Friday, December 28, 2012

Traveling to Chicago

Just in case y'all didn't know, I am a criminologist.  Every year my society holds its annual conference during the week before Thanksgiving. (Amazing timing, I know.)  This year's conference was in Chicago, IL.  Just imagine 3,000 criminologists descending on a single hotel with the purpose of discussing their research and networking.  For many, it's sort of a like an annual class reunion, but you actually want to see the people who go.  While the conference was productive, this post is more about the fun I had in Chicago when I wasn't at the meeting.

The first time I went to a conference I was under the illusion that I had to attend as many sessions as possible.  However, I quickly learned that overloading myself with sessions takes away from where the real action happens, which is in the hallways and lobby where people congregate to talk and hang out.  So, this year I resolved to be more social.  When one of my faculty members invited me out to the Shedd Aquarium I  took him up on it.  If you're ever in Chicago, definitely go to this aquarium.  They have absolutely everything you can imagine!

One of the neatest creatures at the aquarium is a sea turtle named Nickle.  Nickle is over 50 years old and has been at the aquarium for the last 20 years or so.  She was injured in a boating accident and, due to her injuries, will live out her days at the aquarium.

Nickle shares her tank with many other sea creatures including sting rays and puffer fish.  I really enjoyed watching the sting rays swim in circles.  In addition, the aquarium has exhibits for fresh water fish and  frogs.


On another day, a buddy of mine and I decided to go exploring in Chicago.  We went to Navy Pier and rode the Ferris wheel.  Even though it was super cold that night, we thought it would be super neat to see the Chicago skyline.  It turns out that conferences do not need to be all work and no fun -- just don't tell my advisor!





Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Decluttering slowdown

Back in July I posted that hubby and I were going to start the 150 Thing Challenge.  At the start of the challenge we had 231 items.  Remember, that we were pretty loose on our definition of item.  The purpose of this challenge was to identify things that we do not use or could live without, which has sometimes resulted in entertaining discussions and a new process for handling these issues.

For example, after a particularly successful decluttering binge, I found myself in possession of an extra end table.  While I was all for 'moving it on in life', hubby was less than thrilled with the idea.  So, I had to figure out a way to keep the table and to keep it out of my living room.  This led to the great closet reshuffle of 2012.  We have three racks in our closet.  Two of the racks are upper racks and one is a lower rack.  I moved all of our clothes to the upper rack which left an empty lower rack.  The 'extra' end table now sits under the rack (in the closet) and has become our decluttering staging spot.  Basically, everything that we have decided to declutter goes on the table and when it's full we make a trip to Goodwill.

In addition to staging the declutter stuff, it also has created a space for us to try things out.  We recently decided that since we have a dishwasher and a rather large sink that the dish drying rack was taking up valuable kitchen counter real estate.  So, we put the drying rack in the staging area and experimented with not having one.  After a week it became apparent that the drying rack was indeed not needed and off to Goodwill it went.  Now when we need to let something air dry we just put down a kitchen towel and prop the item up.

The 150 Thing Challenge is an on-going project.  I know that I initially hoped to be done by early September of this year, but this project gets harder and harder each day.  As we 'move items on' it gets more difficult to think about what we could live without next.  Below is our current inventory:


We're down to 200 items with 50 more to declutter.  On the upside, I'm pretty happy with where we are at.  The purpose of this challenge was to re-evaluate our belongings and their purpose in our lives, not necessarily to reach a specific number.  I will be reassessing the clothing situation at the end of the semester and determine what I haven't worn to work in the last few months.  Also, Hubby's laptop is currently on the chopping block as we're in the process of finding a new home for it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Little Brother's Wedding

On Sunday, October 28th my younger brother married his fiance in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by many of their friends and family.  Unfortunately, I was too busy experiencing the wedding to take any photos so we'll have to wait until the photographer gets back to us.  

Right when we got off the plane it was time to go to the rehearsal dinner.  My mom and uncle picked us up from the airport and we headed to our hotel to freshen up for the evening.  The rehearsal dinner was held at an Italian restaurant called Bugatti's.  It seemed like a pretty nice restaurant, although we didn't see much of it since we we're in the banquet room.  Everyone enjoyed their cheese-laden meals, while I had grilled salmon and steamed veggies.  I'm glad that the restaurant was able to cater to my issues, especially after I called them to confirm and they said that they couldn't do much for me.  Doug saved the day on this one since I didn't have time to eat after getting off the plane and I was super hungry.

All of my siblings, except for my brother in Germany, were at the dinner.  It was nice to have us all in the same place for the first time in two years.  Hopefully, we can keep having family get togethers at regular intervals.  After dinner we were able to mingle with some of the other guests.  I spent a lot of my time catching up with my brothers and talking to two of the groomsmen.  It turned out well.

The next day we decided to get out of the hotel go do something as a family.  I rented a Ford Explorer (keep in mind my daily driver is an itty-bitty Chevy Aveo) and we all piled in for a trip to the Dallas zoo.  I had a blast at the zoo.  My favorite part -- after enduring the bug exhibit and the reptile house -- was the cat exhibit.  We saw the most beautiful and angry cougar you can possibly imagine.  He was definitely not a happy camper, which doesn't surprise me since there were tons of loud kids running around in costumes all over the place.  It would have made me cranky too if the kids were so gosh darn cute.

So, other than our horrific plane experiences, the rehearsal dinner, wedding, and zoo went well.  I guess you can say, "Mission Accomplished!"

Friday, November 2, 2012

Traveling to Texas

Please accept my apologies, dear readers, for my recent ride on the blogging fail boat.  Life has been a bit crazy in Smith Land and I just haven't had the time (or even the blogging ideas) to share with you all.  But, I am back and I have lots to share.  Hubby and I just got back from my younger brother's wedding in Texas.  I'll save the wedding details for another post as I want to talk about something more dramatic this time... travelling by plane.

Back in May, I purchased our plane tickets and prepaid for our hotel room.  We were supposed to fly from our dinky airport in our town to Detroit.  From there, we were supposed to fly Memphis and then to Dallas-Love Field. Notice the phrase "supposed to."  In August, I was notified that our flight itinerary had changed and that we would be flying from our dinky airport to Detroit to Memphis to Atlanta and then to Dallas.  Yes, four flights and multiple possibilities for crazy.  Some how, everything worked out and we made it to Dallas on Friday in one piece.

The way home is another story though.  For the trip home, we were supposed to fly from Dallas to Atlanta to Detroit and then to the dinky airport.  However, our trip home looked nothing like this.  We dropped the rental car off promptly at 7:30 AM and then headed to the airport via shuttle.  TSA was cranky, but we made it through unscathed.  After sitting at the gate for a while, it became apparent that we were not going to be leaving at 9:30 AM.  In fact, without making an announcement to the waiting passengers, the departure time was changed to 11:20 AM.  Realizing that we wouldn't make our connection in Atlanta, hubby and I decided to talk to the gate agent.  I felt so bad for the guy.  Not only did he look fresh out of high school, but he didn't look like a typical polished gate agent.  Instead, he looked like one of the ground crew members.  After a few minutes, he found us a flight that went straight to Detroit and a connecting flight to our dinky airport.  The only problem was that it was flying out of the other Dallas airport.  At least the airline had a process in place to handle the problem and they provided taxi vouchers.  Of course, this meant another trip through TSA.

