Monday, January 31, 2011

The DeClutter Project Report - Week 5

Kind of a good news/bad news result from this past weekend's decluttering effort.  I was out most of the day Saturday so didn't have a chance to do anything until yesterday and even then, I was squeezing it onto my "to do" list for the day, which was already pretty full.  I decided to clear out the corner of my office, which originally looked like this:
The good news is, the corner is now clear. Here's the proof, with only the indentations on the carpet to hint at what used to be there:
And now for the bad news.  Most of the stuff from that corner is now piled on top of the bed, waiting to be moved on to a permanent home:

On the plus side, most of the boxes on the bed are either empty or less than half full.  It's really not as bad as it looks.  Except for the striped box, which is mostly loose papers that need to be sorted, filed and/or discarded.

I remind myself that this project is a marathon, not a sprint.  Rome wasn't built in a day.  Every little bit helps.  I look at the empty corner and vow not to fill it up again.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chasing Expiry Dates

I had a busy day out and about yesterday, which means today I am mostly inside doing what needs to be done before the end of the month. Back when I was in high school and university, I always left studying for exams until the last minute.  I'd spend the last few days before the exam and especially the night before cramming as much information as I could into my head.  I don't necessarily recommend this technique, it might have been less stressful to have started to prepare earlier, but luckily for me, it almost always worked.  I only ever failed one course and that was Statistics in 2nd year university, and really, can you blame me? It was horribly boring, a whole bunch of graphs about supply and demand - ugh - and I never really got it.  I just eventually got through it, after repeating the course in summer school and even then, I only took it because it was required.  I'm still wondering why it was necessary.

As it happens, 25 to 30 years later, I still often wait until the last minute when there is a deadline or expiry date involved, even if it is doing something I enjoy.  For example, I got a coupon for a free movie rental about mid-December.  The coupon was good until the end of January and I carried it around in my purse so I'd have it when I needed it.  Here it is January 30th and I finally went to the video store and grabbed that movie today (The Social Network, can't wait to watch it tonight, I love, love, love Aaron Sorkin's writing - he's the man who brought us The West Wing, a creative genius, IMHO).

I am also cramming myself full of information as the clock runs down on an online art journaling course that started on October 1st and which ends tomorrow.  The class is called 21 Secrets and it's a group of 21 artists teaching classes on various topics.  Lots of instructional videos, handouts to print out, artwork to admire. Again, you'd think four months would be enough time to get through 21 little classes but somehow, time has passed (granted, I did lose a fair bit of time going to physio after my accident but still...) and here I am, the day before it ends, watching videos from various instructors, trying to get through all the sessions.  All the while, resisting the urge to go and play with the various techniques I am learning, because I don't have time just yet, must...keep...watching...videos!!  Not to worry, I'm almost done and then I can play.

I did take some time to get outside and enjoy this very cold but sunny day briefly, especially since we've had mostly grey days for the past few weeks.  The ratio seems to have been about 5 grey days to 2 sunny ones for the past 3 weeks but I could be wrong.  It might have been 6:1.  No wonder people get that seasonal disorder this time of year from lack of sunlight. Geez.

But even looking out my window is delightful on a bright, sunny day like today.  Look how wonderful the shadows and footprints in the snow looked this morning:

My brain kind of feels like these pictures right now. Lots of new tracks running back and forth.  I can't wait to get started DOING things with what I've learned from these courses, to start walking some of those trails and pathways through my brain and see what happens.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Book Lover's Dilemma

Someone else's bookshelf
In decluttering my bookcase this past weekend, I had to ask myself (not for the first time), what should I do with all these books?  I love books. I am emotionally attached to most of my books.  I can't just throw them away.  There isn't much (if any) value in selling them.  Most of them are ones that I still want to read, which is why I bought them in the first place, or else I have already read them and liked them so much, chances are I will read them again.

Roberta left me a comment earlier this week saying bookcases were "the bane of her existence", how there was never enough room on the shelves.  I can see how that could be a problem as well.  I have several other bookcases around my apartment, besides the one I tidied last weekend.  One is full of beading supplies, one is for craft supplies (with part of one shelf used for related books). Three others are full of books, one is full of magazines and one is a collection of various jewellery related things - magazines, books and tools.  Plus there are a few piles of magazines on other pieces of furniture as well.  Oops, I almost the small bookcase in the kitchen which I use for storing (mostly unused) cookbooks and yes, more magazines.

Tidying and decluttering each of these bookshelves is definitely on my "to do" list and I'm not sure how it will go when I do.  After last week, I started a pile of books that I either have to read or discard and, believe it or not, I began reading two of them this week.  I am enjoying them both but I already know I will only keep one when I'm done (Julia Cameron's "Letters to a Young Artist"), the other I will not (Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast").

In the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of websites that might be of help if you are looking for inspiration.   The Declutter Diarist describes herself as "a 30 something working wife who is ready to take on the Clutter Challenge".  She left a comment on my blog a few weeks ago so now I check in on hers from time to time when I need inspiration (although she hasn't posted lately, hopefully she hasn't fallen off the declutter wagon).  Earlier in January, she posted a blog with this link in it:  Declutter Calendar, which is another blog telling you where to get a monthly decluttering calendar.  Which reminded me of the FlyLady website, which I first heard about from The Dixon Chick - more good ideas for decluttering on a daily basis.

