I Love Technology That Makes Life More Simple

Technology That Makes Life More Simple | Inkwells & Images

Most things in life could stand to be more simple, including life itself.

I find it fascinating that as humans we love to complicate things: make them harder, more complex. I think it makes us feel like we are working harder, accomplishing more. Me, it just makes me less patient and more angry and I have a hard time dealing.

So for the last couple of years, I have sought to simplify things. To unsubscribe, declutter, and choose quality over quantity. It’s a continual process, this streamlining of life, but just this last week I was feeling like I had finally got the hang of it. I was no longer overwhelmed by my inbox or my shopping list or the stacks of papers on my desk. They were no longer weighing heavy over my waking moments.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out, but I’m going to share some tools that I have used that have helped me get organized, automate some processes, and take a little bit of the guesswork out of everyday living. These are things that work for me – you may have different or better systems and tools. And if you do, I’d love to hear about them!

Unroll.Me - Technology That Makes Life More Simple | Inkwells & Images

1. Unroll.Me

This FREE service is a lifesaver. Once you sign up, it allows you to “roll up” all of your email subscriptions that you still want to be part of, unsubscribe to the ones you don’t, and leave in your inbox the ones you want to see as soon as they come. Then, the service delivers ONE daily email with all of those other emails in it – the 30% off sale fliers, the weekly LinkedIn digests, etc. – and files the originals in a folder in your inbox in case you want to access them. At first, it allows you to unsubscribe to a handful of emails and then makes you share the service at least once before allowing you to continue. No big deal: send out a quick tweet (others will thank you) and then keep rolling stuff up! This keeps my phone from dinging 800 times a day, and helps me to reevaluate if I really need to click that SALE advertisement email. Cost: FREE

YNAB - Technology That Makes Life More Simple | Inkwells & Images

2. YNAB (referral link)

YNAB stands for “You Need A Budget” and it is the software we have been using for over a year to manage our finances. It’s a $60.00 one time purchase (the referral link above will get you $6 off) that you download onto your computer (PC or Mac). You can also download the app for iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire, and your budget syncs via Dropbox across all the platforms, allowing you to see up-to-the-minute figures for your spending and saving. I recommend using the tutorials on the website to get started. If you are currently in debt, the YNAB system helps you arrange your budget to get out of debt faster, and the goal of the system is to get you off living paycheck to paycheck. We find it helpful to keep track of what we have in each “account”: gas, groceries, eating out money, etc. so that we aren’t overspending. It also keeps track of those rainy day funds for you, so that you know you are saving enough each month toward yearly expenses like car insurance, real estate taxes, and your Amazon Prime membership (the important things, guys!). Cost: $56.00 with referral link [<— That number should be $54.00 – as you can see, I REALLY need YNAB to help me with my math…]

Dropbox - Technology That Makes Life More Simple | Inkwells & Images

3. Dropbox (referral link)

Most of the internet already knows about Dropbox, but in case you are a last holdout, it is amazing. It’s a cloud-based service that you download onto each device you own (all platforms). It then keeps the files you put in it synced across all those devices. Need a copy of your résumé to email to someone? Save it in Dropbox and access it from anywhere, anytime. Random new use I found: I keep an annotated map of where I live and where I need guests to park when they come to visit in Dropbox. Anytime someone comes to visit, I send them an email with my address and the parking map, regardless of whether I am on my home computer, work computer, or on my phone in the car. I use Dropbox for documents and photos, and Evernote does everything else for me. Cost: Free for a certain amount of space, which takes a while to use

Evernote - Technology That Makes Life More Simple | Inkwells & Images

4. Evernote

I used Dropbox for documents like PDFs and photos, but Evernote is my true cloud software brain. In it, I store recipes, articles that I want to save, grocery lists, my address book, family birthdays… the list goes on and on. Speaking of lists, Evernote is also where I keep my list of books to read, list of books read, list of books to buy, list of books borrowed from me, and list of book recommendations for other people. I like books, and Evernote helps me keep that intense liking organized. I can also access all of my notes on every device, which lets me add books when a friend recommends them, check a recipe in the grocery store if I can’t remember how much of something I need, or pull up my list of birthdays when I am buying greeting cards to make sure I don’t forget anyone. The software makes every note searchable, so it’s easy to find stuff later. You can also share notebooks with other users – a friend and I planned a joint vacation that way last year. Cost: Free for most features with limited uploads (I have ever crossed this threshold). Premium is $45.00 per year, and comes with more features and more space 

iCloud - Technology That Makes Life More Simple | Inkwells & Images

5. iCloud & iCal

If you are a Mac user, these are essential. Scott and I recently sat down (on Christmas day, actually) with our various devices and got all the settings right so that we can effortlessly share our calendars. It involved singing him up for his own iCloud account (finally) so that I stop getting all his notifications. Now, whenever one of us adds a new event to the calendar, it automatically syncs to the other calendar. We’ve color coded things so that we know if it’s something only Scott needs to do, or if it is a work event for me and not him. In the three weeks we’ve been using this system, it has saved us so many back and forth texts and so many “I forgot” conversations. We’ve been putting things on the calendar (like date night a week ago & when we need to sit down and work on the budget together) so that other things don’t crowd them out. Life saver. Cost: Free for a certain amount of storage. I pay $0.99 per month for extra 

What tools have you found that make life a little easier? I’d love to hear about them and maybe even try them out!

