The Phone Bowl

The Phone Bowl: Keep your smartphone from intruding on time with loved ones

The Phone Bowl: Keep your smartphone from intruding on time with loved ones

Have you ever heard of a phone bowl? While I’m pretty good at leaving my laptop at work and not working once I’m home in the evenings or on the weekends, I sure could stand to spend less time on my mobile phone in the evening. I rarely talk on the phone, but I have plenty of social media apps I pay attention to. A few weeks ago I removed the apps from my phone and have experienced both the withdrawal and new-found freedom that this decision brings.

But even if you don’t want to remove the social media apps from your smart phone, here’s an idea to try to keep your phone in its place (literally) during the key hours of the evening you can spend with family.

Enter: The Phone Bowl!

I once heard someone say they planned to ask their friends to put their mobile phones in a basket by the front door when they come over for a gathering. During this season of intentionally observing how intrusive my mobile phone can be, I decided that trying the phone bowl in our home as a means of protecting family time would be wise. It’s located in our kitchen, just past the entrance where I come into the house with the kids every evening.

Having my smartphone tucked away in the phone bowl makes for a more peaceful evening, and it contributes to making my home a retreat.

Have you tried using a phone bowl or something like it to guard the time you have with loved ones? What works for you?

Minimalist Kids: Too Many Toys (an interview)

Minimalist Kids: Too Many Toys (an interview)

Minimalist Kids: Too Many Toys (an interview)

Recently I was asked by a friend how to help kids deal with getting rid of toys when they have too many. While preparing to write a blog post about it, the thought came to mind to ask my 9 year old son Blake for his answers since he’s experienced it a few times. I wanted to hear his thoughts on the process. I began asking him questions and suddenly I had a wonderful interview on my hands that is better than any blog post I could’ve written on my own. Here are his exact words … :D

Q: What’s minimalism?
Blake: I don’t know. Do you even know what minimalism is?

(He already has me laughing out loud…)

Q: Blake, what would you tell a child you want to encourage to own fewer toys?
Blake: You’ll feel like there’s more space and might feel more safe without stuff all over the floor. If you have too much toys, sometimes it feels like a trap and you can’t move around. It’s like pressure. I would tell him to choose his favorite ones he will use and will help him pass the time; don’t keep toys that sit around and don’t get used. Here’s an example: if you were one of the toys in a crowded room, how would you feel? They don’t get played with.

Q: What do you do when you have too many toys? How do you make sense of all the mess?
Blake: We donate and we throw away bad quality toys that keep breaking. Toys from the dollar store don’t last and you can’t play with them very long. You can’t enjoy them when they’re all over the room and you’ll miss seeing all the hidden ones to play with anyway.

(Tip from Dana: Have two buckets of toys to rotate. Keep one bucket in the bedroom or play room, the other in the garage. Switch them out bi-weekly so the toys are “new” to the kids but not all filling up your home at once.)

Q: When you started wanting to keep all your toys instead of giving some away, what helped you agree with Daddy and me that you needed less?
Blake: It might feel bad to give toys away or throw them out, but sometimes you have to take charge. When I felt my room was crowded and I couldn’t walk around in it or fit any more toys in my toy box, it wasn’t fun. I didn’t like being in my room then. Now I have more space and I feel better. It’s easier to clean my room now.

Q: How did you decide which toys to donate?
Blake: The ones that weren’t containable. I dumped out my toy box and put my favorite toys back in. When I ran out of room, the rest of them were donated or recycled and we threw some away. Now you will feel better and it will be easier to make decisions when you’re older. Also, you could be a great speaker or something from how you experienced this stuff you are going to go through when you do this getting rid of some toys.

(Tip from Dana: Observe which activities you child gravitates toward most – arts & crafts, building sets, sports, etc. Have the objects or toys related to their favorite activities be the majority of the toys they keep.)

Q: Now that you have fewer toys, how do you keep things tidy?
Blake: Well, I have space now to put it all away and I set them in the place it’s easy to remember where it belongs when I want to find it. Every night when I’m done playing outside, I put all my toys back in the sports bucket in the garage.

