Thursday, December 31, 2009

I Resolve to Have a Happy New Year!!!

Life is a journey and I have learned to make resolutions that move me in the direction I want to go. I know that every year I can grow and become wiser through all of the experiences I have, books I read, people I meet and choices I make. Sometimes I lose focus in one part of my life and gain ground in another. That's just how life works. My New Year's resolutions are pretty simple. I want to become happier and healthier this year and to continue on my journey to get connected to people and more organized overall.

To be happier I will work to build a closer relationship to God by spending more time in His word and His will. I will spend less time with things and working away from home, and more time enjoying the very special people in my life. I also plan to pursue the hobbies and activities I enjoy. I am choosing to stay positive in both thought and deed in every situation and decision this year.

To get healthier I will follow the advice of my personal trainer, Jonathan Roche. I have been following the NEWO (No Excuses Workout) plan for a couple of years, and last summer had built myself up to the point where I was running intervals for 45 minutes to an hour three or four days a week and doing NEWOs three days a week. I'm still here with new motivation, and I'm ready for the new challenges he's bringing to me this year.

To connect to people I will continue to plan family days every couple of weeks, invite family and friends to our home regularly and be open to invitations to join others. I also hope to travel to Washington state this summer to visit the growing family I have there. I will continue blogging and updating my status on Twitter and Facebook, and join in chats to keep up with those I don't see often. I am awful with writing letters

To be better organized I will continue my daily routines and work on focus areas every week with friend FLYLady on my shoulder. This year I'll develop weekly meal plans and add monthly freezer cooking sessions with the help of Leanne Ely saving dinner in my meal planner/recipe binder. (Click here to read more about my organization journey.)

For each of my goals, I will set baby steps to help me on my way. And as I work for each of the small goals, I will remember to be kind to myself. I guess my resolution is to keep on keeping on, but in a much more positive way. And if I don't feel happy with my life at any given moment, to at least be content in all things. I want to remind myself that the many blessings I have been given are ample.

The new year has arrived and a fresh start has been laid out with the drop of a ball and the blast of fireworks. Thank you for reading my blog and letting me share my resolutions. Whatever positive goals you have decided to focus on and meet, I am hoping you have the most wonderful year in 2010! I plan to do the same.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Christmas Blizzard

'Twas the night before Christmas, and Danny was a tired boy. After partying with Grammy, parents, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins his eyes were a bit droopy. But his stocking was hung by the chimney, and he was really hoping that all the teasing he'd been given about being on Santa's naughty list was not true.

Santa was tracked on Norad throughout the day Christmas Eve. Once Rudolph's nose hit the Pennsylvania area, the boys decided they didn't want to cut it too close and headed off to bed. It's a good thing that Santa Claus had Rudolph this year to guide his sleigh, because the heavy snow and hurricane speed winds were a real deterrence for their visit. Thanks to Rudolph's shiny nose he came. Santa came just the same. The foul weather and near foot of snow may not have stopped Santa from landing on our rooftop, but our blizzard made it impossible for my family to receive visitors or to venture out on Christmas Day, or Boxing Day for that matter. We were snowed in.
This is our air conditioner unit after we dug out the back door. Yikes, we couldn't get out the back door until it was dug out. Good thing our front door is much higher off the ground.
And this is the drift that locked us inside. It's more than 3 feet high, oh my!!!

It was just the seven of us and Joe's roommate (and longtime family friend) Derek for the day.

The boy's seemed to get everything they wanted and then some. It was (almost) comical watching the younger boys open boxes with clothing, Christmas Story style, and throw the well-intentioned garments over their shoulders in anticipation of a better packed gift. Brats!!!

After gifts were opened, I put the turkey in the roaster and then we enjoyed a brunch of cinnamon rolls, egg/ham/cheese casserole and oranges. After brunch, I put the ham into the oven and we spent some time hanging out, playing new Wii and DS games and listening one of Rick's new CDs, "Spirited Away". Very different.

We had a full scale dinner in the late afternoon/early evening. The menu: turkey, baked ham, mashed potato casserole, gravy, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin and pecan pies. I think I was too busy either cooking or relaxing to take pictures of the food. But rest assured, we ate very well, but missed family that would have joined us if the weather had been better.

I hope you and your family had a very Merry Christmas!!!

Menus in the Making

Yesterday I shopped for both a freezer fill (cooking meals to freeze and eat another day) and a family game night tomorrow, also known as New Year's Eve. My trip to the grocery was my first venture out in a week's time. We had been snowed in during Christmas as the blizzard that arrived on Christmas Eve continued as snow showers for the three days following. It's snowing again today, even as I write, but we are not supposed to get more than a couple more inches total.

For me, a plan for party food is always a challenge. Fourth of July, Labor Day or Memorial Day I can plan for without blinking. Food for the grill and the standard picnic/cookout sides is easy to plan and I always try to throw in one new recipe. Thanksgiving and Christmas are pretty traditional around here and I just have to time everything right to make that work. Now New Year's Eve has been done so many different ways around here. We've done make your own pizzas, taco bars, potato bars (notice we do a lot of bars). Would love to do fondue, but, alas, I don't have a fondue pot. My brother Robert is our fondue expert. He hosted a very yummy fondue gathering last New Year's Day. Maybe I'll set the goal of doing fondue next year. Anywho, I am instead thinking of a different menu, and it is something I haven't done in a while. What's on tomorrow night's menu? I guess you'll have to wait as it will be unveiled in a future post.

