December 8th, 2013

A Year of Decluttering

I've always been fairly ... productive. Good at completing tasks, type of thing. However, there have been persistent problems associated with my process, and I've been trying to consciously identify them and mitigate them for the last year or so. One of the biggest changes has been converting my OMG I Can't Stand It Any More motivational system to, hey, anything interesting on that list that looks easy to do? I've always been able to maintain somewhat functional lists, but after thoroughly digesting GTD, I made some small adjustments (no f'ing way was I going to adopt the system as described) and Things Have Improved.

However, reading _Personal Kanban_ made me realize that there were other problems associated with my process, that GTD didn't address (or at least the modified form that I had adopted didn't address). The biggest one is a pervasive failure to remember what I accomplished. I don't mean that I think it still needs to be done -- but when asked what I did, I have no ready answer.

So I'm going to do something I don't really ever do, which is a year-end review. The Daily Activities posts help with this problem, as do Trip Reports after traveling; I'm hoping this will also help me. Feel free to TL;DR.

At the very beginning of the year, I scrapbooked a bunch of Christmas cards from years gone by. This is forming the basis for actually sending out holiday cards this year. I'm really happy about this. Of course, I have to finish. In a timely fashion (but good news! I'm about a third of the way done with addressing envelopes, and of course I actually placed and received the SnapFish order).

I identified why the bottom drawer of my lateral file was a nightmarishly persistent disaster: it contained projects that were not complete. I worked my way through many of them. It is Much Better Now.

I got rid of paper phone books, and opted out of receiving as many of them as I could. I got half a drawer back in the kitchen. Very exciting! (I'm serious.)

I continue to fiddle with electronic calendars and continue to rely on paper calendars. Good news: I'm now using paper calendar features I never have bothered with before (stickers and similar for No School and Travel and Birthdays). Maybe in 2014.

I got the iMac out of the basement, removed photos from it, erased it and took it to BestBuy. I also got the Powerbook laptop erased (thank you, DH) and off to Staples. I also transitioned from my current aging laptop to a new one, and send the old one in for a $400 Apple Store gift card. Three computers out the door and 2 in (I got one for my son). I view this as progress. In the course of transitioning to the new laptop, which does not have an optical drive, I ripped all my CDs into iTunes Match, gave the CDs to my sister and am now listening to music much more consistently.

As I was working on that project, I realized I could convert the interstitial space between the master bedroom and the closet to an office. I bought a desk, moved my office chair downstairs, got an external monitor, took the optical drive and external hard drive peripherals out of the lateral file drawer and created a docking station. I love it! I had the space painted yellow, went to CVS to get photo prints made from some vacation photos, put them into a frame we had in the basement. I now spend a lot of time there that I formerly spent sitting in the living room with the laptop ... in my lap.

I had thought I would put the desk on the third floor, initially, and dramatically reduced the amount of files I keep in a (failed) effort to get rid of a filing cabinet. Along the way, I found a piece of string art from my child hood in the files and had it framed. I was less successful getting some of my old writing up on my website (some is up; most still has to be done). I also sent many books that I loved, that I thought my sister would love, to my sister. Then I got her a kindle and she doesn't read p-books any more now either. Win some, lose some.

With most of my photos now up on Flickr, I'm able to organize them (all the pictures of my son together, my daughter, various trips, etc.), and use them for projects, such as illustrating my online cookbook.

With more space in the basement, I decided I could get a recumbent stationary bicycle for exercise. We're occasionally using it, and we got one adjustable enough for T. to use it as well. This was intended to replace the broken SmartCycle, but the kids missed it so much, I ordered a used one off of eBay, and hooked it up to an old, unused small flatscreen TV, along with a Roku box. We had intended to put it, along with the cable box and an old TiVo out on the porch, but never got around to it. The cable box went back to Verizon (thus saving us a few shekels every month in box rent that we were no longer paying); I'm not sure what we did with the TiVo -- probably BestBuy.

