Data Privacy

It’s a big a topic these days- after the revelation that political firm, Cambridge Analytica had stolen massive amounts of private user data through FaceBook, the topic of privacy rights is hotter than ever. A few months back, I was curious to see what Google had on me. After all, everywhere you turn, Google is watching you. They have a vast network of Google Ads on nearly every website.

When I first came to the realization that I’ve literally been using Google services for over a decade, it made sense that they probably had a decent amount of information about me. I went to my Google Account Settings and requested to download my data. What I didn’t expect, was just how deep their insight into my day to day life really way. I assumed that my online traffic would be tracked well-enough. They of course would know which videos I watched and searched for on YouTube, which ads I actually click on (which I rarely do, out of spite and hatred of ads), and of course, the multitude of Google online tools I use day to day like Search, Calendar, Drive, etc.

What I wasn’t expecting, was how much Google knew in between those services, and how much they know about my offline activities. Online, they use a system of cookies, tracking you from site to site, allowing them to know the how’s and why’s you go from one online place to another. Between knowing your location with Google Maps, with or without actively using the app, and leveraging rewards programs like Balance Rewards from Walgreens, to points systems like Plenti, Google has numerous ways of knowing how you shop in traditional brick and mortar shops, too- not just online stores.

The files they have are VAST. Google Maps is a well-oiled machine to tell you how to get from point a to point b, and offers so many features- but at what cost? The app is free. Having a google account is free. Gmail is free. Online storage is free. Photo storage is free. Online productivity tools like Docs, Slides and Sheets are free. So how are the developers getting paid? How are the Google Maps camera drivers getting paid?

It’s because of you. YOU are the product. They know who you are, where you live, where you work, what your average commute is, how often you fill up on gas, which places you frequent, where you shop, where you vacation, how often you vacation, your age, gender, browsing habits online, how susceptible you are to ads, what your advertising weaknesses are, what grabs your attention, what only grabs it for a second, what brands you like, what companies you trust and so, so much more.

That’s a lot of info.

And yes, it’s a bit overwhelming. And yes, it’s normal to feel scared. It’s intimidating to find out that there’s not only someone out there that knows probably more about you than your mom, but that that someone is actually a company with 10’s of thousands of employees, and that your private data is being used against you, to get your money.

For some people, maybe this doesn’t bother them. And that’s okay. As a consumer, you get all these ‘free’ conveniences- a communication system (Voice), an online storage service (Drive), productivity tools (Docs, Sheets, Slides), a navigation system (Maps), an email account (gmail), and the rest of the Google suite of tools and services. Many people will say they don’t mind their information being collected and analyzed, because that’s how those services can be improved on.

But for people like me, I would rather those services be improved, not because I’m the product, but because I’m a paying, valued customer. I’d rather know that the products and services I use improve because the company that provides them is ethical, and that my transactions and day to day activities are not being used against me.

And this is where Apple “Thinks Different”. Their customers are valued, and the products they develop are thought though. They don’t rely on building personal profiles on the millions of people that use their products, with their every action, swipe, commute, tap, and fingerprint tracked. They instead use general statistics- ‘blind’ data to reference when determining enhancements and improvements.

The data that Apple collects on me, is about specific to me as the fact that I have brown eyes.

Heard enough about what Google knows about you? Ready to open your eyes to what they have on you?

Click Here to learn how to request your private data from Google. If you’ve been a long-term user of google services, (think, Gmail, Maps)- then expect to wait a few hours before you’re notified that the data download is ready. In the meantime, you can browse your location timeline, and review the types of data Google sets as default to ‘on’ with your google account from the Google account home page.

I strongly recommend you collect your Google data to gain perspective on the difference between what they collect, versus Apple. When you’re ready to see an example of what Apple collects,

Click Here to read the USA Today article, which reviews at length, the data that came back from a personal data request.

I’m really well-versed with products like G Suite, their productivity tools like Drive, Slides, Sheets and Docs- but me and my household will remain loyal Apple customers, because of their ethical standards, and how they respect their customer’s data privacy. You get what you pay for.