Okay, while I'm on the subjct of menus, before I went shopping yesterday, I was tempted with the idea of freezer cooking by a friend, love you Candace, that was planning some freezer meals using Leanne Ely's Pantry to Freezer Vol. 1 menus and recipes. After commenting on her plans, we found out that there would be a special on the recipe plans at Leanne's site. I ended up getting a very large e-cookbook that had many freezer recipes and menus. My grocery list also included enough ingredients to get some meals in my freezer. In the past I have done once a month cooking, the Robin Miller cook extra on weekends and enjoy plan overs during the week type of cooking, the double recipes when you cook and freeze half method, and other equally helpful do it ahead of time plans. All were wonderful. The plans allowed me to also create meals I could share with friends that were ill, recovering from surgery or that had returned home with a new baby. Nothing says you're a friend who cares more than a hot meal for someone that's down. So today I will create some handy freezer meals to make starting the new semester at work easier to handle.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Looking in the Rear View Mirror

As the end of the year approaches, I am already planning a brand-new, fresh start for the year to come. As a teacher I really get two "New Year's Days". One in August as the school year starts with new faces and routines, and one as the next calendar turns to its first page. Both are used as a renewal in all parts of my life, although I often have higher hopes than reality allows.

So today I am spending some time looking over my shoulder to reflect on the successes and positive changes I have made over the last year. I am much more organized here at home than in years past, thanks to FlyLady and the support of my Twisters. My closets are in good order with clean clothes in season and very little clutter stashed, I shop and cook from a menu more often than not and I feel in control of my day most of the time. Having daily routines means we have a home that is comfortable for my family and ready to invite guests over regularly. Having a menu and shopping list means that I can delegate the shopping and/or the cooking too. That is definitely motivation for me.

I am also drawn now to see what goals fell by the wayside, or parts of my life that were neglected or ignored over the past year. I was really doing well with fitness in the middle of June. I cannot remember what it was that got me away from eating right and exercising regularly, but I know that by the time August rolled around, I was out of the keeping healthy loop. That is a habit that fell away, but I need to make it a goal to get back to moving five or six days a week. The part of my life that has really been neglected this year is my spiritual self. Since truth comes by hearing, and hearing comes from the word of God, I feel I need to recommit to reading God's word on a regular basis. The rest of my life will fall into place when I get His Spirit back into my life every day.

My job has been very challenging over the past year and a half, but feels especially so this school year. I do know the feeling began when I became team leader for my teaching group, and many responsibilities that I used to share with other teachers have fallen completely to me. I had all new teachers on my team last year, so I think last year's challenges are understandable. This year we only had one new teacher, but the situation has really not improved. I want to be able to walk away from work with it "finished" at the end of the day. Instead, I work until 5 or 5:30 each day, go home and after the boys are in bed I do at least another hour of tasks. In the end I am not finished and need time during the weekend to catch up. My boss has told me that if I find I have a problem, I can't complain about it unless I have a possible solution. So I have proposed passing on the team leader status to two of my more experienced teammates. They can each do the extra tasks for a quarter of the school year, and I will just do my portion of the tasks. Whew. I feel better already. Now I just need to try to work on streamlining more of what I do and become more efficient with my time at school. I want to be done at 4 p.m. every day, or at least most days. Now how do I do that?

Whatever I end up resolving, I need to remember to enjoy life and the people in it. Then I need to toss that rear view mirror aside and focus on the ride ahead.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Christmas Eve arrived with rain, lots of rain. The rain soon turned to freezing rain and then drizzle and finally a steady supply of sleet. Despite the winter storm warning, my mom, brother, sisters, brother-in law, nephews and niece arrived for a fun gathering.

Left: All Lauren wants for Christmas is her two front teeth. What a cute smile for a six year old.
Center: The Fabulous Four at our tree. Daniel is not into pictures on this day if you haven't noticed.
Right: Joe and Richard enjoying the evening.

Left: Mom opening her traditional box of candy. We also loaded her up with iTunes card to update the iPod.
Center: Santas Kevin and Robert
Right: Raymond, Kevin, Daniel (the night's drama king) and Lauren ready for their main event. Notice the pile of presents!!!!!

There was a lot of good food.

The stars of the table; on the left: Ellie's mushroom spread, my caramel popcorn and nuts, and Mom's pumpkin roll
Center: Steve, Lauren and Daniel enjoying the spread. At the end of the table is the my cherry cheesescake
Right: Ellie's mushroom spread and Joe's mexican-style 7-layer dip

We were missing Christy, Ryan, Allen and Katie. So we made phone call to Hawaii so at least Christy could join us.

Sheila, Ellie, Robert and Anne

Somewhere in all the fun, the snowstorm changed over to a blizzard. Getting home was an intense experience for all of our dear guests who set out to make it home before Santa arrived. It took my sister and mom an hour and fifteen minutes to make a usually 20 minute trip. We are talking near zero visibility. Robert ended up spending the night at Mom's.

