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.
Friday the 16th was my 29th birthday and my awesome mother-in-law made me a birthday cake:
Yup, that’s my lovely wife Gaby busting out of my birthday cake with a plate of tacos and a jalapeño on the side. She’s also got her UH Cougars t-shirt on. Just awesome! My mother-in-law came up with that all on her own and surprised me with that. I’m still speechless. Love it!
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. It’s been a dream of mine to run my own business since I was a kid. I had it all planned out: I would build my business, make millions (if not billions) of dollars, and eventually retire young.
I believed so much that running my own business and making lots of money was the highest priority that I moved to Silicon Valley two and a half years ago to follow my dream of being a tech startup founder. My fiancé (now wife) and I left our friends and family behind and made the 2,000 mile move to Mountain View from Houston.
I networked like crazy upon arriving in the Valley and soon landed a gig at a cool startup. Over the next two and a half years I worked at that little company. I was the 8th employee there and we would eventually grow to 15 people during my tenure. I wrote about the move here.
Working at the startup was fun. I got to work alongside with some very cool people and learned a lot. I made some friends along the way and created lots of great memories. I also grew an incredible amount professionally, learning how to manage handling hundreds of emails and several thousand accounts all at once.
But I wont lie, a startup is incredibly stressful. Not every Silicon Valley startup is making money hand over fist. Quite a few are struggling to survive in spite of their funding, crippled by having expenditures much greater than revenue. It’s easy to read about ‘xyz hot startup’ getting the latest round of venture money and assume all is well. The truth is vc funding isn’t revenue and shouldn’t be taken as a true measure of a startup’s success. [Note: I make those statements not referring to the company I worked for, but about the Valley as a whole to give people outside of the Valley a bit of a reality check].
Did I make the wrong choice?
A few months after arriving in California, a personal family event brought me back to Houston for a few days. My brief trip back in Houston coincided with Fourth of July weekend. We celebrated with my wife’s family and relatives BBQ’ing in their backyard and enjoying some beers. Everyone was having a great time and I remember wondering what was so wrong with living a simple life with friends and family nearby? Had I made the wrong decision? Perhaps making lots of money and running a business doesn’t really matter on the long run. Perhaps what’s really important is the time we spend with the people we care about and the memories with them. I started to re-think my decision to leave all of this behind in the pursuit of making money.
The Pull Towards Home
A year and a half of working at the startup I was let go. Business strategies change fast in that type of environment and my position was no longer needed. I spent three months unsuccessfully looking for work in SF before my wife and I eventually decided to move back home.
Our apartment lease in Mountain View was nearing renewal and for the second straight year our rents were going up. We decided as we got near the end of our lease that being broke in Mountain View was fun for a bit while we were newlyweds, but now it was time to live cheaply again. We had left Houston on good terms and always told ourselves that we’d be more than fine eventually returning home.
Once we got settled back home, I felt a lot more relaxed. Even though we were initially getting by thanks to some help from the State of California, my stress levels were gone and mentally I was in a much better place. I did my own startup with my buddy Rex, a former co-worker, for a few months. We made some good progress but I decided to get a full-time job because we we’re making enough money.
I finally feel a lot more relaxed and am doing more to enjoy every single day and spend more time with friends and family. I eventually got a good job and am happy to spend no more than forty hours per week thinking about work. The rest of the time I can focus on whatever I like.
We love Houston and are more than happy to be back home. Our rent is 1/4 of what we would’ve been paying had we stayed in Mountain View and we’re living in the heart of Houston’s East End.
Just because I’ve taken a break from Silicon Valley and also from trying to do my own startup doesn’t mean I’ve gotten lazy and stopped having the drive to improve myself. I’ve simply changed my philosophy and goals: I’m now spending my free time learning a foreign language, reading lots of books, learning to cook new meals, and improving myself through rigorous exercise… not to mention I now have quality time with friends and family.
I still may end up back in Silicon Valley someplace new like New York or Austin and I still love startups, but sometimes it’s good to get away from the bubble for awhile. I’ve also realized that one doesn’t need to be being rich and retired by thirty; just working and enjoying every day is very satisfying and I don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy the little things.
It’s been five years since I cut the cord and stopped paying for television. I used to get home from a long day of school/work and plop down on the couch and spend a few hours mindlessly flipping channels. I used to watch the cable news shows and get riled up about things out of my control.
Now, I feel a lot less stressed out. In addition to stopping watching the news on cable tv, I also stopped spending too much time reading about news online. I still stay informed, sources like The Economist give me a detailed overview of current world events. I just spend a lot less time stuck in the minutae.
I still watch some tv shows, but instead of watching them on cable I’ll catch them on Netflix or another streaming service. Most sports events that I want to watch I can go to a friends’ house or down to a bar if I want the event in good quality.
If more sports leagues would allow the networks to stream their events live online (for free) in addition to the tv broadcast, I don’t even mind the commercials.