Posted in Technology | Leave a comment

Self-Doubt and Confidence

yin yang

What they say is true: Confidence is sexy. It’s easy to get through life with that mantra, without looking much further into it, because there’s a lot of truth in that statement. It’s hard to argue that people who seem to always know exactly what they want don’t have a certain allure to them. But there’s something to be said for self-doubt. Self-doubt is like our own check and balance system. Without some self-doubt along the way, we’d never question our decisions. And I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: those that have never doubted their decisions truly aren’t confident; they’re simply foolish.

Second-guessing, self-doubt, double-backing, re-thinking- they all point to the same thing, which is truly exploring all of your options before making a decision. When you go to the grocery store, is every single item you’ve considered buying in your cart when you check out? Of course not. While shopping, surely you’ve gone to the length of heading back to the other side of the store to put something back because you changed your decision? I know I certainly have. There was a time when this used to embarrass me, but not anymore. I’ve realized over time that, as smooth and sexy as swift decisions look from the outside, it’s hard to pull off in real life. Pulling off effort-less takes a lot of effort. To come off smooth, you have to roll-out a lot of wrinkles and rough edges.

“Perfect doesn’t exist”

What I mean by all this nonsense is really quite simple- perfect doesn’t exist. The illusion of perfection only exists because of the numerous imperfections that are just beneath the surface. When you go to your favorite theater to see a performance, you’re seeing the illusion of perfection- the performers have spent countless hours rehearsing and practicing. They’ve worked-through faults of their own and through faults of their cast-mates. They even know what kind of mistakes might STILL pop-up during a show, so that they can work together to form that seamless, perfect-looking show that you paid to see, with you none-the-wiser that mistakes were still part of the show.

The same concept can be applied on a broader-scope within our lives. Whether it’s a major purchase, a job, a lifestyle change, a new diet, your relationship, the living room paint color, even your friends- it goes on and on. There’s no shame in re-thinking a decision. There’s nothing wrong with doubting yourself. In the end, you’ll do one of two things- you’ll either make a better decision that improves your life, or you’ll find renewed confidence in your original decision.

So with that in mind, it’s important to always uplift each other as we make new decisions on our journey of life. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we all face similar predicaments in life. No one wakes up one day and knows exactly what they want and how they’re going to get it- every little step along the way is a process, just like it has been for you, and for me.

Stepping_stones_over_the_River_Cover_-_geograph.org.uk_-_416069

 

 

 

Posted in Pockets of Sunlight | Leave a comment

How (and more importantly, why) I left FaceBook

Hi! You’re probably reading this for a very simple reason: The link to this site is the last post I made.

But…. Why?

There are many, many reasons. The first and foremost? Health reasons. Yes, that’s right, health reasons. I wanted to go on by rationalizing that no, it didn’t cause some kind of disease, but the truth is, it kind of did. You see, by being on one main social media site, over and over and over and over (and over and over) again, you become really de-sensitized to certain things. Between the fake news sites that go viral, to BuzzFeed and all of it’s copycats, to birth announcements to terror attacks- it’s a lot of information, all at once, and in the end, we just become numb to that flood of information, and react with less and less gusto, and become more gullible to more information sources.

Fake News! Fake News!!

First, I want to talk real quick about the real ‘fake news’ that’s out there. Publication after publication goes viral on FaceBook. But how many of them have honest, credible sources? Very few. In fact, there’s so much other ‘noise’ on FaceBook, that even the sharpest of minds, the brightest of intellects, are fooled by this game of repetition. You might ask then, “If these articles are so full of crap though, why do we continue to expose ourselves to them?”. It’s because these posts are designed to grab your attention, and make you want to read them. You know those ads that pop up about 20 seconds after you’ve clicked the link? How many times have you re-opened that article, just so you can finish reading the page? I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and we all know it’s mostly out of spite at that point- you know the article was meaningless- you only half-heartedly care about the ‘truth’ behind coconut oil benefits anyways, but you’ve already gotten this far, you’ve *clicked* on it, and you want to see this decision, this impulse, this action through to the end…. So you re-open the article another time or two, just so you can read a paragraph or two that leads to nowhere, and now you can move on down your news feed. But back to that article… where were the credible sources? At this point, it doesn’t matter. The whole point of that article, and the all-too perfectly yet imperfectly-timed pop-up ad, was to get not one, but multiple page views out of you. Guess what? It worked.

