40 For 40 Progress Report 7/12

7 months down, 5 to go. This month I only added two more finished goals, bringing my total up to 18, still less than half.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes life happy and worthwhile. Is this little project doing that? Am I living more deeply, more consciously, more in tune with who I want to be, or am I just jumping through hoops, creating an illusion of satisfaction?

I once pondered this in my journal, wondering if all that time spent chronicling my life might be better spent out doing other stuff, but in the years since then, I’ve found that looking back over that journal feels wonderful. I expect the same will hold true here–in another decade, I’ll look back on this project and enjoy these experiences just as much if not more than I do now.

Speaking of a decade from now, I already want to spend the year that I’m 50 going back and re-reading my 50 favorite books. Looking forward to it!

Here’s what little I finished in May:

Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days. I didn’t try to eat better or anything, I just wanted to record my reality, though I did obviously try to “be especially good” sometimes, and failed pretty spectacularly. Here are my notes. What did I learn from this? I get more protein than I thought, but much of that may not exactly be the best kind of protein. Also, some days I don’t eat very much, because I’m really busy, and it doesn’t seem to bother me much; on the flip side, it is super easy to eat way too much–over 3000 calories–largely due to fast food meals. I guess I’ve learned how important it is to avoid too many of those.

No social media for 40 straight days. This was surprisingly easy, maybe because I just went even deeper into news aggregators like Instapundit during these 40 days, but this was a great illustration for me of just how ephemeral social media is. It really does suck up time and distort reality, but it also obviously has legitimate good uses, when done in moderation. Moderation may be the big buzz word for habits like this that I need to reign in. Also, I missed Twitter more than I missed Facebook. Hmmm.

Why didn’t more get done this month? I could say the end of the school year is busy at work, which is true, but I don’t think that’s why. I think I’m running out of steam for some of this–maybe some of what’s left are lower-priority goals, anyway. With summer here, I have much more time to devote to these projects, so I’ll try to punch out a bunch more soon, and hopefully make some more enjoyable memories in the process.

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40 For 40 Progress Report 6/12

And my year of being 40 is now halfway over. In the last month, I’ve finished four more goals, bringing my total to 16. Here they are, with some comments, an update on all the goals not done yet, and an overall thought about this project so far.

Study 40 General Conference talks: I just finished studying last October’s conference (which had 35 talks) right before the one a month ago, and annotated five more talks as soon as they were on the Gospel Library app. These last three conferences have all been increasingly legendary. Do we take them for granted because there’s just so much awesomeness so often? Maybe so. I know I do.

Talk to 40 people about the Book of Mormon: I always knew this wouldn’t be one-on-one, but to a group. I’ve been trying to set up a live debate since late December, but the guy who said he’d do it must be too busy–I’ll email him again. However, a few weeks ago, a critic of the LDS church asked to interview me on YouTube, and I think it turned out really well. It has over 100 views, so I’m counting that for this.

Listen to 40 great albums from my teenage years: I need to update my posting about this, but it’s been a ton of fun. I want to keep going, because there are so many more than forty I want to hear again! But I need to do my other music goals first.

No soda for 40 days: today is day 40. This was by far the hardest thing so far. Going without Netflix was easy, and I’m about four weeks into no social media–which is also surprisingly easy–but I must be addicted to soda pretty hard. It took me three tries this year, and I only finished because I let myself have a Slurpee every week or so. Still, I’ve gained a new appreciation for lemonade, and I don’t really crave soda like I did, so I want to keep going without this one. But I’ll still have a Slurpee sometimes.

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Adventures in Indexing

I spent some time this morning indexing some marriage records from 1882, and I noticed something funny in the lines shown here.

The top half is the marriage of John Dwyer (1) and Eliza Horan (4). John’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (2) and Ann Young (3). Eliza’s parents are Thomas Horan (5) and Mary McGrath (6).

But then, on the bottom half, we see the marriage of Michael Horan (11) and Mary A. Dwyer (12). Yes, they seem to be the siblings of the couple above. However, Michael’s parents are given here as Thomas Horan (5) and ANN YOUNG (3). And then Mary’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (12) and MARY McGRATH (6).

Whoever recorded this list seems to have switched the fathers’ wives by accident. I mean, either that or there was some crazy 19th century partying going on. But then some of the newly wedded couples would be half siblings already, so that’s much worse than a simple clerical error.

At any rate, I wonder if this was a double wedding–both weddings happened on April 17th (7) and were performed by the same reverend (9). I’m guessing the weddings recorded in this register happened in the order they’re written, which means that John married Eliza and then Eliza’s big brother Michael immediately married his brand new sister-in-law Mary. Notice that, in a delightful family arrangement, Michael was the witness at John’s wedding and John was the witness at Michael’s (8).

