Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Creating a Digital Archive of Your Belongings

How much do you treasure your belongings? Your memories? Do you think about what would happen if you lost them? If they were destroyed? Are you considering downsizing and wonder how they will fit in your future smaller life?

My story may help you to decide if creating a digital archive is something for you to consider. I was someone who alternated from moving fairly frequently to staying in one home for many years. As is fairly typical, I acquired more stuff in each place I lived. I received various types of correspondence. I took photographs. I bought furniture and other home goods. I was also the family historian and ended up with thousands of documents, photographs, and collectibles. I lived in fairly large houses, mainly because of all the things my family and I had. (You may want to read the entry, "Lightening Your Life by Downsizing." It specifically addresses the whys and how-tos of dispersing your belongings.) In my case, I was moving from a house into a recreational vehicle, but I was certain I wanted to be able to reminisce over the special things that were physically no longer with me in future years. So I decided to make digital records of those things that meant the most to me before I recycled, donated, or passed them on to my daughter. I refer to this 3-month epic event as “The largest scanning/reading/shredding project in the history of the world!”

Below is a dramatic visual comparison of what my physical "paper" life looked like BEFORE (five file drawers and two under-the-bed plastic totes full of cards and letters) and AFTER, with my critically important "keepers" (one accordion file). The rest of the documents, records, letters, etc. were scanned, saved to my computer and Dropbox, and either shredded, recycled, or given to my daughter.


If you are considering or have already decided that you want to have a digital record of your belongings for whatever reason (e.g., a renter's or homeowner's insurance claim record), there are many options available to you to accomplish just that. If you're wanting or needing to move forward without them, it basically comes down to how you can keep the memories of the special things you have without actually having those things. The answer may be to create a digital archive of those items.

If you've read this far you're probably at least considering digitizing your memories. Here are three things you'll need at minimum. You'll need a computer, a scanner, and a backup. If you also have a smartphone, that's a HUGE bonus; but a smartphone alone without a computer is not sufficient because you likely can't put all of your documents on it. If you have a smartphone and not a scanner, you can use a scanning app on your phone and export the scans to your computer or a cloud service.

Say you already have or plan to acquire the necessary equipment. How will you want to back up, view, and share your photos, scans, and videos? Do you want your photos grouped in albums? Would you like to add descriptions and/or tags? There are photo album apps for your mobile device that will let you do that. However, if you later decide to change from one operating system to another, all of that work probably won't be transferable. Another option is photo and video hosting services, such as Google Photos, Amazon Photos, or Flickr. Currently, with Flickr's Free account, you can store and share up to a maximum of 1,000 photos and up to 3-minute long videos in albums with titles, descriptions, and tags. If you choose to pay the $60 yearly Flickr Pro account fee, you'd have advertising-free unlimited storage of full resolution photos, up to 10-minute long videos, plus other benefits. (I've been a Flickr user since 2006 and find their features and flexibility unmatched elsewhere.) For videos, YouTube is the king because it's free to use with unlimited storage. However, you don't actually have to share your videos; you can upload unlimited videos and keep them private. As the Google account holder, you can view and download them; also, if you choose to, you can share your private videos with up to 50 friends or family members, as long as they have a Google/YouTube account. If you have enough drive space on your computer, you can save scans, photos, and videos to your computer, as well. If you decide to do that, I can't stress enough how important it is to also back them up elsewhere. Something like an external drive is better than not backing up at all, but they can fail, as can internal computer drives. Then where would you be?! So, in addition to your computer drive and possible external drive, I would recommend a cloud service, of which there are many! (I decided upon Dropbox in 2011 and have never considered another. Personally, I find that their multi-platform interface, flexibility, and a long list of features make them stand out as the service with the most value.)

Below is the Windows Directory on my laptop showing the document folders and sub-folders I created for saving my scanned letters. It also shows what it looks like with chronological dating by year, month, day, sender name, and the number of pages. This is my preference, but you may prefer something different. (Click on the image to see the larger readable version.)



So, what things are worth making a digital record of? Well, the things that hold the most importance to you may be worth it. The things you would miss if you no longer had them may be worth it. The things that will help you remember important details of your life may be worth it. The things you might need to reference in the future may be worth it. Only you can decide which of your belongings are that important to you. Here are some of the items I decided were that important to me.

 1.) Important documents (e.g. driver licenses; Social Security cards; vital records; insurance, banking, and credit info; ownership records, etc.).

 2.) Employment Records.

 3.) School Records.

 4.) Medical Records (including all immediate family members and animals).

 5.) Receipts and Warranty Info.

