Life Management


My Sabbatical Year

by Christine

A year ago I shared with you my desire to take the time and dedicate the energy to delve into goals that were not driven by work. To that end, this past year I did just that. The outcome was not as envisioned, it was better. My sabbatical year allowed me to decompressed and refocus on the people and "work" that I cared about and helped me clarify how I want to live the Fourth Quarter of my life. My time has been well spent.  If you're thinking of taking a sabbatical year, here are a couple of things to help you with your planning. 

First, make a plan for the year but be open to unplanned opportunities. Everything I read before committing to taking a sabbatical year stated that having a plan would help make the most of my time. I found that my willingness to follow the path where ever it would lead me to be the most rewarding and enlightening part of the journey. Don't let adherence to "the plan" take over your sabbatical.

Next, be prepared for friends and family to be confused by the term sabbatical. Sabbaticals are traditionally the purview of college professors and eccentric designers, not small business owners.  The idea that you may deliberately take time to do something other than work is foreign to others and in my case always ended with the other person saying, "Oh, you are retired".  No, I am on sabbatical.

And finally, there may be no ta-da or grand fanfare at the end of the year. In my case, I will make a few changes in my life based some of my experiences from the past year but I am not running off to join the French Foreign Legion or start skydiving. An example of a change I am making is spending more time out of doors everyday. I will no longer be tied to a computer for hours on end without a "go outside and play" break. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing with you some of the other changes I am making. So let's chat and catch up!




It's Summer So It Must Be Jacksonville

by Christine

[Sunday morning rain showers]

The count down is on and today is the last Thursday my grandchildren will attend classes for this school year. I headed south to be part of the moving up ceremonies for the preschoolers and 5th graders. To be part of the waning days of school uniforms and homework as they give way to sleeping in, water shirts and summer camp is a special treat for me. Preschool graduations and 5th grade moving up ceremonies are amusing and candidly a bit overwrought. The preschoolers are baffled at the rows and rows of parents, grandparents and siblings seated in the auditorium as they march into the room but quickly get into the event once they realized that cake is at the finish line. There was even a preschool no adults allowed "Prom"; we passed on that event. 

My poor 5th grade grandson had to listen to his Principal talk about adhering to "core values" and committing to a path in life "if they didn't want to end up nowhere". I felt for the 5th graders seated in the room because those were some heady admonitions for 11 year olds particularly since I know some 40 year olds who still are looking for their path in life. The most depressing speech of the day was delivered by the Assistant Principal who stated "if you think 5th grade was hard, just wait until 6th grade!" And oh, have great summer. For a moment I thought the only wise thing to do was buy an island and scoop up my children and grandchildren and run away. But them I remembered I don't have enough money to buy an island...even a small one so the best I have to offer is help developing organizational skills and be willing to answer really, really easy math questions. 

Being part of my grandchildren's school life has taken me back to the basics in education. Almost every day I am asked what a word means and truthfully I have to pause to gather my thoughts so that I can clearly and succinctly define a word. The more basic the word the harder it is to define; I've even had to say, "we need to look that up." My mother used to do that to me and I was convinced that she was holding out and just trying to get me to use the dictionary. Now I wonder if she too was struggling to be a good teacher. 

All this musing about grandchildren, education and words brings me to Footsteps. I started writing this blog as a tool to help me as I struggled with my mother's failing health and her death. I very much wanted to share what I learned with others going through a similar journey. I was hoping for a dialog that would educate and enlighten and many of you shared your journey with me for which I am grateful. I have been thinking about the evolution of Footsteps and as has been my pattern over the last couple of weeks, I looked up this word to learn if I had inculcated it correctly. I was surprised to find that the specific meaning of evolution is the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. I do want Footsteps to gradually develop but I don't want to go from a simple to a more complex form. At this point in life I understand that complex is not necessarily good. 

