Nate loves the life of the expat, having spent the last fifteen years living in Kazakhstan and China. In Kazakhstan, he founded the Kazakhstan English Language Theater, the first English language theater in Central Asia. Nate is also an educator, and has taught upper Elementary and theater in some pretty far-out international situations. He's the proud papa of three brilliant and beautiful children, and the husband of the lovely Koolyash. Nate is currently working on part II in the Thimblerig's Ark saga.
Thimblerig's Ark was conceived while Nate sat in Tommy Condon's Irish Pub in Charleston, South Carolina, listening to the band play a song about why the unicorn missed out on Noah's Ark. Thimblerig's Ark looks at how the animals all made it there in the first place, focusing on a con-artist groundhog named Thimblerig.
I’m sitting in an airport, waiting to board a flight to our new home in Montenegro, but I wanted to take a moment and document and update my challenges.
I’ve been continuing the Vegan Diet, and am hopeful that it will yield health results down the road. It’s going to be a challenge in the new country, but I’m going to give it a go into July.
I’m still thinking about the success of Dry January, so I’m going to give Dry July another try. It’ll be good for the first month of our new home, and I hope that it’ll help me not depend on alcohol for adjusting to a new place!
I have not been doing my one second videos this past month, but I’m going to pick that up again.
Otherwise, I don’t really have anything new to try. I’ve been too busy getting ready for the move to research what else is going on in July.
Anyway, they’re about to start boarding. So, bon voyage, and here’s to a great July!
And not because I missed meat… it was because I was forced to think about what I was eating in a way I hadn’t before. That, and increasing my fiber made me really, really gassy (TMI?). Also, I would get hungry at strange times, because I hadn’t had enough of something when I ate, and I didn’t know what I could eat to satiate that hunger. I mean, I really really had to think about what I was eating.
And, I really missed cheese.
Being vegan this month stretched me in ways I hadn’t wanted to be stretched.
Y’all, I literally ate nothing but chicken breasts and salads since the pandemic began, and suddenly one of my two staples was off the menu. So, I had to find different staples.
Beans, tofu, jackfruit, baby spinach, apples, beans, sugarpeas, bananas, lots of nuts, all prepared in strange ways to make them satisfying, it has been a long, strange journey.
I don’t even remember what the other challenges I had thought I would try to accomplish this month, the vegan thing taking over my life. I did take a few one second videos to continue that gig, but what else had I planned? I don’t even know.
But you want to know the really crazy thing? The crazy thing is that I’m going to keep going with the vegan lifestyle. And here’s why. Everything I’ve read about how miserable you feel when you start veganism says that you have to give it time, and eventually you start to feel great. So, I want to give it a chance. I’ve felt miserable this month, and that doesn’t seem fair. I want to feel great. Especially since for the next month or so I’m living in hippy-dippy Asheville, where you’d think being vegan was easy, and in a month I’m moving to Montenegro where I’ve been told being vegan is more of a challenge. So, I’m going to enjoy being vegan where it’s easier, and I’m going to steel myself for where it’s going to be harder.
And maybe somewhere along the way I’ll start to reap the benefits. Here’s hoping!
So, Meatless May is going to turn into Just-Plant-June or something.
Also, this month I cut out the two biggest thieves of joy in my life… Facebook and Twitter. That has been such a great idea. I had no idea how much energy I’d given to these two spawns of Satan, but I haven’t missed them a bit. So, I think I might extend that into June as well.
Seriously. Facebook and Twitter are really, really harmful.
What else will I be doing/not doing in June?
One thing that has fallen to the wayside this month is exercise. I did so well in March, walking for nearly 100 miles, but in April and May, not so much. So, I want to bring back the 100 miles in a month challenge for June.
Also, my creativity hasn’t gotten as much attention. I did well with the one-second-a-day video project, but I want to do more. So, I’m going to try and push myself to write more this month. More specifically, I’m going to try and write a 100 word story every other day. That means that I’ll hopefully have 15 new short stories by the end of the month.
By the way, it’s crazy that at the end of this month I’ll be living in Montenegro. That’s like, mind-bending insane. I didn’t even know what Montenegro was a year ago.
So, that’s a wrap on May, and a start on June. And life continues, for most of us.
I have to admit, April wasn’t such a great month for the challenges. I did keep up the spiritual challenge by reading the daily devotional about giving up worry for Lent, but I’m not sure how much it impacted me. I didn’t do anything with the health challenge, the creative challenge, or the financial challenge. The month of April was an almost complete failure.
But, that’s okay. I’m doing this for twelve months, so a month where nothing happens can be expected.