Think about it. Let’s say you run a media website, and you want to make a profit. How do you make your website profitable? By selling ads on your site. How do you appeal to an advertiser over other websites? Well, as a company interested in placing ads, I want my ad to be seen, which means I’m looking at the traffic and volume on that site. If every single visitor actually visits twice per visit, that looks GREAT for potential advertisers! So, to make the most money, why don’t you put together a whole HOST of sites that run this? That way you can sell TONS of ads, and then, eventually, you can move your way up the slimy advertising ladder to bigger, slimier tasks. In the meantime, though, most of us consumers are left to wade around in the muck.

The FaceBook “Routine”

Second. Let’s talk about when we “Check” FaceBook.

Wake Up

During breakfast

In the elevator- yes, even when there’s no connection. We’ve ALL scrolled through a timeline that only has the few posts that loaded in the background….

At stop lights on the commute to work-

Or- every time a bus or train has access to cell service or wifi

When we make our coffee

Breaks at work

Lunch at work

Down time at work

To avoid conversation in the hallway

Waiting in line- anywhere, and for everything

Before we get in the car

More stop lights

When we finally can sit down on our couch after a long day

Before bed

That’s ALL day. And maybe not all of these apply to you. Props! If you go most of the day with full focus and attention on the tasks at hand and on your own goals, whether personal, professional, or otherwise, then this really doesn’t apply to you. But for most of us, we can nod in recognition that we have been guilty of checking off most of those ‘checks’ on most days.

“So, why are we doing this?”

A lot of why we check facebook has to do with not wanting to deal with social interactions in real life. It’s easier to be ‘distracted’ by interesting content and catching up on your high school friends’ lives online, than actually make small talk with that girl who works on the other side of the office that you see literally every day in passing.

It’s easier to ‘justify’ the awkward silence in an elevator by reading a fascinating article about the 25 things millennials have killed off this year.

This is avoidance. This is us finding ways to keep ourselves separate from each other. Instead of sparking up conversation with someone next to us on a train, an elevator, a hallway, a waiting room, we silo ourselves off from each other, too busy being preoccupied in our own little worlds to experience the world we live in.

To top it all off, studies have suggested that ‘Likes’ and other notifications on social media generate mini hits of dopamine in our brains. It FEELS good to be given praise and attention. Because dopamine, the pleasure chemical in the brain, is involved, addiction is a real issue here. Go Google Dopamine. Just start exploring what it is and what other results come up with it if you’re not familiar. Go do it before the internet is completely throttled and you have to pay to search for things….

There’s nothing wrong with liking social media, or wanting your own down time… Except…..

There truly isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be in your own little space, and I am no less guilty than anything else. But I DO have a problem with ‘my own space’ being littered with fake news stories, pointless drama, and heated arguments that lack merit. Now we’re starting to get front and center where my problems lie with FaceBook: Whether you see it as direct or indirect, FaceBook has a toll on health. For me, I get aggravated over annoying ads, I get upset over these heated debacles (many of which spur from poorly-written news articles), and on top of it all, FaceBook is the place that people spend time crafting their posts and pictures to digital perfection prior to posting. Seeing this crafted perfection time and time again, even for the smartest of wits and the strongest of wills, eventually takes a toll. You start to feel not good enough, and this unwarranted desire to be better, and not in a good way- because it’s not for yourself, but for the approval and praise of others. This mentality leads to depression, and to anxiety; it leads to being too self-conscious, and having a lack of self-worth and confidence.

This creates a really vicious and unhealthy cycle: We get caught in advertisement traps, we go through tons of emotions, our friends and family are involved, we have sentimental attachment without realizing it, we feel down on our lives, but determined to ‘look good’ for others, and the dopamine hits are keeping us coming back wanting more….

