Desert Meet-Up

Sometimes the universe lines everything up just right. Calendars coincide, schedules align, and the weather gods exhale balmy temperatures and paint picture-perfect skies. That’s what happened last week when four bloggers got together in Palm Desert, California to enjoy each other’s company, break bread, and talk about blogging.

Donna, Janis, Kathy, Terri

Donna (Retirement Reflections) and her husband were in Palm Desert for a month-long home exchange. Kathy (SMART Living 365) didn’t have to drive too far as she lives in a community just a few miles away. Terri (Second Wind Leisure) had traveled from Sacramento to San Diego to visit friends and family over the long Veterans Day weekend. I live in San Diego and, along with Terri, was more than happy to make the 2 1/2 hour trip to the desert to participate in a meet-up with blogger friends.

When the idea for the meet-up started to form several months ago, I was enthusiastically all-in. I have had the pleasure of meeting all three women individually over the last several years so having the opportunity to interact with them at the same time was something I couldn’t pass up. I was confident that our gathering would be full of stimulating conversation, a rich source of insightful information… and a whole lot of fun.

With Donna acting as the host, we came together to learn from each other and share our love of blogging. From each of our unique experiences, opinions, concerns, and outlooks, we shared openly and honestly about a wide range of blogging-related topics, such as:

  • How do we attract active followers and encourage more comments?
  • The role social media does – or doesn’t – play in the promotion of our blogs.
  • How do we stay motivated and find new and interesting topics to write about?
  • What are our individual niches, and is it important to always stay within them?
  • How do we manage our schedules – are we spending too much screen time?

Our time together was uplifting, encouraging, inspiring… and it ended too soon. Before we parted ways, we talked about arranging a similar meet-up next year when Donna and her husband return for another home exchange. We also discussed the possibility of opening it up to other interested bloggers.

All four of us have published posts today about the meet-up from our unique perspectives. I encourage you to check each of them out and leave a comment (we all agreed that the interaction with our readers was one of the best parts of blogging).

Retirement Reflections

SMART Living 365

Second Wind Leisure

A fifth blog, Roaming About, is worth checking out too.  Although Liesbet couldn’t join this gathering, she had the opportunity to meet with Donna and Kathy a few weeks prior and she has written about her experience. (Lucky for me, Liesbet is currently house and pet sitting in San Diego, so I will get to have multiple meet-ups with her over the next few months.)

Look for more posts about the ideas and inspirations that came out of the meet-up. It was truly a special experience and one that I hope we can repeat – and build on – into the future.

GratiTuesday: Brick Walls

brick-wall.jpg

Sometimes it takes hitting a brick wall for me to finally make a change that I have been putting off. That final, immovable force which prevents continuing on a comfortable, but unsatisfactory, forward projection. The wall that tells me that I can no longer ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own.

I’ve reached that point. It’s time to change my blog theme.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I had a problem with my theme was four years ago, soon after I began my blog. I didn’t like the small size of my blog’s font but I couldn’t figure out how to change it. So, I didn’t… and I remained frustrated… but I decided to live with it and move on.

I encountered the second challenge when I found myself admiring features and cool widgets on various blogs I follow. When I tried to add the same functions to my pages, I found that many of the options weren’t available to me. Unfortunately, my fear of blowing up my site by making a mistake while changing the theme was greater than my desire to spruce things up.

Then, a few months ago, the title of one of my blog posts, Oaxaca’s Street Markets, suddenly appeared – complete with a link – on my menu bar. When I went into my dashboard to fix it, there was no indication that anything was wrong. I tried to add a new menu item hoping that the unwanted item and link would disappear when I clicked on Save and Update. Nope, it was still there. I began to consider that my problem might be greater than just my lack of website experience.

I finally came face-to-face with a big brick wall – one I could not ignore no matter how hard I tried – when my blog suddenly stopped behaving itself when viewed on a tablet. It was small. It was scrunched. It was unreadable.

That wall finally prompted me to seek help. Because these last two problems spontaneously occurred without my making any changes, I had no idea how to fix them. I know that I’m not exactly a techno-wiz but, as far as I could tell, the logical fixes weren’t fixing anything.

Turns out that I have an “expired theme.” Who knew themes expired?

Within the next week or so, I hope to have a shiny new theme up and running. One that has a larger body font, a few extra features and widgets, a menu bar without a mind of its own, and posts that can be read without a magnifying glass no matter what device is being used.

As I make the transition, I will probably be tweaking things here and there, moving stuff around, and adding features that catch my fancy. If anything goes awry or something looks wonky on your side of the screen, I’d love it if you could give me a heads up. Hopefully everything will go perfectly smooth… right.

I am grateful for the brick wall that smacked me in the head and has prompted me to make a few needed changes. Hitting a brick wall is not very pleasant but, sometimes, that’s just what I need.

