Monday, December 28, 2015

December Reading Report

November reads have been blogged! Photo is of our current read aloud. I ❤️ Nancy Drew. 🔦 Link in profile.We finished our first Christmas chapter book today. #readaloudrevival #decemberdaily
It's not Christmas if you don't Instagram your Christmas tree with bokeh effect. #decemberdaily

Merry Christmas! December has been a good month for books around these parts. : ) We jump-started our Christmas break from school on the 14th - I realized that our two wonderful breaks that we had previously taken from school had all been filled with out-of-town travel. We needed time at home to spend on our own pursuits ... and for me that means reading! I managed to make the most of it!

Quite of few of the books that I wrapped up were on my Kindle. I have been absolutely loving checking out books electronically from the library ... I get an email when they are available, and an email when I have about three days to finish before they disappear from my device. It's definitely helped me finish them before time is up and they are returned.

This month I finished:
  • Connected by Erin Davis. A good (short) read on being connected and in community with one another. FYI, $2.99 on Kindle right now.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyers, Book 1 in The Lunar Chronicles. I predict this will be the next Hunger Games to be made in to a blockbuster movie series. I LOVED this book. Science fiction, cyborgs, and very clean. Could not put this one down until I finished it!
  • The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. We finished this read aloud right at the beginning of the month. The girls enjoyed it but Nancy is not the best for reading aloud!
  • The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson. Our December / Christmas read-aloud. This was a quick read (took us a week maybe).
  • For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. One I read on Kindle from the library - I loved it so much I asked for it for Christmas. It might not strike everyone, but it's message of grace for ourselves and others was one that I needed to hear. And, oh my word, is she a funny writer. 
  • Pray Write Grow by Ed Cyzewski. An interesting book on how writing and prayer are tied together. 
  • Keeping House: A Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson. December and January is always a good time to read a book on homemaking and housecleaning as I have an urge to purge all the things. This was a wonderful book encouraging me to keep on keeping on when faced with the endless meals, laundry and messes multiplied because of our homeschooling lifestyle!
  • The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope. I read this for the last book of the year for the Reading to Know bookclub. Thoroughly enjoyed this little historical fiction story with a little bit of a ghost story tied to it and glad I read it. My 12 year old would probably enjoy this as well!
  • Scarlet by Marissa Meyers, Book 2 in The Lunar Chronicles. Again, just as engrossing as the first book!

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Right now I'm reading Switch by Ingrid Law. After that, I'm going to be taking a look at my shelves and see what I can pull from around here. I've set a slight challenge for myself for the next several months to read what is on my shelves, my Kindle, or what I can check out at the library. And, I'm trying to stick with books that are not recent releases (though I'm sure there will be the departure from this rule now and again). With a few exceptions (Cinder and Scarlet come to mind!), most of the new fiction that I have seen and picked up on various online and blog recommendations was very disappointing so I'm going to stick with older works that I've not read as well as try and read those books I've stacked up to get to "at some point" and make that point sooner rather than later! 

Any old gems that I should consider adding to my lists? Any New Year's reading resolutions of your own?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

First Semester Circle Time

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I haven't written much (if at all) this fall about our homeschool beyond the occasional read-aloud post here and there. Some of that is intentional ... as my girls get older I wonder what to share. And some is unintentional ... there aren't enough hours in the day (and when I do have extra hours, I use them to catch up on episodes of Once Upon a Time because I was sucked into that rabbit hole this fall. Ahem.)

I feel like I'm also at a crossroads with this little blog of mine. When I started writing on it many moons ago, it was a LOT of memory keeping, photos of cute little girls (and eventually a boy), scrapbook / craftiness, etc. I'm not really sure what to do with this space now. I do miss writing. I keep up with our family scrapbooks (a la Project Life), but the daily documenting with photos was something I truly enjoyed. Again, walking this out with girls that are getting older and wanting to respect their privacy. I've thought very seriously about wrapping this space up and stick to my social media of choice, but occasionally I do have the urge to tell a longer tale. Basically, I'm either thinking about this too much or not enough. : )

Anyway, I thought I would stick my toe back in the water of homeschool posts with one about our fall semester circle time. Over the course of last year, I heard a blog post or a podcast about looping your subjects thanks to Sarah Mackenzie and Pam Barnhill. One of the things that I consistently would struggle with in our years of school is getting behind in one or another subject because I scheduled them by day. For example, history on Monday and Wednesday, science on Wednesday and Fridays. I would find myself stuck because I would tend to schedule doctor or orthodontist appointments on the same day whenever they would come up and that would put us behind in that subject (and it was usually on science day). I decided that looking our schedule couldn't hurt - any improvement was better than none.

