Here I Go Again

The coming of spring brings anticipation for more pleasant activities than those of the frigid winter: gardening, green things, walking without 10 lbs of clothing…and time for the annual list of things to fix up in the old house!

I bought my 1920s bungalow six years ago with the naive thought “I’ll have this place fixed up six months…one year tops.” Six YEARS later and I’m…close!

As with all old house remodeling, and those who have done this before know this well (while those who haven’t should pay attention), you can plan all you want but the house goes by its own plans. Serendipity and surprise go hand in hand when thinking “I’ll just tear out this wall and put in a bigger closet door!” The simple notion of “tearing out” doesn’t really do justice to discovery, adaptation, and the ensuing requisite six trips to the local hardware/building store during said tear out. But, with patience (and a healthy stock of band-aids), things do get accomplished, even if not exactly as planned.

This year’s much-anticipated remodel falls to that holy grail of comfort for an old house: removing the old hot water heating boiler and installing central air and heat. Life after this year’s effort will be far more comfortable, although nothing beats the heat of the old boiler systems: constant, simple, quiet (excluding the comforting creaks and groans of pipe expansions). But time and toil wears everything down and this old boiler is now below 40% efficiency, so time to move it to the old boiler’s rest home down the street.

As always when remodeling an old house, one action causes two, which in turn causes four, which– you get the idea. The new HVAC will, in order of fun, result in 1) moving a LOT of furniture in the house to gain access to remove the baseboard radiators and install grilles, 2) moving all sorts of crap around in the basement to make room for the new furnace, 3) require wall and baseboard repairs and paint where the old baseboard strips were, 4) domino into new flooring in the two rooms with carpet and linoleum (you think the original flooring installers neatly installed those all the way to the walls under the baseboard radiators?), and 5) an unknown delight. There’s always an unknown delight when working on an old house. Always.

When it’s all done (by end of May!) the summer should be far more pleasant and the utility bills far lower. Definite win-win, but I’m running out of house remodel projects after this big one. Not that that’s a bad thing, I just won’t know how to act if something major’s not in flux each year in this old house.



Place. Home. Location. Are these synonymous? As I give more thinking weight to where I’ll live once I’ve completed the traditional job cycle, retire, and proceed down the path labeled retirement (not in the stereotypical sense, but shift from being controlled to controlling what I do), I’m pondering all that it means to choose (versus by default) where to live.

Place, in this wide sense, is both the physical structure defining one’s domicile, and the civilized structure where it’s located. Call it town, village, city, woods, or whatever, where ones home physically sits takes on more significance when one realizes this could be it: this could be the last home to live in before it’s time for senile, bed-pan days.

My parents controlled their place pretty far into their human spans, with my father passing while they lived in their choice, and my mother a blessed short time in assisted living (more like an apartment than nursing home). That is, for many, the optimal path: control the where throughout the when and rely on elderly societal systems as little as possible when the end draws near.

While health, capabilities, and mental faculties all play pivotal roles in these choices, for my parents their third variable in their equation was their stuff. Lots of stuff. Said stuff had veto power on which dwelling to ensure no stuff was left behind. Said stuff dictated the need for big rooms, big closets, and big dusting chores. I remember one of the early Florida high-rise apartments they lived in was barely large enough for their stuff. My father, being the progenitor of my ability to spatial see things fitting, used his determination like a bridge-building engineer would, to get everything to fit. This apartment, however, more resembled a furniture store with its labyrinth-like foot paths through the wood and fabric filling each room seemingly to the max, yet allowing these secondary human residents to move about the maze. Did I mention lots of stuff?

I tell that story to emphasize why I’ll be more prepared than they for my next, since I’ve begun a healthy pursuit of stuff minimalism. Oh, not the true, sterile twig-and-a-cushion approach magazines love to visually offer, but a minimalism that fits my credo: I keep what I will honestly use, gives me joy, or provides a functional service for my life and its pursuits. Some of that definition is too broad, but in reality I am tight with the rules.