Another cute detail: under each groom’s name is his occupation. John Dwyer was an engineer (10), and Michael Horan was a “saloon keeper” (13), which seems like a pretty stereotypical job considering that he was born in Ireland (14).

1882

 

Eleven More New Places To Eat

One of my goals for my year of being 40 is to eat at 40 new places, and I’m up to 17. Four of the first Mexican places I went are reviewed here. Here are the most recent eleven:

 

7. La Casita De Doña Machi, 1/18. I saw this on the drive from work to my son’s basketball game, and stopped in. I loved the atmosphere right away–the TV was tuned to a Spanish language news station. I had a burrito, which was so different from the fast food I’m used to–not nearly as mushy and juicy. Though that made it seem a bit dry to me, it was tasty, and washed down well with some hot sauce and soda. Very nice place–would definitely go again.

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8. New China Cuisine, 1/26. One of a few Asian places near my house that I’ve never gone to. It doesn’t look like much from outside, near the edge of a middlebrow strip mall, but on the inside the atmosphere wraps you up and draws you in. I took my wife there on a date night–she likes Chinese food even more than I do. The waitress had solid suggestions for us–I tried some excellent sweet and sour shrimp. The appetizer was egg drop soup, which I love and haven’t had for years. It made me find some recipes online and try to make it at home–alas, not nearly as good as theirs.

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9. Tacos El Gordo, 2/1. This came recommended from an old colleague, and I’m seriously grateful. The counter setup inside is a bit odd, but the food is sweet and solid. It’s like an In-N-Out Burger for genuine Tijuana tacos. Almost as good as the tacos was a creamy orange soda called Bang! Totally have to go back again soon.

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10. El Nopal Mexican Grill, 2/3. Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 5/12

Today ends my 5th month of being 40. I finished 5 more goals this month, bringing my total to 12:

Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes: I did this by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Holy cow, not a dud in the bunch! So many great moments I’d forgotten about. Maybe the biggest surprise was “Whacking Day,” a Schwartzwelder masterpiece that was even better than I’s remembered: the snake story is really a small part of it–this episode has the awesome Alien parody at the start, just after the bullies are locked up and forgotten until the episode’s final joke. Genius. I’m also surprised at just how many different great writers worked on those seasons, though the biggest writer surprise was noticing that Conan O’Brien wrote “New Kid on the Block.” I never knew that.

Write in my journal 40 times: I recently finished a biography of Henry B. Eyring, a book which was helped along greatly by the fact that he was apparently an inveterate journal-keeper in his middle years, when he was my age. Inspiring. I really enjoy this habit, and tend to be bemused/motivated/flabbergasted by reviewing old entries. I’ve tried to inculcate this habit in my children as well. Still, it’s a tough habit for me to keep: I’ve written more in that journal since my birthday than in the last few years combined.

No Netflix for 40 straight days: Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 4/12

I just finished my fourth month of being 40–that’s 33% of the way through the year now–and I finished three more goals this month, bringing my total from 4 to 7. The three I just did were: Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover in 40 days, Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, and Read Calvin and Hobbes every day for 40 days.

I already wrote about my Book of Mormon reading. Since then, I’ve been reading it in Portuguese, listening here and following along with dual-language text here. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is “E aconteceu.” Book of Mormon readers can probably guess what that means.

I’ve made efforts to make purely random, positive parent phone calls a few times in recent years, but never anywhere near this many. I simply praised the student for some quality, and thanked the parent for the great job they’re doing. Some folks were befuddled, most were sweetly touched, a few cried. Often, the student was grateful to be recognized and rewarded in any way, though some clearly thought it was odd to be complimented like this. I tried to focus on those who don’t always get as much attention in school as they deserve. Even after forty, there are plenty more who need and deserve some extra positive feedback. So…

I’ve loved Calvin and Hobbes since the first collection I got in 7th grade. In fact, that book, Weirdos From Another Planet, might actually be the oldest book I still have from my childhood. Not only has it aged well, I appreciate it more now than ever. Obviously, it’s full of social commentary, but there are satirical aspects that younger me couldn’t appreciate. This was by far the easiest goal I’ve checked off so far!

I’m actively in the middle of eleven other goals right now, many I hope to have done by next month. I was trying to give up soda for 40 days, a second attempt this year, but only lasted 15 days. That was still better than the other time–11 days. I was inspired by Lent, so I feel extra bad for failing. But I’m also in the middle of a Lenten Netflix fast, and that’s going surprisingly well!

There are also eleven goals where I’ve made very little to no progress at all yet…

 

Friday At the Park

The sun sits low off to the side,
Sliding in sideways:
A perfect light for reading.

Only when I focus do I notice the birds,
Invisible infinities in the distance,
Their overlapping music a hum
So loud it becomes a dull roar we don’t notice:
A drumroll at the horizon.

