Aiming for the Stars to Hit a Cowpie — My Enlightening Scanning Journey

Headshot - Phoebe Jean
by Guest Writer
updated: February 17, 2024
Headshot - Phoebe Jean
Guest Writer
February 17, 2024
The following is a guest post by Phoebe Jean

As a Wyoming farm gal, I was raised with the phrase, “It’s better to aim for the stars and miss than to aim for a cowpie and hit.” Well, that’s great advice … unless your goal actually is to hit the cowpie.

My scanning goal really was that simple, but for some reason, aiming at the cowpie just wasn’t working. So I changed strategies and aimed for the stars. The result? Read on to find out. And hopefully, by sharing my scanning journey it will help you on your scanning journey.

Like many people, I inherited a small mountain of photos, documents, and written histories that needed to be digitized. Thinking that a home scanner was the best way to get the job done, I researched online for the right one. After considering the options, I chose the Epson Perfection V600 photo scanner and ordered it as a Christmas present for myself in 2013.

My Scanning Project Begins — (Day 1)

When the scanner arrived, I was delighted. Apparently, I was more delighted to own it than to actually use it, and I wound up carefully storing it without ever opening the box. Long after the one-year warranty had expired, I finally took it out of the box. After a few feeble attempts at using it I placed it safely into the bottom drawer of a guest room dresser. It was a bit of a chore to take it out, use it, and put it back, but it kept things neat and tidy in that room … just the way I like it. Needless to say, I did not use it much.

I wanted to use it, but I just didn’t know how. I couldn’t understand the options within the software. I could scan, but I wasn’t satisfied with the results, and was often frustrated by not knowing what I was doing. In addition, I didn’t have a good plan for accomplishing my scanning project. I’m a “big picture” kind of gal so I sometimes have an erroneous belief that I need to see in my head what I’m going to do, and the majority of the steps I’m going to take, before I actually start.

A New Start — (1 year – 8 months)

In the fall of 2015, I was finally ready to get serious about my scanning project. Though I didn’t have a full vision yet of the journey, I had identified a few steps that I could take.

bankers box with binders and papers inside
My box of written histories

I love the question asked by motivational speaker Mary Morrissey, “What step can you take?” It’s so simple. Though you may see obstacles that prevent you from moving forward the way you want, there is usually something that you can do right now to move you in the direction of your goal. Sometimes it’s a very small step. But that forward movement has the power to effect great change.

So I got busy doing what I could do. I sorted through all of the family photos and placed them in file folders by name of ancestor. For people like my deceased parents, who had a lot more items to scan, I placed them in folders by categories, and they got their own boxes. I put all the written histories in a box and organized things in a more orderly way. It was now time to figure out this scanning business.

woman with scared face looking into camera
How I felt about tackling the project!

Trying Outside Scanning Equipment — (2 years – 1 month)

Not knowing how to use my scanner, but believing that getting my scanning project done quickly was vitally important, I created a new plan. In February of 2016 my sister and I traveled a few hours away to a family history library with excellent scanning equipment. Though I still had my home scanner, what little I could figure out when using it turned out to be quite time consuming. And, I wasn’t satisfied with the results. Family history library to the rescue! Right? I had done some research on what settings to use and determined that as long as we chose 600 dpi and saved them as a TIFF file nothing else really mattered. And it would be done so quick!

Well, the scanning did go quick, but I was less than impressed with the results. The high speed photo scanner left streaks and blue through the photos. The flatbed scanners sometimes added a weird zombie effect that I was less than fond of. When I expressed my dissatisfaction to my sister she replied that it was just how it was, some of them look a little funky. She was quite happy with the results. My idealistic self, on the other hand, believed that they could be much better. But how? I didn’t know, and the project basically came to a halt.

Seeking Scanning Expertise — (2 years – 6 months)

In July of 2016 my sisters and I had a lovely vacation in Texas. Upon returning home I decided to try scanning some of the trip memorabilia for my journal. Though I got fairly decent scans using auto mode, I still wasn’t satisfied. Why did scans using the auto mode look better than the other modes? What mode should I use? I’m not a professional, am I even allowed to use that mode? What do all these settings mean? How do I scan something without it cropping the edges? I needed help. How on earth do I use this scanner? I knew someone had to know and I turned to Google for help.

