minutes to clear my head by playing a game online or reading some interesting articles, only to casually glance at the clock to find an hour has passed with no real work done at all. Basically, this app is a really fancy timer, one that allows you to stack tasks and assign time limits to each. Then, once you start the first timer, all off the tasks on the list start counting down, according to the time you allotted for each one. So, after the ten minute break, the alarm goes off, and it's time to start grading papers. After thirty minutes of grading papers, another alarm tells me it's time to go downstairs and make copies. This goes on through my scheduled planning time, and really keeps me on task. You can even add time to a task if you need to, or skip to the next one if you finish early. One unexpected bonus I've found in the product is its effect on other people. Usually what wastes my time most when I'm trying to get things done is the pressing urgency of other people's problems. There is something authoritative and magical about having a buzzer go off right in the middle of someone's long, unnecessary explanation about something that doesn't really impact me very much. I can just pull my phone out and say, "Oops, I'd love to finish this, but my phone is telling me it's time to send that email out to my third period class. You understand, of course." Probably they do not truly understand, but dare not question the all-knowing SkyNet in my phone.

3) MyFitnessPal by MyFitnessPal LLC This one doesn't help me stay organized at work, but it does help me stay organized in my diet and exercise. In fact, the reason this app is so helpful to me is because I refuse to diet, in the traditional sense. See, I used to be fat, very fat, obese even, and that's by my own loose standards. I was fit until 21, got married, had kids, and gained about a hundred pounds. At 28, I got serious about losing the weight, and by 35 I was in better shape than at 21. But dieting never working, only lifestyle changes. So now when I feel the pudge creeping up on me, I just tighten up on my caloric intake instead of reaching for some ridiculous fad diet book. And it works every time. What this app does for me is very basic - it lets me record every single thing I eat that day and subtract it from a predetermined caloric goal. When I'm trying to lose weight, the goal is to be under 1500 calories per day. Whatever food item I enter into the day's record, the app knows not only the calories, but also the nutritional value, so I can track my fat, protein, and carb intake as well. Many experts say that simply recording what you eat each day helps you to lose weight, and I definitely agree. There is an extra incentive to avoid that ice cream sandwich when I know that I will have to either enter it later, or leave it out and lie to HAL about it. It can also record my exercise for the day, and the app shows me my net caloric activity. Every time I want to lose a few pounds, I start using this app religiously, until I reach my goal, and can start slacking off again.

4) Running by Nike This is one app that a lot of people probably already have, but it deserves special mention nonetheless. I used to use the Nike+ add-on for my IPod Nano, but that required the chip to be inserted in the sneaker. The IPhone app works just as well, and even better, because it uses the GPS to track distance and speed when running outside, and the accelerometer to track them on the treadmill. It didn't seem to me at first that it would work well on the treadmill without using the chip to track steps, but it turned out to be surprisingly accurate, especially when the IPhone is worn in an armband instead of held in the hand. The app logs miles run, average speed, tracks goals (on the website), and uses your ITunes library to incorporate music into your run. My favorite feature is its compatibility with FaceBook and other social networks. When I start a run, I can set the app to post to FaceBook, and whenever anyone likes the post or comments on it, I hear the sounds of a cheering crowd while I run. This has become a real motivator for me, and offers an inoffensive, non-douchebag reason for posting my fitness activity to FaceBook, as opposed to the passive-aggressive, 'love me/admire me' posts like, "Just finished running four miles. Feeling wiped out, but dedicated :)"

5) Lift by Lift Worldwide This last app is a new one to me, and while I like it, I'm still getting used to it. Lift helps you create habits by choosing the thing you want to do more, joining or creating a group for it, and then checking in every time you perform that task. Currently, I have four groups that I have joined - '30-60 minutes reading,' 'Pray,' 'Write for thirty minutes,' and 'Write blog post.' When I check in, I am (on my honor) saying that I have completed the task I intended to do, and the app tracks my check-ins and shows my progress in building that habit. The chart lights up green for every day that I check in, and it's a little disheartening to see that graph and percentage drop off the grid, so I try to keep it going. In addition, the newest update allows for pep-talks among people in the same groups, trying to achieve the same habits, so total strangers (and friends, I guess) can spur you on to greatness.

I know how hard it is to find good apps, and how hard it is to get organized, so hopefully these suggestions help. Let me know in the comments if you find them helpful, or if you have any suggestions of your own.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Morning Haiku

Break for end of term.
Don't care about grades or work
Or syllable structure of Medieval Japanese formal poetry.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Purity Rings

I decided to do something special for my daughter for her twelfth birthday. If you've seen the movie Courageous, or read anything about Purity Pledges and the ceremonies involved, then you know what they look like. At the extreme, they are these fancy father/daughter balls that are meant to acknowledge the father's promise to protect his daughter by screening the young men who court her, as well as her promise to save her virginity for marriage. However, at its simplest, as it is portrayed in the movie, it represents an agreement between father and daughter which, frankly, should and probably does tacitly exist in healthy homes anyway. At the very least, most people would agree that a father has the responsibility to be interested in the young men his daughter dates and to warn her when he sees something that causes him concern. There is some controversy about the psychology of the practice, some accusations of patriarchy (and against fathers, no less), alongside some serious questions about its efficacy. It seems as if most of the young people who sign the cards and make these "True Love Waits" vows at fourteen or fifteen go on to break them as soon as they realize that sex feels good.

