Favorite Things Friday: Rosie the Robot (Neato XV-21 Automatic Vacuum Cleaner)

Update 5/3/14: The Neato XV-21 is no longer a favorite thing.  After 18 months our Neato experienced “error 3000” which is a very common occurrence for many Neato owners.  At a cost of over $400 I would expect this unit to last longer than a year and a half.  Neato recommends a repair that will cost almost $200 and by all accounts lasts only a few months.  Be warned!  Do not buy any product from Neato!!!  Neato xv-21 error 3000 stinks!  Following is my review based on a working product.  Loved it when it worked…but didn’t work long enough.

Welcome back to “Favorite Things Friday”!  This week I’m covering our automatic vacuum – we call her Rosie the Robot.  Officially she is a Neato XV-21 Automatic Vacuum Cleaner.

I feel it is important to note that all opinions about our Neato are mine, the unit was purchased with our own money and we are not being compensated for this review.  All opinions are based on experiences in our house over the last 5 months.

Neato XV-21 automatic vacuum

Our Neato XV-21 Automatic Vacuum – her name is Rosie.

With all those disclaimers out of the way, let me say that Rosie rocks!  We first started looking at a robot vacuum knowing that we were going to have a crawling baby in the house.  Our floors could always use a bit of help.  Between having a 5 year-old, a man who always trudges through the house with dirty shoes (who could that be?), and a steady flow of friends and family in the house – it is a challenge to keep the floors ready for a crawling baby.

I purchased Rosie on Amazon back in August 2012.  These little units can be pretty pricy but if you watch for a good deal you can get them for 30-40% off the suggested price.  Some research had been done among the various robot vacuums on the market but the Neato XV-21 seemed to be the best fit for our house.

The initial setup was very easy.  Finding a good place out of the way to plug in the charging station has been a bit of a challenge.  In a central location, Rose’s lights and buttons are hard for a 1 year-old to resist.  We have finally found a place in our back room where Rosie can blend in but still automatically find her charging station.

So how does a robot vacuum work?  Rosie is guided by lasers!  When she pulls out from her charging station a scan of the room is done.  She follows along the walls and around the various items in the room to establish a perimeter and look for open doors and pathways.  She then begins to work her way back and forth across the room in a very efficient manner.  Her lasers do a surprisingly good job of recognizing objects that she needs to avoid.  She has a front bumper that tells her to change direction when she bumps into something.  Rosie has a powerful brush and a surprising amount of suction for such a small unit.  Most of the time she can figure out how to navigate from room to room.

Here are some of my favorite things about Rosie:

  • She works while we are gone or asleep.  With small children in the house it can be a challenge to get the vacuuming done.  Our youngest still naps twice a day and sometimes wakes up with the loud noise of our full-size Oreck vacuum.  A lot of times we set Rosie to work while we are away at church, asleep or going to be gone for several hours.
  • She works while we work.  Many times my wife and I will be cleaning in one part of the house while Rosie is busy cleaning in another part of the house.  Instead of two people cleaning the house it is like having 2.5.
  • She cleans in places I wouldn’t usually clean.  Because of her low profile, Rosie will get herself in some surprisingly tight places – this can be good and bad.  She runs under the beds in our room, the guest room and our older daughter’s room.  Anyone who has a cat knows that this is GREAT because that is where the fur and dust bunnies hide.  Rosie also does a very good job of cleaning in the toe-kick area of our kitchen cabinets.  She fits right into that area and gets all those crumbs and other things that get up under there that usually require a broom to get out.
  • She pulls up an astounding amount of cat hair.  As mentioned already, Rosie goes under the beds and that is probably where she collects a lot of cat hair.  It is worth noting that our cat really doesn’t shed that much hair.  Rosie does a good job of pulling cat hair out of our carpet.  Speaking of the cat, she is not as scared of Rosie as she is the big vacuum.  Probably because Rosie is about half as loud as our Oreck and possibly because of the smaller size of the Neato.
  • Rosie is easy to clean out.  By now anyone who reads my blog recognizes that I am a pretty
    Neato XV-21 dirt bin

    The dust bin is easy to clean.

    nerdy guy.  Rosie has a clear plastic dirt bin that collects dirt, hair and other debris.  There is a hepa filter that allows the air to pass through while filtering out fine dust.  Many times I have taken the dirt bin out of Rosie and been so impressed by her ‘haul’ that I go show it to my wife.  The brush is easily removed as well although the small brass bearings seem like they would be very easy to lose.

  • Rosie is fun to watch.  In reading reviews for this product on Amazon, I noted that many people gave their Neato vacuum a name.  I now understand why.  It is as if this little gizmo has a personality all it’s own.  Watching the robot try to figure out how to get around things, or get out of the maze of chairs around the kitchen table is always entertaining.  It is a bit like watching a toddler try to figure things out.

A few items for a reality check:

Neato XV-21 dock

Rosie at her docking station.

