GratiTuesday: Brick Walls

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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

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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.

Oh, Ottawa!

Oh Canada you're looking good for 149 and with Justin on the Hill it's only getting better, keep it Trudeau Canada!
Oh Canada you’re looking good for 149 and with Justin on the Hill it’s only getting better, keep it Trudeau Canada!

We had mixed feelings as we left Toronto and made our way to Ottawa, the penultimate stop on our road trip (the last stop would be an overnight stay close to the airport in Montreal). We had been traveling for almost a month and were a bit homesick, but we also were having a great time and didn’t want the trip to end.

Our Airbnb apartment in Ottawa was definitely the nicest one we experienced on our trip. The host, a young, self-described “day-trader” who owned several apartments in the building, was helpful and very welcoming. The apartment was clean, quiet, nicely decorated, and well-located. Once we parked our rental (free parking was included – bonus!), we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to.

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Parliament Hill is the political and cultural heart of Ottawa. The Gothic-style government buildings overlooking the Ottawa River are open for free guided tours (the tickets are first-come, first-served, so get them early). Our tour of the Centre Block building ended with an elevator ride to the top of the Peace Tower which provided sweeping views of the city and the river.

Another tourist favorite during the summer months is the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place each morning on the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

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The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. There are 45 locks along the 125 mile (202 kilometer) length of the canal. It was completed in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States and remains in use today primarily for pleasure boating (and ice skating in the winter). The canal begins (or ends, depending on the direction of travel) in Ottawa where the large wooden lock doors are opened and closed using hand cranks. The park surrounding the locks was beautiful and we spent a relaxing few hours just watching the process of the boats making their way up through the gates.

Standing on very spindly legs next to the world-class National Gallery of Canada is the Maman sculpture by Louise Bourgeois – a 30-foot bronze cast of a spider.  The title is the French word for Mother, which explains the sac on her belly containing 26 marble eggs. Similar Maman sculptures can also be found at art museums in the UK, Spain, Japan, South Korea, and the US.

We also enjoyed exploring the historic and trendy ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. It was just a few blocks from our apartment and the four-block area was full of shops, cafes, pubs, and galleries.

As we left Ottawa after only a few days, we once again felt that our too-short stay only allowed us to scratch the surface of this beautiful city. I’d love to return some day and explore all that we missed this time around.