It might have been the Declutter Diarist who turned me on to this website:  Small Notebook.  It seems to have great ideas about what to do about all sorts of things (including this discouraging one about:  selling-used-books-still-no-money/).  I have bookmarked this site and will definitely be checking it out as much as I can.

Have you heard about the "living with 100 things" movement? I'm not sure I could ever pare down my life that much but I read an interesting article in the Globe and Mail the other day about a minimalist family:  article.  The author says she went from 300 books to 6.  As I go through my bookshelves, I'll have to see which books I would pick if I could only pick 6.  Now that's a dilemma!

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Tale of Treasure Lost and Found

Once upon a time, there were 7 men, good and true.  They worked hard for their money and they spent some of it on lottery tickets together every week but they never won anything.  Or so they were told. 

One day, when they turned in a winning ticket, the evil retailer kept their prize of a free ticket for himself and when that free ticket won $12.5 million dollars the following week, he got his daughter to claim the prize as her own.  The evil retailer and his family spent that prize money on many different fancy things, while the 7 coworkers went on with their lives, not knowing they had been cheated.

Until one day, many years later, the lottery corporation phoned to tell the men that the evil had been discovered and they were the true winners of this great prize.  The retailer and his family had to give back all the fancy houses and cars and jewellery and would be punished for their sins.  The coworkers rejoiced over their good fortune.  They made jokes about the interest that had accrued on those funds that would not have collected if they had received their rightful prize years ago when they were younger and more foolish.  They made plans with their families about how to spend the money.  They were happy.

Elsewhere in the kingdom, a woman bought herself a lottery ticket, knowing the odds were against her but enjoying the possibility that she too might someday be a prize winner.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but who know? Maybe some day...

(based on a true story:  read about it here.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Harry's Law

A new TV show, brought to us by David E. Kelley, the creator of Ally McBeal, The Practice, Picket Fences, Chicago Hope and my personal favourite, Boston Legal.

I just finished watching the first 2 episodes of this show and I have to tell you, I quite like it.  Kathy Bates plays the main character, Harriet Korn, a patent lawyer who gets fired from her job in the first few minutes of the first show and then has a young man, who is trying to commit suicide by jumping off a building, drop on top of her as she is walking down the street.  He ends up becoming her first client as she makes the switch to criminal law, setting up an office in a former shoe store in a not so safe part of Cincinnati.  I like the fact that she's a tough broad with a no-nonsense attitude.  Even more than that, I love the fact that there is a smart, self sufficient, grumpy, straight talking 60 year old female with a not so perfect body in the lead role, how many TV shows have that to offer? 

I never watched Picket Fences or The Practice, although I remember hearing how good they are, but Boston Legal was and still is one of my favourite TV shows of all time.  So far the verdicts in the first two trials of this show have been slightly hard to believe but the stories have been interesting, the acting is well done and the characters are engaging.  It's still early days.  Not sure if this series will get picked up for the long haul, apparently they've only got 6 episodes to prove themselves and Mr. Kelley is known for starting slow and letting his characters' quirks develop over time but if you like legal dramas and well written commentary on the state of today's society, you should check out this show.  You can catch it on Monday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC or CityTV or any time on Rogers On Demand.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Walking in Winter

I had such a stressful day at work today dealing with the stupid, I knew I had to come home and do some sort of workout to try to pump out some of that negative energy.  I know, I know, I never thought I'd be the one wanting to exercise, rushing home to do so in fact.  Let me tell you, I am really missing having a cat to cuddle when I get home, as they say petting an animal is a good way to lower your stress levels as well.  But in order to burn some calories and keep up with my commitment to myself to work out at least 120 minutes a week, I've got to do a bit more than petting a cat.

As much as I love swimming, I am trying to vary my workouts so at least once a week, I do a 30 minute walking tape.  Here in Canada, walking in winter can be brrr cold and also whoopsy daisy dangerous with icy, slippery conditions so walking indoors is a safer alternative.  Some people do mall walking.  I haven't tried that yet but I have had great success with a couple of exercise DVD's.

One I just received for Xmas from Santa.  It's called "5 Day Fit Weight Loss" and it's put out by Gaiam.  There are 5 different half hour exercise sessions on this DVD.  Budokon (whatever that is, haven't tried that one yet), Walking, Dancer's Body Workout (tried that one once but couldn't follow the choreography in the warmup - yikes! Will try it again at some point), Cardio Burn Yoga (maybe) and Cardio Burn Sculpt. I just skimmed through this last one after today's workout and I think I'll try it next time.  It looks kind of cool from an exercise point of view, I think my body might be able to handle it, plus it is set in a meadow in a valley surrounded by a mountain range, if you can believe it!  You can find a clip from that workout session here  (check this out) so you can see what I mean about those mountains in the background - beautiful.  Sounds like the dubbed language is Italian, what do you think? :)

The Walking portion of this DVD features a woman named Debbie Rocker.  I really like the way she talks during the workout.  There is nothing worse than trying to work out listening to someone whose voice or mannerisms irritate you (two words - Richard Simmons!!).  She is very encouraging as the workout progresses and I like the way she leads you through interval training - intense for 20 to 30 seconds, then a cool down at a lesser intensity.  But man, those 20 seconds of intensity can really make your muscles burn sometimes - wow!  It feels good to push yourself though.  Plus they have someone working out at a modified level, which is important for those times when you're not feeling like going at it 100% percent.  They also have pretty outdoor setting for this session, it's a stone patio overlooking a valley, somewhere in California, I'm guessing, so there's a bit of view to admire while you walk.

