Category Archives: Reviews

Best Instagram-Worthy Photo Editing Apps

I’ve seen it happen all the time. Well, I haven’t actually seen the process happening before my eyes, but I have witnessed the backlash. I’m talking about the inevitable outcome of using poor editing on an Instagram photo. Photos with amazing potential get squashed under the weight of others that were more creatively or professionally edited. Well, you don’t have to be a “professional” in order to ensure this never happens to your Instagram feed. You just have to do a little research on the appeal of edited photos and then use the right technology to get the job done. To help you out with that, I’m sharing my list of the best apps to use to get amazing Instagram-worthy edited photos.

Camera+
You may have seen this one popping up in the Instagram world, and that’s because it is so great for taking and editing photos. The grid setup on the camera allows for even a beginner to learn perfect posing and framing rules. The camera also has the ability to use wide angle, telephoto, and duo-camera functionality. Once you get into the Lightbox editor on the app, you can use “The Lab” to enhance your photo to its fullest edited potential like I did with the photo on the left when I turned it into the photo all the way to the right.

Lightroom
I would be letting down everyone if I didn’t talk about Lightroom in this post. This is a photo editing app for your phone based on the ever popular software for your computer that you can download through Adobe. A cousin to Photoshop, Lightroom allows the user to flawlessly edit their photos with very minimal knowledge about the “fancy stuff.” There’s even a really helpful Presets function that makes theming your feed as easy as possible. If you’ve ever found yourself staring at a Photoshop screen like “What the hell do I do with this?” then you need to get Lightroom. It is more user friendly, and there are easy to follow how-to videos for Lightroom all across the Web.

Canva
Okay, so, Canva is mostly used for editing graphics. But it has some pretty useful photo editing tools too! And you might need to put a graphic on your Instagram. Let’s say you just started a meeting group (like a book club or something). Canva can help you take a photo of your first meeting and turn it into a beautiful promotion piece with pretty writing and doodles on it to make you stand out!

There are plenty of photo editing apps in all of the app stores. These three are the ones that work for me, but you might be able to find one that you feel functions even better for you. The most important thing to remember is that your style is your style. Apps and other tools are just there to help you bring it out.

Do you have any other apps you use to edit your Instagram photos? Let me know in the comments below!

My 5 Most-Used Apps

Hey everyone! Today I want to talk about the most-used apps on my phone. As a photographer, digital media manager, and writer, I have a LOT going on – especially on my phone! My 5 most-used apps help me focus on individual tasks and be as productive as I possibly can. Keep reading to find out what they are and how I use them!

  1. Alexa App (free; Dot is ~$40 on Amazon) – I have an Alexa Dot and use it mostly for home organization; my husband and I can both add to our shopping list or to-do list and can set different reminders based on which of us is talking to Alexa at any given time. It does so much more than that, but that’s how we use it most frequently!
  2. Cozi (free) – This is another one of those that my husband and I both have which helps to keep our home organized and running smoothly. We use the Cozi app to sync up calendar items (and set who is attending each item) and to plan out our weekly meals and who is cooking. The app also has pre-loaded recipes that we’ll refer to when we run out of dinner inspiration!
  3. Productive–Habit Tracker (free) – I can’t say enough about this app; it has honestly changed my habit game. You can set multiple different habits and assign a “completion schedule” to each individual habit. Every morning, I wake up and check this thing and just start checking things off the list. The app also has a “stats” section where you can keep track of which habits you fail to complete the most often or how many perfect days you’ve had. So great!
  4. Forest (free) – Okay, I think you guys have seen me talk about this on my blog before, but I LOVE the Forest app so I’ll talk about it more. It works to get you off of your phone while you’re trying to complete a task (or series of tasks) while also giving you a chance to make a real-world difference. You set a timer in the app for however long you’d like to work without checking your phone; I usually set my timer for 25 minutes then give myself a 5-min phone break before starting to work again. While your timer is going, if you don’t check your phone, the Forest app starts to plant a tree in your “Forest” in the app. Once your timer is up, the tree is fully grown (the longer the timer, the bigger the tree). If you check your phone or exit the app while the timer is going, your tree dies. The more larger trees you have, the more in-app coins you can earn. For every 2500 coins you collect, the Forest app developers will plant a real tree somewhere in the world!
  5. LightRoom (free) – I couldn’t resist putting a photography app in this mix as well. The LightRoom iOS app is completely free (whereas the actual software for a PC or laptop will cost you a premium), and there are so many cool functions. I am currently playing around with LightRoom “presets” that allow you to apply the same editing macros to any photograph. This has helped me so much with my Instagram branding. The app also keeps any of your edited photos in its own storage silo in the Cloud so that you don’t have to worry about losing anything. So nice!

