How to Read More Books This Year

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I’ll admit, I underestimated the number of books I would read last year. With a full-time job and other things going on, I figured I’d be lucky if I read a book or two a month. Instead, I read forty-eight, which averages to roughly one book per American work week. One of those forty-eight was Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which can double as a doorstop (or dumbbell).

I’ve never resolved to read more books in a year. I just resolve to keep reading a little bit every day that I can. Last year, I learned a few things that, for me, improved my reading and maximized my time spent turning pages. If you have a goal to read more books this year, try these techniques out and see if they help you.

Set a Goal for the Year

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I started this year by reviewing the books I read last year and when I read them. I’ve said it before, I’m no statistician, but I do like me some data. I keep a spreadsheet in which I record all the books I’ve read and when I completed them. When I complete a book, I jot down my thoughts about it, including whether I would read it again someday.

In this spreadsheet, I also make a list of the books I’d like to read in the current year. I list them out and give them a reading order, which is like a reading priority. For example, this year one of my reading priorities is to re-read Tolkien’s works, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Another is to read more of Craig Johnson’s Longmire mysteries.

If you want to read more books this year, the first thing you need to do is list out some of the books you want to read. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list, but you should at least get something down on paper (or screen) that you can hold yourself to. As you do this, ask yourself, “Which books do I absolutely want to read this year?” Those books should come first, so number them accordingly.

In my spreadsheet, The Hobbit is currently number one, followed by Johnson’s Death Without Company and then some other books interleaved with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As I read, I’ll cross books off the list and move on to the next ones. I give myself enough flexibility to re-order the list if I change my mind on what I want to read, but I rarely move something from the very bottom up to the top.

Break Down Your Year-Long Goal

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One problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they’re so big. Another problem is that they’re often too generic. “I resolve to lose a lot of weight this year” is no good because it sounds too lofty and doesn’t have a measurable goal: What’s considered “a lot”? Ten pounds? Twenty? Fifty?

To combat this, regardless of goal or resolution, give a goal a measurable value and break it down into several smaller, manageable, achievable goals. In the weight-loss example, “I resolve to lose fifty pounds this year” would be a good resolution, and then “I resolve to lose four pounds per month” and perhaps even “I resolve to lose one pound per week.”

Books are a little different. Not all books are the same length. Some are harder to read than others. People have different preferences and attention spans, making a book that’s a breeze for one person to read a chore for someone else.

My solution to this is to set a daily reading goal. For some people, this may be ten pages per day. For others, it may be twenty, or thirty, or even fifty.

Think about how many books you could read if you read just ten pages per day. If you read three-hundred days out of the year, that’s three-thousand pages read in a year, which I estimate to be about ten books a year. If you read twenty pages per day, that’s six-thousand pages read in a year—twenty books.

If you give yourself a daily reading goal and carve out the time to achieve it, you’ll realize two things: One, you’ll be surprised when that pile of books to read starts shrinking; two, you’ll often read more than your daily goal, propelling yourself further down your reading list.

Vary Goals Depending on the Book

I alluded to this above because I think it’s important to remember that not all books are created equal, and therefore cannot all be read the same way. It’s going to take a lot more time to read a chemistry textbook than it is an Agatha Christie mystery.

One of the first things I do when I pick up a book is count the number of chapters or pages. If the book has a table of contents, I’ll examine the average chapter length and try to knock one or two out per day depending on the page count for each. If the book doesn’t have a table of contents, I’ll flip to the last page (without spoiling the ending!) and get the final page count. With that information, I’ll set myself a daily goal for reading that specific book.

For example, last year I read Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace for the first time. I learned two things before I even started the book: First, Tolstoy breaks the big book into smaller books; second, the whole book has 365 chapters. It was a perfect goal-setting book because I realized that I could read the whole thing in one year if I only dedicated ten minutes a day to one chapter. (You should too!)

I usually start a book with a goal in mind and, based on how quickly or slowly I can move through the text, modify my goal based on that. If it takes me fifteen minutes to read just five pages, then I’m probably not going to adhere to a ten-page-per-day rule. On the other hand, if I find that I’m breezing through the book and that I’ve covered fifty pages in thirty minutes, then I’ll probably aim to read more than just ten pages.