We made it to the other airport with time to spare.  At the ticket counter, I asked one of the employees about one of my random sheets of paper (it turns out when your flights are changed that a LOT of paperwork is created) and he told us to go see the guy at another desk and tell him that we were supposed to be compensated for our inconvenience.  Sounded nice to me, so we went.  Only to find out that the guy at the desk was an elderly curmudgeon who would rather be any where than at work.  At least he gave us vouchers to compensate for our lunch.  

After eating lunch, we went back to our gate only to find out that my uncle and younger sister were going to be on the same flight to Detroit and that they were sitting in the row behind us.  Egads!  I was actually trying to avoid flying with my sister since she can be quite the chatterbox.  Luckily, I went to sleep and didn't hear her the whole way there.  After saying our good-byes, we headed over to the gate for our connection flight to the dinky airport.  Everything seemed to be going well until five minutes before we were supposed to board and the flight was cancelled.  I mean REALLY!  Our options were to stay in the airport overnight until the flight in the next morning, rent a car and drive home, or to beg my mom to drive us home.  We went with option three.

So, the way home ended up being a fiasco.  The moral of the story is to never trust Delta to look out for you as a customer because once they have your money the stop caring and to always have a back up plan and a spare outfit in your carry-on.




Friday, October 5, 2012

Minimalist cleaning

All Clean :)  (Credit:  SuddenlySusan)
I have a confession to make (and I'm sure hubby and my MIL would agree):  I am a clean freak, but I don't like to spend a lot of time cleaning.  I love have a clean space because it frees me up to think big thoughts instead of being mired down in the clutter.  That being said, owning less and in a smaller space certainly cuts down on the amount of time it takes me to clean.

On a typical day, it takes approximately 30 minutes for me to get the apartment back in shape.  I usually follow the same steps and I thought I would share those here.
  1. Grab the wastebasket from the bathroom.
  2. Clean the kitty box.  (All of the yucky goes into the wastebasket.)
  3. Grab a microfiber dusting cloth and wipe down all surfaces (tables and bookcases)
  4. Attach the same dusting cloth to the swiffer and dry mop the entire apartment.
  5. Using the hand-broom, sweep up the extra bits into the wastebasket.
  6. Double bag the wastebasket contents.
  7. Fill the dishwasher with any dishes in the sink.
  8. Wipe down the kitchen counter top.
  9. Clean the bathroom mirror and wipe down the bathroom sink.
  10. Sigh in relief that it's all done.
Yes, I clean the exact same way every time.  Since I do this every other day or so, the apartment is never really dirty.  There are a few "deep cleaning" things that I do about once a month like cleaning the tub (gross) and vacuuming the furniture, but even those things only add about 15 minutes to the process.  

Just a note about the Swiffer.  A few months ago I realized that using one or two Swiffer cloths every couple of days was neither sustainable nor environmentally friendly.  So, I decided to research reusable Swiffer options on the internet.  While I could have crocheted a Swiffer cloth (or bought one online), I eventually decided that purchasing four microfiber dust cloths would be the best choice.  Each of the cloths measure 12 inches by 12 inches and fits just right onto the swiffer handle.  I chose to purchase four so that I could run them in the wash once a week instead of doing laundry midweek when I ran out.  It seems to be working pretty well so far. 

The other thing I would say is that since I own less items, I also own less cleaning products.  My cleaning arsenal consists of the Swiffer, 4 microfiber cloths, glass cleaner, multipurpose cleaner, a sponge, and paper towels.  I am investigating switching to homemade cleaning products, but I'll cross that bridge when my current supply runs out.  There isn't a good reason (that I can think of) to throw away perfectly good supplies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yes, we really only own one car

Our car is in there somewhere.  (Credit: AMSmith)
I have been trolling the social science data sites lately for a data set that relates to minimalism that I can use for my statistics term paper.  Yes, I know that this is incredibly fascinating.  Insert sarcasm here.  Before you abandon ship and decide that my blog just took a turn for the yucky because I used the word statistics, let me tell you two things: (1) This isn't a stats post and (2) 9.8% of those sampled for the General Social Survey (for all years) do not own a car.  Isn't that amazing?

This is actually a post about the awesomeness of owning just one car.  Hubby and I own a 2007 Chevy Aveo5.  We are the original owners and we love the heck out of our little car.  I do enjoy the looks I get though when it comes up during conversation that we only have the one vehicle.  The first question people ask is, "How does your husband get to work?"  This usually comes up in conjunction with the fact that I commute 160 miles round-trip twice a week to school.  As hubby likes to put it, he takes the shoelace express to work -- otherwise known as walking.  We have been doing our best to not acquire another vehicle until it is absolutely necessary.  Therefore, when we were looking for a new apartment, three conditions had to be fulfilled:

  1. The apartment had to be within a 20 minute walk to hubby's work.
  2. The apartment needed to accept cats and have a reasonable pet rent/deposit set up.  (We couldn't leave our kids homeless now could we?)
  3. The apartment had to have easy access to the freeway for me.
The requirements quickly narrowed our search down to three possible apartment communities in the area.  Since we were (and still are) adamant about only having one vehicle, the first requirement for our home was an absolute must.  

Owning one care is pretty awesome though.  We only need to insure and maintain the one vehicle.  To be honest, I couldn't imagine keeping up with the maintenance on two cars.  It seems at this point in our car's life that we are at the shop every three to four months for oil changes and other stuff.  Also, owning one car means that hubby and I communicate A LOT about our transportation needs and can usually work our way around any issues that crop up.  Each semester, my schedule changes a bit, but since we live so close to his work that's never a problem and he rarely takes the car to work if I don't need it that day since walking is one of his main forms of exercise.

Obviously, issues do come up every so often.  On my first day back at school this semester, I was driving home and the check engine light came on.  Luckily, I hadn't left town yet, so I wasn't in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.  Hubby called AAA and arranged for the car to be towed back to our shop and I rode home with the tow truck guy.  Was it a bit awkward?  Sure.  But, at least I didn't have to worry about where I was staying that night or with arranging for the car to get fixed.  Luckily, it was just a cracked hose that probably did something important.  (I don't really know all that much about cars, that's why I have AAA.)

All in all, the single car lifestyle works really well for us.  We're able to save the money that we would otherwise spend on a second vehicle and do our part for the environment.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Valuing my time

As silly as some of the minimalist challenges are (such as paring down one's possessions to 100 items or only wearing 33 items for 3 three months -- both of which sound really cool to me for various reasons), one of major benefits of minimalism for me is learning to value my time.  

The truth is that we all have the exact same twenty-four hours in a day.  I'm sure that this isn't earth shattering news to anyone, but sometimes I think it helps to be reminded of these things.  This isn't one of those blog posts in which I tell you how awesome I am because I am a time management rock star.  Newsflash, I suck at managing my time most of days -- Or how I've come to think of it, I'm really good at using my time for the things that interest me.

