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!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Taking Inventory

The first step towards completing the Smith 150 Thing challenge is taking a complete inventory of our apartment.  Holy cow!  Listing out all of our possessions was certainly eye opening for me.  Now I just need to figure out where to start decluttering.  I already posted our rules of "item-hood" in an early blog that had to be slightly amended during the inventory process.

Without further ado, here is the list:


Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.  For those of you counting, there are 231 items on the list which means we have a goal of "decluttering" at least 81 items.  It's going to be pretty tough.  I started looking for easy targets on the list and some of the clothes can certainly go as we don't wear all of them.  From there it'll be interesting.  I'm hoping to have us completely decluttered in time for school to start back up in September.  Wish me luck!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spring River Walk 2012

Don't laugh, but I'm sort of a nerd.  Justin and I take walks almost daily.  It's one of the best ways for us to get some time together without dealing with worldly distractions such as the internet or the work that either of us need to accomplish.  We started walking during grad school as our attempt to increase our work-life balance and while we don't walk as often now (then it was 9PM every night), we still try to make time for it.

One of the best parts of living where we are at is that the River Walk is only a half mile away from our apartment.  It's sort of like having our own private walkway just down the street that is secluded away from traffic and is relatively safe.  Every time we go out on our walks we inevitably run across some sort of creature.  We usually see ducks, geese, and squirrels.  As a person raised in Arizona, most of this is completely new to me.  One of the neatest things we have seen is a family of ducks.  The momma duck let me get close enough to take pictures, but she didn't seem too thrilled about it.

Fuzzy Ducklings!
In addition to seeing baby ducks, feeding the ducks is a whole new experience for me too.  Justin seemed so surprised that I had never fed the ducks before, but when did I have the opportunity?  It's not like we're swimming in ducks in the desert.  :)

The video below is of us feeding a whole gaggle (I think that's the appropriate term for a whole lot of ducks).  They started to swarm around us as we started feeding them.  It was sort of hectic there for a few minutes.  You should hear all of the noise that they made too!  As a side note, ducks do not like flat bread.  We thought we would bring all of our leftover bread with us and see what they liked the best.  Turns out wheat bread is the way to go!  Enjoy the video...

video

Visit to Greenfield Village

My mom invited the hubby and I out to visit Greenfield Village with her a couple of weeks ago.  We weren't really sure what it was that we were signing up for, but decided to make an adventure of it.  I'm glad that we went.  Greenfield Village is a part of the Henry Ford Museum that recreates life in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

While we were there we got to see a live-action farm complete with cows, sheep, chickens, and turkeys.  We also got to tour several houses turn of the century houses.  In one house the ladies were baking a strawberry shortcake.  However, due to the exceptional heat that Michigan has experienced this summer, the strawberries came from the "magical" Meijer, not the garden like usual.  I thought it was interesting that the ladies were plugging Meijer (one of the local supermarkets) while dressed in authentic clothing and working in an authentic house.  It seemed a bit out of place.  Seeing as how it was hotter inside with the ovens going (and no air conditioning), we high tailed it to our next adventure.

Which happened to be beers.  Say what you want, but there is nothing better than a nice cold brew on a hot summer day.  From there, we meandered over to the Model T's and took a ride around the grounds.  The Model T was much more comfortable than I expected it to be, but given many people sit in those seats on a daily basis they are probably well worn.

Greenfield Village was a lot of fun.  I'm looking forward to going to the Henry Ford next month to see the Titanic exhibit.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Smith 150 Thing Challenge

This probably won't come as a shock to most of the people that we know, but my husband and I are minimalists.  We actively try to keep our possessions to a minimum, sometimes to the confusion of my mom (more on that later). For the last few years this has been a pretty easy task to accomplish because we moved every six months or so.  Each time we would move, Justin and I would make three piles of stuff:  stuff to keep, stuff to donate, and trash.  I sort of thought I would not feel the urge to reduce our stuff since we aren't moving for a few years.  Boy, was I wrong!

This morning started out innocent enough.  I decided, after months of indecision, that I would try to find new homes for all of the books on my bookcase that could be replaced through library ebook rentals or outright ebook purchases.  I managed to clear out 26 books off the bookcase!  Most of them are going to my mom.  She turned me on to the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey almost twenty years ago, so I thought I would give her first dibs on that series.  I'm excited to have something to talk to her about, reading-wise, that isn't Twilight.  Of course, let me know if you're interested in the rest of the contents of this box.  I'm going to drop them off at Goodwill (or the post office) this week.

To the heart of the title of this post, sometime ago I stumbled upon the 100 Thing Challenge.  Justin and I have been talking about it and have finally committed to reducing our belongings, in the spirit of the challenge, to 150 things.  As a combined family unit, 200 things seemed like too many and 100 didn't seem quite right given that we share quite a bit.  Also, we've modified the rules of what counts as a "thing" to fit a little better with our idea of minimalism.

