How to Declutter Your Digital Life

Although my closets are still disheveled and not the best organized, my digital life is in ramshackles.  It is years in the making. Years of digital pictures, switching email accounts, and collecting social media profiles like I was getting paid for each one has left me with a huge amount of clutter.  I have made efforts in the past as I got new devices to clean up my computer files. It is just as important to manage your intake of content and information you keep. You become what you are exposed to!  So here are my tips to get started with me decluttering your digital life! 

How to Declutter Your Digital Life

Sort Your Picture Files

This is the easiest way to start your digital makeover.  First go through your pictures and delete any that are fuzzy or random.  For example, I have a lot of random pictures from screenshots and random memes.  If it is not worth keeping, I delete it. Then create folders based on dates, events, people, or however you feel you are best organized.  Assign those photographs to their respective folders. Do not forget the pictures off of your cell phones and tablets. I find it easiest to have them automatically uploaded from my iCloud.  This is a great place to start because I find looking at the photographs remind me of the happiest times in my life, and love reliving the memories.

File Folder Madness

Make sure to find homes for your files as well.  I have a few important folders on my desktop for quick access related to employment.  The rest are in the documents file clearly labeled. Do not be afraid to make sub folders as needed too.

Clear Out Old Emails

This is something I have years worth of as well.  Create folders for important emails, and delete the rest!  You can even mass delete by selecting batch delete through your email provider.  I am a longtime Gmail user which is good and bad. They have unlimited storage, but do I really need to keep it all?  Definitely not!  

How to Declutter Your Digital LIfe

While You Are At It Unsubscribe

Another useful activity is hitting “unsubscribe” from email lists as you lean out your inbox.  If it is something you are still into, you can usually select a lower frequency of emails. I use this as a tactic to avoid spending money online during my No Spend months.  It also makes the volume of emails you receive considerably less daily. Therefore, it is time saving!  

Run a Virus Scan (Even Mac Users)

This past year, I discovered my Mac had cooties!  I had long believed my MacBook was immune to viruses, and I seemed in the clear for years.  Then one day my Safari browser would not stay on Google and would jump to Bing. This was spamware that had found its way on to my “uninfectable” device.  I downloaded the App Antivirus VK for under 8 bucks. It did the trick scanning my computer and deleting the problem files. Make sure to do this before going onto my next step.

Backup Your Computer

Now that you have done all this, you need to back up your computer.  I do this with a 1 terabyte external hard drive that plugs into my USB.  You can choose a fancier airdrop model or cloud service. You just never know when you may turn on your computer to the black screen of death and the sound of a broken fan blade.  

Now Let’s Talk About Your Social Media

I am ashamed to say that I let social media consume a massive amount of time and energy.  However, there are some amazing connections and awesome experiences thanks to it as well. I have made friends I talk to daily on Instagram and been able to share so much of my teaching knowledge with fellow VIPKid teachers.    On the flip side, it is a breeding ground for negative people and false information. Here are my ways to tidy things up a bit.  

How to Declutter Your Digital Life

Unfollow Negative or Toxic People 

I started doing this all the time across all social media accounts especially FaceBook.  This is something I never regret! There are lots of negative things in the world, but to an extent we can CONTROL what we consume.  Do not feel obligated to follow anyone who promotes hate, false information, or downing posts. Now this is different from unfollowing  people you do not agree with. I am happy to live in a country and time where we can have our own opinions. I just can only handle so much fake news sharing!  

Delete Unused Apps

Some studies say that only 1 in 4 apps are actually used on our phones.  Go through and free up space! Your storage statistics will also give you recommendations on what to delete.  Also be aware if you are paying for an app that renews monthly or yearly. (Check your card statements for these sneaky money leeches.). Be sure to disconnect payment and renewal before deleting the apps. 

Clear the Pinterest Slush Pile 

My pins have reached the tens of thousands.  I love spending time cruising all the clever ideas and tips on Pinterest.  This year marks my 9th year on the website. However, not everything is popular anymore.  (I mean, does anyone really make t-shirt headbands anymore?) It was useful to go through my how to boards like my blogging board and checking the pins.  Turns out, a lot of my older pins were no longer available or had broken links. So I would take it a board and a time in order to delete ‘dead’ pins or things that you are just not into anymore.  

Think of ALL the Things

There are so many electronics probably hidden around your home.  You may have CDs that need loaded onto a hard drive or 500 pictures on your phone to transfer.  Make a checklist and begin decluttering your digital life. A clean desktop will feel just as good as an organized closet!  

How do you declutter your digital life? 

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50 Things To Do While Social Distancing

I am going into week 5 of social distancing and time away from my brick and mortar job. Fortunately, I am still going strong with my online teaching schedule. Posting frequently on the library’s Facebook has also taken up time while I try to remain productive at home. However, days have begun to run together and I only know the days of the week by the students I teach in the morning and early evening. So I devised this list of some productive and fun things to try while stuck at home.

