On Screen Time in iOS 15

Today is the release date for iOS 15, the latest operating system for your iPhone. You can see all the new features here or read an in-depth review here. Overall, it’s a nice upgrade.

I just want to make thre quick observations on Apple’s Screen Time. It is a tool to limit and monitor the screen time for you and your family. It was released a few years ago and is definitely worth the time to understand and organize your tech.

With iOS 15, there is one great new feature and two pain points that still exist for the way we use Screen Time in our family.

Improving but more needed

Ignore Downtime Until Schedule: In our family, we have set it up so the majority of the time, the phones are useful tools for our kids to use. Productive apps like Calendar, Day One, and iMessage are always available to be used. We do this using “Downtime” which is set for most of the time.

On Fridays after school and on Saturday, the games and other fun apps get unlocked and the kids have a fun time playing.

From time to time though, we’ll be on a trip or want to play a game together with the family. In the past, this meant turning off the downtime manually and hopefully remembering to turn it back on later. That didn’t always happen.

With this new feature, you can ignore the current state of Downtime temporarily. The next time it’s supposed to turn off or on, it will automatically fall back into the schedule. Very useful.

Alway Allowed apps list struggles: Three years into screen time, there are still some rough edges.

With the “Always Allowed” section, you can list out apps that are available all the time no matter the Downtime settings. This is how we provide the productive apps at anytime.

The two issues that are still outstanding, even in iOS 15, are iMessage apps and Mac apps. (Allowing Watch apps used to be a struggle, but that has improved.)

My kids like to keep in touch with their grandparents and cousins by playing little GamePigeon games in iMessage. GamePigeon is an iMessage only app and there is no way to enable that to be always allowed.

The other issues is Mac Apps. Since your Screen Time settings can sync between Mac and iOS devices, you’ll see Mac apps listed on the phone. Most of them have no icon and don’t have equivalent apps. (see Font Book and Harmony Desktop in the above screenshot.)

Do Not Share Access Devices: There is a setting to not share your usage data across devices. That’s useful for people like me who work on a Mac all day and regularly have apps open while doing other things. Turning the sharing off will more accurately show my iPhone/iPad usage.

However, what I’d really love is the ability to turn off Screen Time completely on my Mac but leave it turned on with my iPad and iPhone. There is no way to do that.

This is also needed for our kids. We’re pretty intent and protective about how iPhones are used because they’re private and mobile. However, our Mac is in a public place of our home and is often used for other things like homework and projects.

Currently, since Safari is limited on the iPhones, it’s also limited on the Mac. There is no way to disable Screen Time on the Mac without also turning it off for the phone. I suppose you could just log out of iCloud completely, but that removes all sorts of useful parts of using a Mac.

Screen Time, Still Worth It

Even with these limitations, taking the time to configure screen time for your family is definitely still worth it. (Even if it means you have to manually merge two Apple IDs to one so your Family Sharing is set up right.)

Screen Time is free, it is built into the operating system, and it’s improving each year.

Update: One more thing I’d love to see in Screen Time management is a read-only Safari. Maybe this should just be a 3rd party app but I’d love it in any form.


Helping kids organize their money through teaching and technology

Our kids are good savers. They stash most of their money away to plan for big purchases. 

The most difficult part of this habit was trying to keep track of it all. There were random bills and coins placed here and there. We’d take trips to the store and they didn’t recall how much they had to spend on something. It was difficult to remember what they had paid tithing on and what was yet to be tithed. 

I know the importance of a personal budget and keeping track of money for adults.We decided to get organized and help our kids take a more intentional approach to their money as well. It is good training for the future and it’s much easier on Candace and me.

We created the Youth Personal Finance Record for use in our family. It is a Numbers spreadsheet that can be used on any iPhone, iPad, or Mac. (Download available at the end of this post.)

Talk with your kids about money

We sat with the kids to see how they would like to organize their money. It was decided that they would like to save ten percent for tithing and ten percent for savings. The rest they would spend however they’d like to do so. 

We talked to them about the role of a bank. Since they are young, we decided to open an account with Mello Bank (us) and keep a ledger for each of them.

Whenever they receive money, they make a “deposit” with us and we update the ledger. It is fun to watch as they realize that digital money is the same as cash in hand without the stress of losing it. 

They all felt comfortable with the plan. 