Here's a little excerpt from one of her videos (so you can see what I mean about that scenic view):

The other walking workouts I love are done by Leslie Sansone.  I have several of her "Walk Away the Pounds" tapes and DVDs.  Again,she's not irritating to listen to and it helps to hear someone say, "keep going, you can do it" while you're sweating and pushing through a workout.  Leslie's tapes are structured for either one, two, three or four miles, which equates to 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes.  She also has one of her group members demonstrating a modified level.

Here's a peek at one of Leslie's workouts:

So if you are looking for a way to exercise indoors, I would recommend either of these two instructors for walking workouts. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Sparkly Ring

My friend Stephanie (The Dixon Chick) made me the beautiful ring for my birthday. (I just got it from her a few weeks ago, which is why I haven't mentioned it before now).  Isn't it sparkly??

Since she is a CREATE YOUR STYLE with SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS Ambassador, of course I would have been disappointed if it was any less sparkly.  I love the grey/white/black colour palette, guaranteed to go with just about everything.  The ring is made out of Crystal Clay, a two part epoxy material that is about to have its official debut at the Tucson Gem Shows next week (created by Debra Saucier, who is also a CREATE YOUR STYLE Ambassador) and, of course, Swarovski crystals.

Thank you, my friend, I love it!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The DeClutter Project Report - Week 4

My project for this past weekend was to declutter the bookcase in my office.  I was using it to keep travel books, dictionaries, language instruction books, some self-help volumes and various binders full of what turned out to be emails for the years 2004 to 2007 (I'd forgotten I had kept those) and various binders full of paperwork from a job I held for several years in the early 1990's.  Everything was slightly jumbled and disorganized.
Bookcase - before
One thing I've learned over the years about decluttering is that you have to be ruthless.  The author of this very helpful website Small Notebook suggests we should purge as if we were moving overseas and could only take a few things with us on the journey. I think that is an excellent suggestion.  If I was moving to, say, Australia, how much of what I currently surround myself with in my home would I take with me? Would I miss any of what I left behind?  I find it is harder to discard books though.  I love to read and often read the same books more than once, so if they're really good, I am more likely to hang onto them.

The other thing I've noticed is that sometimes we're not quite ready to let go of the past, which probably goes a long way to explaining why we hold onto some of this stuff for so long.  For example, the paperwork from this job I had 20 years ago.  I am still working in the same field so it wasn't completely unrealistic to suggest that I should save this material in case I should ever need it again.  However, I can now admit, in all honesty and with some embarrassment, that I literally have not looked at any of these several binders worth of forms and memos and samples in all of the time that I have been storing all of it.  The good news is that finally, I was ready to let them go.  For one thing, they are probably outdated.  Not all of it (amazingly, some of it is still completely relevant today) but definitely some of it.  But mostly because I figured if I needed any of it, it should be readily accessible, either via the Internet or from resources available through my current job.

It felt so good to shred several binders worth of paper and take them downstairs to be recycled.  I kept a few bits and pieces that I thought would make a cool collage background but that was only a few sheets of paper compared to the three huge binders full of paper I chucked out.  My shredder was in serious danger of overheating but I persevered.

Going through old papers is like opening a time capsule.  It's almost comical now to look back at how some of those old work forms were set up in the days before computers and then just as we were beginning to use them - remembering how we used to search for the little "hat" symbol (^) that indicated where a blank needed to be filled in.  I was surprised to see how familiar the handwriting of various former colleagues seemed, I wouldn't have guessed my brain had stored that information.  Surprising to see the names of various companies that are no longer in business, poignant to see memos addressed to or written by individuals who have since passed away.

As for the rest of the bookcase, some of the books are now in a box for Goodwill. Others are sorted so as to remind myself of which volumes I haven't yet read and I plan to start actually reading them once I finish the books I am currently reading.  The binders of emails are now labelled by year and I'll sort through them (and discard what I can) at a later date.
Bookcase - After (top 3 shelves)

Bookcase - After (bottom 3 shelves)
 Again, maybe not too much difference in the before vs. the after photos, to the untrained eye.  To me, it looks much more organized and tidy. I even made enough room to add another shelf, creating the perfect spot to store my manual typewriter in an easily accessible spot.  There is even a little bit of empty space left to fill at a future date.