A little encouragement found while walking my neighborhood.
  1. Challenge yourself to discard so many items. (Example: 20 items in a week or 50 in a month.)
  2. Read some books you already have sitting on your shelf.
  3. Try watching some Korean dramas (#kdramas). Many are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and the free Viki app.
  4. Write a letter to a long lost friend.
  5. Scan your old pre-digital pictures.
  6. Learn a new language. (Verbling even offers face to face digital classes in all languages.)
  7. Research your family history online for free.
  8. Take an exercise class on YouTube.
  9. Try those beautiful Pinterest cupcakes.
  10. Keep a video vlog of your feelings during self-isolation.
  11. Host a Zoom Happy Hour.
  12. Plant an herb garden in random containers.
  13. Fill out surveys for cash, air miles, or gift cards.
  14. Pick a movie series you love and binge it with popcorn.
  15. Plan your dream vacation for when all this is over.
  16. Try some thing you loved as a kid again.
  17. Foster an animal in need.
  18. Trades stocks on Robinhood. (Get started with just 10 bucks!)
  19. Satisfy your Starbucks craving by making your own cold brew.
  20. Audit your finances by pulling old card and bank statements. (Challenge yourself to find your biggest money drains.)
  21. Laugh until your sides hurt with the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno. (Warning it is very explicit!)
  22. DIY pedicure. (All you need is some Epson salt, lotion, and your favorite nail polish.)
  23. Clean out your social media accounts.
  24. Have a living room dance party with music from your teenage years.
  25. Read a book on FaceTime to your favorite kids.
  26. Take a free online course. (They are all over right now.)
  27. Dig out the old board games and host a game night.
  28. Find the “Most Instagram Worthy” spots in your neighborhood.
  29. Make a fairy doors for your yard.
  30. Check all your pens, highlighters, and markers to make sure they are not dry.
  31. Back up your phone picks and free up space on your phone.
  32. Camp in the backyard or stargaze from your balcony.
  33. Now is a great time to try that natural deodorant, hair dye, nail polish, etc.
  34. Complete a 24 hour read-a-thon.
  35. Print free adult coloring sheets to try.
  36. Have a tapas night and make sangria.
  37. Repaint a beat up piece of furniture to make it beautiful again.
  38. Make homemade ice cream in tin cans or zip lock bags.
  39. Make a vision board or collage with old magazines.
  40. Visit All Recipes to create your favorite restaurant dish.
  41. Start a gratitude or bullet journal.
  42. Trash all your expired beauty products. (Remember, mascara only is good for about 3 months!)
  43. Make an Amazon Music play list that reminds you of happy times.
  44. Release your inner artist with sidewalk chalk. (If it doesn’t work out you can always hose it off.)
  45. Donate to Feeding America. They need help now!
  46. Record an Instagram TV to share a skill or tutorial to help others. (Pick something you are good at.)
  47. Clean your walls with a magic eraser.
  48. Check into refinancing your mortgage or car loan. (Now is a good time!)
  49. Clean out old email inboxes and unsubscribe from spam emails.
  50. Try something on my 20 in 2020 list.

Get on with it!

I hope this list sparks some creativity and productivity this week. Although I have managed do get what is needed complete, I am still feeling unproductive. So I hope to use this week to get my creativity flowing again to create for this blog as well as new ones I am developing! (More to come later.). I would all my reader fam out there is safe and healthy.

What are you doing during your self-isolation?

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20 Ways to Discard Things

Last month I focused on self-care and well-being.  Since I am writing this beginning my fourth week of self-isolation, I am beginning to endeavor onto home projects.  My top project is cleaning my classroom space, closests, and pantry. (Again using my psychic abilities this content was actually planned months ago.)  So once I pull everything out of storage and create a pile of stuff to discard at my door, what should I do with it?  

This article goes beyond dropping things at Goodwill and thinking of better ways to utilize our stuff besides landfills.  Lately, I have chosen to donate to different places because Goodwill is such a massive profit machine. I also do not want to take for granted what I already have in my home.  So here is my list of creative ways to sell, give, recycle, and repurpose unwanted items.  

Sell

Poshmark, Mercari, and Other App Sellers

I sold on Posmark for several years until about 2018.  (Here is my article about tips for selling there.). App sellers like Poshmark and Mercari are great ways to reach a broader audience with specialty clothing items particularly those that have a name brand.  Selling works best with listing the item with detailed photos and description. Therefore, it is a time consuming process. Both sites take a commission off of your sell and the buyer pays the shipping.  It is a good way to make some extra cash.  

Facebook Marketplace 

Due to safety concerns, I will recommend Facebook Marketplace over Craigslist. (However, still use caution by meeting in a public place and vetting your buyer.)  Facebook Marketplace quickly gets your item noticed by a group of buyers already in your area. My friends recommend placing direct communication on how you will select the buyer if there is more than one person interested.  

Facebook Groups

Joining reseller Facebook groups in your community is a great way to sell locally as well.  Some groups are made specifically for certain items like baby, pet, or home for example. Listings can be much simpler.  It is a great way to sell things in bulk like a group of like outfits. Be sure to read the groups terms and conditions before listing.  Also read comments and discussions to get an overall feel for the way members interact together.   

Consignment and Used Clothing Stores

I recommend this one with caution.  A few years ago, I placed my wedding dress and a Mardi Gra Ball dress for consignment.  They did not sell after over a year and when I got them back they were damaged. They even smelled like smoke!  So I would really check reviews of the place and maybe contact other people who had sold there. Similarly, there are used clothing stores like Platos Closet will buy clothes for cash or store credit.  I did this before moving to Vietnam, but it is a random process. They are picky with what brands and items they will take and the prices are low. When I tried this, I brought them 3 big garbage bags full of clothes and they picked one box worth.  I earned 100 dollars. However, it is 100 dollars more than I had before and it went far my first week in Ho Chi Minh City.

Old Fashioned Yard Sale 

An early morning, weekend yard sale is always a quick way to move things.  However, expect to keep your prices low and patience high. (Yard sale people are intense.)  In these days of social distancing you can host your own virtual yard sale on Facebook or Instagram.  

Give

Humane Society

The Humane society doesn’t just need food and medicine for the animals.  They also need used rags, sheets, towels, and blankets to use in pet cages.  They also take shredded paper and newspaper for liner as well. It surprised me how eager my local shelter was to get our old sheets.  

Fitness Trackers

I have gone through 3 FitBits since 2015.  The one I recently retired is still going, but a little sluggish.  I did not just want to throw it in the garbage. Turns out there is a group called Recycle Health. Recycle Health repurposes your old fitness tracker for those in need.  They also accept the chargers and replacement bands. If you want to donate simply mail the tracker to the address listed at their website. 

Veteran Groups

Non-profit groups that focus veterans are often in need of physical donations.  They can use anything from warm coats to old cell phones. To find out what is needed in your area contact your local VFW or other veterans group.  Keep an open mind to things around your house that can help others.

Domestic Violence Safe Homes

Find yourself with thousands of bath samples from the subscription box craze?  Overwhelmed by 3 semi-annual sales worth of shower gel from Bed Bath and Beyond?  Take these items and donate them to a women’s shelter. I am also sure they could use feminine hygiene products, razors, and other bath products if you have an over abundance.  They are not listed publicly for safety purposes so you will need a contact to deliver them for you. (Hint: A lot of churches have relationships with these groups.)

Public, School, or Classroom Library

Libraries may not be able to use every book donated by adding it to the collection, but they can often resell them to fund important library programs.  (Like purchasing refreshments for the yearly Christmas program.) Most school libraries have more flexibility in what can be put in the collection. I could use some donations as prizes for reading rewards as well.  If all else fails, teachers always need materials for their classroom libraries. Classroom teachers also can use games, flash cards,and art supplies as well to offset instructional costs.  