Well folks, that’s it – my 5 most-used apps. Do you have any apps you use on the daily that you think your fellow readers would enjoy learning about? Drop them in the comments below!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post (a day late – whoops!). If you did, be sure to hit that “Like” button or subscribe to the blog – I would really appreciate it. Until next time!

Review of the Plum Paper 8.5 x 11 Notebook/Life Organizer

Getting married, moving into an apartment with your new husband, learning how to manage your finances, and maintaining a good standing within your semi-new workplace is an extremely long list of just a few of the life areas I’m trying to balance right now. There is no way that I could do all that without a system in place, and I’ve been searching for that system high and low the last few months.

As part of my search, I recently purchased a notebook/organizer thing from Plum Paper – an online stationery and office supply company. I wanted to share my experience with this process in the hopes that someone else may benefit from this product review.

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The first thing you do when you’re ordering the product online is choose your ideal size. My organizer is the 8.5” x 11” notebook. Next, you pick the cover design. I chose the painted streaks in the blue color scheme because I love notebook covers that don’t have structured shapes on them. Even my Erin Condren planner cover is lacey and not structured.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 7.03.14 PMScreen Shot 2018-06-19 at 7.05.08 PMNext, you choose the tabs you’d like to include in your planner. The more tabs you choose, the more expensive the organizer gets. It was for this reason that I decided not to get all of the ones in the “Lifestyle” section – even though I would LOVE that. The tabs I chose to get were budget, fitness, blog, social media, and photography. Each tab includes 12 duplicated month overviews (without the month written in so that you could start/stop the tabs at any point in the year). Each tab also has at least one other kind of page that you would use for the entire year (not a duplicated 12-month inclusion). I’ll list all of the tabs below and let you know what I think of each of them on a purely organizational level.

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Budget

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 7.07.57 PMThe budget tab is great because while Ben and I have our separate accounts, I can keep track of them individually or push them together. The duplicate page is designed in such a way that you can provide information for more than one account if you needed to. I also love the pages in the back of the budget section that allow you to see your monthly income/expenses as a year-at-a-glance.

Fitness

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 7.15.37 PMI haven’t really started using the fitness tab yet, but I plan to very soon! Its monthly duplicate page is comprised of a numbers-and-goals setup; you would indicate how many pounds you wanted to lose, but you would also set goals for yourself like healthy eating a certain number of days of the week or getting out to exercise “X” times a month. I like that the fitness section isn’t just about the numbers; the first page is a year overview of your health goals and manageable steps to reach them with an added bonus of an affirmation section that you can read when you need the motivation to keep going.

Blog

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 7.15.58 PMI actually ordered my notebook with two blog tabs so that I could use one for Gray Graphics (obviously) and one for the blog I want to maintain on my church’s website. I’m in love with this section; it allows you to plan out the posts you want to write on the duplicate page and how you’re going to write them using a longgggg four pages of “Blog To-Dos” in the back of the tab. There are even spots to write how many followers you have after certain blog posts (to track your viewership and growth).

Social Media

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 7.16.19 PMThe social media tab is another that I haven’t gotten to use much. Its duplicate page is designed to help you plan out your posting dates. What I find extremely helpful is actually the first page of the tab which is a guideline for best posting days/times for the four major platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter). Under that, there’s even a section dedicated to the best hashtags and post topics to use throughout the week!

Photography

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 7.17.46 PMThis is one that I need to dive into like right now! The photography section caters more to those who make a living off of a photography business (such as I would like to be able to do). It includes duplicate pages for “Location Scouting” to keep track of those beautiful places in which you’d like to photograph and “Photo Session” details to help you keep track of your clients. This section is pretty awesome.

