Category Archives: advice

Abby’s Apps: RetailMeNot

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Title: RetailMeNot
Cost: Free for iOS and Android, also available on the website.

What It Does: Lets users search for coupons from stores, web retailers, and restaurants. I look up stores while I am shopping, show the coupon to the cashier, and let them scan or enter the code right from my phone – no printing required!

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What I Like: Saving money, seriously. It is convenient for me to bookmark my favorite stores and even specific coupons. I also like the free-with-purchase nachos I got last month at Chili’s!

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What I Dislike: Occasionally expired coupons are not removed in a timely manner. It is not a huge problem, but is the only downside I have for this app.


Disclaimer: I don’t own or have any vested interest in this or any other apps nor am I responsible for how you or anyone else choose to use them. Do your own research and make wise decisions!


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This is a part of my 31 Days series, Abby’s Apps, linked up here.

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Abby’s Apps: ShopShop (with Tutorial)

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Title: ShopShop

Cost: Free for iOS

What It Does: Lets users create color-coded shopping lists, add items, and cross off items. It also keeps a history of items the user has added in the past for quick addition of regular items.

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What I Like: ShopShop is one of the handiest third-party apps Brian and I use. It lets us use Dropbox to sync our shared shopping lists between our iPhones. Side benefit: When we have gotten separated at a store, I have refreshed my list to see what things he has crossed off so that I could estimate his location.

What I Dislike: In the rare event when we both edit the same shopping list at the same time, Dropbox gets confused and creates a conflicting changes file with one person’s edit. It still shows up in the ShopShop app, so we just have had to combine the lists and then delete the conflicting list.

Disclaimer: I don’t own or have any vested interest in this or any other apps nor am I responsible for how you or anyone else choose to use them. Do your own research and make wise decisions!

Synced Shopping Lists Tutorial with ShopShop for iOS| Abby's Apps at #31Days
Bonus Tutorial: How to set up syncing & sharing
1. Person A (me) syncs her ShopShop account with her Dropbox account. Tap the “Three bar” button in upper left corner > Choose Settings > Turn Dropbox Sync on > give permission for ShopShop to access Dropbox.

2. Person A goes to Dropbox on her computer and shares the whole ShopShop folder with Person B (Brian).

3. Person B syncs his ShopShop account with his Dropbox account. (See step 1 for directions.)

Now both people can add and cross off items from the lists.

I also have a third device, my iPod Touch, that syncs the same lists through my Dropbox account. The iPod stays in our kitchen or adjoining laundry room for various uses, including conveniently updating our shopping lists when phones are not handy.

Reviews of iOS Apps | Abby's Apps at #31Days

This is a part of my 31 Days series, Abby’s Apps, linked up here.


Filed under advice, something to try, Uses Tech

Abby’s Apps: Introduction

Reading about technology is a hobby of mine. Science Mom calls me “Techie Daughter” and both of my parents (and some coworkers) refer many of their computer technology questions to me. Sometimes I have to do some research before I can help, but then I end up learning something new, too. Thanks to their questions, I have learned how to jailbreak an iPhone (before I ever had my own), a few obscure Excel formulas, the ins and outs of syncing a Windows phone or a Blackberry with secured Exchange server, and many other tricks.

I like trying and using apps, especially ones for iOS. In addition, I enjoy sharing my favorites with friends and family, so I decided to share them for 31 Days. Most of the ones on my list are iOS apps because I have an iPhone, but I will do my best to include a link when an app is available on other platforms.

I realize there are several usages for the word “app” in the English language. For the purpose of this series, “app” is a shortened form of “application” and refers to software applications.

Please join me tomorrow for the first app review post!

2014-10-01 10.22.21

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Science Mom’s Hot Chocolate Mix

If you have been reading Stories on the Stairs for long, you know I grew up with a Science Mom who loves to experiment and try new things. When she decided to make her own hot chocolate mix, she researched by reading various recipes. Next, she set up a double-blind taste test where the rest of the family tasted, evaluated, and rated samples of different recipes. Imagine kids describing flavors:

“I like this one because it’s more chocolaty.”

“This one is creamy and vanilla-y.”

I still use the recipe that won our family taste test. Last Sunday, some of “our” college students came for lunch and had hot chocolate for dessert… but then we ran out of hot chocolate mix! Conveniently, I had enough ingredients to make more mix. The girls watched, asked questions, and even helped add ingredients. They were so impressed that they asked me to share the recipe on my blog.

Hot Chocolate

Science Mom’s Hot Chocolate Mix

(This recipe too big for my largest mixing bowl, so I make half at a time)

Enough powdered milk to make 8 qt.
30 oz Nestlé’s Quik
16 oz. powdered sugar
18 oz. extra rich powdered coffee creamer
8 oz. French vanilla powdered creamer
3/4 cup cocoa

Mix the all ingredients and store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Use 1/3 cup mix in a cup of hot water. Use more for a larger cup. Top with whipped cream or marshmallows. Enjoy!

If you have requests for anything (not just recipes) you would like me to share, let me know and I will consider them.


