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How To Summer!

How To Summer!

As I wrote about in my previous blog post (Get Rid of the Stress and KEEP TEACHING), we teachers do a lot over the course of the school year.  The sheer amount of what we’re expected to do during school hours is quite insane, and I’m not even referring to the things we’re expected to do after school hours.  But, we manage because we’re bad-asses! So what are we to do when summer break comes along and we suddenly don’t have to do all that?  The change is so abrupt for some teachers that they end up feeling lost. I myself have felt that way before during the 2-month vacation several years ago.  I’ve learned from the experience and now I’m able to fully enjoy my summers off because I fill up the months of June and July with all kinds of stuff (interests, hobbies, exercise, vacay) to keep my mind and body active.   Let me tell you how I’ve been spending my summer break off from teaching, and maybe you can do something similar if you don’t know what to do with your vacation.

I’m Getting… Old

I turned 40 years of age a couple of months back and was recently awarded a 15-Year Longevity Pin from my district.  The swiftness in which these milestones have gone by have made me realize my career as a teacher and the next 40 years may pass by equally quick.  As a result, I spent the first full week of my summer break this year taking another look at my retirement plans. I’ll tell you I set up a 403(b) and an IRA long ago, but I won’t go into detail about the millions I’ve set aside from my salary.  Oh DAMN! I’m typing this up as I walk on my treadmill and I think I stepped into some bullshit! Moving on.

If you haven’t set up a retirement account, you should definitely get going on that. Time flies and you’re missing out on all that compounded interest.  There are still ways for you to catch up if you’re a veteran teacher and just starting your retirement savings. There’s just too much for me to explain it all to you, but a great place to look for how to plan for retirement, whether you’re a newbie or veteran educator, is CTAinvest.org.  There are sections within the website that explain pretty much everything, and since it’s from the California Teachers Association, you know they have what’s best in mind for educators like you and me.  I looked through it years ago and did so again back in June. It’s definitely worth heading over to the website every few years because retirement rules change and it was helpful having a one-stop shop to get acquainted with those changes.  After a few days going through CTAinvest.org, I’ve decided to increase my contributions to both my 403(b) and IRA more than I had previously intended.  Maybe I won’t have millions in them by the time I retire, but I should be nice and comfortable, and it wasn’t all that hard to figure out how to save for my golden years.

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I’m Getting… My PC An Upgrade

Back in 2010, I had overheard some friends talking about computer hardware and realized the individual parts of one could be bought separately and assembled together pretty easily.  After some additional Googling on the subject, I decided to construct my own PC to stream video to my living room computer. I would call it Home Theater PC 1, or just HTPC1. 

Fast forward to early 2019.  I noticed the volume on HTPC1 would cut out at the beginning of every video I watched on it.  Muting and then immediately unmuting the volume was the only way the sound would return. Doing some quick research yielded no solutions, so I lived with this muting/unmuting routine until I had some time to thoroughly research the issue, which came at the beginning of my summer break.  I spent a couple of weeks of my summer resolving this issue. I started out once again with Google. The first online suggestion was to update the software, AKA driver, running the sound on HTPC1. I went to the manufacturer’s website to search for the driver, and in the process, discovered the sound driver was linked with the integrated graphics/video hardware of the motherboard.  For the information impaired, a motherboard is a thin, squared, circuited board that all other PC hardware attaches to, allowing them to work with one another. Anyhoo, since the sound and video software were basically one-and-the-same, I looked for a graphics update. The good news was that I found out the graphics/sound driver was indeed the culprit because it was out of date.  The bad news was that Windows 10 no longer supported the integrated graphics hardware on HTPC1.

As the “integrated” part implies, I couldn’t just remove the integrated graphics from the motherboard and replace it with one supported by Windows 10.  However, I could get a discrete graphics card that would supercede the integrated one. This meant more research because I can’t just buy any old graphics card.  I had to make sure before buying it that it would (1) fit into HTPC1 as there are many different card sizes and shapes; (2) be compatible with the motherboard, CPU, and power supply; (3) handle 4K video streaming for when I eventually upgrade my TV to the next generation; and (4) be relatively inexpensive.  After several days of patiently looking, I settled on the MSI RX 560 Aero ITX 2GB 128-bit GDDR5 Video Graphics Card. That’s not even its full name. Price on sale and after rebate: ~$81. Regular price: ~$120. Once it arrived in the mail, I installed the card into HTPC1 and now I’ve got my sound back with no glitches.  An unintentional benefit is that the new graphics card has vastly improved picture quality on my TV. Video runs so much smoother and colors really pop! I wish I had made the upgrade much sooner.  