I am no longer posting weekly about aging parents, health insurance, hospitals and funeral homes. The Footsteps archives houses helpful information on all those subjects and please feel free to look at past posting. In the future I will be writing about Living in the 4th Quarter and how to make the most of that time in life. I've always had eclectic interests and you will see in the future that I will blog about assorted ideas and themes. It could be anything from living alone to second or third marriages later in life to how to make the perfect Southern dessert. I hope you will share your thoughts on these posts. 

Finally, social media can be overwhelming and time consuming. I write this blog to authentically share ideas, themes and information. I know many of you look for my blog updates on my personal FACEBOOK page. I will no longer be putting the link to the blog on my personal FB page, it will only go up on the Footsteps' FB page. So much of the FB feed these days is made up of Upworthy, Buzz and other "informational" threads. I don't want to add to the clutter.  I have a personal FB page because I want to keep up with people I care about and who care about me.

The very best way to keep up with the Footsteps post is to sign up for the newsletter. The newsletter has been redesigned and can be read easily on your phone. I subscribe to several blogs that now use this format and it's great. I find that if I am waiting to have the oil changed in my car or picking up the grandkids from school I can catch up on my reading on my phone. Sign up for the newsletter in the upper right hand corner of this page and please know I will not give or sell your email address to anyone. Also, if you would prefer, sign up for Footsteps on FB to keep up with the post updates.  



Finding A Home For Your Books

by Christine

"When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes." ~Desiderius Erasmus

I'm a book person. Books are my friends, mentors and teachers; every book that entered my home found its own special place. I didn't loan out my friends or give them away. My books were always at my fingertips in the event I wanted to research a favorite passage or look for an illusive quote.  Well, before on line bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Amazon, I discovered a marvelous bookstore in London. I was attending classes at Cambridge University and I was euphoric over the ideas and concepts being discussed in my classes. On my return journey home I bought books instead of clothes and accessories. I stuffed my suitcase with so many books that I had to pay an overage fee when checking my bag. 

As with most things in life, my attitude towards my books evolved. I started to feel selfish that all my books were just resting on a self or stacked on the floor collecting dust. My enlightening and stimulating friends had transitioned to the role of interior decor joining the ranks of the lamp and sofa. I made the decision to start giving away my books and the first one to go was Reader's Digest Complete Do-it-yourself Manual. My anthropomorphic feelings about that book gave way to guilt that I had sent my friend away. That was the one and only book I gave away until my mother died.

My mother and father didn't collect books on the scale that I did. They read a variety of novels regularly, particularly after my dad retired, but instead of purchasing books they borrowed them from their local library. Mom was a docent at the Jacksonville Art Museum* and she collected large, heavy and stunningly beautiful coffee table art books. As my sister and I were closing down my parent's home after my mother's death, letting go of the books because a struggle. We took more than we really wanted but we did let many go. 

The introduction of the iPad and Kindle helped start me down the path of letting go once again. In my research to find a good home for my friends, I learned of several outstanding opportunities to share my friends. Here are a few ways to find new homes for your books if you are ready to let them go. 

BookMooch-These guys let you give away books in exchange for books you really want. There is no cost to use the site.

The Home Based Bookstore- You can sell your books on Amazon, eBay or on your own website. The highlighted link is a book that tells you how to get started. 

More Than Words-is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless or out of school to take charge of their lives by managing their own retail and online book business. 

Donate to your local library- Not all libraries want donations all the time. The American Library Association keeps a running list of who is accepting books. Also I would encourage you to just call your local library and ask about their donation policy.

Books for Troops-was founded to send "care packages for the mind" to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by providing a variety of books. 

International Donation Programs-This program looks really interesting because it helps institutions and programs that have little or no money to post their need for education material. Textbooks and other hard to place books might find a home here. This is a kooky but engaging concept. Put a BCID label in your book and then release it into the wild. Leave it on a table in a restaurant, on a park bench or give it to a friend. Then plug in the BCID number in the bookcrossing website and watch your books travel the world.  