Recycle

Plastics

A variety of plastics can be recycled including those plastic Mardi Gras cups taking over your pantry!  Before tossing something, consider if it can go in the recycling bin first. A full guide to recycling plastic can be found here.  

Electronics

Several companies offer cash trade in or free recycling of old tablets, computers, and phones.  Apple has a great trade in program that pays out in store credit.  I have also been able to sell broken items on eBay for people to fix or use for parts.  

Mailers 

Reuse bubble mailers sent to you if they are not soiled or too torn. I am still reusing old Ipsy mailers that are sturdy and a metallic pink.  Be careful, to cover all barcodes. The exception to this rule is Amazon boxes.  My friend lost a package because it was sent back to Amazon sorting instead of her sisters!  

Gift Bags 

When you give me a gift bag, I will reuse it.  I also use plain and cute store bags as well. For years, I would use Victoria Secret bags for bachelorette gifts whether they came from the store or not.  

Hazardous Material Pick Up or Drop Off

Do not put caustic things like batteries, paint, nail polish, and other hazardous materials in the trash. Check your state’s policies and drop off locations.  

Repurpose

Think of a Friend 

When I did my book declutter last Spring, I thought of my friends as I discarded.  Share the book if something they are interested in or something nostalgic send it their way!  I sent a book of sea stories to a friend who is a Marine Biologist and a local ghost story book to a friend who has moved away.  Think beyond books and consider personal style, hobbies, and interests of your friends.  

Find a New Home in Your Home

Some things can be more useful in a different room.  For example, I use some little wooden boxes for sorting jewelry.  There are plenty of ways to reuse baskets and bags as well.  

Craft and Art Projects

Discarded items make great opportunities for art and craft projects.  Old t-shirts can become a useful quilt for example. Paper can be used to create artistic collages or even greeting cards.    Check out options online or check out craft books from your local library. However, actually use the items instead of letting it collect as another potential project.  

Fix It Up

Think of yourself, can the thing be fixed?  Check for extended warranties and replacement options with customer service departments.  I plan to get my favorite pair of boots resoled soon. That way I can extend their life.  It is surprising there is a whole market online as well for replacement parts by selling broken items.  Maybe you can even find a tutorial on YouTube to help you out.  

Kids Make Believe Station 

When I was a little girl, I would get in trouble breaking into my mom’s eyeshadow and using it like face paint.  What little kid hasn’t wandered around the house in oversized high heels. Take some of these items to create imagination stations for the kids in your life.  Camping plates make a great kitchen set. Old clothes can be a princess wardrobe. This is a fun way to give things a second life.  

Think Before Trash 

I hope this post has you thinking of all the possibilities out there for things you do not need anymore.  As landfills get bigger and resources get strained, it is a good idea for all of us to practice some thoughtful reusing practices.  I know as I begin to clean my house as the quarantine days grow longer, that I will be pressed to ask myself some of these questions as well.  I at least have a good start to finding the answer.  

How do you discard things?

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2020 No Spend Review

My post in January about this year’s no spend feels like a lifetime ago.  Literally the world has been turned upside down.  When I embarked on my yearly saving’s stretch, I decided the most exciting thing would be a road trip to Journey in Atlanta where I would allow myself to get Starbucks on the way there and back.  (Spoiler that was cancelled.) Until the end, I can say that I did okay following my rules. Here are my thoughts and break down about my most recent exercise in living frugally.

2020 No Spend Review
A walk on the beach was a great way to enjoy the afternoons without shopping!

2020 Challenges 

The biggest challenges come at the beginning and end of the no spend.  My goal was a little longer this time with 3 months. As usual, I crave stopping for coffees throughout.  I made a few exceptions this time. Ed and I also took a road trip to Oxford for friends and a concert. That night, I splurged for the 28 dollar Uber back to where we were staying. (I know yikes!)  Otherwise, I did stick pretty closely to my 30 dollar social budget.  

However, I feel like no spend is a punishment after a few weeks.  It is difficult to turn down social engagement for nights inside. Also, seeing everyone’s Instagram posts of their Starbucks orders are so tempting. The days can begin to feel a little repetitive a few weeks in.  Sometimes I just wanted to go wander somewhere instead of going straight home after work, but did not want the temptation.  

January 

My first round of no spend worked fine since I was overwhelmed with both Christmas spending as well wel medical bills.  I had the lucky situation of having to pay a hunk of my deductible for December and again for tests in January. That paired with my need for sleep caused me to cut my VIPKid schedule drastically.  I taught about half of what I normally do and it was fine. Being on a strict no spend helped me find a way to manage my financial and self-care delima. I cruised through January above water and with a little cash to spare.  

February 

This is the month I had a road trip to Oxford and the outrageous Uber fare.  My friends and I also enjoyed Mardi Gras within the social budget. Ed and I also completed a No Spend Valentines enjoying a good dinner together of dumplings we made at home.  I went on a quick business breakfast at Greenhouse as well to network with a fellow VIPKid teacher.  By doing this, I was able to pay a chunk of medical bills without going into my savings right away.

2020 No Spend Review
Our big social outing during our no spend was to see The Weeks in Oxford, MS.

March

This is where things get hairy according to my self-imposed rules.  First, I treated myself to Greenhouse Biloxi after a doctors appointment with a fasting test.  Then talk of self-quarantines, social distancing, and lockdowns began. So I decided to try to support as many local businesses as possible with the upcoming hard times.  I made a point to get coffee and carry-out from some local places. This past week would have been my final week of no spend, but it was pretty much a wash around the 16th when my library job was shut down.  

What I Learned This Time Around

Each time I complete a no spend challenge, I take something new away.  My first time helped me break my shopping addiction.  Last year I found I sometimes used loopholes in coping with spending no money.  This time it proved to be annoying while I worried about different things in my personal life, but was forgoing things that could have comforted me.  It did teach me to enjoy the little things at home instead of getting too annoyed. I certainly took more walks outside, sat on the back porch, and spied on my hedgehogs snacking in their cages.  

2020 No Spend Review
Finding ways to enjoy myself without spending money.

What is the longest you have gone on a no spend? 

