Friday, March 28, 2014

It Didn't Feel Like Time Out!

This is week 13 of the de-clutter project, but though I had a project in mind, and really must get at it, this apparently wasn't the week to do such things.

I've been busy doing everyone's income tax. I'm old fashioned enough to still want to mail the darn things in, as I feel I have to print them anyway. I find errors much easier on a printed copy. I just do.  The postage is about to take another leap upwards, so I wanted to get ours done in time to mail this weekend, before the increase. I wanted to get my oldest son's done and printed off for him to sign when I see him this weekend also. That just leaves another two to do.

Meanwhile the booklet for the karate club needed to be retyped.  I had been using the same software for 30 years, and the old files don't open on my new computer.  The old software won't load, and apparently they aren't making it anymore, so I can't even upgrade.  After a lot of trial and error, with a couple of programs,  trying many different fonts and sizes that still seemed to want to make what used to fit on one page spill over onto two, I finally found a way to make it work. I had to get that done this week as several people need various pages from that book by tonight, and I had promised they would have them. 

I had also taken on a one week art course for this week. Not great timing, but it was one I had been looking forward to, and this is when it was being offered. True, I could have done it on my own time, but it's always more fun to do something like this when others are involved in a class, so you can compare your work with what they are doing.

It was Carla Sonheim's Watercolor Transfer Painting class.  I got to paint on a surface I would never have thought of on my own, and then transferred the results onto watercolour paper afterwards.  I could just as easily have transferred it onto t-shirts, and I expect I'll try that one of these days. 

On day one we got to discover what watercolour, does when you apply it to transfer paper.

On day two we added water soluble markers, pastels, charcoal, ballpoint pen or any other media we had handy to the coloured papers we had created. That's more fun than it sounds like.  The dullest, most uninteresting piece from the day before became quite beautiful.

On day three, we learned how to iron them onto another surface, which quickly reminded me that things reverse when you do that.

Day four, we really got to work cutting up the papers into random shapes, and then rearranging them on our surface to create something interesting. You really need to let go of any preconceived notions during all this, and just let things happen.  When I was laying out some pieces thinking of combining some of them to make some silly kind of animal, I ended up with a Dancing Duo. 

Today we'll finish off the course by basically printing plates. That's a multi-layered transfer project that has a look of encaustics when it's done. First I have to figure out what I want to produce and then I have to create the various levels. Later I'll iron one after another onto a piece of watercolour paper and hope things line up. 

So, like Nelly, who is also on this de-cluttering journey,  I guess I've taken the week off from cleaning out cluttered spots. It certainly didn't feel like a week off here though.  I even got a little stressed out for a while yesterday. I'm still not quite over my latest flu, and I did  have to go for some unpleasant, but non-related medical tests earlier this week, so I'm sure that didn't help either. I finally stopped coughing long enough to actually wash the floors, at least. As I said, I do have a new de-clutter spot all picked out, and it's definitely time to get to it. I have another deadline looming, but it's a week and a half off yet, so hopefully I'll clean out that spot in time for next week's check in time.

Meanwhile, the only thing I've de-cluttered this week is the tax file and my cluttered mind.  A bit of fun now is good for all of us.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shopping Online Safely

Years ago, when we first thought we might like to purchase something online, but were still not convinced of the safety of such an operation, we took out a special credit card to use on just such occasions.  It had a very low credit limit, so that if something did happen, we wouldn't be too concerned.

We have used that specific card online ever since, even now that we know online shopping with reputable companies is actually safer than doing so in person or on the phone.  It is, because the card numbers are encrypted and nobody ever sees them when you shop online,  so they can never be copied and used elsewhere. 

It was actually our regular credit card that ran into trouble. But VISA is very quick to phone you when their system flags unusual activity. Someone in Montreal was trying to max it out on Christmas Eve one year.  While VISA had me on the phone, saying we are not in Montreal buying anything, they also had the police on another line, and were ready to catch the person who was fraudulently using our card number. I was very impressed with how quickly this problem was dealt with.