 6.) Photographs.

 7.) Cards, letters, printed emails, and instant messages.

 8.) Genealogy Records. (Being the family historian made these a huge priority for me.)

 9.) Handcrafts and artwork created by myself and my immediate family.

10.) Select furniture pieces, collectibles, books, special articles of clothing, and personal mementos.

From my personal experiences of being the family photographer, genealogist, archivist, and basically the holder and protector of everything, I've learned some things that may be helpful to anyone wanting to efficiently and accurately make a digital record of their life. Following are some steps that helped me in my deadline-induced frenzy to create an organized and easily accessed digital archive for myself in three short months.

1.) Prioritize your efforts based on the time you have to finish.

2.) Organize those priority items by the project, i.e. things to scan (e.g., photos and other documents), things to photograph (e.g., 3-dimensional items), and things to video (e.g., collections and items with a detailed history you want to narrate).

3.) Outline what you plan to do with each item (group) once you've created its digital file. Do you want to keep it, sell it, gift it, recycle it, or destroy (trash or shred) it?

4.) Have your plan written down with the desired completion date as a goal to get it done!

5.) Set aside time as often as possible to work on the project. Make it a priority.

6.) Be organized! I can't stress enough how important this will ultimately be to your project's smooth completion.

7.) Determine how you want to name and file your scans, images, and videos on your computer. Be consistent about your naming of files, folders, and subfolders. Do you want them filed chronologically, alphabetically, or by importance? For example, if you have a lot of correspondence from different sources you want to save, you can create a Folder called Correspondence, and then save the individual letters by the source's name or initials, and then the YYYY-MM-DD to keep them grouped alphabetically by sender and then chronological. Now, if you've already sorted and organized your letters by sender, you'll have an idea of how many of them you want to scan or photograph. If you have a lot of letters from one sender, you may want to create a subfolder with that source's name on it. Then saving each letter by date will keep them chronologically ordered within that folder if you name them using a format something like this: "YYYY-MM-DD title of document" (see this National Archives article about file naming). If you have multiple page letters or documents that you don't want to edit, scan them as a single PDF document.

8.) When scanning, be sure to choose a common file naming format, such as JPG, GIF, PDF, or PNG (i.e. screenshots). JPEGs, GIFs, and PNGs can be opened and easily edited by many different apps, programs, and online image editors. Editing PDFs will require different alternatives. There are several options available, including a paid Adobe Acrobat subscription, some versions of Microsoft Word, or any of the multiple online free editors. (PDFs are generally considered the best option for reading, printing, and conserving your original formatting.) I recommend not relying on a proprietary app or photo editing program because you'd always need to have that specific program to open your documents. (For example, I use Corel Paintshop Pro to scan, edit, and save images, but I never save images only using their proprietary .psp extension.)

9.) Use an assembly line technique to keep things going at a steady pace. That will also help you to not forget an important step. I found it helped me speed things along when I used the following order when scanning and saving my files.

a) Scan item.

b) Save to the desired location, naming it to finalize the save.

c) If you want to, are able to, or have the time, you can do minor editing (like cropping, removing minor damage, sharpening, etc.) However, you can always plan to do editing later.

d) Save any updates.

e) Copy>Paste to whatever previously selected external drive and/or cloud or hosting service.

f) After being sure all documents and items are saved to all locations, shred, recycle, or set aside object for whomever you are giving them away to.

g) Congratulate yourself when done, and reward yourself by enjoying the fruits of your labor!

To give you an idea of how you can store, annotate, and potentially share images on Flickr, here are a couple of albums I created featuring historical family items. 1) Family Heirlooms and Collectibles and 2) Vintage Postcards.

Above is an example of how a narrated video can capture the story behind treasured keepsakes.

[If you have trouble viewing this embedded video, you may view it directly on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/qBTaD6urDa4]

 
So, even though all of my current belongings fit into one 5th-wheel RV bedroom suite and one deck trunk I can open the secure Dropbox app on my iPhone and take a virtual stroll down memory lane, reminiscing with the tens-of-thousands of photos, videos, documents, letters, etc. that I can take with me anywhere in the palm of my hand! Let me tell you, IT FEELS GREAT!

Go forth and digitize!


[NOTE: This article has been edited and updated from its origins on my sister's and my camping/travel blog, Over the Hill Sisters.]

You Can Lighten Up Your Life by Downsizing

Sometimes less can be more. Having less stuff can lead to…doing more, traveling more, appreciating more. It can lead to those things because of less expense, less worry, and fewer restrictions.

