I haven’t done a recap of my 2014 yet and February is almost over but no is as good as time as any. I’m very proud of myself and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I don’t write this to brag but if it motivates one person to go out there and kick some ass then it’s worth it!
Loving the Bookworm Life
Last year I had a goal to read more books and I was able to finish 29 of them! I read constantly and I’m almost obsessed with learning more about the world and things I know nothing about. Reading is very relaxing and if I didn’t have to work, I’d probably spend the majority of my days reading.
A special thanks to the Houston Public Library and their excellent selection of books.
The Push Towards Fluency
I also wanted to learn as much Spanish as possible. I got started practicing with Duolingo consistently in November 2013 and got hooked and fell in love with studying and seeing incremental improvements. I was able to study for over 350 days during 2014. The progress I’ve made in the Spanish language is monumental compared to when I started. I’m a long way from fluent, but I’m now super motivated to continue my studies.
In the first two months of 2015 I was able to complete the Spanish Duolingo tree and I recently started the reverse tree (English for Spanish speakers) to keep my knowledge fresh.
As 2015 got underway the Houston Cougars football team hired Tom Herman to be the new head coach. I’ve been a rabid Cougar supporter since I came to UH in 2004 and I frequently post many things about the Coogs to my Facebook friends. I soon realized that there aren’t any good Cougar fan blogs out there so I decided to start my own. I named my blog CardiacCoogs.com and I’ve been cranking out posts since then. The new blog is also one of the reasons why my 2014 recap took so long for me to write. It’s fun writing just for fun and for friends and not having any expectations of making money; it’s really liberating.
Looking Forward for the Rest of 2015
For the rest of 2015 one of my biggest goals is to be more consistent at the gym and keep pushing myself physically and mentally. I probably won’t finish 29 books in 2015 due to spending more time weight-lifting, still doing my Spanish lessons, and the new blog, but I’m okay with that. Thank you for reading this far and I’ll leave you with an awesome quote and video from Arnold to keep you motivated:
“When you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone at the same time is working hard, someone is getting smarter and someone is winning, just remember that”
Hooray! After fifteen months of consistently studying Spanish via Duolingo I finally finished the program! It took a lot of hard work and consistency but it paid off in the end.
Doing Duolingo every day helped me stay focused in other areas of my life: Working out, eating healthy food, and reading lots of books. Turn off your TV and get busy accomplishing your dreams!
More posts about my journey with Duolingo:
I’m a bit of a music junkie and probably have over 130 gigabytes of music on my hard drive. I use iTunes to manage my music library and wanted to find a way to backup all of my music to Dropbox without messing up iTunes.
Having used iTunes for about eight years I have accumulated dozens of playlists in iTunes. I want to make sure my songs are backed up to the cloud in case my computer goes kaput, but up until now there hasn’t been any simple solution. If I were to move my song files from my hard drive to Dropbox, iTunes would no longer recognize where each song in my playlists was located. I would have to go re-load each song to each playlist one-by-one. What a nightmare!
Over the past few years I’ve been avoiding moving my music to the cloud and just used an external 1TB hard drive to backup all of my music every few months. But using the external drives is a pain and you always have to have it with you.
Finding a Solution
Dropbox recently made their storage pricing incredibly inexpensive: 1TB for only $99 per year. Now I only needed to find some sort of way to move my music over to the cloud without screwing up iTunes. Doing some research over the past few weeks I found that some people will create symbolic links to accomplish this, but I was able to find an even better solution called Boxifier.
While Dropbox only syncs folders you move directly into your Dropbox, Boxifier allows Dropbox to sync any folder you want without moving it. Once you download Boxifier, simply right click on the folder you want to sync on your hard drive and Boxifier will start syncing the folder to Dropbox without it having to be moved. Very cool!
After downloading Boxifier I right-clicked on my folder where all of my music is kept and then everything started syncing to Dropbox.
Boxifier is very light weight and simple to use. All of my music is now backed-up in the cloud and now I can also stream music directly from Dropbox. And best of all, my iTunes library still functions like before and I never had to re-add any songs to my playlists!
After consistently studying Duolingo Spanish since November 2013, I finally was able to reach the 200 consecutive day mark a few weeks ago. Along the way I’ve picked up some good tips and hints to stay motivated, organized, and increase my success rate learning.
Early Frustrations While Studying
After doing my Duolingo lessons for a few months I began to plateau and feel frustrated at the increasing complexity of the lessons. New words were being introduced very fast but I was having a hard time remembering all of them and staying focused and motivated. I knew that I needed to use some sort of flash card system to keep those new words fresh in my mind and to help me memorize them. I tried using old school index cards like back in high school, but those soon became too numerous and they aren’t exactly convenient for quick and easy travel. There also isn’t a good way to organize them or make quick changes on the fly. :: cue the dramatic voice-over :: There has to be a better way!
