Using Smart Albums in iPhoto to Keep Track of Your Best Photos

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to change up the way you do things, especially when it comes to organizing your digital photos. It’s a time to keep doing what works and ditch what doesn’t. What works for me is organizing pictures by event and adding the year, month and day they were taken to the title of each folder. If I have two events in one day (like a program at school during the day  and a birthday party that night), I place them in separate folders and include “01” after the date of the first and “02” after the date of the second activity to make sure that the folders show up in the proper order (see example below).

Photos Organized by Year and Event

What also works is periodically backing up these folders to DVDs that I give to Bill to take to work. This ensures that, in the event of a fire, our pictures are not lost forever.

What hasn’t been working is having to search through every folder at the end of the year to find the pictures that I would like to include in our annual Christmas Card and end of year slideshow. In search of a solution that would make the most of software I already have, I read up on how to use iPhoto Smart Albums and created one called 2013 Best Photos. I then added parameters so the album only contains pictures from 2013 events that I gave a 5-star rating (see article titled How To Create Essential Smart Albums for Your iPhoto Library at

To test my new process, I imported a photo from our camera and gave it a five-star rating. The picture appeared in the new smart album and my photo-taking year is off to a great start, proving that Continuous Process Improvement is not just for companies: It’s for anyone who is up for the challenge of putting every system to the test until the good is better and the better is best!

December is a great month to clear your home of clutter. It creates space for the gifts that Santa will be bringing on Christmas Eve and gives others an opportunity to benefit from the items that have outgrown their usefulness to your family. One of the first two spaces I go through are my daughters’ closets because I know that I can pass the clothes that Katie and Hollie no longer wear to my niece when we see her over the holidays.

Next, I scrutinize our gift closet and get rid of the oldest items that I intended but never managed to give away. While in the basement, I also look inside holiday totes for decorations that could be donated to Goodwill. I prefer large pieces that have maximum impact with minimal installation time (like the giant wreath we hang in our entryway) and no longer enjoy setting out smaller items that create more clutter than Christmas cheer.

One of the last placed I scrutinize are the bookshelves in our living room as I challenge myself to let go of literature that I never should have bought in the first place. Books that are in good condition with no liquid damage, writing or highlighting are posted on What I like about this site is how easy it is to use. For every book that I mail to another member of this free service, I receive a credit that can be used to request a book from the thousands that are posted on this website.

We all have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources God has temporarily entrusted to our care. Sites like make it, not just possible, but beneficial to pass our unused items along to others.

Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap.

What Matters Most

On Labor Day weekend, Bill and I attended an outdoor music festival where rock bands Starship, Survivor and Boston performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. It was a beautiful night as a record number of concert-goers claimed their spot in front of the stage. Because one of my brothers worked for the company that was sponsoring the event, our seats were in a section reserved for employees and their families.

It was a jail cell as far as Katie and Hollie were concerned because they didn’t want to be there. Listening to music that Bill & I grew up with was not their idea of fun, but it seemed silly to let extra tickets go to waste while our girls watched television back at the hotel.

To make the experience more bearable, Katie got out her iPhone and handed one of her earbuds to Hollie. For the next hour, I watched as both girls tuned out the 80’s by infusing a continuous dose of alternative rock into their ears.

“When can we go back to the hotel?” Hollie asked after Starship had finished on stage.

“Why don’t you wait until Survivor is finished playing?” I suggested.

I wanted the girls to hear Eye of the Tiger (one of the only songs they knew), but when the band kept playing songs they didn’t know, I decided to put Katie and Hollie out of their 80’s misery and called my mom to pick them up.

I had just returned to my seat after walking the girls to the gate when I heard that one of the members of Starship had collapsed back stage. Event staff did a great job of keeping the news quiet until the concert was over, but my youngest brother’s VIP pass put him so close to the action that he heard the wife of one of the members of Boston confirm that Mark Abrahamian, the lead guitarist for Starship, had died at the age of 46.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell my husband,” she said. “He’s been a friend of our family for years.”