All of those things combined are what I’m talking about when I say that FaceBook is unhealthy.

But EVERYONE is on FaceBook!

I get it. FaceBook is front and center in all of our lives. It’s become the universal platform that allows us to connect with everyone from celebrities to companies to Grandma and everyone in between. There’s a sentimental connection to having a profile- you can look back and see the TimeHop posts, you can browse thousands and thousands of memories and photographs, and from time to time, it puts a smile on your face to see an old colleague or friend from high school post about a promotion or something cheerful.

Those connections are only on FaceBook

Examine the people you spend the most time with. If you live close to where you grew up, you probably spend a fair amount of time with family. If you’re in a relationship or have a spouse, you spend most of your time with them. If you’re well-established where you live, you probably have a handful of pretty close friends, and regardless of where you live, you simply ‘know’ a lot of people that you can usually remember their names, and enough about them to have a few minutes’ worth of casual conversation from time to time. In addition to these people, we all have flocks of people that we also ‘know’ but don’t spend any time with in person. I’m talking about high school and college classmates, coworkers from previous jobs, friends of friends that you added because they’re tagged in a lot of pictures by other friends. All of these ‘flocks’ of people- they’re about as interested in your life as you are with their’s. If you don’t see a post of their’s for months at a time, you probably aren’t wondering ‘what happened??’. In fact, you aren’t wondering anything at all. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or that you don’t care, it simply means that these people aren’t close in your life, and that’s perfectly alright.

We were taught by MySpace and now FaceBook that for some reason, the more connections and friends we have, the happier we’ll be. While networking has a key role in business and careers, this is not the case for our personal lives. In fact, managing that many interpersonal relationships just ends up being more work than it’s worth. It’s information overload- I really don’t need to know that a classmate I had 20 years ago just got engaged. I haven’t seen this person since they were still dealing with acne and cutting class after lunch!

What I’m getting at- the most we get from adding or being added by these ghosts of our past is just a small, sentimental hit of dopamine that we were thought of, and a small moment of nostalgia. These people from our past were important once, and saying you don’t need to be ‘friends’ on facebook doesnt diminish the value or strength of friendship you once shared; you’ve simply moved on to new phases of your life, and you owe it to the person you’ve grown to be, and the decisions you’ve made to get you where you are today to acknowledge that. Again, these people from our past didn’t make the same decisions we made, because everyone is different, and has their own aspirations and dreams and goals. They have made other friends, just like you have, so you’re not doing anyone any ‘favors’ by trying to reach out and be everyone’s friend.

So what does this mean for you, Ricky?

What this means for me is quite simple: FaceBook, which has literally become an integral part of my life, has leeched precious time from me. Although the universal platform has been a nice way to keep in touch with everyone that I know, it’s caused some negative effects. I no longer wish to be part of the social experiment that it represents. I no longer wish to be part of it’s machine. I want to stay in touch with the people I care about, but online isn’t an effective way of doing that.

How can we stay in touch with you?

What may sound hypocritical, is that you can follow this website. Most of my posts are opinionated, but you’ll get my full story, and full collection of thoughts on each. You can leave public feedback through comments if you choose, you can even feel free to share my posts on social media if you so desire.

I’m pretty sure there’s links at the bottom of each page of my site to subscribe to posts. If you have any trouble, leave a comment or message me!

FaceBook is the biggest of social media hurdles to overcome. And to be honest, I’m not sure if even I am up to the challenge of dropping it. I’m going to give it a go though, and see what happens. I tried once before, and I made it about 2 weeks. I want to give this a bigger effort. Along with it, Instagram needs to go, and Twitter. SnapChat I’m considering keeping up. Once you’ve ‘caught up’ on the stories and snaps, there aren’t ‘holes’ you fall into. Although there are news stories and other places you can go, it’s not front and center like on FaceBook.

Add me on SnapChat:

You can always text. You can call (but i probably won’t answer) You can leave a voicemail- but I probably won’t check it until a day or two later.

