Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Little Black Book . . . or Something

I've read more than a few times that individuals who convert to something  -- a religion, belief system, etc -- are often more zealous than those who have embraced it for most of their life.

I'm living proof of that as it applies to technology. I was dragged, scowling and muttering, by my husband to the library years ago to take a mini-workshop on "The World Wide Web -- What it Is and What it can do for You" one day back in 1994 or 1995. I had no desire to spend an afternoon sitting at a keyboard when I could be reading or taking a walk, but my husband, who had used the internet while in the Air Force, really wanted me to go, so I went. Very, very reluctantly.

I was just as reluctant when he tried to talk me into signing up for internet service as soon as it was available where we lived. The workshop at the library had failed to convince me that this new Wide World Web had anything to offer me other than images that loaded at excrutiatingly-slow speeds while an annoying electronic noise repeated incessantly.

I finally bought into the whole internet thing and whole-heartedly welcomed high-speed DSL (excuse any misuse of terms -- I can use it all even though I don't know what it's all called). I would balk temporarily any time my husband wanted to upgrade or add memory or something else that threatened to case me to have to learn something new, but he would always talk me around.

I didn't embrace or welcome new technology at all back in those days. I simply tolerated it.

In the past ten years, though, I've welcomed new technology. I love my laptop, have had an iphone almost from the first, and can't live without my ipad mini (partially funded by the trade-in of my ipad 2, which was partially funded by the trade-in of my original ipad). It's not just the hardware I've embraced.

I have 4 email accounts -- one for work, one for my writing, one for personal correspondence, and one for lists and contests, etc. I have this blog, use facebook, and I even have Twitter and Instagram accounts. I love etsy and ravelry and pinterest, and . . . well, I think you get the idea. I also love finding new apps for my macbookPro, ipad and iphone that enhance my work and my personal life.

Yes, I who was a reluctant -- at best -- attendee at a internet workshop only 20 years ago is now an enthusiastic embracer of technology.

Using these programs and apps has created a problem, though. I have usernames and passwords galore. Because my first name is very common, and because I only use my first and last name for a few very specific usernames, and because I try to change my passwords at least once a year for security reasons, I have trouble keeping my usernames and passwords and emails associated with memberships straight.

A year ago, I thought I'd found the perfect solution. I found a mini-composition book -- about 2" x 2 1/2" -- somewhere and used it to record all of my usernames and passwords. For security reasons, I kept the mini-comp book in a safe spot in my apartment, but all too often I would be at work or at my son's and need a password or username, and changing the passwords every few months caused the little book to get messy in a hurry. I decided to go digital.

I investigated a few ipad apps and tried several of the free versions with great reviews, but none really worked well for me. Today, I gave up on finding the perfect app and simply loaded all of my usernames and passwords onto a "Note" in my ipad and emailed a copy of the note to my work email and then saved it to a folder there. My ipad is password protected, and I wasn't foolish enough to name the note "Passwords", so I'm okay with the security level for now, particularly since I didn't include any account or password information for my online banking account.

After I finish downsizing physically, I plan to downsize electronically, and I'm sure I'll be getting rid of 2 email accounts and other programs and apps. Until then, though, I'm content with my method for storing usernames and password information. It isn't very fancy, but it's in a format that works for me, and I can easily update the passwords as need be.

What about you? How do you organize the electronic aspects of your life? I'd love to hear about what has worked for you!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Movin' on Down the Road (Dream Save Do, week 15)

After a loooong 25 days with a stressful moment here or there, I can finally share that all of the details are worked out and that next month I will be moving from my current apartment into a house in a charming neighborhood south of the city I work in.

I couldn't be more excited about the new house or where it's located. The house itself is a 70+ year old craftsman style bungalow with hardwood floors, 2 fireplaces, built-ins, and other elements that make it absolutely adorable. It's located in a gorgeous "older" neighborhood and within walking distance to the church I'll attend, the public library, two large city parks, a university, the farmer's market and two neighborhood grocery stores, etc.

Nothing is perfect, of course. My commute to work will be longer, and for the first time in 15 years, I'll be going down into the basement to do laundry. But those negatives are far outweighed by the many positives, and I can't wait to make the move sometime near the end of February.

I'm so very thankful I've continued downsizing as I have time. Other than the furniture, which I'll leave to professional movers to transport, I'll have only about three carloads of stuff -- clothes, kitchen items, books and knick-knacks, and things from my office and craft area -- to box up and move. Closing on the house is February 6th, and I plan to take a carload then and the following two weekends.

