…or how I magically turned a 50 pound box into just 6 beautiful DVDs with the help of an awesome little company called DittoBee!

We have moved 5 times in the last 9 years. And in those 5 moves, there has been a big, heavy box, triple duct taped together that had never been opened. It had 5 different packing stickers on it and had been recorded on 5 different moving inventories. It had been stored in basements, attics, laundry rooms, outdoor storage areas, and back closets. I knew it was full of my old photo albums and bunches of random loose photos, and as much as I would have loved to look at them, it just always seemed like too much hassle.

Well, now that I am in full-on nesting mode, I kept looking at that poor box, and decided something had to be done with it. No more lugging 50 pound, unopened boxes around the world! I had heard of people sending all of their photos to various companies that would scan them and then send back a nice little DVD of all of the digital images for safe keeping. Sounded perfect for a family on the move like us. 

But I wasn’t about to send all of my photos off to just any old photo scanning company. So I researched. And researched some more. And then I found DittoBee, the answer to all of my problems. DittoBee not only expertly scans your photos and puts them all onto DVD, they also convert old VHS tapes to DVD. (Because who really has a VHS player these days?) I had a few of those stuffed into my 50 pound box, so I decided to send those in as well.

The whole process did take me a little while, but was actually very easy and I feel SO much better now (not to mention about 50 pounds lighter!)

Opening that big box and looking at the tons of albums, photos and videos inside was a little overwhelming at first, but I settled in with a season of Grey’s Anatomy on DVD and got to work. I started by taking all of the images out of their albums and putting them in some kind of order so I knew how many photos there were. This part was actually fun, because I was able to spend time looking through all of the photos, reminiscing, but it also made it a very slow process. Even slower when my help arrived.

Once I had everything in order and had a final count of photos and videos, I went to the DittoBee website and placed my order. I chose to have all of my images scanned at 600 DPI, which gives me the option of enlarging the images in the future. Even though I don’t see myself printing a ton of these images (the whole reason I am scanning them is to cut down on the stuff we have to move!) I definitely want to be able to use them in photo books, so for me the increase in file size (and cost) is worth it.

I gathered up all of my supplies:

  • images, clean of glue and gunk, to be scanned
  • videos to be transferred to DVD
  • rubber bands
  • a sturdy cardboard mailing box
  • the prepaid shipping label from DittoBee

This is where I ran into my first and only challenge of the whole process. Some of my photos had been glued into albums, and the instructions from DittoBee stated that all glue and residue had to be removed from the images before sending them in to be scanned. After a bit of trial and error, I found that all of the glue and residue came of rather easily with a plain washcloth, wet with very hot water, and some gentle scrubbing. Challenge easily overcome.

The online instructions also said that all images should be grouped according to size and orientation. This is to avoid having some of your images upside down or sideways when you get them back on the DVD. I decided that it was more important for me to keep them in order since I could fix the orientation later, so I did not separate the vertical from the horizontal images. (More on this later) I did however follow the directions that said to separate them by size, and then rubber band them (loosely) together in groups of 100 or so images.

Then I packed them all up in the cardboard box, added some bubble wrap to make sure they didn’t slide around at all, closed it up, then said a little prayer or two before dropping the box off at UPS. (Note: it was very easy to track the shipment on the UPS website – which I did – but it was still a little nerve-racking to ship off the only copy I had of all of those photos)

Within about a week I received an email from DittoBee that my images had been safely received at their Miami facility, and that I would be notified again when the scanning was complete and my photos were on their way back to me. The turnaround time for the actual scanning of the photos was surprisingly fast. The DittoBee website boasts a 2-3 week turnaround, which is much faster than most of the other companies I looked at that averaged about 8 weeks! This was perfect for me since once I get an idea in my head, I want it done yesterday. (They also offer an expedited turnaround for a small fee if you have a deadline looming.) Before I knew it my original sturdy little cardboard box was waiting for me on my front porch, with the addition of the DVDs!

