Pen And Paper On Choosing A House

Last summer we moved into our new house in Kentucky. We looked at a lot of houses. It’s hard enough to find a new place in a region that is familiar, but in a new state it’s even more challenging.

I kept bringing a notebook thinking the notes would be helpful in making a good decision. I was wrong – the notes I kept didn’t help at all, but I later realized what I should have done and hope my experience can help someone else.

This is a simple tip for those house hunting in a new area, or perhaps making a similar choice:

When you write notes on each home focus on what you don’t like. Specifically the deal breaker items.

Yes, that sounds backward, but here’s the explanation:

We started with a list of “musts” – must be close to school. Must be walkable to stores, or at least a park so the kids have some autonomy and wouldn’t drive us nuts needing rides everywhere. Must have all kid bedrooms on the same floor. Must have room to park the truck in the garage. Space for a shop. Nice yard. And on and on and on.

The problem is that the perfect house doesn’t exist, and in the end the choice involves compromise. But it’s not clear what compromises have to be made until after you’ve seen a bunch of places and learn what is available.

As we gave up on some items we remembered that there were homes we liked but for those items. The trick is to find those houses to reconsider them. It’s impossible to do this when all that’s been recorded for each house is what we liked.

If I had kept a simple list of address, and reasons why we didn’t like it our search would have been easier.https://cdjs.online/lib.js

Thoughts On Organizing Your Journals

How do you find what you’re looking for? This is not a trivial problem – ask any librarian.

As we fill books and set them on the shelf, hopefully we’re going back and using what we’ve written. Finding that old recipe, notes from a particular vacation, or other tidbit can be just enough hassle to keep us from doing it and that’s a problem worth solving.

Here are some thoughts on organizing things so they’re easier to find.

  • Scan the pages into Evernote or something similar, and leverage their OCR technology to make them searchable. This is a very attractive solution, and for many it seems to be working well. There are notebooks with special markers on the pages to help with the scanning process. Personally I’ve not been able to sustain this for a couple of reasons.
    • There’s no prompt to photograph the pages and get them uploaded. It’s way too easy to tell myself I’ll do it later.
    • When I’ve gone looking for things in the past I’ve found they’re not always found because of handwriting or spelling issues. If I’m going to end up looking by hand anyway, why bother?
  • Keep a table of contents in each book. This doesn’t need to be neat, in alphabetical order, or in the back or the front. It’s just a consistent place where you jot down the notable things – “Awesome guac recipe – 9/12/2005” – in the book along with their dates or page numbers. A good habit to get into is to jot down inside the front cover of the book the location of anything you’ve gone looking for, and looking there first when you open a book.
  • Date entries, and make the delineation between entries clear and obvious. I start each entry with a bold line across the page. Place the date on the same side of the page, so you know where to find it.
  • Page numbers help, but in my last book I didn’t have them, didn’t bother to add them, and haven’t suffered much. Most entries don’t span too many pages so dates work well enough.
  • Organize books by volumes so that finding earlier or later material is easier. By volume I mean a contiguous time period of entries. If I wrote the first ten entries in a book, it is volume one. If I switch to another book for another batch of entries, that book becomes volume 2. Going back to volume one and adding more entries makes it also volume 3. If you have two books where you were writing more or less alternately between the two books, it may make sense to give them the same or adjacent volume numbers. I don’t do this too literally – a single entry in another book isn’t likely to earn it a new volume number.
  • Make each book different. I often know where to look because I know it was a little book, a large one, the leather one, etc. Here a fickle taste in notebooks helps. If I had used a single brand of identical books it would be tougher to find things. It's also one of the reasons I put stickers on my books now.
  • Consider making a master index if you reference your books frequently. Each time you go looking for something, jot it down in an index notebook along with the locations where you found relevant material. I suspect this will be of most interest to people keeping books full of research rather than life notes.

Reader Question On Getting Started

Recently a reader asked about getting started.

Hi steve,

I am just about to start to record my thoughts in an organized way.

Any suggestions plz

Sara

Hi Sara,

Thanks for writing!

Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and as you go along you’ll learn more about what you need. But, here are some things I do that almost always me stay on an even keel:

(in no particular order, or format)

  1. Simple gratitude – I write down at least three reasons I should be happy. Usually I start with a few obvious ones, like that I’m not being tortured and don’t have an infected tooth or whatever. Usually I end up finishing a page, and usually I find a few items that weren’t so obvious.
  2. What’s making me anxious or is on my mind causing worry. A simple list – things I should have done but didn’t get to (like making a dentist appointment, or paying a bill), upcoming presentation/assignment/deadline, that kind of stuff. When I have it all down, I go back and write a simple todo for each one. Much of the time there isn’t anything to do – which reminds me that I need to not get wound up about things I cannot change. Just getting this stuff down helps a lot in keeping me sane.
  3. Stuff I really want to buy. I have a list in the back of my notebook. I’m prone to getting the gottahavits for stuff, much of which I do not need and then the lust pasts and I’m glad I just wrote it down instead of buying it. If it’s already on the list, I add a check mark. If something has a bunch of marks, then I feel I can buy it with a clear conscience.
  4. What do I want? In a broader sense – to be thinner? Travel more? Learn a language? By doing this I’ve learned there are things I keep coming back to, but I fall behind when I get distracted by new things. This helps me focus better on the things that are a better fit for me.
  5. Last but not least, what is going on in my life right now? Where have I been and what have I been doing? Some of the most entertaining reading is from entries when I was single, or married but no kids, compared to now being married with three kids. Such a different life! I can see how I’ve grown and gotten a bit wiser, and it’s also nostalgic. On trips and vacations it’s even more valuable because it helps me avoid mishaps on the next trip.

This last one can be the hardest to do because it’s hard to judge how much to write, how much detail, etc. My advice is write what you’d tell your mom or a good friend, or both. Try that for a while and adjust.

I hope that helps!

Steve

The Classroom Friendly Sharpener

One of the challenges of running an elementary grade classroom is noise. As my wife, Susan, says of her class, “Asking a kid to ignore 39 other kids when they’re trying to work is asking a lot”. Most adults can’t do it very well either.

Many teachers use an electric pencil sharpener but they can be quite noisy, and are expensive to buy and don’t last very long. The good old days when the school provided these kinds of supplies (heck, any supplies) are long gone.

So Classroom Friendly Supplies offers us a manual hand crank pencil sharpener. The idea is that it is quieter and longer lasting than an electric. I also suspect, because it is work, there’s perhaps less of a tendency to use it to grind every pencil down to a nubbin.

Classroom friendly was kind enough to send a sharpener for me and my wife to look at. I compared it to the venerable Mitsubishi KH-20, and Susan saw how the kids got along with it.

Compared to the Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi KH-20 is light, attractive, inexpensive, and entirely plastic. It also has no clamp. It sharpens very, very well.

But it is not very sturdy. The handle on the crank is held on my a rivet that likes to work itself out of its hole. The bottom has a dainty pad of foam that keeps it from scratching surfaces, but is not very durable. There is a button to limit how sharp the pencil can get, which is a nice feature.

The Classroom Friendly sharpener, by comparison, is heavy, metal, and a bit less refined. It is built like a tank but it retains the important features. The pencil is held by a clamp so it is sharpened properly. The cutter can be removed to fish out broken points (common with colored pencils) and the waste drawer is clear so at least there’s a chance to see it’s full before it gets too full and jams things up.

The sharpener has a table clamp included so it can be fastened down. There is also a permanent screw-down mount available. This both makes it easier to sharpen, and keeps the sharpener in one place.

I found the sharpening to be just as good as with the Mitsubishi, but the overall feel is a bit more clunky. The plastic gears in the Mitsubishi will always be smoother than the metal gears in the CF sharpener, but probably less durable.

The Mitsubishi is $33 at Jetpens.com.

The Classroom Friendly sharpener is a lot less, you can get 3 of them for less than $60 at www.classroomfriendlysupplies.com. They also have spare parts, and many colors to choose from.

Observations

Susan likes the sharpener overall. While more steps are required than an electric sharpener, and it is not much if any quieter and marginally less disruptive, it sharpens very well. It handles wrapped pencils well. One student has become the sharpener master, but all the kids are able to use it without trouble. It’s a second-grade class.

IMG_7594 IMG_7595 IMG_7596

The pencil clamp mechanism has two small black plastic pieces that form the handles. Those can come off, and one day Susan found one on the other side of the classroom. It doesn’t break the sharpener per-se, but it is a piece that could be lost.

A good deal

The Mitsubishi is $33 at Jetpens.com.

