Friday, September 12, 2014

How I set up my day planner

I've been enjoying my paper planner so much lately that I decided to write about it again. I know this is one of those "what is in my purse / what did I have for lunch" topics that not everyone is interested in, but it's the kind of post I love, so, so be it.

I, of course, keep a lot of information in my cell phone, and that's great, and I periodically try to just go with that, i.e., be electronic-only, but I haven't found a good enough notetaking alternative, and also, you know, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I'm going to be glad that I have all this stuff written down and not in my phone exclusively.

All kidding aside, there are a few things that I don't want to rely on my phone for, and two of them are phone numbers and medical records. A few years ago I read a book about a natural disaster that cut off the electricity, and once everyone's cell phones died, no one knew anyone else's phone numbers, because they didn't need to since they were in their phone. So I made up a little card that has my family's and friends' phone numbers on it, and I made one for Bob, too.

I also have a card in my wallet that lists the medications I'm currently taking, and the ones that Bob takes. Because that's something that's pretty important, and I can't always remember everything off the top of my head. If my phone is stolen, or lost, or dead, then I still have a record that I can refer to.

So, the binder.

My binder is a big, squishy Franklin Covey leather one in a light beige with a very subtle shimmer to it. I'm not sure what that's all about. I don't remember when I bought it, but it was a long time ago, and I'm sure it was on sale. It it the Classic size--5" x 8" -- with seven rings, and has a zipper all the way around, which I love; it keeps stuff from falling out, and keeps everything in much better shape than it would be in an open binder.

Some of the inserts are Franklin Planner and some are DayTimer, and a few are just random things that I have picked up in office supply stores. Oh, and I was SO disappointed to find that all of the Franklin Covey brick-and-mortar stores have closed, except for one in Minnesota or somewhere. I do understand that paper planners are sort of dinosaur-like given the current electronic climate, but I always enjoyed going into the stores and browsing. It's not possible now, everything has to be ordered over the internet.

From the front, the binder contains:

Plastic one-sheet hole punch, useful for punching random pieces of paper so they fit in the binder and don't get lost

Front inside zipper pocket: A few 3x5 cards and a small Post-It pad

Front inside card slots: Business cards (mine) and a credit card-sized calculator

Page lifter (one in the front and one in the back, this keeps the pages from getting messed up when I close the binder)

Vinyl zip pocket: Post-It flags and tabs

Business card holder - Business cards and reminder cards

Page protector containing the binder flyleaf with my contact information

Page protector containing a couple of photos of Bob and me

Plastic pocket divider page with return address labels and miscellaneous loose papers

Dividers - I couldn't find what I wanted, so I created these myself by cutting down some clear plastic dividers I already had. The tabs are:

Phone - Emergency phone numbers and other numbers I refer to frequently

Calendars - Planning calendars that came with the planner insert, from 2014 to 2022!

Work - Information that I need to have easily accessible for work

Personal - Current medications, medical history, Christmas list, other miscellaneous personal information

Book Notes - I'm working on a new book, so this section holds notes, research, lists, scenes, brainstorming, etc., related to the book project

After the tabs are some lined blank paper, then

Two page per month calendar tabs for a year (July 2014 to June 2015)

One month of DayTimer Classic Size (5x8) two-page-per-day daily pages. When the month is finished I go through all of the daily pages for that month and put any important information on the monthly diary record on that month's tab page, then remove the month's pages and add the next month. I leave the calendar page dividers there so I can refer back to them. I wish I had room for more months, ideally three -- the previous month, the current month, and the next month -- but I just don't. It makes the binder too full and hard to close. I just have to be diligent in making notes on the calendar pages that I can transfer to the daily pages when I put them in.

I've tried different brands and different sizes and layouts, and I always come back to this one. Franklin Planner has a comparable design, but I like DayTimer's better. The paper is wonderful, smooth and thick, and I like the layout. The left-hand page has a "To be done" section, an appointment section with times from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., a "Phone calls" section, and an Expense and Reimbursement Record section.

