CATEGORY / Documenting by Topic

Happy to be here: Cowboy


A journaling prompt for the first of May was “Describe a moment from today you want to remember always.”

Here’s what I wrote (which I entered under C in my yearly photo book):


1 MAY 2015: Norris Geyser Basin
He was startled to feel hands on his shoulders, but it’s not the first time this type of thing has happened. You see, he usually wears a cowboy hat simply because it covers more than a baseball cap. And he looks good in a cowboy hat. This makes him a target for the ‘classic’ western shots taken by those visiting here from the far east. Today, it seems a gal with white make-up on her face, lovely curly hair and a gorgeous silk kimono – a geisha? – took a shine to him, taking photos of him and finally, sitting down next to him and, after speaking some Japanese and pointing to her cell phone, she handed her cell phone to a friend to take her photo of her sitting next to a cowboy. But then the others in the tour group got bolder including this one that put her hands on his shoulders, to have her photo taken with him. I smiled again, knowing I married a tourist attraction.


This moment got me thinking back to other visitors to Yellowstone that stand out in memory as being completely delighted to be here. There are lots of them. This year, I plan to really look for these – as another type of mindfulness – and a way to keep the focus for me away from those who just don’t get it. Watch for more of these to come.

Photos used here were edited in part using Rad Lab (affiliate link)

A Corgi’s Back

A Corgis BackI love documenting life by topic. And creating a personal yearbook or photobook (whatever these things are called) allows me to feel zero pressure to ‘keep up’ with it. I’m simply telling stories and illustrating them with photos.

Lately, though, I’ve felt a pull to mess around with creating textures and overlays – and of course, those magic blend modes. I was worried whether this style would work in the clean and simple style I’m doing overall and while I’ll need to give it a bit of time, I did pull it into the InDesign file I’m using for the personal life stories of 2015.

This story – about a Corgi’s back – also took time to tell – much of the journaling was done when there was something more to tell. And now, there’s enough to call it good. For those of you who know long-backed dogs, know they’re prone to back issues. Rhad’s a bit young to have this, but the story explains it.

So far, I think the collage style will work, but if it doesn’t resonate with me in a few weeks, I can change it up if I choose.

A Corgis Back spread

Mindfulness: Be still


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Two years ago, my father was in his last days here on Earth. While in the hospital he had many nurses and we got to know them somewhat. There was one, though, that made a lasting impression on me simply because of a small thing about her I noticed.

After she had finished tending to Dad’s needs, she would just quietly stand and look at him – and survey the room. It wasn’t for long – maybe 30 seconds at the most. I’m not sure if she was praying or simply being still and listening, but people don’t usually practice pausing.

I noticed her doing this with other patients as well. It was a practice of hers – of mindfulness. She was mindful about the energy she brought to a room and carried herself with a grounding not often seen. Lately, she and her practice of pausing regularly has crossed my mind often.

When you carry a word with you for a year, there are many opportunities for it to speak to you. Having this memory or thought cross my mind numerous times is one way my words speak to me. This practice of pausing – of giving Space is one I want to incorporate into my life. Praying is always good, but so is giving room to listen.

It’s time to add the practice of pausing to my life.


“Mindful” is my word to carry with me through 2015. This idea of letting a word guide you through the year – something you want to incorporate more into your life – is something I’ve done for many years now. A goal for me this year is to share more of how it works for me. If you’re interested in doing more with a guiding word for the year, check Ali Edwards’ One Little Word class – you can jump in on that anytime.

Also see my other post prompted by this quote on my Photo Blog.

Getting Started with InDesign


Wyoming Clouds 2015 (one of many to come)


In making the decision to document 2015 using InDesign, that meant I needed to know what size of document I’d create. I surfed all the various places to get photo books printed, and decided in the end to go with Artifact Uprising. Two main factors helped me come to this decision.

1. I could have 200 pages max at basically letter size. That should be enough to tell the stories of 2015 (the 8.5 square can have up to 380 pages!).

