Thursday, May 31, 2012

The End of Another School Year

Today ends another school year which always comes with mixed feelings. There is a sense of joy of all the things the summer holds for us and the excitement of being able to begin anew in the fall, but also the sadness as a chapter of my life and my students' lives come to an end. I have really enjoyed getting to know my 6th and 7th grade students this year. I was lucky enough to actually have a bunch of my 7th graders two years in a row. I will miss many of them next year.

As summer begins, it is a good time to sit back and set some goals for myself. Here are a few goals I have:

  • Finish at least 6 more books.
  • Learn something I can implement immediately at each of the 10 meetings/conferences/trainings I am going to this summer.  Update 6/16: 3/10 meetings done and have learned something at each
  • Finish FPU at my church strong.  Update 6/17: Finished week 8, 5 weeks to go!
  • Go on a mini trip with my family.  Update 6/6: We are planning a trip to the Omaha Zoo in July
  • Schedule time together with friends over the summer.  Update 6/16: several are scheduled!
  • Go on at least three date nights this summer. 
  • Read at least one book to improve myself. 
  • Continue reflecting and updating this blog.
  • Laugh each day.
  • Participate in RAGBRAI.
  • Train for 10K (September) and ½ Marathon (October).
  • Finish one of the Warrior-Run Races at Sleepy Hallow in less than 30 minutes.
  • Read the Bible daily.
  • Participate in a small group study.
  • Find ways to serve others and make a difference.
I hope to make time this summer, even though very few days are not already taken up with school/work related activities, to focus on creating balance.  I hope you will join me!  What are some of your goals this summer?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Relay for Life

This Friday, June 1st, my family will be participating in The American Cancer Society's 2012 Relay for Life of Linn County in honor of my grandmother.  While I am not able to walk with them I do want to encourage anyone who is able to donate to The American Cancer Society by sponsoring one of my family members or their team.

Addie Davis (My grandmother)
Garland Davis (My grandfather)
Gina Brown (My mom)
James Brown (My brother)
Jaime Brown (My sister-in-law)
Robert Brown (My brother)
Tabitha Brown (MY sister-in-law)

The Ghosh Center (the cancer center my grandmother was receiving treatments at and the team they have joined for the walk).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Prayers are Always Needed

This weekend I thought about the power of prayer a lot.  I cannot count the number of times that going to God in prayer has helped bring me comfort, calmed me down or helped me focus on a challenge in front of me.

I want to encourage you to be in prayer this week and see if you can feel God's presence in your life.  One tool I use to help organize my prayers is an application called MyPrayPal.  Check out their website! It allows me to keep a list of people/things to pray for and even lets you categorize your prayers.

Here are a few of my prayer requests if you are willing to pray for them and/or add any of them to your list.  If you have anything I could be praying for either let me know privately or add it to the comments to make your prayers public and others may pray for your requests too.

  • I pray for God to watch over my Grandma Davis.  She has decided to stop her chemo treatments, I pray that she is able to enjoy the rest of her life without pain and suffering and do things she has been putting off.
  • I pray that God strengthens my mom and the rest of my family in order to provide support for my grandparents and each other.
  • I pray that God reaches my grandmother's soul and that my she will know and believe in him. 
  • I pray for my father-in-law, Tim, as he continues to heal from his surgery that removed cancer cells from his body.  
  • I pray that William continues to have a happy and healthy life full of joy and that he grows to love and serve God.
  • I pray that God places his healing hands on Jodi, a fellow teacher at Goodrell, in her battle with cancer.  I pray that the doctors and medicine along with God's power work. 
  • I pray that I can make a difference in the lives of the students in my classroom, Goodrell and the district in my work as a teacher and union leader. 
  • I pray that God keeps my students safe and helps them grow in all areas of their lives.
  • I pray for Jennifer and Mike's daughter, Mady, that she continues to heal from her surgery and that the tumor that was removed this week is benign. 
  • I pray for a friend, Spencer, who has been struggling with migraines that God helps him find relief. 
  • I pray that the vision of Altoona United Methodist Church continues to be strengthened and focused on the will of God. 
  • I pray that people's lives may be changed through the Financial Peace University class. 
  • I pray for the future of the church that we find ways to love one another and do not purposely cause harm to others.
  • I pray that I can be the kind of man, husband, father and teacher the God intends for me to be.  
  • I pray that God will use me in ways I cannot even imagine.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Family Fun – 10 things to do this Memorial Day Weekend

Looking for some fun things to do with your family this weekend.  Here I have shared 10 ideas, please leave your own ideas in the comments to me and other readers have even more things they could do with their family for fun this weekend and beyond.