“Mark wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, ” the woman continued. “He died doing what he loved.”

Her words raise the question: If today was our last day on earth, would the people who know us best be able to say the same?

In my last post, I confessed that I had gone most of the summer without writing. What I didn’t say—and would like to add—is that with every week that passed, I felt less confident about my calling.

Does God really want me to be a writer?

Isn’t there something easier that I can do?

I am notorious for getting sidetracked with projects around the house, largely because organizing comes easy to me and blogging does not. My latest accomplishment was cleaning out our pantry; and although I smile every time I walk into the clutter-free space, I also know that it came at the cost of other projects.

Missionary C.T. Studd must have felt the same way when he said: Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.

For me what will last are the things that I do for other people. Bill and the girls were frustrated with not being able to find things and so I did something about it. The fact that the work came easy to me was just a bonus. It was also a reminder that I don’t always have to be outside my comfort zone to be in line with God’s; because it’s not what we do, but who we do it for, that really matters most.


Making Things Happen

“You know what I love about being in this family?” Katie asked me one day after school.


“That you support my dreams.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I want to do something I’m interested in, you make it easy,” she replied. “I realize that if I want something in life, I have to work for it; but it’s nice to know that when I need a new color of polish for a nail art design or if I want to see my favorite music group when it comes to town, you’ll make it happen.”

Katie was right. I make her progress a priority  because I don’t want my daughters to succeed in spite of their parents. I want it to be, at least in some small part, because of us. It’s the reason that I talked to musicians to find out the best guitar to buy when they both wanted to take lessons. And it’s why I agreed to have my oldest at school by 7:45 a.m. every day for six weeks this summer so she can free up a slot during the school year to take photography.

At times, the list of tasks can seem endless and the amount of appreciation in short supply. Maybe that’s why I was so surprised when Katie thanked me for helping her to pursue her passions. According to developmental psychologist Robert Kegan, children under sixteen years of age (and 15% of adults) operate out of a level of consciousness where they see another person in terms of what he or she can do for them. In this egocentric stage, people can’t imagine the feelings of others and focus only on their own needs and desires.

Watching my oldest step out of this mindset for long enough to be grateful to someone else made me even more motivated to say “yes” when she made her latest request: “Mom, would you help me find something that will work to organize my art supplies?”

The words were music to this organized mother’s ears. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing when there’s no place to put it, and the mess in Katie’s room had been bothering me for long enough that I quickly agreed to fund her latest project.

One 10-drawer craft cart and a nail polish rack was all it took to restore Katie’s bedroom to a serene sanctuary. And as I looked around her clutter-free surroundings, Proverbs 14:23 came to mind as I remembered that all hard work really does bring a profit; and when you help your kids to achieve their goals, once in a while they return the favor by completing one of yours.


Keeping Track of Receipts and Other Documents

Organizing your paper files is the type of project that goes better with a little help from friends … and a lot of user-friendly technology. For years, we used a product called NeatReceipts to create and file a digital copy of receipts and other important documents. When I migrated from my PC to a Mac computer, I decided that it was time to re-look at our options and see if a better solution existed. What I found was an iPhone application called TurboScan that scans receipts and multiple-page documents.

The software is much easier to use than our old solution and just $1.99 to download from the App Store on iTunes. My favorite feature is the ability to e-mail a PDF or JPG version of receipts directly to a folder in Evernote, which is a free web application that seamlessly synchronizes medical records, class notes, travel information and anything else I need access to. Because it works across all the devices and platforms—including Evernote for Mac, Evernote Web, and Evernote for Windows—Bill can see my scanned receipts seconds after I upload them and record the amounts in Quicken (which is another program that has worked well for our family for years).

I’ve said many times that when we make the most of what we have, God blesses us with more. In the case of putting technology to use, the gift is less clutter and more time to do the things we really want to do. What I want is to share what I know so that others can grow because your progress is my passion. And one of the best investments I will ever make is the time that I spend serving you.