2. Their customer service. This is huge for me simply because I want concise answers. I emailed questions about the proper setup of an InDesign file to a few places, and A|U was the clear winner. This was a part of the response:

You can use inDesign to work on your book by designing in the software and then exporting jpgs to upload into your book.   When designing for your book – design the pages as .25 larger on both sides to allow for the trim.  So – for ex:  a 8.5×8.5 book needs to have a 8.75×8.75 page size – a 8.25×11 book needs to be 8.5×11.25.   Setting your page size this way will allow for the proper trim.  Also – do not put any key objects such as text within a .25 area around the exterior sides – it will be trimmed off for final bind.  Please be sure to use to export your jpgs as sRGB files at 300 DPI for best results and color accuracy.

Then – simply upload your jpgs and drop them into place using the full bleed page template that doesn’t have a border.

Thank you. That was what I  needed.

So – let’s dig in. I’m going on the assumption you’re somewhat familiar with Adobe Products, what the tools palette is, etc. If you’re completely new, I’d strongly suggest you watch some videos here.

You can download the blank 2015 InDesign template I’m using over in the Digital Freebies. This has been created in InDesign CS6.

I usually have it set to Typography mode – just a personal preference. To change that mode, click on the drop down box in the upper right hand corner.

Mini Bridge

When working with InDesign, I open up Bridge first, then InDesign, then open the InDesign file.  A key element for a smooth workflow for me is mini bridge. You open this up by going to Window–>Mini Bridge. Just make sure it has a check mark next to it – if it doesn’t, click on it. This allows you to find your photos while also looking at your document and then dragging and dropping the photos.



When opening up the document, you should see a bunch of vertical lines. These are the nine columns per page I use. Why so many? Because it gives you more flexibility when laying out your content – you don’t need to ‘color in the lines’ – span a few columns if you want. Here’s a great article about magazine design with columns. One I found when doing more research on this.

TIP: If you don’t want to see the columns (or grid: View –> Grids & Guides –>Show Document Grid), select any tool other than the type tool and hit W. Hit it again to bring them back.

About Text

There aren’t many text boxes in this file. To add text, select the text tool (the T), and drag out a box in the document. Then start typing.

About Photos

Before you can put a photo in a document, you need to create an image ‘container’ for it. Choose the box with the x in it in the tools palette. That’s your image holder. With that tool selected, drag out a box where you want a photo.

To add an image, navigate to a photo on your computer, then simply drag and drop.It’s probably not fitting in there well (as in, it’s HUGE!). Not a problem. Right click on the photo (with the black arrow tool) and select ‘Fitting’ and then, ‘Fill Frame Proportionally’ (usually what I do). Then, if it’s still not quite right, select the white arrow key and click on the photo. Now you can move the photo around and resize it without changing it’s container.


Ok, that’s just barely scratching the surface, but now, head on over to Terry White’s video with some tips. I absolutely love his teaching style. This video should help you along a bit farther – it’s long (~45 min) so set aside time for this one or watch it in smaller bites – it’s one I head back to time and again when I forget how to do some of these basic things.


If you’ve got questions – leave them in the comments – starting like this is a bit difficult simply because I’m not sure what you want to know.

Photo Book Documentation for 2015


I mentioned before that I’ve decided to document 2015 digitally, and it’s time to show you more of what I’m doing in case it helps you as well.

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that I’m self-taught for the most part when it comes to Adobe products. And there are a zillion ways to reach the end result. So if you see I’m doing something in what sounds like a convoluted way and you know some shortcuts – I’d be very appreciative of the help.

Efficiency is what it’s all about for me in this project. The faster I can create, the faster I can get on to the next fun thing I pack my life with.

First things first. Start with the end in mind. (Thank you, Becky Higgins, for that reminder!) For me, that means keeping the things that are working well for me this year and dropping what blocks or slows progress. And making a decision on where to publish this photobook so the setup is correct for them. I’ve decided to go with Artifact Uprising – in large part because they offer books that include enough pages. Size for 2015 is the 8.25 x 11 format – soft cover.

Keeping: Documenting by topic. A-Z + #. This has been the game changer for me.

Keeping: Monthly photo folders. Weekly is just too much for me. So each month gets its folder, and favorites get dumped in there to add. I find this easier to go in and pull stories to write.