We learned at that time that crooks often work at a gas station just long enough to collect some credit card numbers and then move on. They recreate the cards and then go shopping. After that we decided to use our "safe for online" credit card for gas purchases too.

Another time someone apparently tried to purchase a cruise, but they were using the safe card  number, and there wasn't nearly enough credit to complete the purchase. So they tried to book a lower priced trip and ran into the same problem. Once again, the flags went up at VISA.  I don't know if that person was caught or not, but they sure didn't get access to any of our funds.

Pay Pal came along at some point, and I got an account with them. I use it when I wanted to purchase things like flowering tea balls from China. I'm not about to give some unknown person in a far away land my credit card number, but Pay Pal is a safe way to deal with such vendors.  I've also had people pay me for photographs using Pay Pal. A lady in California sent me some money very easily that way. It's a much safer way to do business online. I don't have to worry about receiving a bad cheque from someone I can't track down in exchange for my photos. 

Then this week I got an e-mail from Pay Pal saying that someone in Nicaragua had tried to access my account and that it would be locked down until I signed in to verify it again. I was a bit suspicious of that message.  I signed in the regular way, without clicking on any links within an e-mail,  and immediately the phone rang. An automated voice was asking for the verification code that had popped up on my screen.  Once that was entered, the site was accessible to me once again, and I was happy to find out how well protected even Pay Pal is.

Since Pay Pal often wants to attach your account with them to either a bank account or a credit card, it reassures me to know how secure they are.  You can transfer money to and from Pay Pal from the linked bank account. Likewise,  they can just charge the balance of a purchase to your credit card when what you currently are holding in Pay Pal is not enough to complete the purchase. That beats waiting the three days for a transfer to go through.  Just like the low credit level card I hold, I also have a mad money account at a totally different bank from where I normally deal. That's the account I attached Pay Pal to.  I can transfer money to and from the Pay Pal account from there, and never worry about crooks getting access to my life's savings.

I was being very careful when I set up that account, and the little VISA card, but it's paid off.  While both VISA and Pay Pal have proven to be very safe, I also know I don't have to worry about too much money disappearing if anything ever is breached. Shopping online can be very safe with a few precautions.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cleaning Up the Cleaning Supplies

It's always a good idea to keep all your cleaning supplies in one place so you can find what you need, when you need it.  I reached for a clean rag the other day and discovered I had way more of them than anyone would ever need.  In fact, the whole cleaning supply cubby hole needed to be cleaned out.

First I went and got the vacuum cleaner, because, if I'm taking things out of that cupboard, I might as well get rid of the dust bunnies that have been breeding in there.  I then went and got a zippered storage container that the Yves Rocher people sent me with my last order (actually they sent me four, in assorted sizes). I thought I'd put the rags in it, which would help make the space a lot neater. After digging out all the rags, and sorting them according to types, and disposing of the really ratty ones, I still had more than anyone needs.  How did I get so many?  Well, if a tea towel, dish cloth or face cloth gets a hole in it, it becomes a cleaning rag. I also like bits of flannel and old t-shirt material for dusting with.  Then there are sturdier cloths that my hubby likes to use as work rags. 

Hmmmmm.......there were lots of those. I kept a few for such things as cleaning the oven and put the rest in the zippered container.  It went to the basement to a place where my mechanical hubby can find them when he needs them, and they are much more neatly contained than they have ever been before.  I had decided that container was too big for my cubby hole anyway.

I put my remaining rags into a plastic basket, and made myself a promise that if I get more than what fits in that container, I have to dispose of some. The cardboard box in the photo, in case you noticed it, is the perfect size to hold 6 roles of toilet paper. I've been using that same box for many years.  A little rearranging of supplies and the whole space is so much more tidy, it's amazing. 

Other than that, I had decided to send Bonnie at Jasper's Gems an envelope full of stamps, just to get rid of them.  I know she collects them for some needy cause.  I packaged them all up, and took them down to the post office.  They will now be delivered to a local place that uses them instead, since Canada Post had the nerve to tell me they wanted $9.48 just to mail off a 6 x 8 inch envelope of used stamps.  I said, "You must be kidding," and when they assured me they were not, I just told them to forget it. Sorry Bonnie, but they will go to a good cause in my own area now. They are still leaving the house.