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How to Part with Books

Many of my friends will think this is an April Fools post.  I mean seriously, who can have too many books?! The answer is me, I had too many books and still do. The book discarding project happened because I wanted to move overseas, and still do.  However, in the process, it is difficult to store a whole home and books take up the most volume when you have a collection like mine.  There were three overflowing shelves, books hidden around the house, and this does not include online copies of books on my Nook! I discarded several boxes of books before I left for Vietnam, but still had more than I can read in a life time.  So last spring, I set to discarding my massive book collection. 

How to Part with Books
My shelves were worst than this!

Pick Your Reasons

Before you begin sorting through your mountains of books, define why you are beginning this project.  Are you downsizing to a smaller place or preparing for a cross country move? Do you want to focus your to be read pile in a more appropriate manner?  Do you have dreams of Instagramable #shelfies with your beautifully styled and color coordinated bookshelves? Think of these reasons first so you can better decide your parameters of discard.  

Emotional Cargo

Books are some of my favorite possessions and most precious.  I have painstakingly collected them over the years. (Or hoarded them however you prefer to look at it.). They represent different  stages of my life and reading interests. Some were treasure found in antique bookshops or given to me as gifts. I swapped, thrifted, and dug through donation boxes in library book sale rooms.  When I was feeling wealthy, I would go to Barnes and Noble or Books A Million to buy new copies.  

So like any keepsake it becomes difficult to part with them.  It is made even more difficult if you love the stories in the pages.  I also have my own FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to all the books I own, but have not read.  

Get Sorting

So now that you have explored your why, and the emotional parameters of sorting books, now it is time to.  Get started. Here are my tips to get started.  

Don’t Do It All At Once

This task cannot be completed in one day.  I recommend breaking chunks throughout a day or over the course of a few days depending on your personal library.  Figure out a system to sort the books. All mine originally were in a big cluster besides the ones read on one bookshelf.  I sorted by books I would definitely keep, and then been sorting the ones I was unsure of after. Think of the method that would best serve you.  If you are visual, sorting by color and size may be better. Academic researchers may need to sort by topic or time period. Heavy fiction readers may need to think of all their genres and create a balance.  

How to Part with Books

Questions to Ask Yourself

For me, sorting the books was an agonizing decision.  I am a mood reader so I worry that each book I discarded would be a book I craved later.   Here are some questions and filters you can use in your own process.

-Are you done with the research or content in this book?

-Will you ever re-read it?

-Do you still like this author or genre?  (We can only read so many Twilight knockoffs)

-Are you still doing that hobby?

-Look at the book reviews.  I discarded anything below a 3.25 on Goodreads.com 

Find Them a Good Home

Many of my books went to places that could use them.  For example, all my YA books went to a friends high school classroom.  I placed many in the book sale room in the library as well to earn money for kids programming.  The best were traded into my local favorite book shop Southern Bound Books. Now I am using the credit to find meaningful gifts for friends’ birthdays!  Some Goodwills are no longer taking books so I recommend finding a place where they will be appreciated. It does make parting with them much better! 

Find Electronic Copies 

If times get desperate, you can always change to digital copies.  Countless classics are even available for free online with services like Open Library or the Gutenberg Project.  I found some under 5 dollar copies of physical tbr books for my reader. This is a creative way to save space and have the material still at your disposal.  Remember, you can usually find a copy at the public library as well!   

Is It Worth It? 

It was hard, but after a couple of weeks, my shelves were so much better off.  I could find what I was looking for. My shelves are much more visually appealing with room to fit my knickknacks and picture frames.  Also, it is much more manageable. Since organizing, I have only purchased one physical book. Just one! Although it has been tempting to buy others.  Instead, I order them from the library to read or stick to what I have. The day has still not come, but I hope to see a bare spot on my shelf eventually.  One can hope right?!

Can you part with books?

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Finding Yourself Abroad: A Practical Guide to Moving Overseas

Ever sit at your cubicle under fluorescent lighting dreaming of adventure.  Day dream of seeing cobble stone street instead of strip malls on your commute home.  If you have ever considered traveling away from the humdrum and trying something new this article is for you. I have twice moved myself overseas.  Once in 2008, as an international student in Scotland and again in 2017 to teach English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  

Here is what I learned from these experiences and researching a lot of other scenarios as well.  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
Imagine your lunch break here! (Luxembourg Gardens, Paris)

Think of Your Why (Include goals)

Wanting to move overseas is not enough to get you there.  It is a process that is an exercise in patience, organization, and sheer will.  The way there isn’t always apparent nor is it easy. So before even researching, write a list of what you want out of living as an expat.  For me when I left for Vietnam, I wanted a shorter work week, launch my career as an ESL teacher, and of course have an adventure. So think of your career goals, skills you would like to develop, as well as your personal goals for the future.  Then think of how they could be improved by moving away. 

Be Open to Different Countries

Many people ask me about Europe or Latin America first when chatting about living overseas.  I mention this fact first because I want to drive this point home early. It is best to be flexible on what country you want to live as an expat.  The reason for this is because some careers and countries have different needs depending on the place. Let’s use teaching as an example. Teaching English in Europe is difficult for Americans because of VISA requirements along with the fact that U.K. Citizens can easily work on the Continent.  Alternately, South and Central American pay their teachers very low. So it is difficult to live there comfortably even with the low cost of living.  

One way to avoid disappointment is to make a list of several countries you could see yourself living.  Think of places you have visited and cultures you admire. Use that as a starting off point to begin researching.

Look at Cost of Living Versus Earning Potential 

It is important to research carefully and weigh the pros and cons when considering cost of living.  When looking at jobs check into their going salaries in the countries you want to live. A lot of information can be found on international expat boards like Dave’s ESL Cafe and others.  Also consider the time of an average work week versus pay. Will you have to commute from affordable housing? How much would that cost? Make a list of your normal expenses in a month like utilities, cell phone, rent, and compare them to your dream locations.  

On the same note, I almost accepted a job in Hong Kong managing two school libraries with an International School.  However, my salary was not as good as it sounded due to the expensive housing market in the city. I also would have been faced with a crowded commute and 50 hour work week.  It was more reasonable to take a 20 hour work week with the pay scale offered in Vietnam. Especially when considering my average dinner costed 2 dollars!  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
One of my favorite strolls. (London, U.K.)