An Example Youth PFR

The spreadsheet consists of three automated main categories for and five columns for recording:

Spending – This is the total amount that each child has to spend at anytime. Eighty percent of each deposit goes here.

Tithing – This is the amount of tithing that needs to be paid. It is a running total. Ten percent of each deposit is shown here.

Savings – This is the amount that goes to savings. Ten percent of each deposit is shown here. Spending from this category requires permission from parents. The kids anticipate that this will go toward a large purchase in the future like a car, a church mission, or an international trip. 

Date – We record the date when any transaction happens

Income – All deposits are entered here whether it is a gift or earned money. They give us the cash and we record it while sitting with them. When a deposit is made, it is automatically divided between the top three categories.

Expense – All purchases are recorded here. This column subtracts from the “Spending” category

Tithing – When tithing is paid, it’s added here. It only subtracts from the “Tithing” category. 

Note – We all decided that it would be a good idea to require a note for every transaction. This way they can go back and see the things they spent money on and decide if it was worth it in the long run.

In the images above, you’ll see the changes that are made when a deposit, tithing, and expense is recorded. Note that the top categories change as items are recorded. (tap to enlarge)

The Benefits of Organization

We created a spreadsheet for each kid and then shared it with only them through iCloud. This allows them privacy and direct access anytime from their phone or the family Mac.

Sharing the spreadsheet with a child

My wife and I can edit the document (like a bank would) and our children can view it. They are encouraged to talk with us about their purchases, but they make the choice on their own and then we all record it together. 

This new way of organizing their money has encouraged more conversations about financial matters. This is a sorely lacking subject in school. There is some real benefit to talking about finances at home. It’s fun to watch them learn, understand, and then connect the dots on just how powerful money management can be in their life. 

And I no longer have to organize random piles of small bills and coins.

If you’d like to download a blank copy of the Youth Personal Finance Record to use in your family, you can do so with the link below. I’d love to hear how it goes. 


Beat The Algorithms

Social media is all about the algorithms. They are designed to keep you on the site, steer you to make purchases, and keep you enraged and engaged. 

This isn’t good. It’s profitable (for them) but not healthy for you. 

Controlling the time you spend online is one more way of being 100 percent responsible for your life. I prefer an organized approach where everything has it’s place.

Here are three things you can do to have more control of the time you spend online: 

Learn to use RSS feeds

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. When you subscribe to an RSS feed, you are notified anytime a website puts up a new post. The technology has been around for decades. I’ve been suggesting it for nearly as long. It’s a really good way to be intentional about what you read, rather than just reading whatever the algorithm puts in front of you. 

The best app for iPhone/iPad/Mac is NetNewsWire. It’s free on all three platforms and syncs through iCloud without any additional cost. 

After you have it installed then add any URL to the app and it will look for a feed to follow. Once subscribed, you’ll receive a notification anytime a new post is made. 

I like James Taylor. But even I, a super fan, won’t check his official site every day. Instead I subscribe to the site and I’m notified anytime there is something new.

You can subscribe to a newsroom site and see all the articles without all the extra stuff that shows up when you follow them on Facebook or Twitter. You can even subscribe to my site

Make YouTube more useful for You

I watch Youtube videos but I don’t subscribe to any channels. I don’t use YouTube Explore or Recommended videos either. I don’t even stay logged in to my account. In fact, I try to use my Google account for as few things as possible.

Part of it is a desire for privacy, but the bigger part is a more intentional control of how I spend my time online. 

My YouTube interaction consists of specific searches and also a handful of specific accounts from which I want to see all videos. For the videos that fall under the latter category, I subscribe to them via RSS in NetNewsWire.

With this approach, the videos are delivered to me and I’m sure to see them.

Just put the Youtube URL right into NetNewsWire and you’re set.

Four steps to add a Youtube channel to NetNewsWire

This saves you from being pulled into the time warp of Youtube-land. It will let you choose what to watch rather than than being told what to watch next.

Own your thoughts and words

One way to avoid the algorithm of social media is to be sure your personal thoughts are posted in a place you control. You can stay focused on what you want to put into the world instead of just consuming.

I write things here on my site and just link to them from social media. Sometimes I wonder how many quality facebook posts die because the author opens the app and is sidetracked.  

As I’ve written before:

When you blog at a domain that you own, your words belong to you. When you use a social media platform, the words belong to the company. Also people tend not to use social media wisely.