Now, we’ve started May, and I’ve started some pretty difficult challenges.
For health, I’ve decided to embrace No Meat May and go vegan. Considering I live outside of Asheville, NC, this shouldn’t be so hard. Well, at least that’s what I thought. My first day of going vegan involved being at a home where the hosts were serving homemade brisket and ribs. But, I managed to stick to the non-meat items on the menu.
Also, I had friends come for brunch, and I made an egg casserole that looked so yummy, but I abstained. That was fun.
That said, I’m looking forward to the challenge of avoiding the things that vegans avoid this month. I’ve already found that regular sugar is on the list, which shocked me. This is going to be an interesting month.
I’ve also decided to give up Facebook and Twitter this month. This was inspired by a Facebook post by a friend in China who had found some emotional and mental relief by not being on social media. I don’t know how much F and T have contributed to my general malaise and anxiety, but I figure it has to be substantial. So, I’m going cold turkey with these platforms this month. We’ll see what happens.
And for my creative challenge, I’ve decided to go doable and continue with my one-second-a-day challenge. I didn’t do it every day in April, but I’ll continue in May and see what it gets me. Meanwhile, here’s April.
I don’t have a financial challenge for this month.
So, here we go May. Should be an interesting month!
March has passed, and with it another collection of challenges. It was a fairly successful month, and I was able to work on all four of my challenges with various levels of success.
Once again, the most successful challenge was my creative challenge, the one-second-video project, which I have decided to continue throughout the year. Often, people having their phones out indicates that they aren’t living in the moment, but living in some future time when they think they will look at their picture or video again, but probably will not.
However, looking for moments to film made me be a bit more present, as I was always watching what was happening with the idea of filming something interesting. I saw things with fresh eyes, so to speak.
Here is my March one-second-video.
I will also continue my March spiritual challenge in April, as it is connected to the Christian season of Lent, which ends in the middle of the month with Easter.
I felt challenged this month to listen to a different voice about spiritual matters, and so I chose a devotional called “Give Up Worry For Lent” by Gary Zimak, who is a Catholic writer. The book has been an encouragement, but I’ve struggled a bit reading something about worry that was written before the Pandemic and before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These two events made things seem real to me in a way that things hadn’t necessary seemed before.
That said, the author makes some points that are true no matter what is going on in my life or in the world. And I do believe it has helped me to handle worry a bit better by focusing on Christ. I would recommend the book for a future Lent, or just as a daily devotional for anyone who is prone to worry. I will be continuing this practice until Easter.
And a final thought on this… having given up things for Lent in the past, I really enjoy the idea of giving up something like worry, because it’s not something I would crave like coffee or sugar. I’m happy to get it out of my life.
For my health challenge, I challenged myself to walk 100 miles over the course of the month. I really enjoyed this challenge, especially since March in western North Carolina is a lovely time, and the weather was perfect. I didn’t make it to 100 miles, but I did make it to 70.6 miles, which averages to about 2.3 miles a day, which isn’t bad. While I’m not going to shoot for 100 miles in April, I will continue to push myself to walk as much as I can.
Finally, for my financial challenge, I found a Trello page that gave a general daily challenge. Having already done financial challenges in both January and February, I found this to be fairly repetitive, but still helpful to keep my mind on personal finances. That said, it did encourage me to find a new high-yield savings account and to shop around for a new CD. But for April, I think I’ll be ready to try a different sort of financial challenge.
Speaking of April, here are my new challenges.
Considering that the challenge that I’ve done the most consistently throughout the years has been the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) in November, I was excited to remember that in April, Nanowrimo sponsors Camp Nano, which is a more relaxed version of what happens in November. Rather than writing the first draft of a 50,000 word novel, Camp Nano encourages you to write whatever you want. The point is to get you writing.
So, for my month of writing, I’m going to try and write short comedic stories, maybe one every two days, at around 250-300 words each. I’ve not written comedy before, so I’m excited to stretch myself and see how my comedic voice can sound.
For my health challenge, I’m going to use a pdf I found that has simple exercises each day, called Move More April. I’m going to try and work up to doing more strenuous workouts, but since I’ve mostly just been walking up to this point, it’ll be good get there at a reasonable pace. Oh, and as I said before, I’m also going to continue walking as much as I can.
My financial challenge this time is not like the other times. I want to spend the month of April understanding crypto currency. I understand the basics – that it is digital currency and such – but I don’t understand mining, or how the system works. So, April is my month for educating myself on this new(ish) technology.
