Two Simple Resources for Tracking Bible Reading

Maybe you started the year with a plan to read through the Bible. By now, maybe you’ve fallen behind or you’re contemplating giving up.

Here are a couple resources to make things just a tiny bit easier to follow through on one of the most worthwhile things you can do this year.

1 – Tracking a Reading Plan Across Your iOS Devices

Reading Plan is a free, simple app for starting a bible reading plan. You can customize:

  • the plan you’re using
  • when you started your plan
  • which app the passage will open up in on your device
  • alerts and reminders for reading

 reading plan app 
It’s not the prettiest app, but it gets the job done. 

There are hundreds of plans available to download through the application.

My favorite features are:

  • the ability to mark all days before today as read (great if you’re using the app to track a plan you already started or have been reading but forgot to mark it complete)
  • auto scrolling to the last place you left off

The syncing across iOS devices isn’t speedy, but it works. I’ve used other trackers that have lost my progress and been a pain overall, but Reading Plan has been solid.

2 – Additional Ribbons for Marking Your Physical Bible

I’ve been using the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan for the last few years. It’s a 4-chapter per day plan, and each chapter is in a different part of the Bible. I love getting to spend time in different genres and sections of the Word, but it’s a hassle to always flip around in my paper Bible.

Fortunately, I have a smart friend named Big Al who googled “how to add extra ribbons to your bible” and made me an aftermarket ribbon marker and now my Bible looks like this.

 bible with ribbons 
Here’s what you need to make your own:

  • a Bible with a binding (i. e. leather is ideal, but basically not a paperback)
  • ribbon (3 colors, assuming your bible already has 1 ribbon)
  • scotch / clear tape
  • scissors
  • a business card or piece of cardstock paper
  • bonus: a lighter if you’re into fire
  1. Measure your ribbons against your Bible and make them at least 6 inches longer.
  2. Cut the business card to be about 2 inches tall and 1 inch wide.
  3. Tape the ribbons close together / overlapping and side by side, using about an inch worth of tape vertically for extra hold.
  4. Open your Bible and insert the card with ribbons in between the pages and the outer binding, at the spine of the book. You may need to trim your card to get it to fit. You’ll want it to be just smaller than the gap so it doesn’t slide too much.
  5. Stuff the card into that gap, pushing it down at least an inch or two
  6. Cut ribbons to length
  7. Use a lighter to burn the ends of the ribbons so they don’t fray. Use a wet rag to put out the flame if you don’t want to burn your fingers (don’t use the wet rag if you do want to burn your fingers). 

    Here’s a shot of the card sliding into the binding.

    Anything I can do to reduce the friction of actually opening up my Bible is worth that effort.


    Chemex Instructions: The Best Way to Brew Coffee

    The AeroPress was my first love when it came to moving beyond the automatic drip coffee maker. It’s still my favorite way to make coffee when I’m traveling.

    But there’s a new brew method in my life, and we’ve been going steady for nearly two years.

    Meet the Chemex.

    8 cup chemex instructions

    If we were judging brewers by their covers, there’s no doubt the Chemex could win a beauty contest.

    But beyond that pretty hour-glass figure is a simple way to brew the cleanest, most delicious coffee you’ve (likely) every had at home.

    The Chemex is just a fancy pour over (meaning you physically pour water onto the grounds which are in a filter). What makes the Chemex special is its filters. These unique, thicker filters remove any bitterness from the coffee.

    If you’re ready to dive into amazing coffee, you might get held up wondering how to use this thing. Here are my Chemex instructions for how to brew and what equipment you need.

    How much coffee do I use?

    The magic formula for us is using 15 grams of water for every 1 gram of coffee beans / grounds. That’ll give you nice-tasting, not-too-bold, not-too-watery coffee. We have an 8-cup Chemex (with the wood collar, naturally) and we normally brew 50 grams of coffee (750 grams of water) which produces 3 mugs full of coffee (2 for me and 1 for my more caffeine-sensitive wife).

    What temperature of water?

    Start with 195° Fahrenheit for my American friends or 90.5° Celsius for the rest of the galaxy.

    Depending on the surface you put your kettle on, the temperature will start dropping rapidly. You can keep the kettle on a burner to keep it warm, or just pour quickly (but not too quickly, noted below).

    How Should I Put in the Filter?

    I’m glad you asked.

    You should wet the filter (I just swish it under running water) and center the side of the filter with 3-folds directly over the lip where the coffee pours out.