Using social platforms feels temporary. On social media the posts are hard to find, link to, and just seem to disappear over the years. I worry about those who “use Facebook as a journal.” It won’t end well. 

-Brian Stucki, A certain number of words

If you want to write things that will still be available in the future, make a blog of your own.

You could signup today on and have a place where you write. Pay a nominal amount and you can do it at a domain of your choice so it can live through different platforms and technology shifts.

In fact, Facebook will even allow you to export all past posts and put them on a blog of your own. Do it.

Just start somewhere

These are three little steps that will help you beat the algorithms. Keep an eye out for other places that control your time and then make an effort to minimize the ulterior control in your life.


Experts In Their Field

It was my first day attending an arts class in college. The teacher stood in front of the class and clarified the purpose of the class:

“In this class we will learn about the great artists in history. We will look at paintings, music, architecture, poetry and sculptures. All of these pieces from history have come from the experts in their field. This is not a class to decide which of this art is a masterpiece and which is not. This class will help you to recognize fine art. It’s not the pieces that are on trial here. It is your ability to recognize them.”

A building in Barcelona by Antoni Gaudí

I was not expecting that. It sure set the tone for all of us. I learned about many pieces in that class. I can’t remember most of it. More than anything else, I came to appreciate “experts in their field.”

In an internet era, we all are susceptible to false expertise. Social media, Wikipedia, and even search engines can bring confirmation bias. You find what you are looking for even if it’s not right. 

First hand experience is often filtered until facts are lost and agendas are found. False expertise can be deceiving.

Expertise and the pandemic 

Early in the pandemic there were a lot of questions. That’s a good thing. In science, questions are how we make progress. If you use the scientific method for long enough, then you find answers. The experts in the scientific world got to work. It took months but things we didn’t understand at first have became more clear. 

The vaccines brought even more questions. In our home, we were vaccinated at the first opportunity possible. It has been a relief for our health and we feel like we are part of the solution. Many friends and family were hesitant early on and at the time that was acceptable. 

That is no longer the case. 

While we are still learning all this pandemic brings with it, we are far enough along now that the experts in the scientific field have spoken: The vaccine is incredibly safe, effective, and is the only way out of the pandemic. 

You no longer have to hold onto scientific misconceptions from early in the pandemic. We’ve reached the conclusion stage of the scientific method. It is safe. It is helpful. It is an “overnight success” that was decades in the making.

If you have questions about safety, breakthrough infections, immunity through infection, pregnancy/infertility and would like information from experts then start here.

If you are ready to receive a vaccine, find a location here.

Like my college class taught me long ago, the experts in their field have spoken and now it’s our ability to respond that is on trial. 

An expert I trust

While I feel comfortable writing all of the above, I am not an expert. I am educated and confident in my research of original sources, but not an expert. 

But I do know an expert. 

The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes 1843-1927

He’s a close friend and talented physician. His mind is as sharp as his scalpel. He’s cared for me, my family, and so many others. I trust him. If he told me I needed immediate life saving surgery, I’d make my way to the table without asking a single question. 

I’ve struggled over the last year as I watch him balance knowledge with kindness. He’s been accurate in predicting every stage of the pandemic. He strongly recommends the vaccines.

I’ve watched as people bring to him “evidences” that contradict his expertise. He’s repeatedly explained that vaccine research and anti-vaccine “proof” is simply not two sides of the same coin. He’s been thorough in his advice even when it is ignored.

It turns out that he is an an expert in patients and patience.

I wouldn’t blame him if he was keeping a mental list of all the people who are ignoring him now. You know, Edmond Dantés his way through the list over time with hesitant medical advice. He’s a better man than that. He just keeps helping.

He was recently told to cancel all his scheduled surgeries (again) because the hospitals have no room. I know this affects his income and livelihood. I asked him about it. Can you guess what his first concern was?

“I feel bad for all the patients who scheduled their lives around surgery and recovery time and now are told it can’t happen.”

When my friend has to postpone surgeries, he tells his patients to “get vaccinated and tell all their friends and family to get vaccinated as well.” That’s the only way to get the surgery schedule available again. 

This makes it personal for the patients and those who care about them.

Let’s wrap this up

I worry about the longevity and stamina of these experts. I hope they can hold up

I admire the constraint when their decades of expertise is questioned by someone who spent days or weeks on YouTube and Facebook. It must be tiring. Medical experts and scientists are not robots. 