Read More Than One Book at a Time

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This sounds counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that it works really well for me, and others have reported the same. Reading more than one book at a time allows you to flip between books based on where you are at any particular moment, how you feel at any particular time, how much time you have to read, and any number of other factors.

I used to be a one-book-at-a-time guy and found that sometimes I just didn’t want to read the book I was working on, even if it was a really good book. I wanted to read, but wasn’t in the mood for that particular book. That’s a perfect reason to have two or three books going on at the same time: If you don’t feel like reading one, but you want to meet your daily goal, grab another!

The key to doing this is to make sure that no book gets left behind. If I were to put down The Hobbit in favor of finishing Death Without Company, I would make sure I finished (or at least made good progress on) The Hobbit before I picked up another book.

This strategy also works well because it allows you to check easy reads off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment while still working through some of the more erudite or obtuse ones. Reading should be fun, not a chore! If it’s not fun, try reading something else for a bit!

Don’t Be Afraid to Quit a Book

I know this appears to contrast what I just wrote about not leaving a book behind, but if you pick up a book and you’re just not getting into it, don’t be afraid to put it down for good and move on to something else. As I just mentioned, reading should be fun, and if you’re not enjoying it, you need to change what you’re doing so that you can.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t quit too many books. I like to think I have a pretty good sense of whether I’ll like a book before I even pick it up. (I judge a book by both covers!) James Joyce once said, “Life is too short to read a bad book,” and I take those words to heart.

The last book I remember quitting was The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. In a German literature class in college, we had just finished reading Goethe’s play Faust and our stand-in Professorin raved about how great The Master and Margarita was because it was so similar to Faust and took the story to a deeper level (or something like that). I bought the novel out of curiosity and worked my way through several chapters before thinking, “What the heck am I reading?” I put Bulgakov’s book on the shelf and there it sits today. I may give it another go this year, but if I can’t enjoy it enough to finish it, I’ll sell it and move on to something else.

You must do the same thing whenever you’re reading for pleasure. Just because a book comes highly-recommended doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy it, or even that it’s worth reading in the first place. If someone asks you what you thought about it, you can at least tell them, “I started it, but it just wasn’t working for me, so I stopped.” There’s no shame in that.

How to Maximize Your Reading Time

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With any goal that anyone sets out to achieve, there is always the issue of time. “I don’t have enough time to exercise!” or “I just don’t have any time to read!” are common excuses for not moving towards a goal.

The thing about time is that we’re all blessed with the same amount of time each day. Rich or poor, wise or foolish, God gives us all the same number of minutes that we must spend. Sadly, many of us squander our time on frivolous things and then look back on the day (or month, or year) with regret that we didn’t spend our time more wisely.

I could write a whole essay on time (maybe I will, so stay tuned!), but suffice it to say that you do have the time to read, but more than likely you’ll need to sacrifice something else in order to get it. This is the economic principle of opportunity cost, or “the next best alternative.”

If you have to make the choice between spending fifteen minutes on Facebook or fifteen minutes in a real book, the opportunity cost is what you lose by choosing one over the other. (And to quote the great Neil Peart, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Remember that!) If you choose Facebook, the opportunity cost might be ten pages. If you choose the real book, the opportunity cost might be missing your friend’s engagement pictures (like I did… oops!).

While I certainly think that fifteen minutes spent reading pages is better than fifteen minutes spent reading statuses, you have to set your own priorities and determine for yourself how you’re going to manage your time if you want to meet your reading goals. You have to be somewhat ruthless: Find the little bits of extra time in nooks and crannies, store them up, and guard them like a mother bear guards her cubs! If you have a few minutes during your lunch break to read, find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed and escape into your book! If you have a half hour to yourself before your spouse or child gets home, seize it!

Environment also plays a role into your reading time. You might have a solid thirty minutes carved out just for reading, but you find yourself tempted to turn on the TV because you’re reading in your living room , or you start to get sleepy because you’re reading in bed. You may have the quantity of time, but you need to go someplace where you can focus and maximize the quality of your time.