    Lots of people complain that the Chemex hiccups (and I did too!) until some genius on the Internet mentioned that if you put the 3-sided part of the filter over the pour spout it leaves a gap for air to release. Surely this was done by design, so that pour spout is also an air escape.

    How much water should I add at a time?

    With the first pour, if you’re using freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee, the coffee should bloom (i.e. puff up). I normally start with 150 grams, and once the bloom collapses a bit and the water has mostly dripped through, I add 150–200 grams of water at a time.

    If you add a bunch of water all at once (say 400+ grams), your coffee will probably taste murky, like you just found it in a closet of your grandma’s mothball-ridden clothes. I’ve done that on more than one occasion and basically cried the rest of the day.

    Don’t get too zealous with your pouring. It’ll ruin everything.

    How long does it take and in what order should I do everything?

    The entire process, with heating your water (mega fan of the electric kettle, which makes things much quicker), grinding coffee, and adding water should take about 15 minutes. The process is mostly dependent on how quickly the water heats up and how much coffee you’re brewing.

    I do things in this order:

    1. Heat the water in (electric) kettle
    2. Measure whole beans on a scale
    3. Grind the beans coarsely
    4. Wet the filter and put in Chemex
    5. Add coarse coffee to Chemex
    6. Check temperature of water and begin adding when it hits 195°
    7. Add water 150 – 200 grams at a time
    8. Drink like a champion

    What grind of bean should I use?

    Medium-coarseness is ideal.

    If it’s too fine, your coffee will turn to mud in the filter and get clogged and taste awful.

    If you use coffee that is too coarse, the water will drip through too quickly and the coffee won’t have much taste.

    Adjust accordingly.

    What equipment do I need?

    These five items are listed in order of importance. Picking them all up will set you back around $215, which is no tiny investment.

    I suggest getting started with the Chemex and filters along with a kitchen scale, so that you can accurately brew. That combination will set you back $90, assuming you already have a way to heat water via a standard tea kettle or electric kettle, and you’ll have to grind the beans at the store or shop you purchase them in.

    Chemex and Filters

    Surprisingly, if you want to use a Chemex, you need to have one in your possession.

    For $70 you can snag the classic 8-cup Chemex (for the thirsty / party people out there) and a pack of 100 filters.

    It’s way cheaper to buy filters at a local hipster coffee joint (normally around $10 / box of 100) or World Market (shocking, right?). Amazon, for some reason, rarely has fair prices for filters.

    If we’re getting particular, I like the square unbleached filters because they look cooler and are easier to grab and chuck in the trash when you’re done brewing.

    Chemex Bundle: 8-cup Classic Glass Coffeemaker and 100 Circle Filters for $69 at Amazon

    Chemex 8-cup Coffeemaker for $60 at Amazon

    100 Square Non-Bleached Filters for $18 at Amazon

    Kitchen Scale

    eat smart kitchen scale
    To start, hands down, you 100% should buy a cheap kitchen scale. It will take your coffee game to the next level overnight.

    Any scale with a decently wide base will do–just make sure the Chemex can rest safely on it. I also prefer a scale that measures in grams, but hey, whatever mass-measuring system that floats your boat will do. The 8-cup Chemex fits perfectly on the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale.

    EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale $20 at Amazon


    weber thermometer
    This may seem silly, but burning your coffee is easy to do. Please, for the love, don’t pour boiling water over your grounds. That’s just wrong.

    This $10 Weber one has served us well, but be careful not to submerge it fully under the water.

    As a bonus, it works as a meat thermometer too.

    Weber 6492 Original Instant-Read Thermometer $10 at Amazon

    A Burr Grinder

    burr grinder
    Fancy burr grinders can set you back hundreds. If you want to start with a more reasonably priced grinder and you’re not afraid to use a little elbow grease, this $22 Hario hand grinder will get you going.

    We’ve been using this low-end1as far as burr grinders goCuisinart Burr Grinder for years. It’s not good enough for a coffee shop or espresso, but for the Chemex you’ll be just fine.

    Hario Coffee Mill (Hand Crank) $22 at Amazon

    Cuisinart Burr Grinder $65 at Amazon

    Gooseneck Kettle

    Hario Gooseneck Kettle
    For just over $40 you can add the most unnecessary yet somehow life altering tool to your coffee crafting collection: a gooseneck kettle.

    Most kettles have a normal spot and pour from the top, meaning you end up with about half of the water you brewed on the floor, counter, and your toes (if you brew barefoot).