In an effort to downsize, I've continued to sort through photos and memorabilia. I've made my way to 1996 now, and I expect to be finished by the end of the week. I've laughed till I've cried at some of the items I've come across, and I hope you enjoy the two tidbits I've decided to share.

Yesterday, I found a sweet little hand-made greeting card that, according to a sticky note I had attached to the back, I received a few hours after my then-7 year old daughter and I had discussed a messy bedroom (alas, this was a fairly frequent topic of discussion when my daughter was younger). The front is adorned with a beautiful heart and the words "I Love You". Inside I read "Dear Patti, I'm sorry I've been a slop. I'll try to be neatter. Love, Your Secret Admirer".

Another priceless memento I found was a hand-made birthday card from my then-7 year old son to my husband on the occasion of his 32nd birthday. I still remember my husband's response -- laughter to the point of tears -- at reading: "32     I know you are getting old, but we still love you. Your son, Steve".

I thought it would be very difficult to sort through the photos and memorabilia, but that hasn't been the case. Instead, it's been a wonderful antidote to the dreariness and cold that January always brings to the Midwest, and I'm looking forward to continuing and then creating scrapbooks for my son and daughter.

Before scrapbook-making, though, comes the move. I'm sure the next few weeks will be busy and, at times, stressful. I plan to sell or donate a few more larger pieces, throw away more stuff, and continue to pare down in the weeks ahead. I'm looking forward to seeing how much more stuff I can eliminate before I move on down the road.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dare I? (Dream Save Do, week 14)

Just before 2014 ticked down to a close, an event occurred that could result in my moving sometime in the next 6 or so weeks. I don't mean to be cryptic, but I'm not comfortable sharing specifics until all the details are worked out and things are final. One way or the other, I should be able to explain next week.

I love downsizing, so even the possibility that I may be moving again caused my sorting--and--selling/tossing/keeping gene to kick into overdrive. With my planner in front of me, I began planning how I could significantly eliminate unnecessary and unwanted possessions before mid-February.

The first thing that came to mind was the 29 years' worth of scrapbooking supplies, photos and memorabilia stored in boxes, bins, and built-in cabinets in the office area. Because I made the decision to scrap digitally (see January 1, 2015 post) and had gotten some information from my son & daughter about what they do and don't want include din their albums, I knew I could eliminate duplicate photos (ordered in pre-digital-camera days to create 2 sets of albums), some memorabilia, and all supplies -- paper, stickers, embellishments, etc.

Eager to get started, I sorted out larger items first and listed them on my planned community's Facebook sell/swap page. Within a few days, I'd sold about $70 worth; I certainly took a loss on what I had purchased them for, but it was enough for me that these items were out of the house -- the money was "gravy", as my dad would say.

But selling on the Facebook group is tedious. Taking pictures, creating the listings, and responding to questions about the items takes a bit of time and are minor issues. What becomes a problem -- and a larger one than you might expect -- is dealing with the buyer once they've claimed an item. Unfortunately, I rarely have a buyer who shows up as scheduled. Some buyers set and miss 3 or 4 appointments without a message saying they can't make it, and the whole process becomes a tedious, drawn-out affair of waiting for the buyer to show, sending messages back & forth when they don't, and going through the process again. All of this, sometimes, for just $4 or $5!

As I've been dealing with this the past 2 weeks, I've also been considering what to do with all the non-scrapbooking stuff I own.

One part of me longs to pack up everything I use and love to be moved to the new place and then haul off the rest -- every bit of it -- to a charity thrift shop I feel good about supporting.

My frugal side says, "Not so quick!" It reminds me that dealing with disrespectful people is a small price to pay to send these items out the door while at the same time gaining a little bit of cash to add to my debt-free home fund.

And, I must admit, there's a small part of me that says, "Forget it all. Forget the money, forget being ecologically responsible. Pack up everything you want to keep and toss the rest in the dumpster just down the street!"

No matter what I decide, I'm also (once again) debating how ruthless to be as I decide what to keep. Do I continue to pack and move items like the various art projects -- a small (2" square) origami container, at least 9 items created in various pottery lessons by my then 7-year-old child, and other pottery items created by a Cub Scout who had no artistic aspirations and just wanted craft time to be over so he could get outside for "outside time".

What about the small decor items that were gifts from my children when they were much younger. The small cream and rose-colored Asian-themed vase, for example, or the 2 1/2" tall blue and white birdhouse-teapot.

