The Endless Quest For the Perfect To Do List App

I’ve been hunting for the perfect to do list app to organize my life for years and have tried what seems like dozens. I have yet to find my ideal app, although I’ve come close a couple times. I figured as long as I’m trying so many apps, I may as well write an article about it in the hopes that all my experimenting might help others find their own ideal app.

I make pretty varied use of my to do apps, including general tasks like “backup my photos”, tasks and events with specific due dates and times like school field trips and doctor’s appointments, ongoing and high turnover lists like grocery shopping lists, and sometimes even long term lists like “movies I want to watch”, “places I want to visit”, or other things I want to remember. Because of this, I need a fair bit of flexibility in my perfect app, but at the same time, a lot of the features in task management apps intended for business use are overkill for me.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve had such a problem finding my perfect to do list app – I’m not really the target audience for them, so the free apps tend to be not quite adequate for my needs, but the premium apps have so many extra features I don’t need that I’m reluctant to pay for them, leaving me in a sort of awkward limbo where I’m never quite satisfied but nobody is stepping up to fill the gap either. Alas, I don’t have the coding skills to create my own perfect app, so the hunt continues.

Features I need:

  • Free or low cost
  • Web and iPhone apps, preferably with automatic sync between them
  • Unlimited or generous number of lists and tasks per list
  • Ability to set due time as well as due date (WHY is this so rare?)
  • Relatedly, the ability to sort tasks that are due on the same day by due time
  • Ability to set at least one and preferably two reminders per task, at times such as “1 hour before” or “15 minutes before”, preferably via iOS and/or web notifications rather than email
  • Recurring tasks, preferably daily, weekly, monthly, bimonthly, and annually at minimum
  • All Tasks and Today’s Tasks views, preferably also This Week’s Tasks view
  • Notes or comments on tasks

Features that I’d like to have, but which aren’t necessary include:

  • Easy to use and attractive design
  • Ability to hide tasks in certain lists (such as grocery list) from All Tasks view
  • Ability to share lists with one or more people
  • Ability to color-code lists
  • Folders/projects to group related lists, preferably an unlimited or generous number of them
  • Subtasks
  • Tags
  • Goal or habit tracking features
  • Gamification features
  • Significant user base and/or under active development

With that in mind, here’s my run-down of different to do list and task management apps.

The five apps that I’ve used most extensively are TickTick, Wunderlist, Toodledo, Todoist, and Remember the Milk. I’ve tried many more on a more limited basis, ranging from a few minutes to a few weeks.

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5 Movies I’m Looking Forward To This Fall (plus a bonus Maybe)

Now that I’m finally making it to see movies in theaters a little more often, I’ve started paying more attention to upcoming films again. Here are five movies that I’m hoping to see this fall:

The Martian – October 2

This film, about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars after his mission gets aborted, probably would have been on my to watch list anyway due to the cast, which includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Sebastian Stan, but I also read the novel by Andy Weir over the summer and really enjoyed it (check out my review). Based on the trailer, it looks like it’s likely to be a serious contender for Oscars in several categories. I’ve also enjoyed the clever viral marketing campaign, which has included releasing “archival” footage from the astronauts’ preparation for their trip and a video by nerd god Neil Degrasse Tyson. See the Ares:live YouTube channel for more.

Edit: watched it!

Suffragette – October 30

With elections coming around the corner again next year, it never hurts to be reminded that women weren’t “given” the right to vote, we fought, bled, and died for it. This film stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and screen goddess Meryl Streep (as Emmeline Pankhurst no less), so it’s guaranteed to be well-acted.

If this movie looks appealing to you, too, be sure to also check out the American side of things in Iron Jawed Angels.

Less than 100 years, people. There are people still alive today who were born before women could legally vote. Don’t take it for granted!

Okay, mini political rant over. Seriously, though. VOTE.

Brooklyn – November 6

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for period dramas (and also Irish accents, I won’t lie). This one, about an Irish immigrant girl in New York in the 50’s, looks sweet and is already getting great reviews.

Legend – November 25

This trailer for a biopic of London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray caught my attention because Tom Hardy. TWO Tom Hardys, in fact, and if that’s not a win-win situation, I don’t know what is! The action scenes also looked great – as I’ve mentioned before, I like hand-to-hand fight scenes much more than gunfights in general.

