мы идем в Санкт-Петербург

The bags are packed (almost), our visas are in hand, and we’re cleared for take off.

It’s been a while since I posted on here–the last month has been dizzily and beautifully full of family and friends as we completed our coast to coast journey.  In between visits and festivities, Luke and I have been doing our best to learn the language via online tutoring and hours of flashcards.

I’ve been working on a series about Misplacement during this season of transition and displacement from our California home as we wait to find our Russian one.  The last tweaks are almost done (yes, sometimes I actually edit things before I post them) and I’m excited to share these summer musings with you all!

In the meantime, I plan on sharing travel updates and discoveries on this blog.  I don’t want to spam everyone’s Facebook timeline with travel posts so if you’re interested in:

Joining our journey through the written word (and some pictures): follow this blog

Tracking our trek via image: follow me on Instagram

Contacting Luke or I in real time: message me on WhatsApp.

Luke won’t have a smartphone or possibly his current phone number, so your best bet is WhatsApp using my phone number.  I’m assuming you already have it if you’re interested in talking, but if not, put your e-mail in the box below and I’ll send it your way!  This will be the best way to get a hold of us directly, as opposed to messaging on Facebook or Instagram.

Road Trippin’

 

IMG_20170703_184306Because let’s be honest, the end of a 7 day journey gets pretty trippy.  When you start making up your own idioms.  When a McWrap sounds gourmet compared to your daily diet of peanut butter sandwiches.  When you start playing the alphabet game against yourself — and lose.  You see your spouse’s best dance moves and more corn fields in Minnesota than you ever care to see again.

Life with Luke is certainly a grand adventure–full of braving lightening storms in a tent and hiking in hailstorms.  The endless fields of the Great Plains were the perfect canvas for great planners to paint their future dreams.

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And so..The Adventure Begins

6 years ago this month, I was driving my trice-recycled ‘94 teal Chevy Malibu with the windows rolled down from my high school to the Senior Picnic–just days before graduation.  “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer came through the radio waves and it just seemed right.  I was full of optimism and excitement for a fresh chapter.  And what better way to kick off the next adventure than a class-wide picnic with my 700 other classmates?

If I remember correctly, the picnic was lame and I didn’t know where to put myself, like the rest of my high school experience, because some things never change.

I was driving to my last day of work this morning, in my ‘10 Ford Focus that mercifully doesn’t spray water in my face every time it rains like the Malibu did so I’m clearly moving up in the world.  Andy Grammer’s familiar tune came warbling through the FM again and I felt the echoes of that same optimism bubble up.  And then a new Maroon 5 song came on with the same tune they were using 6 years ago. Some things really never do change.

But some things do. I’m more cautious now than I was back then.  I’m not as willing to chase every idea but have learned to patiently wait for my dreams to surface.  I’ve stopped caring about eating lunch at the cool table and although I’m slower to act on new ideas, I’m braver in carrying them out.  During the last 6 years, I pushed to find the limits of how many things I was capable of doing simultaneously and now I’m content to find the few things in life that are worth pursuing deeply.

I’m thankful for nostalgic songs that inspire reflection–even if that includes some awkward high school memories–before starting this next adventure.  Besides learning the Russian language and acquiring a fur hat, one of my biggest goals for our time abroad is to grow in wisdom, character, and flexibility.  Hopefully by the next time I hear Andy Grammer on the radio in June, I can see those fruits in my life.

Until then, just gotta keep my head up.

It All Started With Anna Karenina

I promised some exciting news in my blog post last week so here goes…Luke and I are moving to Russia!  More specifically, to the Saint Petersburg area and even more specifically than that, to Pushkin.

This is old news for some of you and out of the blue for others, so I’ve compiled a list of the frequently asked questions we’ve gotten over the past few months.

Q: Are you crazy?

Maybe.

Q: Why Russia?

Luke spent a summer in Siberia a few years ago and it’s been one of his dreams to go back for a while.  One of the main goals for our time there is language acquisition, for Luke to use for further academic studies.  He’s also excited to gain more teaching experience, another important step for his career trajectory.