As I said before, I’ll be continuing my Lent readings until Easter, which is in the middle of the month. Alongside this challenge, I have downloaded the Calm App, and I’ll try some of their meditation offerings. I’ve never used Calm before, and I’m going to be doing their free seven day trial and then I’ll cancel. After that, I’ll just use whatever free offerings they have.
The most exciting thing about where this challenge has taken me is that I’ve discovered things that I want to keep doing, that aren’t incredibly intrusive, and aren’t so difficult to make into habits. In fact, they stand to make my life much better, and for that I’m grateful.
I’m going to try and do weekly updates moving forward, even if they’re short. I don’t know if anyone will read them, but I want to be able to look back and see how I was doing on my challenges each month.
The good news is that I’m actively working on three out of four of my challenges this month, which is pretty good.
I’m still enjoying taking videos each day, and I’ve even started taking multiple videos as the mood strikes me. It’s fun being on the lookout for interesting scenes as I’m out and about, and for interesting ways to film those scenes. The video challenge has definitely been a success.
This has been really interesting, because for my spiritual challenge you might remember that I linked it to the Christian tradition of Lent, and I’m reading a devotional book called I Gave Up Worry For Lent. This is especially interesting because I’m reading a pre-COVID book in our current situation, where we’re still dealing with COVID and now the war of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the first real possibility of nuclear war since the USSR collapsed.
If I ever needed to be able to get a handle on worry, it’s in the world in which we currently live.
And yet, as I read the book, it often just feels… trite. I hate to say that, because I don’t disagree with the writer in any fundamental way, but let me give an example from yesterday’s reading, the focus of which is that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).
Of course, as a Christian, I don’t disagree with this. But looking back at history, and looking at what is currently going on in Ukraine and other places where people are inflicting violence on other people, I wonder how I see a statement like that. I guess I would look at the destruction around me and accept it, and my faith would be strengthened, or what I was experiencing would make me reject it. Because if nothing is impossible with God and God is allowing all of this needless destruction, what does that say about God?
I guess that’s the age old question, isn’t it? How can a good God allow suffering?
Then I think about the Mr. Rogers quote, about “looking for the helpers”, and it reminds me that even in the face of tragedy we can see God’s goodness in the response of the people who help. (By the way, some would criticize this as a simplistic viewpoint in the face of tragedy, that Mr. Rogers was trying help preschoolers deal with tragedy, not adults. What do you think?)
It also seems to me that if what the Christian faith teaches about God is true when we’re not in a pandemic and we’re at peace, it would be true when we are in a pandemic and we’re at war. In fact, it seems that it would likely be even more true, if that’s possible.
Anyway, this is a blog post, not a treatise on religion or ethics. And I’m just thinking out loud.
For my physical challenge, I chose to take part in the 100 Miles in March challenge. I’ve been more active than I was last month (16 miles by March 8), but still not enough to reach 100 miles by the end of the month. And just a reminder that this is a fundraiser for mental health, so if you’d like to help encourage me to pick up the pace, I invite you to contribute on my Facebook fundraiser page!
To be honest, I forgot about this one. So, this weekly checkin is a reminder to go and look at the Trello template I downloaded, and start making that a daily thing. For today, I am to not eat out. This is a challenge, because I’m in a habit on Mondays and Wednesdays to grab a bite out on my way home from teaching English at the community college. But we do have plenty of food, so I’ll take that challenge today.
So, that’s my review of the month so far. I’ll be back in a week!
February was a very quiet month for me on the blog, for lots of reasons. However, I was able to accomplish a couple of things in my second month of challenges. My most successful challenge was participating in the One Second Every Day video challenge. It was fun to have a tiny spark of creativity each day, and looking for different things to film. You’ll note that I spend a lot of time with my youngest son Noah, as he’s in many of the clips.
Here’s my February One Second Every Day video.
I enjoyed this one so much that I’ve decided to continue it as my March creative challenge, and I may even try to do a whole year of 1 second videos. With our family scheduled to relocate to Montenegro in the summer, I’d certainly have lots of new things to film!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as consistent with the other challenges this month. I didn’t do any planking, I did try and do some side hustles, but they weren’t profitable enough to continue, and I worked through The Love Dare, but I’m not going to comment on that right now. Still, it was a second month, and I survived!
And that brings us to March.
Give Up Worry For Lent
This month’s challenges happen to coincide with the start of the Christian season of Lent, where Christians focus on some aspect of their faith leading up to Easter. In the past, I’ve participated in the practice of giving up something for Lent, but I’ve often found that rather than having any substantial growth in my faith, I’d just spend time thinking about that thing I was giving up.
So, this time, I’m going to focus on giving up something that is worth giving up, especially considering all that’s going on in the world: worry. And, I’m going to do it by using a devotional called Give Up Worry For Lent. So, hopefully I’ll experience some maturing in my faith as I follow the readings each day.
