Wednesday, December 31, 2014

15 Goals in 2015

Happy New Year!

A friend of mine (Susan of ByGrace) posted recently about 15 goals to complete before 2015.  I liked the idea, but I knew it would be impossible for me to complete what with all the Christmas prep, illnesses, and everything else going on.  However, I then thought that it would be fun to come up with 15 goals to complete next year.

Here is a list of my goals.  I brainstormed the other day and then finally honed them into a list this morning.  Granted, it's a little more involved than a simple list, but

1.  To read the Bible consistently and all the way through.

2.  To participate in a personal Bible study.

3.  To declutter and organize the house, garage, and shed.
     a.  Declutter 365 (Facebook Group, Webpage for January)

4.  To increase opportunities to grow my photo business.
     a.  3 new clients
     b.  Prints to sell for home decorating and postcards
     c.  Garage studio
     d.  Themed mini sessions

5.  To improve my photography taking and editing skills.
      a.  Project 365 (My facebook group)
      b.  Shoot in manual mode more often.
      c.  Go through book tutorials (Digital Photography Masterclass)
      d.  Study photography tutorials on Pinterest.
      e.  Edit using Lightroom.

6.  To complete 15 crafts or projects (and blog about them).
      1.  Two to three photo books.
      2.  A dress for Gracie
      3-15.  To be determined.

7.  To read 15 mentally-stimulating books (i.e. not fiction) (and blog about them).
      a.  Free to Choose by Milton Freidman
      b.  A book by David McCullough
      c.  41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush
      d.  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
      e.  Pioneer Girl:  The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder
      f.   A Little House Traveler:  Writings from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Journeys Across America by Laura Ingalls Wilder
      g.  Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson
      h.  Laughs, Luck...and Lucy:  How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time by Jess Oppenheimer
      i.   Life Skills for Kids:  Equipping Your Child for the Real World by Christine M. Field
      j.   The Lost Colony of Roanoke by Jean Fritz
      k.  To be determined (please comment with suggestions)

8.  To begin reading all of the Caldecott Medal books in order.
     Next year, we may read the honor books, and when Gracie is older, we will read all of the Newberry Medal books.

9.  To lose 15 pounds.
     a.  No sugar, starch, or soda. (When I say "no," I mean heavily restrict.)
     b.  Drink more water.
     c.  Begin exercise program. (Kettle Worx, Jillian Michaels, walking)

10.  To provide 15 social interactions with Gracie's and my friends.
       a.  Play dates
       b.  Game parties
       c.  Craft parties
       d.  Gracie's birthday party

11. To increase opportunities to serve others.
       a.  Help Mama declutter and with large projects.
       b.  Write notes.
       c.  Visit shut-ins.
       d.  Operation Christmas Child

12.  To complete K4 and begin K5 (Abeka Homeschool).

13.  To increase opportunities for Gracie's extra-curricular activities.
        a.  Swimming lessons in the summer
        b.  Violin lessons (maybe this spring, but possibly beginning in the fall)
        c.  American Heritage Girls in February
        d.  Soccer in spring and/or fall

14.  To prepare for unexpected events. 
       a.  House inventory
       b.  Will
       c.  Emergency prep

15.  To begin writing a book.
I have no idea how many of these goals I will successfully complete, but I think that it will make 2015 a fun, productive year!
I will try to give weekly updates on Saturday nights.
Will you be attempting any goals this year?
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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Every year, I take Gracie's photo behind the Santa display at the Mall, and, usually, I use it in our Christmas Card.  Gracie will be 5 in January.

 The family photo was taken by my niece Kaylee when we visited California for her high school graduation.  She is studying photography and has her own Facebook page.

My baby girl is now in K-4.  I have been homeschooling her this year using the Abeka curriculum.  We enjoy it very much!  I had been wanting to take photos at the Davies Plantation which is located 10-15 minutes away.  I finally took the opportunity just days before they closed for the winter.  I look forward to going back in the spring to take more photos!

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

How to Add a Gray Box for Text in Your Graphic Using Photoshop Elements

Here is a tutorial for adding a gray box for text in your graphic using Photoshop Elements.  I have Photoshop Elements 10, but the same procedure can most likely be used for other versions as well.

Please excuse the weird echo in the audio.  I didn't know how to fix it and didn't want to do it over.

One thing I neglected to mention is about the layers.  There are three layers in this file.  From bottom to top, they are:  the photo, the box, and the text.  Whatever is on top is what will show up on top of the others.  You can easily move the layers by clicking and dragging into their new spots if necessary.

I hope you find the tutorial useful.  This is my first screenshot tutorial.  I've watched many others and thought it would be fun to make my own.  If you have any ideas for future tutorials, let me know!
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Monday, November 3, 2014

Contacts Sync for Google Gmail // Organizing Contacts into Groups

When I did my series on {Almost} Paperless, I mentioned an iMac app, Cobook, that I used as an Address Book on my computer.  They made an update to the app and changed their interface.  I didn't like it, and I didn't like how they imported my Facebook friends into the app resulting in many contacts with little data (just links to their Facebook profiles which is not useful to me at all).