Three little girls squat at the edge of the pond
Throwing old grapes to the ducks.
The girls stare at the patterns of rippled water
Spreading out behind the ducks,
And squeal in surprise when long wings suddenly appear
And flutter at the sides of geese.

40 For 40 Progress Report 3/12

Yesterday marked the end of the third month of being 40–that puts me 25% of the way through the year. Ideally, for the things I want to do 40 times, I should have ten by now. Here’s where I stand on my goals:

  • The big item first: I only finished one more item in the last month–40 straight days of sit ups–bringing my grand total of completed goals up to big fat whopping…four. My abs are pretty strong now–I can do 40 (coincidence) crunches in a set with no resistance on my feet.
  • I wanted to check off the “40 push ups in one set” goal this month, but I tested myself twice in the last couple of weeks, and I can only do 30.
  • Today was day 34 of reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days. It’s a pretty amazing experience. More on that next week, after I finish.
  • I’ve done 15 days of temple or family history work.
  • I also wanted to be able to check off the 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, but reaching people is harder than it sounds–I’m only up to 16.
  • This is day 12 of tracking what I eat–I need to do better with recording calories and protein, though, but I’ve never stuck with this kind of resolution this long. It’s sobering.
  • This is day 8 of no soda. Man, I love Dr. Pepper.
  • I’m starting to wonder when I’ll even try 40 days of no social media or no Netflix. Not sure if I even can. How sad.
  • I’ve changed the “run ten miles 40 times” goal–which was far too ambitious to be realistic–to the much more sensible “run a 10k 40 times.” I’ve only done 4 of those since my last birthday, though, so I’m still way behind. I’ll try to add a 5th later today.
  • I’ve only relaxed in the bathtub eight times. Two behind schedule! I’ll add a 9th to that later today, after my 10k run :)
  • Twenty bike rides so far…but only 4 if I don’t count the ones at UNLV…
  • If I want to learn 40 Portuguese words a month, I’m already over that goal! According to Duolingo, I know over 600 words. Still, I’m not checking off this goal–I need consistent practice over time–the real goal is to become fluent. I’m averaging every other day for practice since December, but I need to step that up.
  • I’ve finished 12 books since my birthday, just slightly ahead of the goal.
  • Not sure why I specified “symphonies” in the list of goals, but any classical music will do. Actually, I’ve decided to do nothing but Haydn this year, and it’s been great. I recently heard his Piano Concerto in D major, and it was fantastic!
  • 12 albums from my youth listened to again, but only 4 new jazz and blues albums. Hmm.
  • I’ve eaten at nine new places so far. Mostly really great!
  • Last week I sent out 12 cards for Sunshine Snail Mail. I’ll do 5-10 more this month.
  • I’ve decided that my Simpsons goal will be achieved by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Glorious!
  • This is day 15 of reading Calvin and Hobbes again. It seriously does get better as I get older!
  • Ten great movies with the kids so far, including a few Marvel movies, a nature documentary, a history documentary, and two black and white classics.
  • I’m finding it hard not say anything negative for long at all. Sarcasm comes much too naturally to me. I’ve had to start that one over three times already :(
  • I’m over halfway through 40 journal entries, but barely started any poetry. Not sure my heart’s really in that last one. Maybe it’ll end up being mostly limericks and haiku. We’ll see.
  • Last month, there were 17 goals that I hadn’t started yet at all. Now there are only nine!
  • This project would have been much easier when I was ten.

 

4 Great New Places For Mexican Food

One of my goals for the year I’m 40 is to eat at 40 new places. I’ve done six so far, and the last four have all been Mexican places, because I love me some Mexican food.

1. Taqueria El Buen Pastor

I pass this truck on the commute to work all the time, but never stopped by until recently. I grabbed a couple of cheap tacos–two for under five bucks–and loved them! Service was fast and friendly, place was clean, and the tacos were excellent! They even have a full condiment bar on the side. Highly recommended!

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2. Rivas Mexican Grill

I went to the one on Aliante and 215–great place! I tried a fish taco here for the first time, and was surprised at how much I liked it. Plenty more of these in my future. Highly recommended!

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3. Frijoles and Frescas

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40 For 40 Progress Report 2/12

A couple of days ago I finished my 2nd month of being 40. Of the 40 goals I have set for this year, I have successfully completed…three. There would be a fourth–doing sit-ups–but my consistency was spotty, and I decided to start over.

It’s frustrating to see such a big list with so little apparent progress, but in my notes I see that most of my goals have some work done. Last month, I had done something for fewer than half the goals. Now, there are only 17 that I haven’t started.

The biggest problem for me before was the one about Portuguese vocabulary–how exactly to do that and track it? I decided to use Duolingo at least every other day, and if I keep that up, that’ll count. Three weeks into that so far. Parabens! 