I was amazed that everything in that huge heavy box fit onto 6 nice, shiny DVDs. My inner minimalist was in heaven. And when I opened the DVDs to look at the photos, I was even happier. The digital images looked exactly like the photographs, just in a digital format. Perfect! When I have tried scanning my own photos in the past, they tend to come out too saturated and contrasty, or sometimes the colors are a little off. But DittoBee really nailed it.

Now, if your end goal is to simply back up your photos, you could really be done at this point. Put your original photos back into the albums, make a backup of your DVDs, and rest easy knowing that your photos are safe.

But my end goal wasn’t just a back-up, (although that is very important!) it was to go completely digital. And I am pretty particular about how I keep my digital images, so I still had a bit of work to do. I copied the DVD that contained the photos onto my desktop, and started organizing. (I use Lightroom to organize all of my images, but I am pretty sure you can do the same in iPhoto, Aperture, or any other photo management program you like) I first did a little rearranging to ensure that all of the images were in chronological order, then I renamed the images by (approximate) date. At this point, I also went through and quickly rotated any images that were sideways (because remember I didn’t follow the directions about separating the vertical and horizontal images) which really only took a few minutes. Finally, I added keywords and captions to make locating specific images easier in the future. It was a bit of a time investment, but I wanted to be able to finally enjoy the images, not just have them sit on a DVD somewhere. (If you are interested in more details on how I organize my digital images, a full tutorial on that is coming soon.)

Now some of you may cringe at what I did next, but keep in mind that we move a lot, and we have a very limited number of pounds that we can include in our shipments. So after backing up my digital images in multiple places, I actually discarded all of the photographs. Yes, I got rid of them. Threw them out. Trashed them. The really old family photos I gave to family members who wanted them, but everything else was discarded. Albums too. And although I thought that it might be a little difficult, it was actually a very freeing feeling. Like I was shedding 50 pounds. Ahhhh. And now I can breathe.

And a little visual to show how great it feels to go from a 50 pound box to just 6 thin little DVDs…

All in all, I cannot say enough good things about DittoBee. Wonderful customer service, super fast turn-around, and beautiful scanning. And even better, DittoBee is also generously offering you all 20% off your entire order when you use coupon code “Save20″!

So what do you think? Are you ready to purge and go completely digital?

DittoBee provided scanning services for the purpose of this post but all opinions expressed are my own.

  • Kerry - You are so organized—–it is a little frightening!
    I have been trying to do this to all my VHS tapes—- but I end up spending hours and hours watching them and sauntering down memory lane.ReplyCancel

  • Rachel Atty - I need to do this! Since we move all the time I am just waiting to lose all of my albums. ugh. I am checking out DittoBee now. Thanks for the recommendation!ReplyCancel

  • Missy - Perfect timing for this post – I so need to do this.ReplyCancel

  • Denise Johnston - Dittobee sounds awesome and I’ve got a similar need that I have been putting off forever. Thanks so much for the perfect walkthrough for getting all of this old media into new ones!ReplyCancel

  • Christy - This makes me happy and sad all at once. I’m finding I’m a rather difficult mixture of minimalist and sentimental. :)ReplyCancel

Happy 4th of July everyone! I hope you are all having a wonderful and relaxing day, remembering those who made this day possible, and celebrating the good old U.S. of A.  And if you are looking for a little last minute red, white and blue inspiration, here are a few of my faves:

  • Kelly - I followed your link a few days ago to the American Flag Pie and made my very first pie ever. It didn’t turn out as well as that on the page there, but it was very close. I just wanted to return and thanks for the inspirational post that sent me there! I feel accomplished!ReplyCancel

    • kaleyann - Thanks, Kelly! I bet it was delicious!ReplyCancel

  • Courtney - Grown up confetti poppers? I used to love those in the child sized form. Thanks for a cool suggestion for next year’s celebration.ReplyCancel

Google Reader retires today. (wah!) A few months ago, when I read the announcement that it would be discontinued on July 1st, I ignored it. I just kept signing in, disregarding the warnings that I needed to find another Reader. Until a few weeks ago, when I decided it was now or never. So I checked out a few of the options, weighed the pros and cons, and decided which Reader would replace my beloved Google Reader.