    The Gooseneck, like a gentleman and a scholar, has an appropriately named gooseneck spout that pushes the water from the bottom of the kettle so you can pour like a decent human being, not wasting a drop of your perfectly brewed water and being able to properly wet all of the grounds in your Chemex evenly and fairly, without discrimination.

    Hario V60 Gooseneck Kettle for $42 at Amazon

    Wrapping Up

    It’s a big step forward to dive into a coffee apparatus that takes more time than a standard automatic coffee maker or, heaven forbid, a Keurig. But the Chemex process is a delightful one and your taste buds (and friends you share with) will undoubtedly thank you for it.

    Barebones Chemex Equipment ($90)

    All-In Chemex Equipment Setup ($206)

    Simple Chemex Instructions and Recipe

    20:1 ratio, water to coffee | 195° F brew temperature | 3 cups = 35 grams of coffee grounds and 700 grams of water

    1. Heat the water in (electric) kettle
    2. Measure whole beans on a scale
    3. Grind the beans coarsely
    4. Wet the filter and put in Chemex
    5. Add coarse coffee to Chemex
    6. Check temperature of water and begin adding when it hits 195° F
    7. Add water 150 – 200 grams at a time, using a ratio of 20 grams of water to 1 gram of coffee grounds
    8. Drink like a champion

    Footnotes   [ + ] far as burr grinders go

    The Simplest Way to Create a Graphic With Text Overlay on iOS

    At some point, nearly everyone needs to make a graphic. There are countless tools for adding text to an image. Photoshop and Pixelmator give you tons of options and range in difficulty of use, but for an on-the-go, simple app, Typorama is unbeatable.

    typorama logo

    In fact, I own multiple design programs but often reach for Typorama because it’s so fast and simple. It creates images as good or better than what I would on a computer in less time.

    When you open the app, you’re brought to the main screen which prompts you to choose a background and displays free-to-use images (using Pixabay as a database) along with a search bar. You can peruse the near-endless list of images by scrolling down, or you can search for an image type of your choice.

    typorama main screen

    If you aren’t looking for a specific image to put your text over, scrolling is a great start. These images seem to be curated based on the quality and popularity.

    You can also import your own images and slap some text on it.

    Here’s what I love about that app that sets it apart from others:

    • free-to-use, integrated image search
    • custom options for sizes optimized for Instagram, Facebook, iPhone wallpapers, and more
    • 30+ included text / font styles for overlaying on your image
    • fine tuning tools for image adjustments–filters, overlays, color enhancements and every color you’d hope for with a color picker for text
    • Text tools to easily 3D rotate the text to have it align with an object in the photo to create a multi-dimensioned look
    • An eraser feature to make it look like the text is behind a portion of the image

    Here’s an example of one of my favorite uses of Typorama, utilizing the eraser tool for added depth.


    Check out their Instagram feed to see the magic people are creating with Typorama.

    What makes Typorama special is that it’s simple, speedy, and makes a person without design skills look like a pro.

    With font options like Cutesy, the app doesn’t exactly scream masculinity, but there are plenty of options for whatever style of image you want to create.

    I sometimes use Typorama in conjunction with another design program. I’ll create the text overlay using the transparent option (the first option when you open the app), save it, and email it to myself to do more design work on my computer.

    My biggest gripe is that there isn’t a way to save images and go back and edit the text style later. Once you leave the image you’re working on to go to another, you can’t go back and tweak the text–you’re stuck recreating from scratch.

    A quick tip: each font or text style has multiple options for how it will display, so each time you click on the same font, you’ll get a slightly different design style.

    I’d love to be able to fine tune the styles more, but simplicity beats customization here.

    I most commonly use the app to create lock screens with verses on it. My wife designed the first image and the second I slapped together in less than a minute.

    The app is free but displays a Typorama watermark without an in-app purchase of $2.99. That in-app purchase unlocks all text styles and the watermark designer.


    Faster, More Secure Web Searching on iOS

    Maybe online privacy isn’t something you think outside of keeping your credit cards and banking information out of the hands of hackers.

    iOS offers an option to change your search engine under Settings ? Safari ? Search Engine. There you can choose from:

    • Google
    • Yahoo
    • Bing
    • DuckDuckGo

    DuckDuckGo is the only search engine in the list that doesn’t track and store your search results. That means they aren’t targeting you with ads or trying to sell your data to marketers.

    duckduckgo logo

    I like having more control over who has my information and search history, but what sold me on DuckDuckGo is a unique feature called bangs.