Finally, my daughter shared this idea with me. Kathryn and her friends have a book exchange. They meet over a glass of wine and exchange books. They are all young mothers whose budgets are tight and this is the perfect way to keep a new book on their nightstand. 

I would love to hear any ideas you might have about finding a new home for your treasured books. 


*The Jacksonville Art Museum has been renamed the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art.





Living In New York

by Christine

[ West Community Garden cared for by a passionate group of volunteers]

Today I am going to take a break from posting about planning for the Fourth Quarter to write about living in New York City.  I'm not one of those (transplanted) New Yorkers who believes the City is the epicenter of the world but I do understand why most of the 8,405,837 people that live in one of the 5 boroughs feels that way. Marty was born and raised in Brooklyn and he proudly points out that "Made In Brooklyn" is stamped on the bottom of his foot. He is in fact one of THOSE New Yorkers.  Brooklyn, Marty's hometown, is the largest borough followed by Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island.  The total population of the state is 19,651,127 and the residents of New York City account for almost 43% of the state's population. One day I will share with you some of the internal politics of a state whose rural areas are more red than voting records indicate and how they feel having the richest, most powerful blue city in its midst. 

Why do I understand that most New Yorkers believe their city is the best in the world? Because you can always find a group of people who share your interest. Are you a quilter? Join the NYC MOD QuiltCuild on the first Saturday every other month. Want to learn about native plants and wildflowers in New York City? Check out the free tour in Central Park.  Or discuss the 21st Century Renaissance, dance the salsa in Bryant Park or Kayak the Nissequogue River...yup, those groups are waiting for you to sign up. 

I had a civics teacher who once said you can get 50 people in the United States to believe anything. I submit within the 8.5 million people living in NYC, you can find at least 100 individuals who share your passion and have already organized a weekly meeting. For most of the people who live in the City, it is a point of pride that if they wanted to they could attend a lecture on Powerful Women in Greek Tragedy even though they never would. 

I've lived in towns and cities up and down the Eastern Seaboard and I know that each place has it's own allure and attraction. To make a place your home, means to find others who you care about and who honor your passion. Yes, it may be easier to find your group out of a large pool of individuals but it is not a requirement. What is your passion? Do you have people in your life that honor you passion? 





How To Organize Your Family Photos-Step Three

by Christine


[Love Dad's socks]

For the last two Wednesdays I have been writing about organizing your family photos. Today I close out this mini-series with a look at how to store all your scanned photos and digital images. The challenge is to keep your images safe for your own enjoyment and for future generations of your family.

Each media whether film, video or digital has its own challenges. I am reminded of photographer Jacques Lowe. Lowe had unprecedented access to President John F. Kennedy and his family. His photographers weren't just works of art but a record of U.S. history. Lowe's archive was irreplaceable which made it uninsurable. Lowe stored his precious photographs in the safest place he JP Morgan's vault in building 5 of the World Trade Center in New York City.  After the 9/11 attack the vault was retrieved in tact but inside the vault, Lowe's film archive was in ashes. 

In the digital age your concern for the safety of your images moves beyond Acts of God and man. If not stored properly, the images degrade and can be lost forever. That is why I don't rely on CD's as backup for my digital images. I had some family video transferred to CD several years ago and learned that the best CDs are only guaranteed for 100 years. While a hundred years sounds like a long time and it is, I have black and white photographs of family over 100 years old and there is no loss of image. Unless the technology changes, CDs aren't the best media to house valuable images. 

So how do you protect your images? First, back up your photographs to multiple media. You can keep them on your computer; use a flash memory drive, external hard drive or on-line storage service. I back up my photographs to a LaCie external drive. There are many different brands of external drives and pricing is based on storage size. I like the LaCie rugged because it is a good travel size and has a cushy outer layer that can take a hit now and then. My cloud service is Dropbox. I started with these guys though my company and have stuck with them for my personal stuff. Again there are multiple cloud storage services to help with photo storage. Choose one that works for you and start uploading. 

