Thursday, August 23, 2012

There's an App For That Too (Goal #2)

So goal #2 of our "resolution list" was to keep up with technology...

How many of you have been put in your place by a child about 20 years your junior with his declaration that “You’re doing it wrong”?  It started with programming the VCR and now the cockiness bleeds into so much more.  That's the fast track of technology, my friends.  I am amazed at how much my children know about iPods, iPads, androids and laptops.  Heck, my son is only 11 and he is learning how to set up servers for video games!  Really?  I don’t even know what that means or if I even said that correctly!  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to lose the edge that I used to have on those little stinkers.

Before I launch into my recommendations of websites and apps, I would like to throw out a disclaimer.  Your life should not be dictated or consumed by your phone, by your e-mail, or by YouTube for that matter.  For heaven’s sake, put the phone down and pay attention to your children and your significant other.  The latest drama with Honey Boo Boo or today’s coupon on Bargain Bee is simply NOT more important than your family's needs. Enjoy the luxuries that technology affords us, but don’t let it RUN your life or your household.

Having said that, let’s shift gears and talk about how utterly awesome and cool it is to have all of this innovative technology at our fingertips.  Most of us have incredibly busy schedules, right?  So why not use some apps and websites that make life just a tad easier for us?  I’m game. Keep in mind that I take advantage of LOTS of other websites that are just plain fabulous, but I’m trying to narrow it down to ones that can assist you in reducing stress in your everyday life.  Mmkay?  Mmkay.  Let’s check out my faves in each category.


Houzz – Want inspiration for decorating rooms?  Look no further.  This website is as addictive as chocolate (well...)  Without naming names, I even have a male neighbor (a manly man) who recommended this website to me. “He had me at design”.  Just kidding, B.  On this website, you can create an account (for free, of course – that’s how I roll) and organize your favorite room designs in folders.  It’s like HGTV quadrupled.  It's a time sucker though, so beware!

Cozi – Speaking of time, this app allows you to grab all those family schedules and pull it into one database.  No more inadvertently scheduling a PTA function on the same night as Tommy’s soccer game.  Cozi keeps it all on one calendar and notifies you of upcoming events.  It allows you to color code for different family members and even has designated to-do lists and shopping lists that can be shared by all!  There’s even a corresponding app for Androids and iPhones so staying in sync and maintaining your schedules and lists on the go is a breeze. 

Mint – This is a great personal finance planner that allows you to download transactions from your bank accounts, categorize them automatically, and produce spending and income reports using cool colorful graphs.  Mint lets users track financial goals, such as getting out of debt, saving for the little stinkers’ college funds or buying that new car. There’s also a thermometer graphic on Mint’s dashboard that gives you an idea of how much you have to save and how long it will take you to get there. The thermometer even turns red if you’re slacking!

Family Fun – This website is so much fun and a must-have for every parent.  Anything from crafts, recipes and printables to a variety of learning games and even party planning.  This site is amazing!

DIY Network – Don’t build a thing without it.  Enough said. – Don’t spend your time going from website to website.  Auto Trader makes car buying much easier because it pulls from both dealers and private sellers within a specific distance.  You can even save your favorite cars when you create a free account!  Suhweet.

Shutterfly – Okay, I grieved with the rest of you when Kodak Gallery shut down.  But I’ve wiped my eyes and my snotty nose and realized fairly quickly that Shutterfly is equally as awesome!  “Plain Jane” prints used to be the only thing you could do back in the day.  Now you can put pictures on everything from a t-shirt to a postage stamp.  Shutterfly is great for greeting cards, photo books and slideshows too.  The possibilities are endless!

Sunny Belle – My favorite website! (grin) Looking for a unique gift?  Sunny Belle has hand-painted wine glasses, water goblets, beer mugs, plates and platters for every occasion!  Check us out today!

Vlingo – Don’t text and drive; speak it instead.  This is basically the android version of Siri. You can give this app verbal commands which will trigger many actions.  Not foolproof, but worth the few seconds to download.
Barcode Scanner – Scan barcodes on products then look up prices and reviews. You can also scan Data Matrix and QR (quick response) Codes containing URLs, contact info, etc.  By the way, QR codes seem to be the hot thing these days.  They are great to use on fliers or even on the backs of business cards or in print ads.  Just the swipe of a barcode scanner gives the consumer a ton of info in a flash.  It’s easy to create QR codes at QR Code Maker.   Try it out for yourself!

Catch – This is great for jotting down all those notes you think about when you’re not in front of your computer.  To-do lists, random notes about anything, tasks, etc. can all be stored on this app and tagged so that you can round up notes by subject matter if necessary.  Another cool thing is that when I use Vlingo to say “Remind me to…” it opens Catch automatically because I chose that app as the default "note taker".  That’s pretty sweet.

Google Drive – I am in love with Google drive which is essentially a cloud server.  No more bringing a flash drive back and forth from one place to the next.  Important “stuff” just stays in the Google Drive and I can retrieve it from virtually anywhere.

Google Voice – Another must-have for small business owners.  First I registered online and obtained a specific phone number that I use specifically for Sunny Belle.   Then by adding the Google Voice app on my phone, I was able to adjust my settings so that when I receive a Sunny Belle call, it has a specific ID and the app discerns the difference and sends the caller to Sunny Belle’s voicemail as opposed to my personal voice mail.  It also allows me to place a call originating from the Sunny Belle phone number instead of my personal cell number.  I could not live without the Google Voice app and it totally eliminates the need for me to purchase a separate phone line for my business.