It's been such a good choice for our schooling this year! I have two main loops that we do every day that we are home. (We average three, sometimes four, good mornings a week at home). We have two loops as part of our morning read-alouds. Our schedule generally looks like:

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That's a lot of reading that I'm getting through, but when it comes down to it, I'm reading only three things each morning. So much more doable and we are making significant progress in each book! Not as much as we do in our after-lunch read-aloud when we plug steadily along with one book until it's done, but I'm finding that rotating through each book about every three days is just enough time for the books to stay fresh and the kids not remember where we left off the last time.

Anyway, if you have heard of looping (or not), it's worked really well for us and I'd recommend it if you find yourselves falling behind in one subject. Science has always been my nemesis but as of December 3, we've now finished our fourth chapter in our mammals book and I like that feeling.

Monday, November 23, 2015

November Reading Report

Blogged: October's Reading Report! Link in profile. 📚About four chapters away from finishing this read aloud. It's a pumpkin spice kind of day for afternoon reading. #sscoffeechroniclesNew read aloud started today. I've managed to put off reading this one for at least a year! This closes the chapter of reading this series outloud to the girls ... but on the bright side, I get to read it all over with the boy! #readaloudrevival

We have had a good month of read-aloud here but a less impressive month of personal reading. Report in for November, I finished:
  • The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (read-aloud). I wrote more about this book last month, but it was a winner for us. The story of a young boy, recently orphaned and forced to live with his abusive step-brother. He longs to be a gold smith, but because of his brother's cruelty he is forced to be apprenticed as a stone cutter. He starts to suspect that his brother is up to something evil and with the help of two friends, another apprentice and an old man and his donkey, he decides to do something about it. A wonderful story depicting early Egyptian life and how their society works, as well as bravery and courage.
  • The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder (read-aloud). We have FINALLY finished our read-aloud of the Little House books. This short tale of Laura and Almonzo's first four years of marriage is hard to read and truthfully just not as much fun as pretty much any other book in the series. In looking on the bright side, I will probably start the series over with the boy in the next year or so.
  • The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. I read Kelly's first book about Calpurnia Tate several years ago when it won the Newberry award and really enjoyed it. Her observation of nature, and in this book it spreads to other sciences like weather, is not understood by her family (especially her mother), but Calpurnia uses her pluck and ambition to find herself assisting the local vet on his calls and helping her brother hide and train and half dog/half coyote stray.
  • Still Life, A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery by Louise Penny. I've seen multiple recommendations for Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series so I finally read the first book, Still Life. It was just meh for me. Here's the thing: it wasn't overly gory, I liked the main detective, and the characters, and I didn't figure out who did it (bonus). However, I don't know if it's the fact that I just finished a Sherlock Holmes and have recently read some Agatha Christie's that I had a hard time relaxing into this mystery set in our modern age of cell phones, Internet searches, etc. I'm not sure that I'm going to write off Inspector Gamache just yet, because there was something about it I liked. But I think what I wanted was another old-fashioned mystery story. This wanted to be, but it had a few things in it that made it ... not.
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Currently we are reading The Secret of the Old Clock as our pre-Thanksgiving break (not a history-related) read-aloud. I hate to say it because we aren't done with the book but I'm not sure that Nancy makes a good read aloud. (I hate saying that out loud!) We are still enjoying it - especially my 9-almost-10 year old who is the PERFECT age for Nancy. Maybe she'll gravitate to the series finally! I'm at a run to figure out something to pick up next. I have started and discarded several books this month that I did not like: the newest Rick Riordan set among the Norse gods (didn't enjoy in general), The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (weird and creepy), and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (too much bad language in a teen book, an not appropriate bad language but just sloppy and crude). Ugh. It has been a bad month for fiction choices around here!

I'm toying with an idea of a challenge for myself for 2016 to help my reading selection be a bit more focused ... this needs a little fine tuning and a few parameters so stay tuned, but there is the faintest flicker of an idea there that I need to fan. : ) (I felt very Anne Shirley as I said that last remark).

Happy Thanksgiving to you all and happy reading!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rebooting Dinner

I have gotten into a massive dinnertime run around these parts - making the same meals over and over and over again. A few weeks ago I asked for some dinner suggestions and when I got several of the same comments - "I'm so tired of tacos!"; "Can you never make _____ again?" - I laughed. : ) Really, I wasn't hurt. I was tired of our taco Tuesdays and the quick turkey kielbasa meal I make before Awana or on soccer nights. There are no shortage of meals that I want to try and add into our rotation. It's just all to easy for me to get lazy in the kitchen because I'm tired by the time I need to get started on dinner! All that to say, we've found a few winners in the last couple weeks and I want to remember that these got a good response from (most of) the family.