Hubby will tell you that every six months or so I make a commitment to become a morning person.  Bless his heart, he has yet to laugh at me and say "Yeah, right..."  Instead he asks when I am planning on getting up in the morning and if he should make coffee for one or two people.  I usually tell him in my most convincing voice, "Oh, I'll be up around 6AM."  And I might do that for one, or two, or (and this is my longest streak) three days.  But, I have come to realize that I need a solid eight hours of sleep.  Whoever said that we need less sleep as we get older was a little off the mark.  In order to wake up at 6AM, I need to be in bed and asleep by 10PM.  This just isn't going to happen.  Especially with my school schedule of being on-campus from 12:30PM to 9PM bracketed by a 1.5 hour drive on either end.  And so, I realize that I value getting a full night's rest.  Therefore, leaving me with 16 hours in a day.

I do not consider my on-campus days to be my own.  From the moment I step on campus until the time I head out the door, I am not on my own time.  I am at the whim of my professors and as any graduate student can tell you, these are the people that you want to keep happy.  On the upside, my advisor understands my schedule and has committed to not being the person who has me on-campus for a third day.  She is so amazing that she moved a spring semester class to line up with my teaching schedule.  I feel blessed to have someone who values my time as much as I do.  She also leads by example.  Recently we were trying to find a time that works for both of us to meet, I suggested that we meet on a Monday and she quickly replied, "Oh, I don't schedule meetings on Mondays."

With these two days-a-week on-campus, I have 5 16-hour days (or 80 hours) to accomplish my school work (reading and paper writing), professional activities (volunteering, outside writing, and service work), course preparation (fine-tuning lectures, grading, communicating with students), housework (someone has to clean up the fur balls), spending time with hubby (who has time commitments of his own), and seeing to my own needs (showering, eating, yoga).  I am not listing out what I do to show how busy I am, rather I am happy that my life is full of meaningful activities.  I enjoy the work that I am doing and look forward to taking the next step.

On the other hand, being content with the level of commitments that I have means that I have had to learn some hard lessons.

  • I tell people no.  I try to be friendly, but firm.  I have to be fiercely protective of my time and spend it wisely.  I may not have many physical possessions, but I choose how to spend my 80 hours.
  • I try not to beat myself up when everything on my to-do list doesn't get done.  Just like the dirty dishes, the reading that I didn't finish or the email that I didn't send will still be waiting for me unless someone knows of a "to-do" list fairy?
  • I have to set boundaries.  I tell my students that I will reply to them within 24 hours Monday through Friday and that my weekends are mine.  I also push back when my students try to get an answer from my sooner because I don't want them to expect that I will drop everything for their every whim.  
  • I try not to over schedule myself with meetings and appointments.  I take on maybe one extra appointment a week.  That way I don't feel like a crazy person running around.
I used to try to be everything to everyone -- perfect daughter, a perfect wife, a perfect sister, a perfect student, a perfect teacher -- but it turns out that none of the people in my life expect that I'll be perfect.  The expect me to be the best that I can be and realizing that has made me value my time all the more.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On-call Chinese food

Part of being an on-call victim advocate volunteer is patiently sitting by my phone for an entire night.  On one hand, I dread hearing the phone ring because it means that I'm going to have to go out -- usually in the middle of the night -- to respond to something horrible.  I hate the feeling of dread that I have because I know that I am privileged by the fact that I get to sit at home and not worry about something awful happening to me 365 days a year.  On the other hand, I dread sitting through an on-call shift and not having my phone ring once because I know that just because my phone didn't ring something bad probably happened to someone.  Maybe next time they, or their neighbors, will have the courage to call the police and maybe next time I'll come out to help them through a tough situation.  This is my on-call mantra (and it really applies to most of my life):  Plan for the worst, but hope for the best.

So, how do I deal with these conflicting emotions and the knowledge that I cannot help everyone who needs it?  I think the title of this post says it all.  I order Chinese take-out.  Well, to be fair, hubby orders Chinese take-out.  It has become one of my on-call practices.  Every time that I am on-call I make sure that I'm dressed comfortably without any of my jewelry, the car has gas, and my cell phone is charged.  I make a stack of school work that needs to be done.  While munching on my tasty treat, I meander through the pile of work.  I try to pick work that can be set down at a moment's notice and that doesn't require me to be overly involved.  This means no heavy ready or online quizzes.

The work that I do is emotionally draining, even if I am not called out.  I feel on edge and alert for the duration of the shift.  Tonight, I made my pile of work and had a hard time getting motivated to start.  I commented to hubby that I felt lazy because I wasn't working.  He told me, "You're on-call.  No matter what you do tonight, you ARE working."  It made me feel really good knowing that he supports what I do, even if he doesn't always understand.  At least he does understand that all I need from him on these nights is a listening ear and tasty Chinese food.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Obsession with white

**Today's post is more of a thought experiment than anything.  I blame my time in academia for my focus on definitions and meeting people where they are.  Proceed with caution.**

Minimalism, for me, is about emphasizing increasing the amount of joy that I have in my everyday life.  I do this by decreasing my dependence on consumerism and working towards valuing the things that I already own.  This does not mean that I eschew owning things.  Rather, I (try to) only own things that add value to my life.  I think that minimalism gets a bad wrap because many people seem to conflate the meaning of minimalism with other "isms" including modernism, environmentalism, anti-consumerism, etc...  To complicate matters further, in trying to make minimalism palatable to a wider audience, many minimalist bloggers and authors write about "how to be a minimalist" and create lists and rules to live by.  While usually helpful for the beginning or budding minimalist, these how-to guides tend to force a certain amount of rigidity on the idea of minimalism and seem to forget that minimalism might mean something different for everyone.  I am more than happy to talk with people about my ideas about minimalism and the blogs/books that I have read about the topic, but encourage those interested to come to their own conclusions.

One common theme that I have noticed lately in the minimalist movement is an obsession, or deification, of the color white.  Some advocates of minimalism have encouraged readers to paint their walls white, own white belongings, etc...  I find this to be interesting for several reasons.  First, those who equate minimalism with environmentalism (M-E) might reject the color white as it rarely appears in nature and imposes a sterile feeling (instead of a natural feeling) to a room.  On the other hand, those who equate minimalism with modernism (M-M) might embrace the color white because it fits in with that overall aesthetic.  Second, advocating for owning white belongings seems contradictory because it doesn't meet people where they are. Essentially, encouraging people to replace what they already own in order to achieve a particular look.  The anti-consumerist minimalists might certainly have something to say about this.

Further, and perhaps more convolutedly, the color white as I have been referring to it is not really a color at all.  White, depending on the angle you take, either indicates complete color saturation (think about the white spots you see when you look at the sun) or complete absence of color.  If one takes the saturation point of view, striving to achieve complete white seems to imply striving for more ownership.  Taking the opposite point of view of absence, white seems to imply owning nothing.  I think that minimalism falls somewhere in between.

For me, owning white belongings and/or having white walls goes against my brand of minimalism.  It offends my anti-consumerist tendency because in order to comply with this rule or achieve this standard I would need to get rid of the majority of my belongings and start again.  Also, white belongings tend to show wear and stains more readily than other colors.  Thus defeating the pristine aesthetic and necessitating additional consumption.  My environmentalist tendency is against this standard because white doesn't occur often in nature.  Consider the rarity of albinos for most mammals, the varieties of flowers that are white, etc...  I am more likely to embrace a more natural color scheme rather than a white one.  I tend to decorate in earth tones with the occasional pop of color.  I am also a fan of un-dyed linen.  In the end, I think the over-reliance on modernism is what leads to this "rule" of white.  I do not necessarily identify with this component and thus I struggle with being the best minimalist that I can be.

