Thursday, February 27

My First Official Photo Shoot: The Big Reveal

Last Sunday I attended a neat little party called "Headshots and Happy Hour".

Hosted by the lovely Alex (@clippo, I Don't Blog), it was an opportunity for a handful of bloggers to get together and have new headshots taken by the very talented Cherie-Lynn Buchanan (@clbuchanan, CL Buchanan Photography).

As each of us waited for our turn in front of the camera, Alex's husband served warm, homemade cinnamon buns and fancy-looking lattes (I'm not a coffee girl, but they sure looked good!) and we had a chance to get to know each other. (I think I'm the only one who hadn't met anyone in the aren't you proud of me for actually agreeing to attend? This is big, people.)

While I wasn't thrilled about having my picture taken, the highlight of my day was finally meeting my best-writer-friend, Sarah (@SarahNewk, Sleeping Is For Losers) for the first time in real life! She has been an amazing professional support as we both navigate the freelance writing/media world, and you wouldn't believe how much you can go through with someone without ever seeing them face-to-face!

Cherie-Lynn had a very warm and complimentary manner - very important when trying to get women to relax and pose for photos - and only needed a few minutes with each of us to get the job done.

Within days she provided us with a very handy online process for checking our proofs and making selections. Our package allows three different poses, in both black and white, and it took me a while (and a few other opinions) to make my selections. I think I have a healthy attitude about my appearance in general, and I don't obsess over how I look in day-to-day candid shots with friends and family, but for some reason I have high expectations for how I will look in official, individual photos like these. I can always find something to critique, but I'm making an effort not to be so hard on myself. (The other ladies' shots were AMAZING, by the way. They're lovely women to start with, but Cherie-Lynn really brings out the best in her subjects.)

You will soon be seeing some or all of these pics popping up on the blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, my front lawn, etc., but here's a sneak peek:

Which one should I start using first? Do you prefer the colour or the black and white? I am well aware that I am the only one who cares about this, but humour me here, would you?

Friday, February 21

Anastasia's Picks: More Books For Tweens and Teens

Right from my twelve-year-old niece, "Anastasia" - more book recommendations for tweens!

Game Slaves by Gard Skinner

Team Phoenix is the best video game villain group in the world.  Fast, strong, and powerful, they are top on the ranks. One day, a new assignment shows up. Her name is Dakota. Phoenix never questioned the programming of Blackstar, the company that launched their very existence, but Dakota does. Slowly, the team begins to realize that they may be more out there than video games, and they embark on a journey to discover who they really are. 

A great read for any sci fi lover! Very intriguing and captivating. I rank this a 8 out of 10, and recommend this book to ages 12 and up. 

Unlikely Loves by Jennifer S.Holland

Unlikely Loves is a adorably detailed book, with heartwarming stories that all ages can enjoy. Suitable for the workplace, school, or home, Holland delivers us wonderful tales about a surprising couple, who, against all odds, manage to have a lovely animal relationship. Similar to Unlikely Friendships, but even more amazing short stories about our awesome animal friends. Honestly, this book is so uplifting when you need it or not, and I would call this book one of my personal favorites. 5 stars indeed!

Seers by Kristine Bowe

Seers is a captivating story about the life of the exceptionally talented brain-wise. Leesie, a seer that rises above the rest, is sent to another new school on another new mission. But this time, it is different. When Leesie tries to enter her victim's mind, she finds that it is guarded. The people she thought were friends once are a lot more than that, and together, her friends/fellow seers embark on a mission to protect a dark secret, that could wipe out the memory of everyone on the planet. I loved this book! The talent and special powers of the seers leaves you wondering what will happen next, and questioning if everybody really is who they seem to be! I recommend this Book for 10-16 year olds. A great read!


Thanks, Anastasia!

Tuesday, February 18

Cynthia Loyst: "The Social" Momterview

You may also be interested in my "behind-the-scenes" visit to THE SOCIAL, and my latest interview with Cynthia on set!