  • Rosie is expensive.  No matter the discount you get when you buy a Neato, these little robot vacuums are expensive.  In our situation, using a discount and some Amazon credits I had earned, I think Rosie has been a good purchase – but definitely a luxury.  It is really nice to have a helping hand in some of the chores around the house.
  • Rosie makes mistakes.  As impressive as the technology is inside this little vacuum, it is not perfect.  Many times we have come home to find Rosie stuck somewhere.  She can do a good job getting herself out of a pickle but sometimes the wheels get off the ground, something gets tangled in her brush, or she gets lost under a bed.  When she gets stuck she sounds off a beeping signal every couple of minutes to let you know she needs some help.
  • Rosie vacuums like a teenager.  A reviewer on Amazon made this observation and I have found it to be true.  Rosie rounds inside corners instead of getting right up into them.  She has trouble cleaning around the legs of things like tables or beds.  Sometimes she just misses a room altogether.  Just remember, this is a little robot not a grown adult.

Robot vacuums like Rosie are definitely not for everyone.  We have benefited by having floors that stay cleaner longer without our direct interaction.  Knowing that Rosie will be coming around also helps remind us to pick things up off the floor and put them away.  I would think Rosie would be a good purchase for families with shedding pets, crawling children and perhaps older people who could use a hand with chores but aren’t scared of technology.

Think you might be interested in getting your own Neato XV-21?  Check out my Amazon Affiliate link on the right side of the page.  Your interest in any of those ads help to fund dadislearning.com!  If you buy your Neato through my link it helps support the site.

Speaking of being scared, if you are going to have house guests you might let them know about your vacuum.  Over the holidays, my wife’s nieces were staying in our guest room.  About 1a.m. they were awoken to the sound of Rosie’s motor and some banging and bumping at their door.  Rosie was navigating around the edge of their door and startled them since they weren’t used to having a robot vacuum around.

As seems to be my nerdy custom, I have made a silly little video to go along with this post.  I strapped a little camera that I have onto the top of Rosie to go for a ride as she cleans our floors.  The video runs at 8x speed.  Enjoy and thanks for reading!

[weaver_youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-SgTbmx4qI sd=0 percent=100 ratio=.5625 center=1 rel=0 https=0 privacy=0 see_help_for_others]

Family Devotional: Stir One Another Up – Week 2

family devotional stir one another up

Click image to download study.

I have received some great feedback from the first week of the family Bible study series “Little Hands, Big Hearts.”  So many of you have indicated that you printed out the study guide and used it with your families.  I even had two different churches let me know that they are making these available to their congregation!  Anyone is free to distribute this material and use it in any way that they like, as long as it is not being sold.  If you are using the study at home or in your church please leave a comment on this post or send me a message.  I’d like to hear from you with your feedback.  There is also a new page dedicated to these studies on my blog.

Last week I did get some feedback about the format.  Not everyone was able to get their study to print on both sides of the paper.  The booklet format I used was also not tablet friendly since users had to scroll back and forth to complete the study.  I will now be using a simple two page format that anyone can print or use on an iPad or other tablet.

Someone asked, “Where am I going with this study?”  The intent of these family Bible studies is to get our families sitting down at least once a week and studying from God’s word.  Studying as a family is absolutely critical to the spiritual well-being of your family.  I have designed the first few lessons to cover topics that are familiar to the majority of people who are reading them.  I want families to get comfortable with studying and starting with familiar material is a good way to accomplish this.  Starting in February we will start incorporating some lessons that might not be as familiar to everyone.

I hope you’re having fun with your family when studying the Bible.  My wife and I had one of the best laughs we have had in a long time when we were doing our study with our 5 year-old last week.  I said, “Let’s go around the table and say something nice that we could do for each other.”  Our daughter volunteered to go first.  We were sitting at the kitchen table and she got up out of her chair, pushed it in, walked around the table, came around by me and said, “Daddy can give Mommy flowers.”  When Brianne and I figured out that she took the phrase “go around the table” literally we burst into laughter.  There is a valuable lesson there for parents though – make sure young kids understand the words and phrases that we use – which is built into the study.

I hope you have a blessed week of study with your family.  Your feedback and comments “stir me up” to do more and better work.  It is my wish that your efforts help your family grow closer to God and closer to each other.

Download here >>> Week 2 – Stir One Another Up

Goal Setting: Is Life Sweeter Without Sugar?

