Month: June 2007

Ready for the library again…

We went to bed around 9:30, and I woke up at 3:15 to the beeping of my low-battery cell phone. Grrr. I’m filled with adrenaline because today is the baby shower and couldn’t go back to sleep.

Finished this week:

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – Two people in my small group mentioned this book when we were talking about books we had recently read, and both of them delivered copies for me to borrow! This rather thick tome of fiction follows three simultaneous storylines, starting with an unnamed female narrator who recalls discovering an odd book in her father’s library that only has a block print of a dragon in the center spread. Through the form of conversations and letters interspersed with the narrator’s own story, two more storylines unfold to reveal a previously untold season of her father’s own past and his professor’s mysterious disappearance. All of the storylines converge in a quest that involves her mother’s disappearance, the history of Vlad the Impaler (a real-life person from the 1400’s whose cruel methods of punishment gave rise to the Dracula story), and… vampires? History and vampire fiction intertwine for a fascinating read — I think I finished this in two evenings because I wanted to see what happened.

The Wild Out Your Window by Sy Montgomery – The last Montgomery book in our library system that I could find. This is a collection of articles previously published in her Boston Globe column. Each one focuses on a specific aspect of nature as expressed in the New England area, all with the intention of helping you to look at your immediate outside surroundings in a new way. Learn about turkey vultures, moles, lily pads, and shrikes — a carnivorous songbird which attacks smaller birds, mammals, and reptiles, killing them and stripping out their brains. Not only that, they take their prey and skewer them on large thorns or barbed wire (the book specifically mentions “Vlad the Impaler,” in a funny coincidence) to show their hunting prowess to potential mates — and possibly to eat their prey more easily. Yikes.

A great bathroom book because of the short chapters and interesting material.

An aside: Once you learn something new or hear about something, you start seeing it everywhere. After reading about Vlad the IMpaler in The Historian, I then read about Vlad the Impaler with feathers in this book, and then we watched Miss Potter on DVD where young Beatrix teases her brother (who likes to collect bugs) for being “Vlad the Impaler.” It’s a very tiny and quiet reference that I only caught because of having just read The Historian. Miss Potter was excellent, by the way — I’ve read some stuff about Beatrix Potter’s life and the movie seemed fairly true to the major events of her life. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede – I just ordered this book from Amazon (to get to the $25 free shipping mark) as it’s one of my favorite young-adult fantasy (or children’s fantasy?) books. Kim, a street waif, is hired to snoop through Mairelon’s belongings by a shady character. As it turns out, she ends up joining Mairelon in a crazy quest to find some magicial articles and clear his name. In typical Wrede style, there is a regular comedy of errors resulting in a satisfying ending — while leaving room for its sequel, The Magician’s Ward.

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • Wild at Heart by John Eldredge
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

“Library” book box:
Not really from the library, but still in the book box.

  • Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott – borrowing from a friend
  • Cannery Row by John Steinbeck – got this in a book exchange in December and still haven’t read it! We’re going down to Santa Cruz and Monterey next weekend for our 5 year anniversary, so maybe actually being at Cannery Row will inspire me to pick this book up.
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Weekly review and cat update

A quick note to say that Nutmeg has some vaginal bleeding. 😦 It’s only been for the past two or so hours, but it’s consistent. I have an appointment with the vet in about two and a half hours. Now I just need to figure out how to transport her and the kittens….!

But it’s time for my weekly update.