As a new mom of a nine-month-old son and one of the four co-hosts of CTV's hit talk show "The Social", Cynthia Loyst is a busy woman. Thankfully, she made time to have a chat with me, sharing her views on marriage and sexuality, the success of the new show, and everything in between!

This Mom: How did the Social hosting gig come about?

Cynthia Loyst: This was a project that was rumbling around the building for a while, and around January of last year there was a call put out to some of us to go for an audition. I was around seven months pregnant when I got invited to the audition and I was really excited about it. There were a lot of different people who were auditioning and they tried different combinations of people, but the very first one that we did was with the four of us. {Cynthia co-hosts alongside Melissa Grelo, Lainey Lui and Traci Melchor.} Right from that moment we all felt there was a kind of chemistry and energy and even friction between us, but it was also couched in a lot of affection for each other. There were fireworks right away, and even though we tried a bunch of things and there were several days of auditions, looking back, it seems clear that there was something magical brewing right then.

Cynthia (Photo: CTV)

TM: Congratulations on being renewed for another season! Clearly you knew there was chemistry from the beginning, but did you expect it to catch on with viewers so well? 

CL: For a long time people have said "We'd love to have a Canadian version of 'The View'", and initially when people heard about our show there were lots of comparisons made, simply because we were a group of opinionated women discussing hot topics. But I think since the show has launched, people have noticed how unique it is. 

I think part of what people are responding to is our group dynamic - we are all very different personally and professionally. There's Melissa who is married and pregnant has a news background, Lainey is married but childless by choice and a gossip maven, Traci is a single mom of twins is an entertainment reporter and me, the common-law married new mom, who is also the resident sex and relationship expert. We all bring really distinct things to the table. But the most important aspect of our show I think is our interaction with the audience. The fact that they can weigh in, in real time, on our conversation and send it in a whole different direction makes them an essential part of the show. {Viewers are invited to interact through social media during the live shows, and members of the studio audience are encouraged to have their smartphones out during taping.}

What surprises me the most is the immense diversity in the audience, both the one sitting in front of us every day, and the ones who are watching at home. It seems to transcend age brackets and cultures. Families come together, women come in and say "My boyfriend got me tickets for the show", gay men are coming in with their partners, it's a really interesting cross-section of people, and I think that surprised me more than anything else.

Traci, Cynthia, guest Elisha Cuthbert, Lainey and Melissa (Photo: CTV)

TM: I have a really hard-hitting journalism question for you here: how is your wardrobe selected every day?

CL: {Laughs} We have an amazing stylist named Alisa Krost and she is an artist! She's given the task every day to come up with a look that not only works for each one of us individually, and we all have very distinctive personal styles - and personalities that go along with those styles, I think - and also trying to make it a cohesive look where there might be flavours of the same thing in there. You'll notice there might be a theme, like yellows, or yesterday there was a Spring feeling going on, and every single day she somehow pulls this together and makes us all feel as comfortable as we possibly can. 

TM: You’re very open talking about sexuality {she's the former producer and host of Sex Matters and SexTV}  but is there anything you won’t talk about on television, or topics that have had you tongue tied on the show?

CL: Not really...although Lainey is much more comfortable talking about poo than I am, for sure! We did a topic about our different bowel habits and we had little plasticine bits that were supposed to represent what our "situation" was like, and that wouldn't be my first choice of something I'd like to communicate to the public and people I don't know...or people I do know! For me, as you mentioned, sexuality is really important and I think people need to get a dialogue going, especially in this day and age. Not only do some people not communicate with their partner abut what their needs are, but it starts at a really young age when parents don't feel comfortable talking to their kids, and then kids don't feel comfortable talking to their parents, so where are they learning about sexuality from? The internet, their friends. There's a lot of bad information out there, and we know that knowledge is power when it comes to any subject, so I love that this show has also given a forum to talking about sexuality in an intelligent and measured kind of way. We're also sometimes playful about it as well, which I think is important. You can't always make a subject that is supposed to be light and loving really heavy. So I think there's balance on this show that again is reflective of our audience. 