Story in Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Story in Review: Longhorn by Joy Baker | Inkwells & Images

A retelling of Pride & Prejudice, but from the point of view of the servants, Longbourn by Jo Baker is a delightful read. If you are a fan of P&P (I most certainly am), and are always eager to read just a little more from the worlds of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, then you will probably enjoy this book. I was a bit surprised at how little we do see of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy – but I supposed I shouldn’t be: after all, the original doesn’t mention much about the servants at all. Longbourn takes the mentions of Mr. & Mrs. Hill and young Sarah and amplifies them, crafting characters that you come to love as you are drawn into a story.

The book is a love story, but throughout the novel we also see a young woman who has even less agency over her life than the young women upstairs, how money really and truly matters in this time period. As someone who once read P&P with the express task of highlighting all passages where marriage is spoken of in terms of currency, I found the lives of servants and their ability to leave their post (or not) purely because of who they are fascinating.

Favorite Quotes:

“When she was a girl, and still growing, ravenous, whenever there had been a cake… Sarah would never even let herself look at it, because she knew it was not for her… So Sarah would stare instead at the carpet underneath her feet… even to glance at the cake was an impossible agony. And for months, she realized, James had hardly looked at her at all.” – p. 157

“Words had become overnight just little coins, insignificant and unfreighted, to be exchanged for ribbons, buttons, for an apple or an egg.” – p. 173

“This was a beautiful disaster, and it could not be undone.” – p. 174

“Sometimes, she thought, it might be better just to disappear from notice, than to attract a gentleman’s particular attention like that.” – p. 198

“Some people can, it seems, be redeemed. The blots on their characters can be sponged off, and though the mark might never be gone entirely, it can pass unnoticed by all but the keenest-sighted… These people can pass muster in a crowd, or amongst strangers; they can be made good enough again for everyday use.” – p. 286

And so many more.

What made this a good story? I love that Baker introduces each chapter with a small quote from the original text. It helps to place each scene along the timeline of the original, and gives new meaning even to some of the most well-known lines of literature when they are interpreted through different members of the household. Baker’s voice was enchanting – well-paced and with just enough Austen in it to make it believable.

What could have made this a better story? At times, the language was a bit archaic – even beyond that of the original. Baker seems to reach really far back to make the novel authentic, but at times sacrifices readability. There are also some chapters that drag a bit compared to others, but in a book this size that is pretty common.

What do you think? Have you read Longbourn? What other Pride & Prejudice-esque novels should I tackle?

I read this in 2014 as part of The Empty Shelf Challenge. I hope to have room in The 2015 Book Project for more of literary fiction like Longbourn.

My Word of the Year for 2015

My Word of the Year for 2015 -CREATE  | Inkwells & Images

I never chose a word of the year for 2014. If I had to choose one retroactively, it would be “survive.” We survived downsizing from house to apartment. I survived over-committing myself and two separate job changes. It was a tough year, in which I constantly felt like I was making no progress, but in retrospect, I was. I made a lot of tough choices and set myself up for a better 2015. At least I hope so.

With that in mind, for 2015, I’m going back to the word I failed at in 2012: “Create.”

In 2012, I had just started my first full-time job after college. I was in the middle of serving on a pastoral search committee, a task that took a year and a half of meetings and a lot of emotions. I was in my third year of trying to sell a house that just wouldn’t sell. It was probably not the best time in my life to choose a word for the year so ambitious as “create.” But I did because what can I say: I was clueless. I really had no idea how much creating takes out of you.

The answer: a lot.

But this year, I think I’m ready for it.

Over the last four years, I have soaked up as much publishing advice as I can. I have read books on writing (and continue to do so). I have attended a conference, webinars, twitter chats. I have built a website and started blogging regularly. I have even met with and gotten advice from one of my favorite people on the internet, publishing consultant Jane Friedman (if you are a writer, go follow her blog and immediately get lost in the archives).

But I haven’t consistently sat down to write my book. It’s much easier to absorb than it is to create. 

So this year, I’m throwing research to the side and sitting down to create.

Why Not Just Choose “Write” as Your Word?

I chose “create” and not “write” intentionally. I want to allow myself a little freedom to take a day off now and then and pull out my camera. I need to be able to blog and participate in social media alongside writing a novel. I also want the freedom to create community as I write: responding to emails from other writers, reading other blogs and participating in the comments sections.

If I had chosen “write,” I would probably feel guilty whenever I spent time on any of those other activities. And I’m trying to be kinder to myself, so not creating guilt is a good thing.

And let’s face it: there are going to be evenings when I come home from work and need to curl up on the couch with a book. Or a half-dozen episodes of 30 Rock. And some chocolate.

I really believe that all of these are important to cultivating creativity, so long as you create as much as you consume. That is the tough part: finding the balance between the two.

So if I spend the morning writing a blog and scheduling out social media, I’m letting myself off the hook if I need to come home and just go “bleh” on the couch at the end of a long day.

I’m going to try to keep most of my Saturday mornings free for longer creating sessions. Large chunks of time are going to be important as I sort out plot points and learn the rhythm of my novel.

And if things get out of balance, I am going to hit the restart button and try again.

So I’m going to go create. There’s only 345 days left in the year.

GO CREATE.

What’s your word of the year for 2015?