Keeping: Index Cards. It’s still my go-to writing app on the iPad. It also exports via DropBox as rich text files, so my Windows computer that houses InDesign can pick it up.

Dropping: The printing and adding to pockets process. While on one hand I love this – it simply takes too long for me to do with the hectic schedule I’m keeping.

Adding: InDesign. I’ll probably still do a few things in Photoshop or Illustrator, but my go-to program is now InDesign. It’s made to create documents. I’ve been pouring over magazines galore and searching the internet for Magazine design tips. Wonderful rabbit holes to disappear down. One of the reasons I’m switching back to digital documenting is that I can test out ideas without feeling like I’m married to them. I can work at pulling this together over 12 months – changing my mind, trying out ideas – and still keep it cohesive.

Adding: Monthly summaries. Half a page for each month – just with the highlights of the month. I tested this out last January when toying with the idea of creating a photobook and liked it, but the format wasn’t quite right yet.

Adding: Routine. One of the stumbling blocks from this year has been the lack of a clear documenting routine. It’s been too haphazard. I’ve also realized I need different routines for each season. My summer routines differ so vastly from my winter routines. Routines create a framework that allows for spontaneous living by always being ready.

So with that figured out, it’s time to set up the actual document which I’ll share in the next post along with a basic file you can download if you just want to jump in immediately.


Telling the stories of life

2014-11-13 13

It’s snowing today. This is, hands down, my favorite weather to make headway on writing or scrapbooking projects. We’re home after a week long trip to Colorado to visit family and friends and collect some of the last items we had there that needed to come up north.

This morning I sat in front of my computer with the 75 or so iPhone photos I took as well as ones taken from the big camera. So many little stories, but I long to dive deeper and tell the more significant stories. The lack of these stories bothers me about my Project Life/Topic Life system. The smaller stories are fine, but they need the balance only the longer ones give.

Take this photo for example. Fingers of steam rising from Boysen Reservoir were so magical I almost asked Mike to stop so I could move in closer. But farther away captures the large steam cloud we saw from a distance. A little farther down the road we ran into lake effect snow from all that steam. Not much, but still interesting to see.

That’s the story of this photo out of context.

The longer story involves much more, including:

  • Watching the weather to see when our window to slide north would open.
  • Thinking of Grandmother who always insisted we never travel on the 13th of the month.
  • How surprised we were to see 80 mph as the speed limit in Wyoming on I-25 and how that triggered a memory of when the speed limit dropped to 55 mph in the 1970s. 80 mph makes much more sense in these wide open spaces.
  • How driving home this time showed me we’ve made a personal polar shift – from South to North. From vast amounts of people to very few – from work to retirement. This shift feels complete now that a couple of loose ends were tended to.
  • And how one week shifted us from warm fall days to below freezing winter temps.

So how do I weave all of this together? In all honesty, it takes outlining it as I’ve done above to sort it all out. The longer story will be written under Personal Polar Shift – and I’ll be using quite a few “See Also” prompts for the stories such as Grandmother’s triskaidekaphobia and the memory of Driving 55. Those will likely go under the Numbers section of my Topic Life – 13 and 55.

So very grateful I’ve made the decision to not jump in on all the holiday challenges out there, but instead to simply focus on getting the stories of 2014 told for this last quarter of the year – I’ve been writing up a storm on my iPad and am ready gather photos and create entries.

October Shows the Story


Did you catch the Blood Moon or Hunter’s Moon the other night? Wasn’t it amazing? Mike and I also got up in the wee hours of the morning to see the full eclipse here, but I didn’t take even one photo. Fun to see, though.

October is a transition month – from fall to winter, from outside to inside. From everydays to holidays.

I’ve not paid as much attention to my Topic Life Book during the summer, though I took notes and photos knowing I’d have time once we started to be inside more. That’s one of the benefits of switcing to a topic based scrapbooking system. Less pressure. More flexibility to live your life and record it as well. There’s really no way to get behind with this system once you see it in its fullness.