The right-hand page is called Diary and Work Record, and it's a completely blank, lined page, and that's my favorite part. I use it for meeting notes, journaling, and lately, affirmations. If I run out of room, I just go get one of the blank pages and stick it in there and keep on writing.

And two pens in the pen loops, a black one and a pink one for making things stand out -- both are Pilot G-2 07 roller balls, my current favorite pens.

Over the years I've gotten tired of carrying a big binder around and tried smaller ones, but for me, they just aren't as useful or satisfying, so for now, this is it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Back to paper

I can't remember what prompted it, but a couple of months ago I decided to start using a paper planner again. It could have been something as simple as seeing someone using a nice planner in a meeting, or reading a brief mention in a book or something. I don't remember, but whatever it was, it set me off on a journey to document my life by hand.

I've used paper planners for a long time, all my life, really, but with the advent of the iPhone and iPad, it began to feel like a burden to carry a big book around. It seemed like I should be able to keep everything in my phone, and I always have the phone with me anyway, so why worry about an additional thing? I've tried taking notes on my iPad, and it just doesn't work that well for me. I've tried to find apps that simulate a notebook, and they're okay, but just not the same as actually writing with pen and paper.

There's something about writing by hand that is different than typing on a computer keyboard, at least for me. There's something about the act of writing things down, particularly notes from a meeting or discussion, that makes more of an impression on my brain, for lack of a better way to put it. I know that there have studies about that that find the same thing, that the act of forming the letters and words with a pen makes them "stick" better.

And I do enjoy it. It takes me awhile to get used to handwriting, I write so much on a keyboard. But there is something very pleasurable in picking up a nice pen and writing on nice, smooth paper. Over the years I have used several different planner systems. The two I have used most often are Franklin Covey and Day-Timer. I have a beautiful Franklin Covey binder that's just perfect. I've had it for years, and I reinstituted it for this incarnation of my planning life. It's unconstructed leather in a light taupe with a zipper all the way around. It has a zippered pocket inside, and lots of slip-in pockets. It's the desk size, for 5x8 fillers.

I chose to go with a Day-Timer refill this time. I actually think I like their paper better than Franklin Covey's, it seems smoother. I used to buy the decorated pages with flowers and cartoons and things, but I don't need that anymore. I bought the Day-Timer "Desk" size, which is equivalent to the Franklin Covey "Classic" size, i.e., about a half-sheet size, or approximately 5" x 8".

I use the two page per day version. On the left hand side are spaces for "to be done today," "phone calls," "expense and reimbursement record," and "Appointments and scheduled events. The right-hand side is lined, but otherwise not delineated. I use that page for extended notes on phone calls, meetings, or just as journaling space. I have a little business card-sized calculator in one of the slots, a USB thumb drive in the zipper pocket, stamps and return address labels in a vinyl pocket, and various post-it notes, flags and tabs in the back pockets, along with a few 3x5 cards. And two pens, a black one and a pink one, both Pilot G-2 .07, which is my current pen of choice.

The daily pages are divided by month, with two page per month dividers, and then in the front of the book I have blank lined sheets divided into "Phone," "Calendars," "Work," and "Personal." Those sections are for information that I have to refer to frequently, phone numbers and other info in the Work section, and medication lists, goals, and Christmas lists in the Personal section. I also have a new section, "Book Notes." I'm starting to work on a new book, so these pages hold notes and research which I then input into Scrivener, a software program that will be a whole other journal entry one of these days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kindle Unlimited

I know it's no secret that I read a lot. I read almost exclusively fiction, mostly urban fantasy (or paranormal) and mystery/thrillers, with a little "women's fiction" thrown in. I have also almost exclusively migrated to digital, rather than physical, books. I read on my iPhone, my iPad, and on my Kindle Fire. Less on the iPhone, usually if I'm waiting in line for something. Whether I read on the iPad or the Kindle mostly depends on which one is closer to hand.