This is week 12 of this de-cluttering project. I took a look around to see if I have maintained what I have previously cleaned.  Well, there is a "little pile of paper on my desk that needs to be dealt with, but nothing serious, The key words there are "dealt with" as each one requires me to take some action before I can put it away.  The top of my storage unit and book case have remained neat, other than one envelope full of photos I intend to give to the people in them. A couple of things have landed on the box behind me this week, but they are there only until tonight, then they will be gone. The part of  the spare bedroom that I tidied up is still good, even though, or perhaps because I've had overnight visitors twice since then.  The linen closet remains neat and organized, though I've discovered I am in bad need of some new pillowcases.  The jewelry is so organized, I can't see there ever being a problem with that until the storage unit starts to fall apart.  Hopefully that won't happen for several years.

The refrigerator is an ongoing project, of course, but it tends to get cleaned out the day before garbage day. I do, of course still have all the other cupboards and drawers to clean out, over time. And there is still all the stuff that is hidden beneath the spare bed (magazines, paintings, spare frames, etc).  I'm sure though, with this ongoing project, I'm bound to get to these things sooner or later.  With the warmer weather coming (please God) I will also have de-cluttering to do in the basement, garage and garden. Normally that idea would have me feeling overwhelmed, but I'm learning that even one extra chore a week does get things done.

What did you do this week?


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Good Luck, Bad Luck, No Luck at All

Last year about this time, things were not going very well.  But a month or so later, my luck had changed, and things were going extremely well.  Earlier this year I mentioned that Mercury was in retrograde, and that effect has continued, as we just got a shipment that was missing two of the items we ordered. They were not on back order. They were just missing.  Luckily, we were not billed for them, and the company has agreed to send the missing items without charging us the extra shipping charges. 

Other than all the frustrations with the mail, I've had three of the nasty bugs going around since the beginning of January.  And yes, I did have my flu shot, and a pneumonia shot for good measure.  I'm a big believer in the flu shot, but while I got off extremely lucky last year, with not so much as a sniffle, this year I had a stomach flu, a cold and then this latest flu with the nasty cough that just won't quit. I say it's a flu as I had a fever for a couple of days in the beginning.  I have no idea what the difference is between this year and last.

On other fronts I've been quite lucky so far this year.

As I told you,  I won a hundred dollar gift card from Subway, and since then, a book about Joint Health For Life (that likely will tell me not to eat such things) and a big box of tea from the Bigelow Tea Company.  I've never actually heard of them before, but I got very excited when this package came.  I was expecting 16 assorted teas, but what arrived was 6 boxes, each containing 16 teas each.  Two black, three green and three red tea flavours with two of each flavour in each box. 

I've already sampled the Vanilla Peach and the Strawberry teas, both of which were red varieties. They don't come in the normal tea bag, but rather in unique swizzle sticks that you put in the cup of hot water and stir around until you get the strength you like. There could not be a better prize for someone with a nasty cough.  Once I get over this bug, I plan on having a lovely tea party with my friends.

I got an e-mail from a friend out west who says I've always been fortunate, and lucky enough to win a lot of things.  I had just read an article that says you make your own luck by taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Well, I win a few things now and then, but that's because I enter a lot of contests. I'm not sure that makes me lucky. It's just the odds. If you enter enough times, you are bound to win something, sooner or later. I think that hundred dollar gift card is likely the most valuable prize I've ever won. 

Still, it's unusual for me to win three things in such a short period of time.  It does help balance out the other things that have been going on in my life since the beginning of the year though. Mercury is supposed to move on and leave me in peace later this week, and really, I can't wait!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

De-cluttering Week 11 - Refining Filing Systems

I remember hearing that we would use a lot less paper in this computer age. That does not seem to be the case at my house.  It is always a challenge to keep a handle on all that paper, and keep it filed in ways that will help me retrieve what I need when I need it. 