Lainey, Melissa, guest Evangeline Lilly, Traci, Cynthia (Photo: CTV)

TM: Walk me through what a typical workday is like for you.

CL: Right now I get up around seven in the morning, but I've been up already about four or five times in the night. I'm going through a teething phase I guess, since Jaya has two little teeth budding, or maybe it's sleep regression, who knows? I'm officially up at seven when the baby gets up and basically I bring him into the bed, my partner and I will cuddle with him and I'll feed him, and we get a little playtime together, and then I'm out the door an hour and a half after that. I get to work, I get into makeup, and then as soon as I'm done makeup I pump because I'm still breastfeeding. Everyone on our staff knows the sound of the pump, the look of the pump, what I look like when I'm pumping because I've lost all perspective on what is too much! We meet with the producers who tell us what's going to be on the show and we go over the production packs, and later on we get our segment one and two which are more of the newsy things we're going to talk about. I get my hair done, I go to wardrobe at some point, then we go through blocking, I pump again, we talk to producers again and then we pretty much go to air. As soon as the show is done, we either go out on field shoots or sometimes have time in the office, and then I race home to go be with the baby. 

TM: You've been with your partner Jason for more than 13 years, but I read online that you are 'anti-marriage'. Can you elaborate on that?  

CL: It's not that I'm anti-marriage per se. When we first decided that we wanted to have a wedding, I think it was based on this idea of bringing together people in our lives who were important to us and having a celebration. The only way you do that is through a wedding, right? Then we started thinking about who would conduct the ceremony, and I didn't want a stranger doing it. Neither of us were religious so we weren't going to do it in a church. We started looking into getting someone we knew to do it, but it's a big ordeal here. It's a very difficult thing to do in Ontario, so we considered going to City Hall first, or hiring someone just to do the signing of the paperwork, but then we started asking ourselves "Why are we doing this? What does this mean that is different than our current situation? We are common-law, we co-own our house, how does this impact us in any other way? Why are we working so hard to make this fit?" and we realized it wasn't reflective of us. We wanted it to be true to us, we wanted our friend to marry us, we wanted to write our own vows, and we didn't want to sign something that was a legally binding document. It didn't feel romantic, quite frankly. So we just decided to do it our way. We feel that we are just as committed and as 'married' as anyone else who has a legally binding document.

Cynthia and Jason (Photo: Richard Sibbald)

TM: So you did have a ceremony?

CL: We did! We went to The Distillery in Toronto, which is the place where Jason had proposed to me, and also where he had both my engagement ring and band designed by a jeweler who's there. It's an area where we spent a lot of time going to dinners, and it really connected to us so we thought it was an appropriate place. We brought our family and friends together and had a party! 

TM: Your son's name, Jaya, is so unique. How did you choose it?

CL: I found choosing a boy's name really hard. I knew I was having a boy, and Jason works in film and television as well, and he was travelling at the time when I started looking at names, so I was on my own. I came up with a whole list of names like Zachary and Jeremiah. Jason came back and said "These are all so biblical, and that's not really us," so we both started to look at our family names. I'm Italian on one side and German on the other, and he's Malaysian and Hungarian so we started going through websites and we just happened to be looking at a list of Malaysian names and Jaya was there. I'm not sure that it was the same pronunciation we chose {rhymes with Mariah} but that's the way we wanted to pronounce it, and we thought "It sounds like this baby, like our baby", and it immediately clicked as soon as we said it. It means "victory".

Cynthia and Jaya (Photo: Kari Loyst)

TM: How would you complete the sentence "this mom loves..."?

CL: I love red wine. Did I say that ahead of my son? I am in love with my son. I have the total breastfeeding, oxytocin haze where I'm completely in love with my son. I love New Orleans, the hot, sweaty, sexy, down-and-dirty aspects of that whole city, I just love it. Anything MAC. I love my MAC products. And I love a great pair of heels!

