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Commonplace Books – What They Are and Reasons to Keep One

Commonplace 1

What is a commonplace book?  Well, it seems that it is something that I’ve kept most of my life.  It isn’t a journal or diary or travel log; it is far different than those.  A journal or diary typically contain a daily record of events or business.  A travel log may contain details of various trips, purposes behind them and so on.  A commonplace book is very different in originally it would contain quotes, thoughts, proverbs and other “wisdom” that the keeper wanted to remember.  Some were copy books.  Others, like Carl Linnaeus’, organized something systematically; he  used commonplacing techniques to invent and arrange the nomenclature of his Systema Naturae.  Per Wikipedia, “Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”

I tended to make my early versions into notebooks full (or mostly full) of little tidbits. My earlier notebooks were mostly quotes that I liked, books I wanted to read or that others recommended to me, the occasional movie title and description, and so on.   I have found that I keep different types or combinations of things in my commonplace books, depending on how my life is going at the moment or what is going on in my life.  When I have tough times, I tend to include humorous stories, funny cartoons, jokes, upbeat and inspirational quotes and websites that I find helpful.  I also have noticed my mood changes or shifts by the books that I note in my commonplace book.  I think commonplace books offer a different way to note and track changes in our lives.  I have also kept these at work as well, with the topics mirroring work I was doing, concerns I had, or things I needed to remember or to do.  Of course, with work documents, caution is advised; proprietary information must be protected. Always, always, always follow corporate policy with regard to company information.  (I am definitely not advocating information theft!) Someone following behind me may have found my tips and ideas helpful – or they may have just shredded them.

What can a commonplace book be used for?  Well, practically anything.  It can be a useful note-taking tool  while writing a book; you can keep research notes, books to use, character name ideas, location descriptions and more.  It can be useful in defining an idea – keeping all of the details flowing but allowing you to notate everything in one location.  It can be used to create a reference of inspirational quotes that you found useful – quotes specifically helpful to YOU, not necessarily everyone else.  It can be used to help organize your thoughts, your day, your studies. A combination of quotes and commentary on books read can be helpful as well.  The ideas for usage are limitless – well, perhaps limited only by imagination!  I am thinking of keeping one for my blogs;  I think it would be helpful to keep research notes, topic ideas, scheduling, and more all in one place.  Of course, I might also make that one section of a commonplace book.


Benefits of Keeping a Commonplace Book

A commonplace book may be an old idea, but definitely not outdated.  Today’s commonplace book may even look different; now, rather than writing things down, you can keep them electronically.  This allows for storage of words, images, videos, and all sorts of medias, all in one place.  Other benefits include:

  • Reinforcing learning – many people remember things better if they write things down.
  • Accumulation of information in one readily accessible location
  • Increased creativity – it can help us see patterns in various pieces of information, and help us create or discover connections.
  • Filter information – a commonplace book can help you filter the overwhelming amount of information that bombards us daily.  This is a place to record only what is significant or seems significant.
  • Organizing thoughts – basically making order out of chaos.  If you organize your thoughts in the book, you can see development and change over time; you can also see flaws in logic and so forth when you go back to previous notations

Whether you keep an electronic or a paperback version depends on what your goals are, what your preferences are, and perhaps which one is more frequently available to you.  An electronic version may allow you to include kinds of media such as videos, music, and images.  It can also be accessed from anywhere with internet access if you keep it online.  On the other hand, in a power outage, you lose access.  In addition, a paper version requires personal writing, which can aid memory.