Several folks have emailed, commented or asked questions in person about my goal of cutting back on sugar consumption by cutting back on the amount of soda I drink.  The first week has gone pretty well…surprisingly well…perhaps too well.  As you might remember from my “spoon full of sugar” post, I decided to cut back from an average of 36oz of soda a day to just 12oz, saving myself about 70 POUNDS of sugar intake a year.

sugar in one can of dr pepper

The sugar in one can of Dr. Pepper (40g)

Last week I was able to stick to my goal without any problems.  I never had more than one can/bottle of DP and even went without soda over the weekend…just for kicks.  There are only two times I can think of that I really wanted soda and had to make a conscious decision not to have one.  I had expected some low ‘energy’ issues at work since that is where I drank a lot of soda, but I believe that walking and working has really helped.  (Side note: I did 26.22 miles of walking at work last week…that’s a full marathon!)  I think my body has been pleasantly surprised by all the water I am drinking.

With any pursuit of a habit change comes an examination of associated behavior. For me, soda consumption was coming from bad habits.  I had gotten in the habit of eating WAY too much fast food.  (There’s a Whataburger within 100 yards of my office door…come on!)  So I decided it was in my best interest, for multiple reasons, to bring my lunch to work.  So I’m saving money, eating a bit better, and staying away from the flowing fountains of sugar.

I also discovered that I was using soda as a crutch for poor sleep habits.  On a whim, which seems to be a theme for me recently, I switched my sleep schedule to be similar to my wife’s, and the majority of other humans.  I have been known to stay up till 2am or 3am working.  This doesn’t work out well in a house where the the mandatory wake up call (the baby) is at 7:30am.  I still work a bit at night on various tasks but make sure to be in bed by midnight.  I function best on 6 hours of sleep so I sleep from midnight till 6am.

This morning I woke up at 4:20am to see my wife off to work.  I’ve been up since then and have already done some reading, caught up on my Google Reader feed from the weekend, written part of a family devotional, spent some time gazing at my beard and have written this post!

How about you?  How have you been doing with the goals you have set for yourself?  Have there been any bonus changes that came along with your goal?  Do you have any tricks for keeping your goal in the forefront of your mind?

One of the men at church delivered a thought yesterday that reminded me of a post I read last week.  In my treadmill desk update, I referenced the “One Push-up Challenge” that was posted at deepexistence.com.  This quote stood out to me, “If trying to do everything at once caused me to do nothing, what can I learn from that?”  In my own experience I can see that focusing on one change has led to many.  The other improvements that have come with the change are bonus!  (By the way, I’m liking the one push-up challenge as part of my work day.  My office is going to start smelling like a gym if I’m not careful.)

As always, I am thankful and flattered that so many of you are finding my blog interesting and worth reading.  I hope that my efforts are an encouragement to you and that together we can make positive changes in our lives, in our families and in our communities.  Tomorrow I will be posting up another family bible study.  I was really excited last week to have such positive feedback from those studies at our church and among many other people.

A few bonus links from my scan of Google Reader this morning:

How to Clean and Re-stick a Tacky Cutting Mat – We have been using a Silhouette Cameo cutting machine for projects at church and at home for about a year now.  This cutting machine (similar to a Cricut) is phenomenal!  The only problem I have is with the adhesive on the cutting mat losing its stick.  Lifehacker.com, one of my absolute favorite sites, posted a quick tutorial on cleaning a mat and applying a fresh coat of adhesive.  If you have a cutting machine I know that you will find this tutorial VERY useful.

The View From the TromboneMashable.com, another of my favorite sites, posted this silly video that is making the rounds on the internet.  A trombone player attached a little GoPro camera (Wish I had one of these!) to the slide of his instrument and pressed record.  It was entertaining when I watched it at 5am.

A merry Monday to you all.  Make a positive difference in someone’s life today!

Saturday Roundup: My daughter is psychic edition

A quick story from today and a few interesting links that I found this week.  But before all of that let me say THANK YOU to everyone who is reading this.  This marks the end of my third week of blogging and I never would have thought so many of you would read this.  This week my blog has started to spread beyond my friends…I even had a message from a man overseas who was asking for some advice on building his own treadmill desk.  If you’re on Facebook I have setup a “Dad is Learning” Facebook page where I make a few extra notes during the week.  You can also find me on Twitter where I make the occasional “tweet.”

Now a bit about my psychic daughter…  On Thursday our 5 year-old made some drawings for everyone in the family.  My ‘portrait’ featured a happy man with an awesome beard hammering away on a birdhouse…an orange birdhouse (drawing included in the photo collage below).  Fast forward to this morning and Brianne discovers (thanks to mydallasmommy.com) that Home Depot is offering a free kid’s workshop where they will be making birdhouses. Interesting coincidence.

Today was a day with no schedule, so the two of us quickly loaded into the truck and zipped down to HD.  We’ve never been to one of these kid’s workshops.  At our store, there were several tables setup in the front of the store.  The HD employees were very friendly and helpful.  We filled out a registration form and received the birdhouse kit, a Home Depot apron and a ticket for a free hot dog at the cart outside.  I’m sure each Home Depot runs their workshops differently.