    DuckDuckGo enables you to search certain sites directly by using an exclamation point followed directly by the website shortcut.  Continue reading


    The Focus Course Review

    As I reflected on the year in 2014 and 2015, the two things I said I wanted to improve the most was my focus. I still have a long way to go, but I’m convinced in an increasingly distracting world, focus is what separates those who make an impact and those who get lost in the shuffle.

    I want to focus on not being distracted by social media and giving my full attention to the people around me.

    Jim Elliot’s quote continues to resonate with me.

    Wherever you are, be all there.

    I haven’t come close to fully living that out yet. But I’m working on it, with a lot of help from The Focus Course by Shawn Blanc. Shawn is a prolific writer about creativity, focus, intentionality and runs a few of my favorite websites: Tools and Toys and The Sweet Setup.


    What is The Focus Course?

    The Focus Course is a 40-day online course that helps you:

    • get clarity about what you want to be doing
    • get real about what you’ve actually been doing
    • plan for what you want to do
    • and helps you take action to be where you want to be and become who you want to become.

    The course is split into five modules.

    1. Foundations
    2. Honesty
    3. Clarity
    4. Action
    5. Planning

    This course stretches beyond the scope of focus and gets to the heart of living a meaningful, purpose-filled life. It’s about being intentional about how you live and work, putting your values at the center of everything, and making a lasting impact with the one life we have here on earth.

    Who Is It For?

    Anyone who wants to live with more focus and intention.

    I wish I would have taken this as a college student, so I could have more fully lived out the principles embedded in this course.

    I’m grateful I took this course as a young professional with a newborn (I started the course in the hospital just after our daughter’s birth!). It will continue to help mold and shape the person (and dad) I want to become.

    I’ll retake this course as I grow in my career, my marriage, my relationships. As I start side projects and tackle areas of my life I want to continue to grow in.

    Basically, if you have a pulse and want to increase your focus, make a difference, and live a more  purposeful life, The Focus Course is for you.

    How Long Does It Take?

    Each day takes about five to ten minutes to watch the video or read through the content, but there are additional exercises and assignments you’ll need to complete, which is where the true value comes.

    As a warning, the second module about Honesty takes lots of extra time and effort, but it will help you live in reality and see who you want to be and become. It takes serious discipline to keep trudging through days 12 – 17 and finishing the tasks you need to. I promise it is worth it.

    Altogether it’s a 40-day course, and I love the way the course is set up. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and having to diligently work through each day and each module means you’re chipping away at bad habits that have been built over a lifetime.

    Extras and Improvements

    Beyond the daily modules, there are all kinds of assessments for finding what’s distracting you, if you’re addicted to notifications and checking your inbox, extra articles for going deeper in areas like personal integrity, daily habits, tips for how to use your Mac, how to overcome the fear of missing out (FOMO) and a whole lot more.

    Shawn continues to improve the course and invest in it heavily. Shawn recently released version two of the course, which adds a video to every single day.

    It’s beautifully designed and you can cruise through the course with any device. My personal preference is on iOS. You’ll be able to see all the modules you’ve completed and see your progress as you go through. There’s also a members forum section where you can provide feedback, connect with others, and share what you’re learning and processing.


    Favorite Aspects

    The most valuable portion of the course for me was thinking about the person I want to become. If a morning manifesto is what is true about yourself, then crafting your values on Day 10 of the course is what guides you in who you want to become.

    The course drips with authenticity, attention to detail, and beautiful design. I didn’t know an online course could look so good. Shawn pulled out all the stops in an effort to make the packaging look as good as the product.

    I’m a huge fan of the additional articles and assessments for increased productivity I mentioned above.

    I’ve started working through the course again to start 2016.

    Is It Worth the Money?

    In short: absolutely. I fully believe an investment in ourselves in an effort to make a greater impact on the world around us is one of the best ways we can use our hard-earned cash.

    If it wasn’t worth the money, I would have asked for a refund. Shawn backs his course up with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

    This is a course about intentionality, focus, productivity, making an impact, and living with purpose, all rolled up together. I can’t think of a better way to start the new year.

    I can honestly say the cash I dripped on The Focus Course was far and away the best money I spent in 2015. I’m excited to get back into the course again this year.

    If you aren’t sure you’re ready to invest a few hundred dollars on the course, Shawn offers a free course called The Elements of Focus with a 16-day email series that will give you a taste of the full Focus Course.

    If you decide to sign up for The Focus Course, I’d be grateful if you use my affiliate link. I can’t recommend the course highly enough, and I’d love to hear from you (jshirkman at gmail dot com) if you decide to check out the course.