Q: What will you be doing there?

Luke has been hired by a language school to be a full-time English teacher.  I also plan to do some teaching on a part-time basis, while also pursuing some dreams and doing more professional development.

Q: Isn’t it cold there?

Yes.

Q: Why now?

Luke is between graduate schools right now and we don’t currently have debts or dependents to tie us down.  After reviewing our 5 and 10 year flow charts (no joke), we realized that if we were ever going to pursue this adventure, there’s no better time than now.

Q: When do you leave?

The first leg of our journey is to get from the West Coast back to the MidWest.  We’ll be leaving SoCal at the end of June and flying for Saint Petersburg in mid-August.

Q: When do you come back?

We don’t have a specific date yet, but the teaching contract is for one year.

I also promised to reveal what our joint anniversary gift was from last week.  You might have guessed it by now…it’s a travel guide to the Saint Petersburg area!  We are so excited to explore our new city–some of our current top sights to see are the Hermitage Museum and the homes/estates of Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy.

Because after all, it did all start with Anna Karenina.

2 for 2

We’re officially clocking in on our second year of marriage today, and I’d give this whole married thing a solid two thumbs up.  So far, we’re 2 for 2 as far as amazing years of marriage go.

After birthdays and Christmas and Valentine’s Day, we both felt like our gift-giving abilities were limited so we’ve made it a tradition (2 years in a row counts as a tradition, right?) to go in on a gift together for our anniversary and pick out something that is edifying to our marriage or brings us closer.

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This year’s gift.  Can you guess what it is? 🙂

I’ll be sharing about the gift we chose this year next week on the blog (some related exciting news coming soon–stay tuned!) but in the meantime, here’s what I’ve learned from last year’s anniversary gift.

His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage

We thought we had read all the marriage books before we got married, but we were wrong.  This one is my favorite because the author isn’t afraid to deal with the reality of a married relationship.

Central to the book is the concept of a “Love Account” that we each have with everyone else in our lives. When we feel loved, a deposit is made in the account. When we feel hurt, a withdrawal is taken out.  For two budget nerds, this double-entry accounting method of describing a relationship had a great appeal but I understand that it sounds a little too mathematical to some.

These Love Accounts explain why you can be in love with our spouse/significant other but still have an affair with someone else.  You can have two love accounts with lots of deposits each with two different people.  As you can tell by the title, the book then describes how to keep withdrawals to a minimum with your spouse and how to avoid making the wrong kind of deposits in someone’s love account who isn’t.  What I really appreciated about this perspective is that it explains why

(A) trust and love can be eroded but recovered

(B) it’s easy to get stuck in a non-stellar relationship (romantic or otherwise) but not be able to let go if the love deposits are just marginally greater than the love withdrawals.

One of the ways we can make deposits in the right love accounts is by enjoying recreational time together. During the chapter on this need for joint leisure, the author frankly states that if you don’t share any favorite activities, you’ll need to do some brainstorming to find mutually enjoyable hobbies and then ditch your favorites to make time.

We hear about sacrifices in marriages in vague terms, but I loved the bluntness of this author’s approach.  Being married might mean giving up your favorite activities.  And that’s okay.

All this to say, read the book.  Whether you’re married, engaged, dating, or not interested, it’s an insightful look at how we love.  It’s encouraged me to not always insist on my way. It’s also inspired me to be more intentional about finding ways to make those deposits into Luke’s love account.

For a $12 book, I’d say that’s a pretty good ROI.

Lead Me Not

I first learned about the wisdom of working out but not over working your self control in Social Entrepreneurship 101.  We were discussing how to facilitate change in a community and the professor referenced a study conducted by Dikla Shmueli and Judith J. Prochaska where smokers were asked to actively resist eating a treat in front of them for 15 minutes.  Every 15 seconds, they had to pick up the plate, smell the treat, and then put it back down without eating it.  For some, that treat came in the form of freshly baked brownies while the other group of smokers had radishes.

