Teamwork makes the dream work

Thanks to modern technology, we can bring new life to old photos.

Photo Before

A client brought me this photo of her mother and her mother’s basketball team. Based on the date on the basketball, the image was 87 years old, and it was showing its age: curling, creases, tears, abrasion, discoloring. Fortunately, the mother’s face was unmarred. The client wanted to share copies of this photo with her siblings at the summer family reunion.

I scanned it in, and returned the original image as is. That’s one of the luxuries of scanning: The original in most cases can be retained if desired.

Then I ran through a rudimentary photo editing software, of which there are dozens on the market. Free photo editing software will only get you so far; you can crop and enhance the color but usually that’s about it. If you need to do extreme editing (as in this case), you’ll need to spring for some software or enlist a photo organizer in your endeavors.

I cloned in some corners, softened some of the abrasions, knitted together the rips and, per the client’s specifications, retained the sepia tones (an even more extreme makeover would colorize the image). Here’s the result:

Photo After

It’s by no means perfect, but it’s better. An observer can see smiles first now instead of photo damage. Imagine it on display at the family reunion, affixed in an album or framed to enjoy. Oh, the conversations it will inspire!

The best part is I sent the electronic copy straight to the local drugstore where the client was able to pick up prints for herself and her siblings. Those prints are now 2019 versions that will last another 87 years.


Tidying up an ugly pile of negatives

If you’ve Marie Kondo-ed your upstairs storage closet, you might decide your negatives aren’t “sparking joy” and it’s time to dump them.

Not so fast.

It seems like everyone is crazy for Kondo-mania. Marie Kondo is the guru of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and now Netflix reality show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Her process of sorting through your stuff to lighten your load in life is so widespread it has turned into a verb: Kondo-ing.

The last step in her method of decluttering is to tackle sentimental items, which would include photos and, presumably, negatives.

Back when people used film to takes pictures, prints came back from the processor with negatives. When you run across them in your photo collection, they probably won’t spark any joy; they’re difficult to view without a negative viewer, the images are small, and the negatives themselves are hard to handle—thin, awkwardly curved, slippery. You might be tempted to throw them straightaway.

But wait. These negatives are a backup to your printed photos and can be saved in case of damage to the original prints.

The most important thing to do with negatives: Store them separate from your prints. If something tragic were to happen to those prints (think: house fire or water pipe break), the negatives could be used to recreate the print if they are stored somewhere else.

Consider your negatives an insurance policy on your photos; insurance doesn’t usually spark joy either, but it’s nice to have in case of an emergency.

If you’re sorting through a mountain of family photos and come across a bunch of negatives, set them aside. The plastic sleeves in which some negatives come from the processor are likely photo-safe plastic (i.e., polyethylene) so it’s fine to keep them in those sleeves or — if the negatives are loose — the original photo envelope. Negatives don’t have to be sorted and edited as meticulously as a print collection unless or until it becomes necessary, as in the case of one of the aforementioned tragedies.

negs blogStore your negatives in the same way you would store your prints. Use photo-safe materials, and keep them in a cool, dry place (i.e., not the basement or attic) or better yet, the house of a good friend or relative.

If you handle your negatives in this manner, you’ll spark the joy of knowing you’ve mitigated risk without having to invest a lot of time going through every last negative strip and you’ll have tidied up your photo collection. Sweet.

Good cell phone photo hygiene

To be clear, if hygiene makes you think of germs, then yes, you need to clean your cell phone regularly. (If you’re looking for tips for that, use a 50/50 mixture of water and alcohol and a microfiber cloth. Use a cotton swab for the crevices.)

But this post isn’t about germs. It’s about the photos on your phone that seem to multiply like bacteria.

Do you have thousands of photos on your cell phone?

Are you paying monthly fees to back up your phone photos even though you never look at the backup and have no idea what photos are being stored?

Do you struggle to find a particular photo on your phone when you want to show someone?

Well, this post is for you. It’s time to clean up your photo routine. No rubber gloves necessary.

Here are four tips for better phone photo hygiene.

Delete liberally.