I did some searching and found an app that has worked really well for me.  Contacts Sync for Google Gmail is an app that syncs the contacts in my Gmail address book with the Mac app Address Book as well as with iCloud.  This results in my iPhone, iPad, and iMac all being synced together.

Contacts Sync for Google Gmail has apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.  If you have a Mac computer, then you only need the app for the Mac.  You can use the resident app Address Book to organize your contacts into groups, and then use Contacts Sync for Google Gmail to sync them to your gmail account.  You may have to go to your gmail account (on the web) to find and merge duplicate contacts.  The initial setup can take a while while you tweak everything, but after that, it works like a charm!  You do not even have to have Contacts Sync for Google Gmail up and running all the time (although you can since it does offer Auto-sync).  If you do not use Auto-sync, be sure to sync every time you make changes to your address book or to your iPhone contacts.

If you do NOT have a Mac computer, then you will use the app for your iPhone or your iPad.  I can't help you any further with setting up groups.

Organizing Contacts into Groups (using the Mac app Address Book)

For best results, I set Address Book up to only show my iCloud contacts.  Here is the Preferences window:

When I enabled my Gmail accounts, it showed duplicate contacts (since they were all synced together).  Having only my iCloud account enables just makes it easier.

Below is a screenshot of my Address Book app showing how I have organized my contacts:

I have several main categories:  Business, CBC - my church, Christmas Cards, Church - other people/organizations besides my church, Family, Friends, Miscellaneous, OCC (Operation Christmas Child), and OtMP (my photography business).  Most of these are further subdivided into subcategories.  (The My Contacts category is one that Gmail generates on its own every time I add a new contact on my phone. It's somewhat useful for finding new contacts that need to be put into my groups.)

First, I put every contact into a main category (Ex: Business - all) and then I also put them into the appropriate subcategories.

The only thing I do not like about Address Book is that it does not tell me on the Contacts view all of the groups that the selected contact is in.  I have to go to to see that.  I have not yet checked all of my contacts to make sure they are in the correct groups, but I know it will be somewhat tedious to use and Address Book; however, once it is all set up the way I want it, I shouldn't have any problems after that.

One final piece of advice:  while you are reorganizing your contacts and are tweaking your groups, make sure you save a backup of your contacts before, during, and after the process.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

DIY Dry Erase Menu Board

I made this dry erase menu board in less than 10 minutes -- if that!

I saw a package of 3 small dry erase foam boards in the office and school supply section at Walmart. I think they were $3-5 or so.  I had already been wanting to put (another) dry erase board up there. I have a couple of old ones whose magnets are pretty cheap.  After picking up the set of 3 boards, I went over to the craft aisle and found a package of 12 adhesive round magnets.  I already had the duct tape on hand to make the border.  One tip, snip the tape at the end lengthwise and rip it down the middle. You can use the outside edges for the front of the board and wrap the ripped edges to the back where they cannot be seen.  

I already had these Dr. Seuss notepads from Target's dollar spot.  Rather than have them go to waste, I am using them for two other purposes.  The one on the left will be my list of Kitchen prep tasks.  For example, I just bought some chicken and hamburger in bulk from Sam's Club today, so I need to repackage them into meal-size portions.  I will cook some of the hamburger before freezing it which helps make cooking supper go a lot faster!  The pad on the right is for my list of leftovers and other perishables that need to be eaten before they go bad.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Please vote....

First Tennessee Bank is celebrating 150 years of being in business by giving away $5,000 per day for 150 days to nonprofit organizations. The winners are determined by the highest number of cumulative votes.  You can vote for up to 10 organizations each day from any device.

Several of my previous organizations for whom I have voted have already won, but I am currently voting for the following organizations:

  • Life Choices (an organization that offers free ultrasounds and counseling for pregnant ladies and also serves as an adoption agency)
  • Memphis Fire Museum
  • Children's Museum of Memphis
  • Smile Train
  • Shelby County Books from Birth (this is an affiliate of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program)
  • March of Dimes
  • March of Dimes in Tennessee
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Navy Seal Foundation
  • Youth Villages
The organization that I am REALLY hoping wins sometime during the 150 days is Life Choices. I would really like to see them win $5,000 so that they can help more women who have unplanned pregnancies.  If you would like to help them win, please go to 150 Days of Giving, do a search for Life Choices, and vote for them.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

ISO Sensitivity (for the Nikon photographer)

I've been a happy user of the Nikon D7000 camera for a couple of years now.  I love learning how to take better photos with my camera.

Most of my learning has come from trial and error as well as reading numerous web pages.  If you follow me on Pinterest, you may have seen my photography boards where I pin web pages that I have read or that I want to read.

The best paid resources I have used and that has been the most help to me is found at Capturing Joy with Kristen Duke.  She has two books (both print and ebook form) for the beginner and intermediate photographer as well as a video workshop.  I have purchased all three and they have been a big help to me!  (I also had the privilege of meeting Kristen and her kiddos when they came through Memphis last week!)