Maybe I have over thought this obsession a little bit.  What do you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You are not a special snowflake

We live in a world where people are constantly inundated with the message that they are special, unique, or one of a kind.  This occurs so often that people have become to think that they actually are a special snowflake and that their particular specialness should entitle them to concessions made by the rest of society.  Yes, this is going to be one of those rants.  If you aren't up for listening to me rant, today would be a good day to skip my blog...

Parking, from what I can tell, has always been a nightmare at my apartment building for various reasons.  Tenants can choose to park on the street level for free or they can choose to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of parking in the basement.  Hubby and I chose to park in the basement after witnessing the overfull street-level parking.  Imagine a parking lot that has normal pull-in parking on one side a parallel parking on the other side.  Now, imagine that the lot is completely full with SUVs and pick-up trucks turning the parking lot into a one-way street that dead ends into the garage door for underground parking.  It was quite the mess.

About a week ago, my apartment management company decided to do something about the parking mess and installed a fire lane.  Essentially, they painted the curb read, stenciled "fire lane" in red on the ground, and painted over the original parking spot lines.  Now, a reasonable person would come to the conclusion that one shouldn't park in the fire lane and that those parking spaces no longer existed.  However, that reasonable person would be wrong.  Several people decided to ignore the fire lane restrictions and park there anyway.  Mind you, there is more than enough parking available on the premises.  The issue is that people can no longer park directly in front of the lobby doors and must now walk (gasps) to the building entrance.  I can understand making the mistake of parking in the fire lane once.  You might be used to parking in that particular spot and might not have noticed the changes, but several times over the course of a few days is inexcusable.  Eventually, management sent out an emailing warning people that their cars would be towed if found in the fire lane.  At least one person received notice that their car would be towed.  I know this because they retaliated by removing the ugly orange tow sticker from their vehicle and placed it on the lobby doors like a CHILD.  This person couldn't follow the rules and decided to have a temper tantrum.

Rules and laws exist for a reason -- particularly traffic rules.  All of us would prefer to make it to our destination in one piece.  Therefore, we should adhere to traffic rules as they are designed to keep us all safe.  This also applies to parking.  What if the building caught on fire?  Where would the fire truck park if someone's car was in the fire lane?  These are the same people who would rather not "waste" money paying for renter's insurance and then scream because all of there stuff was destroyed.  So sad, too bad.

I probably sound rather cranky about this, but realize that I'm the type of person who follows rules to a fault. I refuse to cross the street unless I am in the crosswalk and walk indicator is lit up.  I refuse to walk in the grass if there is a sidewalk available.  I refuse to text message while driving.  Heck, I even felt bad requesting an exception for my PhD program of study for a class that I had already taken because it was required.  So you see, I follow rules.  When a rule doesn't make sense to me, I try to make sense of why it was put in place.  I research the rationale behind it and try to see it from the rule maker's point of view.

Not too long ago, I read a newspaper article about snowflakes.  As kids, we are taught that each snowflake is unique.  However, this article was describing research that indicated that snowflakes can look the same and that there are only so many geometric combinations that snowflakes can occur it.  Therefore, snowflakes can look the exact same as other snowflakes.  If even snowflakes can't have their own shape, what makes us think that our particular brand of specialness should entitle us to not need to follow the rules?

Monday, September 10, 2012

DIY Spice Containers

Sometimes I truly wonder what I did in my previous lifetimes to deserve such a kind, patient man for my husband.  Throughout the summer I rummaged through all of our belongings and decluttered, rearranged the furniture in our apartment at least three times, and most recently I set my sights on organizing the pantry.  He has taken all of this in stride and repeatedly assured me that I haven't gone "too far."  Luckily, hubby (and the kitties) are secure in their knowledge that they will not be decluttered.

The first set in "Project Pantry" was to tackle the ridiculously overstocked shelf that we refer to as the spice rack.  I have been searching for a new way to store our spices that doesn't take up real estate on the counter top and that doesn't look like a cluttered mess.  After much googling, I came across the idea of storing the spices in a tin and "sticking" it to the refrigerator with magnets.  It seems like a great idea to me because then my spices will be portable in future moves and all of the jars will match.  (I'm a little obsessed with making things match as hubby can attest to.)  Now, there are several websites that are willing to sell me stainless steel magnetic jars for a fee.  However, who really wants to pay $3 - $7 for a metal tin?  Not this lady!

Going Clockwise:  (TL) The dreaded spice rack; (ML) Glue gun and magnets ready for action; (TR)  Three magnets glued to the bottom; (BR) First filled jar; (BM) Jar with lid; (BL) Jar attached to side of refidgerateo; (Center) Mostly finished project. (Credit: AMSmith)

So, hubby and I went to our local craft store and bought metal tins and magnets.  We already had a glue gun and extra glue sticks at home.  The store didn't have enough tins stocked for me to complete the entire project, but getting the first seven done was a good start.  For about $30 (total) and an hour of my time, I was able to create a cute and functional way to store my spices.

I'm not sure what I'm going to use the existing spice rack/shelving for after the project is done.  Any ideas?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Eating with SuddenlySusan

Credit: AMSmith
Let's just be real.  I am a fan of eating.  It's my favorite thing to do.  I love buying ingredients, making tasty meals, and eating them.  And it turns out that SuddenlySusan likes to eat as much as I do.  During her visit we ate until we couldn't eat any more.  Thank goodness we went for walks every day.

On the first night of her trip, hubby and I took her to our favorite burger spot.  It's a tiny restaurant down the street that serves the most delightful burgers.  My favorite thing to get is a build-your-own burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and thousand island dressing.  It tastes just like an In-and-Out burger.  Since moving to the Midwest, I've been searching for a burger that would fill that craving and this one hits the spot every time.  Both mom and hubby got specialty burgers.  The names of their burgers escape me now, but they said that they were very tasty.

The second day we had hubby's french toast with homemade bread and fresh strawberries for breakfast.  My hubby makes the most delicious french toast.  For lunch, we went to a local diner.  This is one of those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that will simply knock your socks off.  The kitchen is right in the middle of the restaurant and you can see and smell every dish being prepared.  After lunch, we went to the chocolatier next door and picked up desert.  Yummy!  For dinner that night we made fajitas at home with homemade flat bread.  For desert, we had homemade raspberry sorbet.  Everything turned out super well.

The next morning, I made pancakes while hubby made bacon.  As usual, hubby had to make the entire continuum of bacon as I like my bacon to be floppy and mom likes her bacon to be crispy.  He's such a good sport about making everyone's bacon the way that they like it.  For lunch, we went to a local restaurant called Meat.  You guessed it, they serve BBQ meat.  We had slow-cooked brisket, pulled pork, hot wings, and a hot link.  All of it was absolutely amazing!  After running around all day, none of us were particularly interested in dinner, so we had sorbet.

The next day we took it a little easy in the food department.  It was the last day of mom's trip and the leftovers were starting to overflow.  So, we decided to have leftover pancakes for breakfast since I had made a double batch the day before.  Then we packed a picnic lunch with our Meat leftovers and some dried fruit and some apples.  Finally, we ordered pizza from our local delivery place and called it an evening.