I am not as fond of gangster movies as my husband (whose favorite movies include The Godfather trilogy, Pulp Fiction, and Goodfellas) and I don’t know much about the Kray twins, but I think this one will be worth watching.

The Good Dinosaur – November 25

Two Pixar movies in one year? Heck yeah, baby!

Bonus: One Movie I Might Want To See

Crimson Peak – October 16

As I mentioned above in my comments about Legend, gangster movies aren’t really my thing, but I appreciate a good one, so I do watch ones that look good. Horror movies really, really aren’t my thing, and it takes a lot to get me to even try them, let alone sit through one to the end.

However, I do slightly better with gothic horror than other types, and this trailer had a genuinely creepy gothic vibe that came off sort of The Sixth Sense meets Rebecca, which piqued a certain wary interest in me, compounded by the cast, which includes Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain (busy year, Jessica!), and Mia Wasikowska. If the reviews are good, I’ll probably give this film a shot, though I’ll definitely have to drag my husband along so I can climb into his lap if necessary! (Yes, I am a certified wimp – it’s why I don’t usually do horror.)

College Reading List Meme

I was thinking about doing that BBC book meme, but it’s apparently bogus, so I decided to make my own.

When I was a homeschooler trying to convince colleges that I had an education, my family had a helpful book called Reading Lists for College-Bound Students with recommended high school reading lists from over 100 different American colleges and universities. At the front it listed the 100 most frequently recommended books. (Some authors have alternate suggestions, so it’s actually more than 100.)

The College Reading List Meme

The 100(+) books most frequently recommended for high schoolers by American colleges and universities

Bold the books you’ve read in their entirety.

Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

  1. Aeschylus – Orestia
  2. Anonymous – Beowulf
  3. Anonymous – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  4. Aristophanes – Lysistrata
  5. Aristotle – Poetics
  6. Augustine, Saint – Confessions
  7. Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice or Emma
  8. Baldwin, James – Go Tell It On the Mountain or Notes of a Native Son
  9. Beckett, Samuel – Waiting for Godot
  10. Bellow, Saul – Seize the Day or Henderson the Rain King
  11. Bible
  12. Brecht, Bertolt – Mother Courage and Her Children
  13. Bronte, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
  14. Bronte, Emily – Wuthering Heights
  15. Camus, Albert – The Stranger
  16. Carroll, Lewis – Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass
  17. Cather, Willa – My Antonia or Death Comes For the Archbishop
  18. Cervantes, Miguel – Don Quixote
  19. Chaucer, Geoffrey – The Canterbury Tales
  20. Chekhov, Anton – The Cherry Orchard or The Three Sisters (I prefer his short stories to his plays, in general)
  21. Chopin, Kate – The Awakening
  22. Conrad, Joseph – Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim
  23. Crane, Stephen – The Red Badge of Courage
  24. Dante – Inferno
  25. Darwin, Charles – Origin of Species or The Voyage of the Beagle
  26. Defoe, Daniel – Robinson Crusoe
  27. Dickens, Charles – Great Expectations
  28. Dostoevsky, Feodor – Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov (I am a terrible Russian major, Notes From Underground was good though)
  29. Eliot, George – The Mill on the Floss or Middlemarch
  30. Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man
  31. Emerson, Ralph Waldo – “The American Thinker” or “Self-Reliance”
  32. Euripides – Medea or The Bacchae
  33. Faulkner, William – The Sound and the Fury
  34. Fielding, Henry – Tom Jones or Joseph Andrews
  35. Fitzgerald, F. Scott – The Great Gatsby
  36. Flaubert, Gustave – Madame Bovary (could not get into it)
  37. Forster, E.M. – A Passage To India
  38. Franklin, Benjamin – Autobiography
  39. Freud, Sigmund – Civilization and Its Discontents or Dora
  40. Garcia Marquez, Gabriel – One Hundred Years of Solitude
  41. Goethe, Johann von – Faust, Part I
  42. Golding, William – Lord of the Flies
  43. Hamilton, Edith – Mythology
  44. Hardy, Thomas – Tess of the D’Urbervilles or The Return of the Native (I seem to either love Hardy or hate him – loved Return of the Native and Far From the Madding Crowd, but haaaated Mayor of Casterbridge and couldn’t get into Tess)
  45. Hawthorne, Nathaniel – The Scarlet Letter (ugh)
  46. Hemingway, Ernest – A Farewell To Arms or The Sun Also Rises (double ugh)
  47. Homer- The Odyssey or The Iliad
  48. Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  49. Huxley, Aldous – Brave New World
  50. Ibsen, Henrik – A Doll’s House (I’m surprised Hedda Gabler isn’t listed, too)
  51. James, Henry – The Turn of the Screw or Portrait of a Lady
  52. Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  53. Kafka, Franz – The Trial or Metamophosis
  54. Lawrence, D.H. – Sons and Lovers or Women in Love
  55. Lewis, Sinclair – Babbitt or Main Street
  56. Machiavelli, Niccolo – The Prince
  57. Malamud, Bernard – The Assistant
  58. Mann, Thomas – Death in Venice
  59. Marlowe, Christopher – Doctor Faustus (unless you count the bit that gets quoted in Shakespeare in Love *g*)
  60. Marx, Karl – Communist Manifesto
  61. Melville, Herman – Moby-Dick
  62. Miller, Arthur – Death of a Salesman
  63. Milton, John – Paradise Lost
  64. Moliere – The Misanthrope or Tartuffe
  65. Montaigne, Michel de – Selected Essays
  66. Morrison, Toni – Sula or Beloved
  67. Norton Anthology of Poetry
  68. O’Connor, Flannery – A Good Man Is Hard To Find
  69. Olsen, Tillie – Tell Me a Riddle
  70. O’Neill, Eugene – Desire Under the Elms (liked Mourning Becomes Electra though)
  71. Orwell, George – Animal Farm or 1984
  72. Paton, Alan – Cry, the Beloved Country
  73. Plato – Republic or Apology
  74. Poe, Edgar Allan – Great Tales and Poems
  75. Salinger, J.D. – The Catcher in the Rye
  76. Scott, Sir Walter – Ivanhoe or Heart of Midlothian
  77. Shakespeare, William – Hamlet or as much as possible (most plays, a bunch of poetry)
  78. Shaw, George Bernard – Pygmalion
  79. Shelley, Mary – Frankenstein
  80. Sophocles – Oedipus Rex
  81. Steinbeck, John – The Grapes of Wrath (couldn’t get into it)
  82. Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver’s Travels
  83. Thackeray, William Makepeace – Vanity Fair (couldn’t get into it)
  84. Thoreau, Henry David – Walden or Civil Disobedience
  85. Tolstoy, Leo – War and Peace (again, I’m a terrible Russian major, read several of his others though, and it is on my TBR pile)
  86. Turgenev, Ivan – Fathers and Sons (really happy to see this on the list – it’s totally under-rated, imho)
  87. Twain, Mark – The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn (liked Tom Sawyer though)
  88. Updike, John – Rabbit, Run
  89. Vergil – The Aeneid (prefer the Greeks)
  90. Voltaire – Candide
  91. Vonnegut, Kurt – Slaughterhouse Five or Cat’s Cradle
  92. Walker, Alice – The Color Purple
  93. Welty, Eudora – Thirteen Stories (“Why I Live at the P.O.” – freaking hilarious!)
  94. Wharton, Edith – The Age of Innocence or The House of Mirth
  95. Whitman, Walt – Leaves of Grass
  96. Wilde, Oscar – The Importance of Being Earnest
  97. Wilder, Thornton – Our Town
  98. Williams, Tennessee – The Glass Menagerie
  99. Woolf, Virginia – To the Lighthouse or A Room of One’s Own (A Room of One’s Own has been in my TBR pile forever, really need to get to it one of these days)
  100. Wright, Richard – Native Son

So, if I counted right, that’s 36 top choices I’ve read in their entirety, plus 7 alternates and a bunch of partial reads. I’m not gonna get hired as an English professor anytime soon, but not bad. My favorites on the list (in alphabetical order):

My Favorite Horse Novels For Kids

I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I don’t come from a horsey family, so I had the opportunity to ride only briefly, when I studied dressage for a couple years in my late teens. As one of those girls who asked her parents for a horse every year for Christmas, I had to content myself for most of my childhood and early teen years with reading about them. Luckily, there are tons of great horse stories out there. I was desperate enough to read quite a few books that were pretty terrible in terms of the quality of the writing, but also many that are legitimate classics. My favorite horse stories included:

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King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry

My all-time favorite. Based (though with many historical liberties) on the true story of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the founding sires of the thoroughbred breed. Born in Morocco, the fleet-footed but small Godolphin Arabian (or Sham, as he is known in the book) is sent as a gift by the Sultan to the young king of France, who fails to recognize what he’s been given and turns the young stallion into a carthorse. Along with his loving caretaker, Agba, a mute horseboy from the Sultan’s stables, Sham is passed from owner to owner, some kind, some horrible, before his worth is finally recognized by the Earl of Godolphin. It’s a thrilling and emotional story, bookended by an account of Sham’s great descendant Man O’War and his match race with Sir Barton.