Embracing minimalism has some interesting benefits, from less space to more time and fewer responsibilities. All my stuff is used frequently (or, on my rules, it moves on to another to enjoy). I do have keepsakes, but only a few. And I have no parental urge to drag a bunch of spawn-destined stuff through my remaining years just so my boys can stare at it and think “Why did Dad think we’d want this?” Or worse: “Hey bro, can you believe Dad had this??” They already have what they need and like for the most part. Sure, there’s a few family hand-me-downs, but emphasis on the few. I remember my grandmother passing and none of her kids or grandkids or great-grandkids by then, could use anything. Everything ended up filling my parent’s garage for later donation, and that timeless cycle repeated itself after my parent’s passing.



I knew Old Man Winter had not forgotten us. The fluctuating tease of spring over the last weeks was too early to pack up the winter clothes, lubricate and store the snow blower, and start getting the garden tools ready.

Snow and cold came in yesterday like an unwelcomed moocher Uncle who stays too long defying the proven three-days-for-fish-and-relatives axiom. While we did not get nailed to the extent the east coast did, it’s still cold as a witches-you-know-what and messy enough to be the bad cousin of postcard-picture-worthy winter wonderland.

Seasons are part of what I love about living in the midwest. The renewal of spring, the enthusiasm of summer, the settling in of autumn, and the reflective mantra of winter – all of these provide variety through the year and if one is tuning to nature and body, we adapt accordingly to each season’s best benefits. When these naturally paced transitions are messed with (thank you Mr. Global Warming) it throws everything off. Last year’s odd spring-to-summer shift messed with my vegetable garden and little grew correctly or predictably, despite following the cardinal rule (in my neck of the woods) to wait until after the traditional last frost after Mother’s Day to plant and wait for bountiful vegetable crops.

Last year, as was this year, I ran the snowblower once (and that was guilt-driven from not using, not need). The year before that it seemed every week I was clearing paths down the sidewalk for school kids and negotiating my then pothole-riddled concrete driveway for car access. Last year finally also celebrated the arrival of a new asphalt driveway whose extra benefit comes via blackness and simple solar science. For years I’d feign envy over my neighbors almost-self-clearing asphalt driveway. I yearned for my drive to be self-clearing, too, and last year my yearning bore fruit: except that was the Year of the Wimpy Winter. I kept my dissapointment to myself since few around me would think me sane for wishing for snow, snow, and more snow.

I remember my first snow year with the blower and my keen interest in clearing everything edge-to-edge. A few heavier storms into that season and soon I was content as a squirrel in a warm, winter’s nest when I accepted the rationale that I only needed to clear a path down the sidewalk, and only one side of the drive for my one car.

As this year’s season of snow winds down, I’m not wishing for more opportunities to bundle up like an eskimo to clear snow. I’m content if we let this one go in the record books and we ease into the ever-anticipated green spring. After all, the flowers, squirrels and birds out in force the last few weeks surely know more than I on seasonal timing, and they all seem to believe spring has sprung, or will soon. Before long, it will be time to summerize the snow blower and prep the lawn mower for it’s time in the sun.

Morning Habit

I’ve done various mental morning jump-starters over the years, but what I’m using now is, I think (at least for me), an optimum morning threesome that gets me energized, peaceful, and ready for the day. In order of how I execute them:

  • 3Ts – Using my DayOne app on the iPad, I do a quick mental start by answering three questions (pix below).
  • Morning Pages – Open topic journaling for two pages using a fountain pen in my Nanimi (Tomoe River paper) A5 journal. And on occasion, I set a topic to write to (e.g., motivation, happiness, etc.). Usually last 15 minutes and usually light a candle before starting.
  • Meditation – 15 minutes with a meditation gong timer, typically spent centering/quieting using a follow-my-breath practice, but sometimes a mantra-based effort. On the mornings I miss doing this, I feel the difference.

2016 Year-End Retreat

Most years as December approaches I start to work out when I’m going to take a few days for an annual process I really enjoy: the year-end look-back/plan-forward exercise. This activity is really quite simple in execution, but challenging in getting honest, quality responses down and then being realistic yet stretching me for the year ahead.