But before we get to the Readers, lets talk about reading blogs. I hear from a lot of people that they don’t know how to keep up with blogs, and that they randomly remember to check their favorites every few weeks or months.

There are a few different ways to keep up with your favorites (besides jumping from site to site when you remember). Most blogs have a subscribe option, where you can enter your email address and every time a new blog post is published, it will be delivered right to your email inbox. This is probably the easiest way, and perfect if you only follow a few blogs. (If you want my blog posts by email, look for the Subscribe box in the right sidebar and sign right up!) However, if you like to follow more than a few blogs, you won’t want your inbox bombarded with every blog post published. You could like their Facebook pages or follow them on twitter, but then you would still be missing posts because of the complex algorithms used to decide what actually shows up in your feed. Plus you would be sorting through the plethora of posts about what your neighbor ate for breakfast.  Which leaves us with the best, easiest, fastest way to follow blogs.  A RSS reader. (also known as a feed reader or aggregator).

What exactly is an RSS reader? Basically, it takes all of the RSS feeds (or new content) of your chosen blogs, news sites, etc, and combines them in one place, where you can sign in and see all of your favorites at once. Talk about efficiency. My reader of choice for the last 5 years has been Google Reader. I loved it. It was everything that I needed. It was comfortable and familiar. And I really didn’t want to give any of the alternatives a chance. But I finally had to, and after trying a bunch of different options, I am happy to say that I found one that I am actually kind of love.


The first thing that drew me in with Feedly was that I could transfer all of my Google Reader subscriptions, folders and tags right into Feedly. This was perfect since I had everything just the way I wanted it. It did take me a little while to be comfortable with the new interface, but I am really starting to like it. It is beautifully designed, which really matters when it is something you are going to be looking at daily. Here are just a few of the other reasons why this is my new favorite reader:

  • You can choose to see your feeds by title only (like Google Reader), magazine view (with thumbnail photos), cards view (which looks like Pinterest), or full article view. And you can even specify a different view for different folders or categories of your feeds. I personally like to use the magazine view, because I usually skim, opening just the posts that catch my eye. This way I can get through a ton of content in a very short period of time. And really, who reads every blog post anyway?
  • When you are skimming and a post catches your eye, just click on the title and you can read the full post right there. At the bottom you have options to share it, or save it for later. You can see all of your saved posts right inside Feedly, or you can save using Pocket. (Do you guys use Pocket? I love it!) By clicking preview (at the top, above the title of the post) you are able to view the post in the actual website, which means you can also comment on posts from inside Feedly.
  • You can pin right from Feedly! This may be my favorite feature of all. I used to have quite an elaborate method of saving posts from Google Reader so that I could later Pin them, and by elaborate I mean it was an unorganized mess. But no more! Now pinning is so quick and easy.
  • It is super easy to organize your feeds by category, and make other specifications for specific feeds. You can also change the order of your categories, and customize your little heart out. (You can see some of my categories in the image at the top)
  • You have the option to mark certain feeds as must read, so that if you only have a few minutes, you can read just your absolute favorites without skimming everything else. You can also see just what is new today.
  • To make reading a large number of blogs even faster and easier, there are a ton of keyboard shortcuts. (To see them all, just click on keyboard shortcuts at the top of the All page. My recent favorite – mark all as read. When you have picked and chosen the handful of posts that you actually want to read, and don’t have the time or energy to look at the rest, this is the best. One click and all the rest are gone.