  • Work – I’m still cranking through and being pretty productive with client work and actual stuff I “need” to do, but still have been unmotivated about all the things I “could” do. Near the end of this week, I started making a goal for myself of how much money I wanted to earn each day, so that’s been motivating in getting me to at least put in the hours and get some stuff done.
  • Running – I’ve run two out of the three times I planned to run this week (16 min, 20 min). I was supposed to run this morning, but I haven’t wanted to leave Nutmeg alone and get blood over everything. I may try to run tomorrow morning since Steve will be back home.
  • Routines – I lost focus for my Wednesday/Thursday routines (especially since Nutmeg had her kittens on Wednesday!). But overall I’m still pleased with how my morning routine is still coming together. Still haven’t made a point to think about tweaking my evening routines, though … maybe I’ll schedule in some time to think about them!
  • Fruit/veggies – I ate TERRIBLY this week. It’s terribly difficult to be motivated to cook when you’re home alone. I was practically living off Ramen for three days.
  • Branding – Great progress! Picked a logo, ordered business cards, and came up with one web site idea. This next week I’ll shoot for another site idea; the first one isn’t really doing it for me although it is pretty.
  • New business – Also great progress! I pumped out the remaining five of the custom illustrations I had wanted to create for the web site within a few hours, and now feel motivated to work more on the web site itself. I also filed a fictitious name statement in the newspaper, finally.
  • Harp – Inconsistent.
  • Attitude – Good!

There have been a few blogs that I’ve come across lately that talk about only focusing on a limited number of goals. I’m sure they would look at my list of 19 and shake their heads. On the other hand, it seems that I really only end up “focusing” on a few goals each month — the others might get some small amounts of progress but otherwise are in a holding pattern. Only in the “harp” area have I been going downhill in terms of consistency! (Um, and this week, my eating suffered as well.) But I think my goal tracking sheet has been helping me to keep everything in mind, so I’ll keep juggling all these balls as long as I can!

It’s All Too Much – book review and notes

It’s All Too Much by Peter WalshI re-read It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh and made some notes of things I want to remember. In the grand tradition of The Simple Dollar, I decided to try my first detailed book review.

Introduction

Summary: The introduction talks about how many people — and specifically a sample case study of “Jared and Lisa” — find their lives and stuff overwhelming. “It’s all too much!”

What was interesting to me: Jared and Lisa’s bookshelves were stuffed with self-help books — diet books, exercise books, self-esteem books, parenting books, finance books. They weren’t convinced that their clutter was an issue, but obviously they weren’t at peace with themselves. Walsh suggests that the home, as the “physical and emotional base for their family,” is one place to start that might impact those other areas. Interesting claim!

Part One: The Clutter Problem

1: This Is Not My Beautiful House

Summary: Take a clutter quiz, then take a quick look at your home. Is each space serving its purpose? Or has the kitchen become the playroom, and the office become storage? Walsh takes a look at the cost of clutter on our emotional stress level as well as on our relationships.

What was interesting to me: We fill our homes with stuff and then start renting self-storage space for years and years. But this “increases your housing costs without increasing your standard of living.”

2: Excuses, Excuses

Summary: The top-ten excuses people give for holding on to their clutter and rebuttals that detail out the cost of that excuse. Some of these were actually quite illuminating. Have you ever told yourself, “I might need it someday”? Clutter keeps us from living our lives today. Are you holding on to something for sentimental value? One woman was afraid that her best memories were behind her — but her clutter-filled house was keeping her from making new memories with her children or friends. “I don’t have time” — but how much time do you waste on a day-to-day basis looking for your keys or an important paper?

What was interesting to me: “Everything in your home is there with your permission.” We keep stuff around because we think it promises us something, or because it brings good memories, or because it serves a purpose. But our “treasures” have turned into something that controls us and stresses us out.

3: Imagine the Life You Want to Live

Summary: This chapter is the foundation for the rest of the book and holds “the key to getting and staying organized.” This is to imagine the life you want to live: how you spend your time, how you interact with your family, what you do in your home. This helps you to then imagine your ideal home and what it looks like — beyond surface decor to how you would want each room to be used. You can then perform a reality check to see where your home fails to meet your expectations. This is a process that should be done individually and as a household.

What was interesting to me: The concept of defining a purpose for each room, feeling free to dream for what you want your ideal space to look like.

Part Two: Putting Clutter in Its Place

After becoming convinced (or at least agreeing) that your clutter is keeping you from the life you want to live and taking the first steps to dream about your ideal space, Part Two helps you to take action!

