My Phone is a Phone. (Mostly.)

I have a love/hate relationship with phones. Several years ago, the "shitphone" post on Medium caught my attention and made me start thinking more seriously about A) what I spend my money on, and B) why I did that. This year has been a year of disentangling myself from my phone. I started by deleting all social media. That was easy and didn't feel too painful. I wasn't constantly

Next, I removed Gmail completely. I no longer check email on my phone. There are few instances in life where an email is so urgent it needs a reply while I'm walking somewhere. Those times were better solved with a phone call or text anyways. That was a little more painful because of the instant-reply expectation that comes with email.

The next step was adding an app called Action Dash which reported my usage time daily. I respond to data, so seeing hard numbers about my use helps me meet those goals. Now that I have data, I can start making some more difficult decisions.

After a week, I got my phone usage down to under an hour consistently. Even then most of the use was using Hangouts through the day to keep in touch with my team while I moved around different buildings.

I got thinking about how I use my phone and what I wanted to be using it for. Andy Crouch's The Tech-Wise Family is a big influencer in how I think about technology in general and my phone use specifically. The premise is that a phone has a proper place, just like toys and books. The challenge is that we have to define the proper place in the face of manufacturers and developers trying to define it for us.

My proper place is to focus on communication. Calling and texting (through various apps) is my goal. The phone is a utility, not an entertainer. After entertaining thoughts of moving back to a flip phone, the loss of a calendar in my pocket would be a huge burden to manage because my schedule is so variable. I can't realistically limit my phone to only communication, but I can make some other changes to define its role in my life.

I went on a deletion frenzy. I deleted YouTube and Netflix. I deleted Goodreads. I deleted non-family and non-work related chat apps. Games are gone. I deleted and disabled all of the browsers this week. I deleted everything I could that didn't directly relate to communication as a rule of thumb.

It felt great. It feels great.

My phone isn't completely locked down to communicating, but I'm getting closer to having a very specific and well-defined role for its place in my life. I still have my Kindle and Overdrive books, I still have a podcast manager and an RSS reader. I'm solidly in young-children mode, so my camera gets plenty of use. But each of those consolations has a specific purpose in specific situations.

My phone is here to stay, but now it's on my terms.

Pattern flickr photo by Jonas B shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


We heard the first group long before we could see them. Almost as small as long-distance airliners, the Sandhill crane call is distinct, clear. The kids and I are craning our necks, looking for the group of birds heading north for the summer months.

Stacks, shared via CC-BY on my own site, taken by me.

This week, the girls asked why they were going to bed while it was still light out. The first time this year when it's been light enough to look at books in bed without a flashlight. We look forward to the nights where we can fall asleep and wake up to the light in the windows.

Spring teases us here. Glimpses of green grass and blue skies here and there. Sometimes they're swept under a late snow shower or heavy frost. But we know the sunlight is coming back.




"When will the hummingbirds come back?"

Keeping Watch, CC-BY on my own site. Taken by me.

We practice our bird calls outside. We're all rusty from a winter spent indoors, faintly hoping some winter holdovers will visit our bird feeder in the front yard from time to time. Even if we can see them, we can't hear their songs. Sometimes we practice with an app, but they know it isn't the same as listening outside, picking calls from among the noise.

The flock wheels around, calling to one another. This one is smaller...maybe 30 or 35 individuals. When they're gone, we go back to raking and tending the fire, listening for sounds of the next flock to float down.

Back to School

It's appropriate to write a back to school post nearly a month into the school year.

I took Twitter off my phone back in July in an effort to put my phone down more often. It had become too easy to lazily open and scroll when my interest waned. That bled into time with my kids, and that wasn't cool. I suppose I could have just "worked on my self control," but I'm more of a "pluck your eye out if it causes you to sin" kind of person. Cold turkey it was.

July bled into August which has raced into September. My phone is still Twitterless and I'm feeling more connected to my teachers and schools _here_. The social-edu world had eroded my sense of here-ness...I felt beckoned by people I've never met face to face. My desire to help and engage with the digital friends overrode the drive to get to know people here, now.

By extension, because I was online less, the blog has also cobwebbed up a little bit. I can't write volumes like [Alan]( but I don't want to lose steam here entirely. Finding a balance has been hard. I need to write for me.

The evolving role of coach has pushed me to talk less and listen more. I think that's why I haven't really missed being online. Wanting to write, up until this point, feels like more of a drive to not waste the space than to share insight. Or maybe it's more that sharing insight shouldn't be the driving factor of having space on the Internet. Hubris kills just as quickly as stagnation.

Now that we're back, I'm planning on listening a lot. I'll probably do some processing here, in prose, just because it'll help me work through my own habits and thinking patterns. But I plan on listening more than talking.

Twitter still won't be on my phone.

The Big Dig

Our septic system needed to be upgraded, so we took the hottest weekend of the year (so far) to do it. My wife's dad and brother spent the day with me on Saturday digging large trenches to bury leach chambers. We redid all the plumbing. We plowed a new, larger garden and cut down some nuisance trees.

I've also learned about navigating the permitting stages with the health department. Good news is that I'll never need to do this again.

