2016 in Review: Best Apps and Software

The best apps and software for creative work and life – http://www.kimwerker.com/blog

These are the apps and programs I used the most, relied on, or simply found the most valuable in 2016 – both in my writing and creative work, and in my personal crafty life. All of these are available on pretty much any platform (I use a Mac laptop and an Android smartphone, in case you find that relevant!)

Leave a comment at the end and add your favourites, too!

Some of these are referral or affiliate links. I don't recommend anything I don't actually know and love!​

  • CoSchedule – Though I've used this editorial and social-media calendar for quite a while, this fall I started using it hard. With their introduction of the ReQueue feature, which loops designated posts to be reposted automatically, I cancelled Edgar and haven't looked back. In 2017, I intend to use it for blog planning, too (because in 2017 I intend to get organized).
  • Trello – I use this list-making app every day. It's where I keep track of links I'll share in my Friday newsletter, and I use it to manage the editorial content for Clarinet News. I also use it with my client to keep track of everything else we work on together – from files to to-do lists to contact information. The free version of Trello is robust on its own; I only upgraded to the Gold version (worth every penny!) when I needed to exceed the free version's file-size limit for uploads.
  • Evernote – I've used Evernote for years and it continues to be a catch-all for a huge variety of information I need to capture, and I draft a lot of things I write in there, too. I wrote about it a while ago (um, five years ago!), and I pretty much still use it the same way, pretty much every day.
  • Canva for Work – I started paying for this browser-based graphic-design tool as soon as they launched their paid version a couple of years ago, and I've never questioned the decision. Canva for Work makes it dead simple to set your brand's fonts and default colours, and to apply them to a huge number of predesigned templates for all manner of imagery and documents (including the image at the top of this post, for example). For people like me who aren't graphic designers but rely on great graphics, this is a must-have tool. I even used it to design the cover of my latest ebook.
  • Facebook Live – Live video isn't new, and I was eager to try out Periscope when it first came on the scene. But Periscope rapidly fell to sexist trolls, and it's only accessible to people who have the app (or maybe they broadcast to Twitter now, too? I stopped following it). Everyone is on Facebook, though. And Facebook weights videos very favourably compared to other kinds of media content, which means that when you go live, and when you archive your broadcast on your page, there's a pretty good chance people will actually see it. And watch it. And comment on it. When I make stuff live on Facebook, my videos get far more engagement with people than any other kinds of posts, and I gain followers. Live video requires no postproduction, so it's a very easy way to enter the world of video. I highly recommend it!
  • Overdrive – When my family went on a six-week road trip in 2015 a brilliant friend recommended we borrow audiobooks from the library for our kid to listen to in the car. Overdrive is the app most public libraries use to allow their patrons to borrow ebooks and audiobooks. This year, I finally got into audiobooks for myself, and I'm so grateful that I can borrow them without cost from the library! So good.
  • ConvertKit – When I first committed to writing my weekly newsletter back in 2014, I used TinyLetter to send it. Eventually, it became clear that the newsletter is central to my business, and I switched to MailChimp for its more robust features. MailChimp is a bit of a beast, though, and I never managed to take the time to learn how to do the fancy things I need to do to make email work for my business, especially because I'm not a one-trick pony. Enter ConvertKit. All the things that broke my brain in MailChimp are simple, basic features of ConvertKit. ConvertKit allows me to reach people about specific topics that interest them – like crochet or bullet journaling – while also reaching people with my more general newsletter. It's also what I use to send email content for my online classes. The lower-level plans are more expensive than MailChimp's, and I consider them to be 100% worth the extra expense. I've used ConvertKit for a year now, and I look forward to using it for a long time into the future.
  • Harvest – Thought I've worked as a freelancer for a long time, this year I took on a major client. I keep track of my hours and send invoices using Harvest, which has super simple apps for my phone and laptop so I can track my time even when I'm on the go. Bonus: Because I'm only working with a single client these days, I can do all this with the free version.
  • Boardbooster – Pinterest is the single greatest driver of traffic to my website. I used to use Tailwind to manage and track my pins, but after a while I stopped taking the time to use the analytics, and I switched to Boardbooster. It doesn't have as sleek an interface (in fact, though it does very contemporary things, the design of the app seems super dated), but it has great features and it's less expensive than Tailwind. I use the pin-queueing functionality almost daily, and have my biggest boards set up to have older, successful pins automatically reposted. Whether you already rely on Pinterest as a central social medium for your business or you're looking to up your game with it, I recommend checking Boardbooster out.
  • Chatbooks – This one isn't work-related (though it could be if I wanted it to be...), but it saves me so much time and makes me so happy. Chatbooks is a phone app that takes the snapshots you take, and when you've queued up 60 of them, it prints them in a book and sends it to you. I spend a few minutes each week curating which photos I want to be used, and I love it when a book arrives. No need to worry about printing photos! I get hard-cover books printed, and the quality is great. Shipping to Canada isn't prohibitively expensive, and I've come to rely on this simple service to bridge my digital and physical worlds. So good.
  • VSCO – Speaking of photos, VSCO is my go-to app for editing photos on my phone for posting on social media. Its interface is a little too designy for my taste – it uses its own icons and gestures instead of more standard iterations, which is like the opposite of user-friendly, but whatever – but it has great filters and straightforward editing tools for functions from cropping and rotating to adjusting exposure and white balance.