I also found two large sized (11 x 14 inch) sketchbooks that I had used as photo albums.  One was full of pictures from a trip to Vail, Colorado I took with my parents some time in the early '90's, which was followed by a drive through the bottom corner of Utah into Arizona, ending at the Grand Canyon.  The photos I took of the Grand Canyon back then still astound me, it is such an amazingly beautiful place.  Especially when you consider that no photo does justice to the beauty and magnitude of the actual canyon itself.  You have to see it in person, you just do.  You'll understand what I'm saying when you get there.

In the other album, which only had a few pages filled, I was delighted to find some photos of Carly when she was a kitten, from the first weekend I brought her home in May of 1992.  No question about it, she was the cutest little thing!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Doodling Exercise

Diana Trout, one of my instructors at Journalfest this past October, posted a very cool doodling exercise on The Sketchbook Challenge website last week: Diana's doodle game.

The idea is to just go ahead and doodle but not to cross any lines.  You can doodle whatever you like, in any size or shape.  Diana uses this as a warmup exercise for her classes.  While not every creation will be worth keeping, it's a way of loosening up and getting past the "blank page" syndrome.

After watching the video on her post and seeing the black and white picture she ended up with, I decided to give it a whirl.  I really liked some of the shapes that resulted but I wasn't comfortable with leaving it as a black and white picture.  It felt like it would be too much like a Zentangle if I did.  I thought it needed some colour.  Diane suggests that we shouldn't edit ourselves, that we should let the picture tell us how to proceed, so I started filling in some of the spaces with different coloured highlighter markers.

As you can see from this first picture, sometimes the markers went outside of the black lines (it's not always easy to be precise with the fatter tip of a highlighter). I was surprised to discover how much that bothered me.  I knew I was a "colour inside the lines" type personality but I thought I could let it go, I really did.  Turns out, I couldn't.  Not completely.  So I started covering up some of those overlap areas with the black marker, which left certain areas with some extra shading.  As it happens, I was quite pleased with how the final result turned out, so in the end, it all worked - at least for me!

Thanks to Diana for sharing this exercise, I will definitely play with this technique again.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Icy Cold

Yes, it was cold today, as promised.  I went out to my Zumba class and I came home.  The roads were dry and bare, the air was crisp.  It actually seemed comfortable as I walked to and from my car to the school where the exercise class is held but I didn't linger to see how long it would take for it to be not so pleasant. 

As it happens, I've been craving potato chips and chocolate ever since I got home, wishing I had picked something up on the way home, although I could hardly justify stopping for junk food as I drove home from working out, could I?  Nor could I justify getting in my car to drive across the street to the store to get them later in the day and I certainly didn't want to make the walk when it's this cold outside.  On the up side, the cold weather seems to be helping me stay on track when it comes to watching my spending and eating habits!

Here's how the trees I can see from my window looked this morning, basking in the pale winter sun.  I like the way the sun makes the icy crust on the snow shimmer and the way the shadows of the trees and the footprints of those who have forged a path through the snow show up in the light.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Preparing to Hibernate

The forecast for this weekend is bitter cold, so I'm planning to stay indoors for the next two days, except for a brief jaunt out tomorrow morning for my Zumba class.  I refuse to let the cold keep me from exercising (she said convincingly) and I figure as long as I don't have to actually do anything aerobic outside, I'm more likely to stick to that statement.  I'll be able to park near the door and be inside to the gymnasium in no time, then back in the car to return to the underground garage of my apartment building, so my exposure to the cold air will be mercifully brief.

On these cold, cold days, I often have reason to remember my visits to warmer climates with much fondness and an urge to return, preferably sooner than later.  Lovely places such as the south of France, Tucson, Mexico.  Exactly 5 years ago this month, I spent four weeks in Australia and it was so wonderfully hot and sunny the entire time I was there.  Some days, it was over 40 degrees Celsius.  It was a little humid at times but there was air conditioning absolutely everywhere, so it wasn't ever a problem.  In fact, it was heaven!

Here are just some of the warm weather activities enjoyed in the land Down Under while we are shivering up here in the Northern Hemisphere:

Sailing in Sydney Harbour:

Viewing the rock formations known as the Twelve Apostles:

Sheep shearing - can you imagine how hot it was for the sheep to wear this amount of wool? A ewe was doing exactly that just 3 or 4 minutes before this picture was taken (yes, that's me underneath!):

and of course, enjoying the view on Bondi Beach:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday Night

Yes, I did work out today, so I'm feeling pretty good about that. No, I don't feel so blue today but I do feel slightly lazy tonight after that workout, hot on the heels of a busy day at the office so I've been hopping around on the Internet looking for inspiration and entertainment.

I'm about to go watch The Big Bang Theory. Do you watch this TV show?  The adventures of 4 nerdy male scientists and their pretty and not so smart female neighbour.  It is so well written (hard to believe it is written by the same guy - Chuck Lorre - that is responsible for Two and a Half Men, which I find too offensive to even think about watching) and hilariously funny.  If I could only watch 30 minutes of TV a week, I would pick this show - it's that good.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blue Monday...on Wednesday

This past Monday, the 3rd Monday in January, has been dubbed "Blue Monday". According to Wikipedia, that designation is based on several factors,  including:  weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our New Year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling the need to take action.

I didn't notice it on Monday but I'm feeling it today. I don't know if I'd describe it as "blue", exactly, but I'm definitely feeling varying degrees of all of the indicators set out above.