My MSI RX 560 Graphics Card just before installation.

I’m Getting… Pretty Good At 3D Printing

In the process of straightening up my house after my son’s 10th birthday in early June, I was disgusted at how all the charging cables for my electronic devices were cluttering up my living room couch where I have a charging station.  In the past I’ve had to throw out numerous cables because they would fall onto the couch cushions or the floor and be accidentally crushed under the kids’ butts or feet. I decided to put my 3D printer to use and whip up some cable winders that would roll up the charging cables so they stay off the couch and floor.  Luckily, I didn’t have to design my own. Somebody had already designed one and uploaded the specs to Thingiverse.com where I nabbed them for myself.   My 3D printer ain’t exactly top of the line so it took quite a while to print out one of the winders–about 12 hours each.  But once I had the winders all printed out, my cables became much more manageable and my family and I can now plop our asses onto the couch without fear of destroying a perfectly good charging wire. 

My cables have been wrangled!

For my next 3D print job I’d like to print out and assemble the pieces for a 3D scanning bed.  It’s a massive undertaking involving the printing of 14 pieces, some of which require at least 12 hours to produce.  Once assembled, I just download a 3D scanning app to my phone, then plop my cell into the scanning bed. I’ll be able to scan the dimensions of an object so I can duplicate them with my 3D printer.  Cool, huh? After that, I’ll be replicating a teeny-tiny miniature (3cm long) model of a Colt 1911 pistol. A 7th grader, Victor, had asked for one just before the end of this last school year so he could give it to his little brother who loves playing with action figures.  I thought it was sweet of Victor to think of his kid brother, so I agreed to print out the little model and give it to him at the start of the school year when he’s an 8th grader. Why not, right? Especially if it helps build strong positive bonds with a student.

This is what my scanner will look like once assembled.

I’m Getting… Linux

My brother-in-law’s 15-year-old laptop was full of viruses, slow and laggy because of its old hard drive, and still ran Windows Vista, so I helped him get a new one months ago and took the old one off his hands.  I figured I could maybe resurrect it as a media streaming device for one of my ancient TVs, or as a starter computer for my spawn (my children just completed a free 1-week summer coding workshop at their elementary school).  Resurrection starts with the operating system, but Windows 10 is pricey and probably not worth putting onto such ancient hardware. So, I turned to Linux.

For the information impaired, an operating system (OS) is the software that manages all the programs running your computer/device.  A few operating systems include Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Chrome OS. There’s Linux also, which is a free open source OS that’s been around for almost 30 years, the key word there being “free”.  I’m a teacher. I love free. Anyhoo, I had heard of Linux from the internet and some of my tech-nerd friends, but never had the chance to play with it. My bro-in-law’s laptop (which I will henceforth refer to as BILL) was the perfect opportunity to do some exploring.  However, since I didn’t know shit about Linux, I had some Googling to do.

Because I’m a nice guy, I’ll condense hours of my research into the next couple of paragraphs for you.  I learned there are multiple versions of Linux, the way there are many renditions of Android (Samsung’s OneUI, HTC Sense, Huawei’s Emui, etc).  Each Linux version is called a “distro”. Basics like this I got from the online pcworld.com article entitled, “How to get started with Linux: A beginner’s guide.” From there, I had to learn about the different distros and which one was right for me, so I visited the “Best Linux distros of 2019” online article from techradar.com.  After reading that article several times and lots of self-debate, I settled on the Ubuntu distro because it’s pretty simple for a newbie like me to get started with and it’s LTS (Long Term Support) version guarantees “five years of security and general maintenance updates.”

Once I settled on Ubuntu, I downloaded it from this link, then used the instructions from this other link to put it onto a USB flash drive so I could load the OS onto BILL.  Afterwards, I went back to the “How to get started with Linux: A beginner’s guide” article for the final step-by-step guide of the installation process.  May sound complicated. Totally not. Just follow the instructions from those links like cookbook recipes.  Now that I’ve got BILL up and running again with Ubuntu, I’ve noticed it’s pretty slow and laggy still. This is due to the really old hard drive.  I decided to bite the bullet and spent $17 on a new 120 gigabyte solid state drive (SSD), which is much faster than a traditional hard drive (HDD). I haven’t swapped out the drives just yet, but I will shortly.  Once done, I’ll have a relatively quick and nimble “new” laptop that cost me just $17, a good price for any frugal teacher/person. If you’d like to give it a go with Linux and need some help, comment below or message me on Facebook or Twitter.