Gann Christmas 2009

Lance, Jennifer, Jimmy and Tara

The Annual Gann Family Christmas get-together was a brunch the Saturday before Christmas at Uncle Jack and Aunt Shirley's house. We had biscuits and gravy and lots of other great treats. How did Tara get in so many pictures?

Daniel and Jack
Which way IS that train going?

The kids played several rounds of UNO.

Left: Devin, Janai and Tara. Tara only has one card. Did I hear "UNO"?

Right: Joe, Dylan, and Devin

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Autumn Activities

Wow! I can't believe it's been so long since my last blog. I'm still around. I've been working on the keeping connected front and planning to have some kind of get together or outing at least twice a month. I think of late it has been more often than that. I'll do a post later to catch up on Summer happenings (there were many), and here I'll just focus on more recent events.

Before Autumn even began I set a few plans in place of things the boys would enjoy. The list included visiting a pumpkin patch, taking a trip to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, hosting a Halloween party, hosting Thanksgiving dinner and putting up Christmas lights outside the house. I am happy to report that we have actually done the first part of the list and have the other two in our sights. I am also working on the Christmas Countdown and Cruising Through the Holidays.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Heat Is on

Summer is here. The calendar and the heat advisory that is now in effect shows that my favorite season has arrived. What do I love about Summer? I can think of many things. Here are my top ten.

10. Having weeks and weeks to get my act together
9. Being able to read a book from start to finish in a day
8. Cooling off in the pool.
7. Going to the lake in the middle of the week when it is not crowded.
6. 4th of July picnics and fireworks
5. Sleeping in until after 7, at least until the second week in August arrives
4. The big family vacation
3. Day trips on any day of the week
2. Sharing meals out on the patio
1. Spending hours and hours each day with my family. I can't seem to get enough hugs once school starts.

Did I ever mention before that I love Summer?!?!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Muscles and Moderation

I have been working on a new goal during my break. As I have been working on organizing closets and spending more time with family, I have also been working on a couple of fitness goals. I am writing this at the mid-point of one of those goals. Several weeks ago, I purchased Wii Active, a personal training system developed with many fitness experts including Bob Greene. Bob Greene is Oprah's trainer and has also authored The Best Life book and online community/health program. I think the Best Life plan is a little too intense for me personally, as I believe one should ease into change, and everything including any lifestyle changes, should be started in moderation. The Wii Active program allows you to either choose a previously designed workout, put your own workout together, or to let the program set up a 30 day fitness challenge which includes a mix of cross training and rest days. In the 30 day challenge I am working on, I have two cross train days in a row and one rest day. On the rest day I am encouraged to do other activities that benefit my health, but may not be traditionally thought of as workouts, like yard work.

So I have made it to the halfway point. I was just getting a feeling of boredom setting in and the program kicked my workout up a notch or two and added some new activities to bring some variety into each new workout. I have 13 days left to complete my 30 day challenge, and I will report back with the final results, but in the meantime, I am definately toning up muscles and increasing endurance. I am hoping this is the jump start I need to keep an ongoing fitness habit going far beond the 30 day mark.

The other fitness challenge I am involved in was developed by Jonathan Roche. I have been following Jonathan on Blog Talk Radio and his e-mail community, now found at Big Tent. I have just finished the fifth week of a twelve week challenge to move with the No Excuses Workout (NEWO) system. The goal is to move every week using intervals or the No Excuses Workout that includes all over strength training, building up to five or six days a week of alternating types of workouts and building the length of each workout as strength and endurance are gained. I started with the NEWO system in January and have dropped my resting heart rate 14 beats per minute. I have also renewed my love of running, and have brought myself to the level that allows me to do the Wii Active Challenge as well.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Summer Closets and Novels

Summer is here. For me that means a lot of time that I can plan to do as I wish. I don't have to officially report back to work for about eight more weeks, and I have a long list of things I want to do before the summer is over and I need to go back to the schedule of being away from home about 10 hours a day, five days a week. At the top of my list, before even reading a novel or sitting lake or poolside, is the desire to get my closets cleaned out.

I have been a bit surprised with how much had been stowed away into closets over the past year. I have given each closet basic clean-up time a few times over the year, but there have been far too many items that really need to go live somewhere else. They are still inhabitants of my home, hiding out in my closets waiting for someone to call out a request, or more likely, to head to a local charity.

Over the past two weeks I have cleaned out two large closets, resulting in two large trash bags full of trash that has met with my curb. It has also resulted in many items that need to take a trip; clothes that I no longer wear, books I no longer read, games we no longer play, toys and furniture the boys have outgrown, and decorative items I no longer love. There is more. I know, it really sounds like a sad story, but you get the picture. Lots of stuff ready to leave. So while sorting through my closets, I have created a few new tasks and errands. Loading up the surplus and getting it to where it can benefit someone. Since I live in the boonies and don't go to town that often, I will have to plan the trip as I go to do other errands.

My next big goal is to tame the paper monster that is looming in my desk area. It was created with a couple of desk sweeps. You know, sweeping everything off the desk and putting it into the action later box. Well now is the time for action. I have sorted through it a couple of times in search of bills, etc. It has come in handy. But now I need to decide what needs to be filed, what needs to be acted on and what needs to be trashed/shredded (FAT). I also have drawers, closets and cabinets left to sort through. And my kitchen is an elephant all its own.