Looking back at mom's trip, it's a wonder that we didn't all gain five to ten pounds.  I'm happy to report that my pants still fit and that the leftovers have all been eaten.  It was super fun showing mom some of our favorite places to eat and to adventure with her.  

If somebody is visiting you for just a few days, where would you take them to eat?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Borrowing ebooks from the library

Reading with Scooter (Credit: AMSmith)
I'm sure that you all have noticed by now that I love to read, which is a good thing considering I'm an academic and reading is a major part of what I do.  However, when one reads as much as I do the cost of reading quickly starts adding up.

Earlier this summer, my classes were winding down and I had a little more free time, my fun reading went into overdrive.  I managed to read the entire Dune series (six books) in about six weeks.  At one point, I actually said to hubby, "I don't think I can afford my reading habit."  Thinking back on that, I should probably have entered a program for my addiction to reading.  The rate that I can churn through fiction amazes me because I'm able to remember most of the plot lines and characters (probably a skill I picked up from all of the non-fiction reading that I do).  So what is one to do when new books are expensive?  The easy answer is to go to the public library.  However, I love reading on my kindle because I can read in bed without needing a light on.  Also, I can take notes and annotate the book without being hunted down by a librarian later.

In a stroke of genius, I remembered that my local library lends ebooks.  When I first tried the service two years ago, they only lent out epub ebooks (Adobe ebooks) that could only be used on a computer or a compatible device.  Sadly, the kindle is not compatible with the epub format and since it is DRM protected I cannot convert it to a usable kindle format.  Since reading on my laptop is not nearly as comfortable as reading on my kindle, I stopped borrowing books this way.  About six months ago, Amazon began partnering with libraries across the nation in an effort to increase access to kindle ebooks.  My libraries was one of those to participate which made me very happy.  I do wish that I had realized this before purchasing the entire Dune series, but lesson learned.  I was able to catch up on the Dragonriders of Pern series for free (and I'm even on the waiting list for the most recent book published).

This is not to say that borrowing ebooks is all kittens and rainbows.  Often, there are waiting lists for the books that I want to read and sometimes the book is only available as an audiobook.  However, beggars cannot be choosers -- or so the saying goes.  To be perfectly honest, I would rather read a book than listen to it, but it's free and still well within my priorities of being able to relax in bed with a book.  Also, while many fiction books are available for checkout as ebooks, finding any of my academic books in this format has been next to impossible.  Even though many of my non-fiction books are available as kindle books from Amazon, my guess is that the demand does not exist for my local public library.  Somehow, I'm not surprised.

I'm glad that I remembered to check out this free resource because now I can afford my book habit and feel a little less guilty about all of the time that I spend reading.  Feel free to drop me an email if you want to know more about checking out ebooks from your local library.

Friday, August 31, 2012

SuddenlySusan Comes for a Visit

SuddenlySusan, also known as hubby's mom, came for a visit over this past weekend. We were really excited to have her here and show her our little world.  It's funny how you can live in a place for a while and not really know what there is to do because when you're at home you aren't really a tourist.  I'm going to split her trip into two posts:  one about the stuff we did and the other about the food.

Walking down the River Walk (Credit: SuddenlySusan)
From the moment she landed, we were going.  I think the three of us wanted to fit as much as possible into the time that we had.  The first night we went took a walk down the river walk and explored downtown a little bit.  Mom was so excited by the capitol building that we decided to visit it the next day for a tour.  I'm really glad that hubby and I saved the tour for when she was here.  Otherwise, we would have been super bored.

Chandelier (Credit: Suddenly Susan)
The capitol building is super neat on the inside and bit gaudy too.  I didn't think it was particularly gaudy until I looked up and saw the chandeliers that were straight out of an elk lodge.  They didn't match the overall decor at all.  It was neat that we were permitted to wander around the entire building without being required to submit to a security check.  Part of me wonders if that was related to the time of year.  Since the legislature is not in session right now, maybe security is a little more relaxed.

Mom "dying" again (AMSmith)
After our exploration of the capital building, we decided to head home and cool off for the evening.  It was nice cooking dinner at home and playing video games.  Mom was way too funny when she was playing Super Mario Brothers on the Wii.  I think it was really cool of her to be open to relaxing at home with some video games.

On Saturday, we decided to check out a local Oldsmobile museum.  It was really neat seeing all of the different models of Oldmobiles throughout time.  Also, by most of the cars, there were mannequins wearing whatever was in fashion at the time.  It added to the sense of times long past seeing those outfits.  It's sad to think that the last Oldsmobile was produced in 2004.  Also, we were left wondering what cars from today would be in museums in 20 or 30 years.

Checking out the "Woody" (Credit: SuddenlySusan)
Later in the evening, we decided that we didn't want to stay home and that nothing at the movie theater or red box seemed interesting, so we piled into the car and drove 1.5 hours to Ikea.  Mom had never been to an Ikea before, so it was an interesting adventure.  Plus, she had the added bonus of getting to see more of the state.

On her last day here, we took it a little easy.  It was supposed to get up to 95 degrees and with the humidity we knew that all of us were going to be cooking.  So, we decided to take a drive to where I work (about 1.5 hours away).  We packed all of our leftovers from the weekend into my lunch box and made a pic-nick adventure out of it.  On the way home, we decided to for go the usual highway route and took the scenic back roads home.

All told, it was a pretty amazing visit with our mom!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making sorbet

I really like to cook, especially when those eating my food are my family and friends.  While mom was in town, hubby asked if I would make some raspberry sorbet.  Of course, I said I would and mom thought that it would be a great photo opportunity.  It was funny making sorbet with another person at home because I don't think about the recipe any more, I just make the sorbet.  As mom asked questions about each step, it became readily apparent that I know how to do something that most people do not.  I think that many people would rather buy their frozen desserts (sorbet, ice cream, etc...) from the grocery store, not necessarily because it's cheaper, but because they probably don't know how to make it.

Cooking the berries (Credit: SuddenlySusan)
I'll tell you what though, sorbet is one of the easiest frozen deserts to make.  When I make sorbet, I start by making a simple syrup.  Simple syrup really is as simple as the name implies.  All you need is a 2:1 ratio of water to sugar.  You bring it to a boil for one minute and that's it.  For berry sorbet, I add the fruit to the simple syrup and bring it back up to a boil.  I let it cook until the fruit is pretty much dissolved or broken down to the point of very small chunks.  Then I strain the berry mixture into a large bowl and refrigerate the mixture until is super cold (this takes a couple of hours).  Finally, I run the mix in my ice cream maker according to the manufacture's directions.  In my ice cream maker it takes approximately 25 minutes to go from liquid to soft serve.  If I want a harder sorbet -- and I usually do -- I freeze it for a couple more hours.  In all, it takes about eight hours to go from berries to sorbet, but so much of that time is inactive that it seems really quick.

Straining the mixture (Credit: SuddenlySusan)
I started making sorbet as a healthier, and more cost effective, alternative to store-bought dairy-free ice cream.  A pint of dairy-free ice cream tends to cost upwards of $5 (and sometimes more).  On the other hand, I can make a quart of fresh berry sorbet for about $3 and have the added benefit of knowing exactly what ingredients were included in the sorbet.