After the 15 minutes, the participants were given a 10 minute break.  The results?  Participants who resisted sweets were more likely to smoke during the break (53.2%) than those who resisted vegetables (34.0%).1

So if you’ve got some bad habits to kick, experts recommend that you beat them one at a time.  Giving up sugar, Netflix, and taking up running all in the same week might just pull your self-control muscle, making it too sore to even get you up with your alarm the next morning.

Instead, focus on one goal at a time and eliminate the everyday temptations. Pick a different route to work if yours sends you right by the donut shop.  Put fruit instead of sweets out on the counter.

In 1 Corinthians 10: 13b, we are encouraged by the fact that, “ God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  We can trust Him to give us the strength we need to resist the temptations we inevitably will face.  But when possible, it is wise try to avoid temptations rather than continually facing and fighting them.  Some sins, like pride and anger–are hard to avoid entirely.  When Jesus instructed his disciples (and us) on how to pray in Matthew 6, He didn’t say “help us to resist temptation” but rather “lead us not into temptation.”

But if we’re constantly slapping our own wrists as we reach for the forbidden chocolate that’s hiding in plain sight in the pantry, we’ve destroyed our own defenses.  It’s far easier to snap back at our spouses, respond in anger to our bosses, or lose our patience with the kids when our self-control has been worn down by resisting small temptations all day long.

Research indicates that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting desires. Plus, self-control is used for other things as well, such as controlling thoughts and emotions, regulating task performance and making decisions. So most people use their willpower many times a day, all day.

The good news?  Like our biceps, there are ways to strengthen our self-control and increase endurance for when life hands us marathons of temptation.  Eliminating the temptations and daily annoyances we can avoid is the first step as it reserves our willpower for the things that really matter. After that, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, suggests,  “practice overriding habitual ways of doing things and exerting deliberate control over your actions. Over time, that practice improves self-control.”

Trying to supercharge your self-control workout by making dramatic lifestyle changes in a short period of time will have the same result as starting weight-lifting by benching 200 pounds. You’ll probably hurt yourself and give up entirely. The key here is consistency, not intensity.  That could be as simple as using your left hand to brush your teeth or saving an extra $5 a week!

As we strive to become more like Christ, eliminating the small temptations throughout our days and working out our self-control muscle can help us grow in the virtues of patience, kindness, and selflessness–character traits that could surely use some toning up in my life.

  1. Study cited: Shmueli, D. & Prochaska, J.J. (2009). Resisting tempting foods and smoking behavior: Implications from a self-control theory perspective. Health Psychology, 28(3), 300-306.

RSI of the Thumb

I’ve officially diagnosed myself with thumb RSI (thanks, WebMD).  RSI = repetitive strain injury where fine repetitive movements in the thumb cause tiny tears in the muscles and tendons.  The tendons run out of lubrication as there is insufficient time to rest and recover.

I blame Instagram, but I mostly blame myself for making scrolling on my phone my default posture when I’m not doing anything else.  This post will be brief, because I’m down a digit.

After several days in an existential crisis, I realized that my sore thumb was a symptom of a much larger problem.  Not only am I abusing technology by wasting time on my phone, I am actively seeking those dopamine rushes when a new e-mail, text, or notification comes through.  I’ve silenced all phone notifications and quit Facebook, but that doesn’t help much when you’re checking your phone every 5.8 seconds.

My first solution to this general feeling of emptiness is to find more hobbies.  If I’m looking to my phone for entertainment too much, I should probably pick up oil painting. My husband gently reminded me that I’m already an aspiring baker, fairy gardener, recipe organizer, writer, crafter, reader, runner, and QuickBooks novice, so perhaps my problem was not too much time on my hands but a misplaced hope.

We live most of our days with a vague longing that something will come in the mail one day that will change our lives forever.  It’s not just my phone I’ve been looking to for fulfillment.  I keep hoping my life will provide me with an unexpected excitement that I know I’d despise if it came because the anticipation is greater than the realization.

