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I am a big supporter of idea notebooks. I (kind of) consider myself an expert in them – or at the very least a success story. Because I’ve been keeping mine for years now (as I wrote about some a couple of years ago) and it works so well for me – I’m on notebook number 41 (a couple from high school, but really I’ve been numbering them since ’99 – good golly, does that mean I’ve been at this for ten years? I believe it does!). So I’ll share my personal tips.

I think of mine as “writing notebooks,” but they’re really a combination of ideas, lists, a daily journal, sketchbook, writing exercises, the occasional pasted-in ad or photo, copied quotes, and whatever else. I also keep “kid notes” in the first few pages of each one, funny things my kids say or do, milestones, things like that, very useful for scrapbook journaling which I then (when I finish the notebook and start a new one) transfer to a binder where I keep all of them together. And yes, this is all about physical notebooks, though I know a lot of people like to keep their version of the Idea Notebook on the computer or some other device – for me, actual paper is simple, inexpensive, with no learning curve, no problem with batteries or power outages or crashing – basically, no excuses. Also, it’s what I know.

Use just one notebook.

Buy or denote it specifically as an idea book but DON’T use a fancy hardbound beautiful book. Of my 41 books, only the one I’m on right now is hardbound – always before I have used spiral notebooks. It sounds silly, but it’s not – I love beautiful notebooks but I was ALWAYS too intimidated to actually write in them. I didn’t want to mess them up, or I felt like what I wrote in them had to be Good, or Brilliant!, it couldn’t just be average or (heaven forbid) bad, scribbled out, or a mistake.

One of my favorite sayings is: “Perfect is pretty, but finished is BEAUTIFUL.” That feeling of perfectionism was stopping me, so just using a regular, one subject spiral notebook made it so I could write anything, and it was okay. (Also spirals, even the awesome spirals with pretty covers at Target, are fairly inexpensive, so I can always get another easily – just that much less pressure, unlike the beautiful leather hardback books that cost $20 or more.) Even then, sometimes the first page of a notebook – all blank and scary – is a little intimidating, so I always pick a couple of inspirational quotes for the very first page, sometimes with a theme; that way I don’t have to write my own words on it.

If for whatever reason you really want to use a hardbound book, that’s fine, of course, but maybe try the quotes-on-the-first-page thing or something. I’ve even heard of people who scribble all over the first or second page of the book – then they can say to themselves, oh look, it’s already messed up, now I can write whatever I want. (If you don’t have this perfectionistic hangup of “Oh, I don’t want to mess it up!” well, then hooray for you! I will still be your friend. Probably.)

The other thing is that you don’t have to use regular lines – I like graph paper personally, or once you get practice, totally blank sheets can be freeing. I started with regular spirals – in fact, I got a box of plain ol’ spirals on sale for dirt cheap soon after I started. After a while I started decorating those with stickers. Now I usually get one with a pretty cover from Target. You can absolutely decorate them if you like – but I would recommend NOT doing this to start with, as it can so easily become one more thing you get hung up on and never get past. Start using your notebook first – then embellish if you want to.

Always keep it with you.

It’s not a lot of use to you if you can’t record something in it at any time. I buy my purses so that they fit my notebooks. You COULD do it the other way around though. 🙂 I generally prefer to write in full size spirals, 8.5×11, but of course you could use a smaller one.

If I were giving advice (oh wait, I am!) I would say try setting a timer and writing for five or ten minutes in it each day, just to get into the habit of knowing it’s there, and using it. You could write to-do lists, a draft of a letter to a person or company, rough draft journaling for a scrapbook page, draw a sketch of a magazine ad for later use on a layout, make a list of stories you still want to tell on scrapbook pages, brainstorm ideas for upcoming projects, or whatever applies to you.

Number your idea notebooks.

Like I said – I am on notebook number 41. I know this because I, well, number them. (Revolutionary, right? LOL.) I used to write the number (and the dates it covered, January to May of 2001 or whatever) on the inside cover – now I use a white sticker label and put it on the back top corner of the book, but whatever. But I do think that numbering them has helped me stick with it – it gives me a sense of progress, and helps me stay with just one notebook. The one notebook thing is important because otherwise I am tempted to start separate ones for different subjects and projects. And that way madness lies. Or at least, that way a pile of scattered, random notebooks and papers lies, and then I give it up.

A couple of ideas for fine-tuning:

As I just mentioned, I put a label on the back of each notebook as I finish it with the number and the dates. If I did hardcovers I would put this info on the spine, but I’ve already discussed that.

Mostly I enjoy just putting my lists and so on wherever I want in the book – but occasionally I’ll be keeping a list that I know I’ll refer to a lot and want to know where it is. My answer to that is either use post-its as markers on the page so I can find it, or I’m trying something new – use a punch or a small cup, make two circles, paste them back to back over one piece of paper, as a tab several pages in from the back of the notebook. Then I put some lists, or projects in progress notes back there, where I can find them more easily.