Smaller things: Every Day Carry evolved for me, after I got a Speck iPhone case that will hold a few cards/bills. I often leave the house with the phone and keys and no purse, and I remain legal to drive and able to buy. Woot! R.'s old CRT TV went to Best Buy, along with the PlayStation 2 and its accessories. I continue to use Catalog Choice. This year, I used a new-to-me feature to ask Catalog Choice to complain to the FTC on my behalf regarding Delia's persistently sending me catalogs despite many, many, many requests to stop. They did stop for a couple months, but I got another one. They are a Bad Actor, but mostly because they are kind of incompetent, and are "solving" bad business processes by ignoring people who complain about them to customer service. I'm starting to think of them as having untreated, poorly managed ADD.

ETA: Forgot to mention: Some furniture left the house in conjunction with my mother-in-law setting up a place in Florida. We also replaced a loveseat with a chaise longue, after we took down the fencing protecting the AV stuff in the living room. It looks like a real living room now; I still find it surprising (in a good way).

I'll post later about what I might like to get done in the New Year.

(Re)reading JAK

JAK = Jayne Ann Krentz (contemporary), Amanda Quick (historical) and Jayne Castle (futuristic/scifi)

With the exception of a _Deep Waters_ reread, which I'm not going to describe in any detail here, all of the recent rereads and new reads are part of her Arcane Society universe. If you read a ton of these back to back, a couple of things happen. First, you really, really, really notice some plotting tics. I don't mean the character tics -- you really cannot read more than two JAK novels without noticing those. But the plotting tics (what is _with_ all the murderous realtors?) are something else again. Second, there are some minor themes throughout that you can really miss if you just read these things as they come out: genealogy/surnames are really important in these books (especially within trilogies, but also throughout the universe) AND she has reused surnames of characters from standalone contemporaries (Elias Winters from _Deep Waters_ is depicted in a way utterly compatible with the Winters men in general, and not necessarily so compatible as with the Sweetwaters, Sebastians, etc.). Given the subtler presence of intuition in those standalone contemporaries, it's a tough call whether this was something that JAK always wanted to do, but was prevented from doing until she became powerful enough to tell her editors what she was going to do and not get any backtalk -- or whether this is something that evolved over time through incremental reuse. Does not really matter.

I've assembled a bunch of mini-reviews into one long post, so you only have to TL;DR once. These have been fantastic holiday season/I am sick/I am working out reads, because they are so highly structured, and because they are so predictably rewarding, especially if you are from Seattle (well, excepting the Amanda Quick entries and a few of the desert ones). There are a bit more than a dozen novels represented here. I think there is at least one JAK I still haven't read (of the recent ones -- there are several classics I haven't read. And the Guinevere Jones books are now available on kindle! I don't think I've read any of those.) -- _Copper Beach_.

Arcane Society

Sizzle and Burn: Another niece with a dead aunt plot line, in which the niece is pursued by someone who it turns out killed her aunt. There are a lot of these in JAK books. In any event, she runs a costume shop. There’s another scary realtor. Zack Jones is a Jones & Jones PI who regularly defies Fallon to do what he thinks is best (this is fine, since he ultimately winds up in charge of Arcane, IIRC). Nightshade is making trouble, and not fully on Arcane’s radar until towards the end of the book.

White Lies: Clare Lancaster is a human lie detector. She helps rescue her half sister from a nutty husband — and then discovers his murdered corpse. The mother, because this is a JAK novel, then blames Clare and spreads vicious gossip causing her to lose her job and be unable to find another. Dear Old Dad steps in with a job offer, which Clare (predictably) declines, but she is stuck in Arizona long enough to get involved with Jake Salter — and to find another body and herself be nearly murdered a few times. Once again, Fallon Jones totally gets it wrong, repeatedly. It is sort of funny, how almost every time he is wrong, it is because he is unwilling to be a total conspiracy nut job — and yet the people around him think he is too willing to see conspiracies everywhere. It’s either terrible writing or a really funny running gag. I’m going with (b).

Running Hot: Luther Malone lives in Hawaii, working as a private investigator, sometimes for Fallon Jones of Jones & Jones. Fallon sends him Grace Renquist to help out on an assignment. They are trying to crack Nightshade, another cabal attempting to recreate the Founder’s Formula that started the long line of Jones with psychic talents. The Sweetwater clan makes an early appearance here, and there’s a hilarious subplot involving an opera singer with a deadly voice.