One particular screen in my camera menu has always confused me.  Here it is:


I understand what ISO is for (sensitivity to light -- the higher the number, the more sensitive it is to light) and that it's part of the so-called exposure triangle (along with aperture and shutter speed) used to generate properly exposed photos.  The more available light you have, the less sensitive the ISO needs to be.  For example, if you're outside in bright light, you can most likely use an ISO of 100; the less light you have, the higher the number should be.  The Nikon D7000 has a button marked ISO which you press and then rotate the Main control dial to change the ISO.  Which one is the Main control dial? The one that changes the number.  It's either the front (Aperture) one or the back (shutter speed) one.  Try both and see which one changes the ISO.  (I think it's the front one.)

In the ISO sensitivity settings menu, as shown in the graphic above (which I totally copied from another web page since I don't know how to get screenshots off of my camera),  I couldn't figure out what ISO sensitivity meant in conjunction with the Auto ISO sensitivity control.  "Does that mean it will change the ISO in increments of 100 or whatever number you select?"  The ISO sensitivty selection goes from 100 all the way up to the highest setting available (Hi 2 which is equivalent to ISO of 25600.

The Auto ISO sensitivity control is easy enough to understand.  This setting allows the camera to take over and change the ISO when the current settings will not take a properly-exposed photo.  You can set the maximum sensitivty (the highest ISO that you will let the camera to set) and the minimum shutter speed (the slowest that you want the shutter speed to go).

Well, my confusion was for nought.  I was basically over-analyzing what the menu setting was for.  This webpage explained it to me.  The ISO sensitivity is simply another way of choosing the ISO setting.  That's it.  You can either press the ISO button and turn the Main control dial OR you can go to this menu and select your ISO setting.  I feel kinda dumb that it's that simple, but I also figure there's probably at least one other person in this world who is confused by that as well.

Last week, our family went on vacation to Birmingham to visit with family.  We did lots of fun things, and I actually managed to shoot in manual mode the whole time. (Shooting in manual is not very difficult in theory, but it does take careful observation of several things including ISO and the exposure meter.  I usually prefer to shoot in Aperture mode which is easier for me.)  I have not yet uploaded my photos to my computer, but I am looking forward to seeing how they turned out.  One of the places we went to was the McWane Science Center which is a great museum for all ages.  The only bad thing (from a photography point of view) is that most of the lighting was garbage.  Too dark and wonky white balance.  We also went to the Birmingham Zoo (where I rode a zip line for the first time!!), and I'm confident that (most of) these photos turned out well.

If you want to see any of my photo sessions, please visit my Facebook page for my photography business Over the Mantle Photography.
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Get a one month free with BackBlaze!

About a year ago, I started a series called Preparing for a Disaster and wrote one blog post about backing up your computer.  In that post, I highly recommended using BackBlaze.

BackBlaze is running a referral promotion where new users can try it out for free for a month, and the person who refers them gets a free month when the friend purchases it for a longer time.

If you would like to try BlackBlaze and if you would like to be a help to me, please use this link: to sign up.  Let me know how you like it!

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Homemade Rice-a-Roni & Porcupine Roadkill

One of my favorite easy-to-make, no-brainer meals is Porcupine Roadkill.  Gross name, right?  The original dish was called Porcupine Balls because you formed meatballs and cooked them in Rice-a-Roni.  Over time, I got lazy and quit forming the meatballs and just cooked the meat as it was.  I amused myself by creating the name Porcupine Roadkill.  It's quite good.

Not too long ago, I found a pin for making homemade Rice-a-Roni packets.  I used the recipe to make my Porcupine Roadkill, and we all liked it well enough to keep it.  A few days later, I made about 8 or so packets using the ingredients that I had.

Rice -A Roni Packets -- My version

3/4 cup rice (instant brown rice)
1/4 cup broken angel hair pasta
1 Tablespoon minced onion
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder & Italian seasoning
3 cubes beef bouillon

This will just fit in a small snack-sized ziploc bag.

When I made this the first time, I only had chicken bouillon powder.  It tasted ok, but I think the beef bouillon will work better.  I left the cubes in the ziploc bags, because I was too lazy to peel the paper off and crush them.  I'm hoping that when I make it the next time, I won't even have to crush them, just let them dissolve.

Porcupine Roadkill
For Porcupine Roadkill, you will need 1 pound of hamburger meat and 1 packet of Homemade Rice-A-Roni plus about 1 cup of water (more or less - eyeball it).

Cook and drain the hamburger, chopping it into pieces.

Add the Rice-a-Roni ingredients (don't forget to peel the paper off the bouillon!) plus the water.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer until the rice is cooked.

Source of Original Pin (with more info about different types of rice)

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Monday, April 7, 2014

{Almost} Paperless: Final Thoughts (Post 8)

I have covered several different apps in this series.  I have decided not to cover some of the apps that I mentioned in my first post, because there's not much I can tell you beyond using those apps in the way they are set up.

You may wonder, after reading the posts on using apps to help with {almost} paperless organizing, "Why are you 'almost' paperless?"  I do use paper for some things for several reasons.  First of all, we still have paper in the house. Secondly, I enjoy writing things down.  Thirdly, it is, after all, still very convenient and useful.

