Clear the clutter, clear your mind.
So, I’ve got papers that need filing, drawers that need organizing, cabinets that are a jumble, and closets that ... well, you know.
January is Get Organized Month, and the biggest challenge I find getting and staying organized is setting aside the time. I tell myself I’m going to do it, and then I don’t. It’s frustrating and I'm disappointed with myself when I don’t do the things I tell myself I'll do.
But I’ve found a system that helps. A lot.
It’s the Pomodoro Method developed by Franceso Cirillo. It’s based on using blocks of time to get things done. Cirillo developed the method using a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato; pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.
With the Pomodoro Method, you set the timer (usually for 25 minutes), take short break (just a few minutes), and set it again.
What I’ve found is that I’m still able to tackle big projects by grouping my work in multiple 25 minute blocks, using the short breaks in between to get smaller tasks done: file a few papers or organize just one drawer. It also keeps me moving and I'm not sitting for long stretches of time as I sometimes do.
I put the timer far enough away from my desk so I have to get up to shut it off.
At first I thought it would be too disruptive to stop every 25 minutes. In fact, I find the opposite to be true. Stepping away from my desk every 25 minutes helps me reorganize my thoughts, and with the short break I make progress in areas I wouldn’t have even considered while I was working on the project at hand.
I had a chicken timer for a while (couldn't find a tomato), but that busted, so now I use the timer on my phone.
Where did I learn about all this? At the library. The book, The Pomodoro Technique, was on display at the library. So I borrowed it. If you're not sure it will work for you, check and see if your library has a copy.
It's great for working, studying, and setting aside time for what's really important, time for your hobbies, passions, and pastimes.
What do you think. Is it tomato, tomahto, or something in between?
Go the other way.
Eat dessert first.
Have breakfast for dinner.
Take a different route.
Do you normally go left? Go right today and see where it takes you.
I have a morning exercise loop through the neighborhood and most days take the same route.
One day I was forced to go in the opposite direction when construction vehicles blocked my way. What surprised me most about going in the opposite direction, was seeing the other side of houses I pass nearly every day. They looked so different from the opposite side. There were gardens I'd never noticed, lawn ornaments I'd never seen, and a teepee. Truly, a full-size teepee. Imagine missing that!
Go opposite and make the usual unusual.
It’s National Handwriting Day and I’m excited to preview a page from my upcoming book: Cursive Writing Practice by the Letter.
The workbook brings together cursive writing practice and letter writing—one of my all-time favorite pastimes.
This page from the workbook features the "I Write Letters to Say" series that showcases the storytelling side of letter writing. And because reading cursive can be a challenge for a lot of people who have never been taught cursive, each entry features handwriting samples from different people.
The book is in the final stages of editing, scheduled for publication this spring.
What will you write about?
Is it time to shuffle off?
I started tap dance lessons last fall, and I’m not sure I want to continue. I do love the shoes, but the lessons? I'm frustrated. The decision now is, how do I move forward? Will I move forward?
Starting a new hobby is an exciting adventure. But it can also be rife with doubt, confusion, and questions.
• What does it cost to get started?
• Are you willing (or able) to make the investment?
• Can (and will) you commit the time it will take to master, create, or perform whatever it is?
And what about that learning curve? Is it relatively low? If it’s steep, will you be able to push through the frustration of being a beginner?
I never dreamed of being a tap dancer, so I was surprised when the listing for “Tap Dance: Beginner” caught my eye. The schedule was good (Saturday mornings from 10:00 - 11:00), and the price was reasonable: $12/lesson for drop-in, less if you sign up for the full eight week session. And shoes. Prices start at $25, though for beginners in the class I was starting, smooth-soled shoes are acceptable.
But I wanted the shoes.
It took three orders on Amazon to get a pair that fit properly and I was ready.
I was dizzy after the first class, excited after the second, and felt doubt creeping in after the third. The fourth was the best. We learned some new steps and the routine at the end brought things together nicely. I felt like I was starting to get it.
And then there was the fifth class.
We start each class with warm-up exercises, a review of steps we’ve already learned, and the introduction of new steps. The second half hour is when it all comes together in a short routine. Or should.
It was tough. The routine was too complex for this beginner. I couldn’t remember the order of the steps, I missed the beat (more than once), and found myself making simple steps just to stay in line with the other dancers. I was discouraged.
And the next class wasn’t much better. Or the next.
So I'm asking myself, "Is tap dance right for me?" I don’t know.
What I do know is that I'm not alone. Starting a new hobby can be frustrating. When things get tough, do we stick it out, or let it go?
The answer, I think, can only be found by asking ourselves the right questions.
Do you have the right tools?
The right teacher?
Have you done the prep or practice that’s required to improve?
Do you care about this enough to keep going?
Is there something else you’d rather be doing?
Is it worth another try?
Is tap dance for me? I don’t know.
I'm trying to answer the questions honestly. Am I practicing enough between classes? No. Is it worth another try? Yes.
I'm not sure if I'm in the right class, so I’ve decided to look for another. I’m also looking at online lessons to boost my practice because I’m not ready to give up.
I really like the shoes.
Today is Thesaurus Day
Finding the right words to express yourself can sometimes be challenging and a thesaurus can help you uncover the emotion, thought, or mood you're after.
For Peter Roget, words were an obsession (a passion, a hobby, a lifelong pursuit).
Starting when he was a young boy, Roget was so intrigued by words, he started making lists. List after list after list. Of words. A series of lists that would eventually become a book.