It was a ton of fun and completely FREE.  It was good to see lots of other Moms and Dads with their kids.  The instructions in the kit were also very detailed, which is rare these days.  In about 30 minutes we glued, nailed and painted a nice little birdhouse.  Great event!  Here’s the info page for Home Depot kids workshops.

home depot kids workshop

Home Depot Kids Workshop collage.

Now for the useful and useless things that I thought were noteworthy from the week:

Completely Useless – $100,000 Chicken Coop
Buried in the pages of the Neiman Marcus gift catalog was this $100,000 chicken coop.  This is one of the craziest things I have ever seen.  I’m sure Zsa Zsa would feel at home here.  There’s even a video of the chicken coop.

Very Useful – 20 Household Tips To Make Life Easier
Jamielyn over at Iheartnaptime.net put together a great post of quick and easy tips to use around your house.  Several of them I have seen before, but using a walnut to conceal scratches on furniture was a new one.

Smart Money – Updates for Tax-Advantaged Accounts in 2013
The staff writers for the Mint.com blog pump out some great information every day.  This week I found the update for 2013 limits for Tax-Advantaged accounts to be especially informative.

Best Graphic – How To Make Money on Facebook
Just take a quick look…it’s so true!

Useful Technology – 10 Things You Didn’t Know Your Smartphone Could Do
Several of these are cheesy since you have to own the add-on device, but who knew that their iPhone could match paint colors?  Might have to give that a try sometime.  Check out the Mashable.com post here.

And Finally… Aggie Fans Crash a Live Shot
Saw this little gem on Twitter last night.  Some ‘very happy’ Aggie fans walked into a live shot with Jeff Jamison of CBS11 last night before the Cotton Bowl.  Jeff, who is a weatherman for CBS11, handled the ‘friendly’ ladies very well.  You can view it here.  (What a game it was!)

Thanks for stopping by.  Enjoy some time with family and friends this weekend!

Favorite Things Friday: Evernote

It seems I often get asked about various tools and things that I am using, so I thought I would write about some of these things each Friday.  I’m not Oprah, so the best I can do is tell you about some of my favorite things.  These posts contain my own opinions and experiences with items that I use in my day to day life.  Everything that I write about will be something that you can get too.  Some of the things I will write about will be free while others might be rather costly.  Let’s get started…

Evernote favorite thingsThe first of my favorite things is Evernote.  For those who haven’t heard of it, Evernote is a tool for organizing all sorts of data so you can access it in any number of ways.  I use the app for my MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad to keep all my data accessible across various devices.  You can store information from websites, documents, PDFs, photos and even audio recordings.  Here are some examples of how I use Evernote to save time and stay organized:

  • Internet Research – Every day I come across information from various websites that I want to save for later use.  Before Evernote I would write myself an email that would contain links to information that I would use later.  Gmail worked well for this since the text in an email is easily searchable.  But there was no easy way to categorize the information in subjects, it was just a big pile of useful information, which is actually pretty useless since I couldn’t easily find what I was looking for. With Evernote I can easily organize good ideas using the web clipper add-on for Firefox or Chrome.  Once the tool is installed you can ‘clip’ an entire webpage, a specific article or just the link by clicking the Evernote button in your browser.  That information is then saved in Evernote using an organizational structure that you setup.
  • Organized Ideas– In Evernote there are three levels of organization – notes, notebooks and stacks.  Notes are the individual pieces of information that you begin to collect in Evernote.  A notebook is a folder where those notes are stored.  A stack is a collection of notebooks with connected content.  For instance, I have a stack called ‘Blogging’ and in that stack you will find
    Evernote mac app

    Screenshot from my Mac while working on this post in the Evernote app.

    notebooks named – blog fodder, posts, productivity and SEO.  All of these notebooks contain content that I think will be useful to my blogging efforts.  I have other stacks for ‘church’ and ‘home’ that each have various notebooks contained within.    I have one notebook titled ‘!Inbox’ – the exclamation point keeps it at the top of the list – where I can quickly file items that will be sorted out later.  It is also important to consider using ‘tags’ to keep your information sortable.  I try to never use more than one tag per item.  Tags are handy for finding items that might be spread across multiple notebooks.  For example, I might have an item tagged ‘family’ in all of my stacks.  By clicking on items tagged ‘family’ it pulls up all the information no matter what notebook or stack it is in.  Remember that Evernote automatically indexes the text in everything you save, including photos, so you can search keywords from articles too…which is pretty cool!