Installing Ubuntu onto BILL (left) while walking on the treadmill.

I’m Getting… My House Clean

I’m not at all ashamed to say my house is a hot mess most days.  My two children’s Lego pieces and toys are everywhere; weeks or even months go by in between vacuum cleaning of the house;  the dishes are piled up frequently; and when the laundry isn’t spilling out of their hampers, they incessessantly dwell unfolded in laundry baskets after having been washed.  Just before summer break, I swore I would remedy each of the above. And I have, but I didn’t do it all by myself.

During the initial clean-up of my children’s toys, my wife and I had the kids help out and pay attention so they knew where everything went.  Also, we’ve been drilling into them the importance of putting away their playthings so the house is nice and tidy. We’ve tried teaching them this before with little success, but the reason why it’s working this time is related to vacuuming.

I hate vacuuming.  It’s a hassle to get the damn vacuum cleaner out in the first place and moving furniture around to get at the dust and dirt is a pain in the ass.  In addition, vacuuming is time consuming and loud, which means I can only do it during certain times so I don’t bother my family, thus limiting me to occasions that aren’t always convenient for moi.  I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore… so I bought a robotic vacuum! My house is mostly carpeted and it took a while to find a robovac that could handle the medium-pile carpet I’ve got AND cost under $200.  In May, I saw the Eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 30 online at the reduced price of $159. It had good reviews at its original price of $269, so nabbing it for $90 off was a no-brainer. In early June, I did one thorough vacuuming of my home with my standard vacuum, then a week later, I unpacked the robovac, put it together, charged it up, and let her rip!  Wall-E, as it has been named, has done a fantastic job of QUIETLY suctioning crap up. I know this because its integrated dust bin is FULL after every session. The only thing I have to do is clear out the dust bin after I run Wall-E, clean out his filters, and mop the non-carpeted areas, all of which take far less time than if I were to vacuum the house the old fashioned way.  However, as his name implies, Wall-E isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. He gets stuck on occasion and some areas he misses entirely while others he’ll clean more than once in a single session before automatically returning to his base to recharge. I usually have to run him twice in a given day and direct him to where I want him to go with the remote control the second time around. Even so, it sure beats vacuuming myself and an unexpected perk of having Wall-E is my kids think he’s the coolest thing and they put away their toys regularly to make his job easier.  They also know he’ll suck up anything indiscriminately, including their precious Legos and toys, so they’re highly motivated to put away their play stuff. For the past several weeks, my house has not been this consistently clean… EVER.

Wall-E at work!

Moving on to the dishes now.  Leaving them in the sink is such an easy trap to fall into.  We tell ourselves we’ll wash them later after the food coma passes, but like all things we procrastinate, they build up and become too overwhelming for us to take care of later.  The hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper. Hmm… sounds kind of like a problem some of our students find themselves in with their school work. For the students who are far behind in their assignments, I’ll cut them some kind of break to give them a fighting chance.  Unfortunately, I don’t get such a break because my dishwasher is busted in a very complicated, very expensive to fix way. Since a break isn’t possible for me at the moment, I have embraced the same advice I give my students about doing their work–get it done as soon as you have time, taking breaks when you need to and then getting right back at it immediately afterwards.  So, I’ve been washing them dishes right after cooking and eating. Almost as soon as they land in the sink, I get to work on them like a puma pouncing on its prey, and get them washed and on the dishrack… uh, the dishes that is, not the prey. I know, this isn’t groundbreaking, but the sink is clear most of the day now. I pounce in a similar fashion when it comes to my laundry as well.  Come to think of it, I’ve applied this pouncing to all my adult responsibilities as of late. I’m hoping I can keep up this whole adulting thing going when the summer is over. What? I said I’m 40. I never said I was an adult.

I’m Getting… Out Of Here 

I’ve got 2 months off for summer break.  I’m okay with spending the first 2-3 weeks of it at home, but then I get bored.  Early in my teaching career, before my life got flipped turned upside down with parenthood, I taught summer school so there wasn’t enough time for boredom to set in.  Ever since the storks brought home my 2 beautiful children, I prefer to spend my summers off with them… the kids I mean, not the storks. As any stay-at-home parent will tell you, as much as we love our children, spending 2 whole months at home with the little angels will get… tedious.  Hell, spending an extended amount of time at home with anyone or even by yourself will mess with your sanity. To combat this, I go somewhere (with the wife and kids, of course).  