The weather is cold, cold, cold and the immediate forecast is for more of the same, only colder.  Brrr.  My debt level is manageable but I'm having to say no to things that I'd like to do in order to stay on track with my finances and even though I know that is a good thing, it's disappointing not to be able to take part in these activities that sound so appealing.  Time since Christmas? I guess they mean the vacation days, the fact that we've got to wait until mid-February for our next long weekend.  Time since failing our New Year's resolutions? Low motivation? I'm happy to report I haven't failed at any of my goals for this year yet and I hope not to as time goes on but I certainly wasn't feeling at all motivated to work out tonight.  After being out of the office for the past two days on a course, I worked late doing a little catch-up and I was more ready for dinner by the time I got home than I was for something aerobic.  But I'm not going to feel too guilty about that choice, tomorrow is another day and I will definitely work out then.

I do feel the need to take action.  I haven't been able to figure out exactly what action it is that I should be taking though, so that might be a problem eventually, but in the short term, I'm going to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, try to stay focused on working towards my goals and not expect everything to change overnight.  

Blue has always been one of my favourite colours, so feeling blue in January can't be all bad.  For the rest of this month, when I think blue, I'll think of this "blue" tree photo, which I took out my bedroom window recently after a snowfall.  I haven't coloured this picture, that's exactly how it turned out.  It was late in the day, just before darkness fell, and I love the soft blue tones that resulted.  I might even have to try to recreate the image with paint!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Our Fallen Hero

It was a sad day in our city today.  Today was the funeral for a Toronto police officer who was killed in the line of duty last week.  His name was Sergeant Ryan Russell and he was killed when he was struck by a stolen snow plow that he was trying to stop. He leaves behind his wife, Christine, and their two year old son Nolan.  He was only 35 years old.

I don't remember seeing a memorial like this before.  Apparently the Toronto police force hasn't had an officer killed in more than ten years, so no doubt that is why.  It is definitely a sad occasion but it is also heartwarming to see the outpouring of respect and gratitude, both from his fellow officers (some of whom have come from across the country and the U.S.) and from the people of Toronto. 

I think most of us tend to take for granted that if we need a policeman, a firefighter or a paramedic, one will always be close by, ready to come to our aid whenever we need it.  A quick call to 9-1-1 and they will be on their way.  Just a few months ago, I experienced first hand how helpful and kind these people can be, both when I called that 3 digit number and when the emergency personnel attended the scene of my car accident.

And yet, we either forget or don't think about or take their presence and their commitment for granted.  We make jokes about donuts and get irritated if we're stopped for a ticket or a RIDE check.  We don't think about the fact that these men and women risk their lives every day on the job, to keep our city and all of its occupants safe.

I've been at a conference for the past two days.  As it happened, the location was a downtown hotel only two blocks away from where the over 12,000 members of the Police Services, Emergency Services and RCMP gathered to march down University Avenue to honour Sgt. Russell before the funeral service.  This was the view from our conference room, 25 stories above:

Even from so high a vantage point, it was very moving to watch the marching officers, followed by the funeral cortege, and to see the crowds lined up along University Avenue.  I was so glad to have even this brief glimpse of the procession, to be able to share in this sad moment for our city and to pay my respects to this brave man.

The CN Tower will be lit up in blue tonight in honour of Sgt. Russell and all of our Police Services personnel.  I wish I could see it, but the rainy weather that added to today's sombreness continues and shrouds the view in fog. 

My heart goes out to Ryan's family.  I hope they gain comfort from all of the support they were shown today.  To them and to all who serve in uniform, both here at home and abroad, and to their families who worry every time they put on that uniform and go to work, I say thank you and God bless.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The DeClutter Project Report - Week 3

Photo courtesy of
I picked decluttering my office bookcase as my project for this past weekend.  Said bookcase sits right beside my computer and before I started, I thought I'd just quickly check my email.  Ha!  Little did I know that I was about to be sucked into the black hole that is the computer...

Long story short, instead of doing the bookcase, I ended up decluttering the inboxes of my two email accounts.  Whew, what a job!  I had 1100 emails in the inbox of my Sympatico account, 464 of which got deleted and the rest neatly sorted into the appropriate folder, to be reviewed at a later date.  I now have only six (6) emails in my inbox and those are ones I need to reply to before I can move or delete them too.

In my Hotmail account, I had 567 emails in my inbox and whittled them down to only 4.  I ended up deleting exactly 800 emails in this account, because I decided to delete all the emails in my "sent" box as well ( I figured that if people hadn't already replied, they weren't going to and if they had, I had already done something with their response when I cleaned out my inbox!)

It took me just over two hours to do this job and it definitely needed to be done. Having two inboxes full of hundreds of emails was really weighing on my mind.  I couldn't figure out how there could be so many and what they were all about, why was I saving them?   Now that I have peeked at most of them and made a decision to either keep or delete them, I'm not worried about what is in there any more.

