December 15 2016

Where is my Christmas Spirit?

I am normally very into Christmas. I used to enjoy the whole picking the perfect gift for each person on my list thing. But lately, my Christmas gift list just seems too long. I feel obligated to buy for everyone on the list and that turns it into a chore. The truth is, I rarely spend much time with any of the people on our gift list, so I don’t really know what the perfect gift for each of them would be any more. I’m not sure when this happened. Perhaps it was when the nieces and nephews began growing into adults and bringing dates to family gatherings. Then they get married or move in with their significant others. Sometime they married into ready-made families and the gift list grew exponentially. At any rate, it is somewhat overwhelming.
I love the way my sisters and I handle the holidays. We get together sometime near the holiday, well within a month of it usually. We each bring a wrapped gift valued at about ten dollars. The gift can be anything, but preferably some of them will be suitable for the men or teens and not just to one particular person. Sometimes we get a lot of gift cards, though they are wrapped creatively so it isn’t always obvious that is what is inside the wrapping. 
Once everyone is gathered in the designated location and the wrapped gifts are on the table, someone figures out how many of us there are and makes little slips of paper with that many numbers and folds each number up so they all look the same and puts them into a bowl. Someone volunteers to go around and have everyone select a folded slip of paper. The person who draws number one goes first. Number one gets to pick from all the wrapped gifts and open the gift they choose. They hold it up and show everyone. Number two then has the option to choose a wrapped gift from the table or take the gift from number one. This goes on until everyone has had a turn. When the numbers have all had their turn, anyone who had a gift taken from them gets to pick another one from the table and open it. If this happened a lot, they re-pick in the same order they picked in the first time around. When everyone has an unwrapped gift and the table is empty, number one gets the chance to take the gift from anyone else, and that person essentially ends up trading gifts with number one. After that is all over usually folks start asking others if they want to trade gifts. 
Sometimes the gifts are great, other times the gift is destined to become a white elephant gift offering or go into the donation bag. It doesn’t take hours like it does when a big family gets gifts for each and every other member and the group must sit around taking turns opening gifts so everyone can see every gift each person received. The point is spending time together and having fun, our little “Dirty Santa” game is how we have turned the holiday and a bunch of family members on very tight budgets into a fun and memorable experience. Sometimes, we learn a lot about each other by seeing what sort of gift each person contributes to the game. Some choose to bring a gift they would love to go home with themselves, sometimes it is more of a gag gift. Sometimes it is something edible like candy and the person opens it and passes it around to share with the group. We used to have separate groups for the kids and adults. Then the kids started growing to adulthood and wanted to be in the grown up group. We have a lot of fun and everyone seems to be relieved that they only need to come up with one gift per person in their own family unit. Sometimes, the person gets a great deal on a gift worth ten dollars and other times the person spends ten dollars on a gift worth much more. It doesn’t really matter. The gifts are just a fun way to get every one together in the same room to spend time together. 
I sometimes wish we could do this for the other side of the family too. There are just so many people and many of them are on tight budgets too. There are a few options, we can give a family gift, but that is difficult too as the kids are getting older. My family used to draw names about a month before the holiday, this used to be easy if we were all together for the Thanksgiving holiday as we could draw names then. We gave this up eventually because it didn’t really allow us to invite others to join us. I rarely managed to draw the name of the person I had found the perfect gift for, so that was a bit of a downer. 
All of this is to say that this year for whatever reason, I am having trouble getting into the Christmas mood. It has helped some to listen to Christmas music. It also helps when hubby is willing to help with the shopping and not just leave it all up to me to figure out. Of course it is too soon to talk about what sorts of gifts we chose for the various family members. You never know who might actually be reading this blog post. I keep thinking that eventually the mood will hit me and hopefully when it does it won’t be after the holiday season has ended and the new year has descended upon us.
So, what family holiday traditions do you have? Are you in the Christmas mood this year? Do you have any advice to share on what a body can do to enjoy the holiday season more and dread the gift shopping less? Any hints you can gift would be greatly appreciated.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
December 11 2016

​Bullet Journal Adventures

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This year, at the end of September, I discovered a cool thing called a Bullet Journal.  I was intrigued by all of the colorful photos on Pintrest, FaceBook and Instagram and was seeing people mention it more and more often. I got tired of seeing it mentioned and not really knowing what it was, so I figured if all these people were hyped up about it, I should at least see what it was all about. I have really never kept a journal except when we travel as a family on vacations, then I would try to journal about where we went and what we did during our trip. I eventually quit even doing that because I felt like I couldn’t keep up with it and didn’t want to write it after the fact because that really wasn’t the point of the whole thing and I knew I would forget a lot of the things I wanted to record in the travel journal. In other words, my perfectionist reared its ugly head and told me I shouldn’t bother because I wasn’t doing it right/perfect.