Jaya (Photo: Kari Loyst)


Cynthia was also sweet enough to ask about my girls (she thinks their names are beautiful - and I actually told her their real names, not their blog pseudonyms!) and also asked if parenting is still as daunting when they get to seven and five. My answer: there's always going to be an aspect that's daunting at every phase, but everything gets easier when you can sleep through the night!

Plus, she was willing to give me a quick professional tip that I needed at the time of our interview - which I promise to share with you all if a certain opportunity pans out.

You can find Cynthia and the entire gang at The Social on CTV weekdays at 1:00 pm (check local listings), and on The Social's website. If you can't catch the show live, do what I do: PVR it, and watch while on the treadmill every night. Very motivating!

Cynthia on Twitter:
Cynthia on Facebook:

Thanks for the great chat, Cynthia!

Wednesday, February 12

Barbie The Pearl Princess: FREE Movie Passes plus Prize Pack Giveaway!

Yep, that says FREE movie passes! Read on!

Is there a mom out there who doesn't have childhood memories involving Barbie?

I remember receiving one doll each Christmas, and some of my favourites were the bride doll with brown hair (a big deal for me), an office Barbie (her pink suit skirt reversed to something sparkly to take her from work to play in a flash) and a figure skating Barbie (to remind me of my months-long experience as a figure skater!)

My daughters now have a huge bin filled with my aunt's dolls from the 70's, mine from the 80's, and now all of theirs...with several decades worth of furniture, outfits and accessories (including a very retro car!) A few years ago, Santa brought a Barbie house, which is definitely one of the most played-in areas of our family room.

When I heard about the new Barbie My Dreams site (and the Barbie the Princess Pearl promotion) I couldn't wait to share it with all of you.

The e-mail I received sums it up best:

"Mom and daughter have been playing Barbie together for over 50 years. With Barbie my Dreams now there's a new way for mom and daughter to play together in an online safe environment.  Barbie my Dreams is an online hub of all things Barbie, exclusive to Canadian Barbie fans. Girls can collect their favourite things and showcase their personal style for chances to win great monthly prizes, all in a safe, user-friendly environment."

If you want extra motivation to try out the new site, try this: sign up for an account at Barbie My Dreams and have your child create a board of their favourite Barbie things (moms: this will remind you very much of another site where we like to create boards of our favourites) and then they're eligible to download FREE tickets for the Barbie The Pearl Princess movie screening in one of the following cities (while supplies last):

Mississauga, Etobicoke, Scarborough, Stoney Creek, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Langley and Halifax. 

In addition to that great opportunity, there's a prize pack up for grabs here at This Mom Loves for one Canadian winner which includes a Barbie the Pearl Princess Barbie, and a Barbie the Pearl Princess DVD.

To enter, simply fill out the form below. The only information that is required is your e-mail address, and the rest is all optional for bonus entries. The contest will end on Tuesday, March 4th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern, after which time a winner will be chosen by random number generation.Good luck!

Disclosure: I received a Barbie the Pearl Princess prize package for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Sunday, February 9

Build-A-Bear Does It Again - Valentine's Outfits and Accessories

You may remember that in the summer of 2012, Build-A-Bear invited my girls to come visit their workshop for the very first time, and they each got to make and take home a special friend:

Since then, these Bears have been VERY well-loved. They each have their own beds, and just this Christmas the kids received little Build-A-Bear seats that attach to their rolling suitcase handles - which will be very convenient for tagging along to Jamaica!

When I heard that Build-A-Bear had some new Valentine's Day outfits and accessories, I just knew that they would be a hit at our place, and I was not mistaken.

Here's what we received:

Cute, right? When the girls saw everything, the first question was "Which one's mine?" I did some quick mommy-thinking and realized it was a good chance for them to problem solve, so I told them they could decide. Thank goodness they each had a different preference, so there was no arguing involved!

They took their time getting their Bears all dressed up for Valentine's Day (it's wonderful when your kids reach the age where they can remove tags and recycle/throw out garbage as needed) and posed for some photos (this was just hours before Maggie banged her nose on the kitchen counter - complete with lots of blood and a nice bruise!)