Just because you took the picture doesn’t mean you need to keep it. We are no longer living in the film age where we got double prints of every camera click. You need to go through your digital images periodically and click the trash can icon at least half as many times as you clicked the “take picture” button. Face it: Most digital images are junk. You tried different lighting, or you turned your phone sideways, or you took a close up, or you snapped a shot of an item you wanted to buy (and now you’ve purchased it), or you just accidentally took extra pictures. Delete the ones that don’t matter. Yes, right now. Or at least take a few minutes at regular intervals (the first of every month or every Sunday night or while you’re waiting for your hair stylist/doctor/oil change) to delete mercilessly.


Backup the photos on your phone either with a cloud service or by saving to your computer or thumb drive. If you’re not sure how to save photos to your computer, check how this post on how to find your DCIM and move photos from your phone to your computer.

After backing up your photos, consider deleting them off your phone. Blasphemy? OK, you don’t have to delete all of them (though I do because I absolutely hate showing people photos on my tiny phone screen), but you can delete older ones and ones you no longer want to show other people. If you have photos on your phone you want to show off, check out this next tip.

Create albums.

If you have an iPhone, you can tag photos so they appear in different albums. Your phone will do this automatically for some photos, but if you want to show off photos of your kids or your new house, you can segregate those photos into an album so they’re easy to find. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the Photos icon.
  2. Click on “Albums” on the bottom right.
  3. Click the + sign in the top left.
  4. Name your new album (i.e., “Kids,” “New House,” “Biggest Fish”). Click save.
  5. Now tap the photos you want to save in that album. Scroll up and down to see all you have on your phone.
  6. Click Done in the top right.

Now when you want to show someone these particular photos, click the Photos icon, then Albums and find the one you want. Voila.


Many photo print shops offer apps just for this purpose including SnapFish, Shutterfly, CVS and Walgreens (search “print photos” in the App store). To make this work, you actually have to use the app and print some photos. In many cases, you can print items other than simply photographs, like photo books and other tchotchkes. Listen, if the photo was important enough to take and save, then it might be worth printing and enjoying in real life inside of only virtually.

There, now your phone is lighter, at least in terms of  memory use, and you can better enjoy the photos you’ve decided to keep. Nice work.

Now you can clean up the germy parts.

Good luck!

3 places to find raw material for life story and 3 sources of inspiration

When one thinks of one’s entire life and ponders writing a memoir, the sheer volume of experiences might cause writer’s block. Where to begin?

The didactically chronological will begin with birth, but that’s the long way around. Even writing about a few life changing events can provide yourself and others with insight on living this life. I encourage inexperienced writers to begin there, with a few important moments imbued with great emotion rather than a boring date-by-date list.

Here are three sources of raw material for your life stories that will help get you started and three books to inspire you:

  1. Peruse your old diaries. I’m writing a memoir based on the year I turned 15 and learned to kiss. Entries like this one inspired whole scenes in my work-in-progress book: “Scott (of all people) said I have nice fingernails. Freak my mind away! (That’s Amy’s saying.) We were in science doing some stupid mountains. Wow! Now I have a whole list of guys I like.” As an adult, I can admire and/or lament my simplistic langauge while massaging the content for actual emotion.

2. Copy and paste your Facebook posts. My mother recently went to Guatemala for a mission trip. She keep me, my sister and her friends apprised of her progress building a school with posts on Facebook. Every day was a little story with gems like this, “We saw a smoking volcano near our highway today. It was very warm and we hope it is cooler in the place we will work (higher altitude). We waded in the Pacific Ocean today, which was very warm here.” When she returned home, she used her posts inspire photo captions in her scrapbooks.

3. Take advantage of an online prompt provider. There are many, but one I like comes from WordPress (where I host this blog). Every day, I get a one-word prompt in my email In Box. Today’s word is pensive, for example. Imagine all the vignettes pensive might inspire. When was the last time you were pensive? What life changing events made you pensive? When should you have adopted a more pensive attitude before taking a big leap? What are you pensive about right now? These ideas from the Daily Post are meant for blog writers, but they work just as well for budding memorists.