So enter the Bullet Journal which would be a place to house everything. It is more than a planner and allows more freedom than any traditional day planner or calendar system I have ever found.  It looked as though it would also allow me to be as colorful and creative as I wanted to be. I could try a spread and if it wasn’t the right one for me I could move on and try a different one next time. I read many articles about using the bullet journal system for all aspects of your life.

Ryder Carroll, who designed the Bullet Journal, called it “The analog system for the digital age”. If you are interested in learning more about using a Bullet Journal, go to http://bulletjournal.com/. On his website, he gives the very bare-bones basic version of a bullet journal.

If you want to learn other really cool ways to use the bullet journal you may want to check out:
~My Pintrest page for Bullet Journaling
https://www.pinterest.com/KarenBeidelman/bullet-journaling/
~Kara of Boho Berry
http://bohoberry.com
~Dee of Decade Thirty
http://www.decadethirty.com/
~Jessica of Pretty Prints and Paper
~Look into the following monthly challenge tags on FaceBook:
#RockYourHandwriting
#PlanWithMeChallenge
So, you are probably wondering how I have been using a bullet journal to get myself organized and are wanting to know how I personally find it helpful. Well, I’m glad you asked. I have been using a Leuchtturm1917 Hardcover Medium Notebook – Ruled – Lime Green Color as my first actual bullet journal (BuJo). I wish it were a dot grid, but it was one I had on my shelf for years and was too paralyzed by perfectionism to actually write in because I might write sloppy or misspell a word and you can’t tear the pages out, you know? But I decided to jump in and didn’t want to wait for the perfect journal (Leuchtturm1917 Notebook (A5) Hardcover, Dotted, Purple) so I was excited to finally have an acceptable use for the Leuchtturm1917 Hardcover A5 Notebook – Ruled – Lime Green Color that was gifted to me years ago, but was as yet untouched.I went through most of October trying spreads I thought would work for me and then decided to see if we also had any of the black and white marbled Composition Notebook in the school supplies cabinet. We did, so I set one of those up for my Writing Bullet Journal. This was just in time for November and NaNoWriMo. I thought the black and white too boring and uninspiring, so I colored the front and then Covered the front with strips of packing tape to keep it looking pretty and so it wouldn’t possibly get wet and bleed off all over things. I used it for a few days and realized the back didn’t feel as smooth and nice as the front so one day I colored and taped the back as well. The bright colors make me smile and want to use the writing bullet journal.I also found an old steno notebook half-used around work that we were going to throw away, so I took all the used pages out and decided to use it to practice a few weekly or daily layouts in and to make lists in before messing up the green BuJo. Yes, that perfectionism is still a thing, but I am getting over it slowly. I am using a bunch of Sharpie brand markers and some Bic MarkIt brand markers too that my daughter had and noticed they bleed through the pages, but I decided I didn’t mind not using the backs of the pages all the time so I found out that I just put a catalog under the page I am working on with these markers to keep the markers from ruining more than just the back of the page I am currently working on. I tried my hand at lettering and did some of the prompts from the challenges I listed above. I am actually embracing the use of cursive writing a bit again after being told in high school to print my essays instead of writing them in cursive (yes, youngsters, this was the age before computers were much of a thing). I have found it isn’t too bad if I take my time and focus on what I am writing, letter by letter. I doubt I will ever convert back to writing much in cursive but it is kind of cool to practice it once in a while.