Have a Plan
I wish I could tell you I’ve accomplished a crazy amount since cutting the cord, but it took me until about 6-9 months ago to get really focused on how I spend my free time. It’s very easy to cancel your cable subscription but still spend hours mindlessly browsing the internet. I used to do that, but now I have a hard plan for myself everyday: My goal is to do at least one Duolingo lesson each day and to read a few pages of a book. I often do more than the bare minimum but my biggest goal is to not have a day where I don’t accompish anything towards my goals. Having a concrete plan keeps me moving towards accomplishing my goals (learning a foreign language & reading more books) while still having a bit of time each day to unwind and browse Reddit, HackerNews, or something else.
I thought for a while that I might be ADD but I realized I just needed to cut out distractions and have more quiet time reading or listening to music. TV was proving too distracting with the constant channel flipping and hours I’d spend not doing anything I considered productive. Now I feel like my mind is a lot clearer and a lot less cluttered. Sort of like a mininalist approach to the mind.
There’s nothing wrong of course if you want to spend all of your free time watching trashy tv shows or looking through hundreds of cat memes every day, but if you want to accomplish other things it’s important to set goals so you don’t lose focus. Doing a little bit every day towards your goals will put you on the path towards accomplishing them.
Having something to watch and unwind after a hard day of work is certainly an enjoyable experience. And while there seems to be more crap than ever on TV, the medium certainly has improved their best content over the past 15 years, putting some shows (The Wire, Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc.) on the same artistic level as the great movies or novels of our time.
I hope this little post helps others who are wondering what life without tv is like. At the end of the day do whatever you feel comfortable with and if you want to have goals, don’t let outside forces distract y’all from accomplishing them.
I’ve done it. I’ve extended my Duolingo streak to over 100 consecutive days! 114 and counting as of today. It wasn’t too long ago I blogged about crossing the 50 day threshold. As I wrote in that post I inadvertently got a streak going and soon the number kept climbing and I didn’t want to break the streak. Over the past 100+ days of practicing my Spanish I’ve learned far more about the language than I ever thought was possible. I was always procrastinating about learning the language and now I’ve got the confidence that comes with progress.
Small Gains and Consistency
I used to think to myself that I didn’t have the time to learn another language or to accomplish all of the other things I wanted to. I kept procrastinating, using excuses that I was too tired at the end of the day, the time wasn’t right, and on and on. What finally clicked for me with Duolingo is that the app continues your streak by only completing one lesson. That one lesson typically takes me about ten minutes to complete. Instead of trying to fit in an hour or more of time into my day, all I needed to keep the streak going was to simply complete a minimum of one lesson per day. Ten minutes out of even the busiest schedules is nothing! I started my streak at the beginning of November last year and kept it going through travelling for Thanksgiving, family visiting during Christmas, New Years, and plenty of nights where I was exhausted from work and/or went to hung out with friends. In all of these instances I’ve kept the streak going and constantly surprise myself in how much I’ve learned.
Stumbling upon this Duolingo streak has led to a dramatic world-changing view for myself and how I view self-improvement, mastery, and the art of learning anything. I realized that small incremental improvements every single day can lead to huge improvements in the long run. I soon started applying this idea to other areas of my life: I’m now reading many more books than I’ve ever read in my life. Even at the pace of 10 pages per day, one could complete a 300 page book in a month. That’s twelve books per year! Not a huge amount for true bookworms, but much more than I’d assume the average person reads. Want to read more than that? Just bump it up to a few more pages per day!
In addition to doing my Spanish every day and reading more, I’ve started consistently working out again and cooking most of my meals at home while trying to avoid eating out. Even if I only spend thirty minutes lifting weights, it’s still more than I would’ve accomplished than by doing nothing. By doing these things daily, even in small increments, I’m positioning myself for success in the long run. [Note: No, I don't workout every single day. I take rest days for proper recovery.]
The Non-Zero Day
A few weeks after my streak got started I stumbled upon this Reddit comment in the GetDisciplined subreddit and it articulated some of these early thoughts that were kicking around in my head. The idea a redditor named Ryans01 spoke of was the power of the Non-Zero Day. Every day counts, even if you only write a few sentences in that novel you’re trying to write, do ten push-ups, or run one mile… you’re still putting yourself on the path towards success. The key here is do something everyday towards your goal, no matter how small. Doing a little something everyday will get you closer to your goals. It’s much easier than you think.
Need more proof? Read this awesome Lifehacker article about how comedian Jerry Seinfeld says to form a habit. He says to get a calendar and mark an “X” on each day you do that one thing you’re wanting to do… like an “X” for each day he wrote a new joke. Do this every day for several days and you’ll soon have a long enough “X” marks in a row on your calendar that you won’t want to break the chain.
Get started, what are you waiting for?!?! Remember the key here is: small incremental improvements every day will lead to amazing long-term results! Here’s that Reddit post again… seriously read that shit!