Years ago I purchased this In and Out Tray system, but it quickly became a place to store stuff on a more permanent basis. It was a nice neat stacking system, at least.  I realized that I had been stacking, not actually much else with any of those papers in over a year, so I thought I'd start there.  I sorted and weeded for more than an hour.  I found health, diet and exercise related articles, photography stuff, and computer related information and even a number of news articles on local happenings. I put each of the categories into its own file folder, and put the files into the desk file drawer that I used to have trouble getting at.  There are a couple of other file folders now  holding papers I need to take the time to look more closely at, before deciding what I can actually ditch, and what needs to be properly stored somewhere else.  They can stay, for now, in the tray. 

I know you are wondering why I'd store such papers, when often needed information can be searched for online.  Much of the photography and/or computer related stuff is in the form of e-mails from my learned friends. They have taught me a lot over the years, and these are my "notes" in case I ever forget (which is something that happens more often in recent years).  I value those lessons, so I hang onto them. 

The local news articles are like history of major events that have happened here.  If I was smart, I'd stick them in a scrapbook, or some kind of binder so they could be flipped though more easily.

The health related things are more recent, and have been pulled out of magazines this winter with the idea that I'll try the things mentioned in them.  I'm sure I likely will if I ever get over all these darn winter illnesses that have been plaguing me this year.

Next I moved on to the three tier letter holder.  I tend to put bills and receipts in that, as well as other information I want to be able to reach for at any given time.  The letter holder belongs on the wall, and it was until I moved my office into this room. It's never been hung up in here yet, though it found a place to reside on the box behind be, until I cleaned up that area.  Now it's propped up beside the computer screen, in easy reach.  It will get hung on the wall just as soon as I figure out just where the best spot is now.  No matter where I put it, it won't be as handy as it is at the current moment. I'm sure of that.

I've spent a week with another bad bug and really thought I wouldn't be able to de-clutter anything this week. I felt a little more human yesterday, so I did all this sorting.  How hard could that be?  Well, somehow I must have over done it a bit as I don't feel nearly as well today.  I'm just glad I didn't try
to take on anything more strenuous.

All this reminded me of the box of stuff I took off my desk when I got the new computer and flat screen monitor.  It appears in a photo from when I cleaned off the wooden box and the stuff around it so that I could get at my desk.  Now, maybe I've made enough room to put away some of the stuff that's in that box.  That can be next week's job, if I don't think of something else in the meantime. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sampling Life

As many of you know, especially if you read the first 5 months of the blog postings last year, I get a lot of samples.  Today I decided to use nothing but samples and report what I learned.

I started my day by washing my hair, and used TRESemme Platinum Strength Strengthening Shampoo. (1)  A little of this product goes a long way. It lathers very well, even in our hard  water. 

I followed that up with the Conditioner from the same line (2).  You need to leave this product in for 2 to 3 minutes.  Personally, I prefer a 2 in 1 product, so I can condition at the same time as I wash my hair. It is good though, that the TRESemme people put the Shampoo in a Black bottle and the Conditioner in a White one.  You don't have to try to read the bottles, to grab the right one, when you may have soap or water in your eyes.

Next I used Olay's Moisturizing Body Wash (3) which is a 2 in 1 Cleanser and Moisturizer.  It has a wonderful scent of something reminiscent from my past.  A delicate version of Neutrogena's Rainbath, perhaps.  The package said to use it with Olay's soft cleansing puff, but I didn't have one handy. It says it will work into a lather, but using just my hands, that didn't happen at all.  Could just be our hard water.

Since I was into Olay products, I next chose their Total Effects Body Moisturizing Treatment. (4) I know the body wash was supposedly an all in one, but I have dry skin at this time of year and this product is supposed to fight the 7 signs of aging.  It says to concentrate on affected areas of the arms and legs. Well, the skin just above my ankles is dry and flaky and gets really itchy so, while I spread it everywhere, I did concentrate on there.  It absorbs quickly and leaves no greasy spots.  I like that.

