Tell Your Story Check-in #1

It’s been about a month since I posted my 2021 documenting goals. Here’s a quick recap of what I’m planning to do this year:

  1. Finish documenting 2020
  2. Print 2020 pages
  3. Document 2021 as it’s happening
  4. Keep a weekly journal on my phone
  5. Work on 2015 photos, then 2014 photos

Finish documenting 2020 & Print Pages

I am so very proud of myself! I finished documenting 2020 on January 11th and ordered a HUGE stack of completed pages for my 2020 album that very same day. A couple of days later, a box full of gorgeous, carefully packaged, perfectly-printed pages from Persnickety Prints arrived on my doorstep. I paired them with sheet protectors from Hobby Lobby, and a We R Memory Keepers 12×12 album.

I absolutely LOVE the little thank you card that comes with my prints. I love that it says “Your Story Matters.” That’s why we’re all doing this, right? We’re trying to tell the stories that matter to us, the stories we want to pass on. Under that cute green tissue paper, there’s an elaborate system set up to protect your prints. Look at that tape! I love how much care they put into keeping my prints safe and my corners crisp & sharp.

Just looking at my pages in the plastic packaging brought tears to my eyes. There are photos from the summer when my niece & nephew came to spend a day with us. There are pages of photos of my bruised & swollen face when I had a laser procedure done this fall. There are pages and pages of portraits I took of my beautiful daughters because I want to remember their faces this way forever. There are pages of photos of friends and family members we’ve lost in the last year. There’s sadness and so much joy.

I sorted the pages into chronological order and slipped them into sheet protectors and put them in the albums. When I ordered my We R Memory Keepers album, there was only one in stock, so I put the rest of the pages in a less expensive album from Hobby Lobby. One day I’ll replace it with a nice faux leather album. The photo on the right shows why I prefer the faux leather album. With a dog and dusty house, the cloth albums collect every dust particle and loose hair.

Document 2021 as it’s happening & Keep a Journal

I’m not doing very well at keeping a weekly journal. I did one entry, but that’s all so far. I did decide to use my Google Docs app so that it’s accessible anywhere. I typically have a couple of minutes while I’m waiting for my daughter to come out of school in the afternoons. I’m going to try to use that time for journaling instead of opening Instagram.

As far as documenting, I have through January 24th documented so far. And I have big Super Bowl Sunday plans to get caught up with the last couple of weeks tomorrow.

Getting caught up

At the beginning of January, I was only finished with the first three months of 2015. I have now finished April and the first half of May! I’m really excited that I’m getting caught up! My Life in Pockets templates really are helping speed things up!

Look at this fun field trip I went on with Hannah while she was in 5th grade. The 5th graders take over a miniature city and run it for a day. They have real-world responsibilities like jobs, paying bills, and running errands. It’s such a fun field trip!

I’m obsessed with these fun pictures of my girls eating dinner at one of our favorite local pizza places. I miss the days when my kids would make silly faces at dinner. And my little niece and nephew are so adorable! I love these photos of my daughter with our dog. They have a special bond.

I’m looking forward to reliving these memories! Looking back at my kids when they were little makes me nostalgic. What are you scrapbooking right now? How are you doing with your scrapping goals?

Love You Lots

Whether you’re celebrating a new love or a love that’s tried & true, this collection is for you!

This collection is packed full of beautiful Valentine’s Day papers and elements. It’s a little flirty, a little sassy, and a little sarcastic! Take a closer look.

I even scrapbooked a quick page celebrating the almost 20 years my husband and I have been married! I used a few of the Journal Cards to add a fun touch to my page. I usually scrapbook pocket-style pages so this is a bit out of my comfort zone. It was kinda fun to play with a few embellishments. Documenting this page also let me know that I need to take a LOT more photos of my husband and I together! It took me forever to find these. Thank goodness for Google Photos face recognition!