The spreads I find most helpful at this time are:
~ When Did I Last…(replace batteries, flip mattress, clean outside dryer vent, etc.)
~ Word Tracker (to track my word counts on a monthly basis)
~ Weekly/Daily (mine is sort of a combination right now)
~ Waiting On (to track online orders and know they all come in)
~ Holiday Gifts to Buy

I am just on my second week of doing the daily/weekly thing. Mine are kind of just daily entries, but I lay them out a week at a time. After the first week which I set up for Sunday through Saturday on two pages, I decided that I wanted the entire weekend together, so this week I did eight days on one page beginning and ending with Sunday so that beginning next week, I can start my weeks on Monday and end them on Sunday. I also started last week adding meal planning using small post-it strips that can be moved if needed and when the week is over they can be put onto the meal ideas page to be reused another week. I find that I don’t need to migrate a task if it doesn’t get done on the day it was listed as long as it gets done before I turn the page. If it doesn’t then I look at each task and either migrate it to the next week or decide not to worry about getting it done at all.

It will take me some time to figure out exactly how the BuJo will be most useful to me. I plan to keep working on my chore list and designating each entry as daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. I plan to keep building my master meals list so menu planning with hopefully get easier as I go along. I haven’t figured out yet if I want to use my BuJo for a grocery list or not, there are plenty of apps for that on the phone. I had thought to make a grocery list page with an outlined spot to hold a large lined piece of post-it note most likely in a bright neon color, but am not sure I will want to put out and take a sticky not e with me.

It is still a work in progress, but already I can feel myself taking back control of my life where once it tended to spiral out of control. I find working in my BuJo is a good way to de-stress at the end of the day. I find myself looking for ways to add color to my life via my BuJo. I’d love to know if you use a bullet journal, so please email me or leave a comment on the Contact Us page. What are your favorite pages to include? Would you find it helpful to see photos of my Bullet Journals Spreads or My Writer’s Bullet Journal?

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December 11 2016

NaNoWriMo Lessons

November has come and gone and I seemed to have let posting blog entries go by the wayside way back in mid-September. The reason is because for all of October and part of September I start to focus on reading writing craft books and not reading fiction. I also start trying to plot the novel I will write in November. 
This year marks my fourth attempt at NaNoWriMo and also my fourth year of winning the challenge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days that make up November. I knew I could make it to the goal if I applied myself, but this year I had hope to also write enough words to actually complete the novel. Needless to say that didn’t happen. Due to some extra responsibilities at work, I was working longer hours and had trouble getting out of work early enough to get to some of the write-ins we had in the Indianapolis Region. I was careful to make sure I didn’t get too far behind because I know from past experience how difficult it can be to come back from being way behind on my word count. The problem with writing enough to finish the book was mostly a plotting problem. I still feel like I am not good at the whole plotting and story arc thing. So what I thought I had extremely well planned before November started ended up a little off course about a week into the month. Now before you say that I am the author and I should have just written myself back on track with what I had outlined, just know that I felt like what I was writing was better than what I had planned. Now it may or may not have really been better, but I felt like it was at least good enough to con sider going off track, err off outline worth while.
So I was looking at my bar graph after the win was recorded and thinking about how even though I felt like I was behind a good deal of the month, I wasn’t very far behind at any point and this was really the most consistent year I have ever had during NaNo. 
So at this point I would like to post here for all the world to see, the four years of bar graphs. See those below. As I looked at the graphs I decided it might be kind of cool to compare the four years and see what we can learn from them.

Year    Won    Word Count
2013    27th    50,155
2014    29th    50,063
2015    27th    56,505
2016    27th    53,568

Notable Things about Each Year:
2013 – Behind until day 23 with almost no words until day 4.
2014 – Behind until day 28, basically no words until day 9. First time writing fiction.
2015 – On track until days 6-15, a little behind and then caught after day 15.
2016 – Ahead days 4-7 and 12-15 behind days 8-11 and 19-24.

Advice to First Time NaNoWriMo Participants:
~ Spend some time planning or reading craft books. You can obviously do this any time of the year, but I usually try to cram this info into my brain in September and October. 
~ Get your word count (1,667 words) every day if possible.
~ Get ahead and stay there. Whenever possible, write more than the daily goal and bank those words for the tough days when you get sick, the words aren’t flowing or you just are too tired to write.
Get to know your characters and their back story before November.    You can write back story or character sketches before November if you like, but these words do not count toward word count goals in November.  
~ Try not to schedule any appointments, dates, errands, etc. In November, instead opt for October or December instead.
~Go on the NaNoWriMo.org website and declare your novel, choose your home region, check the calendar for your region and go to as many local writing events as you can fit in. It has been our experience in the Indianapolis area that those who participate usually stick to the goal and do the work required to win. You get to know other writers this way and can help hold each other accountable and motivate each other to write.
~ Writing Sprints! Whether you are at home alone or in a group. Set a timer for a designated amount of time (try 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes) start the timer and focus only on writing as much as you can until the timer goes off. If in a group, compare word counts during the sprint, cheer the achievements. If alone track your word counts. Get to know what you are capable of writing in a given amount of time. Try to beat your own best score. When the timer goes off get up, go use the restroom if needed, grab a drink or snack, move around chat amongst yourselves if in a group, read your favorite lines from that sprint if you like. Give yourself a 5 or 10 minute break then do another sprint. Before you know it you will have written your daily goal.