100 Miles in March
While researching fitness challenges, I discovered that there are lots of people getting people out moving around for good causes this month. There’s the Find your Mojo in March walk for breast cancer, there’s the March the Month walk for prostrate cancer, but I chose the 100 Miles in March to help support mental health efforts in the UK, which seemed to dovetail nicely into my spiritual challenge.
This Trellochallenge intrigued me because it came with a template, and I like templates that help me be organized. I’m really not even sure what the financial challenges will be like, but I figure it can never hurt to keep thinking about how I’m spending my money!
Alright, so that’s my next 31 days. Wish me luck, and go back and donate! 🙂
This challenge was, by far, the most successful. I made the comment earlier that it’s easier to not do something then to do something new, and that held true for the month. I was successful in keeping dry for the month, and it was a great experience. I’m hopeful that it will lead to me approaching alcohol in a healthy way in the future, knowing that I could go for 31 days without it.
This challenge also went well. The website I used was easy to access, and provided easy but important daily challenges. I feel like I’ve got a better handle on my finances after this month than I had before.
I have to admit, this challenge didn’t keep my attention. I was mindful for a few days, but then became less interested in being mindful. Considering that I’ve planned to have a spiritual challenge each month, I think I’ll have to consider how to make sure that it’s a relevant challenge, something that will keep me going for 30ish days.
I completely dropped this, and I think I know why. When I started the challenge, I was happily sketching each day, and posting my sketches. This was my error. Posting my sketches became too stressful, especially when I saw the sketches of people who are actual artists. Lesson learned for creative challenges… keep them to myself until the month is over.
This leads me to February, and my new challenges.
And by the way, note that I’m adding a menu for each month, so if you want some ideas for your own February challenge, take a look. Also, let me know if you know of some good challenges for the month that I don’t have listed.
The Love Dare is a forty day challenge that came from a really bad Christian movie (Fireproof). But, the challenges are designed to benefit a marriage, and that seem appropriate for the month of Valentine’s Day.
I love this concept. I’ll shoot one second of video each day of the month and then at the end of the month, I’ll post the stitched together video. Here’s an example of a one second every day video. I have to say, I’m most excited about this one, because I look forward to looking for small moments to capture on video. And there’s something really appealing about looking for small moments each day. But anyway, I won’t be posting anything about this until the end of the month, so I think I will enjoy the delayed gratification of this challenge.
Admittedly, I feel like I might be setting myself up for disappointment with this one, but at the end of the day, I’m talking about sitting still for a few moments each day, so maybe it can happen. Besides, I have to have a health-related challenge. So this is it.
A challenge that might give me some extra cash? Why not give it a shot?
And so, I’m off for my second month of challenges. I feel like I should add that an added challenge is to make sure I update how these challenges are going along the way. January was tough, what with my family finally getting COVID and all. So, hopefully February will go better.
One of my favorite movies growing up was the comedy Airplane!, a silly take on 70’s disaster movies that may hold the record for in-your-face jokes per minute.
One of the famous recurring bits in the movie is when Lloyd Bridges’ air traffic control character responds to the increasing problems thrown his way by lamenting giving up an increasingly harmful group of addictions.
While I thankfully don’t share this character’s addictions, I can empathize with him after what the first week of January has thrown at us.
First, we watched as my wife’s home country of Kazakhstan experienced unrest like never before, with protests against corruption that have been a long time coming, apparent infiltration of peaceful protestors by violent actors of unknown origin, the firing and arrest of top levels of the Kazakh government, shootings and bombs and burning of government buildings, days of internet outages preventing us from contacting friends and family, and capped off by the president of Kazakhstan making the unprecedented move of inviting foreign soldiers to come help restore order.
Second, our son came home from school on Thursday and by Thursday night he had a fever in the 100’s and then a rough night of sleep. The next morning I tried in vain to secure an appointment to get him tested for COVID, and so we ended up sitting in a local urgent care for a few hours. And just liked we hoped wouldn’t happen, the results came back that he’d tested positive. So, after successfully dodging the virus since it first went wild in China back in January 2020, it finally caught us two years later. What a big surprise, considering how so many people in the U.S. seem to have thrown in the towel and accepted that it’ll just burn through the population. So now we have our eight-year-old isolated in our bedroom upstairs and we’re doing our best to not catch it ourselves.
And the icing on the cake? Since I’ve now been directly exposed to the virus, I won’t be able to start my new job on Monday teaching English to immigrants and refugees at our local community college. This really bums me out, because I’ve really been looking forward to starting that new role.