We were such babies when we got married! We’ve had some crazy adventures together over the years. We’ve had a lot of hard times, and a lot of great times. I’d do it again. In a heartbeat. This man makes me laugh. Sometimes I get so frustrated with him. We argue. We make up. We share popcorn (that’s about the only food we can both eat). We go to traveling Broadway shows. We’ve made countless runs to Maverick, and just about every other convenience store, to grab a Coke and get a few minutes alone together. And like my favorite journal card in this collection says, “I Choose You. Everyday. Forever.” I love him.

Life Hack: Batch Meal Planning

Of all the things I do on a regular basis, the one thing I detest the most is trying to figure out what’s for dinner. It’s the most mysterious thing… every night my family is hungry, starving even, but they have no idea what they want to eat. Until I suggest something. Then, they immediately know that they do NOT want that to eat. But they still don’t know what they DO want. A few years ago, I decided that I was going to plan an entire year of meals in one sitting and be done with that awful question forever. It didn’t quite work out the way I planned, but it did help!

Here are some tips & tricks I use to meal plan. Before I begin, let me say that there are so many options for meal planning. My method may not work for you. Hopefully, something I’ve learned may help you avoid the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question.

Decide on a format

I set up a Google Doc spreadsheet for my menu. This allows me to create my menu at my computer, and still access it when I’m at the grocery store and can’t find my list… or maybe accidentally deleted my list. Yep, I’ve done that.

I do grocery shopping on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with Wednesday being my main shopping trip. Saturdays are a quick run for replacement produce, bread and anything we need for the following week’s school lunches. So, I set up my menu to run Wednesday through Tuesday. When I’m making my grocery list I only have to look at one row. Making this change has really simplified things for me.

Plan for a chunk of time

I meal plan for three to six months at a time. Remember how I said I hate deciding what to make for dinner? This way I only have to do it 2-4 times a year. Planning for a year at a time didn’t work for us because tastes changed, allergies changed, and small appliances broke. Planning weekly, and even monthly, was just too often for me. I still felt like I was having to decide too often.


If your schedule is predictable, use that to your advantage. Set up some kind of meal routine to make planning easier. Here’s our routine:

Mondays, I work late. Also, we usually have Sunday dinner leftovers. The kids and I try something new (& fast) or something that my husband wouldn’t like. Thomas can eat leftovers from Sunday.

Tuesdays are Taco Tuesday. While I would be perfectly happy eating regular crunchy tacos each week, my kids don’t love them. So, we alternate Tex-Mex inspired meals like enchiladas, tacos, taco soup, tortilla soup, chicken tacos, nachos, or taco salads.

Wednesdays are usually an intermediate-level meal. It usually takes 30-45 minutes to prepare dinner. It’s usually something familiar. I try to use mostly pantry staples and fresh produce we typically have.

Thursdays are usually another intermediate-level meal. I usually do some kind of grilled or baked meat and potatoes or rice with vegetables.

Friday is usually a quick low-maintenance dinner. That’s the day for a crockpot soup, InstantPot mac & cheese, BLT sandwiches, sheet pan dinners, or pastrami subs.

Saturday is a little different. I usually plan for something that I like to eat, that no one else really cares for. That’s because my husband and kids usually get take-out and I can’t eat out due to food allergies. But, it’s also usually something that if they decide NOT to eat out, we can easily modify it to be something everyone will eat.

Sunday is our heartiest meal of the week. It usually takes the longest to prepare. It’s almost always some kind of meat & potatoes.

Deciding what to make

When I get ready to do a meal planning session, I head over to Pinterest and browse for dinner ideas. I create a new board for each meal planning session. I go through the previous couple of boards and see if there’s anything we want to repeat. I re-pin the items to my new board then I fill those squares in on my spreadsheet according to our routine and schedule. I try to make sure each week is balanced. My family gets tired of eating chicken, so I make sure we have a meatless meal at least once and some kind of beef at least once. I try to alternate the days so that we aren’t eating chicken three days in a row either. I also try to make sure that if I need to buy special ingredients we can use them in other recipes that week. I try to make sure that we have a balance of new and tried-and-true family recipes. I also make sure that we aren’t repeating meals more than every two weeks. My kids would love to eat chicken nuggets and tater tots weekly (probably even nightly) but that’s probably not the healthiest plan.