The big question is, why do I put off for summer things that just eat up my lake and novel reading time? I really need to live the "Do it Now, Girl" (DING) motto. I am setting a pace to get some productive decluttering/organizing done, but I also need to make sure there is time for reading, movie watching and playing with the kids. We still haven't planned our summer trip. Or should I say, I haven't planned it yet.

Now, I'm off to watch the boys play in the pool. Where did my novel go? Oh, there it is, next to the sunscreen. I think I may actually get to finish a book or two this summer.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Day Begins

Some mornings are wonderful. I open my eyes, well rested and eager to begin whatever is on my PODA (Parade of Daily Activities). My goals are in the forefront of my mind, and I whip through my morning routines and give immediate attention to the day's priorities. I seem to have energy for anything that comes my way, and that momentum continues throughout the day.

Other mornings, I lazily stretch, get up and putter about with aimlessness. Sip my coffee or tea and think about the things I need to do, the things I would like to do, and then ponder if I am going to get anything at all accomplished, as days like this usually don't end up very productive. Sometimes that is okay, as nothing is pressing. If it happens more than a few times, I start to sink into CHAOS and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Still other mornings, I get up later than I should, rush to do what has to be done, leaving many things to be taken care of "later". Barely make it to work on time, not enough time to do any preparations before my first meeting or assignment, and the day goes on at a very hectic pace, with me playing catch up or putting out fires. I end up at home, later than planned, exhausted and in no way ready to finish the day with any energy, let alone prepare for the day to come.

Then there are those mornings that fall somewhere in between. I have to get up and out the door, I have a list of things to accomplish, and my routines are usually the only things I get done throughout the day except just a couple of focus or must do tasks. I just do what needs to be done, but there is no time left for things I would like to do. I survive the day. All seems well in the world, but I have not enjoyed most, if anything, of what the day has offered.

I have noticed that there are many factors that can predict what kind of a morning I have. Did I get enough sleep? If not I'm dragging for sure. Did I get my workout in the day before? If I did, I am sure to have energy to spare. Am I drinking enough to keep me hydrated? Did I eat well, skipping most of the sugar that bombards me in a day's time? Are my allergies bothering me? Did I take any medications for my allergies? Did I do my before bed routine, setting out clothes for the day, having my bag packed, lunch prepared, an idea of what's for dinner tonight? Did I remember to pick up an item at the store, be it milk or toothpaste or something else we just can't function without? If I really stay focused on all of these things, and make sure that they happen, the likelihood of a good morning is high.

When I have a good morning, it is highly likely I will have a good day, despite what negative forces come my way. It is a cycle that makes it possible that I will attend to the many things that will make it possible to have a good morning the next day. It is a pattern that feels very good.

The pattern continues until something comes up. What is that something? It may be that I get sick, one of the kids get sick, I have late meetings several nights in a week, early meetings many mornings in a row, weekends that are packed with activities that don't allow for down time or catching up time, and just about anything else that takes me out of the get ready for the day cycle. Once I am out of the good morning cycle, it takes much work and motivation on my part to get back into the positive. Too tired to set my clothes out or to pack tomorrow's lunch, I then get up too late since I haven't the energy I need since I am somehow no longer exercising, getting enough water or watching what I am eating.

And the motivation to get back on track for me usually requires some force outside of myself. A big motivator for me are the workout DVDs and equipment that are kept very handy and usually visible in my home. I finally start paying attention to the daily or weekly e-mails from very motivating people. The act that needs the first bit of motivation is to move, to somehow, some way, just get up and move. A little moving leads to more moving. Movement brings energy to do all the things that I need to do to get back into a positive lifestyle pattern. A positive lifestyle pattern leads to good mornings and good days. I am watching out for the motivation stealers. I know they are coming. They are just one over-extension of my time away from taking away my good days.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Counting the Days

It is time to get it together. I have a wonderfully long Summer Break coming soon. Usually I spend the first week or so just chilling out in recovery of the school year...not this time. I have no stress from which to recover. Well nothing other than the high work load, and that will end when my contract days are done. It has been a very good year. I've been blessed at work with great kids, great parents, and better yet, great friends to work with every day. I almost don't want it to end. I am losing a teacher from my team this year. She is moving on with her military family. So I will savor her company while she is still here. The school year ending is almost always bittersweet.

So on for, "How am I not going to let the summer pass without getting out of it all that I want?" First I must reflect on my past summer habits. Five years ago, I had a very stressful year of work. I was in a contract and had to endure a very tough year. It took me the last months of my contract and the first two weeks of summer to get a new contract in a much better work environment. I spent the rest of the summer on recovery. The last three summers I have kind of fell into the same pattern...and not properly planned for the summer. I did plan a family vacation and a few trips to the lake, but I did not get to any of my summer's agenda.

This year I am going to have a much bigger and broader plan. I am not going to plan every day down to the last minute of detail, but I am going to set goals for days and weeks. So where to begin? My plans are to sleep in from time to time, but I will also rise early to enjoy the coolness that only morning brings in the summer season. Early morning rising also usual means a more productive day for me, so if I have a day of tasks or somewhere to be, I will be up as soon as the sun hits the horizon.