Of course we’re thankful that Noah’s experience with COVID has been mild so far, but that plus our concerns for Kazakhstan make me think…
But I’m pressing on, and I’ve done better with some of the challenges than I have with others. If you’re interested, you can read on as I unpack both.
The best success I’ve had so far is the thing that I thought would be the hardest, and that’s Dry January. I’d developed a nightly nightcap habit prior to the start of the challenge, and it’s a whole lot easier to not do something for a month than to try and do something new for a month.
So, while I’ve had a couple of times where my stress level has insisted that a drink would help, Dry January has been a good encouragement to opt for a cup of herbal tea instead. Also, it’s been nice to wake up feeling awful because I’m getting older and not because I had a glass too many of something the night before.
I’ve also had some success in re-examining my finances. Mostly realizing that I needed to be more intentional in planning for the not-as-far-away-as-I’d-like-it-to-be retirement years. I’ve also looked into some good high interest online savings accounts for our emergency fund as well as a good Roth IRA for retirement. I would encourage anyone who doesn’t have a good grip on their finances to go through a financial challenge like the one I’m doing.
Things I Can Do Better
I originally wrote that I’d had successes and failures with these challenges, but as I started to write about my “failures” I realized that I was approaching these challenges the wrong way. After all, these are all things I’m doing to better myself or to be a better version of myself. If I do one consistently and another with less frequency, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means that I’m doing the best that I can and it’s an encouragement to re-examine how I’m approaching the challenge. I’m cool with that.
The other two challenges have been more challenging to me, even if I have had a degree of success with them.
First, I’ve had trouble consistently carving out time for the mindfulness challenge even though I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve done it. The point of the mindfulness, which I appreciate, is to learn how to slow down and live in the moment, and that is something that is worth my continuing to try and do.
Second, the Creatuanary drawing challenge has been surprisingly difficult. I think it is because I started searching for other people’s work, and most of the people posting their work with this challenge seem to be professional artists, or at least they could be. Me? I am – at best – a novice cartoonist, and my drawings reflect that level of artistry. And so the dreaded beast of comparison breaks down the door, growls at me, and then gobbles down my enthusiasm to continue. I’m working to convince myself that I’m approaching it the wrong way – that it doesn’t matter how great my drawings are, the point is to just draw.
An important point is starting to emerge with regards to this and future creative challenges, and that is to remember that I’m not doing this for professional pride or with hopes of starting a new career. I’m doing it so that I have an avenue of self-expression that I ordinarily wouldn’t have. I’m being creative in a medium that I haven’t been creative in since I was a kid, back when I didn’t care if I drew as well as a professional artist in another city. Back then I drew for the joy of drawing, and that’s what I need to bring back to this drawing challenge and any other creative challenge that I might tackle during the next 51 weeks.
I’ve enjoyed hearing from folks this week, here on the blog, on my social media, and on Reddit where I’ve been posting about Dry January and Creatuanary in the subreddits there. That’s a big thing that I’m learning – the importance of going through challenges with other people. It’s great to do something like this in community!
So don’t forget about me as you go through your own challenges! And to remind you, I leave you with a new favorite cover of an old favorite song, a bluegrass version of Simple Minds “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Supper Break. Enjoy a little taste of the music of western North Carolina.
I’m wrapping up day 4 of Dry January, and I’m encouraged that it’s not been so hard. Alcohol was my go-to relaxation at the end of the day, so I’m working at finding healthier and less expensive ways to relax. I’ve had decaf tea these past two nights and played Xbox, and while this combo doesn’t get the same result as a glass of Elijah Craig, I’ve enjoyed it so far.
For my second challenge, I had a good exercise in mindfulness today, which included a meditation session, which made me feel (for lack of a less cliche’d word) centered. But this is the value of mindfulness: it helps you be in the moment, to pause and breathe and think about the fact that you’re breathing, to take a moment to think about the cup of coffee you’re about to sip, to pay attention to the sounds around you. I appreciate this daily reminder that I need to practice being present.
My financial health challenge continues, with a deep dive into how we’re setting things up for retirement. The organization that I work for doesn’t offer any sort of IRAs, so we’ve always invested through a financial advisor at our bank. My focus today looked at the value of having some diversification in your retirement, so I started looking into Roth IRAs.
Finally, my creature challenge today was unusual in that it was an animal that actually exists: the narwhal. So, I decided to do something completely shocking and drop my narwhals into a galaxy far, far away.
I liked the narwhals, but wasn’t so happy with the light sabers. But that said, it’s been fun to sit and draw after not doing it for so long!