Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dear Charlie

I remember when your parents first told us that they were going to have you.

It was Christmas, and we had just finished opening the gifts. We were making some pretty funny jokes about your father owning an alpaca farm (yes, your father went through an alpaca phase. If you are reading this from your room at the alpaca farm...blame your grandmother, she's the one who first gave him the farming magazine). Your parents seemed nervous as they handed a tiny slip of a gift to your grandparents. Your grandfather decided to open the gift out of my view-- leaving me to judge from his reaction what this final gift had been.

It was a children's book. I craned to get a better glimpse of the cover as the realization dawned on me that I would be an aunt.

An aunt! With all the joys of a new child and none of the responsibility. What could be better??

As the months went on, your parents planned a gender reveal party-- which is exactly what it sounds like. Family and friends gathered at your great-grandparents to learn if you would be a Charlie or a Charlotte. I, sadly far away terribly busy getting a PhD, video-called the party and saw, through granulated pixels (a breakdown of technology you'll probably never understand--lucky), the pink balloon fly far away in the perfect cloudless sky, leaving your father proudly holding a blue balloon.

A boy.

And, on July 18th, 2016, I waited with my phone on loud, taking data (ask me about my research project when you read this, I'm sure I'll get a kick of it) and waiting for the text to let me know you had officially arrived. I wasn't able to be at the hospital to meet you when you were born; I had this silly notion that I should spend five years of my life six hours away from home getting as many degrees as possible.

Your mother sent me a photo of you-- a photo of the cutest baby I've ever seen, eyes shut tight against this bright new world. I had to ask what color they were, in every photo you stubbornly refused to open them. As I write this, I have yet to see you in person. As you read this (how old will you be? when do kids learn to read? I know nothing about children; good thing it's my brother becoming a parent and not me) we will have hopefully spent much time together (and also hopefully not on an alpaca farm because I've heard they can be mean).

I'm so excited to watch you grow up, to see what color your eyes settle on (apparently babies are born with one color that can magically change to another, who knew?), and to get to know your budding personality.

And who knows, maybe by the time you're reading this you'll even have a cousin (wait, just did the mental math; this is impossible unless you're a really slow learner, which is fine!)-- or, more likely, you'll have plenty of cats and dogs to play with when you visit me. Either way, I can't wait.

Aunt Anna
((it feels so weird to write that! it feels like I should be selling pretzels or something-- ask your parents to explain that one))

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The How and Why of Bullet Journals

I'm not sure how it started.

Knowing me, it was probably caused by too much time on Tumblr. Bullet journals rank up there with low-calorie-decadent-desert-recipes-but-for-real-it-tastes-the-same (not), mason jar recipes, and putting glitter where it doesn't belong (aka fads that are everywhere on the internet).

And just like breakfast-oatmeal-that-tastes-exactly-like-cookie-dough-but-with-like-no-calories! I didn't expect much from the bullet journal. My handwriting has never been consistent, choosing to oscillate between pretty cursive, and what you would get if you gave a chicken a pen. I'm a huge fan of the idea of organizing and planning, but when it comes to keeping up with planners...well not so much. I designed my own calendar that ran from August to February which I used and loved. I was able to create layouts that I personally thought were gorgeous-- I did a fake Polaroid spread, an autumn leave month...

But eventually I lost that spark of inspiration, didn't want to create more layouts, and thus my calendar was dead. I wanted something that lasted, some method that helped me get everything done, but also something that kept my (admittedly short) attention span. Your run-of-the-mill-bought-it-at-Target planner just wasn't going to cut it for me. I wanted the freedom to individualize it however I saw fit.

So I decided to give bullet journals a go. A bullet journal is very loosely defined method of planning which typically involves you, a pen, and a blank journal. The core idea (one which I don't even follow....thus the 'loosely defined' caveat) is to have a planner where you can, at a glance, see what tasks you've complete, what tasks are left, and what events you have, all coded with different symbols.

Personally, I just use open box icons to list my to-dos, purely for the satisfaction of filling them in afterwords. ((True story, sometimes, if I just did something I forgot to put on my to-do list, I'll write it out just so I can fill in the box...))

I did not want to invest much money in this idea when I first started, so I opted out of buying a more expensive journal that most people use and love. Instead, I went to Walmart and found a little black artist journal/book. My main requirement was I wanted something with blank pages-- so that I could draw whatever layout I wanted without the restriction of pre-existing lines.

My Main Spreads:

Monthly Spread

This spread tends to take the longest. For some months, I measure everything and then do some math to figure exactly how big the boxes can be. For June I just winged it. I love this traditional spread; as you can see, during the school year I would highlight when homework was due/when exams were.
I also love drawing little designs for the titles.

My Weekly Spreads:

This is crucial for all those little tasks you want to get done in each day. Recently, I've been putting any events I have as little dots. The act of writing down the tasks, while it might seem insignificant, has been shown to dramatically increase the likelihood I'll get it done in a timely manner. Sometimes the tasks are important (schedule dentist appointment), sometimes they're small (water plant), but the sense of satisfaction after filling in all my boxes is real.

Meal Planning

Pro tip: do your meal plan in pencil. Something invariably manages to come up and I have to shift my dinner plans around. Previously, I crammed my meal planning onto my weekly spread, but I realized it needed its own space. Now the struggle is to come up with a meal plan that I actually follow. This past week I wrote down a nice little meal plan and ended up not following one word of it.


One of my favorite aspects of my bullet journal is that it holds everything in one spot. Not only my to-do lists/calendars, but also a minimalist journal. I try and write just one line per day-- see aforementioned note regarding short attention span. I've found that the one line a day is easy enough to keep up with.

Books I've Read
There's no frigate like a book, amiright?

I created this spread after seeing someone do something similar on Tumblr (where else?). My idea is to write snippets about books I've finished. This way I'll having a running list if I ever want to put up another blog post with my recent favorite reads.

Quick Tip:
Make writing in your bullet journal-- be it in the journal part or the scheduling part-- a fixed part of your daily schedule. For me, right before I go to bed, I like to glance over my schedule, add in new tasks, mark off the day, etc. If I leave my bullet journal out and about and tell myself 'oh I'll write that down later' it never ends up happening.

The reason why this bullet journal has stuck is two-fold. First, it is extremely flexible. If the week gets too busy and I forget to write a couple of days into my weekly spread, no big deal! I can skip as many days as I want and fit in the days that I am going to plan. If I want to do a spread listing my blog post ideas, or recipe ideas, or exploring Colombia ideas, then I can. This is no guideline I have to follow, no set number of pages devoted to anything-- it's all free form.

The second reason why I personally have kept with it, is that the bullet journal is a great creative outlet for me. Especially during the semester, I don't necessarily have time to draw or illustrate or color or do anything creative. And if I did, sometimes I would feel guilty for taking time away from work. The bullet journal allows me to be creative while doing something that has become essential for me: planning. On weeks when I've fallen behind on my bullet journal, I've noticed a negative impact on my productivity. Writing everything down and planning it all out helps me feel less overwhelmed when juggling school, teaching, homework, research, and life in general.

As with anything I love (books, blogging, etc), my ever present goal is to convert everyone around me. I would love to see what my creative friends come up with it they ever tried their hand at bullet journals (you know who you are!).

If nothing else, I hope this blog shed some light on one interpretation of how bullet journals work!

Thanks for reading :)