  • Brainstorming/Creativity – One of the greatest things about Evernote is that I can access my notes anywhere I go.  I have Bible class lessons that I am working on in a folder in the ‘church’ stack.  Lessons and devotionals in a different notebook.  There are blog posts that I am developing in a notebook in the ‘blogging’ stack.  Anywhere I go, if I have an idea for one of these items I can quickly pull it up, input my thought and continue on.  I find that instead of waiting to the last moment to get things done, with Evernote I work on things ahead of time and let the ideas ‘cook’ for a while, making for a better finished product.  Overall I believe that it has made for better content creation in all of the things I do.
  • Recipes– Just recently, Evernote released an app for iPad and iPhone called “Food.”  I have really been enjoying this app. Quite often I will see something in all the Mom blogs I read that I would like to try.  (Yes, I read Mom blogs…these women are geniuses.)  Before Evernote and Food, I would email myself the link and hoped that I would remember where it is or that I had
    evernote food app

    A screenshot of ‘My Cookbook’ on my iPhone.

    even sent it.  Or I would print out the recipe and misplace it before I was ready to use it.  With Food I can just open up ‘My Cookbook’ and thumb through the recipes when we are wanting to try something new and different.  Setup is simple, you just tell the app which notebook in Evernote you store all your recipes in and it does all the rest.  I have found that occasionally some saved recipes do not translate into the Food app for some reason.  I have not had a chance to look into how to solve that problem.  I can still pull the recipes up through Evernote though.

  • Photos and Scanning – Something that I have just started using is the photo feature of Evernote.  The Evernote app on the iPhone can use the camera to capture all sorts of ideas right as you see them.  I already have photos in each of my stacks. For example, I was in a church building over the holidays and saw an idea I liked.  I snapped a pic of it and stored it in my ‘Ideas’ folder in the ‘Church’ stack.  There is even a feature on the camera, Page Camera, that can better capture text from a piece of paper.  (This is designed to work with a Moleskine Smart notebook for direct import.)  It is also really easy to add scanned documents in PDF form to Evernote.  Several manufacturers have an automatic option built into their newest scanners for direct import.  I haven’t been motivated to shell out $200+ for a new scanner, so I just use the scanner at church.  It automatically PDFs anything I scan and sends it to a folder on my MacBook.  I can then drag that PDF over into a notebook in the Evernote app and BOOM it is saved and text searchable.

Who is Evernote for? Just about anybody who is comfortable using technology and wants to keep their information organized and accessible across multiple devices.  I know lots of ministers who are using Evernote in a variety of ways to varying degrees of efficiency.  Lots of housewives use Evernote to keep schedules, shot records, and other information for their families in one all accessible place.  Bloggers of all types use Evernote to store research, ideas and future posts.  The options are endless and there are some third-party companies that are starting to produce some really interesting apps and hardware to use with Evernote.  Evernote also produces some other apps that are noteworthy, especially Skitch which I use on my MacBook and iPad.

Evernote is free for a basic account.  Evernote Premium costs $45 a year an allows you to store more data per month, creation of larger notes, attached PDFs are searchable, offline storage of notebooks on mobile devices, sharing and collaboration for notebooks, ability to lock mobile app with a PIN and the option for no ads.  Moleskine Smart notebooks include 3 months of Evernote premium in their purchase price.  Evernote also has the great option to gift a full year of premium to your favorite minister, parent, student, blogger or anyone else who would find the service useful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first edition of ‘Favorite Things Friday.’  Do you use Evernote?  What are you doing with it that I haven’t discovered yet?  I would really enjoy hearing your feedback in the comments section.

As always, if you liked today’s post please consider sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or email.  With your help I have surpassed the number of site views, shares and visits that I expected to have in my first month of blogging.  Thank you!

Update: Treadmill Desk Success

It is interesting to me that my very first post on this blog – the one about my treadmill desk – is the by far the most popular thing I have written.  Everyday I receive several visits to my little site from around the U.S. and the world from curious people who are interested in the treadmill desk.  If you don’t follow me on Facebook, then let me tell you right now…I LOVE MY TREADMILL DESK!!!

treadmill desk happy guy

A happy bearded dude at his treadmill desk.

This is the 4th week I have been walking and working and I have 98% positive things to say about my new active work station.  I feel like ‘a million bucks’ at the end of the workday instead of feeling like a bloated, fatigued blob.  My creativity, focus and productivity have all increased.  I can’t give you a specific measure on this because I did not set a baseline measurement for productivity since the treadmill desk was built on a whim.  But I am cranking out material at a volume and quality that I have not produced in some time.

The first week I started working on the treadmill I was walking around 2 to 2.5 miles a day at a pace of about 1.3mph.  In my 4th week I am averaging 5 miles a day at a pace of 1.5mph.  This week might be my first ‘marathon’ week at work – banging out 26.2 miles in one week while working.  That kind of mileage isn’t anything new to my body.  When I was in my early 20’s I ran 4 marathons and would hike 20-25 miles a day on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail…and that was carrying a backpack with gear.  Alas, time and laziness have caught up and I would be doing well to run 1 mile…but I can still walk like a beast!

