2018 Tech Guide Update

Tech items are one of those things that I feel are hyped up every year because it’s all shiny and new and then forgotten about as new tech items flood the market. Well I don’t believe in always getting the newest gadget so I thought I would update last year’s tech guide to let you all know whether the stuff I reviewed then were really worth it and stood the test of time.

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Worth It

The Apple Airpods are still very much worth it. I use them almost daily, and they’re great for music and talking on the phone alike. This year I added a handy dandy case with them so I can easily find them in my purse and I keep them with me at all times.

My love for the Voloom Volumizing Hair Iron is still going strong. It’s about 6 years old now and still works great!

And I’m still using my Amazon Echo Dot with TP-Link Smart Plug daily for my bedroom floor light. We got another plug for our Christmas tree this year so all we have to say is “Alexa turn on the tree” :D .

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Less Worth It

So after using the Awair air monitor for a year I have to say it’s been a mixed-bag kind of experience. The monitor still works, though the dust/PM 2.5 reading is permanently high which means the air quality rating is stuck at a fairly low reading all the time. I tried cleaning it but to no avail. However it still did a good job of letting me know how poor the air quality was indoors during the wildfires this season (even with all the windows and doors closed, the rating was the lowest I’ve ever seen it so it must still be getting in the house). I guess if I go and fix it, I will say this will be worth it again.

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Not Worth It

The Coravin Wine System is not worth it. Granted I’m not drinking currently and haven’t for the last 6 months. But even before that I hardly touched it. TBH it’s just so much easier to open the bottle the old fashion way, use one of these things to seal it back as best as possible and then finish the bottle within three days.

And this was not on last year’s list, but one new tech gadget I tried this year was the Dyson Airwrap (reviewed here). And I have to say, it’s definitely not worth $550! Stick with your regular hair dryer and curling irons because this is just all a fad.

What were some tech gadgets that you thought were worth getting? I’m taking votes for next year’s tech guide :)

DIY Opal Knotted Necklace (Irene Neuwirth Dupe) Tutorial

This is for all those who were interested on my Insta-story in making this necklace for themselves:

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It all started when I read an article about Busy Phillips’ rise on Instagram as the every-girl best friend, and so naturally I was curious to see what all the hoop-la was about. So I began to follow her too and I slowly became hooked on her Instagram stories. And this led me to Irene Neuwirth’s opal beaded necklaces like this one and this one, which Busy rocks on a daily basis (and seeing as she’s friends with Irene, she sometimes promotes them too). I was intrigued, but when I looked up the prices I could not believe my eyes (I felt like my eyes literally leapt out of their sockets, lol). These necklaces range from $5k-$11,000!! For something that looks like sweet candy necklaces, they sure do cost a lot! So forget it, I’ll never buy one. But I figured they can’t be that hard to make, and you know what? I was right!

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Materials

The Beads:

So in general, opals are not cheap. But I found some of the best prices on Etsy by buying directly from suppliers in India. I purchased these green opal beads from this seller here. I purchased them for about $69 and there was an added shipping of $5 (they sometimes hike up the price but I’ve seen it stay at this “sale” price for weeks at a time so don’t purchase these beads for anything more than $70!). They came well packaged and delivery was quite quick, especially considering they were coming form halfway around the world. The quality was pretty good with some crap beads but the bulk of them were quite nice. These beads are about 3-5mm so they’re on the smaller side, which worked for me. But if you want larger beads, they have those too (they just cost a bit more). Since I wanted my necklace to be shorter than 16 inches, I was able to eliminate the crap beads and some small nice beads and still come out with a 15” necklace using only the best beads. Also since the knots add length to the necklace, your final product will be longer than the 16” if you do use all but the few crap beads.

For my second necklace, I decided to try a different seller (also from India) and I got these white opals here. I got a 16 inch strand for $80 and again “on sale” but that seems to be the normal price. I can’t yet verify the quality of the beads but they seem to have really good ratings on Etsy. I’ll update this post once I get my shipment.

The Silk Thread:

Following a Youtube tutorial (which I posted below), I purchased high-quality silk thread from this shop meant for beading and stringing pearls. This thread is great because it comes with it’s own needle and there’s enough thread to make 2 necklaces. I purchased the No. 1 size (0.35mm cord size) because you want to make sure the thread can fit through the bead (which for these opals from India are 0.4mm). And make sure your string matches your beads for a more seamless look.