My son and daughter have asked me more than once why I still have those items prominently displayed in my home. They remind me that the items don't fit my decor, and my daughter has even told me that she thinks the items she made are tacky and should be discarded. They both urge me to simply take pictures of the items.

But I'm a mom. I'm the type of mom who still has on the side of her refrigerator a favorite drawing by each child . . .  from their elementary-school days. Yes, they're both in their 20's.

Do I hang on to those things too long? Is it time to discard these items? Dare I?

A decision must be made. Soon. I'll keep you posted.

I'd love to hear what you would do -- please share your opinion via a comment. Thanks!

Monday, January 5, 2015

What a Job -- What a Relief! (Dream Save Do, week 13)

For the past five years, I've been stalked by two large shopping bags with handles -- the large ones with a nice flat bottom. Okay, maybe they didn't actually "stalk" me, but at times I felt like they did.

I tried finding a place to hide them, but I couldn't put them in the basement, and even if I placed them on their side, they were too tall to slip under the bed. I put them in my office at my previous house, but every time I went in to use the computer or pay bills or write a letter or . . . well, there they were.

I tried hiding them in my daughter's closet, but she protested. Vigorously. She is something of a shoe-fiend, and the bags took up precious floor space she needed. And besides, she asked, what was wrong with my own closet?

Absolutely nothing, actually; in fact, it was larger than hers, and I certainly had the space for the 2 bags. I put them in the far back corner, but every time I walked in to get dressed or to put away clean laundry, there they sat.

Of course, it wasn't really the bags themselves that bothered me; it was the contents of the bag. Inside those 2 bags were 56 tapes -- VHS and 8 mm video cassettes that were, for the most part, lacking labels of any kind.

We'd labelled some of them (about 6) back when we first began videoing; eventually, though, that became one more item on the "I'll do it later" list that never actually got done. Every time I sorted through things, looking for more stuff to donate, recycle, or throw away, I reminded myself I really, really needed to preview them and then do something with the ones that held family videos.

I just couldn't bring myself to do it, though.

In early December I received an email from a friend in which she shared that she had recently sent of all their videos to be digitalized and was ecstatic with the results. She had 32 tapes, and it cost her less to have the tapes professionally converted than it would have cost to purchase the necessary equipment and software. I asked for the name of the company, checked out their website, and signed up to receive the box in which to send in my tapes.

There was just one problem. I was 99% sure that not all of the tapes held video I wanted to keep. I knew that at least a few held cartoons or children's movies we'd taped from TV for the kids when they were little, and I certainly didn't want to pay someone to digitalize a bunch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle episodes.

Like it or not, I was going to have to preview each and every tape. I charged the batteries on the 8 mm camera and, on the first morning of Christmas Break, sat down to preview the 8 mm tapes. It was slow going at first, but I remembered that none of these tapes could have been used to tape from the TV, so all I needed to do was watch the first bit of the tape and, if it was blank, fast-forward to see if there was anything further on. I quickly previewed all 18; each held family videos and went into the large box from the conversion service company.

Now it was time to preview the VHS tapes. There arose a 2nd problem -- I didn't have a VCR. A quick trip to a local charity thrift shop and $4 handed over, and I had a working VCR without remote but with the cables needed to connect to the TV.

A few hours later, I had previewed all of the 40+ VHS tapes. As I suspected, more than a few held cartoons, movies, television shows, and even a couple of newscasts. Those tapes were set aside, and the ones with family videos joined the 8 mm tapes in the box.  I added the 10 or so tapes of school events that had been made by the school and sold to parents, taped up the box, and took it to the local UPS store.

Now I await the email telling me that the videos have been digitalized and are available in my online account.

A couple of take-aways from this experience:

1. I did the right thing by waiting to tackle this job until I was completely ready. All joking about the stalking bags aside, I wasn't ready to preview those videos, and I was right in not forcing myself to do it anyway. When I finally sat down and watched them, I was able to do it without becoming even slightly upset. I was able to look back at moments from my family's past with pleasure and fond remembrance.

2. Sometimes a technical job isn't as frustrating and time-consuming as I expect it to be. Backstory: My husband was the technical go-to person in our family, and I am known (and with good reason) for being less than tech-savvy. 

Perhaps a task of some kind is hanging over your head, waiting to be done. Maybe others are urging you to tackle it and put it behind you. I won't presume to join the chorus, but I also won't encourage you to continue putting it off.