Although I do not use a shopping list on the refrigerator anymore, thanks to my AnyList app, I do write down Kitchen Prep tasks that I need to do.  That can be anything from washing produce and putting in new containers to cooking up bacon for breakfast and a new recipe.  Sometimes it can mean "thaw this meat so we can use it and not eat pizza again."

I also write down my menu plan for the week and post it in the kitchen.  My current template is a full-page table (2 columns, 4 rows) with room to list Main Dishes, Sides, Desserts, Snacks, and Miscellaneous. As I make each item, I write it on my wall calendar, and I put a checkmark beside the dish name on my Menu Planner.  When we completely eat a dish, I cross it out.

I also  jot down things I want to do that are the most important for that day.  I also write down my list of errands so I will not forget any while I'm out.

One of my main purposes to go {almost} paperless is to cut out the excess paper that is floating around in the house.  I keep a paper recycling box under my kitchen table (which is beside my computer desk) and it fills up a lot quicker than you would think.  My four-drawer filing cabinet is quite full, and I'd really love to see it go on a diet

I will be doing several projects this year in my quest to go {almost} paperless.  One is I will be reorganizing my filing cabinet and seeing what I can get rid of either by tossing,  scanning, or typing into Evernote.  I have a 3-in-1 printer/copier/scanner that we bought three years ago with our computer.  The printer quick working after only 1-1/2 years.  I was able to baby it along until I couldn't stand it anymore.  I now have a black and white laser printer which works great!  I kept the all-in-one thing because I knew that I could use the scanner.  I have not used the scanner for any projects yet as it's at the bottom of our entertainment center and that would be some uncomfortable sitting and operating for long periods of time.  One day soon I will ask my husband to get it out for me (only he knows how all the cords are set up in the entertainment center) and I will be able to begin scanning documents and even photos (for another big project).

I read a tip which I thought was pretty brilliant.  If you already own a scanner which uses an SD card and do not see the need to purchase a specialized receipt scanner that will import your scans directly into your computer, you can use an Eye-Fi SD memory card which will transfer your files directly to your computer.  This would save a good amount of time for my projects.

This concludes, for now?, my series on {Almost} Paperless Organizing.  I hope it was helpful to you.  I actually wrote all eight posts in one night, and I'm pretty tired.  I didn't get much done on my Wunderlist tasks, but I still feel the satisfaction of having had a productive day.

I will probably blog updates from time to time.  I'd love to hear how you are doing in your quest to become {almost} paperless.

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Intro to the Series

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Calendars

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 2

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 3

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Wunderlist

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  AnyList

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Final Thoughts

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Friday, April 4, 2014

{Almost} Paperless Organizing: AnyList (Post 7)

 Now for one of my favorite new apps, AnyList.  I use AnyList for my on-the-go shopping lists and for a Honey-Do list.
AnyList has a very clean interface that makes it easy to read and to use.  It allows you to set up multiple shopping lists in any way you choose.  I have shopping lists set up for several different stores.  I also have another list (not shown) called Random Look for Stuff which has items that I want to look for in various places before deciding on which one to purchase.  Theoretically, you could use this app for making other lists as well, but this works out very well for me.

My Shopping Lists

Within My Grocery List, I can set items into specific categories which, for me, correspond to the area of the store in which I find the item.  I can also indicate in which order these categories are shown.  I have a certain route that I take when I go to Walmart and I can arrange the categories to follow that route.  When I get an item on my shopping list, I have the option of having the item go away when I tap it to cross it off.  This makes it easier to find remaining items without scrolling up and down.

Not only can you set up different shopping lists, but you can also input recipes and tell AnyList to put the ingredients into your shopping lists.  I started out inputting recipe ingredients, but decided that was too much for me to handle. It is very easy to just type in the items since it has its own search and autocomplete.  I do, however, use the recipes area to set up a "recipe" called Staples and another one called "Sam's Club."  My Staples recipe has ingredients for which I check every week to see if I need to get them at the store.  Milk, bread, etc.  Sam's Club ingredients are those items that we prefer to get at Sam's.

AnyList can be synced across two more devices.  This is helpful because my husband can put items in my list and it'll show up on my phone.  I can input items that I want to get from Sam's Club, and he can pick those up for me.  (I dislike shopping in Sam's with Gracie.  It takes much longer than I want it to.)

I have tried a number of shopping lists, and this is my favorite.


Someone from AnyList app wrote me the same day this post was published and gave me a very helpful tip:

Hi Ava,

Thanks for writing a blog post about AnyList! We’re glad to hear that you like the app, and appreciate you helping to spread the word.

One note: instead of using recipes to keep track of commonly purchased items, you could try using our favorites feature:

The benefit of using favorites is that it is integrated with our autocomplete feature, so items from your favorites will be suggested as you type.

Hope this helps, and thanks again!

I tried out this feature, and I love it!

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Intro to the Series

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Calendars

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 2

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 3

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Wunderlist

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  AnyList

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Final Thoughts

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

{Almost} Paperless Organizing: Wunderlist (Post 6)

"Wunderlist, Wunderlist, I use you every day, to help keep me organized in every way."  For some reason, I am tempted to ing that to the tune of Wonder Pets whenever I say Wunderlist in my head.  Yes, I do have a 4-year-old.