Sounds great, right? What makes it even better is that Feedly offers mobile versions as well. They are just as fantastic and I love being able to flip through a few articles when I am out and about and have a few minutes to spare.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, the other readers I tried were BlogLovin, The Old Reader, and FlipBoard. While they all had redeeming qualities, they just weren’t right for me. If you are looking for even more alternatives, check these out.

What about you? How do you read blogs? Do you like them delivered to your inbox or do you prefer to use a reader?

Follow on Feedly

Follow on Bloglovin

  • kati - admission: i am just now signing into feedly again after google reader went quiet. what is this, 17 days later? somehow, i just didn’t even feel like reading blogs anymore! haha. maybe i’ll manage to get back into it ;) xoReplyCancel

Thank you all so much for the beautiful comments, emails and texts I received yesterday after I shared my story.  I actually wrote that a few months ago, but could never quite hit publish until yesterday. The day he was coming home.

And since it seems like a lot of us are in the same boat, today I thought I’d share some of the resources I have found for children experiencing separation from a parent, whether it is an Unaccompanied Tour (UT), a Military deployment, or an extended absense for another reason. (Those long business trips are hard on kids, too!)

Websites For Kids

Websites for Parents

  • The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a fact sheet to help families adjust when the deployed family member returns home. The description of the returning family member really pertains to military members, but the rest of it is perfectly suited to UTs. I can really relate to the section about the adult who stayed home.
  • Surviving Deployment gives some great ideas on helping children handle deployments.
  • Foggy Bottom Rambles is an entire blog dedicated just to Foreign Service UT employees and their families. Yay!

Books For Kids

I really like to find books that deal with issues we are facing, or things that I want to teach my daughter.  There are a ton of great books on separation from a parent or loved one, feelings, deployment, and unconditional love. These are the books that we have enjoyed most:

Books For Parents

Neither of these deal specifically with separation or deployment, but the parenting styles depicted in the books are really good for kids in these situations.

Do you know of other resources that I have missed? Please share!

  • Robin - OK, so this is more of a comment to fellow readers here than it is for Kaley….

    Kaley is clearly an amazing parent, incredibly resourceful, and generous to share such a personal journey. I know that making things as easy as possible for Avery, and any child in a similar situation becomes the highest priority since their emotional capacity for such difficult changes in family structure is… well… that of a 4 year old.

    But what about a list of resources for a the spouse at home? Kaley continues to amaze me in her ability to stay so grounded and positive. And of course, we will continue to keep our phone calls, text and hugs coming. But for those of you who have gone through something similar, and realize that it is equally as difficult for the parent as it is the child (just in different ways), please share your resources! The mamas at home need love too!


So there’s this thing. The thing that I don’t talk a lot about, but is always on my mind. Such a big part of my life right now. But it is only a chapter in our story.

I don’t talk much about him. He isn’t in many of my photos.

He is there every night for dinner, but he isn’t at the table. He is on the other side of the world, getting ready for work (thankfully, he is exactly 12 hours ahead of us). But he is with us. His face on the iPhone screen fills the void at the table. He asks how our day was. He tells us about his. I show him my growing belly and we count down the days until he can feel his baby move for the first time. Avery pretends to feed him bites of her dinner, and shows him her latest boo-boo. She cries when he has to hang up and begs him to come watch her take a bath. She kisses him goodnight and tells him she loves him. It adds normalcy to our day. How families survived long separations before the days of FaceTime and Skype is beyond me.

Before this year, I thought that there was no way I would be able to do it on my own. But here we are, doing it.

When your husband is a soldier, people understand. That is the life of a military family.  Deployments. Waiting. Homecomings. There are resources. Support systems. Because it is normal for them.

We are not a military family. And yet here we are. But without the understanding, the resources, and the support.