After searching online for a while I came upon the Scan Your Entire Life website. I instantly knew that this guy knew what I needed to know. He used the Epson V600! WooHoo!! If only he would give me just a little help with the settings … I’d be on my way!! Unfortunately, at that point in time the SYEL Membership was not yet available. However, being the kind and helpful person that he is, Curtis, the owner and creator of SYEL, agreed to give me a little personalized training and soon I was on my way. Finally I understood some essential basics on how to use my scanner and I was going to get serious with my scanning projects and get them completed! 

“Motivation does not come first, action does! … it’s often after we get involved in a task that we become highly motivated.”

David D. Burns, M.D.

Now obviously, with all the great advice and help from Curtis about how to use my scanner I got started right away with my project and quickly got it done. Right??? Wrong!!!! For some reason I just didn’t feel confident that I really knew what to do. Perhaps there was something I was missing. So I dabbled in scanning. I scanned things for my journal that didn’t really matter. I rescanned some of the items that I had previously scanned at the family history library and I was thrilled with the results. But yet, for some reason, I just didn’t get in the scanning groove. I also had the opportunity to learn the art of film making for a small documentary project, so I put all of my focus and energy into that. And my scanning project sat.

Discovering the Vital Solutions — (4 years – 6 months)

Fast forward to summer 2018. Nearly two more years had passed. By this time the Scan Your Entire Life Membership had launched to the public. It was brimming with vital information. I’d watched all of the membership training videos several times, took notes, chose settings, and practiced a great deal. A mere five years after my initial plan to get scanning, I was finally ready to move forward on my scanning at a pace faster than a snail, empowered with the knowledge to do it right. 

Why had it taken me so long? It’s hard to say for certain, but several factors played in to it. One of the main obstacles was location. I had placed my scanner in my downstairs office. While that was a much better option than the dresser drawer, it wasn’t the ideal place for long scanning sessions. I just didn’t feel motivated down there, and it is a colder darker place. I thrive in light and warm places. The solution was easy. Circumstances had changed and I no longer needed a second guest room in my house. I decided that changing the extra guest room into a scanning room was just what I needed to get moving.

Placing your scanner in a place where you enjoy being may be obvious for many, but it took time for me to figure that out. I needed it to be in a room where I would feel happy and it would be easy-to-use. A room that you walk by frequently can also be a great reminder of your goal.

guest room with two made single beds
Before: My original guest room

I disassembled the guest room, set up some folding tables, and began moving my projects upstairs. I have a few different projects that overlap. I decided to start with the ones that meant the most to me, and that I was the most qualified to do … my childhood scrapbooks.

I began gathering all my photos in the scan room. I sorted them by category. Having four sisters I wanted to create two scrapbooks, one that is paper that has more of my personal childhood things in it, and one that is digital that I can share with all of my sisters and their families. The digital one would share the story of our childhood family through photos and written memories. I wanted it to be the type of book that could be handed down to future generations for their enlightenment and enjoyment.

room with folding table set up with stacks of photos on top
After: My new dedicated photo scanning room!

It was a grand plan, and I was set to go, but still, for some crazy reason I just didn’t get going. Yes, I had the room set up and organized, and several photos collected, but was I digitizing? No. I was not. Why? I can’t say for certain, but I believe this statement plays into it: “Your beliefs drive your thoughts, your thoughts determine your feelings, and your feelings determine your actions.”

I thought it would take a long time. I didn’t imagine myself enjoying the process. I thought of it as a giant chore and it was hard to see the finish line. If you can’t see the end, why even begin? The feelings that this created certainly did not motivate me to take action.

Setting a Scanning Goal — (4 years – 7 months)

Quote painted on wall: "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though  checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."
A wall of the business building of our local university

In August 2018, having made little progress I got a wild hair that maybe I should set an impossible goal, aim for the stars, and get these two babies done by my birthday in the middle of September. Crazy, right? But it lit the fire under me and I got going. I didn’t think it was possible, but what if I was wrong and it actually was possible? On the wall of the business building at our local university is a great quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

I had read that quote earlier in the summer while finishing up the documentary film I was working on. It is a great message and I figured I might as well dare mighty things. These new thoughts created new feelings that gave me the courage, imagination, and confidence to get started. For real! It also really helped me to have a specific project to work on. I enjoy the creative side so as I scanned I could imagine the stories I would put with the photos and some captions I would write. 

