How Minimalism Affects Your Marriage

Check out Cut The Crap’s post about how Minimalism can affect your marriage positively!

Cut the Crap

While perusing Netflix one day, my husband stumbled upon a documentary about minimalism.  The idea intrigued him, and he started talking to me about it.  He told me how minimalism is supposed to add joy to your life by removing things that do not bring you joy.  It’s supposed to help you keep your house cleaner and lower your stress.  Well, my house is always a mess and I’m always stressed, so that sounded like a great idea.  I jumped onboard faster than he thought I would (he had asked a packrat if she would be willing to get rid of her stuff, so he was pretty surprised that I agreed at all).

We started with our clothes, and we continued with our office.  With our momentum rising, we vanquished our kitchen, got rid of a ton of furniture (we came to realize that it just gave…

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No Phone?….No Problem!

It hasn’t even been a week since I decided to give up my phone for a month. I am not struggling too bad, probably because it hasn’t been very long. I have SO MUCH MORE free time now that I don’t stare at a screen for hours everyday. My day and life has become meaningful and honestly, it feels good to be away from all the drama and negativity online and amongst acquaintances. Everyone that has needed to communicate with me this week has been able to do so, just maybe not on their time schedule. And that is okay. They are understanding and patient with me and if their not, then I wouldn’t know!

The point is, the world keeps spinning and everyone else goes on with their lives whether or not I’m keeping up with the memes and news. I certainly haven’t missed Facebook. It is obvious now that Facebook consists of the people I know but don’t care to have conversations with consistently. All of my family and close friends never post anything. If I have their cell numbers and we hangout in person, why even bother with social media?

Back to the focus of this blog; what am I filling my time with now that I have time?

Spanish.

I have always wanted to be fluent in a language besides English. I have been to numerous international conferences where colleagues my age were fluent in multiple languages and I admired them. I have taken enough Spanish courses in high school and college to know that it is a lot of work to learn even one language decently, much less multiple languages fluently.

I chose Spanish for a couple of reasons.

  1. Previous Exposure: As I mentioned, I had the opportunity to take Spanish courses throughout my education. I had a semi-firm grasp on the basics, but I never strove to be fluent. I was there just to pass the class to receive a credit.
  2. Application: As a Texan, I have ample opportunities to converse and practice my Spanish with some Hispanics. I have a friend and some colleagues who are Hispanic and they tell me they are happy that I am trying to learn. They laugh when I butcher a word, but that is part of the learning process! Also, being bilingual would be a huge help in the job market. Almost every application I’ve ever filled out has asked if I am bilingual. I know of some people who get bonuses for having such a gift.
  3. Romantic Language: I love the way it sounds! I know that Romantic languages are only labeled as such due to originating from the Romans, but I like to think that it has to do with how charming and smooth the languages sound. I already have a wife (who is learning French, by the way), so I’m not worried about charming the ladies, but it is an amazing language with lots of culture behind it. I keep recognizing English words that I didn’t know came from Spanish. It’s remarkable.

I am doing other things with my free time, but I will tell you about them at another time. If you don’t know how to fill some free time, I would strongly recommend learning a new language, whichever one it may be. I am using a website called Duolingo to learn. They are wonderful and really run you through the basics to help you build a good foundation. They have 10-20 options of languages for you to learn and are developing more programs for other languages as well. They have an app that makes it more convenient to study and practice. Go check it out and let me know what you think!

¡Hasta luego!

Let’s Bring It Back….Southern Gospel Music

I love music. Always have and I always will. I grew up in a very musical family where everyone but my  mother played an instrument. I play the violin, trumpet, bass guitar, piano, and mandolin. The rest of my family plays the trumpet, piano, and guitar, collectively. Most days, when we would return from school, my father would have us complete music theory worksheets, key/time signature flashcards, practice instruments, or sight read new music. The worksheets got old sometimes, but overall, we really enjoyed doing these activities.

One aspect of music that my parents worked hard to expose us to were singing conventions. Singing conventions are when singers from all over the Southern United States come together to sing out of song books. The conventions usually last around 5 hours (including lunch) and are a blast if you enjoy great gospel music. There are amazing piano players and singers who are super supportive and encouraging. Many of the songs played and sung are written by the participants, which is neat.

The lyrics to the songs are meaningful and deliver a wonderful message about Jesus. I would encourage anyone interested in Music with a spiritual message to give Southern Gospel Music a chance.

No Phone? WHY?

I draw inspiration from many sources that I read, watch, or experience. One of my biggest influences of late are The Minimalists. These two men, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, are spokesmen for a more meaningful life void of the extra material possessions that occupy our time and affect our cognitive function. They preach that was should strip away the excess that keeps us tied down, to purge our lives of all things that do not add value to how we live. I am in the process of getting rid of the mess in my house/life. You can read more about it in detail on my wife’s blog, Cut The Crap. (Link is on my homepage sidebar for “Blogs I Follow”).