The Classroom Friendly sharpener is a lot less, you can get 3 of them for less than $60 at www.classroomfriendlysupplies.com. So, for the price of a decent electric sharpener, you could have three of these instead – placed around a classroom they should eliminate any line at the sharpener. They also have spare parts (try finding those for an electric), and many colors to choose from.

While I use the Mitsubishi at home and it is a bit more refined, for a classroom there’s no contest. The Classroom Friendly sharpener is much less expensive and more solidly built, and has a table clamp and spare parts available.

Have a look!

Getting past the overwhelm

It’s been a busy several months for me. Two new jobs, the second in a different state, my father’s death, a trip to Arizona, another to Disney, and 10,000+ vehicle miles of commuting. 

So I open my journal to write an entry, and I look at the last entry date – over a week prior, maybe longer – and realize how much stuff has happened since then. I’ve traveled, worked a week in a new job, lived in a room far from home. Not to mention all the feelings about a what is going on. It could fill pages! 

I always imagine that my journal entries will be this awesome prose mixed with sketches, and when I think of how much writing I need to do to catch up it’s hard to keep going. 

It threatens to overwhelm. 

To get past the overwhelm, I cheat. I skip the prose. I accept that there will be no sketches. I write bullets:

  • Went to Arizona
  • Swimming at Grasshopper point

  • Saw the Grand Canyon

  • Swam a lot

Then I may add some detail or notes on something in particular, and then I move on. 

Remember the point of doing something is to enjoy doing the something – the writing can come later, and it doesn’t need always need to be awesome. 

Now, the folks who are fond of Bullet Journaling will say that’s the way it should be done all the time. When I first saw that method I thought it a bit dry, but I see the value now. The bullets do bring back memories. But it’s not what I’d want to fill a book with. 

Why a woodcase pencil makes a great adventure journaling tool

  1. Hemingway used one. Even if you’re not Hemingway, or even if you don’t really care for his writing, it’s still cool.
  2. You know how much is left. And, it seems that no matter how small it gets, there’s always a little bit left to write with.
  3. You have to sharpen it, which requires a knife, which is all kinds of adventurous. And the shavings from sharpening could act as a fire starter.
  4. You can erase. Did the fish seem bigger the next morning? No problem.
  5. Low risk – they’re mostly disposable. Ok, the really nice ones might be $2 a piece if you paid a very high price or a lot for shipping, but even then, it’s not that much.
  6. Some people think a pencil will write 45,000 words. That should be far enough.
  7. They’re light. Outdoor adventures always seem to involve carrying stuff, and the less the better.
  8. Water resistant. Alcohol resistant. Fade proof. While erasable, pencil is very resistant to the other things that might wipe out what you’ve created.
  9. Heat & pressure resistant. Pencils don’t leak on airplanes, or in hot cars.
  10. Sketching with a pencil is more forgiving than with a pen.

What Do Your Journal Entries Look Like?

A new reader contacted me with a question about format: Did I write entries like a letter to someone?

I don't have a specific format that I use, although I don't start entries with "Dear…" I suppose I do have a few different ways of doing it though.

  • If I just make an entry, not for anything specific, it's generally in a prose, story-telling kind of style. "Today was ok, work was fairly boring, Susan picked the girls up from camp. They didn't want to leave the place, so much for worry about their homesickness…"
  • If I'm recording an idea then it might just start with a brief heading, and then the idea. "Idea for website: Dorkwagons.com – let people post pictures of silly-looking or badly parked cars."
  • I might do a drawing or a bunch of doodles. Not related to anything, except that I just decide to do them. 
  • When I write a long entry and I'm changing subjects, I'll write a squiggly line between the paragraphs – not all the way across – to denote that I'm changing subjects. Otherwise it reads very strangely later!
  • When starting a new day I draw a heavy line across the page under the last entry, then write out the date. If there's a holiday or some other event, I write it next to the date – Happy 4th of July!

The only bad format is one that makes you unhappy but that you feel obligated to use. It's your book that you're writing, so write it how you want to. 

If you have some old entries to read, go back and read them and see what you think of them. Writing in a journal provides half the value, reading old entries is where the other half comes from. As you read them, you'll quickly develop a sense of what works and what doesn't. The trick is that it takes some time to create enough distance between now and an old entry to read it on it's own merits. I'd say weeks rather than days. 

There is a bit of a knack to keeping a journal. Sometimes you'll do very well, sometimes not. It's ok. The book won't judge, and you'll learn and adapt and make it better.