Finding An Awesome Solution
I figured with all of the advances in technology and learning in the past several years there had to be some convenient app that I could use to digitally make flash cards. I did some research online and tried out a few different study apps before settling on a pretty cool one called StudyBlue.
StudyBlue is awesome because there is a web version, tablet, and mobile allowing me to create flash cards quickly and study whenever is convenient for me. Stuck waiting on someone (like in a doctor’s office)? I simply whip out my phone and do a quick 20 question quiz to jog my memory. Anytime I come across a new word in my Duolingo lessons I add it to my StudyBlue deck for review later. This has helped me memorize countless vocab words and keep them fresh in my mind. Because I’m reviewing flashcards outside of my Duolingo lessons, it also has helped me stay motivated with the Duolingo lessons and progress faster.
In addition to the awesome level of convenience, StudyBlue also allows you to group your flash cards into separate folders based on different topics. My folders are based around each section of my Duolingo lessons (ex: adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc.). Any time I come across a new word I don’t know I simply make a flash card of it to review later. StudyBlue also has quizzes for each folder you make so you can test yourself to he how you’re progressing with your learning.
Don’t Forget a Good Translation App
Another tool I realized I soon needed was a good translation book or app. Again, I prefer something online for ease of access and Google Translate is one of the most popular ones online. But I soon found Google Translate isn’t as accurate as I want. I remembered using a site called FreeTranslation.com over ten years ago back in high school. Luckily enough, not only is FreeTranslation.com still up and running but it seems far more accurate then Google Translate.
When I’m using Duolingo, often times I’ll type out an answer to a Duolingo lesson and run it through FreeTranslation to see how close I am to the accurate translation. FT has helped me realize where my sentences are very close to being accurate or very far off.
Since incorporating both StudyBlue and FreeTranslations.com into my Duolingo lessons I’ve found myself much more motivated and I’m moving much closer to completing the course. The flash cards have helped me keep new words Duolingo is throwing at me fresh in my mind. I’m still a ways off from being fluent but I’m so much further along in my understanding of the language than when I started.
The above tools work for me, but they are by no means the definitive answer to how to stay motivated and succeed at Duolingo. If you have any suggestions or other ideas leave a comment! My other posts on trying to learn Spanish via Duolingo are here, here, and here.
Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter… just let me know you found me via this post. :-)
Yesterday my Duolingo streak reached 144 days, surpassing my previous record of 143 days I had reached back in March. I was really sick for a week back then so my streak stopped because I was too weak to do my Spanish lessons. Hard to believe that I was able to build it back up already. Now I have to keep it going and continue to improve on my skills. :-)
Ok, enough about the Texas side of my family for one moment. If you, dear reader, didn’t know any better you might not realize that my mom’s entire side of the family is from St. Louis. My mom was born there and grew up in Webster Groves and my grandparents still live in Clayton.
When I was seven in 1993 my family left Plano, Texas and moved to Springfield, Missouri. I lived in Springfield until I finished high school when I decided I wanted to live in a larger city. I looked at colleges in cities all over the country: New York, LA, Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis, etc. Most schools in the cities were out of reach due to their prohibitive costs, such as out of state tuition fees or the schools being private universities.
My father was working in Dallas during my later high school years, commuting back to Springfield on weekends, and eventually I would be granted in-state tuition in the state of Texas. The deal was sealed! I would leave Missouri. For some reason I decided on the University of Houston, mostly due to their low tuition rates, the fact they were in a large city, and that they had relatively modest admission standards (no admissions essay, sign me up!). UH was the only school I applied to and I was accepted and the rest was history.
I didn’t appreciate living in The Ozarks at the time (what kid does appreciate their hometown?) and eventually going back to visit over the years I began to appreciate my time back there. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized Springfield is just a nice, quiet Midwestern city… the type of town where you enjoy a nice trip to the local diner… most likely Steak N Shake. I’ve always enjoyed my trips up to St. Louis to see my grandparents and my cousins (before they moved to Delaware). St. Louis is an incredibly beautiful city and it brings back lots of memories of being a kid, wandering the zoo or the science center, and playing hide-and-go-seek in my grandparents basement.
We went again to visit St. Louis doing the drive from Houston. Flying gets boring and repetitive. If I was the time, I prefer to hit the open road and take my time. Flying is very scripted and choreographed… you can’t pull off the road and look at gaudy tourist crap on the side of the road like you can when it’s just you and you mom and wife on the road.