The clasp and french wire:

I bought my sterling silver clasp from this Etsy seller, and found the quality to be so-so. If you’re only planning to make one necklace and thus only need one clasp, I think it’s a good price. There was nothing wrong with the function of the clasp, but it was slightly tarnished (which a silver polish cloth should fix). For my second (and third necklaces, yea I’m getting a bit ambitious) I bought clasps from this Etsy seller. Their clasps look nicer and cost only slightly more, but since they’re coming from Canada the shipping is more and thus the overall price is higher than the Florida seller. I’ll update this post about their quality when I get them.

You will also need french wire (explained in the video below) to cover where the clasps connect to the string of beads. I purchased mine here. And you want to get the thinnest silver one for this necklace.

Other Tools:

So the two other things the video recommends getting is a pair of thin tipped tweezers and this glue to ensure your necklace will never unravel. I definitely recommend getting the tweezers since regular tweezers won’t cut it.

How To

And here is this great video where I learned how to make this necklace:

And that’s it! It took me about 2 hours start to finish. I can’t wait to make my white opal necklace (maybe make it long like Busy’s?) and I also got material for another aquamarine necklace (my birthstone). I’ll take pictures and post them here when I’m done.

Total, my necklace came out to about $95 with some start-up costs. So it wasn’t exactly cheap, but at the same time it’s waaaaay below that several thousand dollar starting price of Irene Neuwirth’s versions so it’s worth it in my book. Plus the next one will be a lot less since I already have some of the materials (french wire, the tweezers, and glue). Anyway if you decide to make this necklace I would love to see your versions so please send pics through email or Instagram!


How to get your VAT refund in Europe

This post was a request so if you aren't planning a trip to Europe that includes shopping, go ahead and skip this post.  But for all those who are interested about the process read on :) . Also I'm no expert so please let me know if I got something wrong, thanks!

So first of all, VAT stands for "value-added tax" and it basically means all products sold in Europe already have their tax baked into the price of the good.  This is unlike the US, where we add an additional percentage of tax to the retail price.  So in the EU, the price you pay includes the tax, which you are eligible to get back if you don't live in the EU.  This is where the VAT refund process comes into play.

So depending on the country, the VAT tax rebate percentage varies.  In France it was about 10% and in the Netherlands it was up to 13%.  Some countries, like the Netherlands also increase the percentage the more you spend on the good.  There are also differing spending thresholds, so for example you have to spend at least 175 euros in France before the refund kicks in while in the Netherlands it was 50 euros.  I went online to see what the various VAT percentages per country are and for the most part the real VAT percentages are a lot lower (I think it also depends on what you buy).  Just ask the sales person before you purchase to find current VAT rates.

Also most stores will ask for your passport to fill out the VAT refund pages so you do have to bring your passport with you while shopping.  If this makes you nervous, just make sure to leave a copy of your passport in the hotel and carry your passport securely (as in a cross body bag that you keep in front of you at all times--this is what I did; or use one of these).   

So when you're buying something over the threshold amount for the refund, ask the sales clerk to prep your VAT refund documents.  If you're buying something at a department store, they usually have their own tax refund office so you can get your refund immediately (you'll still have to get your papers stamped, but more on that later).  If you're at a regular store, they'll give you the refund papers and the receipt.  Keep these together.

And the last step is to go to the VAT refund office at the last stop within the EU to get your papers stamped and get your money back.  You do the VAT refund process all at once at the very end of your trip even if you bought things from different countries.  So for me this was Heathrow Airport in London even though I purchased my things from France and the Netherlands.  There's a VAT refund counter at every terminal in Heathrow.  Check where the refund office is at the airport you're flying out of online.  Allow time before you check-in to get this done.  When I went I was able to do it all in less than 10 minutes but I had no lines.  If there's lines I heard it can take up to an hour.  They basically take all your papers, check your passport and then calculate what you get back.  They didn't ask to look at what I bought but it's a possibility so be prepared for that (either pack it in your carry on, or at the top of your stuff in your checked bags).  That's also why you want to do it before you check into your flight.

And here's my biggest tip for doing the VAT refund.  Get it back in cold hard cash if you can, not a refund via credit card.  I'm still waiting for my VAT refund from the department store in the Netherlands that 'guaranteed' it would get charged back to my card in 3 days.  It's been over a week and still nothing (boo!).  And at this point there's nothing I can really do about it.  So even if they take a commission for giving it back to you in cash it's worth it.  (My friend also said they didn't get their VAT refund from the airport when they did it via credit card so be warned).  Oh and I was able to get my VAT refund at Heathrow in dollars and they didn't charge a commission.  

So that's it!  If you guys have any questions just shoot me a comment below!