Do you use any of these apps? Got tips or tricks? Use and love something that's not listed? Share in the comments!

Improvement Over Time

We’re hosting Rosh Hashanah dinner at our place this year, to celebrate the Jewish New Year. I’m so excited about it. It’s such a fun time to have family over to a house filled with food and cheer. And though Greg is the cook in our family, I’m excited to do some cooking myself, too, this time around. I’ve already made dessert, and I’ll be making a noodle kugel and challah.

It had been a few months since I’d last made any challah, so last weekend I put a loaf in the oven to get back into the swing of it before I make the special round challahs for Rosh Hashanah (at this one time of year, you make them round to symbolize the circle of time and life).

Facebook reminded me last week that it was a year ago that I made challah for the first time. It awoke in me a desire to make it more and more so I could figure out my own favourite recipe (and learn how to make it pretty). Eventually, I not only mastered the six-stranded braid, but I settled on my own favourite recipe, tweaked and nudged from many I experimented with.

Looking back at those original loafs, it’s very cool to see the result of the time and effort I put in. It’s a slow process to make a loaf of bread like this – it takes pretty much all day, though much of the time is spent waiting. I loved doing it over and over again, until I got my bread to be just right – sweet and dense and perfect with some salt on it.

Here’s the recipe I use, if you want to try your hand at it, too!

Braided challah dough – http://kimwerker.com

Homemade challah (with recipe!) - http://www.kimwerker.com/blog

Back to My Bullet Journal

Bullet Journal spread, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

I started my first Bullet Journal two years ago, and it (finally) made me into a notebook-keeper. Which is good, because, being a writer, I was starting to feel like I was doing something wrong in my inability to stick with a notebook habit.

Like with many systems, though, I suppose I got a little antsy, or bored, and when the Get to Work Book came out last year, I thought that maybe its more structured design would enable me to be more structured, while still being flexible enough to accommodate some simple bullet journaling. So I ordered one and fell in love with it.

But the GTWB is big. Quite big. It’s not as easy to tote around as a plain-old notebook. So after a while I started looking around some more, and discovered the Hibonichi planner. Which is small. And lovely. With surprisingly solid, very thin paper my fountain pen wouldn’t bleed through.

And though I enjoyed adapting to the Hibonichi, and it’s just so fabulous, after a disappointingly short time I found myself longing for the less rigid structure of a plain-old notebook Bullet Journal again. The grass is always greener, people. The grass is always greener.

I wanted to be able to take notes wherever I wanted, and have a day’s to-do list be any length it needed to be. I wanted a notebook without much structure that I could just tote around everywhere, to hold all the thoughts, tasks, and notes I need to capture.

DOWNLOAD MY FREE ART & CRAFT HABIT TRACKER WORKSHEET!

So I plucked a brand new notebook from my shelf (which I’d purchased right before the GTWB launched), and took a few minutes to set up a new Bullet Journal. And I felt like I had come home.

Now. In the years since I first came upon this delightfully simple system, bloggers have gone nuts showing off their own journals. I love me some journal eye candy. I love it so much.