Anyway, those are my (extremely long and overly wordy) tips on idea notebooks. Mine are such an indispensible part of my life now, I hope this helps someone out there.

Before we get into the actual topic, just a random note.

For the past month or so, maybe a little longer, I’ve been going shampoo free. Please, do read the link before you imagine that I’m walking around with a head like a mechanic’s used coveralls. It actually merely entails using baking soda instead of shampoo, and a water-apple cider vinegar rinse every few days. I tried it out, and the very first time my hair felt so much cleaner and lighter than normal. And the clean feeling does last much longer (on the site above she recommends you only actually wash your hair 2-3 times per week). It’s pretty cool. Maybe eventually I will try some of the herbs and such mentioned, but for now it seems to be working well.

Now I’ll share with you something else, that I tried back in the middle of May. (I share this at least partly in the hopes of getting back with it myself – I fell off the wagon hard in the middle of June, gee I wonder why.) I’d read this article about how to become an early riser. Basically, it says the way to get the best amount of sleep is to always get up at the same time, with an alarm, but to go to bed when you’re tired. (Allowing of course that you don’t just push through your tiredness to your second wind or drink a bunch of caffeine to stay awake.) Makes sense to me, and certainly worth a try, because I want so much to be a morning person. First of all, I just can’t stay up as late as I used to – at least not most of the time. And even when I can – it’s just not working for me. Kids wake up in the morning (even my night owl daughter), and my poor sweetie needs his cuddles at night. And I always feel crappy, sleeping the day away, not getting anything done.

Anyway, so I wanted to try it. But the trick is, how exactly do I get up in the morning? Even with an alarm. Cuz I suck at that. I do at least have an alarm that I kind of like now, one that starts out softly and gradually gets louder. Rather than giving me a heart attack right away, blaring, and putting me in an extra bad mood right to start with. But still, how to do it? Because normally, if I even hear the alarm at all, or when I wake up, even if I feel good and like I’ve had a good amount of sleep – I just roll right back over. Luckily the same dude has another article: How to get up right away when your alarm goes off. Just the question I was asking!

The idea in this article is that you have to make getting up with your alarm a conditioned response – no chance to talk yourself out of it. And how do you do that? Well, you practice. As in, physically practice. During the day, when you’re actually awake. Make the room as dark as possible. Put your pjs on. Replicate your waking up conditions as much as you can. Then set your alarm for a few minutes ahead. Lie down and get quiet. Then when the alarm goes off, stretch, sit up, smile, get up and get dressed or whatever you normally do when you get up. Then do it again. Several times, and several days in a row, till it’s automatic. (Read the article, it’s good.)

Let me tell you how it went for me.

First of all, let me just preface this by attempting briefly to get across the history of me and sleep. It’s a sordid tale. I’ve always slept really deeply – to the point of being impossible to wake up. (Just ask my college roommates.) This got a little better (any better is shockingly better) once I had kids, but I’m still highly prone to staying up late, and to sleeping too much generally. Getting up early in the morning (or, often, getting up at all) is hard for me. SO HARD. As in, The Impossible Thing for Me to Do. (Well, one of two or possibly three impossible things, but we won’t go there now.) When I decided to try this method, I was at least to the point where once I did get up I would get dressed right away. But then (assuming I was up before my kids, and not woken up by them) I would go out to the living room and sit on the couch, terribly groggy and with no clear idea of what I wanted to do – in spite of having plenty of things I wanted to spend the pre-kid morning hours doing. Frustrating to say the least.

So I wanted two things: to be able to get up easily with my alarm, and to be able to keep going, after getting up, and do some of the things I want to have time for. So what I did was make a list of how I wanted my morning to go. I will give you a (somewhat) abbreviated version, say:

  • Up
  • Bathroom
  • Wash up (shower or at least washing my face; normally I take my showers at night but I figured maybe it would help me wake up better)
  • Dress
  • Step outside (get a breath of air, maybe have some nice herbal tea too)
  • Devotions
  • Exercise video
  • Writing

So I wrote this down on an index card, then put on my pjs, set the alarm and climbed into bed. When it went off I sat up, smiled and stretched, and got up and walked through my list. So, no actual shower, just stepping into the tub, pretending to sit down to write, etc. I did it three times through (the last time with my three year old watching me; he thought it was terribly funny).

Three times through. One day. It took maybe 15 minutes total. It really wasn’t truly automatic for me at that point, but I figured I would do some more practice another time.

BUT PEOPLE – IT TOTALLY WORKED. I honestly could barely believe it, but for a whole month I got up right when my alarm went off in the morning, and I did stuff. (Including, happily enough, working on my novel.) It felt SO GOOD, I can’t even tell you, even while it also felt like surely I must be dreaming, how can this possibly be? After “practicing” just the one day. (Honestly, if I’d practiced more, it probably would’ve stuck even through the turmoil of the middle of my June.) My life was not magically all better (haven’t found that wand yet, dangit), but I certainly felt a lot better about it all – and got a lot more done. (Because anything is a lot more than nothing.)