Getting Organized On The Go

When a friend told me that she was planning to attend an in-home party where the proceeds were being donated to victims of the March 2011 earthquake that struck Japan, I agreed to tag along. We arrived to find a variety of storage solutions from Thirty-One Gifts on display and, after much deliberation, I purchased a set of All-In-One Organizer totes in a pattern that matched the interior of my van.

I used the first All-In-One Organizer to corral papers, books, and other items that used to make my passenger seat look more like a messy desk than an inviting place to sit. The second tote was the perfect size to hold reusable bags and coupons. Because the seller was running a monthly special where I could get one of the all-in-one organizers for half-price if I spent $30 of more, I also bought a Littles Carry-All Caddy and used it to store tissue paper, lens cloths, and glasses cleaner.

What I like most about the organizers (besides how nice they look), is that they also work great for road trips to hold snacks, reading material, and other travel essentials. I have been so pleased with these items that I contacted Jennifer Hansen (the Thirty-One Gifts consultant who sold them to me) and she agreed to offer free shipping to anyone who orders over $ 40.00 worth of merchandise. Thanks, Jennifer!

Links to the Thirty-One Gifts catalog, website, and current monthly specials are found below.



Current Monthly Specials

I receive no financial kickback for your order so please don’t feel pressured to make a purchase. I’m just sharing what I know so that others can grow (and become more organized on the go).

Uphill In An Avalanche

Sometimes I feel like I’m climbing uphill in an avalanche as I work to make progress and wind up with nothing checked off my to-do list. Today was one of those days. All week I’d been waiting for an item I ordered to arrive in the mail. When it finally came, I opened up the package to find that the wrong item had been shipped. Frustrated at the thought of having to return the unwanted product, I decided to get it over.

“Returns Are Easy!” the invoice assured me in large, bold print. I wasn’t so sure when I logged onto the website to find that, although the main page was working for people who wished to make a purchase, screens for returning an item were suspiciously unavailable.

Determined to accomplish something with my day, I turned off my monitor and headed to the van to run a few errands. While I was out I learned that the office supply store closed ten minutes before I arrived, the second office supply store that I tried did not carry what I needed, and a toy that was on sale at my favorite discount store was nowhere to be found. The afternoon was almost over when I returned home with zero errands checked off my To Do list.

What a mess, I thought to myself as I walked upstairs to hang up a shirt that I had purchased while I was out. As I walked into my closet I was struck by how disorganized it was and decided that, although I had no control over the uncertainty outside my home, I could do something about the chaos within it. The next hour was an organizing blur as I purged unwanted clutter. It felt so good to get rid of outdated items that my bad mood lifted, even though the To-Do list remained.

Just like the clothes in our closets, we choose which thoughts to hang onto. When we focus on the good and forget the bad, we show that our days aren’t determined by what happens around us; they are a product of what goes on within us—and maybe we aren’t having such a bad day after all.

Passing Things Along

Shopping for bargains comes easily to me. I am, after all, a salvage man’s daughter. What doesn’t come easy (also thanks to my father) is letting go of purchases when it’s time to send them on to another home. It helps to know that, when I do give up something I haven’t worn in a long time but have been struggling to part with, it often becomes the very thing that will make another person smile. Like the time I parted with a pink leather jacket that I really liked, but rarely wore. It went to a single mom who I regularly sent clothes to. Because of her limited income, she would never splurge on something so unpractical. And when I gave it to her, she smiled and said: “I’ve been waiting for you to pass that along.”

Her words taught me a lesson that will never go out of style. They reminded me that my someday could be another person’s everyday. They also convinced me to go against my nature and commit to following the one-in-one-out rule every time I bring a new item into my closet. If you are struggling to do the same, it helps to remember that you may not be the best person for your possessions. And when you let go of something good, it opens the door for God to do something great by working through you to reach out to others.