People downsize (or downscale or whatever word you prefer to use) for various reasons. Sometimes it’s relocating to a smaller abode. Sometimes it’s due to splitting of a household. Sometimes it’s due to an overabundance of belongings. Sometimes we just feel the need to “clean house,” and sometimes it’s a lifestyle change.

My personal downsizing journey came about for all of those reasons. Ultimately, though, the decision was made for me because of a need to move back to the West Coast without the use of any vehicle and into a tiny area. I was able to downscale in stages, and I believe that made the process much easier.

When I moved across the country to get married many years ago, I required a 26’ U-Haul truck and a flatbed trailer to haul my vehicle. During my marriage, I collected a lot more furniture, had a baby, and added a lot of little things that, through the years, added up to a huge amount. When my husband and I separated, I required only bedroom furniture, some kitchen items, and what I felt at the time was the important stuff: personal items, files, photographs, family history, books, movies, my dog’s necessities, organizing helpers, and some special decorative items. That move required a 15’ U-Haul truck—significantly smaller, yes?

The 15' Truck Only Partially Filled
 
Then early in 2016 came a full-scale lightening of my life. I had to be ruthless. I had to decide what was really important. I had to let go. Fortunately, I had three months to place the majority of my belongings with others. Some people are in the position of having to immediately get rid of things without time to think things through. I can’t imagine how stressful that would be. We grow to love our “things” a great deal, and I believe that having to haphazardly leave, dump, or give away those treasures can lead to resentment and regret. I am thankful not to have experienced either. I do admit to still feeling sentimental, though.

I did some reading online to give me ideas, and I feel good about most of my decisions. If you search for “downsizing tips” you will be inundated with articles on how, why, and when to downsize. You may connect with some of the information you find. My hope is that you can use some of my personal experience to make your journey to living with less a positive thing.

The items that ended up going to friends and family are the ones I feel best about. I was able to place many of my books with friends who had a genuine interest in the different subjects. I was able to give all of the furniture and family history to my daughter. I couldn’t find any parties interested enough to buy a couple of collections I had but was able to adjust their importance to me to make it less painful to let them go. I donated a lot to a local thrift store. I found an animal shelter that needed some of my dog’s unused items. I found a women’s shelter that desperately needed clothes and shoes. I thought long and hard about how I was going to get my remaining belongings from the East Coast to the West Coast.  And, because I still wanted to be able to see the things I needed to leave behind, I commenced with what I refer to as, “The largest scanning/reading/shredding project in the history of the world!” (Link to that article is here: Creating a Digital Archive of Your Belongings.)

Just One of the Trips to the Thrift Store
 
I ended up shipping all of the items I didn’t need to keep with me via USPS. I thought back to that time when I rented the largest truck possible to transport the things I believed I needed. Flash forward to five years ago when all of my belongings fit in 13 boxes, one suitcase, one purse, and one dog kennel. My life’s true measure of what I needed accompanied me on the flight west: my daughter and dog.
 
Most of My Belongings Were Shipped via the USPS
 
Traveling was something other people did—people who were financially solvent enough to travel even though they had a home, a family, and animals. I wasn’t one of those people for my entire life. Now, because of being willing to downsize and live a minimalist lifestyle and living with my sister who’s got the means and vehicle, we’ll be free to see and experience places we’ve never been. (Like our 5-month long epic driving and camping adventure up and down California, Oregon, and Washington State. It was over 5,000 miles of encountering beauty and wonder like we've never seen before!) Here’s to letting go of things to experience life!
 
All of My Belongings Fit Neatly in this RV Bedroom Suite...

...and This Deck Trunk!

Whatever the reason you’re considering downsizing, try to give yourself time to consider all of your options. If you have a deadline, don’t wait until the last minute. Things you will need to keep will vary depending on what you’re going to be living in: house, apartment, RV, etc. One way you may determine the need for the items that you are unsure of is to set them aside and live without using them for a while. That way you’ll still have them in case you change your mind. I believe there are ways to keep the memories without keeping the physical item. You will hopefully find living without doesn’t mean not living. All it may take to see downsizing as a positive thing is adjusting your priorities. I wish you the best!

[NOTE: This article has been edited and updated from its origins on my sister's and my camping/travel blog, Over the Hill Sisters.]

Monday, January 25, 2021

Book Review: Savaged by Mia Sheridan

Title: Savaged

Author: Mia Sheridan

Rating: Five out of five stars

Published: 05/27/2019

Publisher: Self-published

Genre(s): Romantic Suspense

DESCRIPTION 

A new heart-pounding, suspenseful, and supremely romantic novel from New York Times bestseller, Mia Sheridan.