This morning I was reading one of their essays talking about giving up their phone for a month. It talked about how a large percentage of Americans would rather give up sex, vacation days, and days off for one whole year than give up their phone for the same length of time. How addicted are we that we would give up some of the most pleasurable things for a screen to stare at for hours everyday? Anyways, I was inspired by the challenge, so that is exactly what I am going to do.

No phone or social media for a month.

I expect withdrawals for the phone. I constantly find myself checking it and playing around on it throughout the day. I don’t think I will miss social media that much. All I have is Facebook and no one I truly wish to talk with uses it very often. I am excited to have more time to focus on things that add value such as blogging, practicing my violin, writing songs, and reading books.

I hope it will help me pay better attention to the people I love, to cherish my time with them while I can. I know it will make me a better person, after all, I spent the first 23 years of my life without a smartphone. I know I can do it. At the end of the month, if my the quality of my life has improved, then I plan on downgrading to a cheap phone that will simply just call. I have thought about the actual productive things I have on my phone, and the only thing I would miss would be the GPS. We have a Tom Tom GPS for travel that would be significantly cheaper than a large data plan.

I will update you on my progress occasionally, giving you my thoughts and observations about the process.

Could you do it? Could you give up your phone for one month? I challenge you to begin this challenge with me. Who knows where we’ll end up?

That was in the Past!

Here’s a question…. Should history be taught in school. If so, to what extent?

I am a history teacher at a middle school here in Texas. I personally LOVE history and I enjoy learning more about it. That said, I can also see why kids think history is pointless and irrelevant. They say that history isn’t applicable to normal life. In many ways, they are right. Sure, history shows you the mistakes of the past and what happened as a result, but it is rarely the same circumstances surrounding it.

So, how should history be approached educationally?

Here’s my idea. I believe history should be taught on a basic level. Individual battles should not be glorified. Students should be taught causes of wars and results of wars. We should teach more about economic and social impact of wars, documents, instead of diving deep into trivial details. Focus more on a solid foundation and save super in depth study to students wanting to learn more. Make most history an elective class intended for students seeking a career in the subject.

Focus more on Government and Economics. In a country where 92 million people (40 percent) didn’t vote government should be emphasized. In a country that is 19 trillion dollars in debt, economics should be a priority. In short, history should become social studies once again. Government would teach how the U.S. government functions and how laws are made. It teaches valuable information to help Americans become informed about the system that governs them and to let them know their rights and responsibilities as United States citizens. Economics would teach about the financial system, the stock market, and taxes. It would help balance a checkbook, do your taxes, and teach you the basics. Supply and demand, inflation, loans, and interest; these are all subjects that are extremely relevant in the 21st century.

I will continue to teach history to the best of my ability, but I will not acknowledge that the Battle of Saratoga will help the majority of Americans in their future careers. Let’s change the educational system to be more relevant and applicable to the job market and life.

What do you think? Should the educational system be reformed? If so, how?

Let’s Bring It Back….Penmanship and Spelling

I have never had amazing handwriting. I’m usually in a hurry when I hand-write documents. However, in my defense, when writing slower, I have very legible handwriting. Obviously, I should begin slowing down and doing a better job more often.

As a history teacher, I get to see a lot of student writings. Granted, some have beautiful handwriting.  You can tell they had practice and someone at home working with them. The vast majority, unfortunately, have abysmal writing and their lack of penmanship is clear.

Part of the problem is technology. Schools stress the importance of technology and integrating it into the classroom. Teachers are appraised and judged on their ability to use technology with their lessons. Computers are very important in a global market and for a future of heavy tech use. That said, there are still many times that people need to be able to hand write and they must have some sort of training so that people can read what they write. Many of my junior high kids have the same handwriting skills as my 5 year old cousin. I’m not even kidding.

Here’s another problem. They can’t write in cursive. Since they can’t write in cursive, they cannot even read cursive. When asked to sign their name, they are forced to print due to no penmanship or handwriting training. They won’t be able to read any handwritten historical document or signature.

Spelling is also affected because of tech reliance. Students are so used to spellcheck and texting that they cannot spell basic words. Even words that they should be expected to know at their given age. As an English teacher the past two years, I attempted to stress spelling and cursive in my class, only to receive a lot of backlash from the administration because I was “not aligned with the STAAR training.” I was told not to do any more spelling or cursive training and instead, focus on reading and writing comprehension. That made no sense to me and still doesn’t.

Please stress spelling and penmanship with your children. We are losing some of our foundation to be able to read and write. What happens if computers all stop working? Chaos.

Be part of the solution and demand that cursive be brought back to the classroom.

Cut the Clutter, Part 2 (AKA, The Pit of Despair)

Check out this post from Cut The Crap about how to declutter your house. Great points and logical advice!

Cut the Crap

Well, it’s time.  The moment has finally come.  Today, we are going to tackle… the Pit of Despair.  Every house has its own Pit of Despair, but they all look alike: Rubbermaid tubs that you’re going to unpack “eventually,” boxes that were dumped and sifted through in haste, piles of stuff that’s been sort of tossed through the doorway because, “I don’t know where else to put it.”  My Pit of Despair could go by many names, but we have elected to call it “the office.”  It has a computer, a printer, an aquarium for my turtles, book shelves, and everything else under the sun.

