Kenya Trip Report

Over Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya.  I recently joined the board for Kenya Matters, and we thought it would be good for me to visit the orphanage in Kenya.  Part of what we do at Kenya Matters is help support the orphanage and the community development that they do.  The other part, is building relationships.  We have, what I think, is a great partnership with the Kenyans who live there. They are the ones who do the day to day work of community development and raising, caring for, and educating these wonderful kids.  We raise awareness, and money… which is important, but I think works well because there is a great relationship between the staff (and kids) in Kenya, and those of us who work to support them from afar.

My trip had some ups and downs.  Overall, it was good to see a new continent and to see first hand the work that is happening.  It is good work!  Ultimately, I believe that our work is providing significant hope to the kids and surrounding community.  Many of these kids were malnourished and behind in school before they came to the orphanage.  We provide them with safe housing, a loving environment, nourishment, and education.  All of that adds up to hope:  Hope to be something they dream of.  Hope to contribute.  Hope to give back to their beautiful country.

The downs….  well, I got sick in Kenya.  Not fun.  Not sure if it was food or water, or something I got on the plane.  Either way, three days in, I was in pretty rough shape.  Rough enough, to head to the local Catholic medical center for an IV and some major antibiotics.  Even after the drugs kicked in, I never really felt well in Kenya.  I was down for about three days, and after that felt much better, just never felt better than maybe 70-75% full health. Despite that, I am still grateful for the trip.  The staff and kids welcomed us as family.  The weather was fantastic.  The surrounding countryside and wildlife was amazing.  Most of all, the work we are doing there is making a difference and bringing hope.

If only… Tiny Houses for families.

Well, our house is still up for sale as we anticipate moving into the city.  The housing market in Grand Rapids has been crazy this year.  Nice, finished homes hit the market and are gone in less than a week.  We’ve made attempts at offers on 3 houses, but with no success.  At this point, we are waiting to sell our house before we make any more offers.  In the meantime, I’ve thought about building.  Well, I’ve thought about building for a long time, but this time I actually considered building.

Problem is…  if I were to build, I would want to find a happy medium between the Tiny House movement (which seems to be a great option for warm climates and up to two people), and a standard house.  We’ve all seen the tiny house links on our Facebook timeline.  Many of them really are amazing, with so much utility in less than 500 square feet.  But they are impractical for a family of 5, especially in a northern climate.

I wish… we could take some of the ingenuity from the Tiny House movement, and make small homes (around 1000 square feet) that could fit a family of 5 or 6.  I would use most of the square footage for living area, and get really creative with lofts and fold down beds for the bedrooms.  You should be able to build it incredibly energy efficient, and certainly less expensive than the more common 2000+ square foot houses being built today.

Unfortunately, I assume that the Tiny House movement gets a different set of building regulations –  because they are on wheels.  I’m guessing that local building code would mostly kill any attempt to really pull this off, or at the very least make it very difficult.

It sure would be cool though…

Good Morning.

Back when this blog was “embrace-refrain”, I attempted to embrace getting up earlier than normal for one month.  If I remember correctly, I didn’t do so well.  I had a few victories, but getting up early on a regular basis has always eluded me, unless I HAVE to be up early.  If I have an appointment, a meeting, or I need to be somewhere; getting up is no problem.  But when it is “voluntary”;  to just get up and get a few extra things done or have some peace and quiet before the day starts… well, I haven’t been so successful at that.

But, what the heck… I might as well try again.  As I get older, I see more and more value in getting up early.  That hasn’t made it happen of course, but since I see an increasing value there, I am going to give it another shot.  I simply don’t have the energy anymore to stay up late and be productive.  It’s not so much that my energy has diminished, I just spend more of it during the day, and I am spent by the time 9pm rolls around.   And, with a family of 5 it is harder and harder to find some peace and quiet during the day.  The only consistent time I have for some extra productivity and some time to be still is in the morning.  It hasn’t always been this way, but life changes…

My previous attempts to voluntarily get up earlier than I need to have typically been an all or nothing approach.  I figured that once I got in the habit of getting up early, I would get used to it and after awhile it would become my normal routine.  So when I tried to do this, I would try for 6am EVERY DAY, or something like that.  The problem is, that I still have things in my life that keep me out and up late on certain days.  I have regular events on Monday and Wednesday that keep me out later than on other weekdays.  I rarely get to bed early on those nights.  The weekend is often time to hang out with friends, watch movies… etc, so I don’t typically even try to go to bed early then.  The simple fact is:  staying up late makes it incredibly difficult to get up early!

So… if I am going to have any success getting up earlier than I need to on a regular basis, I am either going to have to change some of my evening routines, or maybe try a less than all-or-nothing approach.  Since I like my evening routines, I am going to shoot for the latter.  Over the next few weeks, I am aiming to get up early 3 days a week.  I am hoping that I can pull this off on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I am also going to try to get up a little earlier on Tuesday and Saturday, but not drastically.  Sunday… I’m sleeping in.