First published in 1852, Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words And Phrases, remains a popular reference tool. Today, over 150 years later, updated versions of Roget’s thesaurus continue to be sold.
On my bookshelf you’ll find a well-worn copy of Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus and another book, The Right Word, Roget and His Thesaurus, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Though the book is written for children, Sweet’s illustrations take readers of all ages on a journey of discovery. The book is a celebration of words, ideas, and knowledge.
If you love words, this book is a feast ... a banquet.
Today is Thesaurus Day and I hope that you, like Roget, will pursue whatever amusement, curiosity, or activity you find most rewarding.
A sneak peek at some ideas for the cursive writing handbook I'm working on. What do you think about handwriting, and more specifically, cursive writing?
Though I' may not always be happy with the way my handwriting looks, cursive writing is a lifeline for me, and it's helpful with hobbies like journaling, writing, and mail art.
Writing allows me to sort my thoughts, write letters, lists, and more lists. And recognizing someone's handwriting on an envelope, addressed to me? It just about takes my breath away.
Some people think it's a waste of time now to teach cursive writing. They argue that we have computers and telephones and texting. I love all of the technology, but still believe there is a place (and need) to learn how to write in cursive.
Your handwriting, my handwriting, it's as unique as we are. It allows us to express ourselves, to get to know ourselves, to be ourselves. And I don't think we should erase it from our lives.
What's cookin' - split opinions
It's a cold, damp day, and this morning the subject of soup came up. Pea soup.
I like pea soup, but not so much split pea soup. I much prefer the frozen pea version. It tastes more like fresh peas, the color is gorgeous, and it's a lot faster to make. Opinions are split on this one so I alternate batches the few times a year I make it.
If you're looking to make soup, and you like pea soup, but don't want to spend all day in the kitchen, a frozen split pea soup might be a good start. Search online for recipes and let me know how it goes.
P.S. Playing with my food. After I took the photo of the frozen pea lettering, I pushed the peas together and wondered ... should I have added an s at the end?
Should you write that thank you note?
If you've ever questioned whether or not it matters if you write thank you notes, this book holds the answer.
Author John Kralik tells the true story of how recognizing and being thankful for all that he had (rather than focusing on what he lacked), changed his life. It's an inspiring story of gratitude and personal change.
The book is particularly relevant this time of year; Kralik started writing his 365 thank you notes after a dismal start to the new year and follows through with how it changed his life.
There's so much goodwill to be shared and so much to be gained in expressing our gratitude on paper.
You don't have to write 365 notes, but it might be worthwhile to give it a go and write a few.
See how it makes you feel.
I know I've got some notes to write. Who will you write to?
Blustery weather and over a foot a snow. We’d been inside for the better part of two days and it was time for a change. Time to get outside and do some forest bathing in the newly transformed winter landscape.
Have you heard of forest bathing? It’s the idea that spending time out in nature is good for us. Good for you, good for me, good for all of us.
It’s not about camping or bugs or getting dirty. It’s learning to appreciate the healing nature of the outdoors. It’s a Japanese pastime rooted in the concept of using nature as therapy.
It’s about slowing down and noticing what you see, hear, and smell when you’re outside.
Yesterday we took a walk in the woods. There’s over a foot of snow on the ground and I was taken by the way the snow drifted up against the trees and settled in the crook of the branches. How blue the sky was.
When we got back, we were hungry and ate lunch...inside. Clearly there’s no seating at the picnic table.
What to do?
I was 14 years old, home alone, and I was bored. I paced from my bedroom to the living room to the kitchen, and back again. In the kitchen, I opened and closed the cabinet doors. Over and over again.
I was looking for something. Something to eat? Something to do? I didn't even know. Round and round I went, until I found what I didn't know I was looking for: a tub of Quaker Oats oatmeal.
I decided to make cookies.
My mother was an occasional baker and her go-to cookie was the oatmeal raisin. I'd seen her make them, helped her make them, and I knew where to find the recipe: it's printed on the underside of the lid of every tub of oatmeal.
I gathered the ingredients, followed the instructions, and waited for the first batch to bake through—ten minutes, maybe twelve.
To my surprise, baking the cookies lifted my spirits, erased the boredom, and filled the better part of my afternoon. When my mom and brothers and sisters came home we ate cookies together. And they were good. Really good. Just as good as Mom's.
And I was hooked.
I went from being bored (and to be honest, a little lonely), to feeling good, productive, interested, and happy.
It was the gathering of ingredients, the measuring, and the mixing that shifted things. I was focused on baking, no longer distracted by my boredom. Dollops of dough and a baker's dozen. I was hooked.
Baking cookies helped me understand that it's the doing that makes the difference. That hobbies offer not only distraction, but reward, too. Maybe not always with baked goods or a finished product, but a shift ... in mood, progress, outlook, or skill.
The cookies became the start of a life-long pursuit of hobbies, passions, and pastimes. Of baking and hiking, sewing and stitching. Writing letters, cooking, and camping. Some experiences long-lasting efforts, others one-and-done.
I sometimes think my hobby is finding new hobbies.
And why not?
I can whip up a batch of bread and butter pickles, stitch a popped button back on a shirt, and skate backwards on a frozen pond.
And I can bake.
I make a pretty good apple pie, a decent Irish soda bread, and yes, a darn good oatmeal raisin cookie.
I made some this morning. Here's the recipe.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
(Adapted from the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies recipe. I don't add the cinnamon.)
Heat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer (or by hand) until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to butter and sugar mixture.
Add oats and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly on cookie sheet, remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Enjoy!
If there are any left over, store tightly covered.