I have to be someplace quiet and relatively isolated because, to me, other people are distractions when I’m reading. I can’t read in the den when my brother is playing video games or watching a movie. I also can’t read in a public place where people are constantly passing by. You might be the exact opposite and hate reading in quiet isolation, and that’s fine. You have to find an environment that works for you, and get your reading done there.

Finally, consider the handiness that an e-reader or an app like Kindle on your phone or tablet provides. You can read on-the-go without carrying a hard copy around (though there’s no replacement for physical pages).

I have several books loaded on my Kindle, which I carry with me almost wherever I go, and read when I have snatches of time. I don’t like to read on my phone, but I’ve found that it’s not too bad for reading non-fiction genres. (For fiction, I prefer a real book or the Kindle.)

A bonus of having a Kindle or the Kindle app is that there are many free or very inexpensive e-books available. Many older works (“the classics”) are in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from sites like Project Gutenberg, while many other great reads are available under $5. If you watch the deals and buy when e-books go on sale (BookBub is a great way to do this), you can build a pretty impressive digital library without breaking the bank at all!

Start Now!

What are you waiting for? Pick up that book you’ve been wanting to read and get started! Whether you take all the tips in this article or just a few (or none at all, and I’m not offended if that’s the case), just start reading. Read for pleasure and enlightenment, and figure out what works best for you.

That’s all for now. I’ve got a page-turner that’s calling my name.

2018: The Year in Review

Today is the last day of the year, a day I usually spend taking stock of what I did over the duration of the year. 2018 was a year of transition, discovery, and personal development for me: transition, because I finished college and am now living in “the real world” to some extent; discovery, because I’ve realized more about myself and what I want (and most importantly, don’t want) out of life; and personal development, because I’ve learned a lot about a wide variety of things and am starting to make changes in how I live.

I’m not a statistician, but I like statistics. I use them to look back on the year and see how far I’ve come and what I’ve done. Here are some stats to summarize my 2018:

  • Where I started the year: Kansas City, Missouri
  • Where I will end the year: Arlington, Texas
  • Approximately 6,000 miles traveled on trips
  • 29 full days spent away from home
  • 48 books read
  • 360 podcast episodes listened to
  • Approximately 100,000 words written
  • 1 musical instrument built (a fretless bass guitar)
  • 1 vehicle purchased (a Ford F-150)
  • Estimated 949,000 calories consumed (assuming average of 2,600 calories/day)
  • Estimated 3,000 push-ups performed (of different varieties)
  • Estimated 2,000 pull-ups performed
  • Approximately 15 miles hiked
  • 365 days seized

A few weeks ago, I looked back and thought 2018 was a less-than-stellar year, especially in contrast to 2017, which I believe to be the best year of my life thus far. However, looking back now, and in light of these numbers, 2018 was a pretty good year. By good, I mean it was productive, enlightening, and somewhat adventurous.

What would have made the year better? It’s hard to say. A transitionary year such as this one sets me up for a new year that hopefully provides new and better opportunities for career and travel. I’ve learned from some mistakes and misfires of 2018 and don’t plan to repeat them in 2019. I’ve got a few new hobbies I’m hoping to explore, and some books I plan to write and publish. My brother and I may also (finally) release some music for the world to hear.

Spiritually-speaking, one goal in 2018 was to read through the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation by year’s end. That didn’t quite happen. I’m in the middle of Acts right now and slowly working my way through. I plan to finish the CSB up in the early part of 2019 and then spend the rest of the year doing book or topical studies that I’ve shirked in favor of plowing (ploughing?) through the Bible once per year for the last couple of years. I want to sit and savor God’s Word more than I want to breeze through it.

I won’t be staying up ’til midnight to ring in the new year. Instead, I’ll toast to 2018 with a Boddingtons Pub Ale at dinner, go to bed at my regular time, and enter 2019 feeling well-rested and refreshed.

So long, 2018, and thanks for the memories.

Standing at an overlook in Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas. Photo credit: Drummer Dan.

Weihnachten: The German Word for Christmas

If you can’t visit a German Christmas market in Germany, you can at least look at pictures and sip some Glühwein at home.