Scargill Cove Case Files: novella involving Fallon Jones suggesting that some of the nuttier background characters in Scargill Cove actually aren’t nutty at all. Probably not worth reading if you aren’t really crazy deep in this universe already.

Dreamlight Trilogy: Arcane Universe trilogy involving dream light talents. As above, first entry is contemporary, second is Victorian London, third is set on Harmony. In all these entries, the male Winters must find a female dream light talent to help him use the Burning Lamp artifact to stabilize his developing talent

Fired Up: Jack Winters is having a spot of trouble involving what seem to be blackouts. Little does he know what’s really causing those. He hires Chloe Harper to help him out. Unusual twists in this story include, IIRC, a female stalker (that isn’t a mom avenging the death of her son, which is the usual form that takes in JAK books). I think this is the book that caused me to quit reading JAK for a few years. I had trouble even figuring out why, but I have concluded the issue is the can’t-sleep-in-the-same-bed/room theme. I was okay with the idea that a woman who couldn’t sleep in the same bed/room as someone else might have relationship troubles as a result, altho I also felt like these were kind of oversold. I had a ton of trouble with the magical The One who she could sleep in a room/bed with. That I just found irritating. Really, really, really irritating.

Burning Lamp: Griffin Winters, underworld boss, hooks up with Adelaide Pyne, who already _has_ the Burning Lamp. Convenient. Pyne’s goal is to rescue women from prostitution. Fortunately, that’s not one of the criminal trades that Winters specializes in.

Midnight Crystal: Adam Winters is running the ghost hunter guild. Marlowe Jones is running Jones & Jones. He hires her to not only work the Burning Lamp to stabilize his developing talent, but also to stabilize the Mirror Maze in the Rainforest on Harmony — or the whole planet, well, all the cities and ruins could be destroyed!!! Also, dust bunnies. Marlowe rides a motorcycle.

Lookingglass Trilogy: Arcane Universe trilogy involving glass reading talents and Bridewell devices which are unique artifacts that store this kind of paranormal energy and are uniquely deadly. As above, first entry is contemporary, second is Victorian London, third is set on Harmony.

In Too Deep: Fallon gets an assistant and a girlfriend/fiance/wife. Isabella is on the run, wanted for possible criminal activities in conjunction with paranormal artifacts. She winds up in Scargill Cove, and decides that she and Fallon can help each other out with their respective problems. Many conspiracy theories involved. Also, nutty people in Scargill Cove, some backstory involving a cult, and a stash of Bridewell machines. Did I mention the serial murderer? Also, seriously, you _never_ want to trust a realtor in a JAK novel. (Highly reminiscent of _Deep Waters_ in parts involving the cult backstory.)

Quicksilver: Owen Sweetwater helps Virginia Dean get out of a really sticky situation involving a mirrored room and a dead body. They must deal with a Bridewell creation on the way out, as they also rescue another young woman waiting her fate in a cell. It only gets more complex from there. Unusually well developed secondary romance. Nice development of the alternative, mostly fraudulent psychical society.

Confusingly, the third entry in this trilogy is ALSO the first entry in the next trilogy (Rainshadow Trilogy: Canyons of Night). See below.

Rainshadow Trilogy: on future Harmony, in the Arcane Universe, minimal Arcane Society involvement. I read these as if they were set on turn of the 21st century century Orcas Island with some fantastical elements and it was a ton of fun. If you haven’t spent time on Orcas, it might not work out so well for you.

Canyons of Night: Charlotte and Slade met as teenagers, briefly, on Rainshadow and they are both back now after more than a decade. He had a bad accident while working for the FPBI. Charlotte is running an antique store she inherited from her aunt and has combined with stock from her own successful shop on the mainland. Her neighbor is overwhelming everyone except the dust bunnies with zucchini bread (the dust bunnies _love_ the stuff). A guy who was stalking Charlotte drops dead in her shop and it’s all really a puzzle. Of course, all those seemingly useless and/or damaged talents Are Not.

The Lost Night: Rachel's great-aunts retired and left her their book store. Harry Sebastian has arrived to try to figure out why things are going so wacky in the Preserve. Rachel had a weird experience in the Preserve (doesn’t really remember much if any of it) and he thinks she’s connected to what is going on inside. Creepy psi-path Marcus has been stalking Rachel for a while (longer than she realizes, actually), and at first it looks like there are two sets of bad guys involved. But no, this is a JAK novel so it is all connected.