I sorted through what I had, what my parents had, and borrowed childhood photos from two of my sisters. I was set up and ready to go. Then, as often happens when making big plans, life demands come into play. It was suddenly harvest time.

Harvest Delay #1

When the food is ripe preservation of food takes precedence over preservation of photos. I was snapping green beans, and peeling peaches to freeze and can. I made salsa and pasta sauce. I froze gooseberries, raspberries, and service berries. I dried plums and made fruit leather. All this to say that scanning went on sabbatical.

6 stacked jars of peaches and labeled
Peaches with honey
Inside a freezer full of fruit in bags and containers
Snapped green beans, pealed peaches, pasta sauce, gooseberries, plums, raspberries, and service berries
6 jars of mild salsa boxed
Mild salsa

So Yeah, Harvest Delay #2

Then, just when I had finished the last of the peaches I hit the road for a Nevada adventure helping with the harvest on a commercial potato farm. It was grand indeed. It used up the final two weeks of my target date. Failure! Ah, but Teddy says it’s better to dare mighty things even if checkered by failure.  

woman standing next to open cab of large truck
Me, the potato truck driver!

Not to worry, I came home with a new plan … forget the paper childhood scrapbook for now and focus on the digital book. Have all the photos scanned and the basic rough draft written no later than Thanksgiving. My sister from Texas would be coming then and we could review the information and make sure it was correct before finalizing it all for Christmas. I got busy quickly winterizing the yard and doing a final weeding so I could tackle the project with peace of mind and without interruption … in theory.

And Can You Believe, Harvest Delay #3

Oh wait, what? You mean it’s now the apple and grape harvest?? So back to the kitchen I went to bottle grape juice, apple juice, applesauce, apple butter, and let’s not forget the pumpkin harvest with the promise of the most amazing pumpkin soup on the planet.

table covered with 30+ small jars of colorful fruit juices
Bottled grape juice, apple juice, applesauce, apple butter and dried grapes (i.e. amazingly delicious raisins)

Now a person with a different set of priorities may have opted to forget the harvest this year and just shop for food at the local market. Focus on the goal! I confess it was tempting. But you just can’t get pumpkin puree at the market. And the apple juice? Just doesn’t compare. And I couldn’t waste all that food that grows so willingly in my yard.

Perhaps someone else could preserve both food and photos simultaneously, a little here a little there. It just didn’t work for me to do both. I had to just do them one at a time.

Scanning Finally Begins Again! — (4 years – 11 months)

room with 2 folding tables set up with stacks of photos on top
Scanning finally begins again!

Early November with the harvest over I was back on it. I finalized my scan settings and created codes to include in my naming system. I began scanning like crazy. Finally! And then I discovered that despite my many practice runs I still had a lot to learn about scanning that could only come from doing.

Previously I had primarily scanned single items. It’s a different process scanning multiples. Though similar, there are variables that don’t apply to singles that I wasn’t aware of. I had to learn all the little quirks of how the scanner does things. Like choosing “Select All” when scanning multiples to apply all the settings and scan them in a batch. Then there are differences when scanning in Normal mode vs Thumbnail mode.

I also became painfully aware of dust specks and despite my best efforts to eliminate them I find they are ever present. I had to let go of perfection and just do a really good job, not a perfect job. I found that on some photos I didn’t mind losing a little corner through cropping. I wouldn’t have thought I’d think that, but after scanning hundreds of photos I began to see more clearly my priorities and what it was I was trying to accomplish through this project.

Observations Learned By Doing

It was fascinating to me to realize that despite all my preparations, there were still some things that I simply would only learn by doing. Only by sitting down and seriously getting to work did I get clear on certain things. If you are letting fear prevent you from scanning, just know that by doing you will likely overcome your fears and find solutions to whatever challenges you are currently facing.