I am going to read a lot this year. I have no babies or toddlers to care for minute by minute anymore, no lesson plans to create, time on my hands and a very long list of books I want to read. I have the Twilight series on the top my list. I have ordered the books, so will have my own copies to share with family, friends or students after I finish them myself. I also have to read the next Shopaholic books. Enjoyed the first one so much, I'm looking forward to reading the next books in the series. I will search for recommendations when I finish with those, but have considered reading the Harry Potter books...probably a too tall order for my summer, but something I am considering. What do you think?

During the first week I am going to work on closets. I have a friend that will be working on hers as well.It is always nice to have a buddy when working on projects. We have committed to a closet a day on the first week after school is out. I also have a Twitter friend that has agreed to work on intense decluttering with me once our break begins. I think getting all of that out of the way at the beginning (and I don't see it taking more than a week or so- you do believe me, right?), leaves me time to plan other outrageously fun activities for the summer. Last year we didn't get to the lake much because it rained what seemed to be every other day until August. We squeezed in a few lake trips, but did get rained on every time we went out. The running joke last year was that I got my workouts putting the cushions off the patio furniture every time it rained and then back on again as soon as the rain clouds passed. Who wants to sit on wet cushions, right?

I have yet to even begin to plan our "get away from it all" vacation. I usually have an idea by now where we are headed, and generally when we will go so Joe and any of the older boys that are interested can arrange their schedules for time off. This year we do have family that is planning to head this way, and I don't want to be out of town when they come so I am waiting to hear when they are headed here. As far as planning the actual trip, I can usually do that within just a week or two. I prefer to drive and see the sights since we have some time off. Or, I should more accurately say Joe does the driving. I am the navigator. We sometimes reserve a room before we leave home, other times we stop when and where we are done for the day. Every trip has its own unique memories, although our trips are frequent enough they start to run together in my mind. This is definitely a great thing. I love that my kids are getting so many great experiences, and I really enjoy the chance to travel so often.

So the countdown begins. Not because I need the break, but because it is coming nonetheless. I want to spend some time with family and friends, and to make our home a place where we can enjoy each others company. I want to be ready to make it a summer that at the end I will feel as if I lived it well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Reconnecting with Facebook

In my latest blog, I shared my experience with the social networking site Twitter. I wasn’t using Twitter long, and was really enjoying connecting with family and some friends from my groups when I pointed out what I liked about using Twitter to my oldest son Joe. He let me know that it looked like Twitter was a simplified version of Facebook. “Facebook? What is Facebook? Isn’t it a lot like My Space? Isn’t it another one of those online hang outs for kids, but more so college kids?” I had had friends that had invited me to join, and people from my list serve groups were joining and writing about how great it was. There were even people on Blog Talk Radio shows talking about connecting to their group or fan pages. I had been unsure. My son told me I needed to check it out myself. I directly got on it and signed up for an account, invited a few people, and soon found my sister and a few of my cousins. It wasn’t long and I found a few more friends and family and I was hooked.

Is it addictive? No more so than Twitter. I guess that is my elusive way of saying, YES, it can be, and big time. Facebook is a social networking website, and reportedly growing at this point by about a half a million new profiles opening up each day. The group that is growing fastest is the over 30 crowd. Since I have joined Facebook, I have heard it referenced over and over again in the media. It has been the topic of discussion with family and friends. My class and I were watching the Channel One news program shown at school, and it was covering a story about high school kids giving up Facebook for lent. Of course many of the kids in my class have to be very close to their cell phones as they like to send texts before they can even get out of the school building at the end of the day. But even they are buzzing about their parents, and even a few of them, having Facebook accounts.

So what do I like about Facebook? I love having the ability to connect with friends and family. I can see what is going on in their lives and share what is going on in mine. I send out updates by answering the question, “What are you doing?” and now the recent question, “What’s on your mind?” All of my friends should be able to see my update, and will have the opportunity to comment as well. I can send people I have connected to, known as my friends, messages only they can see to their inboxes, or write on their “wall”, and then they, or anyone else that sees their wall, can see my message. I can comment on my friends’ updates, and comments can continue for as long as there is an interest. My friends and family can keep track of me in real time, or just check in for updates from time to time. I can join and support a cause with a real life impact, find friends from past or present schools, jobs or other groups in which I have been a part. There are groups and (fan) pages that allow people with similar interests to find each other and to connect through wall posts or discussion groups on the pages.

I like the many applications that can be used. The types of applications are really diverse. There are quizzes that are fun to take and tell you things like what your theme song is. There are a wide variety of games and simulations that you can challenge your friends and others on Facebook to play. I have tried out an application that allows me to identify my relatives that are on my friends list, and how I am related to them. There are more practical applications, like ones that let my tweets on Twitter update my Facebook as well. Send someone a drink, or a hug, or chocolates…all virtually, and all in fun. Well then it is also possible to have someone throw a snowball or shoe at me, or me at them. Good thing it is a virtual throw, and that it’s my “friend” sending it my way, or receiving it with a smile.