GratiTuesday: BookBub

Have you heard about BookBub? If you have, I hope that you are happily downloading some great books at bargain prices. If you haven’t, read on…

A friend told me about BookBub a couple of years ago but it took me awhile to consider it further. Since I prefer actual, physical books, having a bunch of ebooks available for download wasn’t of much interest.

What changed my mind and prompted me to look at BookBub again was my purchase of a Kindle Paperwhite. I was tired of carrying books with me when I traveled and thought a single, light-weight device (that can hold more than a thousand books) made more sense.

BookBub is a free service that emails me several book suggestions every day. Most books cost about $1.99; some are a little more, and some are a little less… even free. If a book in the selection looks good, I click on the title and am taken to Amazon’s website, where I can read more about it, and, if I want, purchase it with one click. Easy peasy.

A sample of a recent email I received from BookBub

And, don’t assume that the books offered are the type that you might find on a remainder table in some dusty corner of a bookstore. Many are best sellers, or written by best-selling authors. Recent purchases include the critically acclaimed Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of President Lyndon Johnson, and A Long Way Home, the fascinating memoir that the movie Lion was based on.

BookBub members can customize the selections to their taste. For instance, I particularly enjoy historical fiction and biographies so that’s the genre I see the most. I can update my settings at any time, and I can see everything BookBub is currently offering by going to their website.

I typically borrow my paper books from the library or purchase them from second-hand stores, so I am not about to buy a bunch of ebooks at full price. I am grateful that BookBub has allowed me to populate my virtual library with quality books for very little cost.

And, just in case you thought I might have been paid for this post, I have not. I love BookBub and wanted to spread the word. If you haven’t yet tried it, you might want to check it out.

GratiTuesday: Public Broadcasting and Its Supporters

I first wrote about my love for my local public broadcasting stations last year. At the time, I had no idea that, just a few months later, their federal funding could be in jeopardy. Some of this post is a repeat, but I’ve updated it and added information about important ways you can lend your support (including a link to a petition you can sign).

My husband and I usually begin our day listening to our local National Public Radio (NPR) station and, in the evening, we often watch the Public Broadcasting Station’s (PBS) NewsHour to catch up on the day’s news. When I’m driving around in my car, my radio might as well be permanently fixed on NPR because I rarely listen to anything else. In addition, we watch many of the quality shows our local PBS station broadcasts in the evening such as Downton Abbey (sadly over now), Sherlock, Masterpiece Theater, and anything Ken Burns produces.

When I listen to NPR or watch PBS, I am always entertained and I usually learn something new; sometimes the topics are already of great interest to me and sometimes the subjects weren’t even on my radar. Either way, I always get something out of the time I spend watching or listening to this most valuable public resource.

I am so grateful for public television and radio and the diverse programs and services that are available to inform, educate, enlighten, and enrich us all. They are a bright light shining above the fray of polarized and often questionable news sources. Public broadcasting stations are operated as private not-for-profit corporations and partially rely on contributions by their listeners.

I am also grateful for those who support public broadcasting.

  • If you haven’t given your local public broadcasting station a try, tune in sometime and see if what they offer is of value to you.
  • If you do watch or listen – or both – but are not yet a member, consider joining. Your support will help ensure the continued success of smart, thoughtful programming.
  • If you are already a member: fabulous! If you can, think about upping your level of support. Also, please consider including your local station in your estate planning so that future generations can enjoy this valuable resource too.
  • And finally, please lend your voice to the public outcry about the president’s budget that proposes to eliminate public media funding. The federal investment in public media is relatively small – roughly $1.35 per American taxpayer annually – less than 1/100th of one percent of the federal budget, yet PBS is watched by 82 percent of U.S. households.

If you feel that public media is an essential part of the fabric of our culture, please make your voice heard. Visit www.ProtectMyPublicMedia.org to sign this petition urging Congress to continue the essential funding for public media and your local stations. Call your representatives to let them know how important it is to you.

Thank you!

Gizmos and Gadgets

I’ve written several posts about my efforts to clear out the clutter and reduce the number of things in my life – and I really have made decent progress. But, as good as I’ve been about curtailing the purchase of clothes, shoes, and random household stuff, I find my willpower grows weak in the face of the latest electronic gizmo designed to make my life better (or so they say).  

Up to this point, my husband and I have been pretty even on our electronic gadget count; we each have a desktop computer, a smartphone, and a tablet. Our desktops are approximately the same vintage, my iPhone is newer, but his iPad is much newer, faster, and more reliable.

I have been considering getting a new iPad for a while now. The storage – huge I thought when I first purchased it – is getting used up at an alarming rate. I worry each time Apple sends out an update because I’m not sure my ancient iPad had the required space to accept it.