Frannie's feedback (7 years old): "My bear looks very cute in her butterfly Valentine's Day outfit and the headband is too cute! I love the glittery shoes and the wings that match the dress perfectly and I love the hearts on the headband. There's so much to choose from!"

Maggie's feedback: (5 years old): "I think it matches and it looks good! She looks pretty in it and I like the purse!"

Something about my clutter-phobe nature actually loves how attached they are to their Build-A-Bears, and that they can continue to accumulate clothing and accessories for them, rather than random purchases of other toys and knicknacks that don't go together as sets (does that make sense?) They have drawers under their beds, and one is designated as the Build-A-Bear drawer where all paraphernalia is kept.

If your little one hasn't visited the workshop before, it's really a fun outing (and reasonably priced, especially when promotions are happening) and the fun does continue long after the Bear comes home - at least at my house it sure has. For Valentine's Day or any time of the year, Build-A-Bears make a great gift.

Disclosure: I was provided with the above products for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own. 

Friday, February 7

Hallmark's Valentine's Day 2014 - Including the New Sarah Jessica Parker Collection

I don't know who's happier when my seasonal Hallmark packages, or my students!

Just check out the great Valentine's Day goodies that are up for grabs for my class:

Disney Sweethearts Minnie (MSRP $14.95)

Bittys Disney Happy Hearts (MSRP $6.95 each)

Suddenly Flowers (MSRP $14.95) 
When you lift off the box, the paper flower bouquet opens up. 
What a nice way to brighten someone's day!

Hearts a-Hoppin' Frog (Special: $15.95 with the purchase of 3 Hallmark cards, MSRP $29.95)
This little guy combines sound (a parody of Feelin' Hot Hot Hot) and movement, as he dances in circles.

But enough about the kid stuff - here are the goodies that I can't wait to use:

In the photo, you can see an adorable Spring Dots Memo Block (I'm a sucker for cute paper and pens; Special $7.95 with any purchase; MSRP 12.95) as well as the Magic Message Reveal Heart (MSRP $16.95). As soon as it's touched, a secret message (Always remember I love you) appears to the holder. Plus, if you twist the top, there's a small compartment inside.

My very favourite items come from the new Sarah Jessica Paker Collection (yes, the SJP - so of course everything is super stylish!) Here you see two patterned gift bags and a couple of Valentines, but the line also includes eight stationery designs, boxes and tissue paper, and more than 70 greeting cards for birthday, friendship, love, thank you, congratulations, wedding and baby. If anyone was looking for a gift for me for any reason, I'd love some SJP stationery...hint, hint...(I have mentioned that I took four day old Maggie to see the Sex and the City movie, right?)

Disclosure: I was provided with the items shown above for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, February 5

Adventures In Freelance Writing Volume III

If you missed the first two entries in this series, catch up here:

Adventures In Freelance Writing Volume I
Adventures In Freelance Writing Volume II

Successful Query Letter Sample

As promised, I'm kicking off this edition with a sample of a successful query letter which got me my first assignment for Today's Parent. I had queried this editor several times, always with prompt and positive replies (even if the answer was no) and once she was interested in a story and we went back and forth for a bit, but it ended up there was no room in the issue. Here's what I sent her one day last Spring:

"I'd like to propose a topic for your Steps and Stages: Pregnancy section, dealing with truths and myths about second pregnancies (the physical issues). Have you heard that the second time around you'll show sooner, urinate more and feel movement earlier? Well, I've heard it all too, but that doesn't mean it's true. I would interview OB/GYNs for the facts (I have my own connections, but if you have certain medical experts you use that's great), and get anecdotal comments from second time moms. (I know I can certainly share that my second labour was quicker, afterpains stronger and engorgement was lighter, but why?)

While some first-time moms certainly read parenting magazines throughout their pregnancies, I would bet that the large majority of your readers already have one child, and would be very interested to read about how their second (and subsequent, for those brave souls) pregnancies may be the same or different. Since this topic isn't seasonal, you could use it any time of the year.