I am now feeling a bit of angst. While I love the Facebook that I signed up for those many weeks ago, Facebook has changed the format of the site (again, so I hear) and now everything seems to be a jumbled mess instead of the simple set up I started using. And when I used to have no problem finding my applications that are not actually a part of Facebook, I find that with the “new” format it is not easy to find them. I’m sure that I don’t like it at all, but with my Blackberry application on my phone( I loaded mine the day before the new Facebook came out) I still get the organization of the January through mid-March Facebook format that I am used to using. That does make me happy. Within the entire jumble of information, I am still staying connected to my friends, looking at pictures and reading updates and enjoying the many groups I have chosen to be a part of and applications that I have decided to use.

If you haven’t signed up for Facebook yet, I challenge you to give it a try. Find a few friends or family members to be your friends, or find your whole crew from your past and present. If you can’t find someone on the Facebook people search, you can send them an invitation through e-mail to join you on Facebook. Spend some time getting the hang of sending updates out, and try out new things as you feel you are ready.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Staying Connected with Twitter

There are a lot of people that I would love to keep in contact, but the fact is with work and kids and other activities going on it is often hard to keep in contact with people that I don't see regularly. Friends from the old school, extended family, people I have worked with in the past and people that have just been good friends are with the group that I classify as, "I wish we could get together," and "What have you been up to lately?" The remedy has come with social networking.

I do know the social website My Space. My older kids and their cousins and friends have been using it for years. I have steered clear as it seemed to be full of kids and topics that were not worthy of my time. I did open up an account at one time, but did not do much with it as it seemed to be a time consuming place that did not hold my interest for long and I couldn't find anyone that I knew besides one of my husband's cousins and the kids. Before you can find someone you must know their nickname, or their homepage URL. Individual's nicknames could change, even daily, so you almost need an invite from someone to find people not going by their real names on My Space. That has changed recently, and now those that are part of My Space can use their nickname on their website, but can be found with a search of their real name. It's optional at this time to add your real name to your profile. Each My Space home page has the option of personalizing many different features that are entirely up to the wishes and technical ability of the individual. Again, I do not spend time here, and have promised my kids to ignore them there. I am by no means knocking My Space. It has an audience, and has opened many people's eyes on how it could be done even better.

My next experience with social networking started during my summer vacation this past year. I encountered people in my groups asking me to "tweet" them. I ignored them at the time, as it didn't seem to be something I had the time or energy to explore. The requests increased and by Christmas break this year I was part of the Twitter phenomenon. It didn't take me long to get the hang of making updates and doing searches. Soon I had download Tweetdeck and Twitterfox to make checking updates from friends, networks and groups easier. Twitter is not complicated at all. I have control of who follows me, and that is the term Twitter uses for who can see my updates. Only those that are following me, that I reply to, or if my profile is not protected, those that look at my profile, can see my updates. I can be open so that anyone, following me or not, can see my updates. I can also have the choice of protecting my updates, which means that only those that I allow to "follow" me can see my updates. If I choose to protect my updates, my profile will not be listed on the "timeline" for others to find me. It is always my choice. If I follow someone, they have allowed my to see their updates in real time, or the next time I log in to Twitter or the platforms that support Twitter. I use Tweetdeck and Twitterfox to check my tweets if I don't have my homepage online.

Another really cool feature that Twitter has is the Twitter search. If I go to the search site, I can search for any word or phrase, and the most current updates containing that word or phrase will show up. I belong to several tweet groups, and we find each other by putting a hash symbol "#" followed by a key or code term. Then anytime we want to find what others are saying to everyone in the group we search for that group's code (i.e. #sxsw). And anytime we want to put out a message for the whole group to see, we simply use the hash symbol and term in our update. Then anyone in the group will see that update. If you are just curious about what others are saying about a topic, then do a search on a word or phrase and see how many times it turns up on Twitter (i.e. NCAA).

Another feature with Twitter is choice of anonymity. When you sign up you choose a user name and have the option of also including your real name so that your friends and others can find you to follow you. You also have a place to write a brief description of who you are so that those searching can know if you are really the one they are looking for on Twitter. But you may just go by a user name in which no one really knows who you are. Others will decide to keep you in their follow group or let you follow them based on what you say in your updates. There are also those that simply collect as many followers, and people to follow, as they can, as if it says something about their worth. I am being a bit judgmental. There are some perfectly legitimate reasons for someone having 139, or 317, or even more followers. Maybe they really do have a large circle of friends and family that have found them on Twitter. Maybe they write an awesome blog, or do a weekly podcast or some kind of TV, radio or internet program. Maybe they are know for other reasons and simply have a following. Hey, I follow Santa Claus. I think it is really cool. (Note to skeptics: He does a weekly program on Blog Talk Radio. You should check it out.)

So what are the basics of an update? It is like blogging, but much shorter. It is like an instant message, but it goes out to everyone that is following you. You are limited to 140 characters to get your message across. Your message goes out to anyone that is following you as soon as they check their homepage or if they check your profile. If your updates are protected, only those you have cleared to follow you will see your updates or see your profile page. Your update can be about anything you are doing, thinking about, have finished or are planning to do. When you send out updates, keep in mind you are sending a message to your followers, or in the case of sending out to a group, the group members are your audience. Make sure that your message is appropriate for your intended audience. If you are tweeting friends, then by all means tell them where you are going, what you are eating, what you are feeling about current situations. If you are tweeting a following of sorts, as in people who follow you because you are a public figure, they may not care what you ordered at Taco Bell or that you are mad about your cell phone reception. Then of course, I think of the Shakespearean phrase, "To thine own self be true." That is my motto, and is why I just write whatever is important to me at the time of my tweet. If people don't like who you are or what you tweet, well, what are they following you for?