The local newspaper in Prior, Oklahoma is called “The Paper” because of course it is! Also, notice the sub-header says, “Win a bag of burgers in the annual drawing…”. I mean Holy Toledo! These people can win a bag of burgers! Where do I sign up? Then the main header asks if Prior is one of the worst cities in the state. I hope the local business community (if there is one) isn’t expecting “The Paper” to inspire any confidence in outside investment. These are the cute little relics of small town Americana you miss on an airplane.
No trip through the cross-section of Missouri known as I-44 would’ve been complete without a stop at the World’s Largest Gift Store! To the left of this building was a convenience store with so much candy I wish I were still nine…. I would’ve been in Heaven much to the dismay of my dentist.
Every time we make it to St. Louis we have to scarf down the local dishes at our favorite places. One of the most famous St. Louis foods is the Toasted Ravioli made for us here at The Pasta House. After a ridiculously long day visiting the Arch we made it down to The Hill for an amazing sandwich at Amighetti’s and then on to desert at Ted Drewes.
Our good friend Jenny from UH who is getting her PhD at Mizzou was driving back to Columbia while we were in St. Louis so we grabbed lunch one day.
I also got to grab a beer with my buddy Rex who I worked with at the startup in Cali. Rex and I both left the startup around the same time, him moving back to St. Louis and Gaby and I back to Houston.
Of course, we couldn’t leave town without going to a White Castle which I haven’t had in nearly 15 years, long before that movie came out. The little burgers were much better than I expected.
On the lonely road again back to Texas we had to see the largest rocking chair in the world located off the old Route 66 in Cuba, Missouri.
Then we stopped in my former hometown of Springfield for an hour to grab a bite. Oddly enough, that lily-white town in the heart of The Ozarks was where cashew chicken was born (NYTimes article on the history here). So, we stopped into Lucy’s on Sunshine Road for a bite.
All in all it was a good trip and I’m glad we had the chance to get away!
A few years back my photographer brother, Charles, decided to make a photo project containing diptych’s of our family farm in Burkburnett, Texas. The project contains photos my late grandfather, James Ludeke, took over the years on the farm and photos my brother took in recent years. The photos with the black borders are the one’s my grandfather took. The project is called “The Flying Horsemen.” All photos are copyright Charles Ludeke and the Ludeke family.
Click to embiggen the photos.
A big part of the Texan mystique is ranch life. My family on my father’s side, the Texas side, has been farming through several generations. I’m actually the first generation in my family to not grow up on a farm. I’m glad I didn’t grow up with those hardships but I do still have a lot of respect for the hard, physical labor that built this country. My grandfather passed away in 2010 and my grandmother has since moved to a house in the city of Burkburnett, away from the farm, but my family still owns the land leasing out separately the land for farming and the house to renters.
Every year my dad’s family would get together on Thanksgiving at the farm. I have fond memories of everyone being together and growing up over the years. My dad was one of six kids so I have lots of cousins… a few older but most of them younger. Jobs change and friends may come and go, but family is the one constant that lasts a lifetime. Below are some photos I’ve taken over the years vising the farm. Click one of the photos below to launch the gallery.
The State of Texas Historical Commission decided to place a historical marker marking where the ranch of Samuel Burk Burnett, namesake of Burkburnett, Texas, had his legendary 6666 Ranch. The land my grandparents have owned since the 1950’s is on part of the old 6666 ranch so my grandma decides she wants to place her stake in the history of Texas. She somehow got a smaller, footnote-esque plaque attached at the bottom of the main marker. The smaller plaque kindly points out to the reader that the Flying Horseman Ranch, as the Ludeke family farm is now known, is located three miles to the north.
I thought grandma was a little nuts when she said she wanted to get the family name on the historical marker, but I must say it looks pretty awesome seeing it come to reality. Kudos Grandma!
Lesson: Never stand in the way of a Texas woman!
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote up a nice piece for Mother’s Day last month about Kolaches. The article include kolache recipes from several Ft. Worth area women and my aunt, Ulana, was one of the women featured. My grandmother’s family came from the Czech Republic to Texas in the 1850’s. Most people who lived in small towns in those days before television and radio became widespread kept a lot of their original language and customs. My grandmother didn’t even speak English until she went to grade school, despite her family having already been in the state for 70-80 years. There was an interesting article about Texans of German ancestry a few months ago in Texas Monthly who, similar to the Czechs, kept a lot of their own language and customs over the years. My Texas heritage (which is half of my family!) consists of an mix of Czech, German, Sicilian, and Mexican.
Link to the full article from the Star Telegram here. Be sure to click through the photo gallery: Photo #6 is my Aunt’s kolaches with a photo of my great-grandmother in the background. Photo #7 is of my Aunt in a traditional Czech outfit.