I have tried making dairy-free ice cream at home with little success, but I'll keep trying until I've finally figured out what tastes good.  Until then, various fruit sorbets will have to do.

What do you know how to do that others might not?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baking bread from scratch

One of my favorite things to do is bake bread from scratch.  I love the smell of fresh baked bread and the feeling of accomplishment that I get when it comes out of the oven.  I've been baking bread off and on for the last fifteen years.  Baking (bread or any other treat) is one of my most consistent hobbies.  

The bread that I make is usually a simple white bread with just a few ingredients.  The awesome thing about this bread is that it can be jazzed up in a pinch by kneading in some fresh apples or by sprinkling cinnamon on the dough during the loaf making stage.

When we lived in Arizona, I used a bread machine to make my bread.  The bread machine was great because I could set it up and come home to tasty goodness.  Also, it didn't cause me to heat up my whole apartment with the oven.  Since moving to Michigan, I haven't used the bread maker as much and have come to prefer making the bread by hand (or really Kitchen Aid mixer) for two reasons.  First, the humidity in Michigan is much more variable then in Arizona.  Humidity does weird things to baking in that the amounts of flour needed for most baked goods fluctuate on any given day.  For bread, this means that I have to be present when the dough is formed because the dough might end up too sticky or too dry if I'm not there to monitor it.  This wasn't the case before.  The other reason I haven't used the bread maker as much is due to the size of our kitchen.  It takes up my entire counter, making it pretty hard to do anything else in the kitchen during the four hour bake cycle.  I think the bread maker is on it's way to being "decluttered."

For me, the most important part of baking a successful loaf of bread is respect for the yeast.  If you treat the yeast well, it will treat you well.  However, if you are mean to the yeast, bad things will happen to your bread.  Yeast is not very forgiving.  I try to keep this in mind when I'm warming the mixing bowl since the yeast likes a nice warm room to do its business, when I'm preparing the butter-sugar mixture because the yeast likes warm, yummy food, and when I stick the yeast in the oven (not turned on) because the yeast likes to work in a cat-hair free, warm environment.  As you can see, yeast is a finicky substance.  I haven't gone as far as talking to the yeast, but if I thought it would help the process I would.  Like I said, respect the yeast.

I think my next bread project will be to explore different types of breads.  Hubby likes pumpernickel, so that will be my next bread adventure.  Stay tuned!

**Update 8/27/2012**  I wrote this post a few days before SuddenlySusan came to visit and after chatting with her, the bread maker was indeed decluttered.  I hope that someone enjoys every future loaf that comes out of it.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Giving up soda

Pick me up during spring finals. (AMSmith)
Back in May of this year I quit soda, specifically coke, for several reasons.  First, I somehow managed to gradually increase my soda consumption up to two (sometimes three) cans a day.  Even when you drink the "short" cokes -- the 8 oz cans -- the calories really add up.  Second, the extra caffeine consumption was bothering me.  I wasn't sleeping well and could feel my body reacting to the extra stimulants.  Finally, drinking soda seemed to go against my minimalist philosophy.  

Soda and I have a pretty long history.  When I was a kid, my mom would "pay" me in six-packs of coke for doing my chores or watching my younger brothers.  It was a special treat because the only other soda in the house was yucky diet or, even worse, disgusting kool-aid.  I couldn't stomach the taste of either and preferred to drink ice tea, water, milk (the lactose intolerance came later), or coke.  I know that it sounds silly, but I liked knowing that I was the only one who got to drink the "real" stuff at home.

Fast forward a few years, and you can see why coke holds a special place in my heart.  But, like I said, things started to change.  I'm not going to blame grad school, but it was definitely a contributing factor to the weight that I started gaining.  I've always been a pretty slender person, so any fluctuation in my weight is readily noticed.  The stress of grad school and the desire to fit as much as possible into every day lead me to abuse caffeine -- A LOT.  During that first year, it was common for me to have a cup of coffee in the morning, two sodas, several glasses of ice tea, and another cup of coffee in the evening.  I rarely drank just water and started to feel rather yucky.  Noticing these feelings, I cut back to one cup of coffee a day, but the rest stayed largely unchanged throughout the rest of my masters program.

After moving to Michigan, I started embracing the minimalist lifestyle to a greater extent.  For me, minimalism isn't just about reducing the amount of stuff that I own or depriving myself.  Rather, minimalism is --oddly enough-- about maximizing the joy in my life.  Since I don't derive much joy from owning lots of things or being a consumer, I have consciously decided to own less.  The same logic applies to my caffeine consumption.  I don't derive joy from feeling like a strung out caffeine junkie.  So, I have gradually cut caffeine out.  First, I made a conscious effort to increase the amount of water that I drink.  Realizing that I enjoy water that is room temperature and tastes good means that I buy bottled water.  Think what you want, but it's a small price to pay to make me happy.  I do make sure to recycle the bottles.

Drinking lots of water gradually started to change the way that I viewed soda.  The carbonation didn't taste as good and my insides felt sticky.  I found myself drinking water after soda to get the taste out of my mouth.  When I realized what I was doing, it was time for soda to go.  I certainly wasn't deriving any joy from consuming it since I was washing my mouth out after drinking it.  So, I stopped buying soda.  I am blessed in that my husband supports me and the changes I make in my life.  He still drinks soda, but the temptation to drink his soda doesn't exist because he drinks diet.

The funny thing is that I now drink less iced tea as well.  I've become more mindful of what I'm drinking.  Most often, I drink water.  In the morning, I still have a cup of coffee and I don't see that going away any time soon since it is part of my morning routine and the process of drinking coffee starts my day of right.  If I feel like I need a "pick-me-up," sometimes I'll go for a walk to clear my head or make a cup of hot tea.  This has been a gradual change over the last year, so I know that the change in habits is likely to stay.  Like I said, living the minimalist lifestyle isn't about deprivation.  It's about maximizing joy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Living in 580 Square Feet of Awesome


Hubby and I have lived in small apartments since we were married.  With the exception of our first apartment, which was on-campus, all of our apartments have been studios or small-one bedrooms ranging from 450 sqft. to 720 sqft.  Admittedly, the 720 sqft. apartment was much too large for our tastes, but the price was certainly right.  Our current apartment is a one-bedroom with 580 sqft.

Living in a small space does require a little creativity when it comes to storage and function.  The main room in our apartment serves as the kitchen, dining room, living room, and Justin's work space.  Our bedroom is our place for sleeping and contains my work space.  We've found that we're both happy as long as we both have a space to call our own.  Since both of us are rarely home at the same time, with the exception of evenings, it never feels like we're never alone.  (As long as you don't mind kitty stares -- privacy is a foreign word to our "kids.")

I thought I would list the top four reasons that living in a small space is awesome:
  1. It only takes about 20 minutes to go from day-to-day disaster to clean.
  2. You can always find what you're looking for.
  3. Small spaces don't take that much energy to heat or cool.
  4. It's easier to resist buying more stuff.
Granted, living in a small space isn't for everyone.  When hubby and I were looking at our current apartment, the leasing agent mentioned that they don't usually let more than one person live in these units because people usually want to move out when a larger unit becomes available and the paperwork is a hassle.  I assured him that this was on the large size for us and wouldn't be a problem.  The funny thing is that the couple below us just had a baby.  I wouldn't be surprised if they moved when their lease is up.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I didn't know you could do that!