As a beginner-level German speaker in high school, some of the first phrases I learned were greetings and salutations, such as “Alles gute zum Geburtstag!” (“Happy birthday!”), “Frohe Erntedankfest!” (“Happy Thanksgiving!”, even though Germans don’t celebrate the same holiday we Americans do), and “Frohe Weihnachten!” (“Merry Christmas!”). The cool thing about German is that if you know a few nouns, it’s pretty easy to figure out the longer compound ones. In the examples above, Geburtstag is a combination of the words “birth” and “day” (as is our English equivalent), and Erntedankfest would translate to something like “thankful celebration of the harvest.”

Weihnachten is a little more interesting. The first part of the word comes from the verb weihen, meaning to consecrate, anoint, or sanctify. The second part of the word is similar to the German word for night, die Nacht. So, using some logic and very rudimentary translation skills, we get a translation of Weihnachten as “sacred night.” Or, maybe, just maybe, “holy night.”

But wait, there’s more. The German prefix Weih- means “votive,” which is defined as “offered or consecrated in fulfillment of a vow.”

So, why is the night sacred or holy? Because something was offered to fulfill a vow. What (or who) was offered?

God promised to send the world that rejected Him a savior so that mankind could be reconciled with Him (Isaiah 53). One night, one holy night in a little Judean town called Bethlehem, that savior came. He was Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14): God incarnated in human flesh, born to a virgin. His name is Jesus.

This is not my attempt to preach or theologize, but merely a small exposition of the meaning behind a German word I learned in tenth grade. May we keep the Christ in Christmas and remember that holy night, the night of the fulfilled vow.

I wish you a merry Christmas und ein frohe Weihnachten.

Ten Things to be Thankful For

We’ve all heard the old saying to “count your blessings.” To many of us, that saying sounds corny and overused, and we go about our merry ways. We start to take things for granted.

Thanksgiving, for me at least, is a time to step back and reflect on those blessings that I take for granted. There are the usual things like family, friends, and food; there are also everyday things that, when I think about them, realize how different my life would be without them. Here are ten.

  1. Books — without them I would not be exposed to the ideas and information of great thinkers before me.
  2. The Internet — without it I would not be able to hunt down information nearly as quickly, or build and maintain relationships with people around the world.
  3. Running (purified) water — without it I might be dead, or at least very thirsty.
  4. Music — without it I would not appreciate art and beauty.
  5. Cars — without one I might not have been able to work through college and graduate debt-free.
  6. The Constitution — without it I would not have the freedoms I have today.
  7. Glasses — without them I could not see, and could never have scored my first (and only) goal in YMCA soccer as a boy.
  8. Education — without it I would not know what I know (and what I do not know), and would not have the job I have now.
  9. Dreams — without them I would not have entertainment while I sleep and burning ambitions for tomorrow.
  10. Salvation through Jesus Christ — without it I would be hopeless and dead in my sins.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18, ESV)

Five Philosophies Followed for Everyday Living

This post is prompted by a question I saw (and answered) on Quora, asking for five philosophies followed for everyday living. On the spur of the moment, I came up with my five, five which I think accurately represent the lens through which I view the world and are unlikely if ever to change.

  1. “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.” — The prophet Micah, inspired by God (Micah 6:8)
  2. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” — Jesus (Luke 10:27)
  3. “The high concept [of travel] is, ‘What is the most excellent thing I can do today?’, but it must sometimes yield to realities like time and distance, weather and traffic, or even just getting to work on time. Because sometimes work is the most excellent thing I can do today, and I can only try to embellish the work with some recreation and exploration.” — Neil Peart (I apply this to more than just travel; every day I ask myself this question.)
  4. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt
  5. “Time is the universal equalizer. Rich or poor, famous or nameless, we are all given the same allowance of twenty-four hours per day that we are forced to spend. How we spend that allowance is up to us.” — Me, inspired by Arthur Bennett’s excellent How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

On Airshows

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The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Snowbirds performing at the 2018 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. They are as graceful as their name sounds.

Airshows are awesome. If you’ve been, you know; if you haven’t, go and find out.