My rating: (5 / 5)

I read all of Marguerite Henry’s horse books as a kid and loved them all. My other favorite was Black Gold, the story of the 1930s-era Oklahoma racehorse who finished his last race on “three legs and a heart.” (Needless to say, a tearjerker!)

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The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley

The first and best of the popular Black Stallion series, which I read most of. The series stars another fleet-footed Arabian, the wild and savage Black, who survives a shipwreck and a stint being marooned on a desert island with a young boy before returning to New York and becoming a mystery entrant in the match race of the century. Both a great adventure story and a great sports story!

The Black Stallion was made into a pretty good (though not entirely faithful) film during the 70s, with champion Arabian Cass Ole as The Black. The scenes on the desert island are particularly beautiful and well done.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Farley’s fictionalized biography of the legendary Man O’War is also a great read.

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Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell

Fiction with an agenda can sometimes be pretty overbearing, but Black Beauty, which Sewell wrote to bring attention to the widespread mistreatment of horses in the late Victorian era, is a great story as well as a convincing piece of propaganda. Beauty narrates the story of his life, from his happy period as a foal playing with his mother in the green English countryside to the cruel life of a London cabhorse and beyond. It’s probably the world’s most famous horse story, and deservedly so.

There have been several attempts to make a movie out of the story, of which the best and most faithful is this 1994 one, starring Sean Bean (who doesn’t die, for once), David Thewlis, Alan Cumming, Alun Armstrong, and Jim Carter.

My rating: (4 / 5)

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Mr Revere and I, by Robert Lawson

A fun historical fiction novel about the American Revolution, told from the perspective of Paul Revere’s horse Scheherazade (aka Sherry). Sherry begins her career as the pride of the British Army and a dyed-in-the-wool loyalist to the British Crown, but is gradually converted to the colonial side after being “liberated” by Sam Adams (who’s given an especially entertaining portrayal here) and given to the Revere family. It’s a very funny and well written book on top of being educational and exciting, so it’s a great read by itself and would also make a wonderful addition to any Revolutionary War unit study.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Lawson’s other Revolutionary-War-from-an-animal-perspective novel, Ben and Me, which narrates the life of Ben Franklin through the eyes of his pet mouse, is also very enjoyable.

Some of my other favorite horse novels for children are sadly out of print and hard to find, such as Sky Rocket: The Story of a Little Bay Horse, another riches-to-rags-to-riches story similar to Black Beauty, and the flawed but interesting And Miles To Go: The Biography of a Great Arabian Horse, Witez II, about a Polish Arabian stallion who was caught up in the events of World War 2 before being imported to America.

What are your favorite horse stories for children?

Russian Music: Любэ


Любэ, most commonly transliterated as Lyube, is my favorite Russian band. I was first introduced to them in one of my college Russian classes, when a professor played their song “Не валяй дурака, Америка” (Don’t Play the Fool, America) for us. It’s all about how Alaska rightfully belongs to Russia and Catherine the Great never should have sold it to the United States, and it ends with them screaming about caviar in the background. It is, quite frankly, hilarious.

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That evening on the phone, I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed it to my USSR-born boyfriend (now husband) and discovered that he not only knew the song well, but considers Любэ his favorite band. He recommended a few more songs to me, but this was years before the arrival of helpful sites like YouTube and I didn’t get the chance to really investigate them more until my semester abroad in Russia, when a compilation CD of their greatest hits was one of the first things I bought.

The band was formed in the final years of the Soviet Union and is led by lead vocalist Nikolay Rastorguyev. The other members include: Aleksey Tarasov (backing vocals), Sergei Pereguda (guitar), Pavel Usanov (bass), Vitaliy Loktev (keyboard, bayan), and Aleksandr Erokhin (drums). Many of their songs have military or patriotic themes (in addition to mine and my husband’s, Любэ is also apparently Putin’s favorite band), but they sing in several styles, including rock, folk, and ballads. My Russian is a little short of the vocabulary necessary to appreciate some of their songs in full, but the lyrics of those I can understand are often beautiful. (Though they have several humorous songs besides “Не валяй дурака, Америка,” it’s not their standard style.) I also love Rastorguyev’s voice, which can be both gentle and harsh.