Not too long ago I blogged about finding a new way to use an empty bookcase because I didn't want to part with it, but also didn't want it to take up space in our home.  I love finding new ways to use the things that we own.  Sometimes the things we love have something bad happen to them and this is a post about turning bad things into good things.

Right after moving into my resident assistant dorm room, back in 2008, I decided that I needed to add seating to the space.  Yes, my dorm room was big enough for a small couch and coffee table.  Being an RA was awesome like that.  But, I digress.  Justin and I drove the three hours to Ikea and picked out our first piece of furniture together.  The couch that we bought was a two-person, white love seat that fit in the back of the car (amazing, I know).

The little couch served us well.  We even bought a matching couch when we moved to our first apartment after getting married.  Sadly, Ikea no longer sells it.  After getting our cats back from my mom, things started going downhill for both couches.  It turns out that both Cali and Scooter like the feel of couch under their claws.  Our pretty couches went from pristine to shredded in the course of two years.  While both functioned for sitting, they certainly were an eyesore.

I toyed with the idea of buying a new couch, but couldn't bring myself to do it.  So, I started looking into what would be required to re-upholster both couches and was surprised to find that the answer was not much.


Upper Left: Me working on sewing the cover.  Upper Right:  The world's smallest sewing machine.  Lower Left: Tools of the trade.  Lower Right:  Completed project next to the matching couch.

One can take the "hardcore" upholstery approach and buy a bunch of tools, spend weeks deconstructing the piece, and then painstakingly replace the cushioning and fabric.  On the other hand, one can take a more laid back approach to the project and create what amounts to a well-fitted couch cover.  I choose the second option.  For this project I purchased a sewing machine, thread, 10 sq. yards of fabric, a measuring tape, staple gun, and staples. I spent $120 in total with the majority of that being the fabric.

The steps I took for this project include:

  1. Choosing the new couch color and the type of fabric.  Hubby and I decided on a dark purple microfiber for several reasons.  Dark colors are less likely to show cat hair and we like purple.  Plus, microfiber is especially easy to clean.
  2. Taking the couch apart (an Ikea bonus) and measuring each piece three times.  I'm a little neurotic, but I wanted to be sure that I didn't purchase too much material and wanted to ensure the best fit for each cover.
  3. Purchased the fabric from an online store.  I had shopped around in several local fabric stores, but the prices seemed a bit outrageous to me.
  4. Once the fabric arrived, I took apart the first couch and meticulously cleaned each piece.  Since I was planning on leaving the existing fabric on the couch it was important to start with a clean surface.  It wouldn't be a good idea to lock any existing cat smells in forever.
  5. Then I got to work making the cover for each piece.  I measured the individual parts, pinned them together, and then sewed them with my tiny sewing machine.
  6. Next, I slid the completed cover over the piece.  Pulling towards the bottom as tightly as I could, I stapled the cover the piece.
  7. Finally, I put all of the covered pieces together and reassembled the couch.  In total, the project took eight hours spread throughout a weekend.
I couldn't be happier with the finished product.  We ended up with a revitalized couch for a fraction of the cost of a new one and have a unique piece.  You may be wondering why I didn't just buy a couch cover from Ikea and that's a good question.  Before starting this project, I looked to see if Ikea sold covers for this particular couch and unfortunately the did not.  So my options were to buy a new couch or to make this one work.  

The response to the completed couch were surprising.  Many of my friends said that they didn't know that I know how to re-upholster.  To which I told them, "I didn't know that I knew how either."  The moral of the story is that you'll never know what you can do unless you try.

Monday, August 13, 2012

One Month without FB

Today is my celebration of one full month without Facebook.  I am happily surprised to say that I don't miss Facebook in the slightest.  Sure, I have had to make a few minor adjustments in my life (Like de-FBing my phone and loosing a bunch of contact information).  Overall, things are looking up.

A small recap of what I've accomplished in the last month:

  1. Started a blog and made a habit of responding to every comment.  
  2. Made lots of decluttering progress.  (Although the Smith 150 Thing Challenge is ongoing.)
  3. Spent more quality time with hubby.
  4. Churned through 1/4 of the reading list for my area exam.  
  5. Finished prepping the first half of my fall class.
That isn't everything that I have gotten done, just the things that I'm most happy with at the moment.  Of course there are still some things that I would like to complete before school starts in a few weeks, so I'm going to make a big push to get them done.

Life without Facebook has been simpler, if a little frustrating some times.  Hubby will say, "I posted this on FB, but let me show you on your computer since you're not on FB."  Or one of my friends will say, "I have a hard time calling or texting you because I never know if you're busy or not.  At least when you were on FB, I  knew that you could chat."  I'm not dead, I'm just not on FB.  Feel free to drop me an email or a text anytime!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Making Progress on the 150 Thing Challenge

One of the things that I like about being a minimalist is that I often recycle the things that I am no longer using.  Sometimes this means donating items and other times this means finding a new purpose for something.  This post is about the latter.

During a recent "organizing stuff into oblivion" binge, I found myself to be in possession of an empty bookcase -- a rare feat indeed.  Hubby and I have been going back and forth about this particular piece of furniture.  On one hand, moving it on in life would be a good idea because an empty bookcase is really just a temptation to buy more stuff to fill it up.  On the other hand, it's a pretty sturdy piece of furniture that might come in handy the next time we move.  You can see the issue.

In addition, we have a coffee table that has seen better days.  In the past, this coffee table has embodied our spirit of repurposing.  For a short time it was a traditional coffee table in front of the couch.  Then it became our fish tank stand when we tried our hand at being fish parents.  (We should have stuck to being cat parents.)  Then, in our current home, it became the media center under the TV that held our gaming equipment.  But, like I said, it has seen much better days.  Hubby recently agreed that when we move again, probably in two-ish years, that we can part ways with the coffee table.  

So, how does the bookcase dilemma relate to the coffee table?


The picture on the left is of the sad, empty bookcase.  It was just hanging out in the kitchen begging for a purpose that wasn't just collecting cat hair.  The picture on the right is of the re-purposed bookcase.  By turning it on its side I was able to replace the coffee table and make a new home for our electronics.  I'm not sure what I'll do with the bottom cubbies yet, but I'm open to suggestions... 

The Henry Ford Museum and the Titanic Exhibit

Hubby and I went to the Henry Ford Museum with my mom and little sister to see the Titanic Exhibit.  We couldn't resist checking out the rest of the museum while we were there and it was super neat.

Little Sister, Hubby, Me
Right when you walk inside the museum, you are confronted by the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile and the smell of cooking hot dogs from the cafe right next to it.  We were able to resist the hot dogs, but of course I had to have a picture in front of the Weinermobile.  It turns out that this is a popular photo opportunity for families, so we were very lucky to be able to get a picture without people walking through.

Then we went through an exhibit that shows the development of furniture throughout time.  It was pretty neat to see the different materials used to make furniture that went beyond wood and fabric. For example, one of the chairs that we saw was made out of bone.  I'm not sure how comfortable this chair is -- something tells me that ninja monkeys would fall from the sky if I tried to sit in it -- but it does look pretty uncomfortable.