And here are three books to inspire writers of all sorts, but especially writers of life story:

  1. Writing Down the BonesWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg was first published in 1986, but I recently picked it up and I’m loving it. She combines the concepts of Zen meditation and writing to get writers past the terror of the blank page. With suggestions like “What autumn was it that the moon entered your life?,” “When was it that you picked blueberries at their quintessential moment?” and “How long did you wait for your first bike?,” you’ll be off and running on stories from your life. The book is written in such as way so you can read it straight through, or simply turn to any chapter for inspiration.
  2. Skills FINAL EBook Cover after Proof NOOKSkills for Personal Historians: 102 Savvy Ideas to Boost Your Expertise by personal historian and blogger Dan Curtis includes chapters on “The 50 Best Life Story Questions” “The 50 Best Questions to Ask Your Mother” and “Powerful Ways to Recall Forgotten Memories.” Written for professional personal historians, this book might also inspire you to write other people’s life stories. Like Goldberg’s book, you can read this one straight through or readers can pick and choose where to dive in.


3. Eating An ElephantAuthor Patricia Charpentier provides encouraging words and clear examples in Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time to walk you through writing your life story. I took an insightful editing class from Charpentier and enjoyed her style. She even mixes in a little Cajun French and offers insight into South Louisiana culture in her examples in her book.

Turn some favorite photos into a sweet work of art

My client had been battling cancer for literally decades when I was called. She never said “terminal” or “the end is coming soon,” but it was assumed.

“I don’t want to leave a mess,” she said. “I want to put aside the sweetest and most important things.”

We looked through a few piles of photos, labeled and stored in plastic bags (not the world’s worst mess, I thought) before coming upon a big pile of images of children’s faces: Her grandchildren. Among the images was a ballerina, a couple of fishermen, cherubic faces of babies and laughing swimmers.

They were nothing if not sweet and important.

The wall across from her bed was filled with an enormous painting she liked but described as dark. It was time to surround her with sweetness and light.

With a little work on Photoshop to improve the quality and convert to black and white, we turned 20 images into 20 gallery blocks:

H images

My client’s husband built and painted custom profile shelves to display the images, arranged in such a way as to suggest a single piece of art, like the painting they replaced. A gallery block is a professional print laminated over a solid wood construction. These images are 5-by-7 inches, 6-by-6 and 8-by-10. Here’s a close-up of the back:

close up

Gallery blocks come with hanging brackets, but for this display, we simply propped them in the shelf. In this way, they’re easy to move around or add to. Each block is 1-inch thick. One can simple wrap a loosely cropped image around the edge or in this case, select an edging like this gray damask print.

sideview gallery blocks


The result was stunning. And we installed just in time to show it off when her family would be visiting to witness her and her husband renew their vows.

I’m honored I could be part of this project.

“We live in an almost perfect stillness and work with incredible urgency.”

~ Rem Koolhaas

Expressing my gratitude for gratitude

“Saying thank you is more than good manners.  It is good spirituality.”

~ Alfred Painter

Nothing feels so good as another’s gratitude for a job well done.

I have presented “The ABCs of Photo Organizing” at northern Illinois libraries and 55+ communities 33 times in the past six months, and nearly every presentation ends with applause. Many times, people speak their thanks for the information shared as they depart, and I’m always glowing when someone says, “Fantastic presentation! I got lots of ideas! Thank you so much.”

I, too, have benefited by meeting photographers, genealogists, story tellers and others with tips to share. I remember the woman whose daughter was an Olympic gymnast and died at age 32, the woman creating a celebration album for her son’s 50th birthday, the woman making a cook book for her mother’s Pakistani recipes and so many others with interesting stories to tell.

Earlier this week, after a presentation to about 50 people at the library in Lake Zurich, I packed my notes and all my props and lugged them out to my car, looking forward to listening to the Twins baseball game on satellite radio on the way home.

A blonde woman with a friendly smile tracked me down in the parking lot to thank me.

“I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your presentation and to thank you for sharing,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” I replied as I piled my bags into my car. “You’re sweet to seek me out. I appreciate it.”

“Oh, I’m trying to do that more often, to thank people,” she said.

As I drove away, I thought about how the woman was cultivating such a beneficial habit. She made me feel good and meanwhile, she probably felt good, too.

Then yesterday, on my way to yet another library talk, I heard an ad on Oprah Radio for her thank-you game. It’s sort of a pay-it-forward thank-you game designed to thank half a billion people worldwide. I wondered if the woman in the Lake Zurich parking lot was playing Oprah’s game, and I thought others might be interested in spreading gratitude. If so, check this out.


Wishing you a wonderful weekend and a summer of gratitude.

“The more you praise and celebrate in life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

~ Oprah Winfrey