VISA Logistics 

The most frustrating, confusing, and tedious process of moving overseas is deciphering the rules for the VISA.  However, it is the most essential. Nothing can happen without the endorsed passport and proper paperwork. Here is my basic breakdown of the process.  (Seriously it gets complicated, so consider this the cliff notes version.)                           

What is a VISA?

A VISA is your legal authorization to enter a country for a certain period of time.  All VISAs have an expiration date and they vary depending on country rules as well as purpose.  They have fees attached and will request documentation that you meet the requirements to enter the country as dictated by their government.  Some will require proof of employment, degrees, and some medical records. It will certainly vary from place to place. So do not assume after researching one country another will be the same process.  (Even if they are right next to each other or on the same continent!)

3 Common Types of VISAS

Here are the three main types of VISAs that are commonly used when entering foreign countries.  

Student VISA

This was my first VISA issued to me when I moved to the U.K.  It is given for the sole process of studying in that country. They last for the extent of the length of the academic program.  Some have a limited option for employment. (In 2008, I was allowed to work 20 hours on my student VISA.) The documentation required proof I could afford study in the U.K., my medical records, and proof of my academic achievements using official transcripts/degrees.  

Tourist VISA

Some countries do not require this, some you need this before entering, and others you need one if you stay past a certain time.  They are only meant for touring and short visits. It is illegal to work on a tourist VISA in almost all if not all countries. So only use this for vacation time!

Work VISA

If you are reading this article, you probably need a work VISA.  Therefore, you will probably need to find a job before you leave to be sponsored.  There is a popular belief in some countries like Vietnam or China that you can go on a tourist VISA and find a job there.  However, this is a terrible way to do it because it sets you up to be scammed. It would also require you to pay to leave and re-enter the country on the correct VISA.  (Also known as a VISA run.)  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
This could be your backyard! (Tarragona, Spain)

How to Get a VISA

Consular websites for countries should give you the basic rules for all VISA types.  Find the locations of these embassies as well in your country. Most employers will give you the steps for a work VISA or their Human Resources will guide you through the process.  For my British VISA, I had to send all my documentation to the consulate assigned to my state including my actual passport. My company in Vietnam used a service to email a letter. My temporary work VISA was granted upon entering the country with that letter.  Read the fine print, often your passport cannot be expiring within 6 months.  

Note:  Sometimes you have to pay a VISA service to get your passport endorsed at an embassy.  This is the case for our Chinese tourist VISA.  

VISA Costs 

Be prepared to pay several hundred dollars in VISA costs.  Some companies will pay it for you. (Lucky you!) I have also heard of companies reimbursing you the costs if you stay with them a certain amount of time.  Most of the time it is up to you. So when creating your move away budget, make sure to be aware of the VISA costs.  

Do You Have to Teach English?

You do not have to teach English to move away.  However, it is a popular path for many. Take into consideration your past employment, skills, and degrees.  There are marketing companies, and media outlets that have English content overseas. Check to see if your own company has international divisions or partners. Maybe you can do the things you need for a transfer.  

Many people I met in Ho Chi Minh City started teaching English, but quickly moved on to other industries once they found the right contacts.  So it may be a good idea to use teaching English as a springboard to get started.  

Ways to Prepare 

You found the perfect place, right job, and your VISA is on its way!  Now what? Here was my basic process when leaving for Vietnam, and I would use it again if the opportunity ever showed up again. 

A Guide to Moving Overseas
This used to be a common walk for me! (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Discard Stuff

Seriously, the least amount of stuff you need to store the better.  I only got to get rid of some of my things before leaving. It was stressful for my husband and me.  So I recommend only keeping the most important things. Consider if your couch is on its last leg anyway or if you would prefer new plates when coming home anyway.  I listened to a great episode of Rise Together about a financial author, David Bach, who relocated his family to Florence. (Obviously, this was pre-virus.). The best advice he gave was to think if you would really want that item in 3 years.  You won’t miss much of it I promise.

Check Air Miles, Etc.

Leaving on a jet plane to an uncertain future?  No better time to cash in rewards or air miles. Remember, if you are part of a frequent flyer program in an alliance you can apply those points to airlines within the group.  Also check on credit card rewards. I used my Capital One Card to fly to Ho Chi Minh City for 15 dollars after fees. That is right, 15 dollars!  

Scan and Gather Documents 

In country, you will need official documents. That means your ORIGINAL degrees and such.  That is right, you might have to take it out of the frame and stick it in your carry on. What I did was create an accordion folder of my originals and copies.  I even left a copy of everything with my family state side in case something went astray.

Documents to Scan and Photocopy:

All Degrees

All Academic Certifications (Example: Teachers License) 

Official Transcripts 

Passport

Drivers License

Shot Records

All Credit and Debit Cards

Any International Insurance Plans 

Medical Prescriptions 

Save Money

Moving always has costs, but moving overseas can have big costs.  Be prepared to pay fees from apartment deposits to cell phone activation.  If there is some time before you leave, it is important to have some money when arriving overseas.  

Call Credit Cards and Banks 

Banks and credit cards will cut you off if you use them overseas without verifications.  Call the customer service located on the back of your card and let them know your plans in detail.  Also, know how ATM fees work in your new place and the max you can withdraw in a day period.  

”Trade the typical for something colorful”~ Greatest Showman
(Lisbon, Portugal)

Pack Less Than You Think You Need

My first jaunt living overseas I brought 2 rolling bags and mailed 2 boxes.  I didn’t even use everything I sent. So when I moved to Vietnam, I downsized to a medium rolling bag, a large North Face Crestone (60 liters), and a rolling suitcase.  It was fine, but I think I want to go smaller next time! For example, I brought some of my favorite OPI polish not realizing I could go for a gel mani/pedi for $11 a pop.  Most places you can get what you need. Here is a quick hack while you are making a packing list. Join an expat group for the city you are moving to. Then ask your new friends what they recommend you should bring!

As recommended by a dear friend who has also made this life change, bring something that can remind you of home. I would not recommend anything valuable to heirloom. However, a stash of pictures or a special necklace can be a great comfort moving to a strange place.

To Be Continued!  