I'd love to hear some feedback on this issue, but my thoughts are that despite the poor track record of the purity pledges, the record of no pledge and no accountability seems worse. I want to be involved in all aspects of my daughter's life while I still have some influence over her, not just the easy ones. Plus, as my daughter grows rapidly more interested in boys, she happens to live with someone who has not only a great deal of insight into the male psyche, but an intense desire to protect her from its more seedy side. So, I gave my daughter a real gold ring with a cross inscribed in a heart. I talked to her about the beauty of romance and sex, and how much I want good things for her. Then I asked her to let me guide her when it comes to young men and let me meet and approve the boys who want to date her, with complete, above-board honesty.

Then came the ring. And this was the part that bothered me from the beginning. I had the hardest time finding a ring I liked for her, because the vision I had in mind was nowhere to be found on the Christian websites or Christian stores. I wanted something gold, with maybe her birthstone, something classy and expensive enough to be a meaningful sacrifice from me. But all of the purity rings or similar types I found online and in the stores were cheap aluminum rings with cheesy slogans or fake gold rings that looked as if they came out of a Cracker Jack box. I couldn't find a single one with any quality or real intrinsic value. Worst of all, two of the websites even stated specifically that these rings are generally inexpensive because they are for young girls who may be careless and lose them.

So let me get this straight. I'm supposed to have this crucial talk with my daughter, one which is focused on my least favorite subject to talk about with her. In this conversation, I'm supposed to tell her that she has something precious, so valuable and beautiful, that only one who has committed his life to her should have it. Then I tell her that despite temptation and desire, she must protect this thing until that future time, and that I want to partner with her to help her do this. Then, as a symbol of this beautiful alliance, I give her a ten dollar ring and say, "I would have given you something nicer, but I don't trust you with valuable things and I'm pretty sure you'll just LOSE it within a year."

People, what kind of message does this send? I'm not one to be obsessed with expensive things, but it seems as if the way we treat the symbol has a lot to do with the way we treat the thing itself. This is why we get so uptight over flag burnings and why we spend so much on wedding rings. And this is exactly why these purity pledges don't work - they are just too frivolous. Anybody can fill out a card at some rally, influenced by the austere but loving voice of some guest speaker or traveling preacher who will be eight states away when that young man or woman looks you in the eye with such intense love mingled with lust that you forget about Heaven and Hell, much less some "I'm Worth Waiting For" T-shirt in the bottom of your hamper. There are real consequences to premarital sex, and an aluminum ring doesn't quite communicate that. I wanted my daughter to see how serious I am about this commitment, and so I spent some money. And unlike the revival minister, I will be around when the crisis comes, at least within phone range.

And what if she does lose it? (The ring, I mean. Merciful heavens, I meant the ring.) She'll probably feel terrible, and I'll probably be upset. And then I can say this: "Think about how it feels to lose that ring. To lose something so precious to you, so special between you and someone you love, something you can never really get back. Now multiply that by about a hundred." So, even then, the lesson drives home, and I still win.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Morning Haiku

5K in two weeks.
Ice cream each night for five weeks.
Where is my jump rope?

Once Again Back Is the Incredible ...

For those of you that remember the Sleep Deprived Single Father website and all of the hilarious stories and poignant musings on parenthood and work and life, you've probably noticed the sudden laps in blogs. You've probably been wondering what happened to me. Did I join the witness protection program? Did I finally fall asleep and end up in a coma of sleep debt? Did I disappear under a ton of ungraded essays? True, there have been many changes in my life. Distractions have occurred that have kept me off the blog routine and limited my time for writing, but all of them have been wonderful distractions.

It's the same old story.  In July of 2011, I met a beautiful, loving, intelligent, Christian woman and decided to marry. Actually, it didn't happen that quickly, but almost. By September, she had met the kids. By December I had proposed, and we married at the end of March. We made plans, talked about waiting a couple of years to have our own children, about buying a new house to accomodate the growing family, and planned a beautiful honeymoon in the Bahamas. And then a month after the wedding, we found out we were pregnant. Ooooops! So, everything has been great, we get along well, and the kids seem to love her as much as she loves them, which is a lot. It's also great having a woman in the home to handle some of the female issues that I don't want to deal with and my daughter doesn't want to talk to me about.

So this is the story of new beginnings, of a blended family with mixed heritage, of a newlywed couple getting a head start on expanding the family, and all of the successes and failures that come with it all.