Wunderlist is a to do list management program that can be accessed on the computer, iPhone, and iPad.  Yes, it's available for PCs and Androids, too.

I use Wunderlist for both do-it-once tasks and for recurring tasks.

My favorite feature in Wunderlist is the ability to group tasks into categories.  Most of my categories have to do with what time of day I perform these tasks.

1-Morning Checklist  I do these first thing in the morning, or as soon as I can after getting up.

Weekly Checklist  These are tasks that are assigned to specific days.

2a-Daily Tasks  I do these tasks sometime in the middle of the day.  Basically after 1-Morning and before my husband gets home from work.

2b-Housecleaning Tasks  This is a new and somewhat untried category.  By that, I mean that I have assigned a number of housecleaning tasks to a particular day and frequency (some are every 2 weeks or every 3 months).  This idea is roughly based off of The Motivated Moms calendar of housecleaning tasks.

3-Evening Routine  These are tasks that I do after supper.

4-Computer/Must Do  These tasks are done at the computer, and I prefer to do all of these every day.  Sometimes I begin these tasks during the day; other times, I do them at night.

5-Computer/Can Skip  These tasks can wait.

6-Computer/By Myself  I do these when I am by myself (i.e. My husband and daughter are asleep, and, therefore, cannot interrupt me.)  This is when I work on editing photos.

7-End of the Day  I do these tasks before I go to bed.  (That reminds me, I need to take my vitamins.  Hang on......)

Pinterest (several categories).  Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about how I figured out a way to keep up with reviewing my pins on Pinterest so that I'm not just a Pin Hoarder but a Pin Doer.  I review these boards on a regular basis (as I have time).  Those categories contain tasks to remind me to look at certain boards.

Declutter Challenges.  I follow a blog that assigns different decluttering challenges and this serves as my reminder to do those.

At the very top, there are three default lists that come with Wunderlist:  Inbox (which is a collection of uncategorized tasks), Today, and Week.  I use Inbox for putting random things that I'd like to do this week or on a certain day.  I never look at Week because that would be overwhelming.  I generally keep the Today list in view and I move through the list, checking off what I have completed or what I have chosen to skip.  (Yes, it's ok to skip something and do it the next time it rolls around!)

Just about everything (with the exception of the tasks in the Inbox list) has a due date and a repeat frequency.  Each task will say when it is due:  Today or maybe past due on yesterday or a previous date.  Sometimes I keep a past-due task in view until I can get it done; most of the time, I check the task off.

Wunderlist is very easy to use.  This offers me a way to "check off" what I have done and have the tasks appear auto-magically which saves me time.

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Intro to the Series

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Calendars

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 2

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 3

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Wunderlist

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  AnyList

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Final Thoughts

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Monday, March 31, 2014

{Almost} Paperless Organizing: Evernote, Part 3 (Post 5)

I knew that Evernote would take some time to talk about.  This is post #3 and we've barely got into it.

I will continue talking about the tags that I use to mark my notes in Evernote.

Last time I talked about .Tickler File tags, .What tags, and, my favorite, .When tags.

.Where tags
The .Where tags are what David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame) would call context tags.  In other words, where you will be when you need to do this.

.Where tags

@Computer means that this task or project will require me to be at my computer.

@Home means I will do this at home.  (I used to also have an @Errands tag, but I have begun putting my Errands on Wunderlist.)  In a way, I think this tag is kind of unnecessary, but I saw someone else use it, so I thought I'd give it a try.

@Kitchen Again, most likely unneccessary.

@Mama's  This is for when I go see my mom.  I have a few ideas of places to visit.

@Phone  Phone calls.  Self-explanatory.

Out of all of these, I'd say that the @Computer is the one that is most useful to me.

.Who tags
I only have two .who tags:  Family and Gracie.  I only have one note tagged with Gracie.  This set of tags is ideal for people who have outside jobs and do projects with other people.

.Misc tags
These tags are for when you need to tag it with something, but the .What, .When, .Where, and .Who may or may not apply.  These tags are very important.

My .misc tags
Again, the . in front of .misc means that it is a category header only.  I have seven categories under .misc tags.

.correspondence   These are emails written to me.  So far, this is only for the correspondence from the little girls we sponsor through Touch a Life.

.important info  Eventually, I may further subdivide this category.  I know I need to subdivide the notebook that is called Important Info.

.notes  There are three further subcategories:  Church (for sermon notes), Ladies (for notes taken during our Ladies Bible Studies), and Quotes which I haven't even used yet.

.projects This is my favorite new tag.  I came up with these on my own (You saw it here first!).  I have three subcategories:  Big projects, medium projects, and small projects.  Big projects are those that are going to take multiple days to complete.  Medium projects will likely take one day, and small projects take just a few minutes or maybe no more than an hour.  These tags combined with the .when tags (1-Now, 2-Next, etc.) is very useful for effective productivity.  Look below and you'll see what I mean:

From this list of my big projects, I can see that the most important one I need to do is catching up on my checkbook (recording transactions into my financial program).  After that, I can work on organizing my file cabinet, and so on.

I can look at a similar list of medium projects and know which ones are important to do soon and which ones can wait.