There are so many more things I can tell you, but for now I will leave you to absorb this information.  In the future, I will make a part II to this focusing on helping you get acquainted and acclimated when you get to your new county.  I will say that you need to be prepared for a difficult psychological and emotional time. But you are also setting yourself up for an amazing adventure that you will be telling in your old age.  

What country would you move to?  

A Guide to Moving Overseas
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Books I Wish Were Movies or T.V. Shows

When curating my list for last month’s post about my favorite book to movie adaptations, I was surprised that there are so many books that I would like to see on the screen.  Going through my bookshelves made me so thankful that I was able to read so many amazing stories.  I would like to see each of them adapted for various reasons. Here are my reasons here! 

Books I Wish Were Movies or T.V. Shows

Infernal Devices Series by Casandra Clare 

The steampunk sub genre is my top guilty pleasure even before bodice ripping romance novels.  The images of clock gears with Victorian petticoats brings out the romantic in me, I guess. However, I have found very few steampunk books are even good much less wonderful.  The Infernal Devices series is my one exception so far in my reading journey.  The first book, Clockwork Angel, begins as a prequel to Cassandra Clare’s wildly popular Shadowhunters series.  There are so many things that make these books amazing like a love triangle, hot dudes, machine army, and an interesting mystery throughout the series.  

Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles is a four part series that uses a post-apocalyptic world to retell the fairy tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White respectively.  In this world, there is a plague, and earth has colonized the moon creating a group of people with powers to manipulate minds. The main character is not only a strong female character, but also a cyborg.  Certainly, the amazing book cover of the red shoe in the robot foot would make an amazing teaser poster.  

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson 

I read this book while spending time traveling around Spain.  It was my first read by the author Maureen Johnson, and it has really stuck with me.  (Although, so many of her other books should be adapted too!) After the death of her beloved, but eccentric aunt, Ginny is surprised by the delivery of a large backpack, debit card, and package of handwritten letters.  In those letters, her aunt sends her on a quest across Europe retracing her steps and teaching her about life along the way. It is the best combination of travel writing and Y.A. Contemporary I have found.  

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert 

This book was such a pleasant surprise for me.  Amy Reichert did so well describing love and food in vivid detail.  The two points of view are from a chef and a food critic. They happen upon each other and make an agreement to get to know each other without any preconceived notions so they do not share what they do for a living.  Little does the chef know that the food writer slammed her restaurant with a scathing review. The story unfolds and I would love to see this as a romantic comedy.  

The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson

The first book The Kiss of Deception had me hooked by just the description!  Princess Lia escapes on her wedding day to a small fishing village deciding a life of being a royal wife is not her thing.  Two men go after her, one her jilted fiancé and other an assassin sent to kill her. The story is told from all 3 points of view, but you don’t know who the assassin is until the end!  It is fast-paced and exciting. It would be a great epic series for Amazon or other big streaming service that could keep us binging for seasons.  

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This book jumps between modern day Hollywood to a small island of the coast of Italy in the early 1960s.  The story twists from there with a love story. I love the descriptions of the Italian coastline and little villages.  The story could echo back to the colorful movies with Sophia Loren. I was able to get lost in this plot and it was the perfect compliment to my road trip in the Florida Keys.  I could imagine this book making a great movie for a girl’s night. (When we can all go out again and stop social distancing.) 

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The expatriates writers that lived in Europe after World War I lived as exciting lives as those found in the stories they wrote.  This book takes the perspective of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley and creates a story of their early years in Paris. It is the perfect compliment to read with a Moveable Feast as well that was published after Hemingway’s death about this time as well.  All timelines and facts are true, but it is nice having her perspective. I watched a movie a few years ago with Clive Owen as Hemingway long after this time called Hemingway & Gelhorn.  However, I think it would be a great view to have a young Hemingway on screen as well.  

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova 

This book is a modern day Dracula hunt like none others written.  It is also an epic journey through places in Europe. (See a theme here with me?)  It is an easy story to get lost in. A young girl living in Amsterdam goes searching for her missing father that is linked with his hunt for Dracula.  It turns up many surprises about her family, the past, and how we perceive the family vampire.  

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein 

This is my only World War II themed novel on the list because 2 that I really love are being adapted this year!  (They are All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.) Code Name Verity focuses on a strong female friendship between a young pilot and spy.  They both end up in German occupied France and all choices they make are life or death.  

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

This book is so magical, literally.  It is about a pair of dueling magicians chosen as children to compete in a magical competition to the death.  (They are pawns to settle the argument of nature versus nurture when it comes to magic.). The circus is the platform for their challenge.  Each night something new and mysterious is added to the attractions. When they fall in love things get really complicated. The nightly elements would make this book a great television series where each episode portrays a new feature of the circus.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray 

This final book could replace my love of Pitch Perfect as my favorite quirky movie.  A group of reality show stars cast for a show about a beauty contest crash on a deserted island.  Think Lord of the Flies, but with glitter. It is hilarious, but also takes a real look at our values in society.  

That’s a Cut

This list was a fun way to revisit my Goodreads ‘read’ pile and look at my physical bookshelves as well.  I chose all of these books based on how amazing they were in my head when I read them. I think they would translate well to film, but it would be up to Hollywood to do them justice!  

What book do you wish will be adapted to movies or television?

Books I Wish Were Movies or T.V. Shows
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Hacks I use to Manage Anxiety

I promise I am not psychic!  This is another topic that is a hot-button issue.  Although we have been recommended to stay at home by all the governing agencies it is easier said than done.  There are issues of making our bills, paid leave, and what in the world will we do with all these kids out of school.  Just going to the grocery store and seeing the empty shelves can trigger doomsday feelings these days. I have been dealing with anxiety for years with varying degrees of success.  Here are my simple ways of managing my anxiety.

**Disclaimer:   I am not a doctor or mental health professional.  Do not take my word as diagnosis or the best course for you.  Please consult the advice of an expert instead.  

Hacks to Manage Anixety
Anxiety can creep into daily life. A few deep breaths can help.

Get Some Rest:  Actual and Physical 

These two are linked so much they cannot be separated.  Lack of consistent sleep has been attributed to obesity, over-production of the hormone cortisol, and even chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.  In the short term, it causes a faster heart beat and our bodies to release more adrenaline. In short, it exacerbates anxiety that is already there. Also, not allowing ourselves time to decompress or pause our minds from stressful situations keeps us in a fight or flight state of mind constantly.