Finalizing & Printing

Even though I plan my menu out several months in advance, I only print three to four weeks at a time. Before I print the menu, I glance it over and see if I need to make any changes. Has anyone developed a serious aversion to any of the meals? Have the kids recently told me that they don’t like a particular meal and were just pretending in order to not hurt my feelings? Have I developed a new allergy or sensitivity? Do we have an event coming up that would preclude me from preparing a particular meal on a particular night? Was there a huge sale on a particular ingredient that we need to use up? Is something in our food storage about to go bad and need to be used? Since the bulk of the work is done, it’s not a big deal to swap a couple of meals or replace a meal or two.

Be flexible

This is the most important part of meal planning. Because I do my grocery shopping on Wednesday, I have most of the ingredients for the next seven meals. If we’re scheduled to have baked chicken & roasted potatoes on Thursday, but I have a meeting come up, I can swap in Friday’s easy meal on Thursday night, then move Thursday’s dinner to Friday. I try to do at least one meal each week that uses only pantry staples & the fresh produce we always have. If my husband decides he really wants pizza on a Wednesday night, it’s not a big deal because we aren’t wasting food purchased specifically for a meal we don’t prepare.

If I find that we aren’t sticking to our menu I do another quick evaluation. Am I trying too many new recipes? Are the meals too complicated and I don’t feel like making them? Are the ingredients out of season or too hard to find? Is our schedule just too busy for these kinds of meals right now? I feel like we go through periods where every night is a quick meal night. I do my best to make sure the kids get fresh fruit and veggies with their nuggets or hot dogs or grilled cheese. Or fresh fruit with their pancakes. I try to take those time periods into account, but sometimes it just happens.

Make it budget friendly

Only you know what you can afford to spend on groceries. I will say that we spend quite a bit on groceries. I won’t tell you how much because it’s no one’s business. And it kind of makes me sick when I think about it. However, I have a lot of food intolerances and allergies. I can only eat specific brands of foods, and almost never generic brands. Most of what I eat is considered a specialty food. I could write an entire blog post about what I can and can’t eat, and maybe I will one day. We have four different kinds of milk in our fridge as we all use different types due to different dietary needs. Below are some tips that I use for making meals budget friendly AND healthy…

1. Load up on the veggies. Frozen green beans and mixed vegetable medleys are really affordable at Costco and Sam’s Club. I can get six heads of romaine lettuce for less than $4 at Sam’s Club. We eat a lot of romaine lettuce. Not all veggies need to be cooked. My kids sometimes enjoy having carrot sticks & cucumber slices with ranch on the side instead of having to “suffer” through steamed carrots.

2. Use healthy carbs to fill out meals. Quinoa and brown rice are great healthy options and are available at really good prices at both Costco and Sam’s Club. We also eat a lot of potatoes and roast them in our air fryer. Will your family eat whole grain or whole wheat pasta? What about a lentil or veggie-based pasta?

3. Buy meats on sale & freeze them. We stock up on beef roasts when Smith’s has them $2.99/lb or less. I’ll buy four or five 2.5lb roasts and stick them in our deep freeze. I buy boneless skinless chicken breasts at Sam’s Club for about $1.77/lb. I stick each chicken breast in a sandwich bag, then place several sandwich bags inside a gallon freezer bag in the deep freeze. On a night when we have baked chicken breasts, I pull two large chicken breasts out of the freezer and butterfly them. That’s typically enough meat for one meal. For a favorite chicken recipe, I’ll use three and we’ll have some leftover for lunch the next day. When meat is a main ingredient in the meal, I plan 4 to 8 oz per person, depending on the meal. Sometimes meat is the side dish and the pasta, potatoes, rice or even roasted veggies is the main dish. If we’re trying a new meal and I’m not sure if everyone will like it, we do it that way.