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Overall, I love the durability, paper quality, and cute-factor of this organizer. I’ve already used a few of the tabs in a larger capacity, and I hope to get into the others even more soon. There are lots of other tabs available to use in your own planner/organizer, so go check out the website for more information. Just Google-search Plum Paper!

‘Flatliners’: Why It Isn’t Crap Like Everyone Thinks It Is

No one who is alive knows for certain what happens to us after we die. Through religion and science, we who are among the living can speculate, but to truly know requires one thing only – dying.

The new Flatliners movie expands upon that concept. A group of five medical students – Courtney (Ellen Page), Ray (Diego Luna), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Jamie (James Norton), and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) enter into the world of the afterlife through an experiment that Courtney initiates. They stop their hearts for a minute to three minutes (depending on the person) and then are resuscitated after they experience the beyond.MV5BMTExMTk2ODk0NDNeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDMxNTExNjIy._V1_UY1200_CR80,0,630,1200_AL_

I went into this movie blind; I had never (and still have not) seen the original Flatliners, and I hadn’t read any reviews on the new movie. With no prior information about what the previous movie was or what others thought about the new one, I was able to watch the film with a clean headspace. And I loved it.

The question the film wrestles with – what happens after we die – is one that humanity has been trying to answer for so long. The writers of this film use empathy, thrills, and human nature to give their audience one explanation – that there is no one explanation.

In an interview with Screen Rant, Ellen Page said that she sees Courtney’s afterlife experience not as a stock “rush” but as an “ambiguous…brain firing” that is different for every person who dies – because we all experience different things in life.

A lot of the reviews that I’ve read in preparing to write this blog post were negative. Actually, I couldn’t find one positive review on this movie in the hour that I spent researching. What I did find, however, were a lot of comments based on the original movie. (And most of these critics contributed to the 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)MV5BMjE1NjExOTcwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjY5Mjc0MzI@._V1_CR0,60,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_.jpg

The original Flatliners was apparently not as thrilling as this 2017 version. James Norton (who plays Jamie in the new film) says in this interview that he enjoys the horror aspect of the movie. He also made the comment that this is not a “reboot or a remake” but “[their] own thing” which I completely agree with. Too many critics now are so focused on judging the present based on the past.

The actual aesthetic of the movie is beautiful. The camera follows the grad students in wide angles when they’re in the hospital – a nod to the fact that they’re on display to their superiors. It keeps close during horror shots, lurking around the corners of the set as is typical for thrilling scenes. The image quality of the movie is striking; even though there are no far-off “landscape in the distance” kind of shots, viewers can still appreciate the magic of each flatliner’s after-life experience. Courtney sees “pure energy” in the form of balls of light – something beautiful that I wouldn’t mind photographing – and Jamie rides on the back of a motorcycle with city lights streaking past him.Ellen-Page-in-Flatliners

Like I said, I loved this film for what it is – a spooky and beautiful look into the ways in which our minds react to death and loss.

13 Things I LOVE About “A Series of Unfortunate Events”

I just recently finished reading all 13 books of A Series of Unfortunate Events. In honor of finishing a series of this magnitude, I thought I would write my review of the novels in list format. So, here are 13 things I absolutely LOVE about A Series of Unfortunate Events!