It isn’t easy to get rest on both counts.  Especially when you work a job with weird hours.  However, it has helped for me to make a point to take an extra 30 minutes to sleep by going to bed earlier or allow myself 45 minutes to rest on the couch.  Find ways to get more rest, and it can certainly approve the way you start your day.  

Cut Caffeine and Sugar

Anyone who gets heart palpitations from a big cup of coffee can agree with this.  I actually am not too badly affected by a normal 8 ounce cup of coffee. However, even I feel on the verge after a venti iced coffee from Starbucks.  (Even though it is so good!) For various health concerns, including my anxiety, I have made a point to give up coffee over several periods of my life.  Since I have decreased my caffeine intake to one cup every few days, I can say it does make things more mellow. The same goes for sugar.  

A word of caution though.  When getting off both coffee and sugar you will feel worse before you feel better.  There are several Youtubers that chronicle this experience well. Caffeine withdrawals can cause some rip-roaring headaches.  So I recommend replacing your coffee with some green tea first that has a quarter of the caffeine before going off completely.  Kind of the same with sugar, by finding a lower sugar item like a few pieces of dark chocolate instead of a piece of cake, 

Hacks to Manage Anxiety
Focus on gut health in order to help with feelings of anxiety.

Make Lists and Organize 

Everyone knows that I am an avid traveler.  I am always planning or fantasizing about my next adventure.  From my freshman to senior year in college when I first started flying, I was petrified to fly.  I would count the minutes until we landed safely on the ground. This past trip to China, I let the time move naturally without counting it.  I slept, watched movies, and finished two books on the way back. Instead of worrying about not having control, I decided to take control of my time on the flight.  This helped me a lot.

Therefore, when I feel overwhelmed with something that I could control, I make a list or a plan.  Take out a notebook and write a to do list in stages prioritizing the most important tasks first. This will help put the problems in perspective and give you some control back.  

Hacks to Manage Anxiety
Check lists are a great use of brain space instead of worrying.

Focus on Eating Things with Magnesium 

Studies have shown a reduction in anxiety with more magnesium.  It is possible to have magnesium from supplements, but definitely consult a physician first! I do not take magnesium supplements, but I make sure my snacks are foods known for the mineral.  Some examples are raw almonds, spinach, avocados, and others. Here is a list of other magnesium rich food.  These have other health benefits and they improve my overall mood as a whole.  Find a food and add it in!

Focus on Gut Health with Good Bacteria 

Another possible anxiety trigger is poor stomach health.  Our stomach is a microcosm of bacteria that aid in the digestive process.  When these are out of whack or overtaken by bad bacteria digestive all kinds of discomfort ensues.  But the issues go beyond indigestion and heartburn. The stomach is also important to the health of our brain as well. Some professionals even call the stomach the second brain!  Therefore, take some time to analyze your gut health. I did not have issues until I was put on medication to deal with my issues in 2015. 

However, since then I have to be careful and make sure I am allowing good bacteria to enter my system.  I do this through refrigerated probiotic capsules and no sugar added plain greek yogurt. Note: Probiotics are a popular label now on many grocery store items. Most products that are not refrigerated are just gimmicky not offering what you need in terms of probiotics.  I recommend finding a health food store to consult when looking for helpful bacteria strains. It may sound gross to try bacteria, but it can really assist with curbing anxiety.  

Exercise Someway Somehow 

Exercise can help in multiple ways.  Getting your mind off of the worries, improves overall health, and releases feel good endorphins. Not to mention the calming and relaxing benefits of yoga.  I mentioned in my last post, that there are plenty of exercise tutorials on YouTube.  Try some different things until you find the right combination for your personality, interests, ability, and schedule.  

Try a Focused Task

When my mind is running like a stampede of horses, I try a very detailed task in order to calm it.  I prefer tasks with my hands where I have to concentrate on the details. My top three tasks are adult coloring sheets, crochet, or playing my ukulele.  There are plenty of other things you can do from home like embroidery, painting, crossword puzzles, and the list goes on and on. If it is healthy, and offers a good distraction, use it to help calm a bout of anxiety.  

Hacks to Manage Anxiety
Give detailed tasks a chance when feeling anxious.

Talk with a Friend 

Some nights having a beer under the stars with my friends at a campfire have been as calming as meditating.  There isn’t anything better than knowing you are not alone and have wonderful people to support you. I found my time with encouraging instagram friends to help me feel the same way.  Find people that honestly want to help you, and care about you. 

The Bottom Line 

Do not keep it all in.  If you feel like you do not have someone to talk to, find a therapist.  They are even online now! 

Do you have anxiety?  How do you manage anxiety?

Managing Anxiety
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Things You Can Learn on YouTube

YouTube has changed the way we video media since it began in 2005.  I remember laughing over the videos “Charlie bit me” and “The End of the World.”  About 6 years ago, I began consuming more YouTube videos for make up and body product reviews. I had to trade that form of content consumption in because I found myself with more product than I could use on all the sensitive skin in South Mississippi.  So lately, I watch YouTube like I do with podcasts to entertain and inform.

I cannot believe all the things you can begin learning on YouTube.  There are some skills you can go from beginner to master all using their free video content.  Now that my librarian life has been put on pause because of social distancing, I have time to try some more of these as well.  Here is my list of things you can use to learn on YouTube.

Ukulele

This was one of the first skills I tried to pick up on YouTube.  I got a ukulele on a whim one day in Vietnam when I felt lonely. Some of my teacher friends lived off of a street that sold nothing but different kinds of guitars.  After visiting about four stores, I found my perfect little pineapple shaped soprano ukulele. Hence began my ukulele strumming career. There are so many ‘how to videos’ and song demos to try!  I particularly like The Ukulele Teacher, and recommend downloading his app as well. 

Handcrafts-Knitting, Crochet, and Sewing

My first instruction on crochet was by my grandma on a summer day when I was in the throws of pre-internet boredom.  I would not trade that memory for anything, but I am glad that there are other options to learn stitching. Being an immediate adopter of the Baby Yoda or The Child trend, I was dismayed to find out Disney had not released a plus Yoda while The Mandalorian was streaming.  Turns out there were a ton of crochet patterns on Etsy to buy with a picture demo. I got one, and then looked at the pattern in confusion. Luckily, my friend Lisa Markle Sparkles recommended using YouTube to find the patterns needed to complete my new friend.  I did learn how to make the magic ring stitch, but have not completed the Yoda. (Hey another social distancing project!)