My thumb needs time to rest and recover from my anxious scrolling and so do I.  Instead of finding another distraction, my goal is to more fully participate in the hobbies, relationships and rituals I already enjoy.

 

The World’s Most Stressful Noise

The most stressful noise in the world is not, in fact, the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, even though I cringed just typing it.  It’s the ding of your e-mail notifications.

According to psychologists, the steady stream of emails filling up your inbox is a “toxic source of stress.”  The best thing you can do to eliminate this stress is to turn off your email notifications.  


The second best thing you can do is commit to an “inbox zero” approach to e-mails.  For some of you, the last sentence was at best laughable and at worst stress-inducing.  Even if we could find a virtual backhoe to dig us out of the bottomless inbox pit, how can we avoid getting buried by tomorrow morning’s mudslide?

Achieving inbox zero can actually save hours each week and is more about the way you view your emails than stressing yourself out with having to maintain a pristine inbox.

Step #1: Repeat “My inbox is not my to-do list” 3x each morning.

Just kidding.  But ditching the habit of using your inbox as your to-do list is the only way to achieve inbox zero plus it has all sorts of cool side effects: (1) empowers you to prioritize tasks (2) ensures you never accidently delete forever that e-mail with super important information ever again (3) breaks you free from the tyranny of the urgent

Step #2: Create 3 folders in your inbox

Name one “Read”, one “Answer”, and one “Hold”.

Step #3: Start implementing the 2 minute rule

When you’re sorting through e-mails, use the 2 minute rule to determine what to do with each e-mail.  If it takes:

  • Less than 2 minutes to read and respond to the e-mail, do that immediately and then delete the e-mail
  • More than 2 minutes to respond to the e-mail, put it in the “answer” folder
  • More than 2 minutes to read the email, put it in the “read” folder
  • More than 2 minutes to retrieve information needed to deal with the e-mail, request that information or add it to your to-do list and then put the email in the “hold” folder

Step #4: Master that right-click to save move

Did you know you can save e-mail files?  If an email has information in it that you’d like to keep, right click and hit “save as” to save it into your file system.  This insures that the information is cozy and safe while leaving your inbox clear.

Step #5: Sort through all other folders using the 2-minute rule and then delete them.  Do the same to your inbox.

Don’t worry, they won’t be gone forever.  See next step.

Step #5: Set up an auto-archive system for your deleted & sent folders

Every e-mail server under “settings” should allow you to set up an archive schedule.  Personally, I prefer archiving items that are over 60 days old.

Step #6: Rinse and repeat

Set up times each day when you’ll be answering your e-mail.  Go through your inbox with the 2-minute rule in Step #3 and then once or twice a day, go through read and answer the emails in your “read”, “answer”, and “hold” folders.

If you feel lost without your inbox as your to-do list, I’d highly one of these to-do list and project management apps that will keep all of your to-dos in one place and keep them from getting buried in your inbox.

But what happens to all those deleted emails?  What if I need to go back and look at one?

Here’s the beauty of achieving inbox zero–you still can!  Remember, your deleted and sent e-mails are getting backed up automatically into your archive folder so they are never more than a few clicks away.  If you need a recently deleted email, simply search for the email in your deleted folder with the name of who sent it and a keyword.  This might sound scary,  but you’re already used to using the same search techniques in your inbox.  Your e-mails are just as safe in your deleted folder, and also wonderfully out of sight and out of mind.

Bonus Tip: It takes almost the same amount of time to unsubscribe as it does to delete an email.  If you’re never going to read those promotional emails, unsubscribe and over time, your daily email sorting will get way easier.
Give yourself grace.  I don’t always finish the day with a crystal clear inbox and neither will you. The journey to inbox zero has changed my perspective towards emails and loosened their chains on my stress levels.

Career Counseling Ministry Expands To Include New Earth Job Training For Ministry Workers

 

DISCLAIMER: The following was written in complete jest.  Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Forward-thinking Elm Lane Church expands Career Coaching and Counseling Ministry to include positions in the afterlife for pastors whose services will no longer be in demand in the new heavens and new earth.