New things I tried this year and really liked:
~ #1k30min Set the timer for 30 minutes and try to write 1,000 words. You have to write so fast, the inner editor doesn’t stand a chance!
~ When I can’t go to a live write-in near me, I find a virtual one on YouTube. There are some on the NaNoWriMo channel, @NaNoWordSprints or #NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, the WordNerds (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSKHG1eUF7vnL1kieYiVasA) have virtual write-ins every Sunday evening during their live chat so check their channel, also Tamara Woods has some on her channel, PenPaperPad (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCUt-YGmeMSHZfXQQe4XF0g) also has some, I really enjoyed writing with her, probably because she isn’t a giggly high school or college girl. There are most likely many others too. Search on YouTube for “Virtual Write In” or “NaNoWriMo Virtual Write in” and give some a try.

After watching the WordNerds YouTube videos and live streams for a couple of years, I find myself wondering if I can find a group of writers willing to give Google Hangouts a try and doing our own virtual write ins. This would be great for when one of our local members relocates to a different state or when the weather is bad and prevents you from going to a live write-in isn’t an option. What do you think? I have also wondered about doing a crafting club this way where everyone knits or crochets on camera.

September 17 2016

Animal Adventures

Yesterday we started a two week stint of cat sitting. We have been a cat-less household for many years now and I actually find I like it that way. Earlier in the summer, our daughter cat sat for a friend of hers from college who was getting married and needed someone to take care of the cat while they were on their honeymoon. The whole idea made me nervous. Sounds silly, I know because we had cats for over twenty years and that was mostly fine. Having had a variety of cats during our years as a cat-owning household, I know for a fact that while most cats are wonderful pets, not all are. You never know, until it is too late, and you have made the commitment, whether you have an angel cat or a cat hellion on your hands. 

The cat we had here in the early summer was a cute little tiger cat named Moxie. She was a sweety and quickly put me at ease. She was very quiet and usually came quickly when we called for her. She got along great with Bruce, the black bunny, who has been part of our household for the last five years. We often found her in the master bedroom by choice hanging out with Bruce. Yes, the bunny has the master bedroom all to himself at our house, but that is a story for another day. 

The cat who came to stay yesterday came to us in a bad mood because he didn’t like being caught and put into a cat-carrier apparently. So he came in howling, which reminded me of every single time we ever had to take any of our cats to the vet. They seemed to know that they would not like where we were taking them and howled the entire time they were in the carrier and the car. This is why we always had a vet very close to home.

He settled down finally and the howling stopped. As the two of us were alone in the house, I realized that the cat, Pope, was a very vocal cat. He meowed almost constantly. I’m not used to that. In my experience a cat meows when it is in distress, so a happy cat is a quiet cat. That was reinforced by our great experience with Moxie sitting earlier, so it must be true, right? 

I don’t know this cat well at all yet, but I had to chase him off my desk three times last night while I was trying to work, then found he had jumped up on furniture in my bedroom this morning. I don’t like having cats walking on anything I wouldn’t be sitting my butt on, you know? I’m ok with cats being on chairs, sofas and beds, but stay off the dressers, desks, counters and tables please. In my experience, cats who jump up on desks, dressers and such will also jump up on kitchen counters and dinner tables. I realized that I don’t miss having to worry about closing the toilet lids so the cat can’t drink the blue water or keeping the basement door closed to cut down on the trouble the cat could get into. I don’t miss worrying about whether there is a cat getting into food left on the kitchen counters while we are eating in the dining room. I like knowing that if I wipe the counters they are still clean when I come back to them and nothing has been walking across them while I wasn’t looking. 

So, we will have to see how it goes having this cat in the house for the next couple of weeks while his owners are on an out-of-the-country honeymoon.