4. Make things from scratch when you can. With all of my food allergies and intolerances, I can rarely use pre-packaged foods. Instead of using gravy mixes, which usually contain dairy and gluten, I make a healthier “gravy” using vegetable Better Than Bullion, water and corn starch. We buy Hidden Valley Ranch powder at Sam’s Club and mix our own dressing so it’s always fresh and tastes better (or so they tell me, I can’t eat dairy). Instead of spending $1 on a packet of taco seasoning, we have large bottles of spices from Sam’s Club that we use to make our own seasoning mix for pennies per serving. Decide what’s more important to you, saving money or convenience. Sometimes convenience wins. I’m not making my own almond milk or yogurt. I’m not making my own infused olive oils. But I will buy popcorn kernels and olive oil over microwave popcorn every day. Much cheaper, and tastes so much better.

5. Build a food storage and use it. When an item you normally purchase (and regularly use) is on sale, buy 2. One to use now, one to store for later. Take advantage of case lot sales to purchase items your family uses on a regular basis. We always purchase one case each of black olives, black beans, red beans, refried beans, white beans, spaghetti sauce, and green beans. By the time the next case lot sale rolls around we’re usually down to our last can or two of each. I also make sure to ALWAYS have at least two extra of any specialty food items. Especially if they’re made by smaller companies and are sometimes hard to find. I eat low FODMAP and make sure that I always have two backup Fody Ketchups. If I ever ran out completely, I’d probably cry. A lot. Low FODMAP foods can be hard to find on a good day. Throw in a pandemic or supply chain disruption of any kind, and it’s nearly impossible. I recently ran into a problem where I could NOT find Crystal Louisiana hot sauce I normally buy. I went to five grocery stores before I finally found it. It’s not that I’m picky about the flavor of the hot sauce, but due to medical issues, I have to be picky about the ingredients.

Put it into practice

So this sounds great and all, but what does a week really look like? Here’s what’s for dinner for the next seven days at our house:

Saturday – Red Pepper Chicken Stir-fry but with garlic-infused olive oil replacing the garlic, no ginger, no basil, no ghee, with brown rice

Sunday – Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Steamed Green Beans

Monday – Alfredo with cajun chicken, salad (this meal will have to be seriously altered as two of us don’t eat dairy, and I don’t eat pasta)

Tuesday – Steak & Chicken Fajitas, corn tortillas, brown rice, black beans, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, grilled sweet peppers, cilantro

Wednesday – Basil Black Pepper Chicken Sausage with roasted Yukon potatoes & roasted veggies (Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, green beans, sweet peppers & kale)

Thursday – Baked orange chicken stripes with jasmine rice and stir-fried mixed veggies

Friday – White Chicken Chili with cilantro, tomatoes, avocado

Follow your favorite food bloggers

A couple of years ago, during a meal planning session, I found a recipe that looked intriguing, Buffalo Chicken. It wasn’t the title of the recipe, but the ingredients that were included that completely intrigued me. This wasn’t a normal Buffalo Chicken recipe. It combined two of my favorite flavors… southwest & buffalo. What?! Mind blown. I made it, with a few alterations to fit my family’s dietary needs. Every single person in my house loves this chicken. I leave out the lime juice (sad) to make sure everyone likes it, but add it to the glaze at the end just for mine. I started looking around at the Carlsbad Cravings website and I am hooked. I haven’t made a single thing from her site that I haven’t loved. Her Chipotle Chicken marinade is absolutely amazing. It makes the BEST chicken tacos. And if you want something truly, truly amazing, put either of those chicken recipes on this BLT Salad with Lime Vinaigrette from Damn Delicious. The combination of those makes me want to cry. My older daughter begs me to make the Lime Vinaigrette regularly. It’s a staple in our home. I’d make just about anything either of those two bloggers recommended to me. When I run out of ideas, or everything showing up on Pinterest is another version of the same thing, I check out these two and see what’s new that sounds good.