Next make sure you have a copy somewhere besides at home. Give a copy to your sister, put it in your safe deposit box or keep it any other safe place off-site. (This is really a good thing to do for the back up to your whole computer system.) If you are using a cloud services, this can be considered your off-site location for your photographs. It's all about redundancy!

I hope these three posts inspire you to organize and protect your photographs. Let me know if you have any hints on how to make this DIY project easier. 


Nugget: Why the Library of Congress believes preservation of your photographs and communications is important




What Do Your Spending Habits Say About You?

by Christine

Boy! A month goes fast. How did it go with your spending log this past month?  Was it difficult to keep the log? Or was it the perfect tool for you to keep a record of your daily expenses. Now that you have recorded a month's expenses, you can analyze how you spend your money and what changes you can make to reach your Fourth Quarter goals. Are you spending your money like you thought? Were there any surprises? What did you learn about yourself?

How you spend your money says a great deal about what you value? If you spend $6.00 a day on a cup of coffee or $700.00 dollars a month on shoes, it could easily be said that you value coffee or that you value shoes. How you spend your money is a tangible expression of what you value in life. But understanding your motivation behind how you spend your money may not always be clear. Paying your mortgage doesn't necessarily mean you value the house you live in; it could mean that you value the security of owning your own home. Paying premium for coffee, shoes or other goods could say more about the lifestyle you value as opposed to the object themselves. 

Take time this week to look at your spending log and think about what your expenses say about you and what you value. Are you careless with money? Are you frugal with money? Do you profess certain values but spend you money contrary to those stated values? I'm taking about understanding "the why" of how you spend your money. When you understand your motivation, it becomes easier to set priorities when making changes. Take some time this week to sit quietly and think about how you send your money and what it says about you. 





Finding Balance: Living In The Moment And Planning For The Future

by Christine

Recently a family member asked for advice on how to balance living fully in the moment with planning for the future. This question brought to mind the days when my kids were still young and in school. More than one Sunday evening Matthew or Kathryn declared that a book report, a difficult to source poster board or a dozen cupcakes was due at school the following morning. My children were in school during the days when teachers believed it was the responsibility of the student to plan their work and communicate with their parents.  There were no weekly folders from the teacher or on-line student accounts with school calendars to help the parents monitor their child's schoolwork.

Each time, the hair-on-fire moment created by these pronouncements put me into a quandary. Do I stop every thing and edit and type the half finished book report, scour every store looking for that special poster board that can only be found in the local arts store that's not open on Sunday or stay up to midnight baking cupcakes. The other option was to calmly explain to the kids that part of the planning process was giving me notice and unfortunately it was too late to do what they needed done. They would suffer the consequence of a failing grade or the discomfort at spoiling a class party. I was never able to follow the second option, I would kick into gear to solve the late night challenge, yelling at my child the entire time. We hit the deadline but my home was not a calm and nurturing place during those episodes. This was definitely extreme living in the moment. 

I don't believe planning for the future is in conflict with living fully in the moment. Planning means putting into place a set of actions that have been thought through as a way to achieve your future goals. Have you taken the time and energy to think through what you want your future to look like and put a plan in place?  Each January I spend a dedicated amount of time putting together my goals for the coming year. This exercise helps me visualize what I want my life to look like and how I am going to achieve my goals. I work the plan during the year. I may change the plan depending on opportunities and challenges that come my way but having a plan takes some of the pressure off when looking towards the future. 

Planning for the future is not the same as obsessing about or worrying over the future. If you haven't developed a plan or aren't living your plan then the tension between living in the moment vs. the future maybe more about your lack of a satisfactory plan. If your energy is directed towards second guessing your plan or second guessing the future of the world then you will find it difficult to live in the moment. If you are feeling uneasy about being fully engaged in your life today and planning for the future, I encourage you to dig a little deeper. Worry steals joy from today and pays no returns in the future. 