Q: Anything else you want to say?
Blake: When you do this you’ll have space to play other fun games that might involve toys or maybe they don’t, like playing tag or a board game or making origami. But the point of this is that you’ll feel better and life will be easier.

My heart melts that Blake defined minimalism beautifully with his last statement even though we don’t really use the word much at home. Proof that much more is caught than taught. 

The Rich Life

The Rich Life

The Rich Life

Your Twitter feed, the news, and maybe even those closest to you define the rich life as including anything from being single and free to roam, to being married with kids and living in a big home, or even having a trust fund available to you to purchase anything on a whim. You might not think any of those examples define the rich life, but I want to challenge you to stop and ask yourself what truly is of value to you personally.

Here’s a list off the top of my head of things that make my life rich:

* I have a photo taken the day I took my kids to see where Chris and I shared our first dance as husband and wife. This photo reminds me how they hung on every word as I described the reception.
* There’s a memory in my mind of my grandmother’s laugh that I love. I like to think I inherited her sense of humor.
* I don’t pay a dime for hugs in our home, and I live with some great huggers.
* We have a sweet rescue dog who adores me even when I feel grumpy. Spending a cool evening on the couch with Maggie warming my feet is a luxury.
* Being prayed for by my husband comforts me deeply.
* I surround myself with wise people at work and learn from them. Their lives’ experiences and wisdom are priceless.
* Borrowing a free book from the Kindle library is a gift I give myself each month.
* I get to text my mom inside jokes or funny memes and laugh hysterically at her replies.

In my opinion, this is the rich life.

Focus on changing the belief that being rich requires money. Wealth and money don’t have to go hand in hand.

It’s your turn! Identify things – which aren’t items one can buy – that bring you joy. What makes up your rich life?

Gluten Free Garlic Roasted Squash with Tomatoes

Gluten Free Roasted Squash with Tomatoes

Gluten Free Roasted Squash with Tomatoes

This is a simple new side dish recipe for gluten free garlic roasted squash we’ve tried in the Byers home recently. I’m especially excited to share it because I used ingredients I already had on hand and it took little time to prepare. The original recipe was found here by doing a Google search. I made a few modifications. Here it is!

Ingredients (to serve 4):

* 2 summer squash (yellow)
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 3 cloves minced garlic
* 1 tsp herb seasoning (I used Bragg Organic Sprinkle)
* 10 cherry tomatoes
* salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the ends off the squash and cut them in half. Cut each half into eighths so you have 16 spears from each squash. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Pour olive oil and minced garlic over the squash and tomatoes in a mixing bowl. Stir until all vegetables are covered. Pour vegetables in a shallow baking dish, then sprinkle salt, pepper, and seasoning of your choice on top. Roast the vegetable mix until the squash is browned, anywhere from 5-12 minutes. Keep an eye on the dish after 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Social Media Church Interview

I had the privilege recently to be interviewed by DJ Chuang on the Social Media Church podcast. If you’re interested to learn more of our family’s story and about my dream job, check it out!

How to Break the Shopping Habit

How to Break the Shopping Habit

How to Break the Shopping Habit

Unless I have a specific store in the mall I need to go to or am headed to the cinema, I don’t spend much time at the shopping mall. On one recent trip to the shopping mall with my family, where a few of us had gifts to exchange, I was given a distinct reminder as to what the act of shopping represents for many of us.

The Shopping Habit, Explained

As we walked through a department store, my 9 year old son asked me if I’m saving up my money right now to buy anything. I couldn’t think of anything. I asked him the same question and he couldn’t think of anything he wanted or needed, either. The problem? He had cold cash in his hands. And he felt it needed to be exchanged for something…anything. “That’s why I want to look around, Mom, so I can spend it on something I find,” he explained.

At that moment I identified two things:

1) Big Win: He’s picking up on the good habit of using cash and learning to buy what he wants instead of asking us to buy it for him.
2) Room for improvement: He’s observed the principle, “Have money, will spend.”

Have you ever felt the way my son did? I sure have. Let’s be honest…In a giant shopping mall with dozens of stores, there’s bound to be something to catch anyone’s eye. Choosing to go shopping is almost certainly choosing to spend money (or worse, use a credit card).