Just did a taste test of @thepioneerwoman Salisbury steak and gravy. Oh my yum.

Pioneer Woman Salisbury steak - husband approved and super yum.

Life as Mom cheese enchiladas - (no photo) super easy meatless main dish. And bonus - the recipe makes enough for TWO 9x13 pans so I served our family one and popped the other into the freezer for a meal for friends awaiting the arrival of a baby. So good. I pretty much ate all the leftovers of this by myself and didn't share.

Last night's leftovers. I might have rushed a little to get to these before anyone else.

Pioneer Woman's Chickpea Curry with Rice - so good! I actually made this with chicken instead of chick peas but her sauce was what sealed it for me.

Confession: you know how Facebook now has all these 1 minute recipe videos? I watch them. And tonight I made one. Mozzarella stuffed meatballs recommended by @megduerksen. 👍👍

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs - I don't know if you have noticed all the 1-minute food / recipe videos that are on facebook now, but I tend to watch them all. And then I made this one. Another winner. Bonus - it's a crockpot meal that I whipped up after lunch and let cook for the afternoon and it was delicious.

After these meat heavy dishes, I need a few salad nights, but my husband was sure happy! I have a split pea soup that I want to try (which will be just for me as no one else here cares for it) as well as a lemon orzo chicken soup that sounds delicious. I have also saved several cranberry recipes because it's the season. And after posting all these yummy meals, I feel like I need to make a full disclosure that I've promised the kids frozen taquitos for dinner since Daddy won't be here for dinner. Real life dinner planning here. : )

Friday, November 13, 2015

#NaNoReadMo

I've been having fun on Instagram participating in a fun bookish challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy. November is apparently NaNoWriMo month - a month in which inspiring authors are challenged to take up their pens (or keyboards) and write on a novel for a month straight. Concurrently, there was a challenge issued to post a picture of a novel every day for the month of November with the hashtag #NaNoReadMo. Now that I can do! I've had a blast combing my shelves and pulling out favorite books - some that I have probably mentioned on the blog or to friends a hundred times. Others may be obscure childhood favorites that I've forgotten about until just such a challenge as this one that makes me sit of take notice of them once again.

I started the challenge about three days late, but I thought I would share my first seven novels that I posted via Instagram. (If you are on there, you can follow me at @mrs_stephanie.shepherd).

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11.4.2015 // The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder //

New read aloud started today. I've managed to put off reading this one for at least a year! This closes the chapter of reading this series out-loud to the girls ... but on the bright side, I get to read it all over with the boy! 

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11.5.2015 // The Austin Family Chronicles by Madeleine L'Engle //

This is one of those book series that I didn't discover until I was adult and I momentarily suffered that I missed out on many years of reading and re-reading these books! I had no idea that Madeleine L'Engle had written anything beyond A Wrinkle in Time and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Austin family and can't wait until my girls are old enough for this series.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series // One of the best kids' series I've read in my quest to find good stuff for my kids. Quirky characters, orphans raised by wolves, delicious dialogue ... fun for mama and munchkins to read. It would make a

11.6.2015 // The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Mary Rose Wood //

One of the best kids' series I've read in my quest to find good stuff for my kids. Quirky characters, orphans raised by wolves, delicious dialogue ... fun for mama and munchkins to read. It would make a great read aloud for any age and an independent read for 9(ish) and up.

Village School by Miss Read // If you love Mitford or stories set in quaint English villages, you will love Miss Read. She is a spinster school teacher in a small town in England and personalities and characters abound. There are quite a few books in the

11.7.2015 // Village School by Miss Read //

If you love Mitford or stories set in quaint English villages, you will love Miss Read. She is a spinster school teacher in a small town in England and personalities and characters abound. There are quite a few books in the series and it is perfect for winter weather / cozy reading especially if you have hot tea and perhaps some biscuits and jam nearby.

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11.8.2015 // Inkheart by Cornelia Funke //

This book about the power of a story (and its storyteller) was utterly spellbinding the first time I read it. There are two more books in the series but the first book is magical. (The movie version isn't half bad either but read the book first). And fantastical fantasy story for 9ish and up independently or a read aloud for almost any age.

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11.9.2015 // Christy and Julie by Catherine Marshall //

Two of the books that challenged and encouraged me in high school. Christy is the biographical novel of Catherine Marshall's mother as a young 19 year old teaching in the rural Appalachian Mountains. Julie is her own autobiographical novel as a young girl learning her writing voice and what she is passionate about in the midst of a great tragedy in her community. Highly highly recommend if you have teen girls that love to read and haven't discovered these gems.

Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene // One of my goals as a child was to collect all the original hardback Nancy Drew books; I finished sometime in high school. Still hoping that one of my three girls falls in love with the teenage auburn haired super sleuth. :fl

11.10.2015 // Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene //

One of my goals as a child was to collect all the original hardback Nancy Drew books; I finished sometime in high school. Still hoping that one of my three girls falls in love with the teenage auburn haired super sleuth.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery // one of her less known works but my favorite for introducing my girls to the author of Anne. Jane is a young girl who lives with her horridly strict grandmother and her mother, believing that her father is dead. W

11.11.2015 // Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery //

One of her less known works but my favorite for introducing my girls to the author of Anne. Jane is a young girl who lives with her horridly strict grandmother and her mother, believing that her father is dead. When lo and behold, a letter from him arrives! Jane is one of my favorite characters of all time and it's a shame if you miss reading about her.

Papa's Wife by Thyra Ferre Bjorn // A story about a young 18 year old girl who becomes the housekeeper to a Swedish pastor, marries him, and has a handful of children. One that I fondly remember reading as a teen and haven't picked up in years! I just rem

11.12.2015 // Papa's Wife by Thyra Ferre Bjorn //

A story about a young 18 year old girl who becomes the housekeeper to a Swedish pastor, marries him, and has a handful of children. One that I fondly remember reading as a teen and haven't picked up in years! I just remember the lessons I learned in faith and loving a family well.

Happy reading!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sunday Sunshine

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Capturing the light around our house is one of my favorite things to do. I was home on Sunday with a sniffly boy and took advantage of being downstairs in our kitchen and dining room . We normally are upstairs in our school room during those hours so I miss seeing the way the light streams in the kitchen and across our tables. While I missed being at church, it was almost as restorative to slowly prepare lunch in a quiet peaceful kitchen in the sunshine.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

October Reading Report

A very rainy Tuesday called for popcorn, Sherlock Homes, and the first game of the World Series. #itssimplytuesdayMy Monday night date with Chick Fil A while one girl is at orchestra. Reading this new book from the author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, one of my favorites.Our newest read aloud we started today.

Oh, October. You were here, and then you sped by like wildfire!

In October I / we managed to finish:
  • Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. This was our (primary) September read-aloud and it was definitely enjoyed by all. We followed it up with the Disney movie, also fun though a little bit different from the book. Naturally.
  • The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith. At the beginning of the month, and over our fall break from our homeschool co-op (we were still doing school at home, but it was a blissful week where we didn't go ANYWHERE!), we whipped through S.D. Smith's prequel of The Green Ember. We missed our characters from his first book, but the prequel did not disappoint.
  • The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows. This is one that I picked up on a whim after I saw that I could check it out on my Kindle. (I love doing that - one less book I have to remember to return to the library. It just disappears when my time is up). Written by the author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this book had intense characters and I was drawn into their story, however, it had a darker feel to it. One of the main and most loved characters was extremely flawed and I had a hard time relating or enjoying him throughout the book. Well written, but no Guernsey which is what I wanted.
  • Home is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson. After reading the previous book, I wanted something a lot lighter! I toyed with the idea of picking up Mitford, but since I can't ever read just one, I went with another book on my Kindle that I laugh outloud through every time I pick it up. Sophie (Boomama) has a way with words and that fact that she and I are roughly the same age, I can totally relate to her stories as she is reminiscing and I love when I read an author that I think I could be friends with in real life. Cannot wait until her third book is coming out sometime next year.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This was the October Reading to Know bookclub pick and I devoured this mystery. I'm pretty sure this is the first Sherlock Holmes I have ever read and it will not be the last. The story kept me guessing as the mystery unraveled - very important to someone who has cut her teeth on Nancy Drew in elementary school and Agatha Christie in high school. I'll be coming back to him very soon.
Up next:
  • The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw is our current read aloud and I am hoping we can finish it up in the next couple of days. We are to the "just one more chapter mom!" part of the book where I've got them hooked. Again, this is another great story, but definitely geared more to an older student. My 8 year old is probably on the young end to read this, but she is hanging in there with us because it is such a compelling story and we are rooting for the main character. Probably not a book you would pick up with kids that are sensitive without prereading.
  • I'm not sure what we will tackle after TGG. I'm leaning towards a mystery - I don't think we have every done one as a read aloud and we may do something fun and light like a Nancy Drew book. I have the whole ND series in hardback and not one of my girls has picked that series up and given it a shot. I feel like I have failed somewhere as a mother! Whatever we pick, it will probably be something lighter and shorter than our current read. 
  • Another one I would like to read soon is The First Four Years. (Qualifies as a shorter read, but not as a lighter one!) I have put off reading the last book in the Little House series for far too long - one, because it will be the end of our time reading through the books, and two, because it is going to be a hard one to get through.
  • I have no idea what I'll pick up personally. Maybe more Sherlock. : )
Any good books I need to know about? Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Project Life // The Birthday Boy Week