For years, my tool of choice to record this effort has been Scrivener, and this year was no exception. Although I do lightly tweak the template I use, I try to keep the topic substance about the same from year to year so I can compare back years if necessary.

In years past, I’ve used flip charts, big white boards, or just pads to do the thinking that leads to what ends up in the template. This year, perhaps because I’ve done this often enough where the process is more familiar, or the time spent thinking about it got me ready earlier than usual, I did the entire exercise using a Field Notes Steno notebook and my MacBook Air. Remembering back to the first year I did this when I had lots of flip chart sheets up all over walls, I love the simplicity and focus I’ve evolved in doing this year-end recap.

I’ve snagged some screen shots below that show the skeleton of the process and one sample page from my file. I think it’s pretty clear from there how it works. So I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, but feel free to post any questions in the comments and I’ll be happy to discuss things further! And if you’re wondering if it’s too late to launch your own, it’s not. Have a go!

For those who have Scrivener, you can grab my template here if you’d like to follow my workflow or modify as you need.

SpaceX Notebooks: Out of this World?

SpaceX Pack and StickerThere are so many notebooks on the market that it’s easy to become numb to yet-another-notebook debuting. Not this time.

Back Pocket Notebooks released this three-pack, space-theme set of notebooks a little while ago. A UK-based outfit, they seem focused on finding cracks in the notebook niche market and filling it with some interesting projects! SpaceX is their second notebook release (the first being a set of responsive design notebooks), and their third project-in-the-works is an ambitious undertaking: a nine-notebook set celebrating our solar system! Wow (sneak preview here).

But, today we’re focused on a less ambitious mission, that of exploring Phobos & Deimos, Olumpus Mons, and Valles Marineris, or more precisely, the SpaceX notebook three-pack.

Although many may not be familiar with these space destinations, all will be with the standard pocket notebook size of 3-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ although with slightly fewer pages (36) than typical page counts for pocket notebooks. But that sacrifice is more than overcome by the cover and inside paper choices and the quality print/bindery work. The covers, beefy 300gsm (~110#) off-white, wrap around 120gsm (~70-80#) white inside pages with a small, reticle grid format. I’m not a fan of Field Notes’ reticle grids, but the SpaceX reticle cross symbols are much smaller and I think I may like reticle presenting like this. My first glance upon receiving the pack for review was “Oh nice, dot grids…” but are actually small, light-grey crosses.

The notebooks do not have the ubiquitous rounded outside corners, but instead a clean, square edge that echos the square edge of the cover art nicely. The covers, which is part of what stands these apart from other notebooks, have printed space posters released to the public to emulate tourist travel posters advertising exotic space vacations. The covers are clearly eye-catching and dream-inspiring. Who among us hasn’t wished on travel to the stars and planets?

All that said, how does the paper perform? In a word, excellent. Graphite felt really nice, with just the slightest tooth. My Blackwing 602 did exhibit slight smearing, but in tolerable range for me. Fountain pens, the usual death-knell for most of my notebook tests, surprised me with a great experience leaving no bleed, show-through, and retaining expected nib-width lines and was a good feel to write on.

SpaceX Notebook Test-Insides

As of this writing, I believe these are only available direct from Back Pocket or from If I find out who might be carrying them stateside I’ll update this review. That said, a test checkout at showed the three-pack at 12 pounds ($15.50) and standard shipping at 5 pounds ($6.50) so not too bad for stateside notebook enthusiasts.

If you’re a space or sci-fi fan these definitely belong in your rotation. Yet the cover art and the overall quality should be appealing to anyone who enjoys a visually stunning quality pocket notebook that works well across the usual writing tools!

SpaceX Notebook Covers


Two packs were provided to me by for the purpose of this review. I used one for sampling, which leaves FIVE single notebooks to giveaway (and two awesome stickers that I’ll randomly tossed in two winners’ packets) to FIVE lucky winners!

How can you win one? Simple: comment which is your favorite cover below and/or on one of the Facebook posts for this review and I’ll draw five names for the notebooks giveaway next Sunday (Aug. 21). Oh, and this time…anyone can win…U.S. or international.