I follow several blogs that post free and discounted Kindle books, and I'm also on a couple of email lists, so I pick up quite a few free ebooks that way. I keep track of new release dates for my favorite authors, and add upcoming books to my Amazon wish list. If I see a book that I think I might be interested in, I will usually go ahead and add it to my Amazon wish list, and send a free sample to one of my devices.

I know that there are many more proprietary ereaders out there, Kobo and Nook being the ones I can think of off the top of my head. If I see a mention of a free or sale book on one of those platforms, I will usually go get it, since I have their iOS apps on my iPad, but I usually don't even think to go read anything on them, I'm so happy with the Kindle experience.

I have also tried the subscription services -- Oyster, Scribd and Entitle. I believe they are all around $10/month with the first month free. The problem I had with all of them was that I thought it was hard to find books that I wanted to read. I guess it's mostly because I spend so much time on the Amazon site, but Amazon does it so well with the books that they recommend based on my reading habits. The subscription services I mentioned made me kind of nervous, like I had to be sure that I was reading enough books to get my money's worth out of the subscription price (although I didn't pay for any of them, I cancelled before my free month was up). I think a lot of the problem is just like anything else -- it's hard coming into an already-established market and being successful. I have no idea whether they are successful or not, I assume they are, but they just weren't for me.

This is all leading up to a love letter to Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited service. Most of the big publishers aren't participating yet, and who knows whether they will or not, considering everything that's been going on between Hatchette and Amazon, for instance. They say there are over 600,000 books available now; most of them are probably self-published or indie publishers, but I haven't had any trouble finding plenty of books to read. The price is comparable to the others at $9.99/month (with the first month free), and it also includes audio. If there is audio available for a book that you choose, you can listen for free. The subscription also includes three free Audible audio books, one a month for the first three months.

You can have ten books out at a time, with no due dates. When you finish a book, you can return it, just like a library ebook, and get something else, or keep it as long as you want, with the caveat, of course, that if Amazon decides to discontinue the service or something like that, they can suck the book back out of your Kindle, but I think they can already do that anyway, actually.

Oh -- I wrote all that, but the whole point of thinking about it was to comment on something that I keep reading on other commentary about Kindle Unlimited. It seems like everyone who writes about it says something like, "but with Amazon Prime you get a free ebook anyway, plus free shipping and streaming video, and it's $99 for a whole year, so why would anyone want to buy Kindle Unlimited for $10/month and just get ebooks?"

Maybe most people do feel that way, I don't know. And yes, with Amazon Prime, you can read ONE book for free per MONTH. One. And that's it. Not one at a time, ONE. I don't buy enough physical stuff from Amazon to care about the free shipping, and I don't really care about the streaming video, either, so Prime doesn't make sense for me, but Kindle Unlimited is perfect. If you don't read, or don't read much, maybe access to one free book a month is fine. I don't know. I do know that I read at least 100 books a year. This year I've read 115 so far, so considering we're just over seven months into the year, that's about 16 books/month.

Now that my library offers ebooks, I do occasionally get one there, but they don't have much of a selection yet. If it was possible to get every ebook that I wanted from the library, Kindle Unlimited might not make sense, but at least for now, it seems like a great value to me.

I have occasionally felt guilty about buying an ebook when I could request the physical book from the library. It's not the waiting that I mind, usually, but the fact that after reading so much digitally, I find it almost impossible to read a physical book. It feels awkward--I have to hold it open with my hands!--and you have to have a good light, which I often do not. I don't know. I just know that I enjoy reading on my digital devices a lot more than I enjoy holding a book in my hands. I don't care about the feel of a book in my hands or the smell (which a lot of people mention), I really just want the words.

When I was buying books in bookstores, I would sometimes pick up a book that looked interesting, but put it back because of the way it was printed -- too large margins, or too big type, or deckle edges, or whatever. I don't have that problem with ebooks. I can set the font to whatever I want, whatever size I want, and all books are created equal.