You can always email- Ricky.Celaya.Renaud@icloud.com

For those closest to me, I’ve probably taught you about the wonderful, private, secure way to share photos if you have an iOS device, so you’ll still get picture updates from time to time. If you have an iPhone and aren’t sure what I’m talking about- just text and I’ll explain it, and I’ll show you a whole new method to keep in touch with friends and family with photos privately!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Again, who knows if this will stick. There’s of course no judgement whatsoever from me to anyone using social media. I’m just seeking more balance in my life, and trying to find ways to be a better version of me. Hosting a website for my own personal blog and still using some forms of social media probably seems a little hypocritical, and I get that. I still have the desire to stay connected to the people i care about, but again, this is my journey and I’m doing my best to find my own balance and happiness, and I wish the same to you ☺️✌🏻

Posted in Technology | 1 Comment

Hurricane Preparedness

Hi everyone! Are you #IrmaReady?

As of this posts’s latest update:
– Irma is a category 5, with sustained winds of 185 mph, + gusts reaching over 200mph.
– Irma is definitely going to bring devastating winds and storm surge to the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
– It is very likely that Turks and Caicos, the North coast of the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Haiti will also receive similar catastrophic damage from Wednesday night through Friday
– Future-tracking beyond Friday is still difficult to pinpoint, but there are strong indications that the storm will continue on a north-northwest track towards the southern tip of Florida

Photo Credit: My Radar app, available on iOS and Android as a free download- Hurricane tracking and ad-free are paid upgrades.

There are very few scenarios that place Irma outside of causing major damage to Florida. All media outlets and national weather advisories are giving the same recommendation: Be Prepared!

Below you’ll find my own list of tips for making sure you’re #IrmaReady. Feel free to comment or even add your own tips below!

Here’s a few things to consider in the coming days:

1) Fuel
Most people hold off until the very last second to fill up their car gas tanks, and gas containers for generators: don’t be those people. Unfortunately, there were many people in Houston who were waiting for HOURS to get gas. For this week, I’ll be filling my tank every day on the way home from work. I have no desire to be caught in any kind of hectic gas line, and I suggest other’s adopt a similar habit this week too. If you plan on hunkering down, a generator is not a bad idea if you have the resources to get one. They run about $400 and up. Most Home Depot’s and Lowe’s keep only a few on-hand, so the earlier you buy, the better chance you’ll have of acquiring one.
Don’t be like these guys:

Even just today there are lines forming at the pumps. If you tried filling today, and thought waiting for 2 or 3 people to finish pumping before you was bad, you don’t want to imagine trying to fill up on Friday, and waiting behind a line of 20+. This is also caused because stations will run out of gas, and everyone will frantically flock to the remaining stations still in service…. don’t get caught behind!

2) Water
In the Tampa Bay Area, we’re already experiencing supply shortages. Do not lost hope though- we are still early enough that shipments are coming in daily to our main stores. I would recommend going very early tomorrow morning to your local Costco or Sam’s Club, or call your Wal-Mart and find out when they expect their next truck in.
Although it’s illegal, be on the lookout for price inflation, and speak up if you see anything suspicious.


This is a 40 count of 16.9 oz water bottles. It’s the equivalent of about 5 gallons of water, but in bottle form. The pack cost $3 at costco, so we bout 4. Mark and I have the same thought process: In the best-case scenario where we aren’t hit, we’ll still use the bottled water. Worst case scenario- our water is now in easy to use, easy to pack containers. In addition to the 4 cases we bought Sunday, today I managed to make another run to Costco and grab 5 more cases. Costco is rationing their water- limit of 5 cases per customer. And although they may tell you at the front that they are out of water, enter the store any way, and check the back section. I did this, and found that Costco had a whole team of employees helping distribute the cases and ensuring their customers were abiding the 5 case rule.

3) Food
Obviously we don’t need to doomsday prep, but I would recommend making sure you have a few essentials that can carry you for a few days. Canned chicken, tuna, cereal, granola bars- these are all things that will keep you satisfied, pack up pretty easy, are non-perishable, and will not go to waste in the best case scenario where prepping isn’t needed. In the event we don’t need to make emergency meals with the canned chicken and tuna, they make great ingredients for lunches at work, and even casseroles for dinner! If you check on Amazon, they still have ‘emergency food’ available, and Friday is still only two days away- one or two day shipping will get your orders to your door just before we get any bands.