Septic Field Repair


Reflector thumbnail

I wrote this as a post to a discussion forum for grad school. It seemed fitting to post on the blog as well. It’s a response to a children’s story called ‘The Rag Coat’, in which a poor girl’s coat made of rags tells stories about everyone around her.

I’m not really a journaler; I do blog regularly, but it usually isn’t about life stuff. But, I always have a notebook with me. It’s a habit I picked up from student teaching, mainly for doing quick reflections on lessons I taught or observations of my host teacher. She really helped me establish a habit of reflection that started with pen and paper. Every year since then, I usually go through a full notebook.

A stack of notebooks on a table

They’ve become unofficial journals; memories elucidated by lesson plan ideas, to-do lists, and trip packing lists. I can pinpoint the spot in a notebook from 2013 when we moved back to the United States from South Korea. I’m reminded about recommendation letters I wrote for students who are now out of college (and some with kids of their own!)

There’s the notebook where the writing switches abruptly from a large project brainstorm to HR managers after I lost a job unexpectedly.

There’s a notebook with baby nursery lists as we got ready for each of our daughters.

Writing things down - even little things - has become my norm. It helps me connect with teachers, who see me as the “tech guy,” when they wonder why I still have paper and pen on hand. It bridges gaps caused by fear and apprehension of change.

I’m looking forward to finishing this year’s notes.

Featured image is History flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Every Friday, our local NPR station has a segment called Michiana Chronicles which features essays by area writers. I don’t catch it often, but I happened to be driving today when it came on. It’s titled Mug Storiesand it inspired this post.

I definitely have my own preferred mugs. I usually look for the wide-mouthed blue mug that we got in the Korean equivalent of a dollar store. I bought it because I needed something for coffee in my first teaching position. We were 24, transplanted to the center of Seoul and learning how to build a life together. That was the same year I bought my wife the wide, hand-thrown mug with a violet painted on it from 인사동.

Our overseas mugs aren’t limited to Korean origin. We also have a nice heavy vessel from Austria adorned with Schladminger that my wife obtained while studying overseas during college. We’ve both been to Austria, though separately. I’d be okay going back some day with her.

(This photo is from Bavaria in Germany, but Austria is just past those mountains, so I’m going to count it.)

This is technically from Germany, but Austria is just past those mountains

IMG_3854 flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

We had a smaller mug from Thailand from our trip during Christmas in 2010. It was brown with a white glaze ring around the top and a mosaic-like pattern on the white. It was delicate and made the 7,000 mile trip home fine only to have the handle broken in our dishwasher one afternoon.

The Thailand mug before it broke.

Bottom of the cup. flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Some of our mugs come out more frequently in particular seasons. We were gifted two mugs from a local potter as wedding gifts. We got to go to meet Peter the Potter in his workshop and pick out two hand-thrown pieces. One still survives today, nearly 10 years later (the other developed a hairline crack and it started leaking). We were married in the spring but the burnt orange and earth colors of the glaze make me reach for it more in the fall as we hunker down for the cold winters.

Other mugs don’t come out enough. It’s a reminder that we need to have people in the house…enough to use the mugs that don’t get used regularly. They’re just as good as others, but for one reason or another, they’re relegated to guests only. We ended up hosting Easter dinner this year. Family and friends came over for a meal and all of our mugs were in the dishwasher that night.

Featured image Full House Cafe flickr photo by pheezy shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Adding a Bullet Journal to my Work

I took most of the summer off from writing, but now that school is getting back into swing, it’s time to start thinking out loud again.

Back in May, I wrote about using a new to-do system to stay on top of my work.

Then, Robert Talbert tweeted. Again.

I did a Google search for “bullet journal” and I was down the rabbit hole. After a lot of reading and clicking, I agree with Robert’s initial assessment: most posts are about making your notebook look just right instead of working just right.

I’ve been playing with the bullet journal (you’ll see it called a bujo on most sites…I refuse to use that term) idea for a couple months and I now have a system that works really well for me.

One complaint about the journal is that it cannot possibly hold all the tasks that need to get done day to day, quickly becoming laden with redundancy and non-helpful pages. To mitigate, I use my digital todo list to manage the small tasks (which is actually one of the lessons in Getting Things Done) as a part of the larger project. The todo list helped me with the parts, the bullet journal helped me get the big picture under control.

I wanted something functional, which meant I needed something small. I had some old Field Notes notebooks lying around, which fit perfectly in my back pocket. Bingo.

Each book turns out to be just right for a month’s worth of work. So, each one is labeled with the current month out the front cover. It also provides a nice doodle space during meetings.

Field Notes flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Inside, I break up the first few pages into the month’s calendar and large project logging. After the index, I keep a couple pages for books I read that month, beers I drink, and blog posts to write. There may or may not be a correlation between the number of items on each list at the end of each month. Research is ongoing.

Task and activity logs flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Books, beer, blog flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

My week setup is new to my workflow. Taking a spread and breaking it down into day to day helped me get my mind in order. Large project milestones and appointments tend to take up this space. I’ll take the project milestones and add them to my todo.txt file for completion as I move through the week.