The only thing I have found that is bad about working on the treadmill is a nagging foot injury that flares up every now and then.  Some minor discomfort is a fair trade for the productivity I have been enjoying and the increased energy.  I think my wife really enjoys when I come home now because I’m upbeat and ready to play with the kids and help around the house…instead of needing to sit down and rest for a while. Plus I almost always come home in an overly happy mood…I might need to tone that down a bit 🙂

Some have asked…are you losing any weight?  I guess my answer would be no. I’ve noticed that I didn’t put on any weight during the holidays…and I devoured a LOT of unhealthy things this year…so that is a positive.  I do feel ‘trimmer’ though.  My belt has tightened up a notch and clothes feel a bit more loose.  I would assume that walking while I work combined with reducing the amount of soda I drink would lead to a bit of weight loss in the coming months.  But working on a treadmill doesn’t get the heart rate into the target zone for someone my age.  I have to go slow so I can keep my hands still for typing and my head still for reading.

Speaking of reading…many have asked how challenging it is to read and write while walking.  Again, if you go slow enough you kind of forget that you are walking.  The first day was the only day I had a bit of adjustment to the rhythm of walking and reading.  It’s nothing like when I would try to read textbooks while on the elliptical machine at the gym.  At the gym I was trying to go fast enough to stay in the zone and that does not combine well with reading…at least for me.

I have mentioned to some that I don’t feel motivated to get to the gym, but I didn’t feel motivated before the treadmill desk either, so I wouldn’t count that as a problem of the treadmill desk.  I have added in some pushups to my workday.  No set number just a few pushups every now and then to change things up.  Got the idea from “The One Push-Up Challenge” which talked about small changes making a big impact.  I already have enough BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that I am working on. None of my co-workers have walked in on me doing push-ups, they still get a chuckle when they come down and see me walking and working but they are super supportive!

As I’ve mentioned before, good footwear is a MUST.  I love my Merrell shoes that I wear to work everyday.  Getting your keyboard, mouse and monitors at the proper height are essential too.  The first few days my keyboard and mouse were too low and I strained my wrist in just a matter of hours.  Took about 4 or 5 days for that to stop hurting.  I really enjoy the height of my monitors.  The placement makes me stand up straight when I’m walking.

Is a treadmill desk for you? I can’t say.  I am blessed to have an employer who let’s me do crazy things like this in my office.  I still have my traditional desk where I probably spend an hour or so a day doing other projects.  I couldn’t imagine having a big setup like this in my house.  If you’re in the DFW area you’d always be welcome to come by and give my setup a try!

I was feeling a bit nerdy today so I setup a camera while I was working and made this quick little video – 41 seconds to be exact:

[weaver_youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veVqraBJuZg sd=0 percent=100 ratio=.5625 center=1 rel=0 https=0 privacy=0 see_help_for_others]

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look.  A share via email, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

Family Devotional: Little Hands, Big Hearts – Week 1

I am excited to kick off a new project for 2013, a series of family devotionals titled “Little Hands, Big Hearts.”  More than ever I am seeing the importance of families spending quality time together.  What could be better than enjoying studying the Bible together, challenging your family to grow.

Little Hands Big Hearts week 1

Click image to download devo.

My full-time job is working as a youth and family minister with a church in Fort Worth.  We have amazing families who have super kids.  As kids get older, it is easy to see the difference in the families that made the time to study the Bible together and attend worship services.  Many times lives take stunningly different paths when children are raised in a Bible loving home.

The Barna research group is constantly studying the life-long impact of the actions that we as parents take with our children.  Again and again, the research clearly points out that if we want our children to have an active faith as an adult we must invest our time and energy into building their faith while they are young.  I hope that my weekly devotional guides can play a small part in helping your family to grow closer to God and to each other.

I have tried to write the devotional guides with a broad age range of children in mind.  The study could easily be completed by adults and teenagers.  For younger children adults will need to read through the material and prepare their thoughts and paraphrasing.  I know that our 5 year-old can ask some amazingly challenging questions.  It is a good thing for our children to get us thinking about our faith.

I prefer the print and fold format, but if you would prefer a different format leave a comment with your ideas and I will see what I can do.  It is my hope that this is a blessing to your family and will encourage you to sit down at least once a week and study the Bible together.  The overall intent of this series of devotional studies will be to cultivate a servant’s heart in our children.

Click to download devotional >>> Little Hands, Big Hearts – Week 1

Goal Setting: “A spoon full of sugar…”

I have a confession to make…I’m a big fan of goal setting, but I’m not that good at following through on them.  Sound familiar?  I’m challenging myself and you to set at least one goal for 2013 that you plan to follow through on.  I don’t believe that New Years resolutions have to be a bad thing.

Let’s take a quick look at how to set a good goal before we get to my goal for 2013.  The best method I know of for setting goals is setting S.M.A.R.T. goals:SMART goals

  • Specific – your goal needs to have a narrowly defined scope
  • Measurable – how will you measure success, progress or failure for your goal
  • Attainable – is this something that you can realistically achieve?
  • Relevant – is this the right goal for this time in your life?
  • Time-bound – set a date to make it happen.  Can you set checkpoints along the way?