Our Rules:

  1. Disposable items, such as paper towels and toiletries, do not count as items.
  2. The cats and all of their belongings count as one item (Cali made me include this.  I think she's afraid that I'm going to "declutter" her.)
  3. Groupings that occur naturally will be counted as one item.  This means that school books/supplies and work/study stuff counts as one item each.  This also helps with counting silverware, dishes, and undergarments.  
  4. Non-fiction books are counted individually.
  5. Furniture is not a "countable" item.
I'll update our rules as we come up with more.  Also, I think a future post will show our inventory and what we decided to part with.  Until then, happy decluttering!

P.S. "Decluttering" is the best euphemism I've run across in a while.  :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rocking out at Godsmack

One of the good things about living where we live is that there are always really cool shows coming through town or within an hour's drive.  In May we went to see Godsmack and Staind.  Some of my friends teased me by saying that the 1990s called and want their music back, but I love the opportunity to see bands that I grew up listening to.

Taking pictures during Halestorm
Over the last few years, Justin and I have been to a couple of different shows and we've discovered that we really like buying general admission tickets because we get to stand pretty close to all of the action.  Plus, it's kind of lame to have seats at a rock show.  Justin is usually our family photographer and he took the pictures during this show.  While I was jamming out to one of the bands, I took a brief look around me and noticed that there were quite a few people taking pictures during the show.  In the age of smartphones, this really shouldn't surprise me, but it does.  Part of going to concerts for me is just the whole experience of feeling the music through my whole body and singing along to songs I know with a lot of other people.  That's partially why Justin takes our pictures, I'm usually too absorbed in the moment to remember to take out my camera.  

Us before the show
A few days after the show I was talking with a faculty member whose son had gotten married over the weekend.  The faculty member lamented that he had not taken pictures during the ceremony.  I told him that someone was paid to capture the ceremony on film and that his job was to simply be the father of the groom.  It worries me that society is so reliant on "capturing the moment" that we forget to experience the moment in the first place.

While I may be all about experiencing the moment, nothing makes me crazier than shows that don't start on time.  The show was supposed to start at 6:30PM, so Justin and I decided to have dinner and arrive at 7PM knowing that we could miss part of the opening act.  However, that was not the case.  When we got there the show still hadn't started.  Which meant that every act was behind schedule.  Godsmack (the band we came to see) didn't get onstage until 9:30PM and, unfortunately, I had to get up at 5:30 the next morning.  We ended up leaving the show after two songs.  It was frustrating because we didn't get home until 11:30PM.  All in all, we had a really fun time. I don't think we'll be going to another mid-week show though.  I guess we're finally too old to stay up past our bedtimes.  :)

Staind performs
Godmack performs


Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't let your education get in the way of your learning

Both my husband and I are currently taking online summer classes at the local community college.  I am taking mine in partial fulfillment of my PhD requirements (German) and he is taking his for professional development (Economics).  The summer semester is wrapping up in a couple of weeks, so I thought I would write about our experiences so far.

As part of my PhD, I am required to take two classes outside of my department.  These classes can be essentially anything, so I decided it was time to cross learning German off my bucket list.  I <3 any time I can   "double dip" or multitask.  Usually, the outside classes are supposed to be graduate level, but there is an exception for language courses.  With the blessing of my graduate committee (the three people who basically own me academically), I enrolled at the local community college, purchased my books, and anxiously awaited the beginning of the term.

One chapter of German flashcards

My German class is taught online.  Yes, I too think it's odd that a beginning language class is being taught in this format, but I have to work with what I've been given.  After dealing with massive technology problems on the part of the instructor for the first 1.5 weeks (out of a 7 week class), things are going smoothly so far.  Every week I create a pile of flashcards for the assigned chapter, listen to the online lectures with powerpoints (part of the reason why this class is going well), create my audio recording of me butchering the German language, complete my online workbook, and take an exam over the previous week's material.  In total, this class takes about 15 hours of work not including the time I spend reviewing my flashcards.


My German "Max" drawing with labeled body parts
My only complaint thus far is the lack of useful feedback from the instructor.  The first thing I do each week is take the exam over the previous material because I think it's more useful to test myself over what I've learned before tossing new information on top.  Then I email the instructor in order to find out what I got wrong.  I don't usually miss more than a point or two, but I'm sort of a perfectionist.  Also, every test I've taken for this class has had a major technological issue that has resulted in the computer grading my exam incorrectly.  This week, I emailed her for mistakes and she told me that for "test security" reasons could not tell me what I missed until the rest of the class took the exam.  What a bunch of hooey!  I understand that as a teacher you don't want the students to cheat.  But this is a little extreme.  How am I supposed to learn from my mistakes if I don't know what my mistakes are?  I am frustrated, but as Justin reminded me of a Mark Twain quote, "Don't let your education get in the way of your learning."