Deception Cove: Alice, a descendant of Pirate North, has fallen upon hard times. A light talent who can make herself and other people/things invisible by bending light around them, she’s on the run from the mother of the (MC) husband. Husband is dead (he tried to kill her and things sort of went south for him from there) and mom blames her. She hooks up with Drake Sebastian, whose fiancé (supposedly dead, but you know how these things go) blinded him with an alien weapon. So he wears mirrored sunglasses everywhere, unless all the normal lights are off. They have to save the increasingly isolated Rainshadow Island from the increasingly unstable energies leaking out of the preserve. Alice has a dust bunny.

Ladies of Lantern Street: in the Arcane Universe, Victorian London, with psychical powers, but without actual Arcane Society involvement

Crystal Gardens: Evangeline’s story. As a Paid Companion available through the Flint and Marsh agency, Evangeline exposed a Fortune Hunter who then came after her. She was able to dispatch him; alas, that was not the end of her troubles. She retires to the countryside renting a cottage on the cheap from the owner of Crystal Gardens. She is attacked again, and the owner and the titular Gardens deal with him. She moves into the psi-soaked mansion with Lucas Sebastian and his man Stone, dragging with her her housekeeper Molly and Molly’s extended family. Obviously, Lucas supplies some additional Sebastians to keep up appearances. The crystals which will wreak so much havoc on Rainshadow Island on future Harmony have their origin story here (well, their origin story with the Sebastian family at any rate). I’m a little bummed that the bookseller had such low morals.

The Mystery Woman: Beatrice’s story. She was Miranda the Clairvoyant until Ronald Fleming was killed by the Bone Man. Then she becomes a Paid Companion/discreet investigator and Fixer for Flint and Marsh. Her romantic interest, Joshua Gage, was injured a yearish ago when he trusted someone he should not have. Also, has psychical abilities, but doesn’t believe in them. He’s a finder. He was working for a strat. His sister is being blackmailed and Beatrice is implicated. It all gets more complicated from there. On the one hand, it’s a little disappointing in terms of how far into the book the first sex scene occurs. On the other hand, it was a decent plot line in many respects and the development of the relationship was above average for JAK. The whole scarred face thing is way overdone, and JAK presents the idea of using the cane as a weapon as a surprise to people who it _really_ should not be surprising to. I paid more for this than any of the others, but it was still within the $9.99 envelope. 2nd in this trilogy, set in Victorian London. The events occur slightly before some of the Victorian Arcane novels — Weaver dies in this book. Flint and Marsh appear on screen for a few pages in this entry. This is not, strictly speaking, an Arcane novel but clearly shares the same universe.

Daily Activities Include: horse, holiday shopping, blogging

The holiday shopping, in particular, has been interesting this year. I'm a lot more orderly about my note-taking and tracking where in the process the various efforts to identify and acquire and deliver gifts are. GTD for the win!

But wow, I know way more about mechanical gaming keyboards now than I ever intended to find out. I'm half tempted to buy myself a mechanical keyboard, now that I have all this Expert Knowledge, but honestly, I'm pretty happy with the Logitech Easy Switch, and I game on mobile devices, not at the docking station so not really any point. I suppose I could change that, but if I find myself with a ton of time to devote to screen-based-activities, I'll probably go do genealogy instead.

Wow am I middle aged and female.

T. is enjoying his new phone. Altho it was really weird realizing that in a house with two really big TVs, a young boy who could choose between either TV, a tablet or a laptop instead decided to watch Monsters University on his phone. Probably Because He Can. He spent a large chunk of our day identifying people to add to his contacts list and then find pictures to attach to their contacts entry. I feel like this is a Really Good Sign in terms of maintaining strong emotional connections, altho it is a little odd. Of course he wanted to call our phones every few minutes, too. I started rationing that at every 15 minutes, despite unlimited talk time on the shared plan, because wow will that drive me crazy fast.

He also wanted to change his own picture several times today, which just goes to show that wanting to take endless selfies is a truly universal human activity.