To find me on Twitter, sign up for your own account and then look for me, slmar. You can see my latest tweets here on my blog. Happy Tweeting!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Putting the Water on

There were days, many years ago, when I would watch “Star Trek” or “The Jetsons” and wish I could have the dishes done, beds made, floors swept, doors open, get any information I needed and basically have any chore done with the simple pushing of a button or a voice command to the computer. Others with more time and resources have ventured into delivering the automation so many of us have wished for over the years. I have grown to appreciate all of the newest innovations that were developed since watching the futuristic programs that depicted the drudgery basically eliminated from the lives of their characters. These thoughts were fresh in my mind this morning as I got up to put on the coffee water. I should have the ability to get up at the appointed time finding the water has already been heated and dripped down into the waiting pot. I bought the pot with this feature over a week ago to replace a coffee maker that no longer worked. I tried to see if I could set it without looking at the directions the day I took the coffee maker out of the box. I had a pot with the timer feature before, and it did not seem this complicated to set it. I would have to refer to the directions, later. The next morning I got up to get my coffee, and told myself I would add setting the coffee pot timer to my before bed routine. And since I had already put my coffee water on for that morning, I simply went on with my day.

This has repeated day after day, with my intention to get back to the directions and set the timer and make my next morning a little easier. “I’ll do it when I have time,” I tell myself. Now it has become a joke, me the techie who longed for automation wanting someone else to come along and set my timer. How hard can it be? So finally, out come the directions. They were still in my "to file" pile. The sad part is it took all of 60 seconds to see what I needed to do and to set my coffeemaker for tomorrow morning. The saying, "You have to take time to make time," rolls through my head. I'm glad I didn't have to call the Geek Squad on this one.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Catch Up Day

I always like to plan a buffer day between when I return from a trip and when I have to jump back into the world at work. It doesn't matter if it is a long trip or a shorter one, I need a day to get my head back into the routines of life. It is a good thing that I do not travel for my job, although I love to travel. I just would need time to stabilize my footing after each return.

Today is no different. I am just returned from a short trip (5-6 hours in the van each, there and back again) and had to reconnect with e-mail and internet networks. Then I start to prepare for tomorrow. What will I wear? What will we eat? What is on my schedule? Then I can chill out a bit before reporting in. Once back into the thick of the days to come I can start planning my next trip. Now where am I headed next time?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cousin Fun

My sister Anne and I formed a plan to get the kids out of the house and do some shopping. We took them to a Chuckie Cheese that had JC Penney's very near. The kids had fun. We got to shop a good sale. Win, Win!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Blogoversary to Slmar's World

A year of writing on my blog has been an enjoyable experience. Thank you for visiting! More pictures and updates to come on my journey to get connected to people and more organized overall!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Year of Blogging

I have enjoyed the opportunity to blog my experiences and thoughts over the past year, and it is encouraging that others are enjoying reading it as well. Many of you are coming back again and again. Thank you for sharing my journey.

Over the next year I am going to work on simplifying my life and keeping focused. Every year it seems I am a bit more organized than the year before. But I still seem to have so many things going on, so I want to prioritize and then get rid of things that I truly do not, and will not, have time to do. Then I will streamline my time so that I can actually focus on the things that I do think are important. Scheduling time to do what is important for me and my family is my goal. Not just to say it, but to actually carve out a time and do it.

Things that are new I am trying this year;
*Twitter-lots of fun connecting with family and FLYFriends
*Facebook-connecting with cousins mostly at this time
*Focus on one plan-my plan

The things I want to do more regularly this year;
*Spend time with family- immediate and extended
*Family play day at least twice a month
*Game night at least once a month-we have times where game nights are frequent and then a pause
*Get fit- I have really let this one go over the past year

Things I want to keep doing this year;
*Take trips-short and long, with family
*Get rid of clutter as it comes in, or as I re-prioritize-at home and work
*Routines-at home and work
*Budget resources
*Save for rainy days, fun days(birthdays, trips and Christmas) and retirement days

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More Tech Updates

Okay, since I have gone to a DSL internet connection, I also needed to get a more portable e-mail address and e-mail program. I have downloaded Windows Live and am getting it up and running. I love that it has imported my messages and even folders from some of my other e-mail addresses, including one that I hadn't used in over two years ago. Yikes. I deleted a bunch of very old messages and am working on getting my contacts the information they need to change my address on their contact lists.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Twenty-first Century Toys and Tools

Getting the hang of using new technology can sometimes be time consuming. I always wonder as I am learning how to use the latest gadget or program I adopt if it will actually enhance my life or at the very least help me to manage my time and resources. Some technology can prove to be a complete distraction from all of my goals, and some make my ends I am striving for so much easier to reach.