What I did was, I sorted the emails by who they were from, instead of by date received, and that made the job much easier.  Plus I tried to be ruthless, asking myself how important this stuff was and did I really need to keep it?  For example, digests from various Yahoo groups for classes I have taken online could be easily deleted because, of course, they are already being stored on Yahoo's website and I can go read them there any time I want.  I already tend to delete junk mail immediately and now that I have the appropriate folders set up (for accounts, various individual friends, family members, etc.), new emails can be dealt with easily and quickly going forward.  No more time lost searching for that email from so and so with that link to the thing, as all emails from so and so are now tidily sorted into the folder with her name on it.  Or the link itself is saved in a folder in my favourites and the email deleted.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by your own inbox, I would highly recommend taking the time to do this task.  You don't have to do it in one sitting like I did.  (In fact, I would suggest it's better not to, because I was quite stiff from sitting in front of the computer for two hours straight but I was that focused, the time just flew by!)  Tell yourself you'll sort for half an hour or until you've deleted x number of emails or until the total in your inbox is x.  Whatever works for you.  Just do it.  I promise you'll feel better for it!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Art Paper Dolls

Did you ever play with paper dolls when you were young?  I always found them to be quite fascinating but only had a few opportunities to try them out.  I think there will be more chances to do so in my future, though, after I attended a demo yesterday at Bizzy B called "Doll-a-mania", which was taught by Laura Haviland.  What a lovely lady she is! She brought several samples of her creations with her and she gave us a brief demonstration on how she puts the dolls together.  She starts with stamps made by Character Constructions and then decorates the stamped images with paint, ink, fabric, ribbon and whatever other embellishments might be on hand. 

There were about 20 of us in the classroom area of the shop, eagerly listening to and watching Laura's presentation.  She also brought several items for us to cut up and decorate to make our own dolls, with the help of various supplies provided by Bizzy B (many thanks to both for their generosity!).  You can see more pictures from the class here on Laura's blog.

Here is a picture of Laura holding two of her own creations:

and here she is again with my friend Marilyn and the doll she made as her "make and take":
Laura will be teaching classes at Bizzy B in the very near future, giving more specific instruction on how to make these delightful paper dolls. I will be sure to be signing up!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pigeons in Winter

There was snow today, as promised.  At least, there was snow falling this morning, a couple of inches worth.  My drive to Zumba class was slow and careful, as it was just after 8 a.m. and the plows hadn't been out yet and there hadn't been enough traffic to carve tracks into the snow in some places.  But by mid afternoon, it was all over and the melting had begun (which will come to an abrupt halt tonight, as we move back into "extreme cold" temperatures, lower than minus 20C - brrr).

Ever wonder where pigeons go when it's cold and snowy outside? If they live in Toronto, apparently they hang out inside Runnymede subway station.  Yup, that's right, I said "inside".  Here's the proof:
Notice how puffed up the ones outside are, with their little heads hunched down into their shoulders, trying to stay warm?

Here's another shot - I was lucky and caught one of them in motion.  They seemed a little disconcerted that I wanted to stick around and take their picture.  I like the wistful look of the fellow on the right, as if he was wondering what it would be like to be on the other side of the glass:

When I came back four hours later (after another wonderful visit to Bizzy B, which I shall tell you about tomorrow), only a solitary pigeon remained, on the outside.  He seemed quite happy to see me and walked quickly over towards me as I approached the entrance, perhaps thinking he was about to be fed.  Or maybe he was hoping I'd hold the door open for him so he could come back inside.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow in the Forecast

They say we're going to get some snow tomorrow.  I hope it doesn't get too messy, because I've got to be out and about during the day doing a couple of things I am quite looking forward to, and I don't want the weather to interfere with my plans or slow me down.

First thing in the morning, I've got the first of nine weekly Zumba classes.  Do you know Zumba?  It's a dance/fitness program that features Latin-style music.  I'm really looking forward to it.  One of my goals for this year is to get into better shape and taking this class is just one of the ways I am working toward achieving that goal. 

Then in the afternoon, I'm heading to Bizzy B's Stamp and Scrap store.  A woman named Laura Havalin is teaching a free class about making art paper dolls.  You can read about her creations on Laura's blog.  Hint: if you don't like listening to the music as you read her blog, you can scroll down to the bottom to turn it off. :)

The snow sure is pretty though.  Here's a picture I took last weekend of the trees across the street from where I live.  I love the colour of these trees.  I'm not even sure how to describe it - rusty gold?  Bronze?  Everything else that afternoon looked very white and grey, except for the way these trees glowed in the little bit of sun that was peeking out from behind the clouds.  Beautiful.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taking Flight

One of the ways I am helping myself face that fear of the blank page I wrote about yesterday is by participating in The Sketchbook Challenge, which encourages me to try to draw things.  It's something I've always wanted to be able to do and usually avoid but now I have begun and it's not going too badly, although there is a whole lot of erasing going on as well.  But that's okay.  It's the practice that is important.

I also signed up for an online course called Art Journal 52, taught by a woman named Sherrie JD.  You can read about it here:  Art Journal 52 info.  It's a weekly tutorial on techniques.  Last week's exercise involved a couple of videos of Sherrie painting and doing a little bit of drawing. It's a great way to teach because she talks us through what she's doing as she does it.  The idea is that we will then go off and try it on our own.