How You Can Break the Shopping Habit

Here are a few things I’ve used over the years that have kept us living under budget and helps keep excess stuff out of our home.

* Go on a fast from the shopping mall. If you’re used to going each week to browse, take 2 weeks off. If you’re feeling strong (and frustrated by the unending cycle of buying things to make yourself happy then experiencing disappointment) go longer, like a maybe a month, without darkening the shopping mall’s doors. You’re going to show yourself that joy can be found in experiences outside the temporary high you might feel when you purchase something while shopping.

* Give gifts that don’t require a trip to the shopping mall or a superstore. Make something. Shop local. Or try any of these ideas!

* Go online. I recently began using Amazon Prime to order items I’d usually pick up at a superstore. (Superstores present the big temptation to “save” money but walk out with more than was on your shopping list, instead.) Some key household items available for purchase on Amazon Prime offer a 5% discount if you subscribe for them to be delivered with no shipping charge every other month, like laundry detergent or hand soap.

* Create a grocery plan that works. This will allow you to sidestep that stressful Saturday morning trip with the kids to the superstore to fill your cart. I remember rewarding myself with a latte and new workout clothes once just for getting through the weekly grocery trip at the superstore…only to find when I arrived home that I’d missed key items on my list and had to drive back the next day. (Can we say waste of time and money?)

* Start a list of things you’d like to have…but don’t go out and buy them for yourself. You can shop in your imagination this way and still keep your closets in order. Give it a try! As time passes, those items you most want or could use will stay on your list and you’ll come to see that some of the items would not have been much appreciated after all. Before you know it, you’ll become an easy person to by gifts for. (Learn some specific ways to start this habit here.)

* Wait to buy. Our grandparents were masters at this. Our generation? Not so much. Take the control back that you wield in today’s economy by recognizing that the money in your hand does not have to be spent at all. If you do spend it, it can be given to causes instead of contributing to the accumulation of stuff. Or it could be saved for the day that a special opportunity comes along.

For more on the minimalist approach to shopping, read Minimalist Shopping: My Experience.



Make Lunch Work for You: Simple Preparation (3 of 3)

Make Lunch Work for You: Simple Preparation

Make Lunch Work for You: Simple Preparation (This is one of the lunches I prepared for myself recently.)

Since you know lunch will come every day, no matter whether you’re working outside the home (like I do now) or in your home (like I did the past 8 years), you can take action and be prepared.

  1. Get a grocery plan that works. Try one of the 2 solutions listed in this post if you need inspiration.
  2. On Sunday evening or a weeknight, block out 30 minutes of prep time to slice vegetables, rinse berries, boil eggs, and grill meat.
  3. Set up an assembly line to prep your lunches. (I reuse take-out containers from restaurants and Ziploc containers.)
  4. Prepare 3-5 lunches for the week, depending on how many days you’ll not be purchasing lunch out.

Here are some lunch tips that keep me going week after week:

*I keep a bottle of gluten-free salad dressing in the office cafe fridge.
* It’s a good idea to add lettuce to your meals in the morning on the day you plan to use it so it doesn’t wilt with the other items in the container.
* If you get bored of preparing a smorgasbord of items, consider making a simple crock pot soup you can take with you to add variety. Saving money on lunch doesn’t have to mean being frugal on taste. There are some simple recipes I use that you can try under the Gluten Free heading on this blog or my Gluten Free Pinterest page to get you started.
* Don’t forget that leftovers aren’t a bad thing. If you’re already cooking dinner, you might as well cook an extra chicken breast or some additional pasta to set aside for the next day’s lunch.

That settles it, friends! Now you’re all set to make lunch work for you. If you didn’t read all 3 posts in this series, here are the other 2 to fill you in:

Make Lunch Work for You: Determine Why

Make Lunch Work for You: Choose Your Type

Make Lunch Work for You: Choose Your Type (2 of 3)

Make Lunch Work for You: Choose Your Type

Make Lunch Work for You: Choose Your Type

Depending on current circumstances, I see my weekday lunches in the office as a key way to work in what matters most to me. These are the types of lunches I typically have on any given week day, listed from most common to least common:

* Lunch to read – I like to take my Kindle to work or borrow a book from the staff library in our cafe and read as I eat. More than once I’ve come across an idea or wisdom that’s directly spoken into a situation I’d been facing that day. Reading is a great way to gain a new perspective on real-life situations. (Here are 9 other ways to make time to read.)