4) Electronics
Let’s face it: Living without a charged phone would make life pretty inconvenient, especially when our phones become a lifeline in emergencies. Keep you phones charged. Keep your tablets charged. Keep your laptops charged. And by all means, if you don’t have a mophie power pack or another external battery, PLEASE MAKE THE INVESTMENT. Because i work for Verizon, I am happy to extend my employee discount to my friends and family. Please contact me and let me know if you’re interested. They truly hold their value, and will make your phone last up to 10 days without access to an outlet. The example below is one of the largest capacities Mophie offers. It has 3 USB ports, an LED level indicator, and when fully charged, provides roughly 7 full smartphone charges. They are a bit bulky to take with you on an every day basis, but for camping trips, vacations, and emergency situations, trust me when I say it’s a small price to pay to keep your electronics charged and ready.

Speaking of electronics….

5) Social Media
Cell phone towers will become over-run with every single phone trying to make calls simultaneously. Only call if needed for 911. (Did you know, in most areas, you can TEXT 911?) If you’re just trying to let people know that you’re okay- use Twitter to send an update online, and ‘check-in’ to the facebook crisis event. No data? Save the Twitter short code number and text your status update. To text TWEETS to your twitter account, the number in the US is 40404. Make sure now that your account is already linked to your cell number!

6) Board Up?
If you own your house, you’ll want to board up- and don’t skimp on the quality of the plywood. You’ll need decent plywood, 2×4’s, plenty of wood-screws, and appropriate anchoring screws to adhere the boardings to the exterior walls of your house. You’ll want to board as many windows as possible, and entire glass doors if you have them

7) Hunker Down
The center-most room/closet/bathroom is where you’ll want to hunker down. Put as many walls between you and outside. Do not pick a room with a window. If this isn’t an option, maybe a closet is better. Still not an option? Go into a bathroom, and bring a mattress. Use the tub or shower and make yourself as small as possible, and ‘seal’ the tub or shower using the mattress on top. This would be the safest place to be in should you experience hurricane force winds while in your own home.

8) Documents/Papers
Passports, Birth Certificates, SSN Cards, Green Cards, Drivers License- these will be the most important documents. The originals should be kept in sturdy ziplocks, or even a water-tight, fire-proof safe. You can pick one up on amazon for about $30. Keep digital copies handy on your phone (available offline, meaning a picture, or a file that doesn’t need to be downloaded from a cloud), do this especially if you have plans to keep your phone charged. Photo copies will do just fine- those should also be kept in ziplocks to keep them safe from weather.
SentrySafe Fire Safe, Waterproof Fire Resistant Chest

These are just a few tips and tricks that I have for now. Check back for updates, and be sure to subscribe to my site, either directly here on WordPress, or through my Facebook page. Stay safe everyone!

Posted in Pockets of Sunlight, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blue Apron: First Thoughts

You've seen the ads- they're everywhere! They tell you about their fresh meals on Facebook, Instagram, Sirius XM, even good ole' fashioned TV ads. So… is it really worth it?
Well Mark and I are putting them to the test, and I thought I'd share our first few thoughts from our first two meals.

Before I get into the food, let me tell you how easy and painless getting set up was-
There are a lot of apps and services out there where the set up is a pain. Even recently, dealing with Citi Bank for a new credit card was an ABSOLUTE HASSLE!
This was not the case while getting Blue Apron's delivery service enrolled. Within a few minutes I had a new profile set up, letting them know food preferences, allergies, frequency, and number of household members. As soon as the basics were entered, we could see a large variety of meal options available to customize our first order.

For our first box, we chose a vegetarian-friendly pasta dish, a salmon dish, and a chicken dish. Once the account and shipping preferences were all confirmed, BA let us know we would be all set for our first delivery the very next week. Sweet!