In addition to needing wanting a new tablet, I also thought I might want a laptop. Tablets are great for what they are designed to do, but they aren’t a true computer. They run apps, not programs, and as great as some apps are, they aren’t as robust as computer programs (for instance, Lightroom – a terrific photo editing program – offers an app version, but it lacks much of the capabilities of the full-fledged program). I also like the portability of a laptop – I wouldn’t have to disappear into my office to use my computer. Additionally, I want to be able to write while traveling, something that I find inconvenient to do on my iPad. Purchasing both a new iPad and a laptop didn’t make sense financially; I needed to choose between the two platforms, but was having a hard time doing that.

My new little buddy

Then I discovered Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, which appeared to give me everything I was looking for in a nice little package. It’s a small laptop with a robust operating system and it can morph into a tablet, providing the convenience I love about the iPad.

I’ve had my Surface Pro for about a week now and, so far, I’m pleased. I’m typing this post sitting at our dining room table, enjoying being in the same room as my husband, not sequestered in another area of the house. I can choose to use the keypad, or scroll up and down the screen using my finger. I can also take a picture with either the front- or back-facing camera. Later this evening, if I want to take a quick look at my emails or read a few blogs, I can use it as a tablet by easily detaching the keyboard (the screen is a bit larger but it weighs less than my old iPad, which is nice).

Test picture I took with my laptop to insert into this post… so far, so good.

I am optimistic that I have made the right decision for my needs but my search made me wonder about what others have chosen that works for them.

With so many options out there – none of which are very cheap – what types of electronic gadgetry do you use? What can’t you live without? If you travel, which devices do you take with you? What, if anything, have you purchased that didn’t live up to its hype and sits there gathering dust?

GratiTuesday: It’s the little things (and some big things too)

One step at a time.
One step at a time.

Gardening, making meals, climbing stairs, grocery shopping… just getting from Point A to Point B without assistance. It’s the little things that we don’t think much about until we lose our ability to do them.

It’s been almost exactly two months since I executed a rather inelegant dismount from a ladder and fractured my hip on our concrete patio. Some of you have asked how I am doing and I’m please to say that I’m doing much, much better. About three weeks after my surgery, I graduated from a walker to a cane and for the last two weeks or so I have been walking completely under my own power. Although I still have a bit of a limp, it gets better every day. I’m not back power-walking or dancing yet, but I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time.

Today, I am grateful for many things, including modern surgical procedures and the remarkable healing ability of the human body. It amazes me that two months after having my broken bone screwed back together, I am almost completely mobile and pain-free.

I am grateful for patient people: those who were behind me as I limped forward with my cane and didn’t angrily push their way around me. My balance wasn’t always great and I found myself close to being tripped several times as some people brushed by me to get ahead. I appreciated those who understood my limitations and didn’t try to shave off a few seconds by zipping around and risk toppling me over. I hope that lesson stays with me when I’m the one who needs to be patient.

I am grateful that I can again putter in the yard, drive myself where I want, walk up and down stairs, and pretty much do all the little things I took for granted before my accident. My accident gave me a brief glimpse of what it could be like when I’m much older. Maintaining my health and taking good care of my body is even more important to me now.

Finally, I am grateful to my husband for taking such good care of me, encouraging my progress, and keeping my spirits up when I was struggling. “For better” is the easy part, “For worse” is what matters.

GratiTuesday: My Public Broadcasting Stations

logo-pbs2npr-home

The annual membership renewal notice for our local public broadcasting station came in the mail the other day. My husband and I have discussed our current contribution level and I think this will be the year we increase it substantially.

We usually begin our day listening to our local National Public Radio (NPR) station and, in the evening, we often watch the Public Broadcasting Station’s (PBS) NewsHour to catch up on the day’s news. When I’m driving around in my car, my radio might as well be permanently fixed on NPR because I rarely listen to anything else. In addition, we watch many of the quality shows our local PBS station broadcasts in the evening such as Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Masterpiece Theater, and anything Ken Burns produces.

Yesterday, while I was in my car running a few errands, I listened to an in-depth report on climate change, a security technologist discussing the growing threat that hacking poses, and a fascinating story about the three months Leon Trotsky spent in New York City in late 1916, early 1917. I didn’t have to put up with inane chatter or people yelling at each other, vapid commercials weren’t assaulting my ears, and I didn’t hear the same few songs played over and over again.

When I listen to NPR or watch PBS, I am always entertained and I usually learn something new; sometimes the topics are already of great interest to me and sometimes the subjects weren’t even on my radar. Either way, I always get something out of the time I spend watching or listening to this most valuable public resource.

I am so grateful for public television and radio and the diverse programs and services that are available to inform, educate, enlighten, and enrich us all. Public broadcasting stations are operated as private not-for-profit corporations and partially rely on contributions by their listeners.

I am also grateful for those who support public broadcasting.

If you haven’t given your local public broadcasting station a try, tune in sometime and see if what they offer is of value to you.

If you do watch or listen – or both – but are not yet a member, consider joining. Your support will help ensure the continued success of smart, thoughtful programming.

If you are already a member: fabulous! If you can, think about upping your level of support. Also, please consider including your local station in your estate planning so that future generations can enjoy this valuable resource too.