.receipts are further subdivided into Not For Taxes, For Taxes, and Photo Biz Receipts.  When I get an electronic receipt, I tag it with one of these tags and then stick it in the appropriate year notebook in my File Cabinet stack.

Eventually, I want to be able to scan receipts and put them in Evernote.  This will hopefully help during tax time.

.recipes  I have a bunch of tags under the heading of .recipes.  Look below for the first division:

.Dish type
  • Appetizers/Snacks
  • Beverages
  • Desserts (further divided into Cakes, Cookies, Misc Desserts, Cupcakes, and Pies)
  • Household Stuff
  • Kids Play
  • Main Dishes (further divided into Beef, Breakfast, Chicken, Main Misc, Pasta, Seafood, and Soups)
  • Mixes
  • Sides (further divided into Breads, Fruits, Potatoes, and Veggies)
There are two subcategories for .Events: Holidays and Potluck.

.Prep Type
Here are the subcategories:  Canning, Crockpot, Easy, Grilled, Make Ahead and Freeze, and Make Ahead Partially.

Tips are for meal tips.

.temp tags  There is just one subcategory: Is in Dropbox.  This is when I thought I was going to use Dropbox to house my recipes.  So, another tag is obsolete.

As you can see, tweaking Evernote to work is an ongoing process; however, it is well worth it!  I love being able to have my brain and more accessible and laid out in such a way that I can make good decisions about prioritizing my projects and tasks.

One final tip
In order to be able to access my most used notebooks and tags, I put them in the shortcuts area of Evernote.

Shortcuts make it easy to find my most used Notebooks and Tags

Fortunately, I can arrange the shortcuts into an order that makes sense to me.

I am currently in the process of emptying my email program of as many saved emails as possible.  I think this is what really sold me on using Evernote.  After watching The Secret Weapon videos that I've mentioned a couple of times, I used their method to work on my inbox.  I was shocked when I wound up with an empty email inbox!  I literally dropped my jaw open.  (It's not currently empty, but I now have a great method to use to get them processed.)

What do you think so far?  Do you think you can now use Evernote to help you go {Almost} Paperless?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Intro to the Series

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Calendars

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 2

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 3

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Wunderlist

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  AnyList

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Final Thoughts

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Friday, March 28, 2014

{Almost} Paperless Organizing: Evernote, Part 2 (Post 4)

Welcome back!  Here is my continuing post about Evernote.  Today, I will get into the nitty-gritty of how to really make it sing and dance for you, and that involves using tags.

Main Categories of Tags
I have several main categories of tags:   tickler file, what, when, where, who, and miscellaneous tags.

Main Categories of Tags
You will notice that the note count (the first number) for these tags is 0 and there is another number following.  The second number tells how many subcategories there are for that main tag.  Most of these tags that you see have a . in front of it.  That serves two purposes:  for sorting and also to help me remember that no note should use that tag but a subcategorical tag.

.Tickler File tags
This is more of a work in progress.  I saw where someone else used tickler file tags and kinda of liked the idea, but I haven't really been able to implement it for my own purposes.  In case you don't know, a tickler file is one in which you place documents that you need for a particular day, month, or year.  We used to use tickler files at my former job as a customer service representative for a company who published financial newsletters.  We had a file box that contained 31 folders, one for each day of the month, as well as 12 other folders, one for every month of the year.  Every day, we looked in the file folder for that day of the month and see if anything needed to be done for that day.  On the first day of the month, we would look in the file folder for that new month and would take those documents and put them in the file folder for the particular days of that month.  It's a great system, but at this time I don't really have a use for it.  I may delete the .Month and .Year tags; for now, I will keep them just in case I decide I can use them.

.Holidays tags in the .Tickler File category

However, I did add in a set of tags for Holidays as you can see above.  The numbers refer to the month that the holiday falls in so that they sort in chronological order.  I don't yet have notes for every holiday, but at least I have the setup ready.  I already have 13 notes pertaining Easter; soon, I will look at those notes and see what activities I can do with my daughter.

.What tags
Several of these tags were recommended by other people (.Active Project, .Future Project, and .Inactive Project) but I have not found a practical use for myself at this time.

The .What tags
Even though I do have notes in Ideas and Reference, I am not convinced that I need those particular tags because I have notebooks that contain my ideas and reference material.

I do use the Read/Review tag for items that I would like to . . . well, read and review . . . at some time.

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, ok, so when are you going to tell me about tags that you DO use and that you DO find useful?  That's the next one coming up!

.When tags (my favorite)
If you are familiar with the Getting Things Done concept of time management (David Allen), you will recognize some of the tags found here.  I do recommend reading his book and other books that utilize his method.  It's very practical and provides a great method for thinking about tasks and projects.

Before I get into my .when tags, let me say that I think these are the most important tags to use to help you be more productive.  If a note has any kind of time significance to it, be sure to tag it with a .when tag.

Here are my when tags:

My .When tags
! Daily  (The ! is used to put this at the top) -- when I first started using tags, I used ! Daily to mark items that I wanted to look at every day.  I have since switched to using Wunderlist for my recurring tasks, so I do not need this one.  I know, I should delete it and quit talking about it. Moving on...