Step 1. Kick Start — Tackling the Surface Clutter

Summary: There are two types of clutter: “lazy clutter,” which is essentially trash that you haven’t felt like dealing with and allowed to pile up (think unread magazines, old newspapers, junk mail, free promo items you got at a conference), and “stored treasures,” which are things that have sentimental value. To get you warmed up, don’t worry about stored treasures (it can be a little rough!), but blaze through the lazy clutter in your house. Do it “FAST” — Fix a time to remove Anything not used for twelve months, Someone else’s stuff, and Trash. Practical suggestions for how to do this are included in the chapter.

What was interesting to me: Decluttering experts seem to have similar questions that you should ask yourself when you are handling stuff. FlyLady has you ask: “Do I love it? Does it make me smile? Do I have a place for it?” This book has you ask: “Do I use this? How long has it been since I used it? Will I use it again? Is it worth the space it takes up in my house?”

Step 2: Hash It Out!

Summary: This chapter guides you and your household through a detailed analysis of each room. Together, you describe the room’s current function, its ideal function, who currently uses it, who should use it, what it should contain (based on its ideal function), and therefore, what should go. If a room has multiple purposes, you can define specific “zones” for each purpose that are limited in space — for example, scrapbooking stuff should be contained to one table and shelf in the family room. At the end of the chapter, you will have a family “room function chart.”

What was interesting to me: Assuming you really want your stuff to fit in the space you have, you can just do the math. Take much actual square footage of space you have and then calculate what can fit there. For example, you can fit 20 DVD cases into 1 square foot of space. If you have a three-foot shelf that you want to hold DVDs, but you have 100 DVDs, they aren’t going to fit! You’ll have to start weeding down your collection to only 60 DVDs.

Step 3: Conquer Your Home

Summary: Where to begin? If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, start with the “trash bag tango,” which is simply to take two trash bags and take ten minutes a day to fill one up with trash and the other with things to give away. You’ll start to see the results very soon!

The next 90 pages are the nitty gritty real-life bulk of the book, which takes you through each room of your house following the same basic three steps: 1) Refer to the room function chart and make sure everyone in your family agrees. 2) Establish zones for the different purposes for that room. 3) Get rid of everything that doesn’t belong. Each section (room) of this chapter then has lots of VERY practical things to do — tips for becoming more organized, what to throw away, how to throw things away, and how to maintain the space in the future.

What was interesting to me: Some of the great tips I picked up from this chapter…

  • Group clothes by color. This helps you to see if you have lots of blue shirts (for example), which could keep you from buying yet another blue shirt. You can also go through and weed out the multiple blue shirts that you never wear.
  • Only keep clothes that make you feel good when you wear them and fit you now.
  • If you have children who are prolific artists, it may be difficult to throw some of their artwork away. But is stuffing loads and loads of paper in a cardboard box really honoring their accomplishment? Pick out a few to frame and display prominently in the home, and get rid of all the rest in a ceremonial fashion. This helps to teach your child to start discerning that some things can be kept, and others can go.
  • The “ratio rule” can be a fun way to start weeding through collections of items (like books and CDs). Try getting rid of one DVD out of every five. Remember that you have a limited amount of space and adjust your ratio as necessary.
  • If you’re overwhelmed with “sentimental items,” you can work through a way to honor the memory without having to keep the item. For example, cut a piece out of an old wedding dress and frame it next to a photo from the wedding.
  • Keep flat surfaces clear!!
  • Put all kitchen tools into a box. If you actually go to the box to use an item, then put it back where it belongs in the kitchen. At the end of one month, it’s time to take a serious look at the remaining stuff in the box and whether or not you still want it to take up space in your home!
  • Set limits on hobbies. For example, “I can only have three ongoing art projects at a time.” Define a specific space for the hobby and don’t exceed it.

Step 4: Maintenance

Summary: How do you keep your house decluttered? This chapter has a bunch of fun cleaning games and tips for maintaining the clutter-free state of your new home. The five-minute daily purge. The in-out rule (if one thing comes in, one thing goes out).