I grew up going to airshows. My dad worked in the aerospace industry and took our family to as many airshows as he could in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I’ve been to at least fifteen by my reckoning, maybe as many as twenty. I’ve seen both the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels at least three times each, likely more. I’ve also seen a very realistic Pearl Harbor/Tora! Tora! Tora! reenactment with Mitsubishi Zeroes, several AV-8B Harrier demonstrations, and a rare Russian Mi-24 Hind helicopter flight. (If you don’t know what those are, follow the links!)

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Yours truly with the Mi-24 in 2016. “Never smile at the crocodile.”

My earliest airshow memory was talking to the pilot of an E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft at age three. He let me sit in the pilot’s seat, wear the headset, and play with the throttle controls. I then remember walking through the aircraft, past the computer workstations (where seats would normally be on a commercial aircraft), out the aft door, down the mobile stairs, and to where Mom and Daniel were waiting in the shade of a B-52 Stratofortress, Daniel still being in a stroller at the time. It’s all documented on an old camcorder tape somewhere, along with plenty of shots of vacant sky as a fighter jet whizzes past!

Airshows never get old for me; in fact, I appreciate them more and more as I get older. I still enjoy seeing the aircraft, but now I also enjoy talking to the pilots and crew. Most of them spend the day standing around in the heat, cold, or rain, just waiting for someone to ask them about their planes. You can learn some interesting things from striking up a conversation with them, and they’re more than happy to talk. I got to speak with a B-2 Spirit pilot this past weekend (though he left his B-2 back at Whiteman AFB, darn!). Dad told me that one time, back in the late 80s, he asked an F-14 pilot about the video targeting pod on his aircraft. The pilot looked at Dad incredulously and asked, as if it were classified info, “How do you know about that?” Dad replied, “Tom Clancy wrote about it in Red Storm Rising!” (It pays to read good books.)

Perhaps above all else, I enjoy airshows because they are tangible reminders of the sacrifices that American men and women make so that we can be free in this country. For every B-17 Stratofortress that survived World War II, there were hundreds that bit the dust or limped back home over European skies; and the life expectancy of a B-17 crewman was just a handful of missions, if he was fortunate. The men and women who build, fly, and support military aircraft do it not for their own sakes but for ours, so that we may live freely, safely, and comfortably on our own soil. They have my fullest respect.

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Yours truly with the “Texas Raiders” B-17 Stratofortress in 2016. This particular B-17 was used in a very iconic Don’t Mess with Texas commercial.

So, get online and find out if there’s an airshow near you. If there is, go. Bring your friends and family. Take good walking shoes, sunglasses, and sun protection—and a camera, too. Even if you know nothing about airplanes or aviation, go. Watch some air performances. Walk around the static displays. Talk to some pilots: ask them about their aircraft and what a day in the flight suit is like. Smile and thank them for their service. Many will autograph bulletins or even have posters they will autograph.

And, most importantly, have a great time and make great memories.

Coming soon: pictures from the 2018 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. Stay tuned.

On Indelible Imprints: Music

A few days ago, I heard a song I hadn’t listened to in a long time play on the radio. It was one of those songs, one that I associated with a time and a place, when and where I first heard it.

A few days later, I thought of a book I hadn’t read in a few years. And yes, it was one of those books that my mind linked to a when and a where.

Needless to say, there are two things in life that have greatly affected me: books and music. I’m currently reading through Neil Peart’s Traveling Music, in which he gives a (musical) autobiography and explains some of the songs and artists that made him into the musician he came to be, and the points in his life when he heard certain tunes. In the spirit of this book, for mental exercise (and fun), I tried to recall as many songs and books tied to a memory as I could. For brevity, I decided to break this into two posts, starting with music. And now, for your entertainment, here is what I came up with:

  1. “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller — Probably the first song I “remembered,” and my favorite growing up. I remember dancing with Mom and Dad to this song in the living room of our old house.
  2. “Twenty-Five or Six to Four” by Chicago — In the car with Dad and Daniel in a Kroger parking lot, probably four or five years old. I thought the electric guitar solo was played by a trumpet at first, but Dad corrected me. (Thanks, Dad! Otherwise I might have taken up the trumpet!)
  3. “New Sensation” by INXS — On a VHS tape of missiles blowing stuff up at China Lake, California. No, really. Somehow or another, Dad acquired a VHS tape of footage from missile flight tests set to rock music. There are many other great songs on that tape (“Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin, “Just What the Doctor Ordered” by Ted Nugent, “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood), but “New Sensation” stuck with me more than the others.
  4. “Down to the Waterline” by Dire Straits — In the car with Dad and Daniel, driving to karate lessons. The three of us took lessons together for several years, and listened to the same cassette tape every time there and back. That tape also included songs by Jeff Healey, Charlie Daniels, and Foreigner.
  5. “Message in a Bottle” by The Police — In the car with Dad on the University of North Texas campus (Denton, TX) at a BEST Robotics event. This song impressed me with how well the music fit the lyrics, the theme of the song.
  6. Boston by Boston — I listened to this whole album several times during a family vacation to Durango, Colorado, before I started eighth grade. I’ll probably never be able to separate Durango from “More Than a Feeling” or “Rock and Roll Band”.
  7. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush — In the car with Dad while driving to guitar lessons. This song changed everything for me. (And if you didn’t figure it out already, being in the car with Dad is a recurring theme in my musical formation.)
  8. “Roundabout” by Yes — In the car on the way to San Antonio for my great uncle’s military funeral at Fort Sam National Cemetery. This was probably the first time I heard a bass guitar and thought, “That’s cool!”
  9. “Things Can Only Get Better” by Howard Jones — Driving Dad’s Subaru back home from Dallas after looking at a car I wanted to buy, but wasn’t a good option. Every car we’d looked at within my budget needed repairs or had been smoked in, and I was feeling a little down. This song lifted me back up, and still does.
  10. “Alive” by Pearl Jam — Jamming (no pun intended) in the guitar studio with Brian, my instructor. It was one of the first times I seriously played bass, and one of the last times we saw each other. Brian passed away just months later, far too young. I always think of him when I hear this song, knowing he’s still alive with Christ.

Those are just ten, and there are many more. Next week’s indelible imprints: books!

Receipts: Overlooked Journals and Time Capsules

white graphing paper
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last year, I established a new method of tracking my receipts. I acquired twelve page protectors, labeled each one with a month of the year, and installed them in a three-ring binder. I decided I would save my receipts for a year by placing them in the appropriate page protector. This method has three benefits: first, it makes it easier to find a receipt if I need to return something; second, it makes it easy to throw them out a year later (when the page protector for the current month needs to be cleared out); and third, it provides an interesting glimpse into life one year prior.

This past rainy weekend in North Texas, I spent some time sorting a pile of receipts from the past five months into their appropriate page protectors. Having started this sorting method last August, I needed to clear out the August and September sleeves for this year’s receipts. The things I bought said a lot about what I was doing, and had done, this time a year ago:

  • Food and gas receipts from the Kansas City area (bro-trip to see The Great American Eclipse)
  • A packing slip from a scuba mask made to my eyeglass prescription (I was taking a scuba class at college)
  • An Amplified Bible I bought at Mardel (that I later learned is not the most accurate)

It’s amazing how much life can change in a year. I journal, and yet seeing some tangible examples of where I was and what I was doing one year ago brought on some nostalgia. The trip to Kansas City was one of the best ever. I learned that I’m “claustrophobic” underwater and I can’t equalize my ears, so no scuba for me. And that Amplified Bible is still sitting on my shelf, having only been opened once or twice.

I don’t want to say life was simpler for me a year ago, but I do miss many aspects of it. College was tough, but I enjoyed the freedom I had outside of classes and studies. I had less money but more time. I was applying for jobs in preparation of graduation. And I had different people present in my life for that season, whereas now God has brought completely different people into my life.

So, if you want to not only keep records of your expenses (you should) but also remember who you were a year ago, save your receipts. They tell a lot about you. If you’re like me, you might look at a receipt and say, “I can’t believe I bought that!” The tragic reality is that, one year from now, you’ll look back on your receipts and say the same thing.