It was finally time for us to go to the Titanic exhibit.  Unfortunately, cameras and cell phones were not permitted to be used inside the exhibit.  It was really neat though.  My favorite area was the room showing the differences between the various classes.  As a passenger on the Titanic you could be assigned to First, Second, or Third class depending on how much you paid for your accommodations.  The most expensive suites on the ship cost $90,000 (in today's money).  That's pretty extravagant.  Part of the exhibit is getting biographical cards of people who were on the ship.  Justin's person was one of the people to stay in the $90k suite.  Needless to say, he survived the tragedy that was the Titanic sinking.  I had a 14-year-old girl who was watching her brother in third class.  Both of them survived.  Unfortunately, my little sister's person, from second class, didn't make it.  Having that extra connection to the exhibit was really neat.  Going into it, I thought that my person wouldn't make it because of her class status and knowing that most of the third class didn't make it out.  I was pleasantly surprised that she did.

The last exhibit that we saw was, by far, the neatest in regards to being applicable to my daily life.  We went to the Dymaxion House.  In my excitement, I forgot to take pictures.  So check out what it looks like at the link.  The Dymaxion House is an 1100 square foot, 2 bedroom, one bathroom house that was created in the 1940s as affordable, modular housing.  I was pretty jazzed to be walking around it.  As we were walking out, my mom says to me, "But there isn't any storage space.  Who would want to live there?"  I told her that some people don't need storage space and that the house was almost double the size of my current apartment.  We definitely have a different idea of the amount of space needed to live.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making a difference

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/3370498053/
D Sharon Pruitt/flickr

One of the things that I'm constantly working on is my teaching philosophy -- not just the document that reflects my philosophy -- but the philosophy itself.

According to Google, a philosophy is "A theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior."  For me, my guiding principle for teaching is being student-centered and based on interaction.  I think that the best learning happens when students are invited to think on their own terms and to make discoveries on their own.  There are pros and cons to this approach to learning.  On the pro side we have the ability to create an atmosphere that is conducive to sharing and learning, the ability to meet students where they are in their learning process, and the ability to engage students in the material that goes beyond lecturing.    On the other hand, this teaching philosophy has the potential to blow up in my face when students are unwilling to engage me or the material or to step outside our information-consumer habits and learn to be information-producers.  


I use a lot of in-class activities and discussions to challenge my students to engage the material, but also lecture quite a bit so as to keep them within their comfort zone.  It's a pretty tough balancing act though because some activities that require getting up and moving around takes students out of their comfort zone.  One activity that I have been doing for the last few semesters with some success is having my students create and share skits that relate to concepts we are learning in class.  After the obligatory groans, many of my students seem to enjoy this form of hands on learning.  I use skits for higher level concepts that need to be grappled with in order to make sense of them.  For example, in my introduction to criminal justice classes I have students create skits that illustrate an index crime and a particular step in the typical processing of a case (arrest, bail, etc...).  I encourage the students to be creative, but to also keep their skits "work-place appropriate."  After each group presents their skits, I have the class identify several important elements including actus reus, mens rea, the crime itself, and the outcome.  One of the main goals is to get the students to understand that we cannot have a crime unless both the act and guilty mind are present, a concept known as concurrence.  This activity also reinforces the importance of knowing the index crimes and the various steps in the process.


Another way that I try to engage my students is by posing questions at the end of class for them to think about and creating an on-line space for them to discuss these issues.  I emphasis that this is their opportunity to share their opinions and learn from their classmates.  I'm still working on getting students to willingly participate in these activities since I don't usually grade them for points.  Asking questions is one way that I take my teaching from the classroom to real life as well.  When I'm having discussions with friends, I'll ask their views and opinions and challenge them.  Sometimes this results in really neat conversations and sometimes it results in really heated discussions.  Either way, I try to plant the seeds for future learning.  And in the end, isn't that what a teacher is meant to do?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

For the Sheldons of the World


A few days before going to Cedar Point, I read a blog on the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Have You Tried Being Likeable?," that hit closer to home than I expected.  The gist of the blog post is that being likeable is about much more than knowing your stuff or being smart.  I have a confession to make.  I struggle with being likeable every day.  The sad part is that I do not think I am alone.

When I'm out and about I try to smile at people and say hello.  However, I am terrified that someone will want to have a discussion with me and that I will not know what to say or, even worse, what I do say is taken the wrong way.  My sense of humor is very dry and, if taken out of context, can be misconstrued.  To make matters worse, I am pretty blunt with my opinions and tend to not sugar coat things.  I have learned that when people say I can tell them what I really think about them, their ideas, or their opinions that I should hold back the complete truth.  My "word filter" works overtime most days.  It is not that I am trying to be mean, condescending, or any of those other adjectives that have been used to describe me.  Rather, I think a lot about what people are saying when they say it and truly try to listen to them.  When I am talking with someone, I block out all other distractions and focus on them and what they are saying.

All of that being said, I am sure that I am not likeable most days and that this is affecting my ability to teach.  Every semester I vow that this is the semester that my student evaluations will not have remarks about my facial expressions being awkward or that I am overly inflexible.  Perhaps I am just too sensitive about what my students think about me, but it hurts my feelings when I try so hard.  To some degree, I think that my character traits are a product of my upbringing and my education.  Changing them would require me to change who I am my core.  So, I will go on smiling and trying to be likeable and hoping that people can accept me for who I am -- quirks and all.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Going to Ceder Point

The Mantis
Over the weekend, I went to Cedar Point with my mom, little sister, and cousin.  I had a ton of fun!  All-in-all, I think we rode a grand total of seven rides throughout the day.  All of them were quite fun and I wish we had more time to ride the others.  Unfortunately, the wait times for the popular rides were between 1.5 and 2 hours.  

Cedar Point offers the "fast pass" for purchase.  The "fast pass" allows customers to bypass the normal line and wait a fraction of the time.  From what I could tell, fast pass customers were able to ride in less than half the time normal customers were able to ride. But this effectively creates to groups of riders, normal vs. privileged.  Essentially, those with the means to pay $50 (or more depending on the size of the group) per person were treated to these rides.  It seemed like the fast pass lane made the normal line take even longer because these customers were accommodated ahead of the others.  Personally, I'm not a fan of this system.  I understand what Cedar Point is trying to do, but they could take a few cues from any of the Disney theme parks.  At the Disney theme parks the fast pass is free and used to encourage customers to plan their days a little better.  Instead of rewarding those with money, Disney rewards those with the foresight to plan.  But enough about the lines and waiting.

The best ride of the day was the Maverick.  It was completely worth the two hour wait.  I've never been so terrified for life during a ride before and it was a total rush.  The ride starts off with you getting strapped into your seat with a over the shoulder harness and lap bar (pretty heavy duty stuff).  Next you are taken to the top, but instead of being dropped down you are shot down.  It makes for a pretty scary beginning.  Then you go through twists and turns and loops -- only to come to a complete stop.  Giving you just long enough to catch your breath, you're shot out again and proceed through another section of the ride.  By the end of it, I had one had molded to the handle bar and the other hand curled around the harness.  Wow!  What a rush!