Steps for Keeping a Commonplace Book

  1. Electronic or paper?  Choose your medium.  Weigh the benefits of both and chose the best one for your circumstances and preferences.  Blogs can be used for this, as can Pinterest and other similar sites, at least to some extent. I have also seen suggestions for Evernote, Tumnblr, and OnSwipe, among others.  Frankly, I prefer pen and paper.  For me, actually physically writing something out helps me remember things better than typing them out.  In addition, I can doodle, draw, and sketch to my heart’s delight. Others find electronic versions more appropriate or desirable.  Some of the benefits of keeping it electronically are portability, ability to combine pictures, calendars, notes, and more; in addition, electronic versions are more readily divided into sections, arranged and re-arranged.
  2. Contents?  Well, some people record quotes that they find interesting or thought-provoking.  Others use them as almost a reading journal, listing books that they want to or do read, thoughts on what they’ve read, and reactions to the reading.  Other people record recipes, notes, ideas, life lessons, heroes, song lyrics, clippings from newspapers, and important pictures. There are people who create music commonplace books,
  3. Another thing to consider is organization.  If you don’t organize your book in some way, you will struggle to find any information when you want it.  One idea is a section for list of books to read, another for quotes from the book, and interpretations and other material.    Ways to create sections depend on the medium you are using; there are tabs (permanent and sticky-note type) that you can add to blank books, you can use tabs in 3-ring notebooks, and you can break up blogs into pages or use labels/tags as well.  Organize before you start writing; trust me, it is easier this way!  I didn’t do this with my early versions and I found them difficult to work with in the end.  Some people organize their books by project.  Others use their commonplace books as devotional work, research records, or work toward a book.

Well-known People Who Kept Commonplace Books

H. P. Lovecraft

John Locke

Francis Bacon

E. M. Forster –

  • Clarissa Harlowe. Have read 1/3 of. Long books, when read, are usually overpraised, because the reader wants to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.”
    (E.M. Forster in 1926, excerpt from Commonplace Book, ed. by Philip Gardner. Stanford Univ. Press, 1988)

Victor Hugo

Washington Irving

John Hancock

Commonplace 2


My current commonplace book is a Miquelrius notebook with a soft leather cover.  At the moment it is rather similar to a day planner, with calendars added in by me and notes on weekly activities.  However, it is much more than that.  I have made note of sites that I’ve found helpful over approximately the last eight months (like PopClogs), as well as inspirational quotes and things that I need to remember.  I’ve noted my daughter’s height and weight changes between visits to her doctor, which has shown that she is steadily growing, not too fast and not too slow.  I’ve included lists of books that I’ve checked out and enjoyed, books that I want to buy eventually, and books that others have recommended to me.  All in all, it is a convenient bundle of information, readily accessible anytime it is needed.


Suggested reading and sources of information for this article:

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May 2010 Really Useful Sites

May 2010 – hard to believe we are already 5 months into the year.  And yet – here we are.  Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, warming temperatures…so much happens this month.  Here are some sites that I have found that are very helpful.  I hope that they will help you as well.  If you have suggestions for future articles, please email me or comment below! 🙂

  • Mother’s Day
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother’s_Day – this is an interesting Wikipedia article on the day(s) celebrating mothers and motherhood.  It contains the various dates used, as well as history and traditions from other countries.
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother’s_Day – this site contains ideas or links for crafts, gifts, parities, books, songs, and famous mothers, among many other things.  Very interesting and very useful!  Ther are links for funny quotes about women, Christian mother quotes, quotes by famous mothers, funny mother’s day quotes, single mother quotes, and sayings for grandmothers, for example.  I recommend taking a look!
    • http://www.mothersdaycelebration.com/ – this site has sections on celebrations, history, Mother’s Day Proclamation, as well as gift ideas.  It has some really good ideas and is well-organized.  Everything is easy to find.
  • Memorial Day
    • www.usmemorialday.org – This site is very nice.  There is a calendar, as well as sections for history, a prayer, e-cards (links to sites that provide Memorial Day e-cards),  and grief and healing.  The information and/or links have been carefully gathered and organized.   I highly recommend taking  a look and reading some of the information; it is well worth the time to really get a view of the true meaning of Memorial Day.
    • http://www.history.com/topics/memorial-day-history – the History Channel site is fantastic in general.  This section indicates that there are 23 videos, 2 speeches, and photos.   There are also links to specific people, areas like Arlington National Cemetery, and events and related topics.
    • http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Memorial_Day.shtml – this site suggests ways to recognize the day and celebrate safely, links to war stories, descriptions of the origins, suggestions on ways to support the troops, as well as patriotic songs.  It is an interesting list of links.  There are also safety links to help you enjoy the holiday weekend safely.
  • Warning Signs – Heat and Sun and Dehydration.  It is so very important to pay attention to how much time you spend out in sun and heat.  I realize that it is only May, but we have already had temperatures around 90.  The humidity is right up there as well.  So – despite the fact it makes me feel like a mother hen – here are some pages with information on sunscreen, symptoms of sun stroke, heat stroke, and other heat/summer type issues.  Please, please, please pay attention.  Melanoma can kill you before you know you’re sick; I know – our family has a history of it.
    • www.wellsphere.com/wellpage/symptoms-of-sunstroke – there are actually articles here on keeping cool in summer, sunscreen, and more.
    • www.umm.edu/non_trauma/dehyrat.htm – this site contains good information form a collegiate site on dehydration and heat stroke.  Good information – it is easier than you may think to become dehydrated.
    • www.medicinenet.com/heat_exhaustion/article.htm – this is a very helpful site for information on heat exhaustion.  People tend to think that they are fine, until they’ve pushed themselves to the limit.  Please look at this.  People most at risk are the elderly, people with high blood pressure and people who exercise or work in hot temperatures.