What I found interesting: You pay for every square foot in your house (whether you own or rent). If a large part of that square footage is just being used as “storage,” you’re losing money in the sense that you aren’t able to truly use that space and live in it! (Classic example: You can’t put your car in the garage because there is too much stuff. Or, the office has become a catch-all room and now you have to do your bills in the kitchen.)

Step 5: Cleanup Checkup

Summary: This short chapter guides your household through a second “family meeting” to talk about where your house is now, and what things may need to be tweaked. Are the zones working for everyone? Do you feel more relaxed and “at home” in your house?

Step 6: New Rituals

Summary: This chapter suggests an annual “schedule” with different monthly focuses to help keep your house maintained. For example, February is “shred mania,” where you tackle going through all your filing cabinets, financial papers, etc.

What I found interesting: The concept here is similar to FlyLady as well, except that FlyLady has weekly focuses for each major part of your house. I found the author’s suggestions more appropriate to families that have a home and children (some of the months focus on yardwork and kid-related stuff), but it’s a good model to start from.

Afterword

Summary: The author reiterates that “it’s not about the stuff.” The author is interested not just in having a clutter-free house, but in the life-level changes that can come from it — you’re happier, richer, more focused, have better relationships. In fact, you now have the space to focus on decluttering your health, your work, your family. Your happiness doesn’t have to be defined by the stuff you own anymore.

“No one has ever had ‘I wish I had bought more stuff’ inscribed on their tombstone.”

Web site v1 – Experiments in color

Now that I’ve picked a logo and have a business card order placed, it’s on to revamping my current web site. I’m going to treat myself like a client and come up with at least one other design idea — but here’s a peek at the first one and my experiments with five different colors…

Purple

Blue

Teal

Green

Pink

Note on this last one: I’m going to probably have different photos/colored boxes on each page, so I was trying out a different color with the pink background.

I’m going to see if I can inject more “whimsy” into the next design. Not feeling overly inspired yet, however, and I only want to stare at kittens all day. Might have to give this another month. 🙂

5 Little Kittens

All the babies are cleaned and suckling. Nutmeg, absolutely exhausted, falls asleep:

Nutmeg, exhausted, falls asleep.

On closer inspection (now that the kittens are dry and fluffy), it seems that there is only one ginger tabby in the mix. There are three light cream ones (white?), and one multi-colored dark one.

Kittens feeding

Tiny kitten face!

Tiny kitten closeup

Tiny kittens

Closeup of the paws:

Tiny kitten closeup

Nutmeg finally got up to eat this morning. She walked around a bit dazed, it seemed. Meanwhile, the kittens were huddled together in a little fur pile, twitching.

Kittens sleeping

I’m trying to figure out a way to replace the towel without disturbing them TOO much so that they can have a clean nest. The Little Mermaid towel has served us well, but all the blood and stuff on it is a disturbing contrast in the photos.

Question of the day: How am I supposed to get any work done?! Imagining myself parked by the closet with the laptop, but I’ll probably have a crick in my neck when I’m done.

Kitten photos (so far)

Kitten #2

Closeup of the kitten face:

Kitten face closeup

Five little kittens, so far:

Five little kittens

Nutmeg looks like she’s done. But then again, she looked like she was done after #2.

Four of the kittens are orange, the fifth one was a dark color. They are awfully adorable.

Cat in labor!

Our cat is in the first stages of labor. Today she meowed pitifully practically all morning while intermittently going into the closet to tear up some of the newspaper that I had laid in a cardboard box. Then she tried to tear up the cardboard box. I think it was too small, so I took stuff out of the closet and put a laundry basket inside, which seemed to suit her better.

She took a long nap this afternoon, but now you can see discharge coming out and her stomach seems to be going through contractions every now and then.

Crazy!