Justin's online learning experience has been somewhat better.  His instructor was well organized and provided clear instructions.  However, she requires the students to take their exams in person at the college, which seems a bit absurd.  We're both online class pros and have taken classes while on vacation.  One of my favorite sayings is "Have netbook, will travel."  Essentially, this teacher is saying that she doesn't care that the class is online, she still wants students to conform to her expectations.  She is also ignoring one of the awesome characteristics of online classes.  Namely that online classes can be done at any time.  By requiring students to take their exams in person she is requiring them to conform to the college's 8-5 PM schedule.  It just seems inconsiderate.  I would understand if this was a face-to-face class, but the fact is that it isn't.  Justin seems happy that the class is almost over.  He is taking it as part of his professional accreditation process.  Thankfully, this is the last class required.

A few take home lessons from this experience for me as I move forward with teaching (some of these I already do):

  1. Clear expectations are a must.
  2. Take advantage of the technology help desk *prior* to the beginning of the semester to make sure that your class is setup correctly and that you aren't going to cause your students to panic.
  3. Provide timely feedback.
  4. Understand the constraints that your students might be facing and attempt to be flexible (i.e. online classes should only have online requirements)
  5. Use voice recordings to add personality to online classes.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

For the love of reading


I am just going to say it.  I <3 reading.  I do not read for fun nearly as much as I used to, but hopefully that is about to change.  Since moving to Michigan last year, I decided to make a habit of reading daily for fun.  The "for fun" part is important because I read quite a bit for work since I am squarely in the land of academia.  I read at least a chapter of whatever book I am reading every night.  It helps to calm my mind after a busy day and usually gives me something to think about that is not related to crime.  Therefore, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy.

Sometimes, like last night, I read more than a chapter.  You know when you get to the good part of a book and you cannot wait to see what happens next?  Well, that usually happens for me when the book is starting to wind down and tie up loose ends.  I was up until 3AM (!) finishing Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire. 

Out of Oz is the fourth, and final, book in the Wicked series.  While I can't decide if I like the way the book/series ended, at least I know how it ended and how we got there. Nothing makes me more crazy then to find out the ending of a book before I read it for myself.  **So, I won't post any spoilers.**  I will say that some will find the ending to be completely unsatisfactory, but I think if you contemplate the events and style of the previous books you'll come to see that this was the proper way for the series to end.  Also, I love it when authors leave a little to the imagination and allow the readers to fill in the gaps of questions unanswered.  And, really, who loved the ending of Return of the King with its gagillion endings?  Okay, I'm exaggerating a little bit...

Which reminds me, if you or someone you know would like to read the Wicked series, drop me an email or text with your address.  I would be more than happy to send you my physical copies of Wicked, Son of Witch, or A Lion Among Men.  At this point I buy/borrow as many of my books as possible as ebooks, so I don't have Out of Oz as a physical book.  Unfortunately, I cannot share Out of Oz because I purchased it as a Kindle book and sharing is not enabled (although for most of my academic Kindle books, sharing is allowed -- interesting).  Ugh... My relationship with my Kindle is another post all on its own.  

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why I am closing my Facebook

I am closing my Facebook page on Friday, July 13th.  I know that is this the right decision for me for right now because a certain weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I'm not saying that I won't use Facebook again, rather I'm saying that I need a break from the constant (dis)connectedness.

This life change was prompted by a discussion I had with my brother last night.  No, we didn't talk about FB or how increasing availability and communication has lead to a decline in meaningful interaction between people or even how we can know more about people then in the past and still feel like we don't know them. It started with my brother saying, "Oh, I haven't talked to you in a while and wanted to catch up."  I knew something was wrong when I immediately thought, "Why do you need to talk to me?  It's on Facebook."  That was the beginning of the end.  Somehow, a light bulb clicked and I just knew that Facebook had to go (or at least take a break).

In addition to the disconnection caused by my use of Facebook, I also think that Facebook has lead to a decline in my productivity.  I don't read as much as I once did and I sort of miss it.  Also, I'm pretty sure that the glare of my computer screen hasn't done much for my pasty white complexion.  And then there is the urge I feel to have my Facebook open all of the time.  Something feels amiss when Facebook is closed and I'm not available.

Those are my reasons, take them or leave them.  Like I said, I may be back or I may not be.  Only time and willpower will tell.

Going to give this a try

I recently shut down my Facebook page with little notice and found out that quite a few of my family members (and my husband's family) used my Facebook page to keep track of us.  While I hope that creating a blog for them doesn't seem hypocritical, here is the new home of the Smiths.

I'm hoping that blogging about our adventures will help to keep me away from using Facebook as a time suck (one of the main reasons I left) and to have meaningful dialog/interactions with my friends and family.  I don't promise frequent updates or interesting updates, hopefully this will work better.

I hope to provide some insight into our comings and goings with a little sprinkle (okay for those of you know me, a LOT of sprinkle) of kitty fun.

Enjoy!