2014-10-09 12.04

Now that things are settling down for a bit – or at least pausing slightly – I’m ready to spend more time telling the stories of 2014. I realized I needed a summary sheet of what topics were already entered to better see what holes still need filling. Pink are the things complete – blue are ideas to add and pink underlined in blue needs fleshing out more.

A few subtopics need sections of their own – Selling the Colorado House – Househunting – Moving in – as well as some other year long focuses that could be mini-albums on their own, but for this year, they’re just going in as their own sections: Shine (my guiding word for the year) and my Field Journal. We had a small bit of time to really spend time outside, enjoying this area, but not enough to create a good body of work. Later on this section may come out and go into its own album, but for now, its home is in the 2014 album.

This is my game plan – my focus – to end with a completed album of my dreams by December 31, ready to start the next one in 2015.

Two classes I’m taking over at Big Picture Classes are also part of the game plan. Stacy Julian’s Inspired Scrapbooking (which helped me see I needed the overarching story of 2014: The Move) and Cathy Zielske’s Me: The Abridged Version Project Life style. Basically her class is the same topic-based system as a yearly summary. A great way to try out this system to see if it might work for you.

I find it fascinating that we both seemed to have been working on this topic style about the same time – she was inspired by a book, and I have been working on this for a few years mainly inspired from other books – actually one of my favorite authors, John McPhee, whose stories are vastly more interesting because they are told by topic first, timeline second. Well, that and my life-long love of organizing alphabetically and the ease of finding things through that system (did research at the Clerk and Recorder’s office years ago before anything was online). I did take her previous class on this and found it meshing so well with all I had been working on as well. Cool.

Maybe it’s October – the 10th month of the year where you start to look back and can see the story this year has told. And it comes before the rush of the holiday season.

Excited to get more stories added in and share some of them here.


Topic Life: Filling in the Gaps


Fall has arrived here.

Sunday morning we woke to snow on the high peaks.. I’m pretty sure we’ll still have warmth of fall days to come, but this has shifted us to focus on the last quarter of the year, and all that we’d like to get done before winter sets in.

That includes looking more closely at my Topics of Life Journal and evaluating what’s working and what isn’t working or could be tweaked to work better. This is the time of year I start to consider how to document the next year, often experimenting with various methods.

What’s Working:

  • Photos. My method for keeping up with the photos is working extremely well.
  • Keeping multiple journals. One acts as a holding place for all the random thoughts that ping around in my head (the ‘brain dump’ journal – morning pages). Those do not belong in the others. The Topics of Life Journal holds the everyday stuff. My Field Journal holds the stories of time outside in this amazing area.
  • Taking daily notes. I’m pretty good at this since it’s become a habit over the past few years. I found some of my older Field Notes notebooks and it’s interesting to look back on them.

What’s Not Working (or could work better):

  • Notes. Keeping them in one main spot – while I am taking notes fairly consistently, it’s in 4 or 5 spots, so pulling the stories together takes a bit longer than it might take if they were in only one or two spots.
  • Setting aside enough time on a regular basis to create entries. I realize moving, remodeling and just summer has been a large part of this, so no need to fuss about it. Instead, I need to start setting aside a regular time. In the ‘old days’ when I did a lot of digital scrapbooking, the online crops that kept me going. I have ideas on this – just need to take action – simply make a date with myself each week to dedicate an hour to telling the stories of 2014.
  • Efficiency. I need to do  more ‘pick a story to tell, get it done – rinse and repeat.’

Time to set a goal to get more entries done in the Topics of Life book – time to start filling in the gaps so by the time December rolls around, I’m just filling in the stories of December.

When I did a lot of digital scrapbooking, I created many pages and told many stories simply because I would set aside an hour every few days to create. A creative date with myself, so to speak. It’s time to do that again. Bump it up on the priority list.

Always Scribbling



I thought I’d cover a bit of my process for documenting since May was such a fully lived month for us. I ended up finding a rhythm that somewhat surprised me and most of it was simply doing without any expectations. I think I’ve actually relaxed into a project oriented lifestyle than into any particular schedule.