Preschool events, ballet recitals, swim lessons, neighborhood gatherings are all the same. I go alone. I know people wonder, sometimes they ask. I would rather they just ask. But when they do, they don’t know what to say. They fumble for the right words. I don’t know how you manage. I could never do it. I feel myself getting angry.  Yes, you could manage. I am. You are stronger than you think. And then I say that I actually feel blessed. Because during the year that he is gone, he will get two visits home. When soldiers are deployed, they usually don’t get any visits at all. So we are lucky. That shuts them up.

We are a government family. A Foreign Service family. We are in the middle of an Unaccompanied Tour. Meaning that he is serving in a location that is not safe enough to have his family accompany him. He is sacrificing. He doesn’t get to come home to his family every night.

For a long time I didn’t know if Avery could really understand why her Daddy wasn’t with us. I could see it affecting her in so many ways. Sleep issues. Tantrums. Separation anxiety. Problems expressing emotions. It was hard to decipher what was normal 3 year old behavior and what was the effect of this Unaccompanied Tour.

When people ask where he is, she says that he is working at the Embassy, keeping the nice people safe from the bad people. She gets it. She understands. And she is proud of him.

But that doesn’t make it any easier for her. Every time she makes a wish, it is the exact same words… I wish Daddy could come home. Every penny she throws in a fountain, every ladybug that she catches, every dandelion she blows away, she wishes for her Daddy.

This is hard. But it is only a chapter. We are counting down the days until we will all be together again as a family.

This is only a chapter in our story.

  • Elise - I’m right there with you! My husband is gone all the time for work and I feel your pain. It is so, so hard.ReplyCancel

  • kati - don’t be mad, but even if you tell me it’s doable i really still don’t know how you do it! seriously, i bow down. i know you’re doing the best you can! and your best is obviously amazing, it’s clear. xoxoReplyCancel

    • kaleyann - Not mad at all Kati – you are so sweet! xoReplyCancel

  • Steph at MPMK - This made me tear up. Your kiddos are blessed with two amazing parents. Hoping the year goes quickly for you!ReplyCancel

    • Kaley - Thanks, Steph! That means so much to me!ReplyCancel

  • Sara - so sweet. xoxoReplyCancel

  • Stacie - We are just starting our first UT, and it breaks my heart to see my 3 kids say goodbye to their daddy! Hoping this year goes by fast!!!ReplyCancel

    • Kaley - Thanks, Stacie! I hope yours goes by quickly as well! Hugs for you and your kiddos.ReplyCancel

  • Kellie - You guys are such a strong and amazing family! I think of you all often & can’t wait to see you!ReplyCancel

    • Kaley - Thanks, Kellie! We all miss you and can’t wait to see you, too!ReplyCancel

  • Donna - My husband just started his tour last Sunday. It’s no fun, is it?ReplyCancel

    • kaleyann - So sorry, Donna! No it is not fun at all. I hope your UT goes by quickly!ReplyCancel

  • Bree - This totally made me cry! Give ‘him’ a big hug from us, and one for you and Avery too! xoxoxoxReplyCancel

    • kaleyann - Thanks, Bree! We love you guys!ReplyCancel

  • Ana - Kaley, I had to start reading this 3 times before I could get through the whole thing. You are an amazing person. Justin and Avery are so lucky to have you. I feel blessed to have you in our family. Thank you for all you do.ReplyCancel

  • Lori - Beautifully written Kaley; full of strength and enormous love. It’s incredibly inspiring.ReplyCancel

    • kaleyann - Thank you, Lori! So sweet of you.ReplyCancel

  • Tracy - This was so beautifully written that I had tears in my eyes. My brother did two tours in Iraq and his son longed for him as well. You are such a strong woman…your daughter and husband are so lucky to have you.ReplyCancel

    • kaleyann - Thanks, Tracy! That must have been so hard for your nephew. I hope they are all back together now. :)ReplyCancel

  • Ordinary Life - […] This is what our life looked like this last year. Just the two of us. Me and my girl. At home. With Daddy gone. Before our family of three turns into a family of four. These images mean more to me that I could […]ReplyCancel