Here are some more of my favorite songs. Note: I’ve done my best to find versions with English subtitles, but some of the translations are better than others.

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My Favorite Christmas Reads

My favorite Christmas Reads

My family is not very religious, so we never really did the Advent calendar thing when I was growing up. Instead, as a family of incorrigible bookworms (and environmentalists), we saved our used wrapping paper from unwrapping presents and used it to wrap up our Christmas book collection, which was then put away for the year and brought back out again on December 1st. Starting that evening, we would unwrap one or two books per night until Christmas, and read them aloud together to start getting into the Christmas spirit.

Much like real Christmas presents, there was always much poking around to try and figure out what was what (in the intervening 12 months, we always forgot what paper had gone with what book) so we could unwrap our favorites sooner. Here are some of the books that I was always trying to find:

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My 10 Favorite Board Books To Read Aloud

My 10 Favorite Read-Aloud Board Books

I’ll let you in on a secret. I hate to read aloud. Always have, probably always will. But the benefits of reading aloud to young children are so enormous and life-changing (PDF) that I do it anyway, day in and day out.

Naturally, reading aloud is most enjoyable for me when it’s a book that I like myself. Read aloud books that are most fun for me have lots of scope for expression – elements such as silly voices, animal noises, dialogue, rhyming text, etc. Good illustrations are also a must – I especially like detailed illustrations with lots of stuff going on in the background that offers lots of opportunities to build and reinforce vocabulary. These types of elements make it less monotonous to read the same book 1,000 times, which inevitably happens when a toddler starts picking favorites.

Here are the top ten kid AND mom approved books from our personal library of board books:

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The 18 Most Attractive Disney Men

So, I was writing my review of Tangled and thinking about a report I heard that Flynn Rider’s good looks were created by female focus group in an attempt to create the handsomest Disney hero ever. This (naturally) led to me contemplating where he falls in my own hierarchy of Disney animated hotness, and I decided that clearly just thinking about it wasn’t enough and I needed to go track down supporting evidence. You know, for science. And as long as I was finding all these pictures, I figured I may as well go ahead and post about it.

So here we go, my choices for the 18 most attractive Disney men:

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Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Sets – Help Us Choose!

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I’ve been starting to thing about Christmas presents for my kids and am trying to choose between two Melissa & Doug ice cream sets. My kids both love play food and they had a ball with the Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Scoop Set (right) when they got to play with it at a relative’s house. I was planning to get that set for them when I noticed a similar one, the Melissa & Doug Slice and Scoop Sundae Set (below left), and now I’m wondering if the Sundae Set might be even better.

I like that the Ice Cream Scoop Set has two scoops, two cones, and four flavors of ice cream, making my two children (hopefully) able to play with it together without fighting too much about who does what, whereas the Sundae Set has only one scoop and one bowl, so one child has to serve and the other to eat. On the other hand, if they do squabble while playing with the Ice Cream Scoop Set, the 2 year old might clonk the 7 year old with the wooden cones, which were pretty heavy and solid and might be more painful than the bowl from the Sundae Set.

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I also like that the Ice Cream Scoop Set comes with an ice cream carton to store everything in. On the other hand, I love that the Sundae Set has a banana and strawberry that you can cut up. (The two year old in particular absolutely loves their Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Set.) The Sundae Set also has sundae toppings, which I think they’ll both like as well.

Decisions, decisions… Which set do you think I should choose?

The Best Sleep Tracking Apps for iPhone

Ever seen the sky turn green? I have. Good ol' Nebraska... Photo by Zooey | CC

Ever seen the sky turn green? I have. Good ol’ Nebraska… Photo by Zooey | CC

I got interested in sleep tracking when I wanted to figure how badly I was really sleeping. Before I had children, I slept like the dead. I’d routinely sleep through classic Nebraska storms with thunder, lightning, hail… the works.

Unfortunately, since having my oldest child, I’ve turned into a light sleeper, and struggled with insomnia and disturbed sleep as a result. And she was a good sleeper almost from the start. Since the arrival of my younger child, who is a terrible sleeper, my sleep problems have only gotten worse.

I’ve tried several different sleep tracking apps for iPhone, and here are my conclusions.

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