In Search of the Perfect Planner

Posted January 17th, 2016 by Candice

planner box
Every December, when my life unravels due to too many cookies and too little real work, I begin my search for a planner.  I have started many planning systems. Teacher planners, DayRunner (remember those?), ARC (Staples system).  Last year I began a bullet journal.

Bullet journals are wildly popular and I loved the idea of customizing my own planner, but it didn’t work for me.  I disliked drawing the calendar every month and didn’t understand how to “migrate” tasks using the symbols.  I became a bullet journal drop-out.

Passion Planner to the rescue!  I read about Passion Planner in the Washington Post and ordered one immediately.  The Passion Planner has everything!  So many pages to fill!  So many areas to check off and write in and—well, plan.  I loved coloring in my daily schedule.  But there were too many pages to fill and too many areas to write in.  I felt like the planner was running me.

By June I’ve usually quit whatever system I’ve started.  Why on earth is this so hard?  Experts at Franklin-Covey say planners “help people feel organized and in balance.  They create harmony and inner peace.”  Time to grab my share of harmony and inner peace!

planner stack

This year I went full-bore and bought three planners: a Leuchtturm 1917 (the notebook most bullet journalers prefer), a Passion Planner, and a teacher’s planner.  I also bought fun Post-Its and pens.  Then I sat down at my dining room table and, in a separate notebook (only the truly anal will understand), mapped out why previous planners had failed and what I really need.

planner green ruler

More than one planner is overkill, according to efficiency experts.  Maybe so, but I can’t find a single system that will keep me on track, organized, goal-directed, and let me be a little creative.  So here’s what I came up with:

planner tim

The teacher’s planner will go with me to Hollins.  Last summer I didn’t carry my Passion Planner because it was too bulky and wound up double-booking two events on the same day.  The teacher’s planner is thin, simple, and doesn’t take any time to update.

planner passion

The Passion Planner is the workhorse.  It stays on my desk and is my weekly scheduler and monthly planner.  I skip all those fill-in pages about five-year goals (at my age I don’t even buy green bananas) and what I’m grateful for.  I color in blocks of time, using a color key I devised.  Easier than symbols.  Instead of highlighters, I use twist-up crayons.

planner green

Still, the Passion Planner doesn’t have room for book lists, blogging ideas, quotes, etc.  So I divided up my new bullet journal into sections about 30 pages each.  Freed from monthly lists and migrating tasks, this is my fun take-with-me journal/planner.  I added pockets to the end papers and Post-Its.  While many BuJo devotees create gorgeous calendars in theirs, I opted for a set of calendar cards (Michaels, $1.99) anchored with clear photo corners.

planner green calendar

I found myself writing too much under “Books I’ve Read.”  I want to keep this journal a little leaner.  So I cut out the pages I wrote on in last year’s failed bullet journal for additional sections, like reviewing books.  This is not a journal I carry around.  Because I added tabs to both bullet journals, I worried about them getting bent or torn.

planner red

I don’t want to tell you how much time I spent looking for a journal cover.  Then I stumbled on these simple pencil pouches at Walmart.  They’re colorful and have compartments for pens.  My journals fit inside perfectly.

For writing and doodling, I use Pilot Precise pens, Pentel Sliccis, and Stabilos.  I store the pens and a 6-inch ruler in a Vera Bradley e-reader case I found on sale.  All the Post-Its, pens, planners not in use at the moment are corralled in a Michael’s storage box.

planner vb

Let’s review:
Leuchtturm 1917 (Amazon, different colors/styles, about $18)
Passion Planner (order direct, large size $30)
Tim Coffey teacher’s 16-month planner (B&N, $19.00)
Mead notebook insert pencil pouch (Walmart, less than $5)
Storage box (Michaels, $9.99—use a coupon for half price)
Pilot V-5 Extra Fine roller ball pens (I buy these by the dozen—they come in colors, too)
Pentel Sliccis gel pens (Amazon, about $19.00)
Stabilo 88-point Extra Fine markers (Amazon, about $17.00)
Faber-Castell Paper Crafter Crayons (Amazon, $11.00/set)

planner cat

Wow!  Big investment!  The pens and crayons will last a long time and so will the box if the cat stays out of it.  The planners aren’t cheap.  Yet if factor in I’m both labor and management, with no secretary, I think it’s worth it.  Plus I like color!

Check back in June. I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Wheels on the Pavement

Posted January 10th, 2016 by Candice

sunroom house web

My new planner set the course last week: work, two trips to the library, three trips to the gym.  Time to crack the whip!  Get back in the harness!  But by Thursday, I was sick of my own dictums.  I needed to get away from my desk, my office, my house.  The wheels of the little red truck needed to spin on distant pavement.

I felt at sixes and sevens.  Already the new year seemed to be sliding away.  I wanted to work.  I wanted to not work.  A break was in order.  So we hit the road for Westmoreland County, far enough away to feel we’d actually gone somewhere, close enough that I could still get in a half day’s writing.

sunroom house mailbox web

Hundreds of gray-backed seagulls, driven inland from the Potomac River, gossiped in cropped corn fields.  Silos and cellphone towers shouldered heavy clouds, pushing the leaden ceiling higher as we drove east.  Bungalows napped like cats around a wood stove.