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The Student Planner Challenge (free download at end)

Simple, Free Student Planner |
If you are looking for a revolutionary student planner that will transform every student into a star pupil, this is not it. This is about coping with educational expectations.
Learning in Another Language
I remember feeling overwhelmed on my first day of “Civilizations of Spanish-Speaking Countries” during my junior year in college. I discovered the textbook, lectures, assignments, discussions, and tests would all be in Spanish with no English!
Now I am a teaching assistant working with high school students who learned – or are learning – English as a second language (ESL). Most of them seem even more overwhelmed than I was. Can you imagine trying to navigate high school classes and society when almost everything is in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable language?
The Practice
Personal organization is one tool that can help students take ownership of their work and break it into manageable parts. With that in mind, I made a simple, non-distracting planner and am trying to teach students how to use it.
1. Write the date below each day of the week.
2. When you get an assignment, write it on the day that it is due (not the day you get the assignment).
3. When you do homework, check your planner and start with what is due first.
4. When you complete an assignment, check it off on the planner.
I like this practice because it helps students recognize that the order they receive assignments is not necessarily the order in which they need to be completed. It is easy to check the planner and make sure they have everything ready for the next day. Our long-term goal, of course is to give the students tools to help them be self-sufficient in high school, college, or wherever life takes them.
The Challenge
The ESL teacher assistants have been encouraging the students we work with to try the planner pages. To add motivation, if a student updates and uses the planners for four consecutive weeks, he or she will get a prize.


Get my simple, non-distracting planner. 

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Order Same-Day Instagram Prints from Your Phone

How to get same day Instagram prints |
Temporary Photo Wall Project
Our student ministry welcomed students back to campus last weekend. We had a table in the official check-in line and wanted to make our area look inviting. I printed photos from the past year and then Veronica and Lindsey arranged them on our photo wall. They were impressed when I told them Walgreens now lets customers upload and print photos from Instagram (with same day service). I ordered a number of photos from my Instagram feed and both I and the girls were impressed with the convenience and quality. One of them said, “Man, that is amazing! I’m going to print some tomorrow!”
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What I Did
From the Walgreens photo page, I logged into my Instagram account, selected the photos to print, and chose the sizes. I used 4×4 inch squares, but they also offer 8×8 inch ones too. Most Walgreens stores will offer same-day service for a little extra fee.
Walgreens often puts discount codes in banners at the top of the page. In addition, you can use RetailMeNot or its smart phone app to look up discount codes. I found a code for 50% off any photo order, but they change often.
Side Note
You can also upload photos from your computer or from your Facebook account. I have tried the former, but not the latter.
Walgreens did not ask or pay me to recommend their photo service. I am simply sharing my experience with a business.


Filed under advice, photos, something to try

Simple, Speedy Cooking for One

One of my college student friends recently asked for recipes and tips for cooking for one. Before I got married last year, I spent the previous four years living on my own and either working two jobs or working and going to grad school. I love food – a lot! – but had limited time to cook. Here are my tips & recipes for her. Most of these are scalable recipes that can be easily increased to feed a crowd.
 Cooking for One: Tips & Tricks (
  • Brown several pounds of ground beef in a skillet and freeze it in one-pound or half-pound portions to speed up meal preparation later.
  • Rotisserie chicken from your local deli can be a healthy, fast way to add protein to several meals (especially if you do not eat the skin). Meal #1: Have the legs and wings with vegetables and a roll or biscuit on the side. Meals #2-3: Use chopped breast and back meat in a Quesadilla or Chef Salad or on Baked Potatoes.
Cooking for One: Stir-Fry with Potstickers Recipe (
Stir-Fry with Dumplings/Potstickers 
1 serving frozen potstickers, sometimes labeled as Asian dumplings (check package for serving size)
1/2 cup broccoli slaw
1 tablespoon chopped peanuts or sliced almonds (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Prepare potstickers using the skillet directions. When they are done, leave them in the skillet and add the broccoli slaw. If the bottom of the pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon of water. Cover the pan and steam for 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl. Top with soy sauce and nuts to taste.
 Cooking for One: Italian Chicken & Potatoes Recipe (
Italian Chicken & Potatoes
2 frozen chicken tenders or one breast (split)
1 medium or two small potatoes (white, red, or sweet potatoes are fine)
1 cup Italian salad dressing
Preheat oven to 350. Place thawed chicken on a casserole or baking pan with high sides. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into medium-sized chunks. Place the potatoes around the chicken. Pour the salad dressing over the chicken and potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes. The chicken should be white all the way through and the potatoes should be soft.
 Cooking for One: Baked BBQ Chicken Recipe (
Baked BBQ Chicken
2 frozen chicken tenders or one breast (split)
1/8 – 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
Preheat oven to 350. Place thawed chicken on a casserole or baking pan with high sides. Pour the barbecue sauce over the chicken. Bake for 15-20 minutes. The chicken should be white all the way through.
 Cooking for One: Quesadillas Recipe (
2 tortillas
1/2 cup cooked meat (ground beef, chopped chicken, prepared barbecued pork)
1/4 cup shredded cheese (mild cheddar, American, colby, jack)
Heat skillet or griddle to medium high. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Lay one tortilla flat on the hot skillet and spread meat evenly across the tortilla. Sprinkle cheese over the meat and top with second tortilla. Cook while frequently pressing down on the top tortilla with a spatula or a plate until the cheese is melted enough to hold the tortillas together and the bottom tortilla is nicely browned. Flip the quesadilla and brown the other side. Cut and serve!
 Cooking for One: Sweet & Tangy Meatballs Recipe (
Sweet & Tangy Meatballs – adapted from Ring Around the Rosies
1 serving turkey and romano cheese frozen meatballs (check package for serving size)
1/4 cup grape jelly
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
Place all ingredients into small saucepan heat on medium, stirring occasionally until meatballs are heated completely according to package directions and jelly is blended with sauce. Serve over rice or pasta.
 Cooking for One: Chef Salad Recipe (
Chef Salad
1 cup greens (I like spinach because I can use it in other favorite recipes)
1/2 cup other vegetables or fruits (fresh berries, tomatoes, peppers, celery, shredded carrots, beets)
1/2 cup protein (cottage cheese, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped sandwich meat, cooked chicken, sliced boiled egg)
1-2 tablespoons salad dressing
 Cooking for One: Loaded Baked Potatoes Recipe (
Loaded Baked Potatoes
Scrub potatoes. Cook in oven (350 for 30-45 minutes, depending on size) or microwave on high (4-7 minutes, depending on size). Top as desired. Some of my family’s favorites are cheddar cheese, sour cream, olives, ham or any kind of sandwich meat, cooked broccoli, cottage cheese, bacon bits, Italian salad dressing.*
* Not all on the same potato!