My biggest worry now is the one about running ten-milers 40 times. Seems a bit ambitious. I ran a solid 10k this week, but while that’s good, that’s still zero to check off for the goal. Can I really get better and do 40 of those in under 10 months now?

Note that #29–about service–has changed. The wording before was too ambiguous; I needed something simple and specific, so I could be sure of achieving it. I plan on doing 40 letters for Sunshine Snail Mail for this now.

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Quiet Biking at Night

Last summer I bought an old van with enough space in the back for my bike, which I started taking with me to work this semester, so I could ride it across the UNLV campus on the days I teacher there. It has saved me a lot of the rushing and running I’ve had to do from parking to classroom for over a dozen years, but even better, it has allowed me to simply spend more time on my bike.

One of my favorite things about the fall semester is the atmosphere on that beautiful campus on any November night–most everyone else has already gone home by the time my evening classes get out, and the trip back out to my car was always very quiet, cool, and pleasant. Now, getting to do that on a bike, it’s even better.

One night last month, I did that ride while listening to the soft, luminous Lou Reed track, “Revien Cherie.” Bikes rides have rarely been sweeter.

Speaking of, I spent one afternoon in October riding my bike home across town from my day job, listening to the live stream of Celtic music from Thistle Radio. That was also an enjoyable time, and a little memory worth having.

Life is really good.

C.H. Spurgeon, Rachel Peden, Katrina Kenison, and Me

bassThis is the story of an invisible community, where one voice at a time leads us to connect with others, in a chain back in time.

It starts with Katrina Kenison, who edited the annual Best American Short Stories series in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I love the essays she’d write as a foreword to each volume–usually loving little slices of the literate life, crisp and juicy together. For example, consider the paragraph from her essay in the 2001 volume, below. Isn’t it perfect?

Actually, her very best such essay was the one that started off the 2004 volume. I’ve used that essay a number of times with students, as a model of style and form–it seamlessly weaves a meditation on books with an illustrative anecdote, written in a way that creates comfort while it also demands engagement and action. I don’t have a copy handy just now, so I can’t provide a quote, nor is it anywhere online that I can find, but this book–along with all the volumes she edited–is worth tracking down just for her essays alone.

(She’s written other books, but I wish she’d compile one just collecting all these essays. What a treat that would be!)

 

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In the 2004 edition essay, however, Kenison mentions several older books that she’d found in a used book shop that was about to close. She tosses off titles with brief reveries about the contents–tiny taglines meant to offer whisps of joy found between those covers–and I’ve long wanted to find some of them myself.

This year I finally did. One in particular stood out to me, Rachel Peden’s Speak to the Earth. As I recall, Kenison called Peden “a naturalist of the first order.” Sounded good to me.

No library in southern Nevada had a copy, so I used the interlibrary loan program available at the university where I work part time to borrow a copy from whomever had one to share. Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 1/12

I’m a month into being 40 now. I set 40 goals for this year for fun and self-improvement–the list is at the end of these notes on my progress so far:

  • I’m finding that for the ones that say “do such and such 40 times this year,” I need to average 3-4 times per month, and most of those are still at zero. I’ll make a weekly list for those to keep me on better track. I’ve also had to decide what counts and what doesn’t–eating at a new location of an established franchise I’ve been to before for #28? (No.) Riding my bike across the UNLV campus at work for #19? (Yes.)
  • I started with some that I felt were easy and/or foundational–today is day 32 of morning and evening prayers, and drinking 40 oz. of water. The prayers have helped me be more serious and self-reflective…and more critical of how I pray. I missed one night of prayer around that halfway point–not sure how to handle that. The water has been really easy and very rewarding–I have less soda and junk food just from trying to drink more water; I find that I crave even more than 40 oz. now.
  • Today is day 12 of doing sit ups–I realized that I didn’t want to just do these goals in isolated rounds; it would be better if they overlapped at irregular intervals. I’ll start another new one this week, as the first round starts wrapping up soon.
  • The biggest failure so far is the one about learning 40 new Portuguese words a month–I did nothing at all with that last month. Well, time to start and do better now.
  • Other items I’ve made some progress on so far: 2, 5, 6, 18, 19, 23, 24, 28, 30, 35, 36, 39, and 40. It was a great month, but life always has so much more to offer!

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“The little warm concrete faith in my hand”

Two hands on sunsut.

Overwhelmed by all
but underwhelmed by myself.

How do stress and wonder blend so cleanly
inside the same small minutes
every single day?

It’s enough force to crack the soul
like continental plates, grinding like my teeth.

So I go courting the Spirit
trying to make the magic moments
that already are:
the paradox of conscious effort.

But maybe that conflict is good,
to highlight the steady solids by contrast,
because in a corner of this epic drama
I feel the little warm concrete faith in my hand.