But I do not produce an eye-candy journal. No, I most certainly do not. I do not colour-code. I do not adorn. I do not apply fancy hand-lettering to headings and titles. I don’t even try to keep my handwriting in check.

So I thought, though I’ve only been back at it for a week, that I’d show you a few spreads from my new BuJo (that’s what the kids call it these days).

Up at the top of the post is something new I’m trying out this time around: a Calendex; it’s like the love child of an index and a yearly calendar. As you can see, I haven’t actually used it yet. But I do have some things coming up later in the year, so I anticipate I’ll end up using it. Even if I don’t, it sure is pretty. And it’s the first time I took a ruler to my journal. Fancy.

Month & Day Spread

Bullet Journal month and day spread, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

Above is the spread with my February task list on the left, and some daily to-do lists on the right. I didn’t keep a monthly task list in my last journal, but I think I’ll stick with it in this one. It felt pretty good to mark all the February tasks as completed at the end of the month, and it helped to see them all in one place.

For daily to-dos, well. This is why I fell in love with this system in the first place (this, and the whole index idea). It’s second nature to me to make lists this way now (not that it’s terribly different from any other kind of to-do list.) I’ve also added a daily tracker bit in the top-right corner of each day’s list. I’m using this to keep up with exercising and my daily art/craft making habit. In the past, I’ve kept track of my daily making on a dedicated spread, but I’ve come to accept that I don’t end up using dedicated spreads very much, but I do use a daily list. So this is my solution.

(Yes, I totally did end up scoring a pair of Paul Simon tickets on the 24th. Thirteenth Row, Centre. Holy smokes.)

Day & Notes Spread

Bullet Journal spread, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

Heh. So, yeah, I turned the page and totally didn’t do the daily tracking thing on the next few days. I’m back to it now, though.

What I really want to highlight here is that my journal is not tidy. There’s loads of Bullet Journal pr0n around, you guys, and I gotta say it all strikes me as pretty fictional. You can keep a meticulous journal if you write things down after the fact, but there’s just no way that a work-in-progress can be perfect. It’s fiction. So here’s my reality.

On the left, you can see some messy notes. On the right, you can see some very rough notes I started making in pencil, because I knew I’d have to erase things and really mess around.

You might notice that these photos do not feature my beloved fountain pen. I discovered many years ago that two things allow me to keep my handwriting legible: small ruled lines or grids (I was a college-rule student all the way; no wide-ruled paper for me!), and a pen that allows for some friction. In fact, the only time I’m truly happy with my handwriting is when I write in pencil. The friction is ace.

Fountain pens are lovely to write with, and I certainly haven’t given mine up, but they’re just so smooth! Too smooth. I’ve taken to using a Micron pen in this journal, and it’s for sure the right choice.

DOWNLOAD MY FREE ART & CRAFT HABIT TRACKER WORKSHEET!

Do you keep a Bullet Journal? What are your favourite modules and hacks? And is your journal super neat and tidy, or more of a mess like mine?

 

Bullet Journal spreads, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

Time: What We Do and Don’t Do with It

Abby Glassenberg‘s weekly newsletter is one of my favourites. She always makes me think, and she always points me to posts and articles that are informative and helpful.

In yesterday’s newsletter, Abby wrote a response to a question people ask her all the time, “Do you ever sleep?” Abby’s so prolific, and she’s so even-keeled about her work, that it seems like her situation-normal is something the rest of us might assume takes superhuman powers.

Here’s part of what Abby wrote in response:

I choose to work instead of choosing many other things. I don’t watch T.V. (I’ve never seen an episode of 30 Rock or House of Cards – in fact I just had to Google “most popular T.V. shows of 2015” to find out the names of those shows so I could write this) and I don’t read the newspaper. I don’t volunteer at my kids’ school – I’ve never been to a PTA meeting despite having kids in school now for 9 years. I don’t coach the soccer team or organize the Girl Scout troop.

 

So it might seem like I get so much done, but really I just get so much OF THIS done (and almost none of THAT).

She is focused, people.

It’s a level of focus I don’t have, but not in a bad way. Now that my kid is a couple months into proper school, I realize I allocate my time and energy differently than I’d anticipated I would. I’d thought that fewer work hours during the day would mean I’d be that much more focused on working whenever else I can – early mornings, evenings, etc. But that’s not how it’s turning out (and I’m not getting any less work done).