Another favorite recipe around here is Buffalo Chicken Burgers from Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen. I haven’t made anything else of hers, but these burgers are on regular rotation at our house. Get fresh ground chicken, not frozen or the pre-packaged shrink-wrapped dry ground chicken. We get it at Harmon’s in Utah. It’s the best (although, avoid it if you have a dairy allergy as I’m not sure about their allergy policy and I’ve found feta in my ground chicken before – they sell chicken & feta burger patties). We leave the shredded carrot & celery out of the burgers due to family preference. But the panko… that makes it. I do it a tiny bit different. I mix the Buffalo sauce and the panko crumbs and stir. Once the panko crumbs have soaked up all the sauce, I mix in the ground chicken and seasonings. Make the patties and let them sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Once it’s cooked, you get crunchy flavor-packed bites of buffalo seasoning rather than the entire burger tasting the same throughout. Try it both ways and see which you prefer. These are delicious served with homemade ranch, avocado, a couple of dill pickle slices, baby greens, a tomato slice and a sliver of red onion.

And with all the time you save from batch meal planning, you now have time to document your life and tell your story! Include some of your family’s favorite recipes in your scrapbook. I use recipe screenshots next to a picture of the meal. Cooking and eating food is a big part of our lives, why not include it in our life story? On the page below, you can see a screenshot of the Buffalo Chicken Burger recipe right next to a picture of the delicious burger. I’m getting hungry. And I’m considering altering the menu for next week to include these little delights. Totally worth it.

Have a great week! Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and make memories!

Tell Your Story: The 2021 Plan

Two and a half years ago, I shared my struggles with telling my story. I talked about a few different roadblocks I was experiencing.

  • Huge gaping holes in our family’s story. How do I fill in the holes? Do I want to fill in the holes? Or are there parts of our story that I’m still just not ready to share yet? Maybe parts I never want to share?
  • Lack of journaling. Do I remember why I took the photos? What was happening in our lives when the photos were taken, or when we didn’t take any photos at all? What was happening in the world? What’s the backstory?
  • Clutter & lack of organization? Where is everything? How do I combine the digital and physical bits of our lives? There are time periods with just physical photos and ephemera. I have time periods with a mixture of digital and physical photos and ephemera. I have other time periods with only digital photos and physical ephemera. How can I combine things? What do I need/want to keep?
  • There are so many different ways to tackle this. What tools do I want to use?

I came up with some solutions to some things then that I wanted to try. Since it’s been over two and a half years, let’s check in and see where I am.

Did I Meet My 2017 goals?

According to my Summer 2017 recording for Modern Photo Solutions, out of the previous 11 years, I only had TWO years completely scrapbooked, and had more than 15,000 unscrapbooked digital photos, and boxes of 35mm photos.

Update: As of January 8, 2021, I now have 2005, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018*, and 2019* finished. I am almost finished with 2020. Two years have an “*” next to them because I’ve finished scrapbooking all the photos I have from those years. I am waiting for photos from a couple of plays my girls were in. I was in the process of getting them from the director when Covid hit. I have to physically go to her home with my external hard drive to copy the photos. It will likely take a couple of hours. I’m counting them done until I get the photos! As far as the 15, 000 unscrapbooked photos, I’m not going to physically count all of my unscrapbooked digital photos. I don’t want to know how many I have now! I am really proud of myself for accomplishing this! I documented some really hard times our family went through during these years. It can be hard to fill those Huge Gaping Holes, when there’s a lot of pain hiding there. Here’s the secret… there was also a lot of joy and happiness and beauty right next to the painful memories.

My 2017 memory keeping goal was to stay current with 2017 while finishing my 2016 pages.  I’m not sure if I met that goal during 2017, but as of today, 2016 & 2017 are both finished.

Organization Sundays still pop up on my calendar, but they have become a thing of the past. I do remind my family to open Dropbox and upload their photos on a weekly basis. A couple of times a month, I transfer everyone’s photos to my computer and organize them in LightRoom.