Nice: A Four-Letter Word

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This isn’t a nice guy; this is a gentleman. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

There are so many words in the English language, so many of which that could be used in place of the word that’s the subject of this post. All of them are more descriptive and have a more positive sound. Consider these examples:

“That was very kind of him.”

“It’s a pleasant day outside.”

“Those are some good-looking shoes!”

Instead, we English-speakers, at least in the United States, tend to use a catch-all word that comes with some negative connotations: nice. Now, consider these examples:

Nice job, Mark; that foul cost us the game.”

“She’s a nice girl, but…”

And the quintessential quote from absent-minded mothers: “Play nice, kids!”

“Nice” seems so duplicitous! It’s probably just me, but I’ve never liked the way the word sounded, with that hiss at the end that some extend. Some people use it like it’s filler when they don’t have anything else to say or don’t care about what someone is telling them. “Oh, that’s nice.”

After reading books like No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover and its Christian counterpart No More Christian Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin, my dislike for all things “nice” has only increased. Think about what’s implied when two women are talking and one says, “I think Joe is such a nice guy.” When you think of Joe in this context, what comes to mind? Is he an emotionally strong man who is comfortable in his skin and knows what he wants in life? Or is he a man who, bless him, holds the door for a beautiful woman but doesn’t have the nerve to ask her out because he doesn’t think he’s capable (or worthy) of dating her? Ladies, be honest: would you date a man you or your girlfriends called “nice?”

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Is this a nice (ignorant) guy? Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There’s another thing I learned about the word “nice” from reading these books. Our modern four-letter word comes from the Latin nescire (“not know”) and nescius (“ignorant”) To be “nice” was to be an idiot, to put it plainly. The Latin found its way into Old French and eventually came to its current form in Middle English, where it simply meant “stupid.” Do you understand why I don’t like the word now?

I know not everyone uses the word this way, but I can’t help but bristle when someone tells me I’m “nice” or calls me a “nice guy.” I suspect their intentions are good, but sometimes I’ll ask them why they say that, or even tell them plainly, “I’d rather you call me good or kind than nice.” That goes for everyone: call me kind, but please don’t call me nice. In a way, I think it’s like Christ telling the church of Laodicea that he would rather them be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-22, and yes I know I’m taking it out of context a bit). Let me be hot or cold, but not lukewarm. Let me be good or bad, but not nice.

I’ve all but banished the word from my vocabulary. In addition to the reasons above, I find that not using the word requires me to think of more descriptive, appropriate adjectives to describe things that would ordinarily be “nice.” Instead of talking about my “nice” lunch catching up with a friend, I’ll use a word like “great,” “fantastic,” or even “superb.” More generally, I’ve found that taking a moment to use a better word does more to further a conversation with others. It wasn’t just a “nice” burger I had, but a “juicy” one, and it wasn’t just a “nice” conversation that we had, but an “edifying” one. Those words create more vivid mental pictures (you’re picturing a burger dripping with flavor, aren’t you?) and elicit more interesting responses: “Juicy? Wow, I’ll have to try that sometime!”

To put a biblical spin on this, the Book of Proverbs wisely notes that “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23 ESV) and “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11 ESV). Apples of gold in a setting of silver—what imagery! Why throw out a boring, banal word like “nice” when you have so many other impressive words at your disposal?

Bringing it back home, I don’t want to give people reasons to call me nice. I want to give people reasons to call me good, kind, responsible, helpful, faithful, truthful, and wise. I believe that men who exhibit these characteristics won’t be called “nice” by anyone; they will be called other names, both good and bad, but they will wear those names as badges of honor, hard-fought in the battle of life. May it be so in my life.


Post Scriptum: This post is written unashamedly from my male perspective, and though I write about “nice” guys, I want to be clear that the same applies to “nice” girls, too. Ladies, don’t be nice, either! For reference, there is a No More Christian Nice Girl for you, as well.

Farewell to a Friend: Mazda 3

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The Super Mazda Brothers!