I have managed to become far more efficient at work. It took a couple of months, but I’ve established a good routine, and I’m back to getting work done at an acceptable clip.

I do watch television and read novels and stay on top of local and international news. This fall I started volunteering with a knitting group at a residence for people with mental illness, and I’ve recently been coordinating a donation drive for Carry the Future. I’m the website coordinator for the PAC (that’s what we call the PTA here) at my kid’s school.

The busier I am, the more I get done and the more satisfied I feel. The more I fill my tanks with input unrelated to my work (within reason), the more inspired I get to do good work. I need a tremendous amount of diversity in what I do in order to stay interested in each thing; the variety prevents me from burning out.

It’s neat to think about this. I so admire Abby’s laser focus, and her talking about it led me to think about my own need for lots of variety, and how having lots of balls in the air enables me to get good work done.

How do you navigate making choices about all the possible things you could do with the limited amount of time you have in a day?

 

Spinzilla is almost here. Let’s make a mess of it!

Of course, I don’t mean let’s make a mess of the event; I mean let’s just make a mess.

Lemme take a step back for those of you who aren’t plugged deeply into the yarn world.

Spinzilla is an annual week-long yarn-spinning competition, and it starts on Monday, October 5th. Really, it’s more a celebration-slash-geek-out than a cut-throat competition, but there are teams, and each team tries collectively to spin more yarn than all the other teams. There are also rogue spinners, who prefer to to fly solo rather than as part of a team.

I’ve dabbled in spinning yarn, but I’m not very good at it. So when one of the organizers of the event invited me to participate in the Spinzilla blog tour, specifically to write about messiness and why we should embrace it, I took that as a good reason to join a team and dedicate some serious time to upping my spinning game. Though surely many participants will be experienced spinners, I’m here to encourage even total n00bs to join in. A special kind of magic can happen when we set ourselves to task for a week, and while the seasoned pros spin their miles of yarn, we beginners can embrace the mess of not knowing much about spinning so we can finish the week knowing a hell of a lot more than we did at the start.

Here’s the deal about a mess: There’s no sense trying to learn how to do something new, or trying to get better at doing something you already know how to do, if you’re simultaneously trying to nail it on the first go. On paper that’s a no-brainer, but in practice it can be a hard walk to walk. Spinzilla is a gift of dedicated time. It’s just one week, so it’s not a stressful gift. But it’s long enough that daily practice can make a serious impression.

So I’m here to champion the mess. I’ll go so far as to encourage you to make as big a mess as you can. Like the fifty pounds of clay people, let’s go for the learning and productivity that come with a focus on quantity over perfection.

Behold: The beginning of the mess I plan to make:

I'll be spinning all this up for Spinzilla 2015. Oh yeah.

Pictured above is the collection of fibre I’ve amassed over the years. I’ve had some of it, like most of the undyed stuff at the top and the lovely pink/green/cream/grey braid at the top-right, for many, many years. I picked some of it up much more recently, on our road trip last spring, in anticipation of participating in Spinzilla. The boldly labeled Vortex is, as you can see, made by a hand-dyer in Taos, NM. The two braids to the right of the Vortex are also dyed by a New Mexican, under the Widdershin Woolworks label (I suffered choosing colours of hers, man, such was the gorgeousness). I picked up some of the braids and knots at a yarn swap, I think. Oh, and there are a couple of small baggies in there, too: one of bison wool and one of wolf fur, both of which I purchased at an open-air market in Santa Fe. (I left a piece of my heart in New Mexico if you can’t tell, and I’m feeling very grateful to myself for knowing back in May that I would enjoy revisiting our travels this fall, through fibre.)

Here’s the thing about all that gorgeous stuff up there: I’m going to mangle most of it. Sure, I anticipate that by the end of a week of spinning, I’ll have a pretty even tension going. But I won’t have an even tension going at the beginning. No. At the beginning, I’m going to achieve some seriously dramatic thick-and-thin yarn action. My yarn won’t produce a solidly usable gauge. I may or may not end up wanting to even use the resulting yarn to make anything at all.

And I will keep in mind at every turn that all of that is normal. I will keep in mind at every turn that if I didn’t allow myself to mangle many ounces of fibre as I learn that I would not learn. Those mangled knots of wool will not have been wasted, because even if they aren’t useable as yarn, they were useable as learning.

