Best Reading Apps and Services

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Okay, okay, by now we all know we’re stuck at home, so let’s talk about books.*

I LOVE TO READ! In the past, I’ve stuck to paper books and the popular subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and Audible for audiobooks, BUT I’m trying to cut back on those pricier options this year, and have found some alternative services that provide ebooks, physical books, and audiobooks.

First up is LIBBY.

Libby had been on my radar for a while as the place where I could maybe get free library books…but then a couple of my siblings sat me down and told me that HELLO, IT IS FULL OF FREE BOOKS. Libby–and its parent Overdrive–work through your local library. It’s simple to input your library card info and start reserving ebooks, audiobooks, cookbooks, and more from your local library.

Because I split my time between Texas and New York, I actually have two different libraries in my account, and if the selection at one of them doesn’t have what I’m looking for, the other might. Interestingly, the library from my small town in upstate NY allows me to have 15 holds for books, but the Dallas system only allows me to have 5.

There are a couple of small drawbacks to using Libby. Just like when you physically go to the library, your local branch might not have exactly what you’re looking for. It isn’t Amazon, where you can type a title in and start reading right away. Instead, you can browse what’s available, place a hold, or contact your library to request that they get certain titles. Popular books will have months of wait-time attached to them (again, just like with real library books). That being said–once you’re aware of that limitation, you can find some really great books serendipitously, and since they’re all FREE, there’s no pressure about trying new authors or genres. I have found three or four series of books that I have LOVED so far this year, and I had never heard of them before. The only other con is that the interface is a bit irritating, but once you figure it out, it’s useable. On the whole–an EXCELLENT AND FREE way to score some books!

Next up: BOOKBUB & CHRIP

BookBub is an ebook website that features insane bargains and sales. They also can send out personalized recommendations to your email address that alerts you when a favorite author or genre has a new and on-sale release.

Chirp is the audiobook branch of BookBub, and has a similar service. Basically, if you are going to buy a book, double check BookBub and Chrip before you do so. I’ve gotten very popular audiobooks for as low as $1.99 on Chirp, and then they’re mine to keep!

My only complaint is that I have to use an additional app to listen to my audiobooks. Same with Libby. That means that I juggle my audiobooks between the Audible app, the Libby app, and the Chirp app. Maybe there’s a way to send all audiobooks to the same place? Let me know if you know!

SCRIBD

Scribd is a subscription service that costs $10 a month and has unlimited audio, ebooks, sheet music, magazines, and more. Disclaimer: I haven’t used Scribd yet, but a friend of mine uses and loves it (you can follow this link to check out Emily’s review on her blog which is chock-full of interesting info, pretty graphics, and great content.) But after reading about it and hearing Emily talk about it, I might have just talked myself into another subscription service.

THRIFTBOOKS

If physical books are more your thing, check out Thrift Books, which is a service my sister-in-law turned me on to. They have a fantastic, inexpensive collection of high-quality used books. You can also search for rare or hard-to-find books and when one becomes available, they’ll let you know!

If you love to read or are looking for some ways to entertain yourself during this lockdown we’re all in, I hope these are useful links for you! If you have any other service you use to access books, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!!

Stay tuned for my next post about reading where I give some recaps of what I’ve read so far this year and share some recommendations.

*READERS OF THE FUTURE: this post is from that crazy time in early 2020 when the entire world seemed to grind to a halt and none of us were really sure what was happening. I’m sure things are better where you are. In the future. Maybe? Okay, let’s just get back to reading fiction.

Write Blog. Check.

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For most of my life my morning routine has looked exactly the same. Isn’t that impressive? That’s the kind of habit-building, dependable morning person I am. Every day I do the exact same thing and slowly my neural pathways have formed so that I don’t even have to think about it anymore–it just is.

What does that look like in practice, you ask?

Well, I set the alarm for as close to oversleeping as possible, and then I still hit the snooze button about six times until the growing sense of panic that I’m actually about to fall back asleep sweeps over me from head to toe and then I finally, groggily throw back the covers, shuffle into the bathroom, grimace at my reflection, brush my teeth, and barely make it to wherever I’m going on time.

(Oh. Maybe I should have left that first paragraph alone and not included that last one…)

OKAY, but I’m trying to have healthier sleep habits. I realized I needed them when I was watching YouTube videos one night while in bed and I fell asleep and then woke up when I dropped my phone on my face. That’s the kind of situation where you think, “Wow, maybe I should switch from James Corden videos to a glass of warm milk?”

(But not really because warm milk is gross. (Sorry, Mom.) )

In my pursuit of healthier habits, I have realized a few things.

  1. It’s hard to have healthier habits.
  2. There are so many habits that NEED to be healthier that I need a bag of chips to cope with the overwhelming nature of it all. And maybe ice cream.
  3. It’s easy to beat myself up over the fact that I haven’t immediately changed every bad habit into a good one.
  4. And that is why I can reward myself with ice cream.
  5. Wait. I think I missed something.

Changing habits is hard! But I am trying. I’m trying to put my phone away an hour or so before bed. I’ve found the perfect way to do it, too. Want some insider tips? Okay. So you just put your phone like two inches further than you can reach, and if you’re super lazy once you get into bed and don’t like getting up…you’re golden.

TANGENT: (I know what you’re thinking…this entire post is just a bunch of tangents, and you would be right.) Last week I couldn’t find my glasses, so I decided to do a bunch of work without them and gave myself a headache, and it turns out they were about three feet away from me the whole time. This is the kind of behavior that is unacceptable and an unhealthy habit that I will definitely add to my list of things to think about changing.