I took an astounding number of photos in May – somewhere around 4000 – simply because we did so many things. One of the things I did well this last month was to sit down right away and pick out a few to process. This has become nearly a daily practice. I pull ones that helped to tell or illustrate the story. If I did nothing else, processing 3-5 photos a day kept that from feeling like an overwhelming task. No real thought to it, just pick one, process, and move on.

The processed photos get dropped into a monthly folder under the year folder. The 2014 folder also holds the few simple items I’ve made to use this year. Paring it down to a simple style has helped tremendously.  The photos will often hold a story I want to tell, so it’s easy to go back and quickly create a small and simple layout.

KitchenCounter2014-06-02 07


I’m always scribbling. For quite awhile, I’ve put a bit of stress on myself on how I do this. In May, I let go of that – since we have few routines, and many things to do, I simply have lots of places to write. For example, I’m writing this now on my iPad, sitting in my mom’s sunroom with a cup of coffee by my side. My iPad with a keyboard (Zagg folio) is an essential part of my writing. I love just picking it up where I am and writing down a thought or five. I use Index Card as my go-to app for writing and Scrivener on the main computer. Transferring text over is easy via DropBox. If you have a Mac, Scrivener and Index Card will communicate with each other.


I also take lots and lots of notes – Field Notes of life, if you will. I keep a Moleskine in my purse that’s my main go-to for notes.  Anything can go in there, from trip notes to grocery lists to quotes and various thoughts I want to hold onto. At times I jot down what we do each day in there – the ‘ta da! It’s done!” list. But as soon as it starts to feel like a chore to do that, I stop for a bit. This used to stress me out, but I find I simply shift to another place for those notes and thoughts. There is no right or wrong way, just ways that work and those that don’t. Trying to hold these notes to a specific scope didn’t work. Anything goes for these is working well.


Regular journaling started again in my life with the Artist’s Way – 3 pages, each morning. Hard at first to get going, but now, I simply write in there as a type of prayer. It’s where I talk with God, and ramble (knowing he doesn’t mind). I need a place to put all the thoughts so they stop pinging around in my mind. When I skip this practice, I notice I start to feel scattered and unfocused. It’s where I test out ideas and possibilities and organize my thoughts. Usually, then, I bounce these same ideas and thoughts off of Mike.

All of this is the raw material for me. From there, I create more formal journal entries for my Field Journal, Blog Posts (which sometimes are first drafts for the Field Journal), and entries for Topic Life – the final products…


Becky Higgins says to Start with the end in mind. I love that. It’s true. I wish I could be that focused all the time. Instead, I document and record, and then decide on a place for all of that to land. So in a way, I suppose I have an end in mind, but it’s not always completely clear. At times I need to build a collection first before deciding on the final format.

About this time of year, I start to question how I’m documenting life – and the May/June waffling is right on schedule. This year, I’m tempted by photo books, but really all I want is a collection. Building story upon story – both short and long. And this year, I picked Topic Life, so I’ll stick with that as the collection of stories for this year. But I’m already finding myself looking ahead to 2015 and how Personal Story Books can fit in.

This year I have two albums and one web page going:

  • Topic Life uses the Project Life ® concept of pocket pages, in a smaller format and organized alphabetically by topic. This holds lots of personal stories of our life. I love that it lets me tell small, one-sentence stories or longer ones. And, without a timeline to it (other than 2014), I feel free to jump all over the place in what I document.
  • Field Journal also uses the Project Life ® concept of pocket pages, in a smaller format but it’s organized by month – and covers one outing at a time as well as nature observations from this area. I still have three or four more trips to add in. This is where I think I might shift over to a Photo Book for the year. It would help me keep the two more separated. Some stories would be told twice, but I’m fine with that.
  • Yellowstone Phenology is simply a page on this site – and as I add things in to the other two, I try to also update the page. For now, this basically works as a placeholder for me. It hasn’t gotten far enough yet to show me what physical format it will take.

I know many of the regular readers here (thank you for your support!) also document life either through scrapbooking/project life or other means. I’d love to hear how your documentation of this year is going for you and what’s working.

Our First Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Sighting

- PAGE 1 OF 2 -

Next Page