Solve Household Problems with Tools on Your Spartphone

I used to think apps were just games on my smartphone, meant for keeping kids entertained in carpool lines and waiting rooms. But once I started googling the subject, a whole new app-tastic world appeared. There are hundreds of thousands of “apps”—short for applications, generally meaning software programs available on our many electronic devices—ranging in interest from communication tools for autistic children to tip calculators to determine the appropriate gratuity for your hair stylist. The most useful apps are the ones that help you solve life’s little problems. Whether your platform is Android, Apple or Windows, it’s easy to find apps for any subject imaginable. Don’t have a smartphone or tablet? Almost all of these apps can be accessed on your home computer and taken advantage of in a full-screen format. Just ask around, “What’s your favorite app?” It’s a great icebreaker and conversation starter.

Oh, I’m so glad you asked! My favorite apps for grocery conundrums, household hang-ups, and personal use are:

WHOLE FOODS (Cost: FREE!)

In my imagination, I’m a homemade organic kale chips eater who delights in preparing food for my family. But the truth is, I’m really just a line cook at the Mom Café who hates spending a lot of money on food and who hopes she can get away with serving a meat-n-three a couple of times each week that reheats well for leftovers. Even though there isn’t a Whole Foods within 80 miles of me, I use this app every time I need recipe inspiration. Have a friend with special dietary needs and you’re not sure what’s safe to prepare? One click provides simple recipes filtered by course, preparation method, and dietary concern, then adds them to a shopping list. So, imagine this: your best friend is coming to spend the weekend and she’s gone gluten-free. Every breakfast recipe you can think of has wheat or gluten in it! Problem solved: simply go to the app, select “Breakfast & Brunch,” “Quick & Easy,” and “Gluten-free” from the menu, and the app instantly provides many recipes. So you decide on “Whole Grain Apple Waffles.” The app gives you a swoon-worthy description of the dish, including its nutrition information, and with one more click, you’ve got your shopping list. Best of all, the ingredients are listed in generic terms (“non-fat Greek-style yogurt”), which means you shop for your ingredients at any grocery store. One final click emails the recipe to your friend so she can review it, too. And, because I am the kind of person who loves to play “How Long Can I Hold Out ‘Til I Absolutely Must Go to the Store”— the “On Hand” feature of the app is a dream come true. “On Hand” lets me type the ingredients in my kitchen right now, and it creates recipes. Finally, this app includes tips and practical advice on healthy lifestyles and green living. I learn something new every time I use it.

SNAPGUIDE (COST: FREE!)

For great how-to information, this app does a nice job of providing you with simple step-by-step instructions complete with pictures. The “snap” in Snapguide refers both to snapping pictures and simple how-to guides that are a “snap” to use. Just be sure to disable the “post to Facebook” feature if you don’t want the social media universe to know that you’ve just learned how to remove melted candle wax from your carpet. Create your own how-tos and share them, because this app gets better as more people participate. You can narrow the parameters of your search to “Entertaining” or “Housekeeping” to ensure that you stay on-topic. No sense in letting a simple search regarding the proper height to hang a mirror over a mantel lead to an hours-long internet session, although you’re going to have so much fun learning new tricks that this might happen anyway. Snapguide’s visual aids give me ideas that stir my own creative juices. After logging in and typing what I want to learn in the search box—say, “Setting the table for entertaining”—this app serves up a photo-by-photo evolution of a lovely dinner table, from drab to fab! If Pinterest leaves you feeling like an underachieving talentless flunkie, you’ll love Snapguide. You know how on the cooking channel there’s the show with the beautifully stylish chef who makes everything from scratch with only the best ingredients…and then there’s the show featuring the cook who admits to using canned tomatoes and boxed cake mixes for time- and money-saving short-cuts? Same thing. Snapguide is ideal for visual learners who thrive on following a set of simple instructions.

SLEEP MACHINE (COST:$1.99)

I learned about this app when I went on a girls’ trip and remembered how we used to tease our light-sleeping friend for drowning out the giggles and slamming doors of Dorothy H. Crosby Hall with the cheesy mechanical sounds of ocean waves and babbling brooks. Twenty years and a touch of insomnia later, the joke’s on us! With Sleep Machine, you can layer several sounds onto one another to create your own special blend of sleep-inducing rhythms. Drift away, resting assured that your alarm clock will wake you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, whether you’re taking a power nap or seeking a full night’s sleep. I set the countdown timer and use it almost every night, especially if I’m sleeping in a hotel room or unfamiliar place. Bonus: it puts wriggly overtired six-year-olds out like a light, without the use of Benadryl! I would have loved having this app when my children were babies. After having fun trying out all the sounds, my son and I couldn’t agree upon one perfect blend. So, we made a separate profile for him that includes “Starlight” and “Beach 2 (Small Waves),” because he thinks my preferred sounds of “Contemplate” and “Drift” are, quote, “kinda creepy.” You don’t have to lose sleep over creating a personalized soundtrack; you also have the option to choose a house blend from the app’s “Favorites” section, so you can quickly nod off to the ambient sound of “Foggy Beach” or “Summer Nap.”

As the days are becoming longer and we’re enjoying that special springtime sense of renewal, with the help of one of these life-enhancing and problem-solving apps, you just might find yourself with a little extra gift of time. Use it well and go do something fun!

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