Satellite television has been in our home for many years, but over the past two years we have enjoyed a tool called a DVR that lets us not only record programs we like or want to watch for a time that is convenient for us, but it also allows the pausing of live TV so that people can come first. We can also "rewind" to parts we missed and if we are watching recorded, or previously paused, materials, we can fast forward through the commercials. I call it an enhancement, as I am only watching things I choose to watch, and I am not stuck with whatever is on the tube when I have free time. I can also do things in my life and still catch programming that I would have otherwise missed. Once I watch I can delete it from the disk. Each disk can store one to two hundred hours of memory, and about a sixth or that if we use HD. If I want to keep the program, I can burn it to a DVD for repeated watching. Although I did have a VCR that would do that job for almost two decades, the DVR is much more convenient. My dependency on the DVR had got to the point that if I was watching a program on a TV without the DVR, I missed the ability to pause. That is no longer an issue as we now have that ability on each TV.

I use Outlook at work to keep a list of tasks that are not daily routines and the status for each task. I use the electronic calendar, reminder system and of course the e-mail management within the program too. The program stays open throughout the day and is updated when needed and referred to many times each work day. It is my first link to co-workers, and the program helps me keep track of my work responsibilities outside of daily routines and upcoming events. Please note that there are many new types of technology at work that I do not use yet. I am hesitant because they will take such a large chunk of time to learn to use them before I could make them a part of my lessons. I do have a goal to add many as the years progress. But as I do, they will have to prove to be either efficient or motivating or they will not be continued.

The iPod is another tech tool that has proven handy, and I have only been using that over the past year. I can put anything from my music and book CDs onto this gadget including favorite songs and current Bible readings. I also download podcasts from radio or TV shows that are on while I am normally working and books or songs that I like. I can mix the songs from CDs or computer downloads into a variety of play lists, and listen depending on my current mood or activity. I listen to the iPod while I commute or while doing cleaning around the house. I am continuing to fine tune how I use the iPod so that it remains a positive part of my life. It has proven a real time saver since I am listening to podcasts or books on tape while traveling each day. It serves me as a motivating tool as I listen to podcasts or upbeat music while doing boring home tasks. I really enjoy my commutes and doing household chores with my iPod. My next step is to add it to my exercise time. I have done this before, but not with any regularity. I am currently downloading music designed for interval workouts and music for brisk walks or running from iTunes.

My newest and latest technology discovery has been an instant messaging site called Twitter. The nice thing about it is it is not like other instant message sites. It is real time, but if I am away from the computer, it will keep track of everyone I am following and their updates. I can follow other people as they answer the question, "What are you doing?" I can choose who follows me, send invitations to friends and family, lock or leave open who sees my updates, and block others from seeing my updates when and if I choose. I have only been using it for a week, but it has proven a wonderful tool so far. I can't use it at work, but that is probably a good thing. I do keep in touch with family and friends, and that is quite nice.

I am far from being ahead of the curve with technology, but with the encouragement from some Internet friends and my boys that do not know life without technology, I am at least in the game part time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Back at School

I knew yesterday would be tough. I have had my share of return to teaching days to know, and this time I was prepared to the point I had done all of my tasks for yesterday, except personal care, auto-routines and teaching itself. I am so glad that I did, and I will get back to the weekly routines today.

Christmas is completely packed away. A few strays from school got packed up this morning and all the tubs and tins are in the storage closet.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Taking care of something right away most often means much less work than letting it go until later. The saying was published in a book by Thomas Fuller back in the 18th century. The concept is as equally true for a stitch in clothing that breaks open and needs repaired as it is to many tasks that I encounter day to day. If you are someone that mends your children's clothing (I am not) then it would be better to repair a break in a seam when it first occurs than to have it worn and the break in the stitches gets larger meaning more work for you. If something is spilled, it is far less effort to clean it up right away than to let it dry or set.

It took me many years, and some insight from my friend the FLYLady, to understand that if you clean something before it even looks dirty or dusty it is much less effort than waiting until it looks like it needs cleaned. If I use a duster every day or two, I don't see dust. I spend two minutes or less each day doing a quick "swish and swipe" in my bathroom, and it stays clean. If the boys go in and get toothpaste on the counter or mirror, we just clean it up then instead of waiting until "cleaning day". I don't let rooms get past a five-ten minute pick-up, and then we do the pick-up when we are finished with the room for the day, or at least that part of the day.

Then there are the things that need to be done and are tasks that are ongoing, like cooking meals, cleaning dishes, washing clothes, and sweeping the kitchen floor. If these things get done routinely they require much less effort than letting them go until they need to be done. It relieves much stress to have these done regularly too. There will be no scramble for someone whom is out of clean socks or jeans. There will be no urgency when dinner needs cooked and the pan is still dirty from an earlier meal. I say, "No thanks," to procrastination. I want peace and time to enjoy life.

I have learned that preparation saves time too. It is as simple as that. It makes me more effective at home and at work. If I sit down and plan what I am going to do from hour to hour during the day it becomes my map for reference. If I know what is for dinner, or have at least planned and shopped for a well stocked pantry, getting that meal on the table at our family's dinnertime is very doable. On the other end, and I have been there before, the question of what is for dinner was asked when it was too late to thaw out meat or stop to pick up a missing ingredient and I either needed to pick up a pre-made/fast food meal or drag the family out impromptu to a restaurant and hope we ate and got back home at a decent hour. More likely though, I would throw something else together and it took longer to prepare and often lacked the quality I wanted for my family. So a bit of planning and stocking up makes the evening hours much less chaotic, and we can focus on spending time together, catching up on what happened that day and then start our preparations for the next day.