And another point -- I don't know for sure, but I believe Unlimited operates under the same model as the other subscription services and pays authors their free after a certain percentage of the book is read (maybe 20%). So while they aren't getting the revenue immediately, they aren't getting shut out, as it might seem.

Here are a few good books that I have read for free:

The Eighth Guardian (Annum Guard) by Meredith McCardle (YA time tavel paranormal)
Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde (literary fiction)
When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde (literary fiction)
Vanished by Kendra Elliot (thriller)
Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott (thriller)
A Trail Through Time by Jodi Taylor (time travel; fourth book in a series)

And the best non-free book I've read recently: "Mortal Danger," by Ann Aguirre. It's $9.99, but you can read the first five chapters free. It was excellent. The book is about Edith, a student at a private high school. Unattractive, unhappy, bullied and humiliated to the point of deciding to kill herself. But right on the brink, she is stopped by a young man, Kian, who offers her the chance to get revenge on the students who tormented her. Revenge isn't free, of course, but it sounds like a good idea at the time.

Edith enrolls in a summer science program away from home, and with Kian's help, reinvents herself as "Edie," pretty, self-confident, smart, with a new best friend and a summer boyfriend. Right away, things start happening to the students who bullied her, and they just keep happening . . . Edie begins to think that the bargain she made might not have been the blessing that she thought it was at first.

Edited to add: Entitle is a subscription service that lets you purchase two ebooks per month for $9.99/month. They do have new releases and best sellers, but during my free period I really struggled to find just one book that I wanted to read, and hadn't already read.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hand sewing

I've been having a lot of fun with my new sewing machine. I'm probably halfway through my Christmas list. My routine has been to cut fabric a couple of evenings a week, then do a marathon sewing session on the weekend, usually Sunday.

This weekend I also made some pattern weights using this tutorial. They are little fabric pyramids filled with tiny polystyrene beads. I've never liked filling fabric things with beans or peas or rice, because what if they get wet? They're not intended to get web, but stuff happens. I have made eye pillows and stuffed them with rice and lavender, but I also put separate cases on them so if the cases get dirty, they can be washed and put back on the pillow. I think the weight of the rice is probably good for an eye pillow because you do want some weight there to ease tired eyes.

These little weights are used to weigh down tissue paper sewing patterns while you cut them out. I probably should have put something heavier in them, but they may be fine. I'll have to try them out. Right now I just have them piled in a little bowl on my cutting table, which is actually just my dining room table with a cutting mat on it. I think the fabric was a Debbie Mumm print called Alley Cat, but I've had it awhile.

These weights would also be cute beanbags for a toddler, although they might be too small, and too easily put in a kid's mouth. That's another reason why I wouldn't fill them with peas or rice!

I hand sewed the weights shut, and that got me thinking about hexagons again, so I rummaged in my precuts box and got out a mini charm pack of Sweetwater Fabric's Road 15 . I pretty much love everything that Sweetwater does.

I finished the Road 15 charm pack and moved on to Sweetwater's Boo Crew. It's a little early for Halloween, but I love this fabric, too. Little monsters, spiders, a screen door print, etc.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them, but I'm thinking something small scale, like mug rugs. For now, I just have zip lock bags full of them. I mostly just like to make them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Sewing Machine

I finally decided to go ahead and buy a new sewing machine. I bought the one I had been looking at at Amazon; I had a bunch of gift card money saved up, so it didn't cost me much. this is the one I got (lists price $349, I had $100 in gift cards, so it only cost me $40!) -- a computerized Brother machine with 70 stitches, most of which I probably won't use. The thing I really wanted in a new machine, besides being able to sew a tight, appropriately-tensioned seam -- was automatic buttonholes, which this one has. There were a lot of machines to choose from, but this one had good reviews. The one feature that made me choose this one was the oversized table. It came yesterday and I read through the manual, threaded it, and sewed a seam, and it worked like a charm.

I may not sit down and do much of anything with it until the weekend, but I wanted to be sure that it worked! It will be fun learning my way around it. I'm looking forward to it.