How To Organize Your Family Photos-Step Two

by Christine

[Mom & Dad at 300dpi}

Last Wednesday I wrote about the prep work necessary for organizing your family photographs. The next step in your organizational journey is to scan your photos. There are two ways to get it can do it or have someone else do it. When I say someone else, I am talking about one of the multiple companies advertised on-line. First the disclaimer: I haven't used an on-line scanning company. 

The on-line companies give a variety of reasons for turning to them instead of making scanning a DIY project. They tout the ease and quality of using a professional service to scan your "memories".  Pricing varies based on individual companies. Scancafe provides an á la cart menu with each media priced individually while PhotoBin offers a Photo Pack price based on type of media and quantity. Photo restoration, videotape transfer and photo books are additional services provided beyond basic scanning. If you don't have the time or patience to scan all you photographs, this may be the option for you. 

I made the decision to scan my pictures for a couple of reasons. I am reluctant to let my photos out of my sight and the quantity of photos I have to scan would be expensive.  To start out I purchased a Canon CanoScan 9000F instead of using my 3-in-one Canon printer.  It's optical resolution for film on the CanoScan 9000F is 9600dpi; that is more than sufficient for my needs. The scanner sits next to my desktop at home for ease of use. I scan 10 to 12 photos a day depending on my schedule. On rainy Saturday, I may scan more while listening to one of my favorite podcasts.  Another reason I chose to scan my photos instead of outsourcing is I prefer organizing with the hard copy in my hand. The scanning companies suggest you organize your photographs after they are scanned instead of before and truthfully I am old school. Organize hard copies first and then scan. 

Regardless of who takes on the task of scanning, you will need to decide at what dpi you want to scan your photographs. To answer that question you will need to think about what you are going to do with your pictures. The higher your DPI, Dots Per Inch-refers to the number of dots of ink used per inch to create an image of a physical page, the better your photograph will look when printed out. What this means is if you are scanning your photos for archival purposes, to electronically share with a friend or if you only want to print them 1:1 then a 300dpi is good. If you want to print out a photo at double the size then you would be better off with an image scanned at 600dpi.  

Why not scan all photos at the highest resolution? The higher the resolution the longer it takes to scan an image and the more space it takes up. You could end up spending a great deal of money on storage space for images that you will never print out or never print out larger than 1:1.. The question is difficult to answer because you are trying to anticipate what you may want to do with a photograph in the future. I find that the majority of my images warrant scanning at 300dpi but when I run across one that is particularly important to me, I scan at a higher dpi. The professionals don't "over' scan, Scancafe uses 600dpi while PhotoBin uses 300dpi. Keep in mind that scanning a low-resolution image at high dpi can make the photograph look worse. 

Next Wednesday, I will blog about storing your electronic images. If you have any thoughts on dpi, please share.


Nugget: If you want more information on resolution and dpi, check out, National Geographic's helpful explanation on the technical side of photography. 




Saving Money In The Fourth Quarter

by Christine

Do you put money into a retirement savings account? If you do, you are part of the 72% of Americans who are saving for retirement. The Capital One ShareBuilder's Financial Freedom Survey found people are saving on average 6.4 percent of their annual income for retirement. The survey sheds light on our attitudes toward savings and what we actually do. The report reveals Americans believe they should be saving closer to 12.1% but don't because of more immediate financial needs. 

When we were younger the vision of retirement was a mirage. It was an illusion; an imagined distant future that had nothing to do with us in the present. If we saved money at all, it was the minimum. We were spurred on to save money by employers who offered 401K programs with matching funds. By the time we had an inkling that we would actually reach retirement age, we had built lives that required 95% of our income to support it. 