My Goals for 2021

I don’t want to label it as a goal, for some reason, but I definitely want to place an emphasis on telling our story in 2021, and I want to tell our story while it’s happening. 2020 was an eventful year and I feel like a lot of it is a blur. Already. I don’t want to lose 2021. So much has already happened and we’re just over a week into the year.

The Prep Work: Gathering all the stuff

We have so much information at our fingertips. As I’m scrolling Instagram, Twitter and news sites I am taking screenshots of the things I want to remember, and the things that will help me tell the story of our year. Weekly, I’m taking a screenshot of the forecast for the week, the Covid testing numbers for Utah, the school Covid dashboard, as well as emails & communications from the school. I’m taking screenshots of new stories and images. I take a screenshot of our Come Follow Me Sunday School lesson title & image almost every week. If anything stands out to me in the study, I add a screenshot of that as well. I’m also taking screenshots of quotes, memes and other cultural references that will help round out our story. Not all of those things will end up going in our scrapbook each week, but they’ll help me remember what was going on and help me tell our story. I’m also planning to write a quick weekly journal of how & what everyone in the family is doing. It will probably live in an app on my phone until I’m ready to document that week.

The Process

I’m still finding that I really love doing a weekly 2-page layout in a pocket-style digital format. Some weeks end up being 4 pages or even 10 (yep, 10). And that’s totally okay with me. I’m not limiting what I want to share. Other people are very strict at keeping to the 2-page layout and that is completely wonderful for them. I wholeheartedly support them. I am not a minimalist, in any way! I designed a set of This Year 2021: Journal Cards that I’ll be using, along with my Life in Pockets Templates, to tackle this year. The Journal Cards are very similar to 2020’s cards. I scrapbook all my weeks from Monday thru Sunday so that weekend events are all together.

What I’m Hoping to Achieve

Sunday evenings, I’m hoping to spend an hour documenting. I want to scrapbook the previous week’s photos. This part is going to sound confusing but since I scrapbook Monday thru Sunday, I don’t mean the week I’m currently in. For example, the Sunday at the end of Week 2, I hope to be documenting photos from Week 1. I’ll be seven days removed from the stress but will still be able to remember the details. Hopefully, these pages don’t take an hour each week. I’m planning to have 2020 finished by the end of this weekend. That will free up some time to work on 2015, then 2014 as well. Those two years are going to take a long time. I only have 3 months finished in 2015, and none finished in 2014. Thankfully, I didn’t take a ton of photos in those years.

For now, I’m using Photoshop with my Life in Pockets Templates to document these pages. I originally planned to use the Project Life app, but my phone is too full and can’t handle running the app. A new phone isn’t in the cards, and neither is an iPad right now. I have my eyes on a shiny new gold 128GB iPad with an Apple Pencil and I’m hoping to purchase it for myself in the next few months as an incentive for meeting my business goals. At that point, I’ll likely use the ProjectLife app for my “catch up” years to fill in holes.

The Results

As soon as I have enough finished layouts to fill a section of an album, about 3-4 months, I print the individual pages at my favorite professional print lab, PersnicketyPrints. Then I add them to these black faux leather 12×12 albums from We R Memory Keepers. They can be hard to find and they are frequently out of stock, but they’re my favorite. I want to eventually replace all my other albums with these.

As soon as I get my 2020 pages finished, I’ll put in a PersnicketyPrints order and document my process. Putting the pages in sheet protectors and adding them to albums is my favorite part of this entire process.

Quick Recap

This got a bit long-winded, but the plan is to tell our 2021 story while it’s happening, and use any extra time to fill in the 2015 then 2014 holes. I also will be putting together photo books for my daughters with pages from the various musical theater productions they’ve been in, assuming I can get the photos from the director. This is a totally manageable plan. And guess what, it’s flexible. I’ll be checking in with you and sharing tips and tricks I come across each month. I’ll be doing layout shares and pointing you towards fun products I’m using for my albums.

Keep Scrapping!