IMG_2627When we moved to this house over a year ago, all the boxes of stuff we weren’t sure what to do with went to the office.  Let’s be real… most of the boxes were just moved from the office of our previous apartment straight into the…

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“I’m Tired of Dealing with Them!”

Unfortunately, in American Schools, this is a common phrase when referring to students who are troublemakers. No doubt that those certain students are a pain in the butt, however, their behavior should not take priority over academic readiness when it comes to passing them on to the next grade.

As a school teacher, I have sat in on end-of-the-year meetings that determine whether or not some of the students should be passed on based on academic achievement through assessments and absences. These meetings are very important due to the fact that a student could be held back or made to attend summer school. One disturbing experience I had one year was when the principal and the teachers that had a certain student voted to pass him on because “he is annoying and a pain.” This student did NOT deserve to advance to the next level. I had him in my English class and he refused to do 85% of his work and the 15% he did do was guesses that showed no academic effort or progress. He was also absent over 20 days, which is at least four days over the supposed “allowed” absence limit. One of the grading periods, this kid had a zero average in 4 of his classes. In my class he had a 27.

He was passed on.

I argued against him getting passed on, but I was outnumbered and outranked. If I’m honest, I came out of that meeting discouraged and confused to just what exactly was happening in our schools. This was my first year teaching, so this was my first meeting of the kind. The quickness of their decision and the joking attitude towards the subject led me to speculate that this wasn’t the first time this had happened. It is sad to think that a school, an institution that is supposed to put the students in a place to succeed, makes decisions rashly and based on emotions.

Schools should not lower their expectations of students. If a student does not obtain a certain amount of mastery in that grade, then they should not advance to a higher grade. It’s a domino effect. If they get passed on without the proper knowledge, then the next teacher that gets them cannot teach the required grade level content because there is no foundation. They have to go back and reteach what the student should already know from the previous year. This results in lost time, opportunity to learn, and lower test grades. Lower grades on the STAAR test puts a teacher on the hot seat. STAAR is how a teacher is judged. That is a conversation for another post though.

I would urge school to stop taking the easy way out and to actually try their hardest to make sure the students are learning what they need to at each grade level. This goes back to my earlier post The American Education System….One BIG Fail talking about how we are a country of mediocracy. We can do better. We should do better.

If you’re a parent, please instill a good work ethic in your children so that they will do the work to be successful and well educated.

My Favorite….Poem

I’d like to share with you my favorite poem. It is by Edgar A. Guest and is about how your actions are more important than your words. Many times we tend to think that we can impact society the most by what we say. However, what you do speaks much louder than what you say you do. Don’t talk about it; be about it.

I’d Rather See A Sermon

By: Edgar. A Guest

I’d rather see a sermon

Than hear one any day;

I’d rather one should walk with me

Than merely tell the way.

The eye’s a better pupil

And more willing than the ear,

Fine counsel is confusing,

But example’s always clear;

And the best of all preachers

Are the men who live their creeds,

For to see good put in action

Is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it

If you’ll let me see it done;

I can watch your hands in action,

But your tongue too fast may run.

And the lecture you deliver

May be very wise and true,

But I’d rather get my lessons

By observing what you do;

For I might misunderstand you

And the high advice you give,

But there’s no misunderstanding

How you act and how you live.

It’s Up to You…

Many people I have listened to over the years are not happy with how their life is going currently. They don’t like their jobs, they have marriage problems, tons of debt, etc. I am in the same boat on some of these statements. I am not entirely thrilled with my job and I am paying off a house and student loans. We all have something that we wish we could change (especially prison inmates). Each one of us got into the situation that we’re in because of the same thing.

Choices.

Choices shape who were are and what we will become in the future. We are in control of our own actions. No one forces us to work a job that sucks the life out of us. No one forces us to keep buying things we don’t need that plummet us into more debt. We choose to do these things and we get to pay the consequences.

There it is….consequences.

As humans, we tend to make choices (intentionally or not) without first considering the consequences. The say goes “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” We are also hindered by our own short-sightedness. As a school teacher, I try to get my students to set goals and work to obtain them. I find, rather quickly, that they haven’t truly thought about what is happening this afternoon, much less in their future. This sort of short-sightedness tends to lead to impulse decisions because there is no goal to help you make your decision. For example, if my goal is to lose weight (it is), then when in the grocery store, I would choose not to buy ice cream because it doesn’t align with my goals.

Now, I’m not saying all impulse decisions don’t work out, nor do I believe that only negative consequences result from choices. I’m merely stating that we have more control over our lives than we think we do. We don’t have to conform to a mold or be who the government wants us to be. It is truly our choice how to handle situations and decisions to arise in our lives. Just bear in mind that your choices carry consequences, good or bad. Make a list of what you want to accomplish in life, set goals that align with these beliefs and desires, and then make choices that help you achieve your goals.

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes…and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” –Eleanor Roosevelt