I just got back from this summer’s trip to Zihautanejo, Guerrero, Mexico.  Never been there before. Pro tip for tourists: explore your vacation area as much as you can ON FOOT.  You’ll be able to interact better with the locals and their culture, see the city/town better and at your leisure, and burn off tons of calories so you can gorge on the food!  That’s exactly what my family and I did in Zihuatanejo. No rental car for us. We walked everywhere. Where ever we couldn’t, we grabbed a taxi. Most importantly, we tried not to see, explore, or eat anything that we would normally have at home.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do… or in this case, we did as the people of Zihuatanejo did. The whole point is to get away from the ordinary. Otherwise, you might as well just stay home.  

Panoramic photo of our resort in Zihuatanejo. Beautiful!

Getaways don’t have to be anywhere exotic or expensive.  I’m all the way at the end of my payscale in Colton, CA (where teachers get paid closer to decently than most other districts/states) and my wife’s a pharmacist, so I can afford a trip out of the country.  But back in the day, before my fellow union members almost had a strike because we were the lowest paid of the 11 surrounding districts AND my wife was still in pharmacy school, I was a broke-ass motherf*cker who worked at the Sylvan Learning Center in the evenings after teaching a full day and couldn’t afford to travel far.  My cheapest vacay was hanging out at my wife’s little brother’s house in Phoenix, Arizona, a relatively short 5-hour drive from my home. We ate A LOT, explored the city, read books, and swam in his pool almost everyday for a week. We even cooked most of our meals, so the whole trip only amounted to a couple hundred bucks worth of food and fuel.  It was an affordable, relaxing, and fun vacation. I’d do it again. So, go somewhere. Near or far. Familiar or exotic. Affordable or luxurious. There’s a vacay to help YOU get away from it all and relax.

This is one of the cheap and yummy meals we prepared at my bro-in-law’s in AZ–pancakes, eggs, and spam.

I’m Getting… In Shape

I’m the active teacher who constantly walks around the classroom.  Most school days, I log about 10,000 steps on my smartwatch by the time I get home from work just from all the walking I do in class and on campus.  That’s several HUNDRED calories I burn off just doing my job. However, when the school year ends and there are no longer any students to walk around and assist, those steps don’t get taken.  In the past, this was a big issue because I’d be more sedentary over the summers without my daily classroom walks. I kind of solved the problem last year when I started taking long walks around my neighborhood (See my previous blog post entitled “Have Your Cake.  Eat Your Cake.”).  It wasn’t a perfect solution because some mornings the weather would be too hot or I couldn’t wake up early enough to fit in the stroll before my wife had to leave for work, thus requiring me to be home with the kids.  Those issues were solved ever since I got my Horizon T101 treadmill in November of 2018. It was pricey at ~$500 (normally $700), but it has a lifetime warranty on its motor and frame, so it should be the last treadmill I’ll ever have to buy.  Best of all, I can take my walks regardless of the weather or time of day I awaken. I added a DIY table to the treadmill for my laptop and paperwork so I can multitask while I burn off calories. In fact, the vast majority of this blog post was written while I was walking on my treadmill.

Working on this very blog post while watching Stranger Things and burning off calories on the treadmill.

Walking isn’t the only exercise I’m doing.  I also do high intensity interval training (HIIT) about 3 days a week.  I started doing this in the Spring with my Active Club kids (See my other blog post entitled “Developing Good Relationships With Students (Part 1 of a Series: Clubs)”), and decided to continue with them through the summer.  HIIT workouts are characterized by alternating bursts of intense cardio and then lower intensity activity.  This kind of exercise will make your heart rate skyrocket and drain your will to live, but they burn hundreds of calories and are mercifully much shorter than other workouts, lasting no more than 30 minutes, although the ones I do last between 15 and 25 minutes.  If I walked for about 25 minutes, I’d burn about 100 calories. Doing HIIT for the same amount of time would burn over 200 calories from my body. That’s a lot of calories for such a short period of time.

A recording of one of my HIIT workouts on Google Fit.

On top of HIIT, I also do strength training 5 times a week which includes weight lifting (for my back, shoulders, and arms) and bodyweight training (for my chest, legs, and abs).  This summer, I’ve kicked things up another notch. I want my bicep “peaks” to be bigger, so I’ve added pulsing bicep curls to my routine. To reshape my chest, I now do alternating sets of decline push-ups and regular push-ups totalling over 400 reps in under 30 minutes.  To strengthen my abs and core, I’ve started working them tabata-style (alternating 30 seconds of an abs/core exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest).  

A recording of one of my STRENGTH TRAINING workouts on Google Fit.