Please let me know if you're interested, or if you would like me to resend links to writing samples, etc. 


She forwarded this on to the appropriate section editor that day, who replied the next day and said that she liked it, and just needed the Editor In Chief to approve the idea. I got the green light on April 24th - and the story ended up in the October issue (just as a reminder about how far ahead magazines plan!)

You can check out the completed article here:


You Got The Job: Now What?

They loved your pitch, and gave you the assignment. What do you do now?

Be clear on the details: Read the contract and/or any other communication (e.g. e-mails) carefully to make sure that you know exactly what you're being asked to do. What's the word count? Does that include sidebars? Deadline? I was mortified not too long ago to get back a draft with lots of revisions necessary, because I had gone a bit off track and not covered the angle the editor was looking for. Once you get rolling, it can help to refer back to your assignment notes occasionally just to make sure you're going in the right direction. I checked in with another editor recently just to touch base with how I was drafting up an article - I'll probably be paranoid about that for a while now - and the reply read: "PERFECT! I love the way you are developing it!" Whew.

Get started: Once I have the job, I immediately open a document and start brainstorming all of my ideas. I usually decide right away who I need to interview, and most magazines are fine with a general Twitter or Facebook callout for sources.

For locating experts, Google can come in handy (though you have to be careful that the person you find actually qualifies as an "expert" on the topic), but usually I already have an idea of someone I'd like to speak to based on previous contact or their work in the media, so I'll fire off some e-mails and see who bites. I know Toronto-based magazines are sensitive about trying not to over-represent Ontario and the GTA in particular, so when looking for sources for my article above, I did some Googling and contacted a Midwives association out west and a OB/GYN association out east and was able to find two fantastic sources to interview. It's important to get this ball rolling right away, as it can sometimes take a while to get chats booked. I also find writing less painful (yes, I said it) when it's spread out over time.

Be professional: Always. Make sure your communication is appropriate and positive (even - especially? -on social media). Ask the important questions, but don't expect editors to hold your hand. Thank them for the opportunity - even though hopefully they're seeing it as a win-win situation, it never hurts to use your manners.

While I think I'm a decent writer, there's a huge pool of people out there with talent, and the way you conduct business could be exactly what sets you apart...for better or worse. 

I've even been offered a couple of assignments I didn't ask for, one at a magazine I'd never even contacted, because editors talk. Both started with "Such-and-such an editor suggested that you might be interested in writing a piece on..."

How I Made My Blog Work For Me:

There's no requirement that freelance writers have websites or blogs, but it's certainly a great way to showcase your work, practise your art (is that an oxymoron?) and perhaps make a few bucks. Here's how I use This Mom Loves to my advantage.

Sharing links: Right from the beginning I have had links to my published print work in the sidebar.

Focusing just the right amount on quality writing: I definitely try to avoid errors, but not to the point of obsession. I would say 95 % of my posts are error-free, but I can still go back through them and find the occasional typo. I make an effort not to let it bother me.

Making contacts and running with them: Right from the beginning I knew I wanted to feature interviews with well-known Canadian moms (Momterviews), and Canada AM's Marci Ien was my first taker. After making that contact, Marci has been fabulous about contributing to other blog posts and magazine articles, and when I pitched her the idea of featuring her and her favourite childhood teacher in Professionally Speaking (the magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers) she was game. The article turned out really well - they even did a photo shoot on the Canada AM set where they reunited Marci with that Grade 2 teacher, who still remembers her vividly! It was a great chance to mix my passions for education, writing and broadcast journalism, plus it was my highest-paying assignment yet. Marci also let me hang out on the set of Canada AM one morning, which was super fun.

Accepting review materials and sponsored posts, selectively: While I'm most interested in print publications, being paid for sponsored posts is still freelance writing work as far as I'm concerned, and while I realize you can't pay the bills with Build-A-Bears, being given products for review can still help a bit with the budget if they're the right items. Plus last summer we did Nashville for deep discounts as I was writing travel posts, and went to Centreville, Santa's Village and Legoland for free as promotional opportunities. Be very transparent and make it clear to your readers when products/services have been provided free for review purposes, or you were paid to write the post, and avoid any companies or products that don't jive with the values you hold or the image you want to present. 