When wilderness guide, Harper Ward, is summoned to the small town sheriff’s office in Helena Springs, Montana, to provide assistance on a case, she is shocked to find that their only suspect in the double murder investigation is a man described as a savage.

But the longer she watches the man known only as Lucas, on the station surveillance camera, the more intrigued she becomes. He certainly looks primitive with his unkempt appearance and animal skin attire, but she also sees intelligence in his eyes, sensitivity in his expression. Who is he? And how is it possible that he’s lived alone in the forest since he was a small child?

As secrets begin to emerge, Harper is thrust into something bigger and more diabolical than she ever could have imagined. And standing right at the center of it all, is Lucas. But is he truly the wild man he appears to be? A cold blooded killer? An innocent victim? Or a perplexing mix of all three?

Harper must find out the answers to these questions because the more time she spends with him, the more she risks losing her heart.


MY THOUGHTS 

In the acknowledgments section of Savaged the author wrote: "This story had an abundance of moving parts . . . the mystery, the romance, Jak’s language, an unusual setting where every item the characters used had to be considered..." It absolutely did have much to consider and I think Mia Sheridan did a phenomenal job with every part of the story.

Jak's and Harper's backstories were well-defined and emotionally powerful. The ways in which the author unraveled clues, wove those backstories together, and introduced us to the lives of adult Jak and Harper were extremely fulfilling.

The inexplicable connection between Jak and Harper was very transcendental. Their life stories progressed from one of tragedy to enduring to victory to adapting to discovery and finally, to a physical connection both visceral and emotive.

Savaged went well beyond being entertaining. It was absorbing, inspiring, and left me feeling SO happy for Jak and Harper's happily-ever-after!


HIGHLIGHTS 

“Dwayne tells me your father was the sheriff here before him.” For a moment Harper simply stared at him, the question taking her by surprise after she’d just literally been thinking about her dad. She gave herself an internal shake and cleared her throat. “Yes. He . . . he was. For a short time.” Mark Gallagher paused for a beat before nodding. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

~*~

The agent stared at him, but his face didn’t say anything. “So, you’ve been living out there how long?” “Fifteen winters.” So many. So much cold. So much hunger. So much loneliness. The agent was looking at him in that funny way. Lucas didn’t know what he was thinking. “Alone? All of them?” “Yes.”

~*~

“I’m sorry. I was careless and rude. I . . . I thought I recognized the locket hanging around your neck. It looks familiar and I . . . I was wondering if I could see it, just for a moment. I’ll give it back. I just . . . may I look at it? Um, Lucas. Oh, and in case you don’t remember my name, I’m Harper.”

~*~

He didn’t know if he could do it anymore, the constant suffering. The winters always coming, the hunger, the loneliness that felt like darkness carved deep into his bones. Why should he fight? For what? Why should he survive? He understood the look in the blond boy’s eyes now. The happiness that it was finally over. Jak should have died on that cliff that night, with the other two boys, maybe three. But he had fought to live. Why? He didn’t want to fight anymore, and there weren’t any pigs nearby.

~*~

She smelled like life, like sweet water, like fertile earth, and perfectly ripened berries that would take away the pain of hunger. Her woman scent was the beginning of everything and the place where he wanted to draw his final breath. She was meant for him, he knew that now. No other woman. Only her.

~*~

He was a complete dichotomy—wild and sensitive, uneducated and astute, and he fascinated her to no end.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: Bridgerton: The Duke & I by Julia Quinn

Title: Bridgerton: The Duke & I

Author: Julia Quinn

Rating: Five out of five stars

Published: 04/28/2015

Publisher: Avon

Genre(s): Historical Romance

DESCRIPTION 

Can there be any greater challenge to London's Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke?—Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1813

By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend's sister—the lovely and almost-on-the-shelf—Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth—it's all an elaborate ruse to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable.

But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it's hard to remember that their courtship is a sham. Maybe it's his devilish smile, certainly it's the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her . . . but somehow Daphne is falling for the dashing duke . . . for real! And now she must do the impossible and convince the handsome rogue that their clever little scheme deserves a slight alteration, and that nothing makes quite as much sense as falling in love.