If you want to retire or change your life during the Fourth Quarter then it will be necessary to learn to save money...even during the Fourth Quarter. Last week I wrote about U.S. Social Security Benefits and the concept of full retirement. Let's say you are currently 60 years old and your full retirement age is 67. You've made the decision to change your life at 67 so you can take advantage of the full benefits SS has to offer you. You now have 7 years to reorganize and save for that change. Your first response may be to think your world is built upon a bunch of assumptions that will be difficult to undo?  Yes, but to make a change, you must change. 

Financing your retirement or a life change during the Fourth Quarter is no longer a mirage or an abstract distant future. Launching a plan that allows you to finance the Fourth Quarter of your life starts the moment you recognize your desire to change. It will be easier to accomplish because you have something solid to work for. Think of it as the Red Zone in a football game. It's the last 20 yards before the end zone and a touchdown. 


Nugget: Anytime money is discussed anxiety increase. Check out my friend and fellow blogger, Kathy Gottberg's piece on 15 Ways Simple Living Relieves Anxiety & Reduces Stress. Life is about choices and tradeoffs and stressing about those choices and tradeoffs takes the joy out of life. 


How To Organize Your Family Photos-Step One

by Christine

[Visiting Ron & Nancy in the 1980s]

Last year, B&H offered a series of lectures by leading professional photographers. B&H is the absolute best camera and electronics store in the world. I can't say enough good things about its product selection and the people who work there. They have a great on-line service too. Marty and I went to hear working photographer Bob Straus speak on how he captured magazine cover quality images of the famous and not so famous over his 40 year career. At the end of the question and answer session, a meek voice from the back of the room asked Bob how he organized and cataloged all his photographs. And I promise you, this professional photographer whose career has been taking photos for CBS, ABC, NBC and other high-end groups said, "I don't. If you find a good system, let me know." There you have it. Even the professionals are struggling to organize their photos.

So today I begin by stating there's no perfect solution. Now that doesn't mean you throw up your hands and do nothing. It makes no sense to have photographs stuffed in a drawer, a shoebox or a plastic bin and not know how to find a particular photograph. At least that is what I told myself as I started this project. My first criteria are that the photographs must be retrievable. I developed a filing system so that I could retrieve images when creating videos or birthday card for my loved ones. My filing system is by person and date. An example is my daughter's school pictures, prom pictures and individual baby pictures are in a file with her name on it. Our 1990 family Christmas pictures and 1990 vacation pictures are in a file simply labeled 1990. It's been fun and a bit maddening to figure out the dates on some of my photos. The 80s were a cinch! The big hair and Bill Cosby sweaters definitely date a photograph. If you have a system that for you is more intuitive then use it. The key element to developing a filing system is to keep it simple. 

Additionally, identify the people in the photographs. I'm working with other family member to identify everyone in our family photos. Do it now before the older members of your family pass away. I have hundreds of photos of "family" members from the late 1800s and early 1900s but there is no one alive to identify them. I am labeling the photographs I know so that there will be no questions in the future. 

[Touring the British Museum]

The second step in this process is to cull your photographs and remove the out of focus, poorly cropped or just plain bad images. I resisted this at first but got on board when I imagined future generations going through my photographs. Tossing out the bad ones meant that my future great, great grandchildren would think I am a better photographer than I actually am plus scanning will take less time and money. Keep in mind that depending on the number of photographs you own storing the hard copies may take up a lot of physical space.  Why lose valuable real estate storing bad photographs?

Third, decide which photographs you want to display and how you will display them. I have purchased a frame that holds multiple photographs and I regularly change out pictures of my grandchildren.  I've also created a couple of scrapbooks containing a mixture of photographs and memorabilia that captures not only the images of family and friends but also the flavor of the era. If you have digital photos that you want to display but don't want to create hard copies then a digital photo frame is for you. So far the technology is driving a rather basic looking frame but I believe over time the size and style of the digital photo frame will evolve. 

This is the first step in organizing your family photos. Next Wednesday I will look at the technology behind scanning and the different scanning options. If you have other ideas on how to make this process easier, please share.