Finding the right kind of advertisers: I chose the SavvyMom Media Collective, and I've been very happy with them. I just had to paste in some html code to get the ad spots running, and I have the power to veto any companies I don't want advertised on This Mom Loves (I think I've only ever turned down one or two). I receive cheques based on pageviews (which in my opinion is much better than pay-per-click revenue) which ads a little bit of income, and I'm occasionally offered well-paying sponsored posts with their advertisers as well.

That's it for this edition! As always, I am happy to answer questions from other new writers out there, so please don't hesitate to contact me! I'd also love to know what topics you'd like to see covered in the fourth volume of Adventures In Freelance Writing!

Monday, February 3

Efficient Organization: The Filing Cabinet

I am definitely an organized person. I come by it naturally, and have always seen the value in lists, schedules and everything having its place.

When discussing “The Happiness Project” at book club, one of the members commented “I just don't get how having a clean closet is going to make you happy!”  and I was stunned. Doesn’t everyone get a high from organizing, sorting and purging?

A reader and friend recently suggested that I parlay this area of obsession expertise into more blog posts, and while I’m all for it, I need to explain something.

I would call myself “efficiently organized” – which is not always what organizational-blog readers are interested in. Here’s a perfect example to illustrate what I mean: my filing cabinet.

At home and at school, I have well-groomed filing cabinets, with file folders neatly hand-labeled and arranged in alphabetical order. I’ve used this system forever, adding or deleting files as needed. For this reason, the hand-written labels work well for me.

Most organizational bloggers, though, go for the beautiful photo op. Readers like to see carefully typed labels in fancy fonts, done in a computer program, printed out on special stickers and carefully applied to the files.

But here’s the thing: I already have a perfectly functional system – taking a couple of hours just to change the look of the labels would not at all be efficient. It would be a waste of two hours of my time. Plus, what happens whenever I need a new label? My printing is neat and I never have trouble locating what I need in the cabinet, so it certainly serves its organizational purposes. And while I’m all for things being attractively presented in many areas of life/organization, literally NO ONE else sees my files but me. I’m pretty sure not another soul has ever opened by classroom filing cabinets, and on the very rare occasions my husband goes rooting around for a document himself at home, he’s certainly not complaining. Though I must admit that I did submit to Pinterest-pressure a couple of years ago and replace the folders that weren’t the same colour, which was refreshing. (Yes, I am being serious.)

Without further ado, here’s my very organized, but admittedly not really swoon-worthy photo:

On Pinterest, you can find tons of examples of filing cabinets that are beautifully refinished on the outside, but my cabinet at home (standard black, but in great condition) is kept in a closet, and I really don’t think there would be enough of a return on my investment to spend time beautifying the school cabinets which aren’t even my property.

My tips for filing success:

1. File immediately. People in the staff room the other day were talking about having a “To-File” pile. I never do. If something really needs to be kept (see next point) it goes from my hand directly into the filing cabinet. I open the mail as soon as I get in the door, and I truly do walk right downstairs, items in hand, and file any important pieces right where they go.

2. Only file what you absolutely must. So many things are available on the internet now, and filing within document folders on your computer is a much better idea than adding to paper folders. Getting e-mail notifications of bills and paying online helps with that, as well as removing your name from unnecessary mailing lists. Most of what I get in my mailbox at work, and a lot of what arrives at home, gets recycled. Even if it is something important, like a party invitation, I write the details down in my planner (RSVPing immediately if it’s required) and recycle the hard copy. For holiday cards, I keep a designated spot in the home for them to be collected/displayed. Most other correspondence (e.g. thank you cards) gets read, appreciated, showed to my husband or daughters if appropriate, and recycled. (Sorry if it sounds cold, but if you’re still reading, I assume you want me to be honest about my system!)