! Ongoing.  Umm, don't use anymore.  Nothing to see here.

! Weekly.  I do kind of use this.  Even though it says 3 notes, the only one is use is my cheat sheet for meal planning which reminds me where to find the recipes I will choose for the following week's meals.

1-Now   Ahhh!  Here we go.  1-Now are for items that are utmost in getting done NOW.  (Incidentally, writing blog posts is not marked 1-Now but serves as a great procrastinator.)  Last week, I had "Get stuff together for taxes" which I thankfully deleted once I delivered our stuff to our accountant.

1a-This Week  I use this for the recipes that I am making this week.  I needed a way to indicate that they are planned for somewhere between 1-Now and 2-Next and this works out fine.

2-Next  After I finish the 1-Now tasks or projects or if I'm looking for something else to do really soon, this is the tag I look under.

Here are some of my 2-Next notes.  Some refer to projects, some refer to random little things that I want or need to do soon, a couple of them are activities with Gracie which may not really be in the near future, but I do want to do.

2b-Waiting  This tag is for notes that need to be acted upon soon, but I'm waiting for someone else to do something so that I can go further with that item.  Three of these items are Honey-Do items.  One is a reminder to get people to get an insurance quote from State Farm and mention my name so that I can earn a $10 gift card.  (No strings attached.)

3-Soon.  These are for items that are a little down the road, perhaps within the next few months.  It may be that I know I do not have the time to do it now, but want to do it soon.

4-Later.  These are for items that I know I want to do, but will have to wait sometime.

5-Someday  These are for items that are some day in the future, but who knows when they can be done.  Want-to-but-don't-hold-your-breath.

The nice thing about these tags is that over time you can review the items with particular tags and change them to a different .when.  For example, in my Memphis Things to Do Notebook, I have 17 different things listed.  See the screenshot below:

Most of these are places that I will go to with Gracie.  We recently visited the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum with some friends and wanted to ride the downtown trolley, but the trolley line was closed down due to a fire incident.  I have marked those two items as 2-Next because I want to go there before any of the other places.   3-Soon are for places that I know I can visit soon without too much trouble. (By the way, in case you're wondering, the cemetery one is to scout out for a photoshoot location.)  Since spring has arrived and the weather is nicer, I can see where I can change some of the tags on these (the Zoo, for example).

6- . . . umm, where did it go?  Hmmm....obviously, I deleted it, but I don't remember what it said.

7-Weekend  I saw where someone used this to indicate tasks that were to be done on a weekend.  I haven't used this and I probably won't.

8-Did This.  To date, once I've completed something, I've deleted it from Evernote.  I'll keep it in case I want to keep notes for something I did.

That's enough for one post.  I'll continue talking about the .Where, .Who, and .Misc tags in the next post (or two).

Do you see how useful the tags are for time management and setting priorities?  What else can you think of to add?

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Intro to the Series

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Calendars

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 2

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 3

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Wunderlist

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  AnyList

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Final Thoughts

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

{Almost} Paperless Organizing: Evernote (Post 3)

Today, I will talk about the app Evernote.  Evernote is an app that can be used with multiple devices including iOS and Android, Windows and Mac.

I first began using it a couple of years ago and though it was nice, but I didn't get a better understanding on how to use it until a few weeks ago when I read an ebook called Paperless Home Organization: How to Create A Digital Home Management Binder by Mystie Winckler. Then I had an epiphany of sorts when I viewed a series of videos on a free website called The Secret Weapon.

First, for what purpose do I use Evernote?

I use Evernote to store information that I can access whenever I am connected to the internet -- or even offline using my favorite devices.

Here is a list of some things that I have stored in Evernote:
  • Recipes
  • Receipts
  • Tasks (non-reoccurring)
  • Project information
  • Ideas
  • Someday/Maybe lists
  • Notes (e.g. Sermons, seminars, books)
  • How to....
  • Quotes
  • Restaurant reviews
  • Inventories
  • Blog ideas
  • Honey-Do lists
  • Travel ideas
  • Activity ideas

There are two things to remember about Evernote:
  1. Indiviual notes are stored in Notebooks (and Notebooks can be combined into Stacks).
  2. Notes can be tagged.  This feature is what makes it extremely usable.

How do I use Evernote?

There are several ways to get a note into Evernote.  One way is to simply add a new note and start typing away.  If you are using Evernote on your phone or tablet, you can also put a photo in your note.  If you use Thunderbird for email like I do, you can download an add-on which allows you to easily forward your email to your Evernote account.  If you don't have the add-on, or if you use a different email program, you can email anything to your Evernote account using a special email address that Evernote provides for you.

All new notes are stored in ! Inbox by default and are later transferred to a Notebook.

By default, I have all of my notes go to a notebook that I have named "! Inbox."  The ! in the name is a way of making sure it stays at the top of the list of Notebooks.  Every day (sometimes several times a day), I spend time doing two things to each note in my Inbox:  First I tag it (more about tags later) with as many tags as is appropriate.  Secondly, I send it to a notebook.