The goal for me is simple:  I’d like to create space each week for 5-6 hours of work, and 3-4 times of solitude, reading, and quiet (20-30 minutes).  I started this morning by getting up about 40 minutes earlier than normal.  I didn’t get any work done, but I was able to just take my morning much slower and enjoy my breakfast and coffee before the kids got up.  I don’t know if I’d call that solitude, but it was certainly better than rushing around while trying to help get my kids off to school.


Unsettled in the Burbs

burbs8 Years ago, our family of 3 moved to the suburbs of Grand Rapids.  Neither Laura or I had ever really wanted to move here, but at the time it made total sense.  I was working at a church out here as a youth pastor.  With the crazy schedule that I kept, it was smart to be as close as possible.  I had windows of time I could be home even on long days, but with a 30 minute commute I couldn’t make that happen.  When the commute was only 5 minutes, I could jot home just for dinner, lunch, or whatever.  We were expecting our second child, and we wanted to maximize our potential family time.

Fast forward a few years:  we are now a family of 5, and our youngest is in pre-school.  Our two girls are in 4th and 2nd grade, and they fully enjoy school and are doing really well.  I don’t work at a church anymore, but my wife works in the city.  We drive to the city 5-7 times a week, sometimes more.  And…. we miss being in the city.  We are starting to think about moving back.  Actually, we’ve been thinking about this for awhile, but we are now taking steps to actually make it happen.

I have always been a bit unsettled in the suburbs.  I typically have an “I don’t belong” complex (my wife calls it the black-sheep syndrome), but it is stronger than that.  I realize that (generally speaking) the point of the suburbs is relative safety and similarity… but that is what drives me crazy about it.  The safety thing is overblown, and the sameness is absolutely mind-numbing.  I miss the diversity of both culture and experience that you get when living in a city.  We miss out when we close ouselves off from the diverse cultures, experiences, and challenges around us.  Of course, I can go find and be a part of diverse cultures, experiences, and challenges while living in the suburbs.  To some reality we do that.  However, I think one of the main points for living in the burbs is that people don’t want “those things” to encroach on their comfortable lifestyle.  They would much rather engage them on their own terms and I find that very limited.  I love this quote from Shane Claiborne:

I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.

More often than not, this is what the suburbs do to us.  They keep us from getting to know the poor.  Of course, I can ignore the poor just as much in the city, but having lived there before, I can tell you it is much harder when they are physically your neighbors.

So that is part of it for our story.  But I think this quote from Shane might be more appropriate for us:

And I think that’s what our world is desperately in need of – lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about.

My wife works for GRPS (Grand Rapids Public Schools), and she is pretty passionate about helping make that system a better place for children to learn.  She knows a lot of the faces and families who are struggling to make that happen as well.  The rub for us comes when we retreat to the safety and ease of the suburban schools, we then cease to be a fellow struggler.  This, I think is the crux for us…

Even though no one reads this blog, I guess I need to add my qualifying statements here.  Of course, I am not saying the suburbs are bad, or that everyone in them is bad.  Goodness, we have fantastic friends here, some of whom have recently played a huge part in helping us come to grips with some of these things we are wrestling with and encouraging us to act on them.  I know people here that do amazing things for the poor and suffering all over the world.  The point for us is not that the suburbs are bad, but ultimately that we are unsettled here, and for a variety of reasons we are drawn to the city.

Qualifying statement #2:  We are not drawn to the city because we want to or think we can “save” the city. I had just realized someone might think that from what I had written so far, so I want to go out of my way to say the opposite.  Honestly, there is a part of this that is totally selfish.  We feel like our lives will be richer by living in the city, both adults and kids.  We also know there are struggles and hardships that we are passionate about in the city.  The two, of course, are connected.  We will have richer lives when we are engaged in bringing restoration… and we are best suited to do that in the places were God has stirred up passion in us.  For us, it is looking more and more like that place is in Grand Rapids.

Republic Wireless -Review

We have been on Republic Wireless for almost a month now.  Overall, the experience has been fantastic.  I would (and do) recommend them to many of my friends.  The phone itself (Moto X), is really quite nice.  I have never had a smartphone before, but I have owned iPad’s, so I am familiar with iOS.  Android, though not as intuitive, does the job well. If I had the choice I would still choose an iPhone, but at $60+ / Month vs. $10, I’ll take the Moto X.  And to be honest, the Android experiencing is growing on me…

It took awhile for us to get our order, but I knew that would be the case and they did get it out in the window that they promised (1-2 weeks).  Once we got our phones, they worked quite nice right out of the box.  We logged onto our WiFi, and they were rocking and rolling in no time.  The first thing we did was port our old numbers over, and once we filled out the form online, it took about 24 hours.  Since then, we have not looked back and have been enjoying our new service and the savings associated with it.

We have had a few glitches here and there.  Once my wife couldn’t write a text.  It kept kicking her into Chrome as soon as she started texting in Messages.  Another time I got a message while trying to make a call, that my number couldn’t be verified on Sprint PCS.  I restarted my phone and I was fine after that.  We have also had some trouble with MMS, but it appears Republic has recently solved this issue.  The biggest complaint for me is new Spam callers and texts.  I get quite a few Spam calls a day, and I only would get 1 a month or so when I was on Verizon.  I don’t get a ton of spam texts, but have gotten 3-4 since we made the switch.  I am not sure why I am getting these, if Verizon does a better job at blocking them, or what?  It is definitely a nuisance and I am currently looking into apps or other ways to block the spam.