The hardest part of all is to know that we could be six weeks away from shutting the door on the pandemic. It’s as simple as widespread vaccination and yet we delay. I will never understand how we got to this point. 

But I do know the experts in their field have spoken. 


August 2021 Stockpile

Here are random things to post that don’t deserve their own post:

Knuckle Bender

I recently learned about a tool called a “knuckle blender.” It’s a wrench that is specifically designed to cleanly bend the hinges on doors. I ordered one from Amazon last week and my sons and I fixed all our sagging doors. Tap out the pin, bend the hinges in our out, replace the pin. It’s an easy fix that you can appreciate every day as your doors open and close easier. 

Barebells Protein Bar

Most protein bars are just not good. Barebells is an exception. They are really good. They sell a couple of flavors at our local Trader Joe’s store, but the online store has more choices and ships fast from Southern California. The hazelnut nougat is my favorite. 

New Macaron Champion

I need to provide an update to my macaron post. There is a new macaron champion in town.

Sugar Bees Bakery sells a crème brûlée macaron and Candace calls it a top 5 dessert. The bakery keeps strange hours so be sure to check before driving over there. 

Related: Normal crème brûlée is one of my favorite desserts. I’ve purposefully never looked up the nutritional info for it. As far as I know, it’s healthy. 

Labor Day Countdown

Today marks 35 days until Labor Day 2021. It’s a time for families to gather and other fun activities. As my sister recently suggested, it’s also the exact number of days for the process of full vaccination. (One shot today, one shot in three weeks, two more weeks for full protection.)

Find a vaccine location today. Attend those family gatherings with confidence of health for yourself and your family members.

Airline Refunds

Airlines seem to be back to their old tricks already. The emails declaring “we are in this together” went out the window with the PPP repayment notes. So here is your friendly reminder that if your flight was cancelled, you are entitled to a full cash refund and not simply a credit toward a future flight.

It took a few weeks of back and forth, but we had a sizable refund finally given for a trip that didn’t materialize. Keep fighting the good fight.


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Stay Cool. Have a good Summer.

Stay Cool. Have a good Summer.

It’s not just a way to sign an elementary school yearbook. It’s a formula. If you stay cool, your Summer will be better.

It has been so hot in Las Vegas. Any chance to cool down is a treat. 

I purchased two things recently that have really helped. I thought I’d pass it along so you too can have a good Summer. 

Ooler Sleep System

The sleep system will cool down or heat up your bed on a schedule. It does this by pumping water through a mat that you lay on top of your mattress. It has been incredible. 

Sweating through a hot afternoon in your everyday activities is just a little more bearable when you know you’ll be climbing into a 65 degree fridge bed. (It’s also helpful for the Winter because it can pre-heat a bed when you climb in, cool things down through the night so you sleep deep, and then warm you back up again just before you wake up.)

Here are some answers to the things we wondered about before buying:

  • You can feel the small tubes through the sheet, but not as much as you’d think. The weight of the body seems to push them down enough that you don’t feel them. It’s only in your hands that you might feel it. 
  • Yes, you can purchase a mat that has controls for each side. 
  • You can try the system for a month and still send it back for a full refund. 
  • When the unit is running under your bed, it’s like a very soft white noise machine. (Our whole house sleeps with white noise machines anyway so we don’t hear a difference.)
  • All schedules and settings are done via bluetooth through an app.

It pairs wonderfully for those of us who pump the air conditioning all night. When you have a cool room, you need to be out from under the blanket to enjoy it. With this, you can have the cool room, but you can still keep the heavy blankets on so you don’t roll around too much. 

After years of rolling around for comfort and temperature control, it has been very strange to wake up in the same position in which I fall asleep. 

But above all else, it’s knowing that despite the sun and sweat filled days, the bed is pre-cooled and waiting at the end of the day.

You can buy a unit on Amazon. (There is currently a 25% off coupon available.)

If you purchase direct from the manufacturer, there are more sizes and you can choose to purchase separate controllers for each side of the bed.

We went with a “Ooler Sleep System with Chilipad Cool Mesh” and added the “we” option so each side would be separately controlled. Here is a link that will give you a 25% discount from their site.

Slideback: Self Closing Sliding Glass Door

A few years ago, I purchased a sliding door add-on that will close the door automatically. It has worked very well and is very convenient. 

No more yelling “close the door” long after your kids have run into the backyard. (And then eventually getting up to close it yourself. 