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April 2010 Really Useful (Or Amusing) Websites

Disclaimer:  some of these sites are actually professional sites, offering things to purchase (services, etc) and I am not affiliated in any way with any of them.  If I have referred to a site like that, it is simply because I found information on their site helpful or interesting, not because I have used their services – unless I specifically say that I have.

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Really Useful Websites (April 2008)

  1. MajorGeeks.com – This site has a wealth of information. There are links to anti-spyware, anti-virus software, games for download, office tools, internet tools, things for Macs, and toys, among many other things. You do have to take a look at the links; some items are shareware, some are “free” (but fairly limited) and so on. Still, there is a nice selection of things for download there.
  2. 80s Nostalgia – It has a bit on fashion, a game, sound files, memories, and a message board.  If you love the 1980s – or remember it fondly – this is a great site to explore!
  3. Smithsonian Photography Initiative – an ongoing project to explore how photography changes our lives.  Currently, experts in the field are exploring how it has changed various disciplines like sports, medicine, philosophy.  Eventually, they will be taking submissions from ordinary people (as well as comments) on how it influences peoples’ lives.
  4. Strange new products – This is an amusing site that looks into the latest (and strangest) entries into the marketplace.  And to think I thought my DREAMS were weird; I don’t think my dreams have contained anything quite like these things.
  5. Dryer Lint Page – Wow.  Who knew?  There is a site devoted to dryer lint.  It includes a list of uses for it.
  6. What Should I Read Next – you can build a list of your favorite books and get suggestions on what to read next.
  7. Online Conversions – this site is very, very useful.  You can convert almost anything to something else.  It includes conversions of clothes sizes from one country to another, astronomical units, cooking units, finance calculators, speed, viscosity, and a miscellaneous category.  I recommend taking a look – or remembering the site for later.
  8. DaFont – lots and lots of free fonts for both PC and Mac.  I haven’t actually installed any yet, but there are a wide range of choices and it looks like it is easy to do.
  9. Liveplasma – good way to expand your musical and movie tastes.  You enter a name of a group or an actor that you like and it returns recommendations.
  10. Keybr – a website on which you can practice typing.  It has a game (the practice section), information on keyboards, information about the site.
  11. Language is a Virus – this website has many, many games to help you with writer’s block, as well as writing prompts.  In addition, you can post your work.
  12. Zoho – an online package.  It includes spreadsheets, word processing, presentation, notes, web conferencing, project management software, and more.
  13. Indeed.com – this is a useful site indeed (ha!).  It gathers job ads from various sources in one place.  I love it.
  14. iTools – this site has search, reference, internet, map,  and other tools on it.