3. Whittle down your files on a regular basis. At school, I usually do this in June; pulling out a few folders at a time and whipping through them while the kids snack or work on art, or sometimes in the staff room while enjoying recess conversation. At home, it’s on the summer holidays, sitting in front of the TV. If I haven’t used it in a couple of years, I have multiple copies of it, or I know I can find it on the computer quickly if I need it again, it’s gone. I once read that tax stuff needs to be kept for seven years, so by year eight, it goes in the shredder or the fire pit. (To be clear, I mean the one in our backyard. I don’t camp.) I know I’m weird, but it gives me joy to pare down what’s in my filing cabinet (or pretty much any closet, cupboard or drawer).

So…are you inspired to get your filing cabinets into shape?

I already have a few more questions from a reader to get me rolling with this organizational series, but if you want to get a peek into an area of my home/work/life organization (besides, of course, my oh-so-gorgeous filing cabinets!), please comment, e-mail me, tweet me, etc. and I’d be happy to add your idea to the list.

I will never say that my way is the right way, but I certainly know what works for me, saving me time and making my days (from the crazy mornings to the exhausted evenings and everything in between) less stressful.

If you’re still with me, you may be interested in my previous clutter-control series:

# 2 - Beauty Products (no more contact lens products for me now!)
# 4 - Clutter Flashbacks (including hair accessories and coat closet)

Saturday, February 1

The Happiness Project: February

{You can find the first edition of this series here: The Happiness Project: January}

I regret that I must start February by saying that my book club did not like this one (written by Gretchen Rubin). I'm totally okay with that, as we all have different tastes, and I'm still glad I made them read it. I am a bit surprised though that I was in such a minority when it came to how much I adored it!

Since I actually made my pals discuss it at our book club meeting (evenings have been known to go by without mention of that month's title), I learned the following:

One friend thought the whole idea of the project was a bit self-centred. I disagree, because I firmly believe that when you can find happiness (with no cost to anyone else) those around you really do reap the benefits.

Another mentioned that the author seems like she's already perfect, and trying to be more perfect. I wondered what that said about me, when I feel like the Gretchen and I are kindred spirits? (And believe me, I'm not perfect, nor do I hold any illusions that I am, ever will be, or even need to be.)

Still another said that the whole premise was ridiculous because no one has the time to do a project like this. To be fair, I'm assuming she got a book deal ahead of time, and therefore had some income (either an advance or the promise of money to come) to get her through the year. And the whole "project" (i.e. work) aspect of it isn't what interests me the most. I have no desire to put my goals on spreadsheets and track my progress. For me, the concepts are a little bit more broad and fluid - goals to keep in mind as I go through the month (and year), while holding down my own jobs.

February's goals, for Gretchen, stemmed from the seasonal theme "Remember Love - Marriage":

  • Quit nagging
  • Don't expect praise or appreciation
  • Fight right
  • No dumping
  • Give proofs of love

My first goal is to respect my hubby's wishes that I don't discuss him on the blog, so I'll be brief with my twists on these ideas.

One of my favourite pieces of relationship advice comes from Dr. Phil, and I remind myself of it often: "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?" You have to let some things go.

I also need to internalize a reflection the author made in this chapter, related to nagging: "I reminded myself that tasks didn't need to be done according to my schedule". That one's a toughie for me.

When it comes to "proofs of love", I am a firm believer in the deposit/withdrawal theory. You need to make as many love deposits in your relationships as you possibly can, so that when you need to make a withdrawal - large or small, and believe me, I've been there - you're never in a state of overdraft. This doesn't just go for marriage, but with other family members, friends and colleagues. I even think of it with my students and their parents, too.

This month, I encourage you to join me in giving proofs of love as much as you can: go out of your way to do the favour, show affection, give the compliment, make the gesture, and express gratitude. How can you go wrong?

I would love to know if any of you have read the book, and if so, what you thought of it. (I honestly don't mind if you disagree with me...I didn't write it!)