Fitness-Yoga, Pilates, Zumba

No need to pay for a class or allow others to see you sweat.  There are videos for any form of movement you can imagine. I have used YouTube for a relaxing 7 minute bedtime yoga video or a kick my butt abs workout.  I really like the fun and positive personality of the blogger Blogilates

Meditation 

Meditation and mindful breathing are actually very difficult to master.  People work years gaining peace and calm while meditating. Use beginner and tip videos on YouTube in order to start your own journey to enlightenment.  

How to Pack a Carry On

These packing tutorials are like my drug of choice.  I am always trying to find the next best trick to save space in my carry on.  There are also great videos reviewing bags, suitcases, and showing you what they packed.  It is easy to spend hours seeing how people fit the most in their small bags. There are also videos where expats recommend what to bring to your destination.  (Quarantine tip: Watch travel vloggers as well like Kara & Nate and Where’s Poppy to dream about your next vacation once travel bans are lifted.). 

Work Your Latest Gadget 

For my besties bachelorette we took an epic girl’s road trip to Savannah.  We enjoyed the weekend among the moss and southern grandeur. The problem was, when we went to leave our  AirBnb to drive home, we could not figure out how to unlock the key lock! YouTube came to the rescue in order to help us find the factory code to unlock the compartment in order to return the key.  I have also used YouTube to safety use my Instant Pot. If you are confused on where to start on your newest purchase, chances are you can find step by step guides on YouTube. Ditto for cleaning and maintenance!  

Financial Management 

I do not recommend using YouTube as your only financial advice.  (Definitely discuss your plans with a financial advisor before putting your money anywhere!). However, if you are a complete newbie to investing and savings, it is a good place to start.  If nothing else, it can help you decipher the difference between a stock and a trade. There are also great videos taking advice from professionals like Dave Ramsey and applies them to real life.  Kristen at The Gold Project does well explaining real life saving practices in her household.  

Start Your Novel 

Turns out, many of us have aspirations to write some kind of book.  Whether it is the next Harry Potter or a cute illustrated kids book.  But there are so many excuses and technical problems that get in the way of meeting that goal.  Make it a little easier by checking out Writing with Jenna Moreci.  She is a fun personality that is witty and frank.  Jenna became a writer through the success of self-publishing her first book Eve the Awakening. Check out her content library in order to get writing!  

Let the Search Bar Lead the Way

I cannot believe the timing of this post.  My posts are planned weeks to months ahead.  It is coming out at a useful time as we learn how to deal with the interruptions to our daily lives.  So many things are available if you want to give them a try!  

What have you learned on YouTube?

Things You Can Learn on YouTube
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Apps for Growth and Productivity!

Continuing with this month’s theme of self-growth, I decided to share some apps that help me be more productive.  Usually, my phone is a big time suck, but there are plenty of ways it helps me be more useful.  Using these apps has helped me fall asleep, save time on errands, and even save money. I have tried many and these are the ones that have lasted.  Here is my list by device including iPad and iPhone. 

Apps for Growth and Productivity!
Use technology to help instead of hinder your time.

IPAD APPS

Notability

I use this app with my Apple Pencil and iPad Pr.  This is a paper app that I can use to write and draw using the Apple Pencil.  I love doodling and writing. The app has a variety of colors and paper types.  It even includes my favorite dot grid paper! Noteworthy also has unique features to jazz up your spreads like images, gifs, and a highlight feature.  Here is a walk through video if you are interested in learning more.  

Simply Yoga

This is a free app that gives a beginner yoga lesson.  The lesson has increments of 20 minutes to one hour. The instructions are clear and there is a video demonstrating the movements as well.  They even guide with breathing along the way as well. It is a great intro to yoga for someone, like me, who is a true beginner. It is a great way to relax before bed and begin a routine to practice some flexibility.  The only downside is there are some pop-up ads before the lesson and in the side bars.  

White Noise

This app saved my sleep when I was living in Vietnam.  I realized the city was the noisiest place I ever lived quickly.  My hotel room was the first on the second floor by the stairs leading to the lobby.  Then, my apartment was sandwiched between two construction sites. So I downloaded this app and put on my full sized headphones after picking my perfect relaxing sound.  I rotated between ocean, rain forest, and my favorite campfire!  

IPHONE APPS

iTunes U

Brush up on whatever interests you!  iTunes U offers free lectures from top universities and their faculty.  When I was trying to pass the US Foriegn Service Test, I used iTunes U to listen to courses on government, international policy, and American history.  There is plenty to choose from and it can be streamed easily to any Apple device.

Podcast Apps-Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and iHeart Radio

There are plenty of more than those mentioned above.  However, I love using podcasts to entertain myself and learn while I walk.  I have a post in 2018 and 2020 about some of my favorite podcasts. Best of all, they are free!

Walmart Grocery Pickup

This app has saved me over an hour of grocery shopping and temptations of impulse buying.  I use the Walmart Grocery app every few weeks when I am short on time.  Pick up times can be made up to 5-6 hours in advance depending on availability.  It is free as long as purchases are over $35 dollars which isn’t a stretch for us!  

Skyscanner 

Skyscanner has been my go to flight search app since the demise of my favorite one in 2018.  It is the closest I have found to matching On the Fly’s algorithm showing cheap flights by the day.  While Skyscanner doesn’t give the price for everyday, it will give the cheapest days in a month’s view by marking the day with a green dot.  You can still use it like most flight searches by changing combinations of days, trips, and arrivals in order to see a variety of prices. I scored our tickets to China for about 700 dollars using Skyscanner.  

Reduce Screen Time With an App? 

One app I would like to try in the near future is one that decreases screen time.  I am mortified how much time I spend on my phone and social media. So, I hope to find the right app to help me put it down.  There are many out there and some mentioned in this article.  Does anyone out there use one of these?  Which one do you prefer?  

I wanted to mention this since our ultimate productivity really happens when we turn off the television, phone, tablets, and computers.  Well, at least shutting off the internet function.

What are your favorite apps?

Apps for Growth and Productivity!
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