Life Languages

As a tweenager I started learning a foreign language. At my school in fifth grade, we studied Spanish for half a year and French for half a year. Then we got to pick which language we wanted to study for the next three years. This felt like a big decision in my life at the time. I picked French mostly because I was weirded out by the upside down punctuation marks in Spanish.

Learning a foreign language was tough! I remember my mouth struggling to form new sounds. My ears working hard to make sense out of an unintelligible string of babble, trying to discern patterns and identify words I had just learned.

Even at the tender age of 11 with a young, spongy brain, I complained mightily about it to my father. Stamping my foot and chastising him for not teaching me a foreign language when I was younger and therefore could have picked it up effortlessly. My father laughed and said that he had raised me bilingual, in English and mathematics.

I didn’t find this comforting at the time, but now I realize math is a language. It was true, he had raised me with math as a “second language.” I’m fluent in reading numbers and not at all scared of equations. One of the first songs I learned was the “addition song” where we would add 1+1, 2+2, 4+4, etc. to a memorable tune not giving up until we reached 4-digit numbers.

The more I learned about the world around me I realized that I was fluent in a couple of life languages. In addition to math, I would also consider I’m fluent in music. In first grade I learned songs with solfieggio, a method of assigning hand gestures and names to notes. With practice I also learned how to read sheet music, rhythms, and other symbols used to indicate articulations, speeds, and dynamics. As a bassoonist, I’m fluent in two clefs, bass and tenor.

Excerpt of the Bassoon 1 part from the first movement of Beethoven Symphony No. 6, Op. 68. My part switches between bass clef and tenor clef (looks kind of like a “B”).

As I thought about these life languages, I wondered what other ones are out there that other people might be fluent in such as reading body language or facial expressions, dance movements, or actors who specialize in improv.

I did eventually become fluent in French, though I’m not anymore. Two years ago I got over my weird aversion to the upside down punctuation in Spanish and started taking courses. ¡I love it!

Iceland: Geothermal Fields and Tectonic Plates

Our first day in Akureyri started with a bus ride to Myvatn, an area with a lake surrounded by geothermal activity. We learned about the area in the visitor centre. After we met a local bread maker who cooked the dough in geothermal hot pockets, rather than using an oven! Containers of bread dough are placed in crates and then lowered into holes. The holes are covered and the dough is left to cook in naturally-generated heat. Later that day we tasted the bread. It was rich, brown bread, a bit sweet and extra delicious when smeared with Icelandic butter.

After the bread maker, we went to Hverir, a geothermal spot. The bus ride was short, but it felt like we had been transported to another world. A reddish, muddy landscape spread out before us in stark contrast to the snow covered hills surrounding the area. The air was hazy with pungent, sulphur-scented smoke.

The Hverir landscape. Boiling hot and enshrouded in smoke.

We were given special booties to cover our shoes and protect them from the soft, viscous mud. While tromping through a particularly muddy patch, the suction of it pulled off my booty. Needless to say, my shoes didn’t stay clean. erp.

Despite the snow surrounding us, Hverir was boiling hot, literally! Some of the mud holes were bubbling. We were cautioned to stay on the trails. The ground and mud were hot enough to get a severe burn.

Boiling mud!

After Hverir, we stopped at another scenic view point. It was a cold, crisp day and most of the land was covered with a soft dusting of fresh, white snow. Having lived in cities for most of my life, it’s always a treat to see unspoiled landscape stretched out before me.

Even from a distance you can see the steam of the geothermal hotspots dotting the area.

After we visited one of two spots in Iceland where you can see two tectonic plates touching each other. In the other spot, which we visited a few days later, the plates are 6km apart. But in this spot, the plates were almost touching and we could stand with one foot on each plate. It might just look like another craggy rock crevice, but these are tectonic plates.

Stay tuned for the next posting: Dimmuborgir, the “dark city,” pseudo craters, and the legendary Godafoss, “waterfall of the gods.”

Read more about the trip to Iceland here.

The Messy Minimalist

Most people are surprised to learn that I’m not a neat freak. I’m actually a little bit messy. My goal is to be as efficient as possible. Doing something efficiently is not always the fastest way to accomplish a task, but it is the most complete. This means I spend less time and effort on redoing things. While studying business process management I learned that reworks, basically having to do the same thing twice because of mistakes, takes at least twice as long as doing it correctly the first time. Who has time for that?

Sometimes being organized takes too much time and it slows me down. For example, I place all my kitchen utensils in a couple of buckets. I don’t separate the large spoons from the spatulas and can opener.

I’m always trying to be balanced about this – organized enough that I can find what I need when I need it, but not to the point it would slow me down to put something in its proper place.

Here are two of my favorite strategies:

#1: Have less stuff. Maintain only what I need, basically one of everything and purge regularly. With less stuff to worry about crowding up drawers and closet spaces, it’s a lot easier to throw things in and find them quickly later.

Then when I go to put stuff away (see #2), I just throw it in. I don’t take time to organize it. My bookshelf is loosely arranged by size and type (fiction, professional, photo albums, and cookbooks). But beyond that I just throw them on the shelves wherever there is space. However, I only have 4 small shelves of books so it doesn’t take me that long to find something. All my kitchen utensils live together, but I also only have one of everything I need making it easier to locate something.

Same goes for my bathroom. My toiletries are spread out in individual drawers and tubs to minimize the amount in any one place. I can throw stuff in the proper place and find what I need in seconds. (Read more here.)