Baby carriage baby shower favors

This Saturday is the second baby shower that I’m throwing this year along with a few other organizers. The invitations had a baby carriage theme, so I carried the graphics on to the guest favors. I made custom tea bag envelopes using a pale shade of the lime green from the invitation graphics. Here’s a staged view of my work in progress:

Making baby shower favors

My original idea was to make a cool and complicated 3D pyramid tea bag holder, but the Lipton Green Tea with Mandarin Orange Flavor pyramid infusers proved difficult to work around, so I gave up and went with easy flat envelopes instead. I printed out small baby carriage squares, sliced them up, and glued them over the Lipton logo for customized labels.

Making baby shower favor teabags

The pyramid tea bags were puffier than the standard flat tea bags, so the envelopes got a little puffy and wrinkled after putting them in, but they still look cute.

Baby shower favor teabags

One of the snacks that will be made for the party is green tea shortbread. I created a recipe card (standard 3×5 index card size) to also give to the guests, so here’s the final baby shower favor package:

Recipe card and tea bag

Baby carriage cookies.One of the ideas we initially had when we were brainstorming favor ideas were baby carriage cookies. I was able to find baby carriage cookie cutters online and my sister has all of the cake/cookie decorating paraphernalia that one could want, but ultimately I nixed the idea as it seemed like too many things could go wrong and I’d have to make them all just a few days before the shower so they wouldn’t be stale. I’m much more comfortable with paper, scissors, and glue! I also had the added benefit of being able to work on the favors a little at a time. Plus, green tea is much healthier than sugar cookies, and more likely to actually be used, right? If we had a bigger budget to work with, though, maybe we would have done both and ordered the personalized cookies instead. 🙂

Next week, I’ll post the remaining info from the baby shower, including the personalized gift I worked on and our party decor and food.

Ahem. This is an award-winning blog.

Let me correct myself. This is an award-winning blog twice over.

If you’re shocked, well, so was I.

But without further ado, I’ll jump onto the excuse to link to other people bandwagon.

Thinking Blogger Award Penny sent a Thinking Blogger Award over quite a while ago, so you could say that I’m batching my award posts. Now it’s my turn to share five blogs that make me think, but only after posting the official rules:

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

Here are my five. It was hard to pick just five, so I decided to pick ones that are different from the ones I usually link to. Unfortunately 4/5 of these are also people that I’ve never interacted with personally, so I think this is the end of the line for this particular award bus segment.

  • Just Hungry makes me think… about food!! (So does Nordijus… which also has fantastic photography.)
  • Study in Brown helps me think about simplicity, intentional living, and God.
  • Orson Scott Card isn’t a “blogger” per se (no RSS feed that I could find Update: Penny found his RSS feed here!) but his weekly column is published online and helps point me to books I might want to read, movies I might want to watch, etc.
  • Zen Habits is a blog I learned about recently, by a self-described “normal guy” who happened to turn his life around, quit smoking, start running, get organized, and get productive. Inspiring, and I like his tips and articles, which help me think about how to make small and big improvements to my own life.
  • The Simple Dollar helps me think about money.

Oops, I kind of cheated and ended up with six. But there’s no time to deal with that, because immediately on the heels of that award comes …

Rockin’ Girl Blogger …the Rockin’ Girl Blogger award, sent over from Marcia at Organising Queen, who would have made it to the thinking blog award segment if I weren’t already linking to her here, because her posts help me to think about how to make my life more organized, efficient, and productive!

  • Sara makes it easy to know she’s a girl, as one of her newly started blogs is called Just Another Girl. I originally “met” her through her DIY blog, where she has some awesome Circa/Rolla Do-It-Yourself hacks.
  • Doodah writes from Just a Bit of Silliness and cracks me up with her circus metaphor for her place of work, but also has lots of non-silly blogs that touch my heart. (I know Doodah personally — so I know she’s a girl.)
  • Penny at PenguinGirl also makes it easy to know that she’s a girl in her blog title. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to interact with her more although we’re on opposite sides of the continent.
  • Kim at A Kim’s Life is a friend from college and her life sounds pretty amusing.

At least 3 out of 4 of these rockin’ girls are also knitters (I don’t know about Sara). Coincidence…?