Make the whole recipe and eat one serving. When the casserole cools, wrap individual servings in plastic wrap and place in a gallon freezer bag to freeze. Unwrap and reheat whenever you need a quick meal. It tastes far better than store-bought freezer meals!
What is your advice on cooking for one?

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Pinterest 101

Abby Explains


Do you use Pinterest?

Pinterest has been widely adopted by individuals, businesses, and bloggers. If you were an early adopter, you may still get asked to explain it to people who have heard about it.


I thought my verbal explanations were a bit lacking, so I made a short explanatory video (less than four minutes): Pinterest 101*.


*This was a grad school project for my Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) class.

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Simple, Summery, & Fun

Wedding Planning2

Have you ever planned a wedding? Boy, can it be a lot of work!

I have attended, helped plan, and bridesmaid-ed lots of weddings, so I’ve seen how much work wedding planning can be. Now that we are planning our own wedding, Brian and I have a philosophy that the important thing is the two of us committing to each other before God and the rest is just a party with people who care about us.

We want to enjoy our brief season of being engaged and to spend the majority of our time preparing for a lifetime of marriage instead of for a one-day wedding.

Early in planning, I told him, “I think we need to communicate clearly about what’s important to each of us. If neither one of us has a strong opinion about something, we should pick the simplest, least expensive option or eliminate it altogether. Like, if neither of us care what kind of mints we have at the reception, maybe we shouldn’t have mints.”

“I agree and I don’t really care about mints.”

“Okay, bad example. I care and we’re having cream cheese mints.”

For some reason, he laughed really hard.

We still laugh about that conversation, but it greatly simplified the planning. For example:

  • Our theme (wedding themes are trendy, right?) is simple, summery, and fun.
  • Decorations will be cute but minimal and I will probably delegate them to friends who are better at it than I am.
  • We are having an afternoon wedding because more people will be able to make it a day trip.
  • Plus, a cake reception lets us include more people on our budget than a dinner. (We are going to have a light lunch of party subs and chips and fruit with our family and wedding party between photos and the ceremony, though.)
  • We made our guest list in a spreadsheet so we (read: my mom) could do a mail merge to print address labels with minimal effort. The invitations do not require any folding or assembling, so we will just stick them in envelopes.
  • We chose music we like but that is not particularly traditional for weddings.
  • We will have our favorite cake flavors (lemon and red velvet) and some of our favorite drinks (iced tea and peach Italian soda).

Do you have any ideas for simplified wedding planning?

If you need a fun, talented photographer in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, check out Keri (she didn’t ask me to say that). She is our engagement/wedding photographer and I really like her!


Filed under advice, milestones, something to try, weddings

31 Days of Random Questions – Day 3

What brings out the worst in people?
Hunger, tiredness, and sore feet bring out the worst in most people. Lots of people need to have a snack, a nap, and more comfortable shoes before they go out in public.

My mom’s advice to my boyfriend about me was something like, “You have to feed her regularly. If she doesn’t feel good, feed her. If she gets crabby, feed her. If she gets too quiet, she probably needs to eat something. When in doubt, just get her a snack.” Yes, she sounds like I’m two years old but she is pretty much right about the eating thing.

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