Now moving aside, the real question is, why haven’t I started this up again already? Can’t really explain that, but I think I’m ready to do it again… at the very least I want to be ready to. So hey (I say, to myself and to you), why not try it?

So for the latest SSD blog challenge (hey, I’m making a ton of layouts, gotta take the easy points where I can), the question is: who was your teen/childhood heartthrob? Entertaining question.

I had friends who were TOTALLY into New Kids on the Block. But I wasn’t. I had friends with posters of singers or actors on their walls. But I didn’t. (I had calendar landscape and animal scenes, and posters with quotes and such, mostly.) I was a sort of odd child – I wasn’t into popular music, I became obsessed with characters (and recognized it?) rather than actors themselves (loved musicals, so Phantom of the Opera, Jean Valjean; also Robin Hood has long been a favorite). I suppose I was sort of fascinated with Anthony Perkins, Robert Jordan’s eyes, and that guy who played Dr. Kimball on the old black & white TV show The Fugitive. But this was pre eBay, so no posters. And not exactly traditional. (If I recall any, or find some in old journals, you can bet I’ll come update this – but it’s the best I can do for now.)

So no, I didn’t really have any consuming heartthrobs as a kid. (Now, well, now there’s a few. Not so much consuming, but fun. Like Colin Farrell, Denzel Washington, Sayid on LOST, Anthony Stewart Head, Josh Lucas, and of course, both my husband and I love to obsess over The Sexy Beast, aka, Colin Firth in Pride & Prejudice.)

It hasn’t been updated (well, the blog at least) for a while, but I love this: 10 Things

Go ahead, go make your own list. Take photos if you’re so inclined, of course, and post them on the Flickr group. It’s all about the details.

It is acceptable for you to put this off till tomorrow, if you are busy with turkey and pie and so on. However, if you want something to record a few things, here’s a little something I’ve made — a 5×7 card. I’m copying it for each person at our Thanksgiving festivities (it’s been 2 years since we’ve seen this set of grandparents), having them fill it out. Then I plan to scan it back into the computer and add photo pages, a little decoration, and get a couple of photo books like this printed. I think you should be able to click the image below, then right click to save it, and print it yourself if you like. (Crossing fingers, never tried this before.)

10 things I am thankful for (5 big, 5 little)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Because I love this stuff, and Mary always has good stuff, check out her writing prompt (and do it! and sign her mr. linky on the 20th!) about my childhood home. That is all.

ETA: Or not. THIS is so beautiful. 

Here’s my contribution to Heather’s challenge @ OMSH: under the bathroom sink. (A horror flick… it came from beneath the sink!) (And, an aside: doesn’t OMSH sound like a mother doing yoga? “Ommmm… shhhh!” I wonder if I’m the first person to think of that. I really hope so.) (I know, I know, it’s really Oh My Stinkin Heck, which is awesome in it’s own right. But I amuse myself, and I’m one of those readers who sort of hears all the words in my head as I go.) (Different than hearing those voices… 🙂 )

This is the hall bathroom. In my defense, both these cupboards (as well as the kitchen ones) have child locks on them that are pretty cool. (I can’t seem to find a link, maybe I’ll update it later…)


Here’s the master bathroom (thus titled because it’s inside the master bedroom, not because it’s any bigger or different in any way).


(This is what happens when your apartment has NO LINEN CLOSET. Or hall closet, or bathroom closet, or pantry… Not that I’m bitter or anything. But HONESTLY. When they build a three bedroom (okay, technically 2 with den) apartment, do they not think that maybe people will be living there? Maybe more people than in a smaller apartment, even. And that, just maybe, they’ll need places to put their stuff? It boggles the mind.)

November Self Portrait Challenge — Glam. (Go there for some really fabulous shots this month, including this, this, and this from this week.)

First I felt like I didn’t understand the theme (it’s true, I’m still rather pop music illiterate)… then I felt like it was about the furthest thing from my current life. Or possibly my life ever. Glamorous has never been an adjective I would associate with myself.

But, I’m giving it a try. I attempted a bit of symbolism this time around — apply it as you will.

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My comments: yay, Halloween costumes 50% off. I put more staging effort into this one than I ever have so far. I wish I’d closed my eyes for the first one. I’ve also decided that I really must have a tripod and a remote thingie (detonator? that can’t be right…); it would make these things a lot easier, though I do appreciate my 4 year old helping me. And for those who’ve asked: to get the spot color, I used this technique here on it, plus a little diffuse glow filter, and playing with the layer opacity.

TDD rocks

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Here's my post on the topic.