* Lunch with a friend – time to chat, share ideas, catch up, encourage each other. This often happens in my office cafe, but I like to meet friends outside of work, too. It’s so nice to take a break and gain a change in scenery (and possibly perspective) over the noon hour. Usually Fridays are reserved for lunch with Chris, and on other lunch with a friend days I simply walk into the cafe, see who’s eating, and join the conversation. It’s been the best way I’ve become better acquainted with people since we moved to Oklahoma.

* Lunch to process – Sometimes I go outside for a breath of fresh air, take a walk, or find a quiet corner to process all that’s going through my brain while I eat lunch. It energizes me for the afternoon ahead, and this type of lunch is a blessing when I’m in the middle of a work or personal issue or facing a difficult decision and need wisdom from God.

* Lunch for errands – This is my least favorite type of lunch, but I use it in a pinch when I need to get a one-off errand done and don’t want to dig into family time in the evening. I typically eat a little before I go then finish up my meal as a 3:00pm snack to keep me going strong until dinnertime.

Use your lunch time wisely and try to work in at least two of these lunch types into your weekday schedule each week!

Did you miss out on the first post of this series? Check it out! Make Lunch Work for You: Determine Why

Make Lunch Work for You: Determine Why (1 of 3)

Make Lunch Work for You: Determine Why

Make Lunch Work for You: Determine Why

Lunch happens every day, and it’s wise to make lunch work for you. If lunchtime is something that creeps up on you daily and you’re left spending $10 on an unhealthy meal, consider taking control to keep money in your pocket and have better energy and focus throughout the day.

First, size up your circumstances. In my case, it’s easily a 5-10 minute drive from my office to meet someone for lunch. I might do it once or twice a week, but it eats into my break time (sorry for that pun just now), uses up gas in my car, and usually costs more than bringing lunch.

Next, admit the truth. A few months ago when I took a serious look at my lunch circumstances, I came up with two realizations: 1) My favorite lunch place is about $8 a meal and a 10 minute drive from the office. 2) I would gladly save the money and time spent driving (you know how I long to return to my car-free life of years past in England) if I could make lunches to bring into work that are as tasty as the restaurant fare.

Let’s just say that looking at things from that perspective meant it was an easy challenge for me to accept and helps me stick to my weekday lunch plan.

Ask yourself these three questions to start your lunch plan wheels a-turnin’!

  1. What does my typical lunch cost?
  2. Do I have to drive to eat lunch?
  3. Can I prepare something just as tasty (and healthier) at home?

Now all you need to do is determine what motivates you to make a lunch plan. Maybe you’d like to save money? Perhaps avoiding the drive or having a quieter lunch experience is the payoff. Personally, I risk consuming gluten every time I eat out, and that can be difficult to manage. No matter what your WHY is, I challenge you to give it a try. Take control of lunch so it doesn’t ruin your health, time, or financial plans.

In the next 2 posts, we’ll discuss the use of your time during lunch and how to develop a plan to make your weekday lunch preparation simple. Enter your email address in the sidebar to get all my blog posts via email so you don’t miss out!





The #mintip About “Stuff” That’s Found in Scripture

Stuff: The #mintip from Scripture

The #mintip About Stuff That’s Found in Scripture

No matter your spiritual beliefs, let’s all agree that stuff is just that…stuff. “Toys and trinkets” seem to multiply overnight in our closets, on bedside tables and at the office. “Loot” piles up in our cars, in our kids’ bedrooms, and in the garage following each decision to make a quick trip to the store.

Stuff can bring temporary smiles but more often causes stress, needs to be cleaned, costs us money and time, and might be better off in someone else’s hands, home, or left on the store shelf.

Simply put, stuff can keep you from living the life you’re meant to live. Avoid having too much of it.

When I came across this ever-so-appropriate prayer in Psalm 119, I knew I didn’t want to pass up the chance to share it with you so it may become your own prayer.

“…Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot. Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets…” 

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