Delivery:
Okay, so we had a small blunder here, but this was not really BA's fault. The carrier, laser ship, rather than bring the box directly to our apartment door, decided it would be safe to leave the box on the first floor by the mail slots. I would probably have been more okay with it had they not left the box right next to the garbage can…. that's right. Our first delivery was left near the trash.
Everything's all individually sealed on the inside of the box, so whatever. But what if someone assumed a box next to the trash was, well, trash?
It's all good, I'm not dwelling on it, I've moved passed it… let's get to the fun part!
Here it is! Our first box! Let's open it up…

Unpacking:
The box is well laid-out. The entire box is lined with an insulated bag. On top they layer fresh and fragile items like herbs and vegetables. Under this layer is a flat cardboard divider which ensures the items are well-supported and kept separate from the items that need more direct refrigeration. Under the cardboard divider are two ice packs that are fairly large! They say right on them that you can re-freeze and reuse them just like you would a cooler pack. We're thinking they could be handy for beach trips. 🏖 Under the cooler packs were things like the salmon and chicken.
We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of STUFF you get! You literally need nothing else from the store to make these meals. Cookware, some salt/pepper, cooking oil, and utensils- thats all you have to provide!

I liked that every single piece came labeled, and specifically stated if it needed to be refrigerated. That made putting everything away a breeze!

First Meal:
The first meal we tried was the Salmon & Freekeh


Mark said he really enjoyed cooking this meal. The instructions were easy to follow, and everything came out exactly as we expected! We added the croissants of course. The Salmon tasted very fresh, and didn't have a 'fishy' smell, that you often get with overly-preserved seafood.

Second Meal:
Fresh Cavatelli and Spicy Corn


This was of course the vegetarian friendly pasta dish we picked. We added crescent rolls again since we had a few left, and this was a very tasty combination of flavor!
As you can see, our presentation was a bit more separated than the layered look in the recipe card- we simply kept the mushrooms separate. I will say that the pasta came out a little chewier than I expected, but Mark thinks that was on our end for not boiling it long enough. I'm usually one to feel hunger pangs even an hour or two after a meal, but this dinner really hit the spot!

Overall Impression:
Blue Apron is a wonderful service, with quality, fresh ingredients. Their recipe's are simple enough for a kitchen novice, but with enough variety to keep well-practiced home chef's interested. I think the main attraction to this service is the convenience. Finding recipes of foods that will be easy enough to make, where you have all the right ingredients, and enough vs too much of each ingredient, can be overwhelming and stressful. Blue Apron takes all of that hassle out of the equation. The price is just right. It ends up equating to about $10 a plate. Certainly cheaper than ordering a salmon dish at a decent restaurant, but not too much more than the cost to make on your own.

Who's this best for?
My honest opinion is that this service is best for smaller households. I think if you're dating someone or have a significant other, this is PERFECT for a household of two. I also think those that travel a lot, like my parents who are on the road for 6 weeks at a time, this is a great service because you maintain full control over which weekly shipments go out, and you can adjust the menu to your liking up until 2 days before it ships. Mark and I both work full time, so our evenings are our only time to unwind during the week. We've been just as guilty as so many others of just saying we're tired, let's order pizza or chinese. Having fresh ingredients with recipe cards waiting for you when you get home really changes the game!

If you have any questions about our experience with Blue Apron, or have your own experiences you'd like to share, be sure to comment!

Posted in In the Kitchen | 2 Comments

Google Contacts, Gmail, iCloud, iCal, does it matter?

Here's a quick Ricky Pro-tip for managing your personal data:
Pick an ecosystem, and stick to it loyally!

I have an iPhone, but not that long ago, most of my data services were on Google.

Wait, what does that mean? Well, it meant that I was using a Gmail email address, my contacts synced up with Google, and I stored my virtual documents on Google Drive. You'll find today that most of these services have their own apps that work relatively smoothly with iPhone, but I would advise you to spend time learning the Apple equivalents and switch your stuff over.

Why does this matter if it all works?
Consolidating your data to one 'ecosystem' will make life much easier in the end. In addition to the simplification, knowing that your information is kept together and tied to one account (meaning one password!), you'll find that as we move more and more towards a 'in the cloud' digital world, you'll want your data to be on the right company's servers.