#2: Have a “home” for everything. This means dedicating a space to store items. One of my favorite places to create is a “use me first” spot. This method works well in places like the fridge and bathroom where products/groceries tend to expire.

Analytics and Dashboards

A few months ago I noticed some big changes in my online credit card account. The dashboard panel, which had always shown my credit card stats with numbers, was now displayed with colored graphs and charts. Now the dashboard shows me my current balance, as compared to my total limit, visually and numerically.

The dashboard shows me a wheel that indicates how much has already been credited and how much is pending against my total limit, by using different colors. It also displays my current balance, available amount, and total limit numerically. To the right of the balance wheel, I get an overview of how much I spent each day on my credit card, relative to other days. If I hover over the graph, I can get an exact number of how much I spent that day.

From the dashboard I can go to the “Transactions” section. This gives me a detailed breakdown of all my transactions which I can then filter based on date, vendor, transaction type, or expense category. The credit card determines the category, which includes household, groceries, shopping, services, transportation and miscellaneous. From “Transactions,” I can look at “Trends,” a bar graph showing how much I spend in each category, or each day over a period of time.

All of this is fine in theory, but my challenge is that the categories don’t match how I like to track my expenses and they’re not accurate. For example, my monthly health insurance payments get categorized as “miscellaneous” instead of “health.” I can’t change this.

In general, I find the miscellaneous category problematic. As a records and information management professional, we’re trained not to use this word to describe anything mostly because it’s a word that can mean everything or nothing, all at the same time. I find this category assignment pretty useless and misleading.

I suppose the goal of this is to give me more information about my spending habits. Perhaps then I can make better or more informed decisions about how and where to spend my money. I can notice patterns and identify which categories I spend the most money in. But if I can’t customize the categories, or at least have the option of reassigning transactions to the proper category, the end result is not that useful for me.

Purging Regrets

For the most part, I’m a ruthless purger. In my early days of tossing, while I was still developing my style and methods, my mother used to worry that I was too reckless. That I got rid of too many things without thinking about them enough.

I have to admit that I have had a few purging regrets over the years. But they’re small, hardly significant really, when compared to the vast numbers of things I’ve purged without any second thoughts. I still feel a little silly that I sold my Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album. At the time I’d listened to it so many times that I was tired of it. I made a decision to pass it along and get something new for my collection. Some time later I came to regret that decision, but it was easily rectified by buying the album again.

Every once in a while I’ll get a pang for something I cleared out that can’t be replaced so easily, maybe an article of clothing I used to like or a tchtochke that had meaning. But then I recall a fond memory of the item and trust myself that I made the right decision to let the physical object go. Then I move on with my day. I go through the same exercise for digital content, too.

Many people focus on decluttering physical stuff without a thought about how inundated and overloaded we all are with digital content. The same rules and basic strategies apply.  Here are couple of useful tips to consider when embarking on these types of cleaning projects.

  1. Develop some guidelines.
  2. Follow through with your decisions and don’t waffle on your choices.
  3. Move things out right away (e.g., donation bin, recycling, trash, etc.) so you don’t have second thoughts about them.

I once mentored two students at my job. Their task was to analyze 62 boxes of backlog records in the corporate vault to determine if we should keep them or destroy them. We reviewed their work and finalized the decisions. On their last day, I left them in the vault with a 96-gallon shred bin and a time limit to load up all the records to be destroyed. Then we locked the bin and went for coffee. The lesson learned was to feel confident about your decisions and complete the actions without hesitation and second guessing yourself.

The 300th Posting

It’s hard to believe that so many weeks, so many years (almost six!) have gone by since I started The Deletist. When I launched my blog in June 2013, I thought about other blogs I enjoyed reading and wanted to create a similar experience for my readers. I wanted to post frequently enough for content to remain fresh, but not so much that it would feel onerous to read or to keep up with content if someone missed a few weeks. Out of these aspirations came two rules, post on Mondays and limit posts to 400 words.

300 postings later I have adhered to these rules strictly, but always in reverence to the first, and most important rule. The Deletist is, and will remain, my creative space. This has led me to develop and explore many interesting topics, including “Technombie,” a fictitious world I created where people live and make decisions based on the analysis of their data feeds. In recent years I added a part 5 to the original series and a new host of characters in these vignettes:

Jellyfish” stands out as a favorite. I was inspired by headlines about fake news and the desire to use this cool photograph I had taken of a jellyfish underwater, capturing its reflection on the surface.


I’m always expanding my series, postings dedicated to a specific topic. I launched “Spring Cleaning” for posts related to targeted cleaning projects, on any scale. Two highlights for me are “Bathroom Hoarder,” how I finally managed to reduce toiletry expenses and waste by organizing my cupboards, and “Junk Drawer.” Everybody’s got one.

Deletion” is related to this category but focuses specifically on getting rid of things to make space for new things in our lives.

Productivity” is relatively new and features tips & tricks, or small strategies to make your life easier. Posts range from creating prep kits to breaking down large projects into manageable tasks. Two of my recent favorites are “Getting Unstuck and Finishing Tasks,” a true story of how it took me over 2 years to install lights under my counters and “On Being Nibbled to Death,” strategies to avoid getting overwhelmed with tiny things that pile up over time.

Iceland” was recently launched to showcase my latest adventure with my family on a tour with Overseas Adventure Travel.