My camera finger itched.  Donna Hopkins had photographed a house along this stretch.  I wanted to see it, too.  After parking the little red truck, I crunched through years of fallen leaves to the back door.  It opened easily and I slipped inside.  Maybe I’d find the answer to my restlessness in those chill-damp rooms.

sunroom house toaster web

What I found was an all-too-common story:  an old place rented by people who dropped behind on rent, were most likely evicted, and packed in a hurry.  The house next hosted squatters.  And then . . . no one.

sunroom house painting web

My footsteps echoed on plywood rotted through in spots, revealing a flooded basement below.  Dark water mirrored my face, wavery with indecision and conflicting desires.

sunroom house bathroom web

I left the house, aware I’d asked for more than I deserved.  Did the family who once lived there get what they deserved?

Maybe the people who left behind Christmas ornaments bought shiny new bulbs for a real pine tree in the corner of their own living room.

sunroom house plate web

Maybe they nailed a horseshoe over a doorway, prongs up to hold only good luck.

sunroom house doorway web

I hoped they were safe and warm.

sunroom house madonna web

On the road again, we stopped in the tidy little town of Montross.

montross coke web

We ate lunch in The Art of Coffee, a former gas station.  My sandwich came with carrot sticks and a chocolate chip cookie, which made me feel cherished, like a second-grader opening up a packed lunch from home.

montross lunch web

Small pleasures pushed back the January-ness of the day, a cup of soup, a cookie, a different point of view.  On the drive back home, the clouds parted and blue limned the flat horizon.  My outlook brightened.

frank montross web

Rebecca Solnit says “We treat desire as a problem to be solved . . . though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing.”

sunroom house wallpaper web

Truck wheels followed the pavement to our house, where the cat wanted his own lunch, my work waited, and the distant blue faded, becoming the next blue just beyond.

Chicken, No; Donuts, Yes: A New Year’s Day Journal

Posted January 1st, 2016 by Candice

blue card

Is it Saturday?  Every day the last few weeks has seemed like Saturday.  Or a holiday fixing to get ready to happen.  In grocery stores, I squint over lists of special food for Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, Christmas day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day breakfast, New Year’s Day.

gold cards

Today when I woke up, I reviewed do’s and don’ts for starting the year off right.  Calendars bought, but not yet hung.  Indoor decorations down, but trees still up.  Can’t afford to skip any opportunity for good luck or tick off Janus, the god who rules this day.  Tradition says that in the first hour of the new year, you should do what you want to do the rest of the year.  I planned to write in my brand-new journal during that first hour.

journal web

First Atticus must be fed.  He launches out of the laundry room (we put him away at night so we can have some peace), tail fluffed in his usual overnight indignation.  Takes a step and then—thump!—sits down and raises a hind leg.  Runs two steps then—thump!—up goes the hind leg.  This behavior indicates back-door trouble common to long-haired cats.  I sigh, wondering if I need the scissors or just a wet paper towel.  Dingleberry duty is not how I want to spend the next 356 days.

new calendars

I manage to write a half a page in my journal before my husband comes in my office, sleep-rumpled and needing coffee.  I make breakfast.  Yesterday I vacuumed and did the laundry to leave the first day of 2016 unstained.  I even took out the trash last night.  Yes, those activities are strictly forbidden on New Year’s Day, old-time beliefs weighted with dire consequences.

trees web

Next I gather the little tinsel trees that brightened every room in the house.  I can’t put them all away.  One must stay in my sitting room.  The royal blue or the turquoise?  Wait.  What’s wrong with this picture?

tree cat web

A weak winter sun strains to break through the clouds that stayed over us like awnings the last two weeks.  At least it’s not raining.  Our across-the-street neighbors are taking down their outdoor decorations.  They move like clockwork toys, methodically wrapping cords and winding garlands.

spider card

Since this is the first year we put up outside lights, we aren’t so methodical.  I’m pretty sure our neighbors did not swear or kick boxes clear across the garage, or knock over the vintage Raleigh bicycle and scratch the truck door.

Kids in the cul-de-sac play a stunted form of softball.  Instead of flipping a coin and calling heads or tails, they flip a soda can and call “Ipod” or “Iphone.”  I sigh again.

Being a Southerner, I have the New Year’s food thing down.  Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas, rice, onions), cornbread (yellow food is good luck), and greens.  Once I cooked our greens with a new dime, to increase our prosperity in the new year.  My husband told me never do that again.


He’s from Pennsylvania and brings his own traditions to the table: pork and sauerkraut.  I throw ham in the Hoppin’ John and pinch my nose at the sauerkraut.  Pennsylvania Dutch also eat donuts on this day.  The ring-shape symbolizes the full circle of the year.

Eating chicken or turkey is bad luck—you’ll “scratch in the dirt” all year.  So, chicken, no; donuts, yes.

The day slid away from me and I became grumpy.  I wanted to work on my 2016 schedules, write something besides a journal entry, finish reading a book.  I spent the last hour of daylight carrying sweet-and-sour meatballs to an ailing neighbor.  I don’t know what that action signified luck-wise.  I took something out of the house!  But I was also the neighbors’ “first-footer,” the first person to cross their threshold, a sign of good luck.

Walking back up our driveway, I noticed the darkening sky streaked with pink.  Maybe tomorrow when I open my eyes, the sun will actually be shining.  I resolve to treat the second day of this tender new year a little more gently.