1. Go on a mystery trip! Give your kids clues about your destination as you get closer, but keep them guessing! The possible destinations are endless, just keep it a surprise and keep it fun!

2. Work in or plant a garden. Kids love to get dirty, so make it a learning experience. You can let your child(ren) pick out the kind of plant (flowers, vegetables, etc.). While doing this, talk about what will be needed to take care of the plant and make it an on-going family project.

3. Create a weekend photograph book. Explain to your child(ren) that you are making a photograph book of all the fun and silly things that happen this weekend. You can then sit down and allow your child(ren) to pick out the pictures to include in the physical or digital scrapbook. In the end, you’ll have a perfect gift or personal keepsake of a great and memorable weekend.

4. Go on a bike ride. It is always great to mix physical fitness in with family time. Not only does it help keep you and your family healthy, it also sets a great example for your children. Make sure to take time to teach them how to live a healthy life.

5. Prepare for a garage sale. Go through old stuff and start clearing out some of the clutter. Allow your children to participate and be able to sell some of their stuff. This is a great opportunity to teach about three things we do with money we earn. We spend, save and give. Make sure your child(ren) does at least a little of each with any money they earn.

6. Be servant-leaders. Go into your community and look for areas where you can help. For example, while at the park your child could identify a kid that needs someone to play with or look for litter that you can pick up together. Find ways to serve as a family to instill in your child a spirit of generosity.

7. Make a healthy treat together. Have your child pick one of his/her favorite treats then work together to find a way to make it healthier for them (if it isn’t already.) Have them help you come up with a list of ingredients and then walk/bike/drive to the store to get the materials you need if you don’t have them. Make the yummy treat and you will have a healthy snack and a wonderful memory.

8. Pack and eat a picnic. Have your child help make sandwiches and pack the items needed in your picnic basket or bag. Make sure to allow them to have some say in the items packed. If you don’t think they are making healthy choices, make sure to use this opportunity to teach them. Then take the picnic somewhere outside (even your own backyard) and lay out a blanket and enjoy the meal packed with love and joy.

9. Visit family members. I know it is sometimes hard to get back home and visit your parents/grandparents. Take this weekend as a great opportunity to connect with them even if you have to do it by Skype if they live to far away. Keeping the social connection with family is important. Make sure they know you love them and you give your children the opportunity to know they are loved by other adults too.

10. Talk about your family. Talk to your children about those family members who have passed away, so they can have an appreciation of the past and see that life exists beyond the present time. Visit the cemetery to lay flowers on a loved one’s grave, so they can begin to understand that life on Earth does not last forever. This does not need to be morbid, but it can be an experience that can lead to some positive conversations as kids grow up and turn into a tradition that could last forever.

What are your ideas?  Please leave them in the comments!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thank God for an emergency fund!

On the way to work today, I heard a loud boom and then felt the car sag.  I knew immediately that I had blown a tire and I felt my heart sink.  In the past, this situation would have caused a mix of emotions in my body ranging from anger to worry. I likely would have been bothered all day at school and that worry probably would have interfered with my teaching.  Today though, I was able to remain calm and take care of everything when I had the time and continue with business as normal.  I was able to interact with kids, attend my meetings and not worry about the car.

I did have to take my planning time to get the car to the shop and then walk back to school.  I also  walked to get my car after school in the rain, but that was not a big deal.  When I got to the repair shop, I didn't have to worry about how I was going to pay for the new tire and feel the regret of putting a purchase on our credit card.  Due to having the emergency fund in place, this was not an emergency situation; it was just an unpleasant inconvenience.

I felt great being able to take care of myself and the car without going into debt and without breaking our family's budget.  Having that padding is very important and I am grateful that Anna and I have been working together in our journey to financial peace.  While I didn't enjoy paying over $150 for something I wasn't expecting, it was great to be at peace with a purchase like this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sound Mind Investing Review

For the past several weeks, I have been working my way through reading The Sound Mind Investing Handbook by Austin Pryor.  For those following my twitter feed, you pretty much already have my notes of the parts that spoke to me while reading and the ideas that I thought were especially important.  If you have not seen my twitter feed, I’d like to use this post to summarize what the book was about and explain why I think it is a great resource for anyone who is serious about aligning his or her finances with Christian principles.