Okay, so now my hair and body are clean and moisturized. Next I reached for a deodorant.  I used Dove Ultimate Supreme go Fresh Cool Essentials.(5)  It smells kind of like cucumbers, I think.  Fresh anyway.  It's a solid cake so it doesn't glide on as smoothly as my regular gel style deorderant, but it didn't leave any sticky residue either, so it passed that test.

Now the face.  I washed it with a product from Simple (the Sensitive Skin Experts) called Refreshing Facial Wash Gel (6).  It says it's kind to skin, and it is. I have rosacea.  This product is gentle and I use it often.  It leaves me soft and clean without any tightness upon drying.

Next I applied Mario Badescu's Aloe Lotion (7) with a cotton ball.  That was probably not necessary after the Simple Facial but I'm testing, right?  This is a clear lotion, not a moisturizer, but more of a toner, I believe.  Now my face if really soft and healthy looking.

Mario Badescu is a brand I just discovered in the past year. They have several products I'd happily use more of in the coming years. They have a drying cream you can dab on pimples and it just dries they up in no time. It is skin coloured too, so you could likely camouflage the spot if you wanted to use it during the day.  They also have a product called Bee Pollen Night Cream that I really love.  As night creams go, I don't remember ever waking up and feeling my face so soft and non-greasy. If I were to treat myself to one product tomorrow, this would be the one.

I brushed my teeth with Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste. (8)  It left my whole mouth minty fresh.  My teeth are not normally sensitive, but I liked this product so much that I may just buy it anyway.

I finished off the face with Garnier Ultra Lift AntiWrinkle Firming Cream. (9)  I love this stuff.  I did the 28 day challenge when it first came out.  It not only firms but gives me a smooth non-shiny finish that seems to fill pores and make me look more youthful. At my age, that's a good trick!  I likely would have continued using it after the 28 days, but I still have other products on hand to use up first.

I'd have used some makeup about now, most days, but I'm sick, and not planning to go anywhere so I'll save that until the next time I do this sample testing thing.  Oh yes, I'll do it again as I've lots of samples here.  I'm not sure everything listed above still exists, as products seem to come and go so quickly these days, but I'll try to incorporate more recent acquisitions next time.

Oh, let's not forget the eyes.  One of the most recent sample products to come into my home is the Aveeno Fresh Essentials Anti Fatigue Eye Roller. (10) This leaves a nice cool feeling as the liquid rolls on by way of a metal ball.  No tugging fingers needed around the eye area with this product.  I think it will be a real treat, especially during the summer months, to feel that cool ball on my face.

By this time, I'm all clean, soft and moisturized from head to toe.  But I am, as I said, not well just now as I caught that nasty cold bug with it's accompanying cough, so I'm going to lay around all day with a stack of books and a pot of tea. 

At the end of the day, I did come back to tell you I tested some Garnier Anti-Wrinkle Firming Night Cream.(11) It's a rather thick cream but it's non-greasy and absorbs quickly. 

At the end of the day, my hair is still shiny and well behaved, even though I've been laying on it most of the day.  There is no sign of flaky skin around my ankles, my face is still soft, smooth and not greasy. It looks good, despite the fact that I had no makeup on all day.  I think this was a successful day of testing, and I look forward to doing it again sometime in the near future.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

De-Cluttering Week 10 - Over the Top with Tops

It's a good thing it's been cold this winter.  I have been wearing sweaters a lot, and since I tend to wash them gently, one at a time, sometimes there are several out of the drawer waiting their turn for their turn to be washed.  This, I've discovered, is a good thing as I have not once been able to get all of my sweaters and sweatshirts into the drawers all at the same time this winter. 

I can't recall ever having had that problem in the past, and I'm sure I didn't get any new ones in the past year or two, so I decided that the drawers needed to be cleaned out, and reorganized. All three of them.