TANGENT FROM TANGENT: (I know.) My friend E. was telling me that the Apple Watch wants you to stand for one minute each hour for 12 hours. I was like, “Can you just stand for 12 consecutive minutes and then sit the rest of the day?” And the answer is no, apparently.

Anyway. Where did I leave off? Oh yeah. I’m trying. I’m putting my phone away and doing Crossword Puzzles until–instead of a phone–I drop a Will Shortz book on my head. And in the mornings, I am getting up at the same time and making a cup of tea and sitting in my studio while scrolling through celebrity news on Instagram thoughtfully making a list about what I want to accomplish that day. And one of those things is writing on this blog.

So, hello!

Tell me about your morning routine or evening routine or your lack of routine or how much you also love Annie’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese in the comments.

Note: This post was originally published in 2019 on my previous blog.

But where do I start?

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If you’ve attended one of my classes, you know that I believe we all have something creative to offer and some beauty to create. I hear the same snippets of conversations between friends during every class, “I can’t paint,” she’ll say. Or, “I have no talent.” Or, “I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” 

Well. Enough of that, my friends!

To succeed at anything, you really only need two things. The first? You need to want to learn to do it. The second? You do it. If you want to do something badly enough and you’re willing to put the effort into learning–you can do it! It’s exactly that simple and that hard. 

That being said–it sure does help to have some guidance along the way! As a successful self-taught artist, I love to walk my students through the process of picking up a brush for the first time, of nerding out a little about art supplies (I know, I know…), and of seeing the looks on your faces when you see what you’re able to create with a little practice and a little help!

With that in mind, I offer many beginner watercolor courses throughout the year. For those who are unable to join me on location, I plan to offer tutorials on my YouTube channel, tips on my Instagram page, a private Facebook Group where we can chat about issues that come up, and painting kits for different levels of artists!

I’ll be posting lots of tips and tricks on this blog in the coming weeks and months, and as always, if you have any questions drop me an email at hello@alexsgardenstudio.com!

I can’t wait to see what you create!

Note: This was originally posted on my previous blog in October, 2019.

Puffy Cheetos, Amazon, and Reykjavik

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My Amazon account tells a lot of stories about me.

If you look at the saved items in my cart, it tells a story about six hundred (yes SIX HUNDRED) things I thought about buying and then didn’t. Things like a Frank Lloyd Wright finger puppet, a lot of books about the extinction of passenger pigeons, an organic mushroom growing kit, and more than one t-shirt that says, “Can’t get out of bed. Please send waffles.”

(Someone buy me that shirt?)

If you look at my prime video account it tells a story about how I like police procedurals staring Tom Selleck, and that I maybe spend too much time on any TV show with a strong-jawed, kind-eyed, noble hero.

My Kindle content is a treasure trove of stories. It tells a story of good intentions, found in the unread free samples of non-fiction and business books. It also tells us that I might have an addiction to war-time-spy-historical-drama-romances narrated by a spunky, ahead-of-her-time heroine. Also, more books about passenger pigeons, but you guys, there were six billion of them and now there are none.

BUT for all those stories, there is one in particular I’d like to share with you today and that is the one under the “My Addresses” tab, where there are currently thirty-five options to choose from, making this little corner of the web perhaps the most reliable history of my movement in the last fifteen years!

When I was sixteen, my parents decided to change our family life dramatically and in the course of a few months, our family of six moved from our small hometown in upstate NY to Reykjavik, Iceland. Want to hear more about that? Let me know!

Amazon keeps up with all of the moves, from an embassy in Prague to a small side street in Northern Ireland. From a friend’s house in Virginia to Spain, Florida, Croatia, the Netherlands, New York and—now—to Texas.

Imagine my joy when I learned the word “peripatetic” and had an obnoxious way to describe myself!

The fun (FUN, I say!) thing in all of this is that I am diametrically opposed to change. I loathe change. I like comfort zones, ruts, status quos, and my childhood bedroom and so it takes divine signs, a change in visa status, and severe winter weather to uproot me. So…I hear you asking…why all the moving?

It’s simple.

I blame my parents.

I mean, they were just so spontaneous, so brave. They wanted to broaden our horizons (the gall!), make us try new food (the nerve!), and then have us decide as a family that we really missed puffy Cheetos and then set up an Amazon Prime account so we could ship said-cheetos to Croatia.

I mean, I think that’s why they did it.

And it worked! We really did get puffy Cheetos!

Oh, and we also broadened our horizons, tried new foods, blah blah blah… Of course, things weren’t always cheesy puffed corn snacks (oh that they could be…). There was plenty of hard stuff mixed in there, too. Uprooting is always going to be difficult, and when you add family illness or death into the mix, or even weddings and births that you miss, it gets a whole lot harder and you discover that life is a peculiar mix of bitter and sweet.

One thing that has been a constant thread in this peripatetic life is creativity. There were a lot of places where life was very quiet, where no one spoke English, where there were bouts of loneliness, and creative pursuits have always held a wonderful sort of solace for me. I think—looking back—that creative outlets are how I handle change and cope with hardship. I write, I paint, I sing, I play the piano, and I start (and don’t finish) to crochet way too many blankets. This blog is the next evolution in all of that. I want to share some of the stories of all that moving, I want to talk about my journey towards becoming a creative entrepreneur, I want to take you with me and show you behind the scenes and tell you what it’s like to live abroad, to come back home, to dig in and start over.

I want to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about passenger pigeons.

I want to openly discuss my addiction to buying art supplies.

I want to find people who love puffy Cheetos like I do.

So! What would your Amazon account reveal about your life? Let me know! And if anyone wants to send me that waffle shirt, you know where to find me.

Note: this post was originally published on my previous blog “Don’t Drink the Paint Water” in April, 2019.