So, did I achieve my Thanksgiving goal? Not even close! I realized, after really digging in and borrowing photos and pulling out my scrapbooks and photo albums, that there were plenty of photos that I didn’t even know or remember existed.

old Kodak Instamatic 224 film camera with flash bulb lying to the side
An old film camera similar to the one my sisters and I used

I grew up in the age where point-and-shoot cameras were still pretty new. My sisters and I had managed to earn the money to buy a few cameras by selling garden seeds and greeting cards door-to-door to our neighbors. Film and developing seemed expensive, and with the added cost of the flash we were selective about what photos we took. I naturally assumed I didn’t have all that much to scan. As it turned out, collectively there was a lot to be scanned. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t realize this up front or I’m certain I would have used the sheer volume as an excuse to procrastinate. 

Thankfully, though the end was still in the far distance, I was closer than I ever had been before. I finally had a system down and I was regularly scanning. I also realized that although I thought I would prefer long scanning sessions because I like long paper scrapbooking sessions, I actually did better working just a few hours at a time. Who knew? I also found that sometimes it was best to have music or a movie playing in the background and sometimes it was best to just have silence. Sometimes the clothes I wore affected how happy I felt about scanning. And a slightly warmer temperature in the house increased my comfort level when scanning which allowed me to do it for longer periods of time in a more joyful mood.

Sometimes I felt compelled to take time to name the scans and sometimes I waited and named them later. I found that organizing the photos into folders that would make them easy to find was trickier than I thought. I’m still working on that one.

As you may imagine the month of December flew by with all of its craziness and little progress was made. As the month disappeared I decided I must have been aiming for Christmas 2019. That’s doable. Right? Yes!! And thanks to my preparation that began in 2013, and my crazy goal from August, at the start of the year I was positioned to make major progress. And I did! It took a couple of months just to get everything scanned but I can finally say that I have achieved many major steps toward the final goal. The photos that I know of that will go in this book are all scanned now. WooHoo!!! 

book cover - gray with "you2" as the title

I love the message Price Pritchett shares in his short book You2:

Trust In The Power Of The Pursuit – Dreams begin to crystallize into reality when they are pursued, because the world behaves differently when you go after what you want.”

As you get serious about completing your scanning projects you will likely encounter obstacles. You might feel frustrated or discouraged. But consistently taking steps toward your goal, no matter how small, you will get there. Solutions to challenges will come, your confidence levels will soar, ideas about how to scan more efficiently will come to you, and before you know it you’ll be having a little celebration in honor of your victory.

My Final Thoughts

Now, while there’s still digital scrapbooking to complete, the photos are ready. I honestly owe a great deal of my scanning success to Curtis and his membership course. I know without a doubt that without his training and guidance I would not have all the beautiful scans I have today. I may have proceeded with the inferior scans, but I doubt it. I wasn’t satisfied with them so I can’t imagine I would have moved forward. I’m so grateful he took the time to personally help me, and that he is providing this service to benefit others. Thank you, Curtis!

posed portrait of a lady - very dark exposure
Here is an untouched example of how some of my scanning looked before receiving training from Scan Your Entire Life
posed portrait of a lady - proper looking exposure
A comparison scan of how it looked after.
Huge difference!
(I don’t even know what I did to make the “before” look so bad)

Through this process, I’ve also realized that I would really benefit from hiring someone who already knows how to do digital scrapbooking to help me design and create the childhood family memories book. Not only would it cut down the time it would take significantly, it would also keep me motivated and moving forward as I worked with them. I hadn’t considered this before but the more I work on this project the more I can see the value and benefit. And that’s what happens as you scan. You start seeing reasons to do things a certain way, and make investments in equipment and supplies you didn’t realize you needed. In the grand cost of life it’s a pretty small investment to preserve the story of your life.

In October I had the opportunity to judge some scholarship essays. Each applicant had to write a short essay about admirable attributes of a specific ancestor and share how he influenced their life. As I read through the essays I was reminded about how much our choices can influence future generations. Because someone recorded the history of this man, his many greats grandchildren were benefitting. By scanning photos and recording our personal histories we have the opportunity to influence others for good who learn our stories. That makes all the time and effort we put into it worth it.

It took until the middle of March 2019 to achieve just part of the goal I had aimed to fully achieve by the middle of September 2018. While I haven’t yet completely finished, I feel like I’ve finally hit that cowpie!!! And for those of you who have ever walked in a cow pasture, you know there are plenty to choose from. I’m now aiming for the second. And come Christmas time 2019 this project will be finished!

What are you aiming for?

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

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