Which is exactly what I did and here is my finished result:

The birds in flight are a Tim Holtz stamp but everything else is drawn or painted by yours truly.  I got the quote (attributed to be a Chinese proverb) off the Internet and I thought it was perfect for the start of the class, as I feel like we are spreading our wings and taking flight in turns of our artwork by signing up for this class.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Blank Page

My friend Stephanie and I were talking about the fear of the blank page last week.  I had given her a composition book that I had decorated and she told me she was afraid to start using it, as she didn't want to "mess up" the blank pages.  But of course, that is what the book is for, to fill with writing or drawing or pictures cut out of magazines or whatever might strike her fancy.

This fear is not an uncommon one.  If you Google "fear of the blank page", you will find a number of interesting articles and ideas about why this happens and how to overcome it.  Whatever way you choose to express your creativity, there are times when we all face the fear or the dread or, in my case, the avoidance, of the blank page or the empty canvas or the open flame of the torch or getting up on that horse.  Sometimes, no matter how much you know you will love doing it once you get going, taking that first step, actually making a start at a project, can be intimidating.

For me , it doesn't seem to happen every time.  Some days, I can get going with no problem whatsoever.  Other days, even though I feel a powerful urge to create something, I can't seem to make the first move.  Or it takes me hours to get started, because I've somehow done all sorts of other things instead that have taken up time and then suddenly, the day is almost over and I realize that if I don't start right away, another day will have gone by without me doing anything towards starting whatever it is that I have been avoiding.  Of course, once I do start, I usually end up wishing I had more time!

I believe it takes courage to take that first step forward, to add the first drop of paint to the page, click the shutter, move your pen across the paper or start typing on that blank screen.  Just like it takes courage to get out of bed every morning and face the day, whatever it might bring.  Some days, we hit the snooze button, roll over, pull the sheet over our head and delay that moment of starting but all the while, you can hear that voice inside saying, "sooner or later, you're going to have to get up.  You're going to have to face whatever it is that you are afraid of." 

It's okay to feel that way.  Give yourself permission to avoid whatever it is as long as you need to.  You'll know when you're ready.  In some cases, you will force yourself before you feel totally prepared and that might work or it might not.  Either way, it's okay to give yourself a break, cut yourself some slack. You just need to trust that eventually the day will come when you are somehow ready to just do it.  And then suddenly everything will flow so easily and so remarkably that you will wonder why you ever waited so long in the first place?!

When the time comes to begin, you have to turn off the voice in your head that says, "not just yet" and like the Nike slogan says, just do it. Jump in. Let go. Take flight.  Stop being afraid that something bad will happen.  As Henry Ward Hughes said, "worry is rust upon the blade."  You want to keep your blade shiny and sharp and ready to use. Chances are, that piece of art will turn out so much better than you ever thought.  And if it doesn't, so what? You'll deal with it and it won't be the end of the world. You can paint over it, rip it out and tear it up, delete the file, run over it the lawnmower, throw it away, whatever you want.  No matter what, it will be better to have made a bad work of art than no art at all!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"My Blackberry Is Not Working"

I've posted this on Facebook but have to share it here as well, in case you missed it.  Although close to 7 million people have already watched this on YouTube, so perhaps you have already seen it but even so, it's worth watching again. 

Thanks to my friend Jeane who scooped it from a friend of hers.  Many thanks to the BBC for posting this on YouTube:

Monday, January 10, 2011

The DeClutter Project Report - Week 2

Having worked so hard last weekend, completing 5 tasks in 4 days, I was relieved to pull an easy job out of the declutter tin this week.  However, it was so easy that I procrastinated about doing it and didn't make a start on it until late Sunday afternoon.

The task was to declutter my two bathrooms.  The first one was easy and only took me 15 minutes, mostly because it is the guest bath, so I like to keep it tidy at all times regardless.  Other than showering every morning in this washroom, because only one of my two bathrooms has a tub, I don't use it. I did need to declutter under the sink, where I keep towels, and in the vintage wood and wicker laundry hamper, where I keep even more towels.  Which of course begs the question, how many towels does one person need? Not as many as I had on hand, that is for sure.  Some of them are definitely past their prime and are looking a little ragged or discoloured (you know how a white towel doesn't look so white if it gets washed with dark colours?).  I was glad to do this job, as I will be donating my excess towels to my vet's office.  When I took Max in for the last time last month, I noticed they placed him on a old towel for the final step.  It was clean and soft but clearly used.  I figure the least I can do is donate a few more for other cats to lie on when they are sick or dying.

The second bath is the ensuite, which is only a two piece and again, a pretty easy job to do.  Really, the only thing to clean out was under the sink but that was a jumbled mess, as you can see from the before picture on the left below.  Afterwards, that space was much tidier, I had sorted everything into small baskets and thrown out every that was expired or unused and as a result, there's a lot more empty space.