As I wrote about in my previous post, “It Sucks. I Hate It. Let’s Do It”, I’ve discovered that constantly setting new goals keeps me on track.  There’s always a prize to keep my eye on. This is particularly important for me during the summer when it’s tempting to really sit back on the couch and take it easy.  This doesn’t just apply for physical exercise either. The reason why I researched my retirement savings, graphics cards, 3D printing, and Linux is to keep my mind just as active as how exercise, cleaning my house, and going on vacation keeps me physically active.  Yes, I enjoy all these things, but I set them as goals to accomplish over the summer to keep me mentally and physically sharp. I am very much a strong believer in the old motto, “A sound mind in a sound body.”

I’m Getting… Some Rest (TV, books, naps)

All of the above is not to say I’m constantly on the go for summer vacation.  Though I do try to keep my mind and body occupied, I also make sure I’ve got plenty of downtime.  I’ve been watching a shit ton of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. Most of the time, I like to watch my programming while I’m doing something else like walking on the treadmill, washing dishes, doing the laundry, strength training, etc because I like to multitask (Once again, see my previous blog post entitled “Have Your Cake.  Eat Your Cake.”).  I multitask wherever I can, but every so often, it’s okay to let yourself veg out on the couch to a good show or movie.  So far this summer, I’ve watched Season 3 of Jessica Jones on Netflix, all 4 seasons of 12 Monkeys on Hulu, all three seasons of The Expanse on Amazon Prime.  As of this writing, I’m still working through all the episodes of Chuck on Amazon Prime.  Most of these programs I watched while simultaneously doing something else, but a whole lot of them were watched while I was sprawled out either on my couch or my bed.

Of course, some things can’t be multitasked, at least not well.  One of those things for me is reading a good book. I don’t get to read one very often because of my busy, multitask-filled life.  However, summer break affords me the time I need to slow down just enough to focus on the singular task of taking in a novel. I’m currently working on a sci-fi work called The Three-Body Problem.  I’m not even a quarter of the way through the book yet because, like I stated before, I have to multitask a lot and I’m taking the book in little by little, but it’s quite exciting so far.  If it’s okay to veg out on the couch or bed while watching something on the TV, then the same should apply for reading a book.

That’s the great thing about our summer break, teachers!  There’s time to veg out. Sometimes, I’ll let myself slow down so much that instead of watching or reading something, I’ll take a nap.  That’s right! During the summer, I will actually sleep for an hour or two DURING THE DAY!  This was not a possibility for the longest time ever since my first child was born a decade ago.  However, both my kids are old enough now to entertain themselves, grab their own snacks, and use the restroom without burning down the house while I conk out on the couch for a couple hours.  I’ve napped at least 10 times since the last day of the school year. I’ll probably do so a few more times before the next school year starts up again. And I don’t feel the least bit bad about it!

My wife snapped a pic of me napping in Zihautanejo while the kids are entertaining themselves.

I’m Getting… To The Point

So, that’s how I’ve been spending my summer break.  As you can see, I’m still going full speed ahead in keeping my mind and body active, while still managing to slow down here and there to recover from the previous school year and just plain relax.  You can do this, too. Some of you may want to have lots of structure in your day, so feel free to schedule the activities you’d like to do and when you’d like to do them. If you prefer more wiggle room, I’d suggest writing out your activities on a to-do list so you know what you’d like to get done, but still have the freedom of completing those tasks at your leisure.  I’m mostly a to-do list kind of guy, but sometimes when I’m feeling really productive, I’ll plan out my day down to the hour. For example, on July 11, I knew I wanted to do a HIIT workout, lift weights for my biceps and triceps, go shop for my daughter’s birthday party on the 13th (a Saturday when family and friends are off work), and prepare the food for said party. I didn’t plan out when I would be doing those tasks, but I had them written in a to-do list on my cell phone.  On the other hand, I had all the events for the actual day of my daughter’s birthday on July 12 scheduled in my cell phone calendar as seen below:

  • 10AM – Kids Empire (indoor playground)
  • 12PM – Lunch
  • 2:50PM – Movie – Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • 5PM – Return to Kids Empire
  • 7PM – Dinner

See?  Structure when I need it.  Freedom when I don’t. You can alternate between having a leisurely to-do list and a structured schedule as you like, or stick with just one.  It’s up to you. You CAN maintain a sense of purpose, stay active both mentally and physically, AND still relax during the summer. Indulge in some hobbies, set some goals, stimulate your mind in ways that excite you, move your body as intensely as you choose, veg out… and HAVE A GREAT SUMMER!  I think it’s time for a nap.

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