It keeps the bugs from coming in, but most importantly it keeps the cool air from leaving your house. 

It’s also really helpful when you’re going outside with full hands. Just walk through the door and it closes behind you. 

For the cool winter days, it’s easy to unhook the latch so you can keep your door open for fresh air. 

The heavy duty version worked for our doors. They also sell a “Heavy Duty Plus” version. 


Morning in the Desert

It is 6AM and pushing one hundred degrees. Relief is found occasionally as the sun plays behind the checkerboard of a sky. I return home by 7:30 and find the kids already in the swimming pool. Thus is life in Las Vegas.


Friends, Faith, and Unfairness

A friend of mine recently had some devastating news delivered to his family. I was relieved that he opened up to me and we were able to talk about it. I’ve been so amazed by his resolve. Despite some hard years recently, he remains positive, uplifting and full of faith. 

He asked for some things to read as he makes sense of life with a smile. 

Among the first recommendations that I sent was a talk recently given by Dale G Renlund, an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  It is called “Infuriating Unfairness.” My friend was familiar with it but we were happy to talk it over again, together. 

When this message was delivered, it spoke directly to my yearning soul. I am an optimistic and positive person but I have returned to these declarations a number of times. I am so happy that I have these words of truth that I can apply to areas of my life and help others apply it in their own situations. 

Elder Renlund walked through all the most critical scenarios. He spoke of unfairness that we bring upon ourselves and also unfairness that cannot be explained. It’s critical to differentiate the two. 

I recommend the whole talk if you feel it would help you. If I had to sum it up in three simple points, I would offer the following:

Thus is life

Unfairness is part of mortal life on earth. We all are here with different physical bodies, different living situations, different natural gifts, etc. Life has a way of setting some up for smooth success and setting others up for a challenge. 

We should help others

Whether in our own life or in the lives of others, how we deal with unfairness is part of our learning. We should do our best to grow our faith when life feels unfair. When possible, we should take action to alleviate unfairness where we find it in the lives of others. It’s a form of bringing “to pass much righteousness.” It’s even good for your health!

The Savior understands and helps

The Savior suffered all unfairness as part of His atonement of sin and sorrow. Whatever degree of unfairness exists in our lives, Jesus Chris is aware and active in healing the broken hearts. If endured well, it can improve our discipleship now and our destination in the future. 

I am happy that my friend opened up to me. Many people don’t share their pains with others. 

My grandpa says that “if everyone sat in a circle and put their struggles in a brown paper bag, one by one they would be read and we would all be happy to have our own struggles back.”

It’s safe to assume that everyone is pushing through something. Until we know how we can help directly, the best approach is patience, kindness, understanding, and love.

But also we can ask, “Where does your life feel unfair? How can I help?”


You need more James Taylor in your life

James Taylor has hundreds of songs. So many of them are unknown. That’s unfortunate. After decades of dedicated fandom and dozens of live concerts, I want to help by sharing some of my favorite James Taylor songs.

Most people are familiar with the Greatest Hits album. It’s a masterpiece of music with eleven quintessential JT tunes and the lovable black sheep of the white album, Steamroller.

I will assume that some minimum requirement of art appreciation is already in place. So with the hope sharing of new discoveries, I’ll leave these greatest hits off of my list.

While most of my list is in no particular order, let’s get right to the song that rules them all.

You Can Close Your Eyes: my favorite James Taylor song for thirty years. Perfect example of his guitar style. Perfect range of singing. He ends every concert with this song.

And now for the rest of the songs

Each of these songs will have an Apple Music link. I also have these songs (and more) in my shared Simple James Taylor playlist.


Three Thousand Miles to Nowhere

A few months into the 2020 pandemic, our family purchased a treadmill. I think it happened when I realized that “food storage” does not count if it is already on my body. Our whole family finds time to use it. Candace is especially good at focusing on health and that encourages all of us.

While walking on the treadmill we’ll take time to think, watch, and work. We have enjoyed this simple way to get some exercise.

It’s now been ten months and I saw this graphic today which shows the lifetime stats of our treadmill:

I don’t know what a “fit score” is but I do understand miles. A total distance of 2,903 miles walked. I realized that as a family we’ve walked from North Maine to San Diego, CA.

It’s amazing what you can do when you take things one step at a time.

What now? We’re going to Gump this treadmill. We figured “since (we’ve) gone this far, (we) might as well just turn back, keep right on going.”