My sister tells me that the before and after pictures from last week didn't look overly different and she'll probably say the same thing about this week's photos.  You'll have to take my word for it.  I can see and tell the difference myself, based on the amount of stuff I donated last week (I literally filled my whole car with items) and by the amount of things I threw out this week.  It feels good to get rid of all that old, unused stuff and it just makes going through my every day routine that much simpler and easier when things are less cluttered and more organized.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Highly Prized This Sunday

I've been thinking about the January theme for the Sketchbook Challenge all this week.  Notice I said "thinking" about it, as I hadn't actually gone so far as to sketch or paint or collage or DO anything about the challenge this week, so I decided today was the day I would get busy and change that.

I find the theme, "highly prized" to be very similar to a gratitude list at times.  Today, I made a list of 9 things I found to be highly prized as I went about having a shower, changing the bedding, watching TV, and playing on the computer.  This is what I came up with:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Making Myself An Avatar

After finding $100 in a wallet I hadn't used in a while yesterday, I treated myself by spending part of it on an online art journalling technique course.  I wanted to make myself a picture to post as my avatar, an image to go with my name on the forums for the course, instead of just a regular photo.  I was a little intimidated by the artwork some of the other students had posted as their photos so I only took a brief glance at them, and then got to work making my own.

Here's the finished piece:

First I painted a piece of watercolour paper, then added some ink, patterned tissue paper and more paint to the background for decoration.  Then I collaged a number of things together on the page using gel medium, including a picture of myself.  If you look closely, you can see my birth date, my current age, a favourite quote by Oscar Wilde, my name and the dictionary definition of it, a little bit of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, one of my favourite cities, and a typewriter to represent my love of writing.

I was tempted to keep going but thought maybe I had gone far enough.  That's the thing with collage, you're never quite sure how much is too much.  But it was so much fun to make, I'm going to have to do some more!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thoughts For Today

My friend Adrianne sent me a wonderful email yesterday.  The author is unknown but I found the words to be very powerful.  Here's what it said:

"1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them.
2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.

3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. 'An idle mind is the devil's workshop.'

4. Enjoy the simple things.

5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.

6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person who is with us our entire life is ourself. Be ALIVE while you are alive.

7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.

8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

9. Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to the next county; to a foreign country but NOT to where the guilt is.

10. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.


Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

And if you don't send this to at least 8 people - who cares? But do share this with someone..

We all need to live life to its fullest each day!!"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nice Night for a Swim

I took myself down for a swim tonight.  I had driven home through the snow and thought it would be nice to float in the pool and watch the flakes flutter about outside, and it was.  The water was warm and I had the place to myself, as usual, which is very calming.

I tried to take a picture of the snow blowing around outside through the windows but it didn't really show up.
I liked the effect of this shot though, you can't really tell if the pickup truck is parked inside or out.  Last year, somebody accidentally drove their car through this window, which makes this picture even more ironic, if you ask me!

While I swim, I can't help but notice all the signs posted about. Just like the Five Man Electrical Band song,
there are "signs, signs, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind.  Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign???"

There's an emergency phone too, although by the time you call 9-1-1 on the rotary dial, the emergency might have gotten worse!
Ah well.  It's a small pool, it's not fancy but it's warm and relaxing and I don't have to go outside in the cold to get to it.  As far as I'm concerned, it's a little bit of paradise on a cold, snowy winter's eve!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

One Last Taste of Christmas

I spent part of this past weekend packing up the few Xmas decorations I had put out and going through the cards I had received one more time - here's the funniest one I got.

I had to double check the back of this card to see that it was in fact a Shoebox design rather than a homemade card, as I would not have put it past either the husband or the wife of the couple who sent this to me to have posed for this photo themselves!

Lucky for me, it seems the Christmas spirit is lingering...I got 2 Christmas cards from Australia yesterday and today a package arrived from my aunt with some shortbread cookies she had baked for me - yum!

Photo taken by Aunt Nancy

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Sketchbook Challenge

One of the projects I am taking part in this year is The Sketchbook Challenge.  You can read more about it here:  How The Challenge Works.  A couple of the women I met at Journalfest are involved in leading the group, which is how I first heard about it.  I've always wanted to learn to draw and sketch and thought this might be a good way to start.

The theme for January, as established by Jill Berry (read her blog here) is "highly prized".  While I was out walking about in the rain on January 1st, it occurred to me that water is something that is, or certainly should be, highly prized.  Those of us who don't live in a desert tend to take it for granted - we don't worry about when the next rainfall will be, chances are we won't have to wait more than a few days for the next one.  But lots of people around the world don't have access to clean, safe water like we do here in Canada.

I took this photo while I was walking about that day:

and thought I would sketch something like it when I got home. My sketch got about this far and I HATED it:

Clearly, sketching is a skill that I will need to practice, A LOT!  I decided to try painting something with watercolour paints instead, which really was a more appropriate medium for a water theme anyway!  Here's what the finished picture looked like:
It's very simple, I might add more to it later but I thought it was enough for the first day.

Lucky for me, one of the artists leading the Sketchbook Challenge, Sue Bleiweiss, posted on January 2nd on the topic of how we can't expect every one of our creations to be perfect.  God knows, my sketch above certainly was not anywhere close, it was horrible.   Chances are, I will get better, as I learn and practice.  But as Sue said, "is it perfect? No. Did I have fun doing it? YES!" and really, that's all the matters.