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Really Useful Websites (March 2008)

This month’s tidbits (yes, I think some might just be a bit odd – but sometimes that is an amusing thing):

  1. Listography: Yes, I’m one of those people – I make lists. I make lists of lists. Naturally, I think this is a wonderful site. You can make wish lists, top ten lists, autobiographical lists, to do lists, and goal lists, among others. There is even a topic generator!
  2. For those who like jigsaws, there is JigZone. They have puzzle of the day, puzzles across the top of the page, and you can sort through categories as well. You can also upload your own pictures. On top of that, you can choose unusual cuts for the puzzle pieces, like USA, lizards, and bulbs!
  3. On a completely different, and more serious note, I found a wonderful site called CaringBridge. They provide free websites to anyone going through a health crisis; it makes it tremendously easy to update family and friends about changes, procedures, progress made, etc. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered the usefulness of this site through a cousin’s cancer crisis, but I can say that I have used this site and I find it wonderful. It makes it so much easier on the family – they post the update on the site and people who have signed up for updates get an email notifying them of the change.
  4. From Texas Women’s University, I found the following page: 52 Proven Stress Reducers. I found this page to be full of helpful suggestions and I highly recommend it if you are having stress issues.
  5. Grocery Lists – this is an amusing site; this guy collects lost grocery lists. He started posting the ones he found and it has led to an online “thing” – apparently people submit the lost lists that they find. It has some interesting things on it: the top 10 found lists, lists of gift ideas, selections from the book, etc. It is quirky, but worth a look at.
  6. Google Page Creator – this is a great, easy way to create a simple web page. I’ve got several now. I’ll grant you that I don’t think you can get terribly complicated with this, and for professionals, this isn’t what you want, more than likely. I think this is perfect for someone who wants to play around, to create a simple page just to see what it is like.
  7. Every Day Giving – do I need to say more?
  8. Off The Mark Cartoons – I’ve found this artist’s work amusing, and I have purchased items from him via CafePress. He, or the people working for him, have been very responsive. Really, there should be a cartoon there for any interest.
  9. The Arcata Eye Police Log – really amusing writing style for a not-normally-interesting thing. Really worth a look – there are frequent chuckles.
  10. A bowling score calculator – this can come in handy, particularly if you are taking a “physical education” class in college…
  11. The Family Car Web Magazine: I have found some good information here. I do have to say that I am not a mechanic, nor do I play one on TV, so … while take that under advisement. Still, I found this site very helpful.
  12. The Vermont Country Store – ok, I love this catalog and the site. I have not actually ordered from them but they have some GREAT stuff and a good deal of items that are “old fashioned” – i.e., they might appeal to older folks as nostalgic gifts! Then there is the humor aspect of the site. Just so much fun to browse. And I, as I said, love their catalog as well. (Hey, they’ve got “Body on Tap” shampoo – you know, from the 70s and 80s!)
  13. After the Baby Arrives: this is a CDC page and it contains links to information on all sorts of information that new parents may be interested in. They range from breast feeding information to vaccination schedule and child development.
  14. Moms On Edge – this is a blog and I found some helpful tips on organization in this post, but they also have a wide range of categories, including an “Ask Moms On Edge”, surveys, movie reviews, and behavior.
  15. Creative Homemaking: this site contains a variety of tips on organizing, from organizing menus for a month to clutter control, seasonal organization, travel and vacation, and kids clutter (among others).

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Really Useful Websites (February 2008)

My original idea was to share useful reference websites each month. While that is helpful and (could be) interesting, I have rethought that. I find enough offbeat, wacky, useful, fun, and interesting/educational websites that I decided I should change my focus and make it a bit broader. So…here is a bit of what I found this month:

  1. The Cute Project: a collection of all sorts of cuteness – great for brightening a day
  2. Backpackit: keep your notes, to do lists, idea lists, calendar online; good organizational tool
  3. Jackson Pollock – create a masterpiece online. Click on the screen to change colors. Press any key to start over.
  4. We Are What We Do – actions to change the world; this is a list to track actions that you are taking to make a difference.
  5. ASL Fingerspelling – allows you to practice American Sign Language fingerspelling
  6. Project Linus: this is a wonderful group that provides comfort in the form of handmade blankets/afghans (made by volunteers) to children (of a wide range of ages) who are going through or have been through trauma of some sort.
  7. MIT Opencourseware: MIT has a site that provides free lecture notes, exams, and other materials from over 1800 courses.
  8. The Generator Blog: this is just amusing on a number of different levels. You can generate all sorts of things from road work signs to Absolute Bottle Signs to calendars, cat names, and chocolate bars.
  9. The Elements of Style by William Strunk on Bartleby – very helpful for writers, students, office workers, and anyone who wants to improve their writing.
  10. The Chicago Manual of Style Online
  11. The Startspot Network: this is a great source for a wide variety of information. There are various “spots”, including LibrarySpot, MuseumSpot, BookSpot, HeadlineSpot, and GeneologySpot. Each one goes to its own page and contains links to other sources of information. For example, the BookSpot page has categories such as “Behind the Book” with information on authors, publishers, pod casts, and so on; “Genre Corner” with information on children’s books, romance, mystery, etc.; “Must See Sites”, “Genre Spotlight”, and so on.
  12. The Internet Public Library: Health and Medical Sciences: plenty of links to helpful information; obviously, there are also other categories than Heath and Medical Sciences.
  13. The Mayo Clinic
  14. Medical Dictionary
  15. Parenting Toddlers: helpful information for those raising toddlers

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Really Useful Reference Websites (January 2008)

I will be listing some of the most helpful and most interesting websites that I have found here. I realize that they aren’t new, but they are new to me and I thought I would share what I find. (I’ll probably post the quirky ones too!)

    1. American President – This is an excellent website provided by The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Actually, this is one portion of the website. I found this particularly interesting. It includes (obviously) information on each president, as well as essays on the presidents and their administrations.
    2. Download Time Calculator – calculates how long it will take a file of the size that you enter to download.
    3. Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – this is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. It gives victims of cyber crime an “easy to use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations.” They accept complaints from the victims themselves or from third parties.
    4. Info Please – this is a general website, with a large number of categories such as World & News, US, Government, Health and Science, and Homework. It has pages for almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, black history, and the 2008 campaign. On the front page, it also has quizzes, a daily crossword, and other entertaining bits like trivia. There is also an “Editor’s Favorites” list to one side.
    5. WebMD – this is a very helpful site for information on various illnesses and medical information (though no substitute for actually talking to your doctor!). I found information on women’s health, men’s health, and of course, that of children. Also, it has information on various drugs, in case you want more information than that which your doctor provided. In addition, it has articles on healthy living. It too has a section on the 2008 election. There are also articles like “5 Easy Ways to Lose Weight“.
    6. Snopes – I cannot say often enough how helpful this site is. How often do you get an email from a friend, family member, or coworker that is excessively dramatic, claiming something new is causing cancer, that there is a new risk while driving if you are a woman, or about a “new” missing child? My family (in particular) does it to me all the time. Frequently, if you go to this site and search, you’ll discover that it is an urban legend. If something sounds too fantastic to be true (i.e., deodorant causing breast cancer), it frequently is a myth making the rounds.
    7. State and Local Government on the Net – this is a very helpful gathering of websites from all the US states and many local governments in one spot.
    8. School Matters – this is a service of Standard & Poor’s. You can see what others think of your child’s school, write a review, or compare schools.
    9. E How – how to do just about anything. Some articles are better and more helpful than others, but there are articles in one place on a wide range of subjects.
    10. Epicurious – a cooking site. It has articles, recipes, menus, and the like. It also has a food dictionary and a wine dictionary, which I found helpful. There are also technique videos to help those of us who aren’t as proficient as others!
    11. How Products are Made – this contains fairly in-depth articles on how things are made.
    12. CEO Express – this is a wonderful gathering of links to business magazines, news sources, office tools, travel sites, online TV news sources, and more. This is truly an amazing number of links in one place!

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