SPOILERS ALERT

  1. The author seamlessly teaches vocabulary in the plot itself!
    • If Snicket uses a word or phrase that he thinks children won’t understand, he subsequently explains it – most often by saying “a word/phrase which here means…” and then offering a contextual definition. It’s an amazing way to keep kids interested AND learning at the same time.
  2. The novels are for kids, but there are some adult-y quips and situations.
    • For example: at one point, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire meet another youngster – Quigley – and he and Violet really fancy each other. They climb up a mountain together to do some villain-scouting, and they start talking and getting to know one another. Quigley calls Violet beautiful, and Lemony Snicket then proceeds to tell his reader that he won’t disrupt the privacy of the eldest Baudelaire by revealing “what happened between those two young adults that day.” … I won’t say, either, but it’s not sounding very kiddish.
  3. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are not held to gender-conforming standards of interest.
    • Violet is a girl who loves machines and inventing (and, we’re explicitly told, did not play with dolls as a child). Klaus loves reading and researching and has almost no knowledge of machinery; he relies on Violet for that kind of knowledge. And Sunny – who is a baby/toddler during almost all of our time with her – is never given an expressly feminine or masculine trait; she just likes to bite stuff with her very sharp teeth.
  4. The nicknames for the children are consistent between volunteers and villains (children vs. orphans).
    • Volunteers are the noble people of the novels, and villains are the more heinous people of the novels (or so it would seem, but things are not always as black and white as that). All of the volunteers refer to the three children as “the children” – or some other endearing term. All of the villains refer to them as “orphans.” This makes it somewhat easier for the reader (who is left in the dark about some people’s identities) to decide for themselves who is “noble” and who is “not.”
  5. People die (and don’t come back).
    • That sounds morbid, I know, but it’s actually a good thing. Whatever side of this debate you’re on, we can all agree that it is an inevitable fact of life that all people pass away some day. Once someone is gone, the only way we can connect with them is in our hearts and when we pass on ourselves someday (as long as you believe in that sort of thing). Violet, Klaus, and Sunny at one point in time believe that at least one of their parents is still alive. When they find out that they are truly gone, the children are overcome with a second wave of grief. But they are able to keep going on with their lives because their lives are demanding. This teaches anyone reading these novels that even though people pass away and it’s sad, we have to keep going. Because life is demanding and tricky, but we have to try our best to live it.
  6. Friends get separated but there is still love in everyone’s hearts.
    • Even though you may never see or speak to a friend again, you’re always still thinking of them. Even if you ended on bad terms, you think of them from time to time and wish them the best in life. There are some lessons of that fact in these novels.
  7. Not everything is explained in nice succinct ways (or even at all, sometimes).
    • Life is messy, and these novels epitomize that idea. No one has the ability to explain all of life’s mysteries (literally, for the Baudelaire children), and no one ever will. You just have to roll with the punches.
  8. Each book teaches a different way of dealing with worldly events.
    • In some of the books, the Baudelaires work with each other to overcome trials, but in others, they have to divide and conquer. Not every decision we have to make has a clear right and wrong, and the children have to do some things they aren’t proud of in order to survive and figure out who they are in the world.
  9. The books are short and easy to read…
    • For children – or someone super busy like myself – reading an entire 13-book series sounds like a challenge. But because these novels are short (average 250 pages with somewhat larger font), it’s a breeze to read four or five of them in a month.
  10. …but they’re not so short that you find yourself wondering why you’re reading them in the first place.
    • Even though they’re short, the novels are packed with action and mystery. It doesn’t feel too fast or too slow – everything happens right when it’s meant to.
  11. Lemony Snicket is the author and a character we never meet (but have simultaneously already met…).
    • This is somewhat confusing. Lemony Snicket is a volunteer – a noble member of a secret organization – who is dedicated to investigating the Baudelaire story. So, he is the author of the books. But there is always the feeling that he is closer to his own investigation than he is letting on. In the last few books, we find out that he is related to some of the characters in the series and (big twist) involved with the Baudelaire family in a very close, very real way. But we never meet him as a character in the novel; he never writes himself into a scene or anything. But we’ve already met him – as the writer. (Still with me?)
  12. There are so many connections that the reader can make (but that never explicitly get told) that reading the novels starts to feel like an investigation in and of itself.
    • We as readers have to piece together certain information, and it becomes like an investigation into all of the unexplained mysteries the Baudelaires have had to deal with in the novels.
  13. The book’s ending is neither happy nor sad.
    • ​I felt really unsatisfied with the ending – because it wasn’t happy but also wasn’t sad. I think that’s a good thing; life is neither happy nor sad because it doesn’t truly end. Even when we’re gone, our stories continue to affect the outcomes to the stories of the people close to us – or who were even remotely connected with us in life. No story ever truly comes to a happy or sad ending because no story ever truly ends. That is unsatisfying when reading a 13-book series, but that’s the point – to be unsatisfied and curious.

I absolutely loved these books! Were there things I didn’t appreciate? Sure – the fact that the suspense in the novels sometimes feels debilitating is one (but I realize the necessity of the reader feeling that way). But all-in-all, the “good”s far outweigh the “bad”s. Go and read these books! Seriously – they’re quick reads with amazing narrative styles. I deem them Sierra-approved!

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14. The last book ends with a twist. Don’t ask, just make sure you’ve read ALL of the sheets of paper in the last book…