Have a goal in mind for yourself?  Can you formulate your goal so it is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound?

And now onto my goal for 2013.  Mary Poppins said, “a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  But what if you’re drinking several spoon fulls of sugar to help your lunch go down?  As you probably guessed, I’ll be tackling my soda problem in 2013.

dr pepper nutrition label

Dr. Pepper nutrition label.

I believe a successful part of achieving a challenging goal is visualizing it.  Perhaps my most unhealthy habit is drinking soda, specifically Dr. Pepper.  I have always thought about measuring out the sugar content of soda, but had never actually done it.  On Sunday afternoon while everyone was napping I played with some sugar and a digital scale…Alton Brown style.

I started off with 3 tall glasses that were all the same, so the visual comparison would be easy.  One can of Dr. Pepper has 40g of sugar in it.  Of course in most Dr. Pepper this sugar comes in the form of high fructose corn syrup, a substance that won’t be debated in this post.  The sugar content of one can really didn’t look that bad when I measured it out, but the problem is that I often drink more than 12oz of soda in a day.

one week of sugar from dr pepper

One week of sugar – 840 grams.

It is practically impossible to estimate how much soda I really drink since I live in the land of endless refills – Texas.  I had to assign a measurement for the sake of my experiment so I went with 3 cans or 36oz of soda a day.  When I measured out the 120g of sugar it made a bit of an impact.  Each day I was making my body process a lot of sugar.

The real shocker came when I added up the sugar content for the week.  If I drank 36oz (120 grams of sugar) a day, 7 days a week that would add up to about 840g of sugar being pumped into my body each week.  The amount of sugar was so large that I had to steal the ‘1 Can’ glass and use it as an additional glass to measure out 1 week of sugar content!  I filled 2 glasses heaping full with sugar to get the 840g of sugar that I estimated I was taking in.  That is 420g of sugar per glass.  Seeing that much sugar and realizing I was consuming that much per week really hit home…liked I had secretly hoped it would.

Sugar by can, day and week

Sugar by can, day and week. 840 grams (the weekly amount) is a shocking amount of sugar.

I weigh 210lbs and stand 5’11.  I carry my weight pretty well and don’t look too overweight.  But like most people, the real damage is probably being done inside.  I sat with my table of sugar and thought for a while about what a specific, measurable goal could be.  I decided that I need to stop drinking soda in unmeasurable quantities – so the soda at restaurants will have to go.  It is far too easy to let consumption get out of control.  Plus I’ll be saving a ton of money.

I’m not the type of person that can quit something cold turkey, so I set a goal of 1 can of soda per day for the next 3 months.  Over that time period I would reduce sugar intake from 14,400g to 4,800g.  (Of course this doesn’t account for other sugar intake from foods.)  The amount of 4,800g of sugar over 3 months is still quite a bit – that is still 10.5lbs of sugar…yikes!  But it is far better than 32lbs of sugar for the same time period.  I cannot believe that I have been consuming approximately 128 POUNDS of sugar a year for the last several years from soda!

Many would suggest switching to diet sodas, but I don’t really care for the taste and when I do drink a diet soda I feel kind of ‘icky.’  Plus there is the big debate about artificial sweeteners, which I won’t address here.  If I stayed with 1 can of soda a day throughout all of 2013, it would result in a reduction of – 300 calories per day – 2,100 calories per week – approximately 9,000 calories per month and 109,500 calories over the course of the year.

For this goal here are my measurable items:

  • Specific – Cut back on daily amount of soda.
  • Measurable – One can of soda instead of an estimated 3 cans per day.
  • Attainable – Probably – the sugar visualization sure helps.
  • Relevant – Best time to improve your health was yesterday.
  • Time-bound – Daily goals plus 3 month goal.

What about you?  Do you have a New Years goal that you’re aiming at?  Have any suggestions for me as I try to achieve my goal?

2014 Update: I continue to live out the lessons I learned by measuring out the sugar content of my beloved Dr. Pepper.  I still enjoy the occassional soda but try my best to stay away from the big drink cup and the refillable restaurant cup.  I lost about 10lbs by cutting back on my soda in 2013.  In combination with my treadmill desk I am feeling great!

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Savings Roundup: December

In a month that is known for excessive spending, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at a few of the things that my wife and I did this month to save money.  Each separate idea is bold so you can easily skip to the next one if the current one is not of interest.

Smartphone Coupons

This is my wife’s notable source of savings for the month.  Brianne is a pretty serious coupon shopper and it almost makes her sick to shop, eat or do anything that we don’t have a discount coupon for.  She has been amazed at the number of people she has met in checkout lines who don’t know that stores will take their coupons from your smartphone.  Some of the stores she did this at in December include: Michael’s, Joann’s, Hobby Lobby, Kohl’s, and World Market, among others.

Target mobile coupons

A screenshot from my phone of the Target mobile coupons.