Apple is notorious for not 'playing well with others'. They tend to keep their higher levels of integration and fluidity between services and apps to only their proprietary software. It's kind of like using Excel and Word on a Microsoft PC- it just works better that way. When it comes to pulling up documents to be uploaded using your mobile browser (which, you should be using Safari on an iPhone), it's a lot easier for iPhone to find your stuff in iCloud Drive, vs trying to use the 3rd party integration to google drive.

On top of this, Google Drive has a decent amount of free storage, but when that runs out, are you going to pay for more Google storage in addition to whatever you might be paying for Apple Services? I'd recommend against that.

I pay for the highest storage plan available from Apple. This benefits me in several ways- all of my device backups always have plenty of room. My massive digital photo library can stay in sync and out of harm's way in the cloud. My almost-as-large media and music library can also stay in there. Plus all of my iWork documents, app back-ups, contacts, email, and more.

I can access all of those items I mentioned across all of my devices seamlessly and effortlessly. From my Mac, to my iPad, to my iPhone- and all my media on my Apple TVs.

Have you ever noticed that Siri sometimes doesn't know who you are after you upgrade your phone or swap out for a new phone?
That's because Apple doesn't have a way to 'mark' a contact card that you've indicated is 'you' when the contacts are synced from another platform. If you're using iCloud to manage your contacts, you're in luck. After you set up who you are the first time, Apple will keep that synced across your devices, even new ones.

If you're interested in starting this journey, the first step is to consolidate your contacts. You can pay a few bucks for an app called "Contacts Sync", or you can do it for free by exporting your contacts on a standard web browser, then re-uploading them to your apple contacts.

If you're interested in learning more about how to do this, leave a comment and let me know, and I'll work on putting together a step-by-step guide for moving contacts from one system to another

Posted in Simply, Simplify, Technology | Leave a comment

My Invisalign Tips and Tricks

Here are my best tips and tricks for maintaining your Invisalign!

1) Cleaning Wipes

You'll be advised of different rinses and things you can do to keep your trays clean and bacteria-free. I've learned that carrying around a container to do the rinses, waiting the 5 or so minutes for the solution to take effect, then putting them back on takes a lot of time, and it's a lot to carry with you on the go. I recommend these Dental Appliance Cleansing Towelettesthat you can find on amazon- and trust me, you will use them, and you will need all 3 boxes- keep one at work, one on your bathroom counter, and use the 3rd box to refill your on-the-go-kit!

2) Soaking Bath

On occasion, you'll want to give your trays a good cleansing soak, instead of just wiped-clean with those awesome towelettes. Having a good soaking bath container will make all the difference. I found one at my local walgreens for about $5, and they come in a couple colors! I chose yellow, because the soaking solution I found starts off a blue-color, so it's good to see when the blue is gone, as that indicates that the soak is finished (usually about 5 minutes).

3) Soaking Solution

Speaking of soaking solution, here's the stuff i use: Fresh Guard Soaking Crystals. I buy one 24-pack at a time. I find the towelettes much more convenient, and I soak my trays maybe twice a week. The packets are those skinny-tube packets, so you can pack a few with you for on-the-go if you want.

4) Carry Case

As you can tell, you'll be carrying around a few more things than normal. I started using a pencil case from walgreens that cost abut $2, and fits everything i need for my Invisalign

5) Travel toothpaste

This is probably pretty obvious, but you'll be brushing your teeth on the go a lot- find your favorite toothpaste's travel version either in walgreens or on amazon!

6) Sparkling Water

Your orthodontist will tell you about 10 times before you leave with your first set- nothing but water with your trays on! Well guess what, sparkling water is just fine too! Many brands of sparkling water have no sugar, but they make a HUGE difference, especially if you're a soda drinker fighting cravings. My favorites are La Croix and Zephyrhills Sparkling

That's all I have for now, I'll continue to edit this post as I find more hacks and tricks for Invisalign!

Posted in Invisalign | Leave a comment