Helping You Help Yourself #48

feature image via shutterstock

Horrifying, this week Congress voted to let your Internet service provider sell your browsing history and info to whoever they want, basically, without you knowing or consenting. One thing you can do to attempt to maintain some basic privacy is using a VPN, something upon which Ali helpfully wrote a guide this week!

Meat safety! It’s not very fun to learn about, but you only have to get violently ill once to know why it’s worth it.

Is the premise of a crisis prep guide for non-paranoid people inherently flawed? I don’t know, really, but the power did go out in my whole neighborhood for seemingly no reason this week and the author makes a good point that I don’t have any faith in the Trump administration’s FEMA response to be, you know, effective, so maybe stocking up on batteries isn’t the worst thing I could do, idk!

cc: Laneia: How to Craft the Perfect Cheese Plate

Our States, an interactive guide that helps you find out what bills relating to immigration, policing/protest, reproductive justice, voting rights, LGBT issues and economic justice legislators are working on in your state. Stay informed and get involved! This week I also started using the VoteSpotter mobile app – it lets you know when your representatives have voted on something, and lets you contact them without leaving the app to let you know what you thought of their vote. It’s not the same as contacting them before then to try to influence their vote, but we’re only human, and it’s not possible to weigh in on every single vote before it happens.

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to start seedlings for my garden inside without having my cats eat them all, and found this guide to making a mini greenhouse! I’m excited to look into it. Also, this very fancy self-watering planter!

This is sort of an excuse to brag, BUT: after over a year of my circa-2014 MacBook Pro being barely functional and knowing that my hard drive was slowly and inevitably failing, I bought a solid state hard drive, popped open the inside of my laptop and replaced my old hard drive myself. The hard drive plus the torx screwdrivers I had to buy to install it cost less than $200 — still kind of a big investment, but a lot less than replacing my whole computer, and now my computer works seriously like new. If by some chance you’re in a similar position, this is the most helpful guide I found to teaching myself how to do it — the only thing I did differently was go to the Genius Bar afterwards to have them reinstall the operating system rather than trying to do it myself.

A comprehensive guide to unsubscribing from email newsletters.

Spring Cleaning Away Your Existential Dread, from Jennifer Culp at The Establishment!

Lately I’ve been thinking about how my going to the gym/what I do at the gym is limited by how unfamiliar I am with a lot of the machines; I’m aware that most of them have instructions on them, but I often feel too self-conscious to check them out for the first time when the gym is busy and I’m surrounded by people, especially if I know someone else is waiting. For a lot of them, I don’t even know what they’re called, so it’s hard to look up what I should be doing with them. That’s fine, I thought, surely there are myriad guides online that cover all the standard gym machines in great detail! Surprisingly, that guide is actually not that easy to find, but here’s the closest thing I’ve found so far. If you have a better resource, please share!

In the last iteration of this column, someone suggested a roundup of meditation/mindfulness apps. I’m not sure I’m qualified to do that, especially since the market is changing so rapidly — it feels like there’s a new meditation app every week! But I will share that this week, I realized an app I already had downloaded, Calm, had a feature I’d been looking for: a basic moving graphic that you can breathe along with to help yourself take deep, regular breaths and slow down for a minute. Like this graphic for breathing in sync to, but in your phone and on the go!

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Whoever was asking about meditation or awareness apps:

    I love Headspace! And I love that I got a year free through these good people: since I couldn’t pay for the full version right now and definitely have benefited from it. When someone *does* pay, they donate a subscription to someone who can’t, so there are various groups that can give them away. But the link there were very nice and didn’t care at all that I have never even been to Montana.

  2. For gym anxiety: Nerd Fitness has tons of great resources about routines and basic gym etiquette to make you feel less awkward. They’re biased towards free weights over machines though if that’s a problem.

  3. Not going to lie, I’ve been having a lot of natural disaster nightmares since the election (last night was tornadoes in my parents’ neighborhood, a thing I do not believe to have ever happened) so perhaps a leeetle bit of doomsday prep would just make me sleep better, idk… thanks.

  4. Most decent gyms should have employees on hand to show you how to use the machines properly (and they should be willing to do this for free). Aside from that, I know not everyone can afford it, but if you can do even just one or two sessions with a personal trainer who can show you the proper techniques for using free weights and/or bodyweight for strength training, I’ve personally found that to be much more effective than using the machines.

  5. lovely as always- also a question: there was an advice piece Rachel wrote a long time ago (not sure if it was for helping you help yourself or another series) where she gave a list of things to do to replicate the excitement of buying yourself a new thing. I’ve done about a million searches and can’t find it- anyone who knows what I’m talking about and can link me back to it?

  6. As for meditation apps I have to recommend Smiling Mind if you’re like me and normally hate The Voice most people who do guided meditations put on. Though I do say the guy who does it is Australian, so if you’re also Australian it may seem like the voice all over again.

    Not an actual meditation app, but What’s Up is super good if you’re getting overwhelmed as it has some wonderful grounding “games” on it that I super love. It also has like a habits tracker, but I don’t find that part of it that useful…

  7. Downloaded Calm last night and omg. I did some deep breathing and then I listened to one of their ‘grown-up bedtime stories’ and I was asleep soooo much faster than when I listen to Harry Potter, and I slept really deeply and woke up an hour before my alarm. Sorry this sounds like an infomercial testimonial but holy crap!

  8. Doesn’t everyone keep batteries, candles, a few liters of spare water and a few shelf-stable meals and a bucket of non-perishable energy bars (Clif bars are cheap and last for years – “Purina hiker pellets”) around for power outages and snowed-in days? Not to mention, same stuff in car, plus old blankets and silvered tarp/space blanket for shelter-in-place in rural locations during (ice storm, car breakdown in middle of nowhere eg, national forest service road, etc)?

    Not to mention the lightweight “Ten Essentials” emergency kit ready in backpack (whistle, mirror, compass, map if suitable, water, Clif bars, emergency stove using solid pellet fuel, single-wall metal mug suitable for using on the stove, waterproof matches, a cotton-ball-petrolatum tinder, knife, flint, space blanket bivy, hand warmers, minimalist first aid kit with a few bandages and ibuprofen. I hike and camp, so I find it easy enough to keep core kit stored together (except for food, separate double baggie with single serving wrapped cocoa/tea/clif bars, to avoid stink from fuel pellets).

    • Lol ‘doesn’t everyone’

      When I lived in Earthquake country, I bought some extra Amy’s soups once, but then I ate them whenever I was low on groceries and lazy ;-)

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