MY THOUGHTS 

Bridgerton: The Duke & I was a lovely entertaining story. My natural inclination leans toward contemporaries, so historicals must be introduced by attention-grabbing means. Practically the entire Netflix universe found the first season of Bridgerton to be something to talk and write about. What kind of romance reader would I be if I didn't also dive into a televised romance series (or movie) with great anticipation? I binged all eight episodes of Bridgerton on Christmas Day. Then I utilized an ancient gift card to purchase the gorgeous series tie-in edition trade paperback. I am a devoted Kindle reader but just had to have this stunning version in print. I am glad to have watched before reading. I felt the series kept the essence of the story and what details were changed did not deflect from the source. Daphne may be ignorant in some regards, but she is bright, resourceful, and feisty. Simon knows immediately how remarkably different Daphne is and subconsciously allows her to alter his rigid life plans. The repartee between them is OUTSTANDING! Daphne gains critical insights into Simon’s painful childhood but ends up letting her emotions guide her to take advantage of a situation seemingly out of Simon's control. The aftereffects offer the main conflict in the book but this is a romance and that should guarantee at least a happy-for-now ending. In this updated version Julia Quinn adds a second epilogue that proves their besotted coupledom with that much-deserved happily-ever-after! Just a side note: Simon is absolutely adorable when drunk!


HIGHLIGHTS 

“Men are sheep. Where one goes, the rest will soon follow. -Lady Whistledown”

~*~

“There were rules among friends, commandments, really, and the most important one was Thou Shalt Not Lust After Thy Friend's Sister.”

~*~

“It's the curse of motherhood. You're required to love us even when we vex you.”

~*~

“It was those eyes as much as anything that had earned him his reputation as a man to be reckoned with. When he stared at a person, clear and unwavering, men grew uncomfortable. Women positively shivered.”

~*~

“He was proud and stubborn, and all the ton looked up to him. Men curried his favor, women flirted like mad. And all the while he'd been terrified every time he'd opened his mouth.”

~*~

“Simon gave her a startled look. 'I don't believe I have ever been condescended to by a woman before.' She shrugged. 'It was probably past time.”

~*~

“All I meant to say is that a rake's humor has its basis in cruelty. He needs a victim, for he cannot imagine ever laughing at himself. You, your grace, are rather clever with the self-deprecating remark.”

~*~

“As she spoke, she turned her face toward his, and in that instant, with the wind catching her hair and painting her cheeks pink, she looked so enchantingly lovely that Simon nearly forgot to breathe.”


Friday, January 15, 2021

Audiobook Review: How to Get Lucky by Lauren Blakely & Joe Arden

Title: How to Get Lucky

Author(s): Lauren Blakely & Joe Arden

Narrator(s): Joe Arden & Maxine Mitchell   

Rating: Five out of five stars

Published: 01/14/2021

Publisher: Blakely Arden Books

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

 DESCRIPTION 

A sexy stand-alone romance written by number one New York Times best-selling author Lauren Blakely and award-winning romance narrator Joe Arden!

Every man knows there are lines you don't cross. Like this one - don't bang your boss' little sister.

Too bad I didn't know sexy, clever, irresistible London is related to the guy who signs my paychecks. Would have been helpful to have that intel before I took her out on that first date, before I kissed her on the beach, before I made plans to take her home that night.

But now I know, and I'm going to be so damn disciplined. I'm a good guy, after all. And good guys don't break the golden rules of the bro code. I'm going to follow the heck out of all the rules. I won't break a single damn one.

Even when London asks me to help her with a work project. One that has us working late every night, all alone, in my tiny apartment.

One that tests every ounce of willpower I have. One that is driving me out of my ever loving mind. But I resist.

Until the night she issues a challenge I can't refuse.

The audiobook includes cameo appearances from Erin Mallon, Emma Wilder, and Maxine Mitchell!


MY THOUGHTS 

How to Get Lucky is another very successful collaboration between Lauren Blakely and romance audiobook narrator, Joe Arden. However, this is their first time writing together. (This is Joe’s first book as an author!) And let me tell you, they did 'good'! Exceptionally so. Joe essentially narrated the entire book but Erin Mallon, Emma Wilder, and Maxine Mitchell make appearances periodically to HYSTERICALLY voice the text message conversations between besties London, Olive, and Emery. Teddy is a disc jockey and London is a choreographer making their occupations complimentary. That's made wonderfully apparent by the clever music metaphors from both throughout the book. For a forbidden love story, I feel they kept the angst levels reasonable and concentrated on Teddy and London’s flirty and sparky connection, which was AWESOME! This book was humorous, heartfelt, and hot. I laughed so much and completely fell in love with the characters and their precious doggies! And as if the book wasn't special enough there were bonus epilogues, outtakes, and Joe answering questions submitted by readers at the end. I say, give them all the shiny rating stars for making me feel so lucky for being their reader/listener! 🥰