The good thing about cat-sitting is it gets the hubby and adult daughter a cat fix without having the long-term commitment actually owning a cat would entail. The pets we currently own, a bunny, a snapping turtle and numerous tropical fish, can be left alone for a week to ten days without having to have someone come in and look after them, and as we get older and want to travel, that is a definite bonus. (710 words)

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September 12 2016

​Beautiful, but not Functional

Today I am writing from a king bed room inside the Baymont Inn & Suites in Alsip, Illinois. We stayed the night last night. We got a good rate and didn’t have to pay for parking and they had a free shuttle hubby could take to Midway Airport so he could catch the train into downtown Chicago. When we got here, it was obvious they were remodeling and had already finished the lobby areas. We got up to our room on the third floor with all our luggage. It took about ten tries between the two key cards we were issued before we were able to get into our room. No problem we will let them know as we leave for dinner. We told the nice lady at the front desk and she made us two new key cards, no problem. The new keys had the same problem but we were able to get in after a few tries again finally after dinner.

We had settled into our room and realized that while the room looks very pretty, fresh and clean, the chairs are not at all comfortable to sit in. The “easy” chair had a nice chunky footstool and the cool little table perfect for a laptop computer tucked under the footstool. I thought it would be great. At first I sat down and it was ok, but quickly realized the table wasn’t able to get near enough to the chair to actually use for a laptop until I lifted the right front leg of the chair and slip the corner of the table base under it. That seemed to solve the problem well enough. The foot stool was quite functional and might have actually been the more comfortable seating option. Hubby complained about the desk chair but I didn’t get a chance to use it until today and when I sat down it leaned back right away. I finally found the lever that keeps it from leaning back and it is now tolerable. It is not however cushioned in any way, not is it particularly comfortable to lean back against the back of it. It is functional and at least the correct approximate height needed for the desk provided.

When I finally gave up and went to bed last night, I realized quickly that this bed is NOTHING like the sleep number bed we have at home. This bed is hard as a rock and not at all comfortable. I know given the bed we finally splurged on at home, this will an issue when we stay the night away from home. But come on, this is not Bedrock and I am not Wilma Flintstone. I, at least, have some padding on my bones. Not that it helped.

Hubby took the first shower so he could grab breakfast and catch his train into downtown. He said the water pressure was lacking and he never complains about things like that. The room we are in is obviously one of the newly remodeled ones. Everything looks spiffy and clean. The shower is brand new. The shower head looks fine. The water does not come out of it straight ahead like you might expect, but barely makes it out at all before heading straight for the shower floor. The pressure is so weak, I doubt you would even need to close the slide shower door. The water never gets close to that far away from the shower head. If this were a tub/shower we would at least have the option of washing our hair while bent over the side, but the water only comes out of the shower head and even at the full-on position the water was very weak indeed. Usually we have this trouble in cabins in state parks where they just need to replace the limed up shower heads or clean them in vinegar for a while. This was a brand new shower head. It didn’t even have more than one setting, which is normally my way of dealing with lack of water pressure. There is usually one setting that puts out more water than then rest. Nope. This hotel remodel was done with simplicity in mind. The choice you have is to stay or go.

I don’t blame the hotel staff for this, they didn’t pick the beds, chairs and shower heads. They probably have never even been allowed to test them, so they don’t know. Does one complain about this sort of thing? Would it do any good? I mean they just spent all this money on remodeling and I doubt they would pull the chairs and replace them with something more comfortable. The shower head might be fine with tons of water pressure behind it. No, I blame the designers who decided this was a good chair design. The interior decorators who planned what to buy for these hotel rooms, the hotel chain who gave them their budget constraints or OKed the purchase of these uncomfortable beds and chairs in the first place are also to blame. Maybe we should even blame the plumbers who installed the shower heads, just because water comes out doesn’t mean it works right. If they were trying to be green and save water, they could have used less to flush the toilets.

OK, so enough about who is to blame. We came, we saw and we gave them a try. Will we stay here again? Not if I can help it.

The staff was very nice, the breakfast was adequate, but lousy showers and hard uncomfortable beds are too much to overlook. I have a choice, and would not choose to stay in this particular Baymont Inn & Suites again. I would still give others a try, but not this one. I give them 2 stars out of 5 for reasonable rates, friendly staff and cleanliness. Beautiful, but not user friendly or functional in my opinion.