Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Family Archives

As regular readers and my friends know, I am a somewhat obsessive organizer. Note that I didn't say I liked organization but that I like organizing. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love looking at a newly organized space, and clutter drives me nuts, but the real fun for me is finding ways to fit it all in. Like a puzzle. For example, should the batteries be stored with the lightbulbs or with the flashlights...or should they all be stored together? And what container is best? Where should it be? Love it.

I do try to keep in mind that organizing is supposed to make life easier, not even more involved. But that's another blog post. Or is it?

The topic I wanted to cover was my recent decision to tackle the family photos. Early in my convalescence at my parents' house, I told my mom my plan to give my dad a slide scanner and to surprise him by pre-scanning some old photos.  She was tentative, and rightly so. My dad isn't good at surprises. Ask her about his 30th birthday. And he's territorial, which is ridiculous, but there you have it. The photos are in his closet, which he would freak out about anyone going through. I'll save the neurosis for another day. There were a few that were more accessible, so I got to work. I bought this scanner, a Wolverine Data SNaP100  and started scanning.

The results were...not good. Oh, and did I mention, that wasn't the first scanner I got. I mistakenly ordered a flatbed first, which ironically was cheaper and would have worked better. That model didn't do slides, which I'm finding out is pointless anyway. Here is what the second one yielded:

That is my brother and me in front of the shell of my dad's car (with Jello Pudding Pops!!!). You can't tell how awful the quality is, and this isn't the best one to show it. Everything was blueish or reddish or really grainy. It's just not worth it to spend all that time doing something wrong.

I decided to go in a new direction for Christmas gifts, but didn't give up on the idea of organizing photos. I'm sort of obsessive when it comes to following archival procedures. Well, more obsessed than some people. I'm not comfortable leaving paper prints in photo lab envelopes or putting snapshots in magnetic album pages. Part of this anxiety is to do with not having pictures of my ancestors. Or not many. I have a few from my dad's family, but none from my mom's. The pictures my dad had were not treated well; my grandfather's second wife took it upon herself to dispose and/or destroy many of them. Yeah, we didn't like her much, and the feeling was mutual. The difference was that we had reason! Anyway...the photos that did survive from him ended up in a pile in a box in our basement, to be unearthed by my dad after I started the ball rolling.

I started with the late 70s and early 80s, our childhood years, then branched out to the 90s and 2000s, and then addressed the few pre-1976 (i.e. pre me) photos. My solution for these photos consisted of organizing them by year in one of these two types of boxes (photos both from, where I purchased sure to search around because you can get them cheaper...or use coupons! I got them on sale and used a coupon right before Christmas. Office max currently has the Iris ones on sale.)
Iris Photo Keeper

Cropper Hopper

My plan for the cute kid photos as seen above is to select a few of the most memorable for each year and scan them and create photo books online for my brother and me.  Scanner selection still pending!

For the more delicate older photos, I decided a different approach was needed. Many of them are either bent or curled or torn. They are also all different sizes. I wanted true archival materials. The above plastic cases are acid and lignin free, but aren't really archival. They'll do, I think, for our childhood snapshots, but not for the older ones. Don't get me wrong, they'd be better than how they are now! I also wanted a storage solution for the negatives separate from the prints.

I turned to trusty Google and looked up some solutions. I had previously ordered archival file boxes from University Products, and do highly recommend their products. However, they didn't quite have what I wanted. for the negatives. I ended up getting this negative box (see below) from Archival Methods and a binder with storage pages from B&H Photo. I also purchased an archival photo box for any photos I don't include in the photo pages in the binder.

The 4-Up Negative Filing System from Archival Methods
I'll be sure to review my solutions with you after I get them. They arrive tomorrow, so you shouldn't have to wait too long. Think you can handle it? :)

Archival products are generally not cheap, so it really comes down to deciding how important particular items are. If you have a ton of photos, as most of us increasingly do, I think a good strategy is to pick the most poignant to protect. The others can be somewhat haphazardly stored, or even disposed of.

On disposal...I have a hard time getting rid of photos, but there are certain photos that even I can get rid of. That includes dark, overexposed, bad photos (I'm thinking of the accidental ones of laps, shoes, and the sky), and doubles. For the doubles, you may want to give to friends or family or just dispose of. I promise nothing bad will happen to you for throwing it away. Confession: I even threw away my own personal negatives. And I'm still here to tell the tale! I knew that for myself, I'd NEVER plow through my old negatives to find the picture, and my apartment's size does not afford the luxury of storing massive amounts of stuff. I admit, there was once or twice that I found a photo I'd cut up that I wanted the original of. Whether I'd actually go and find that negative if I had it and make it to the photo lab is debatable even if I had it, so no loss. Some people even suggest only picking one or two of a theme--i.e. if you have 10 Eiffel Tower photos, pick one or two. This, I can sometimes do, if they're really close, but not if they're different. I don't care if I have 100 photos of the Seine, I'm not pitching them!

If anyone's out there reading, how do you deal with photos and other memorabilia?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Around Town: The Other Half

When my mom comes to town, I like to take her to things we haven't seen before. Though I've lived in the DC metro for more than a decade combined, I can still find plenty that I've never seen. This summer, one of those places was the Hillwood Museum and Gardens. It is the 25-acre former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, and a feisty businesswoman, charitable benefactor, and general personality in her own right. 