Typical week layout flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The thing I do like about the bullet journal system is that you always have blank pages later in the book. I don’t have to cram everything in between pre-printed week layouts. It’s flexible and it works well for me, especially because my role is expanding this year, with lots of moving parts on a number of projects.

Other pages flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I’m in my third full month of the combination bullet journal/todo.txt list and I haven’t dropped many balls yet, which is good. I feel more prepared day to day, laying out obligations and needs on paper and then adjusting small tasks to make sure those get done.

No frills, no tweeting my immaculate page layouts, no discussion over what type of pen I use. Just a good, efficient, simple system to get stuff done.

Kinsman Soap

This is a cross post from my photo-a-day(ish) blog, the photoyear.

Kinsman soap flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

My family has a heart for the refugee crisis. We’ve researched how we can help Syrians, in particular, fleeing civil war find their way to the United States. Unfortunately, Indiana has some of the most restrictive regulations in place in terms of bringing in or facilitating the arrival of refugees.

Kinsman soap is run by the Preemptive Love Coalition as a way to support refugees who cannot make it somewhere safer. We received gifts of soap made by men and women who haven’t been home in years. This is our small way of helping from a distance.

If you’d like to know more about the organization, check out their website at

2017 Project: Photo Year

Pictures launch stories. I take a lot of photos and like most people, they stay on my phone. I used to use Instagram, but I’m not happy with their terms or use limitations on photos (ever tried to embed an image? It’s a nightmare). Maybe I’m an idealist and this is a funk, but whatever.

I’m posting to Flickr more and more regularly and I decided to make a small project for 2017. I’m going to tag a photo each day that will push it and the description over to a new blog I’m calling The Photoyear. It’ll syndicate that photo (technical stuff below) and turn it into a blog post. You can subscribe via RSS over there if you’d like. Sometimes, I’ll cross post it here, but that will be a place for pictures and their stories for the next year.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Setting up Flickr syndication

I started by writing more descriptive…descriptions…with my photos. That led to the idea of running a blog entirely on photos – content and all. Since I’m already doing that on Flickr, it made sense to try and syndicate it back to a blog of some kind. Alan Levine is the king of all things RSS. Some of his posts led to working solutions.

Recently, Alan posted where to find the Flickr RSS feed for public photos. Instead of grabbing everything I post (often more than one photo per day) I wanted to grab just one. I was going to manage that by adding photos to an album, but you can’t do that anymore (not with an RSS URL, anyways). Sad trombone. So, I stick to tags.

I fired up a subdomain – and installed WordPress and the FeedWordPress plugin to syndicate posts from any RSS feed. Running out of the box, it grabs the tag only from the XML:

The immediate problem is the size of the embedded image. The src attribute is, meaning the medium sized image is embedded, which is tiny. I had to get brave and check out a PHP solution.

In functions.php, I added a new filter (thanks to the suggestion of…you guessed it…Alan) which simply changes the _m.jpg to _b.jpg for a nice, full-width image.

I’m still not totally happy with my PHP solution because each post is going to come with, “a new photo by bennettscience” appended at the top. I tried using a preg_replace function to find the string and remove it (it’s always the same), but I didn’t have any luck. If you have a suggestion, I’d love some help figuring that snippet out.

Anyways, all said and done, you can check out The Photoyear now and then to see what’s up. I’m looking forward to reading back over everything as we move through 2017.

The Remodel

Three years ago, my wife and I bought our first home. I can’t believe I haven’t written more on this before (which is partially true. I mention the remodel, along with some photos in an old post.) Time for a mega update – with pictures!

We rushed during the first summer to get the major work done before Meredith was born, which we were able to do.

We’d found carpenter ants and some serious water damage on the plate for the wall, so the whole thing had to come out and be rebuilt. That was day 1.

Part of the process involved removing a wall from the dining room, which meant a major ceiling repair as well as refinishing hardwood floors after patching in an old exterior door.

The floors were finished the week M was born.

The summer of 2014 was mostly hired out for siding work from tearing the kitchen wall out the previous year. There were some other structural repairs that needed to be done – new soffits, window moulding, a new window put into the living room…things I don’t have photos for. We finally settled on what the kitchen backsplash needed to look like in the spring, and I got those put in during spring break.

The best part about the backsplash is that the tile we chose was on clearance at Lowe’s, and according to their own policy, they’ll price match. So, a tile that was originally $0.90 each only cost us $0.20 at every store. I bought out northern Indiana and southern Michigan. It was awesome.

Now, a year later, we’re finally pushing hard to finish the rest of the kitchen. The fridge and some old floor cabinets we owned from our first place in the states are getting a facelift with custom shelves, a new butcher block countertop, and some floating oak wall shelves. We started the butcher block last week by milling down some oak we bought from a neighbor.

Today, I spent a snowy April morning building the new custom shelves.

This week is the week to get it all finished. In addition to the shelves, I’m going to be milling the face frames from some maple (from the neighbor again) and then putting a wall cabinet over the fridge. Everything will be topped with crown moulding along the ceiling when we’re done.

And who says home projects tend to linger…

All photos in this post are mine shared via Flickr CC-BY-NC