First, the handbook goes step-by-step through how to be good stewards with the money God has given us to manage here on Earth.  Austin breaks the book into six sections:
Section 1—Getting Debt-Free—Austin, lays out the reasons why we need to get out of debt, gives some suggestions on how to do it, and does it all based on God’s money principles.

Section 2—Saving for Future Needs—Austin talks about the importance of saving for emergencies, on-going expenses, college, and retirement and why we must pay ourselves first.

Section 3—Investing Your Surplus—I was surprised that we didn’t get to this until chapter 9, but Austin does a great job laying out why getting out of debt and building savings needs to be handled first before you invest in anything else.  This section is mainly focused to various types of mutual funds and how to pick the right ones for you.

Section 4—Diversifying for Safety—God is very clear about dividing our portions and this section talks about the various options within mutual funds, bonds, the stock market, etc.

Section 5—Retirement Countdown—In section 5, Austin talks about the differences between various retirement instruments and plans.  Austin helps you understand what the Bible says about retirement and planning for the future to help you make decisions for yourself as you approach retirement (no matter how long that is away).

Section 6—Investing that Glorifies God—In the final section of the book, Austin gives her personal testimony and lays out 6 ways to know if your investments are glorifying God.  This was a powerful section in the book that really makes you think about your life and what God has planned for you.  If you don’t read the rest of the book, at least read this section.
I think this would be a great resource for any Christian who really wants to know how to be a good steward of God’s money.  Whether or not you are struggling financially, this book will have something in it to help you connect closer to God’s vision for your life and financial resources. Sound Mind Investing has a website you can visit here.

If you are interested in purchasing the book use my affiliate link and I can get some credit for your purchase.  Thanks!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Credit Sharks in Suits

Yesterday’s lesson was about understanding how credit collector agencies work and knowing your rights as a citizen.  There was a lot of good information for people to apply to their own financial messes or to use to advise other people who are in a tough situation.  There is power in knowledge and it's good to be able to approach creditors when you are armed with accurate information.  This lesson also talked about how to check your credit bureau reports and what to do about identity theft.

A really helpful tool that Dave taught in this lesson was the Pro-Rata plan.  Check it out if you don’t have enough money at the end of the month to pay all of your bills. This plan helps you stay afloat by giving a portion of your money to all of the people you owe.  It keeps creditors at bay because they see you have a plan and you are willing to work with them and give them something.

The piece of advice that Dave emphasized the most was that when you are in a financial mess, you need to protect your family by setting up what he calls the "four walls."  These four walls represent your family's basic needs: food/clothing, shelter, utilities, and transportation.  By paying for these items first, you will be in a healthier position to fight and do what is right for your family. 

Today I took some proactive steps to manage my financial situation for the long-term. I opted out of pre-screenings for credit offers.  You can do this too by visiting By doing this, you will reduce the amount of offers for credit cards that your family will receive.  I also registered both of our cell phones at In addition, we will be checking our three credit bureau reports at least once a year. Based on the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the nationwide credit bureaus are required to provide you one free credit report every 12 months upon request. You can go online to and request yours. If you're really interested, you can get one every four months by requesting from each credit bureau one at a time. By checking your credit report frequently, you will be protecting your financial reputation.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Physical Wellness to the Extreme

Getting out in front!
One of my physical wellness goals was to be able to complete all of the obstacles and finish the Kosama Warrior Mud-Run.  I did that and then some!  It was fun and exhausting.  I ran the 5K in 30:03.7, which is probably my slowest 5K ever, but there were lots of obstacles, mud, sand, and other things to slow me down.   For the 10 AM heat, I finished 3rd overall and 1st in my age division.
Throwing a keg over a rope
Heading up the hill!
It was fun running a themed race and seeing so many people there that I knew.  Anna and William came out to cheer me on and I even saw a couple of students there!  We hung out after the race and had BBQ pork sandwiches and water, listened to the band, and relaxed while waiting for the official results to be announced. 
William encouraging me on my run!
When all was said and done, I finished 6th place overall and 2nd in my age division (by only 18 seconds).  I ended up being able to leave with an award check for most of my registration fees in my hand, a great experience and a goal accomplished.  My new goal for the next challenge - the Kosama Warrior Water-Run – is to finish in less than 30 minutes.  It would also be nice to improve in one of my two rankings.

Here are a whole bunch of pictures I have of the experience. 
William having fun!
Heading from 4th to 3rd with William's help!
Taking on Mount Kosama
My check for 2nd place in my age division (25-35)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gaining Financial Peace

The past four weeks I have been co-leading Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at my church.  It has been great to dig deeper into the curriculum and try to help others understand God’s instructions for handling our money.