Instead, I urge you to make a list (if you don't already have one) of projects you need to finish. Maybe you need to decide what to do with your wedding photos and memorabilia now that you're divorced, or perhaps you need to go through your late husband's shop in the basement and do something with all those tools that are sitting there unused.

Whatever is on your list, next carefully consider each item. Ask yourself if you are ready to undertake each one and, if not, why? Do you know, deep down, that you really are ready but that you just don't want to do the work. Or are you really not ready? Do you want your children's input or help?

If you truly are ready, go ahead and dig in. Get it behind you and move on.

If you aren't, that's okay, too. Put your list aside and come back to it later.

In a few days, I'll be able to sit down on the couch with a cup of hot tea & my laptop and view some favorite memories. Christmas mornings and Easter Egg hunts, ball games and school concerts, family vacations and birthday parties. I can relax and enjoy those moments again!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Learning New Tricks -- Yikes!

Backstory: I first heard about scrapbooking back in 1995 -- oh, my gosh, I just realized it's been almost 20 years! Anyway, I loved the idea and slowly got started. "Slowly" means v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, in my case. To be fair, our house at the time was small, and the only place I had to scrapbook was the dining room table, so between work, meals, 2 children, and a very tight budget, I didn't have the time, space, or money to spare. By the time I had both a scrapbooking room, I had a high school student involved in several sports and a middle-schooler in various activities. I had the room, but not the time or money. Then we sold our home and put everything in storage for 3 years while we built (ourselves) our new home. Just a month after I retrieved all of my scrapbooking supplies from my in-laws' basement, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away; for the next five years, I couldn't face looking at all of the pictures, reliving memories, and journaling about them. 

In my recent efforts to downsize even further, I was reminded over and over again that if I could somehow get caught up on scrapbooking, I'd eliminate tons of stuff. Boxes and bins and cabinets filled with photos, memorabilia, paper, embellishments, and scrapbooking tools to document 28+ years of my son's life and almost 26 years of my daughter's would be gone.

As I contemplated the quantity of pictures and memorabilia I would want to include, I considered that both my son and daughter would eventually have quite a stack of scrapbooks because traditional scrapbooking creates quite thick albums.

On the other hand, digital scrapbooking and bound books would create thinner volumes.

When I first began scrapbooking, I loved the idea of playing with paper and embellishments; I still do. That, plus my lack of technical skills and the fact that 15 years worth of photos are not digital, kept me from doing anything more than flirting with the concept of digital scrapbooking.

Recently, though, I've stopped to think of why I want to scrapbook. The main reason is so my son and daughter will have a record of their lives as babies, children, and young adults. I will be creating the albums for them, not for me, and so I began to think more seriously about what kind of scrapbooks -- traditional or digitally-created -- would best suit them. I also discussed the issue with both of them, and I showed them samples of digitally-prepared pages.

The decision has been made -- I will be creating scrapbooks digitally and then having the pages bound into books by a reputable company.

Truthfully, I'm feeling a bit intimidated by the prospect of scrapbooking digitally. Oh heck, let's be honest here. I'm feeling very intimidated by the idea.

Although I use a computer extensively in my job and have for years, and even though I've learned (on my own, actually) 2 publishing programs and used them to create newsletters and have learned other digital skills, I'm not technologically savvy.

I've joined a few online (naturally) digital scrapbooking groups and have been reading the discussion boards. I thought that would help. It didn't. Even on the "newbies" thread, the words that are tossed around with wild abandon mean nothing to me. Instead of abating my apprehension, the discussion board threads have actually made it worse.

I've also signed up for 2 free online seminars, and I was given (long story) a 7-lesson podcast on . . . well, I'm not sure what it covers even after reading the lesson titles and descriptions. But I'm ready to find out, and I'm planning to watch the 1st podcast this evening after supper.

All the experts on aging well stress the importance of challenging the brain and keeping it sharp. I've been doing other things on a regular basis -- the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, for example -- but digital scrapbooking really ups the ante.

Yes, I'm intimidated by the prospect of learning to scrapbook digitally and by creating hundreds and hundreds of pages, but I'm also excited at the idea of converting boxes and bins and cabinets and drawers of stuff into (hopefully) beautiful albums that my son and daughter can appreciate. I'm excited, too, at the prospect of the challenge itself.

I'll keep you posted and look forward to sharing a page or two with you before long.

If you're a digital scrapbooker, I hope you'll share your thoughts and any great tips or hints you might have. And if you live anywhere nearby and wouldn't mind scrapping with me from time to time, let me know!