“For us, the expansion into New Earth job training for current pastors who are soon to be unemployed in the afterlife was a natural extension of our current mission and ministry,” said Career Coaching and Counseling Ministry Pastor Tim Brownlee.

The inspiration came from a Career Coaching volunteer after some Scripture typography paraphrasing 2 Peter 3:11 caught her eye on Instagram.  

“It hit me as fast as I could double-tap that inspirational quote.  We’ve been training folks for useful vocations in this earth but this earth might be gone tomorrow.  What about all the pastors and parachurch ministry workers?  What are they going to do in the new earth where there is no brokenness to heal and no community groups to organize?  We need to be preparing them for the new heaven and earth where there services are no longer needed.”

The Career Coaching and Counseling Ministry is now offering the following services for any pastors or ministry workers looking to strengthen their afterlife vocational skill set:

  • Resumes After Revelation: Optimize your CV for Eternal Hireability
  • Everlasting Interview Tips: Top 10 Questions Saint Peter Will Ask
  • LinkedUp: Professional Networking Skills To Land Your Dream Job

A List of List-Making Tools

The first official to-do list I ever made was in January of 2006 at age 12. I broke my day

ToDo List

First Baby To-Do List

into 15 minute increments and dutifully filled each minute with a task or activity. I know this because in addition to be a neurotic list-maker, I am also a neurotic archivist of my own life.  The biographers will have plenty of material.

 

Sometime in college, I realized that scheduling out every minute of my day wasn’t healthy for me and I returned to the traditional to-do list.  Problem was, I kept it on my computer’s sticky note application which liked to spontaneously self-destruct, destroying my beautiful lists.

I’ve spent the last 3 years experimenting with various alternatives for the best to-do list tools out there, here are my top 4 for list-making bliss!

#4: Todoist

Todoist is an app that integrates across all devices, has a super clean interface, and todoistbreaks projects down with sub-tasks. It’s meant for simple to complicated to-do lists and does allow for collaboration, but I wouldn’t suggest it for a major project management.

Pros: simple user interface, unlimited lists, gamifies the to-do list by giving you a productivity score and tracking your productivity streak, creates recurring tasks

Cons: have to purchase premium to access labels and filters, no visualization of a project moving through multiple phases, clunky integration with Gmail

#3 Trello

Trello sets the golden standard for robust and fun project management.  Yes, I said fun. Trello goes way beyond your basic to-do list with Kanban boards that let you drag tasks through a pipeline of progress, which is super satisfying.

trello.PNGPros: free version is robust for all household/freelancing projects, 100s of templates from wedding planning to job searching available, great for collaboration, color-coding, and integrates with everything

Cons: bit of a learning curve, overkill for basic list needs, doesn’t integrate well with calendar apps

#2 Google Keep

googlekeep.pngI use Google Keep for temporarily tracking special expenses, planning upcoming trips, and reminding me to send invoices and reconcile my accounts.  It’s a simple and clean as Todoist and integrates wonderfully with all things Google (of course).  You can create reminders from e-mail and Google automatically adds them to Google Keep.

Pros: create recurring tasks easily, collaborate with others, color-coding and labeling for free, cross-device integration, simple to use, chrome extension to save things from the Internet, integrates well with Google Docs and Google Calendar

Cons: no desktop app, not a robust project management solution

#1 Pen and paper

img_20170111_171153While there’s a lot of great electronic to-do list options out there, I wanted to be able to check out where I was with tasks for the day without opening up my laptop and inevitably end up watching cooking videos for 4 hours on Facebook.

I used sticky note style lists for a while, which are great for daily to-do lists, but not great for longer term planning.  Luke got me a Nomatic planner + journal last year for Christmas and I’m in love.  It makes it easy to create daily repeating tasks and helps break down monthly and weekly goals into day-sized bites.

Pros: non-digital option, satisfaction of physically checking things off, handwritten goals are more likely to be accomplished

Cons: might spill coffee on it, no device compatibility, zero integrations

 

What are your favorite list-making tools?