It's one of those "make a day of it" kind of places, because it takes awhile to see everything. The gardens are gorgeous, and with good reason: it takes a lot of work. The estate had 263 volunteers in 2010 who spent over 20,000 hours in maintaining it and helping visitors. That of course is in addition to the staff; there were 13 horitculture and 9 facilities staff members in 2010.

Anyway, as I was saying, the gardens are gorgeous:

Though there's no denying the gardens are gorgeous (which I've said twice already), for me the real highlight was the mansion. I suppose I am more of an interiors gal. Marjorie was a major collector, and though I'm neither a fan of huge collections or of the ornate styles she favored, I love feeling like I'm peeking into someone's private world, and that is what is provided here. Because she bequeathed her home as a museum, it didn't have to be reconstructed after it had been used as an embassy or office building or something. It was intact, and appears as if she just up and left. Of course, that isn't the case, and I'm sure it's heavily curated, but you do get that feeling in the private areas especially, such as her bathroom and the kitchens (the first one is a catering kitchen/butlers pantry of sorts)

I play this game often when I visit houses or museums where I try to pick the one item I'd walk away with if I was allowed to pick one thing. For me, at Hillwood, this was the sofas in the home theatre. Marjorie was ahead of her time--she had a home theatre in her house! And these little sofas were so cool. They had built in drink trays and were the perfect size for, say, a small apartment.

I also appreciated several details, such as this do not disturb sign outside the door (for those pesky servants, no doubt) or the gorgeous geometric metallic wallpaper in a passageway.

I'm sure my somewhat dark (no flash) unprofessionally retouched photos don't do the place justice, but you'll have to go see it for yourself, or check out the website. They have  a virtual tour that will walk you through various rooms and gardens. It makes you think: what would my "estate" look like if someone were to come tour it? I can tell you one thing; it wouldn't be a day trip.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Flashback! 2011! Vol. 2

I know you've been on pins and needles for the rest of my 2011 wrap up, so here ya go!

Work Trips
My work trips are known for taking me to odd places. I don't typically go to cosmopolitan cities like New York or Chicago, no. I go to places like Barstow, CA and Beaufort, SC. This was doing work for the Marines, which subsequently took me to the much finer San Diego--and look what happens when I go to more vacation-worthy places! I break bones! I can tell you this, because the work I do for the military is far from military related.

I don't have any photos from my trip to Beaufort (here with me), but that doesn't mean you won't see Beaufort--we'll get to that later. If you've never heard of Barstow, it's a desert town about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It's a pretty down and out kind of place. The primary economic driver is the military base. The desert landscape is something I hadn't experienced before. The winds the day we arrived were soooo crazy.

The town is located on Historic Route 66. As such, it's about what you'd expect--hotels from the era when motoring west was the thing to do. Since then, the Interstate has taken over. (I decided to go B&W for this photo since the exposure was so bad and, you know, it gives it a vintagey feel).

After this trip, I returned to a new office--the second office move of the year. AND, to a surprising geologic event: an earthquake, an abnormal occurrence in the Mid-Atlantic. Because I was in a new office, at first, I thought it was the HVAC system kicking on. Then I thought it was a truck. Then I thought it was jackhammering. Then, I finally got that it was an earthquake and went under my faux wood desk that most certainly would not actually help much if the building collapsed. Fortunately, it didn't, and when the shaking stopped, I followed my Californian colleague to wherever he went. FIgured that was best. Despite being slightly further and the lack of a window, the office move was a good one. We have social events, which is a step up!

The trip that impacted me most (aside from the one that literally impacted my ankle) was one to Clarksdale, MS and Coahoma County. It is about 2 hours from Memphis, but might as well be a world away. I have never experienced such poverty in the U.S. While they were financially poor, though, I did notice a friendliness about everyone, so I am guessing they are rich in other ways. The town has recently gotten more and more attention for its reputation as birthplace of the Blues.  Here are some scenes from my trip.

Downtown Clarksdale

Non-Work Travel
As it turns out, my life is more than work, so I actually got a few non-work trips in. I didn't go on any big vacations, but I did manage a few smaller trips and one slightly longer one.

Know how I said I'd get back to Beaufort? Well, I ended up being inspired to take a trip to the Low Country with my mom in June. It was my first non-work trip to Charleston and Beaufort, and my first ever trip to Savannah. Someone in Savannah described the two cities as similar, but Savannah is the man and Charleston is the lady (or something like that). I liked both, though my experience was better in Charleston, probably for that very reason. Things are more coordinated (Things like the horse carriage rides, which are uber-organized in Charleston. They even have markers to show where the horses have peed so that someone can come by and wash it. THAT is ultra coordinated. That was conspicuously absent in Savannah.) Savannah had a Mardi Gras feel, guess to do with open package laws? I don't know, but that kind of thing doesn't appeal to me.

Jake, our trusty carriage steed

This is me with my new sweetgrass basket and the artisan.

We nearly peed our pants when we saw the turndown service.

Beaufort Waterfront (above) and downtown (below)

Our ghost tour was in a hearse

LOVED this shop--Paris Market

Forsyth Park fountain--a real jewel!

Well, I've decided to cut it off here...stay tuned for a possible vol. 3! Or maybe I'll let the past live where it needs to live and focus on the present and future!