Sure, I’ll probably save the New Mexican wools till the end, since I’d really love to have them turn into yarn that I’ll use to make something truly wonderful.

But all the messes I’ll make? All the thick-and-thins, all the broken strands? All the cursing over figuring out how to oil my machine? All the wondering out loud why the way I spin is considered to be left-handed even though I’m right-handed and I’ve heard it’s actually quite common for people to spin opposite their usual handedness? All the yarns I’ll make through the mess will be wonderful yarns, because they will be true results of my spinning effort.

I will spin slowly, most likely. My poor team will not consider me to be, shall we say, an asset. But I won’t apologize and I won’t feel bad. Because I’m going to get to know local spinners I’ve never met before. And I’m going to accept their advice. And I’m going to allow them to remind me that my fibre – no matter how gorgeous it might be combed and braided, no matter how much it cost to buy – is not precious, and it must be spun.

If you’re a beginner spinner looking for an excuse to up your game, please join me next week! And if you’re an ace spinner waiting to be nudged to join in, consider this your nudge! If you’re a #yearofmaking person, won’t it be cool to spend one of your 52 weeks doing this? Yes, I think so, too. Spinzilla registration is open until 5PM Eastern on Friday, October 2nd.

 

In a Fall Cooking Kind of Mood

It seemed to happen all at once last week: fall arrived. Seemingly overnight, gone were the warm, long days of summer, replaced by crisp air, grey days, and even, thankfully, rain.

As it happened, last week was also my first of three weeks of not having solid time to work, between the end of summer camps for Owen and the beginning of full-day kindergarten. Rather than stress out about my loss of work time, I’ve managed to relax into it.

Conveniently, the change in weather also coincided with my having the time and energy to get seriously domestic. I don’t feel like getting seriously domestic very often, so when the feeling strikes, I do my best to make the most of it. Three weeks seems like a long time to not have a solid work day, but the weeks will pass quickly enough, to be replaced before I know it by the busier, more frantically scheduled days of lots-of-work, school schlepping, soccer schlepping, and Hebrew school schlepping.

My goal, then, is to set myself up to feel very grateful for this domestic time.

I fired up the slow cooker for the first time in months last week, and I froze half the batch of split-pea soup I made. (I used this recipe as a starting point, but used about 2/3 green split peas and 1/3 yellow, I eliminated the tomatoes [Greg can’t eat ’em] and dried parsley [didn’t haven’t any, and anyway wouldn’t have used it if we did], and I browned the onions and garlic before adding them to the cooker.)

Slow cooker split-pea soup

And I took Owen apple picking (in the pouring rain), so this coming week I’ll not only make apple crumble, I’ll also can a few half-litre jars of apple-pie filling so I can make quick desserts in coming months. We made apple chips that same afternoon (next time I’ll bake them for longer; they were a little chewy).

We made apple chips after apple-picking at Willow View Farms

At the apple farm, we also picked up some cookie cutters, and I made my first batch of sugar cookies ever (seriously – I always figured why bother making sugar cookies when you can make oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies?). And I froze half the sugar cookies. (I used this recipe, but subbed vegan margarine for butter because G’s got a whey thing, and I subbed whole-wheat flour for a third of the total flour amount; I ended up putting in a bunch more white flour after mixing the dough, because it was way too wet – maybe because of the margarine substitute – but all was well after that.)

Non-dairy part-whole-wheat sugar cookies. Yum!

We picked up a couple of sweet pumpkins at the farm, too, and I’ll make another big batch of soup soon, half destined for the freezer.

Over the last few months, I feel like my (previously non-existent) cooking game has been upped significantly. I mean, I started from having almost zero game, so any improvement would be a dramatic one. But I’m feeling half-competent in the kitchen for the first time in my life, and I’m enjoying preparing food I actually enjoy eating, and that my family actually enjoys eating, and I especially enjoy making enough food that I’ll give myself some very, very easy dinners in the weeks and months to come.

Do you have favourite simple (seriously, stress on the simple) slow-cooker, canning, or freezer-friendly recipes you love to make and eat? Let’s have a prep-for-winter extravaganza in the comments!