PayPal – I use it to buy anything and everything and Sunny Belle uses it to accept payments.  The great thing is I can transfer money from PayPal to my checking account while on the road.  Can’t beat that!  And the good news is that more and more merchants are allowing PayPal as a payment method.

Urbanspoon – This app is old as the hills but still a top freebie!  Simply punch in your location and the type of food you’re craving and voila – there are multiple suggestions.  Fun to play around with when you’re indecisive about where to dine.

 Fitness Pal – Free online calorie counting and diet plan app that allows you to easily track your meals and your progress.  Includes customizable fitness plans too.  It holds a database of hundreds, if not thousands, of different foods and their caloric counts.

I hope some of these suggestions play a part in making life just a tad more convenient for you.  Remember, don’t overdo it with technology to the point that your family doesn’t recognize your face, but don’t let a three-year-old show you up on his iPad either.  Keep up my friends and enjoy life while you’re at it!  Cheers!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Virtual Round-trip Tickets to Anywhere (Goal #1)

So in March I announced that I was going to focus on 10 goals for 2012 and I reiterated that it didn’t matter what time of the year we started this process.  Good thing!  It’s now August and I’m just getting around to starting this party! (Time flies when you’re having fun.)  So let’s get to it.
Those who know me are familiar with my love of reading.  Granted, I have much less time for reading these days with Sunny Belle drinking up most of my spare time, but nothing soothes my soul more than opening a book and diving into the great unknown.  Regardless of whether it's a novel, a self-help book (I have my share of those, Sista’), a documentary or a how-to book, I am addicted to the written word and what it has to offer. 
There are two truths about books that I hold dear to my heart, which are summed up in two relevant quotes:
“Never judge a book by its movie.” (J.W. Eagan)  Can I get an “Amen”?  I mean, look at the Twilight series… Fabulous books; Amateur B-movies. And nothing rattles my cage more than a movie that audaciously uses a different ending than provided by the book or completely changes events or circumstances for the silver screen.

“Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere.”  (Mary Schmich)  Truer words have never been spoken.  Okay, except for "chocoholism is a real disease". Anyway...

For the last few years, I have been trying to stress to my young children that the adventures upon which you can embark are limitless if you simply surrender yourself to a book.  Isn’t it amazing to think about the places you can visit, the roles you assume, the personas you embody, simply by reading words on a page? You can explore countries you never thought you’d have a chance to visit and by submerging yourself within the pages that describe the culture, the geography and the communities involved, you feel as though you’ve actually been there!  Come on – who can say they’ve read Eat, Pray, Love and didn’t feel like they personally visited Italy, Indonesia and India?  I was so revived after that book and it was largely due to the virtual three-month vacay I had just completed!

Reading a book has more benefits than many of us realize.  Evidence is all around us from studies and research that prove reading improves your memory, increases your writing, vocabulary and grammar skills, reduces stress, etc.  How can you go wrong?  And best of all, even with all the e-reader technology today, public libraries are still in existence, which ensures free access to thousands, if not millions of books waiting to be read.   
So what am I currently reading, you ask? 
(Or maybe you didn't.)
First, I am knee-deep in a long-time bestseller, the Holy Bible.  Love it, love it, love it.  I told myself LAST year that I would read it within a year.  (Yeah, I missed that by a year and now I am shooting for the end of THIS year.)  Oh, the stories this beautiful literary masterpiece has to tell!  No Christian should finish this life without having read the Good Book.  Having said that, it can prove to be a pretty overwhelming task.  So here are a couple of websites that can assist you in breaking it down.  The Olive Tree has very user-friendly reading plans.  YouVersion and Bible Gateway deserve kudos as well.  Prefer to "read" in your car?  Check out the Spoken Word app on your iPhone or iPod.  It's awesome but his voice is rather monotone, so if you're listening while driving, be sure to do so with 8 hours of sleep under your belt and a cup of coffee.  Just sayin'.
I am also engaged in the Fifty Shades trilogy, which is ironic and comical to some, considering I am reading it simultaneously with the Bible.  But it's sooo enthralling that I can't help myself!  Mea culpa.
Looking for a way to organize your books?  Here are some great websites that enable you to list and organize the titles of everything you've read as well as swap recommendations with others who share your tastes.  Check out Goodreads, Library Thing and Bookcrossing.  I personally prefer Goodreads.
Speaking of sharing recommendations, what about starting a book club?  I have always wanted to do that!  What can be more entertaining than getting a group of friends together to discuss the latest book over refreshments? Check out Book Clubs Resource on ideas for creating a book club. There are no rules; only suggestions. You do what's best for your group.  A book club... I am thinking this could be a viable 2013 resolution... 
In summary, reading can empower you with knowledge and take you places you’ve never been before.  So whaddya say?  Ready for your virtual round-trip ticket to anywhere?  Then pick up (or download) a book today and get on board!  Oh and if anyone would like to recommend something to read, I encourage you to put it in comments so that we can all share in the adventure!  Thanks.  Happy Reading!

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