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There were a lot of photos for this week's spread. Enough that I used an additional Design A page protector to fit them all in. I did quite a bit of journaling (more than normal for me) on the photos directly to fit in a few more stories for the week - lots to tell as we celebrated the boy turning five along with a few other happenings. : )

Monday, October 12, 2015

Earl the Squirrel by Don Freeman

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The boy has been a big fan of Courduroy by Don Freeman for the past several months and it was rare that a week went by where we didn't read it a couple times a week at bedtime. We were recently at the library and spotted this title on the seasonal display table in the children's department. I don't know why I had never thought to look for more of Mr. Freeman's works ... actually, it's probably because of a few too many reads of Courduroy Gets His Shots or something like that. (I can't find it on Amazon or I'd link it).

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Earl the Squirrel tells the story of a young squirrel who has made a friend of the little girl in the house next to his tree. His mother continually cautions Earl against associating with the little girl, as well as accepting the gifts that she gives him. One day the little girl gives Earl a beautiful red scarf. The mother is not impressed with the scarf, however, it comes in handy when Earl finds a spectacular acorn tree in a field with a huge bull. (We can all get an idea of where the story is going with a bull and a squirrel with a red scarf.). The story ends happily with the squirrel safe, the attack of the bull foiled, and the mother squirrel changing her mind.

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It's a fun fall story in and of itself, but I do love Don Freeman's artwork. His detailed black and white drawings with the only color being the fire-engine red of Earl's scarf just make the story pop. It was a treat to the eyes and a fun find to add to our autumn reading basket.

And, thanks to Earl, I now have a half-dozen other Don Freeman books on hold at the library for the boy and I to work our way through in the coming days. I'll be sure and report back if and when I find any more winners!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Birthdays Mean New Books

Someone has turned 5 in the blink of an eye. Happy birthday Ethan! 💙

Someone is FIVE.

Yes, I'm having a hard time with it as well, but there is no denying it. He woke up this morning and sleepily wandered into our schoolroom asking how old he was today. When I replied that he was now five, I also asked if he felt older this morning. He did, because five is kind of a big deal.

Playing like a champ on the eve of his 5th birthday.

Five loves soccer. Five especially loves soccer because his dad coaches his team.

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Five asked for pancakes for his birthday breakfast, with syrup. The birthday dinner will be grilled cheese "with that red soup that we dip them in" a.k.a. tomato soup.

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Five also loves read aloud time. Our special (guaranteed one-on-one) time is at bedtime, when he and I churn through 2-3 books for as long as (1) he stays awake, (2) I stay awake, or (3) the girls hold off on interrupting us. For his birthday, I spotted these Star Wars Golden Books via someone's instagram feed and knew that these were needed.

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High quality Caldecott classics? Probably not. : ) Profitable for passing on a mama's love of Star Wars to her baby 5 year old? Absolutely.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Project Life Reality :: Catching Up

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So. I'm pretty behind in my Project Life album. I didn't touch it much this summer and now that the weather is cooling off, I'm definitely feeling the urge to get out my scrapbooks and see where I'm at.

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Catching up for me means two things:

1. Make a list. Instead of feeling overwhelmed about what I have and haven't done, get a list actually on paper and see what is missing and needs to be filled in and completed. Then I break it down into somewhat manageable chunks. After looking at my list, I initially noticed that I hadn't printed photos for most the summer. Since I was at least pretty diligent about getting the photos off my camera and phone and into our external hard drives (I'm mildly obsessive about cleaning the photos off my phone so I don't run out of memory) they were at least all in one place. : ) It took a couple of hours on a weekend and I had a huge batch of photos uploaded to Sam's Club and ready to pick up 24 hours later. At least now the photos were in my hand and not on my computer.

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2. Start at the present. I flipped to the end of my album and did the most current week - which for me was the first week of September. It's for sure quicker (and more enjoyable) for me to scrap the current batch of photos when my memory is the freshest. I definitely want to get back to the older photos but my enthusiasm is definitely higher at getting the fun pictures from our weekend at a family camp we attended and time a mini-maker science fair (and my new favorite photo of me and B with Chewbacca). : )

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I still love Project Life and am so thankful for this way of capturing our family's memories. It has definitely simplified this process for me while still allowing me to be creative and preserve photos and memories for our family.