I took everything out of the drawers and stacked it on the bed, all at the same time. Then I went through the piles and restacked them into categories. Sweaters, sweatshirts, long sleeved t-shirts, and regular t-shirts.  Hey, what are they doing in there? 

I decided it was time to dispose of an old purple jogging suit, and any Red Hat related tops, since I don't wear them anyway. There was also an old sweater that I didn't wash properly and totally ruined that I will finally let go of for the same reason.  I convinced myself I have enough rough work clothes and painting duds.

To put the t-shirts where they belonged, I had to look into those drawers also.  Since it's still cold, I wanted the long sleeved ones in the dresser in my room.  The short sleeved ones can be stored in the drawers of the dresser in the spare room, until things warm up and then I'll change things around again.  I have way more tops than anyone needs, but some colours work better some years than others.  Some summers I wear a lot of black and white, while others summers I'm much more colourful. Some years I like greens and oranges, while other years I like blues and browns. I don't follow the gurus advice to  dispose of the things I don't wear for a year.  I've discovered many times that I'm quite happy to pull what seems like a whole new wardrobe right out of a drawer each spring.

While I started out to clean out three drawers, I ended up rearranging six.  I have a bag of stuff to donate, and some other stuff hit the trash bucket.  I feel confident I will finally be able to get all my sweaters into the drawer when I wash them this weekend.

As an added bonus, when my hubby saw what I was doing, he took his sock drawer and cleaned it out too.

Monday, March 3, 2014

All Souped Up

Soupfest is an annual event that I really enjoy.  Restaurants from all over the region gather to offer up samples of their soups for us to taste and we decide among ourselves which soup is the best.  There are official judges too, and they also make their own choices. It's interesting because they don't always pick the same soups as the people do.  The official judges may know about when some especially innovated combination has been put together, but we, the people, just know what we like. To me winning the people's choice awards are actually more valuable. It's the general public that the restaurants have to please, or they won't come back.  The chefs can get as fancy as they like, and that that may impress the official judges, but if the people don't like what is being offered, they aren't going to buy it.

There is a certain establishment in Smiths Falls where I often go for soup.  You never know, when you walk through the door, of the Good Life Bistro what their soup that day will be, but I can tell you that I've never had a bad one there.  I mentioned to them recently that they should get in on Soupfest. They had never heard of it, but looked it up on the internet while I had my lunch, and by the time we were ready to leave, I was told they had managed to sign up.  And this weekend they not only discovered how much fun the experience can be, they won first place for one of the categories with their Squash Pear Bisque with maple cinnamon cream.

Another restaurant, The New Rideau near Kemptville, had only just opened under new management three weeks ago. They placed in two categories with a Cream of Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cheddar soup, so now I'm interested in going there for lunch some day too.

Soupfest is good for getting new customers for businesses some didn't know existed.  We were first introduced to the Basket Case in Morrisburg though their participation in Soupfest.  We've been there several times since then, and highly recommend it.  They were not present at the event this year though, and I missed those fun filled ladies.

One of our local businesses did very well too. The Goose and Gridiron in Merrickville put forth a very colourful Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup.  If that soup is on their menu, I'll be dropping in there more often in the future.  I had a hard time deciding if I was going to choose it for my second or third place vote. In the end, it came in third, both for me and the rest of the public, but placed first with the official judges.

My personal favorite of the day was the Silken Scallop with Crisp Pancetta by the Black Dog Bistro in Manotick.  My nine year old grandson agreed with that choice, and even went back for more.

"Thrillusionist," Michael Bourada was on hand to entertain this year, and he worked the room, one table at a time. Of course, when he got to us, he zeroed in on the only child at the table.  It was such fun to watch them interact.

This was the first year we have taken one of the grandsons with us. I told him he was going to get to taste all the soups, and he didn't have to like them, just judge them. He gave them scores from one to ten, and was far more adventurous than I expected.  I think he only missed 3 or 4 of the 16 offerings, and that was likely because he was full by then.  Oh, but not too full for the great big chocolate covered rice crispy square he picked for dessert.  He already has told us he wants to come with us again next year.  I'm looking forward to that already.