The first week we had way more people show up than we were expecting and we had to order more kits and move into our sanctuary because the room we had reserved wasn’t big enough.  Luckily, a couple of the people who joined run the sound system at church and were able to help everything workout out smoothly.  The first lesson was on Super Saving.  We learned from Dave Ramsey why savings must become a priority and why baby step 1 is to have $1,000 in the bank as beginning emergency fund and baby step 3 is to have 3-6 months of expenses saved to finish the emergency fund.

Everyone came back for the second week’s lesson on Relating With Money.  Everyone did the homework of creating a quickie budget, which was really exciting.  It was fun listening to Dave Ramsey teach the difference between the Nerds and Free Spirits.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am the Nerd! In addition to a discussion on how money should be dealt with in a marriage, a good amount of the time focused on how to teach kids about money.  Anna and I are looking forward to continuing to put the principles we learned into practice.

The third week’s lesson was on Cash Flow Planning.  Dave Ramsey talked about the importance of creating and sticking to a zero-based budget.  The great thing about the zero-based budget is that every dollar has a name before the month begins and it prevents conflicts from popping up during the month about money.

Week 4 started strong with several success stories.  The lesson was one of the longest of the series, but it was a great one on Dumping Debt.  We learned a lot about different debt myths.  The Bible says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Romans 13:8).  We must follow God’s word on money if we want to be his disciples.  God calls us to live debt-free because there is no good debt.   We are working to get out of debt with gazelle intensity.  Baby step 2 is to pay off all debt using the debt snowball.  Here are the steps that Dave Ramsey ended the dumping debt lesson with for getting out of debt:
  1. Quit borrowing more money!
  2. You must save money.
  3. Prayer really works.
  4. Sell something.
  5. Take a part-time job or overtime (temporarily). 

Our class meetings are each Sunday evening at the church. From this point forward, I will provide a short summary of each class one at a time until we finish on August 5th.  Our lesson for next week is: Credit Sharks in Suits.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wellness at School

The following blog post was inspired by an article in the NEA Today magazine titled “Get up and move!” published in the spring of 2012. 

The Goodrell Wellness Wall
I am grateful to be part of a school that focuses on the wellness of our students and staff.  We are pushing towards creating a school wellness policy/creed for next year and I am really excited about it.  I have been trying to get up and move as much as possible during the day to promote my physical and emotional wellness.  After reading this article, I feel even more passionately about the impact of exercise on my own and my students’ intellectual wellness.  The article points out how exercise during the school day has led to a boost in student learning and has been shown to improve student behavior.  Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that can help make the brain ready to learn and focus. 
Goodrell Teachers participated in Live Healthy Iowa's Step-It-Up Challenge
As the article points out, getting students enough exercise for their physical, emotional and intellectual health has gotten even harder with budget cuts targeting programs such as physical education and recess.    According to the article, “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that children and adolescents get 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day.”  As a teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to make a difference in the life of my students and I am willing to “sacrifice a little seat time for exercise” in order to help set my students up for success in my classroom and in life.  I am excited about several of the resources on the NEA website and others so that I can find engaging ways to take a break to stretch our bodies and minds.

Here are some great resources I will be using and I hope they can be helpful for you, your children, or if you are also a teacher, for your students.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating Life!

We had a great day focusing on social wellness celebrating William’s 6th birthday with friends and family.  We started with a carnival-themed party for William’s friends.  Sweet Tooth, the clown came and shared her talents of face-painting and creating animal balloons.  The kids loved it!
Anna and I set up a whole bunch of carnival style games and parents helped out running various stations. 

We finished the party with ice cream catered from Over the Top.  The kids loved the choices of play-dough (sugar cookie), cotton candy and over the moon ice cream.  It was perfect weather and we are thankful to all of our friends who came and made the day so great. 
After the kid party, we quickly cleaned up and set-up for a family grill-out party. I loved that all of my brothers were able to come.  It was great seeing us all in one place again.  I don’t think we got a picture of all of us together – you would think we would learn to do that by now!  It was fun to be able to catch up with everyone and see the joy on William’s face that his family was here.  We are truly blessed to have such a caring and generous family!
Today we are looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day.  My mom will be here this week to watch William since he is on intercession this week and we are still teaching.  We are going to try to take advantage of that this week and get a couple of dates in.