Overall, I love the phone and the service.  I have contacted Support twice via the web, and had my questions resolved very quickly.  At $20 / Month… this is really an amazing deal.  I don’t have data unless I am on Wifi, but I didn’t on Verizon either and it cost $70 / month.

I had always wished that the big phone companies would offer the option of a smartphone, but with only Wifi coverage.  Most of the places I go have WiFi if I need to look something up, and I can live without connectivity the rest of the time.  Of course, I understand why the big phone companies don’t do this….  $$$$$.   In the meantime, I think Republic is going to carve out a really nice niche with their offering.

republic wireless

Republic Wireless

I’ll be moving cell phone carriers some time in the next month.  I ordered 2 Motorola Moto-x’s, and signed up for a Republic Wireless $10 / month plan for each phone.  Yep, that’s right, $10 a month.  Crazy.  Right now, I pay significantly more than that for each of my phones, and I don’t even have a smartphone.  Of course, with the $10 plan, I won’t get any data unless I am on wifi, but I can live with that for awhile.  I’ve never had data anyway.  I figure the savings can pay for the phone first, and then I’ll upgrade to a data plan.

I’ve been on Verizon for a long, long time.  And while their coverage is great, their plans (especially for smart phones) are just ridiculous.  I added up the total cost for 2 years on a smart phone with Verizon, and my thought was… no phone is worth that much $$.   Since most of my digital world is on Apple devices, I would have preferred an iPhone, but in the end, it’s just not worth it.  I also use Google a ton, so my guess is Android won’t be too hard to get used to.

If your in the market for cheaper wireless, I’d suggest you check out Republic.  They use Sprint’s network, which isn’t the best, but I’ll be saving $50 / month compared to what I was spending with Verizon.  They use an interesting system that prioritizes wifi, so I’ll post again with a review once I’ve been using it for awhile.


Switching to Gmail Web-App

I recently made the switch to the Gmail web-app.  I have had a Gmail address (or two) for a long time.  However, I have always used a local application to access my email.  For years, I used the standard mail app that comes with OSX.  Recently, I had switched to Sparrow.  However, after Sparrow was acquired by Google, I knew it was a matter of time before I needed to find something else.  In the last few months, Sparrow was having some glitches that bothered me enough to start looking around and make a switch once again.

I looked for a few weeks, and where I ended surprised even me.  I really don’t like the web interface for Gmail.  But in the end… functionality was what won the day.  The biggest gain for me, was that once I get the Gmail interface set up the way I want it, I can access my email in that EXACT interface from anywhere. First, I forwarded ALL of my emails to my Gmail account, and then I set each email up to send from there as well.  Gmail can automatically respond from the same address that a message was sent to me on… so now I don’t even need to know what address a message comes in on.  If I respond, Gmail responds from the correct address (you do have to select this setting).  Still, I set up labels for each of my emails, just so I can keep track of where conversations are happening.

Over all, it has taken me a few weeks to get things the way I like them.  Now I have my labels and filters set up in a way that works for me, and I am slowly getting accustomed to Gmail shortcuts.  The final step for me, was to clean things up.  I turned to Gmelius for that.  Gmelius allows you to take out adds and clean the interface up a bit (but only in Chrome).  Of course, If I access my Gmail from someone else’s computer, it won’t have the final touches that Gmelius adds. The functionality will be the same, though, and I can live with that.

Now that I am on the flip-side of having made the switch… I can hardly imagine going back to a stand-alone email app.  I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Google (and all super-huge mega companies that are trying to rule the world), but the functionality they offer for email is fantastic for my usage.


Moving things over…

After a bit of work with a new theme, and moving all my content over, it’s time to get started on the new site. I began this blog at  When I started that site, it was for writing and reflecting about a year long project of fasting and embracing new habits.  That year has long since past, and though I still blogged occasionally, I never really kept up after the first year.  I wanted a fresh start, and more generic domain name to post about whatever it is I am thinking about / reading / etc.   So it is.  I wanted to keep all of my content from the previous blog, just in case one of my 10 readers ever wanted to refer back to it!  So here is to a fresh start!

Office View

I was sitting down with my coffee this morning, reading through my RSS feeds. This is a normal morning routine for me, and one of my favorites feeds caught my eye, as usual: Offscreen magazine does a “desktop” series where they feature five inspiring workspaces each week.  They find some amazing, and usually minimal workspaces, many of them with amazing views.  You can check out the series here.  The first workspace picture for today, had a long skinny desk up against a large window with a fantastic view into the woods.  I found myself longing for a view like that.  Then I realized: I already have it.  My primary job is a stay at home dad, where I often go hiking with my son during the day.  Essentially at that point, my office has fantastic views and I get to share them with my son (and sometimes my daughters if they are not in school).  For my secondary job as a web designer / developer… I’d still like to have  a fantastic office someday.  It’s funny though, if I end up with a great view into the woods, I’ll likely be longing to go hiking with my family!