How do I retrieve my notes?
I can do a search for certain keywords, and Evernote will give me a list of notes, notebooks, tags, etc. that contain the keywords that I type in.  If I remember which notebook the note is found in, I can look in that notebook.  By default, I view Evernote using the "Top List" view, but there are several different options available.  You use what works for you.  If I remember that it has a certain tag, I can click on the tag and view all of the notes with that tag and look for it there.

What kind of Notebooks do I have?
This screenshot shows the Notebooks and Stacks (stacks are groups of notebooks under one category) that I use.

There are some people who store all of their notes in just two or three notebooks.  As you can see, I utilize a few more than that.  This is just how my brain works.

I can already see from looking at this list of notebooks that I have some changing I need to do.  The empty notebooks should be deleted, and I just realized that there are some notes that need to go in another notebook.

One note about the Recipes.  I have tried so many different things to organize my recipes.  I have had photo albums with index cards (mine is still somewhere, I just need to find it!), I have tried using a Recipe app.  I liked it pretty well, but I didn't like the thought that one day the app may become obsolete and how could I transfer the recipes to another usable format.  I decided a while back that I would store all of my recipes as PDF files and put them in my Dropbox folder so that I could access them using any of my iDevices.  Needless to say, the thought of typing or even cutting and pasting into MSWord and converting to PDF was exhausting.  I even made a start at doing that.  However, when I figured out how to use Evernote, I decided that really, I could just store the recipes in Evernote.  The recipe app had a neat feature that allowed me to email the recipes, one at a time, so I emailed each recipe to my Evernote email address.  Done.  Not only am I able to access each of the recipes in Evernote, but I can add in notes of my own (changes to the recipe and ideas for improvement) and share them with others.

In the case of my Recipes to Try, if we do not like the recipe, I can delete it and not worry about it anymore.

Helpful Tip
Here is a tip:  Put a date in the title of your note.  This is helpful for sorting purposes (use YEAR.MONTH.DAY format -- ex: 2014.03.25 for March 25, 2014) and for quickly determining the date associated with that note.

The screenshot above shows correspondence and receipts for donations to Touch a Life, an organization that provides help to needy children around the world.  We sponsor two little girls who live in Honduras.

In my next post, I will talk about using tags in Evernote.  This was the "aha" moment for me when I learned how to include them.

In the meantime, think about how you can use Evernote.  Could you use the same notebooks that I use? Are there other notebooks that would be better for you?  I'd love to hear some of your thoughts.

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Intro to the Series

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Calendars

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 2

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 3

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Wunderlist

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  AnyList

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Final Thoughts
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

{Almost} Paperless Organizing: Calendars (Post 2)

Welcome back!

I hope that my last post was helpful to you in learning about what I use to help me go {almost} paperless.

Today, I will talk about my calendars.

The paperless version I use is Google Calendar which I access using the calendar program on my iMac and the calendar apps on my iPhone and iPad.

It is very easy to import these calendars for synching across all devices:  Just tell it in settings to link to your gmail account.

Click to view fullsize
Above is a screenshot of my week.  You will notice that I have several categories of calendars, each with its own color.  This is very helpful for being able to see just what kinds of things are planned for the day.

Another nice thing about using Google Calendar is that you can link to calendars that other people have developed.  For example, I am linked to my church's activity calendar which shows all of the services, activities, birthdays, and anniversaries in our church.  Also, East Memphis Moms blog has a calendar showing {tons of} activities going on in the Memphis area. I don't show it on my main calendar, but I can get to it via the Window menu in the menu bar.

In general, I try to only put scheduled activities on this calendar, but some of them serve as reminders for "This is going on today; see if you can make it" activities (Storytime at the library, for example).  At the very top of the calendar are items that are "all day" in nature such as birthdays; events that span several days; or "sometime today" such as "Water Day" which means that the water guy will come sometime that day.  Something new to my calendar is the ability to add in travel time.  This is great for visualizing how much time is left in my day.  I just wish they had the option of adding in travel time to get back home!

I don't really like the calendar app that is on my iPhone.  It's not very intuitive, in my opinion.  I don't really use this app very much, so it's not a huge worry for me.  Maybe someday I'll find a new app that I like better, but there's no hurry.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I also use a wall calendar.  My favorite is the 2014 Amy Knapp's Big Grid Family wall calendar: The essential organization and communication tool for the entire family.  This is the fourth year I have used this calendar.  It is awkward to store because it so large, but I really do love this calendar.  Everything goes on the wall calendar from appointments to recording little things that happened that day.  I have also started writing down what we had for supper, so that we can know old the leftovers are in the refrigerator!

Every year, sometime between Christmas Day and New Year's Day, I spend part of an evening transferring information from my old calendar to my new calendar.  It's fun to remember the events of the year and to think about special people whose birthdays I record.

One tip I have for when you receive a new card for an appointment (e.g. dentist and doctor) that doesn't occur until the next calendar year:  I staple the cards to the last page of the calendar.  When I transfer my info, I have it right there to record on the new calendar.

Do you have any tips to add for using either an online or wall calendar?  Can you recommend any calendar apps for me to try?

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Intro to the Series

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Calendars

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 2

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Evernote, Part 3

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Wunderlist

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  AnyList

{Almost} Paperless Organizing:  Final Thoughts

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