When I was a senior in high school, I bought my first car: a little yellow 2003 Mazda Protegé5. It had a 2.0L inline four engine, four-speed automatic transmission, and just under 200,000 miles on it. I paid cash for it (probably more than I should have due to the number of repairs that had to be done to it), and the man I bought it from was the original owner. In fact, just before we drove off with the car, Mom found a Polaroid-style photo of the man and his family in the glovebox, taken by the dealer on the day he bought it brand-new. (He didn’t knock the price down for that find, though.)

After a new radiator, an EGR (engine gas recirculation) valve clean (which took three days for Dad and I to do), a brand-new front end and hood from when I rear-ended someone, and I-can’t-remember-how-many other repairs, I decided to upgrade to a car I thought would (more) reliably get me to college and work every day. One year after I bought the Protegé5, I bought a 2005 Mazda 3 hatchback from a guy in Dallas. When I bought it, it had just over 110,000 miles on the engine and had just had the clutch replaced. That’s right: it was a five-speed.

It took me several hours spread over the course of three days to really learn how to drive stick, and then a month or so to really master it, including idiosyncrasies like hill starts, rev matching, and heel-toe braking (not something I used every day, but taught myself anyway). After that, though, I melded with that car.

Compared to the Protegé5 that soon became my brother’s car, my Mazda 3 was a step up in almost every way. It was quieter, it rode smoother, and you could actually drive over sixty miles per hour in it at lower RPMs. The dark interior, though cloth and plastic, looked and felt more luxurious than the drab gray of the P5. Being a five-speed, it got great gas mileage: I averaged 28 mpg combined over the course of my ownership. And, while the P5 would take off like a go kart, the 3 would actually keep going.

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Undoubtedly the best picture I’ve ever taken with my phone: Daniel and the Mazda 3 at Smithville Lake, Smithville, MO. We traveled over 600 miles that day, and traveled over 600 miles back home two days later.

Was it reliable? Yes, it was. I don’t recall a day when I didn’t drive it to school. It started up every time, had a hot heater and a cold A/C (important in Texas!), and always stopped when I needed to. Aside from replacing the MAF (mass air flow) sensor and cleaning carbon deposits off the intake manifold (I think Mazda engines, at least from this era, tend to run rich and leave such deposits), the car required no engine work. In fact, I would wager the engine to last at least 200,000 miles, if not more.

However, it did require work elsewhere. The headlights were so oxidized that I had to take the front end of the car apart and replace both assemblies. The suspension grew squeakier and squeakier throughout my ownership. I had to replace both front struts, and needed to replace both rear suspension assemblies (but didn’t). A motor mount caused a rough ride, so I had it replaced as well. These are things that do wear out over the normal life cycle of a car, and yet even as I replaced parts, things continued to squeak, creak, and groan.

Despite all this, I really bonded with the 3. In a way, I developed what some call “machine empathy” with it. I could feel when to shift gears without looking at the tachometer and isolate new rattles and squeaks from the existing harmless ones. It wasn’t the fastest or flashiest car on the road, but I felt like I operated it as an extension of my arms and legs, and that’s what mattered to me.

We had some great experiences together, too. It got me safely home during a surprise snowfall one afternoon (a rarity in Texas). It got me and my brother safely to Kansas City and back for the Great American Eclipse of 2017, and more recently to Austin and back. For whatever reason, rain is the car’s perfect weather. Everything just tightens up and smoothes out, and it’s one reason I enjoy driving in the rain.

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The Mazda parked on Baylor St. in Austin, viewed from atop the HOPE Outdoor Gallery.

It’s been a great commuter, get-around-town car for me. However, it has to stretch as a road-trip or travel vehicle. It’s fairly loud on the highway, it channels bumps abruptly into the frame, and it’s hard to pack out when camping. As I find myself traveling greater distances by road, whether in the Metroplex or on vacation, it’s sadly less and less pleasurable to drive. Though I’m torn, and I wanted to “drive it until the wheels fall off,” I’ve decided it’s time to acquire another vehicle.

So, this write-up is in honor of my intrepid little Mazda 3, which I have put through the paces during my ownership. It ain’t the young car it once was, but it’s still got a lot of life in it. It’s not a Honda or a Toyota, but I’m impressed that it runs and rides as well as it does at its age. It’s served me well, and I know it’ll serve its next owner well too.