Before going in the store, she will whip out her iPhone and Google “michael’s coupons” or whatever would be appropriate.  Quite often a website for that store will generate a coupon that can be scanned directly from the phone.  She did this at Market Street while doing Christmas shopping and saved $20 in one trip alone.  She estimates that each month she saves at least the cost of the data plan for her phone.

Target is especially phone friendly.  They have a monthly text message that is sent out to subscribers with a link to coupons.  Combine these special savings with the 5% off from the Red card and you can get some pretty good savings with almost zero effort.  You can join the Target coupon alerts by clicking here.

Appliance Repair

By far our single biggest savings was made by doing some appliance repair ourselves.  At the beginning of the month our refrigerator and our washing machine started acting up.  Our fridge stopped cooling and the washer developed a significant leak.  We built our home in 2007 and filled it with all new appliances, now they’re starting to have issues every now and then.  I diagnosed and repaired both of my appliances via Google, here’s how…

For our Whirlpool fridge I started by doing a Google search of “whirlpool, warm fridge, cool freezer.”  That search yielded tons of great resources with step-by-step troubleshooting to determine the problem.  In our case the fridge had simply frozen up.  Sometimes they can do this if the door accidentally gets left ajar…which with a 5 year-old can happen very easily.  The fix was to pull out the freezer drawers on our bottom freezer unit.  Then pull off the panel at the back of the freezer compartment and de-ice the coils.  My wife came home to find me half inside the freezer using her hair dryer to thaw the coils out.  Lucky for me the repair worked and I didn’t mess up her hair dryer.

Our GE front-loading clothes washer had been leaking some water from the drum, and had water that would collect in the bottom of the drum after a few hours.  Some quick searching on Google pulled up several options.  The first solution was to clean out the lint trap.  A good number of owners of front-loader washers have experienced ‘stinky washer syndrome.’  If you have smelled the funk, search Google for how to clean out the lint trap for your machine and you’ll probably be fixed up.

GE water inlet valve repair

The faulty water inlet valve for our washer.

For me, that wasn’t the solution, although I pulled out lots of ‘goodies’ from the lint trap.  All signs pointed to the fact that we had a faulty water inlet valve.  Many times the valve becomes clogged with mineral deposits.  In our area we have Appliance Parts Depot.  They always seem to have the right part in stock for my projects.  The new valve set me back $45.  Replacement was EASY and educational.  Pulled the unit away from the wall, turned off the water supply at the wall and unhooked the hoses from the back of the machine.  Unplugged the machine, took out 3 screws and slid the top off.  The valve was right there and super easy to replace.  It was interesting to look inside the machine and see the different setup of the front-loading drum.  The new valve fixed the standing water issue which resolved the leak as well.

I am guessing I saved between $250 and $400 in service call fees, labor and part markup for the two separate repairs.  Obviously appliance repair is not for everyone and can sometimes make things worse if you don’t know what you’re doing.  I have had repairs that I have researched and come to the conclusion it would be better to pay a professional to come out and fix the problem.  It is smart to at least Google your problem so you can be an informed customer.  Plus you’ll learn some things about your appliances which might allow you to use them more efficiently.

Recyclebank

My final entry isn’t necessarily a savings as much as an opportunity to make a few bucks doing something you are probably doing already.  In our city, the waste management company works with Recyclebank.com to give points to residents who are recycling.  When we received our new roll-out recycle container I registered our bin with Recyclebank and began getting points every time the truck picked up our bin.  In the course of the last year, I earned enough points for $20 in gift cards to Amazon and iTunes.  This isn’t a huge amount of money, but making some extra cash for a chore I do every week is pretty smart.  They even have quizzes and other activities you can do on their website that will earn you extra points.  It might be worth checking with your city to see if they already participate in this program.  They are basically paying me 50 cents each time I roll my recycle bin to the curb.  Just taking the quizzes would be enough to earn you a small amount of cash over time.

What have you done this month to save some money? or to make a little bit of extra money?   Leave your idea or story in the comment section.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our family to you!  I hope that you are having an amazing holiday season and enjoying the blessings of family and friends.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from this holiday season:

crying with santa

Someone wasn’t happy about seeing Santa.

One of our favorite things to do during the holiday season is going to visit Santa in Sundance Square.  It happened to be 80 degrees the day that we went to go see Santa in early December.

happy girl with santa

Someone was really happy to see Santa.

Our one-year-old wasn’t quite ready for Santa this year, but our five-year-old was ready to see the big guy.  She is a beautiful girl.

little girl christmas tree

My favorite photo of our little one.

And finally a strange but funny photo….

Santa Chicken

Zsa Zsa our Silkie chicken in her Santa suit.

I hope that you all have  blessed 2013!  I am looking forward to some fun projects on the blog in the coming months.  One of the best gifts you can give me is subscribing to the blog via RSS or email today!

Merry Christmas!