Big Blue Marble Penpals

Big Blue Marble penpals.

Who remembers Big Blue Marble, the TV show that came on Saturday mornings back in the 1970s (and apparently, on into the 1980s, according to Wikipedia)? Those of us who watched it know the title was a reference to our home planet. In each episode, it featured stories about real-life kids…one segment about an American child and a segment about a child living in another country. The show also encouraged viewers to send letters in to start penpal relationships with kids around the world. I loved it the show, but I never mailed in a letter. But maybe I should have! Because of this pandemic, I’ve discovered that having penpals is fun!

Weeks ago, in an effort to brighten the moods of my friends who are stuck at home, I started sending out letters and some postcards I had collected on different vacations. We are planning to travel with some friends this summer (yes, still planning to go…fingers crossed), so I sent them postcards featuring the places we will visit…because I’ve visited the places before. And lucky for me, when I was there, I picked up some picture postcards, and till now, I’ve never felt the need to use them. But thank you, COVID-19, for encouraging me to dig through all my stuff to find those postcards and send them to friends who live far away.

But here was something cool that I saw on Instagram: one hotel where we have stayed before posted something saying, “Send us your name/address in a direct message, and a member of our staff will mail you a letter from the hotel!” Because I thought it was a fun idea, I submitted my teenage daughter’s name and address…knowing she would love to get some snail mail from one of her favorite places on the planet.

And I was right! When the picture postcard arrived with a sweet note written by the director of guest services, she was thrilled! Without my having to tell you, I’m sure you know what I did. First, I encouraged my daughter to write back…and she did. And instead of just mailing her letter back, I stuck a letter of my own into the envelope, thanking the director of guest services for sending her a postcard.

Since I started mailing postcards and letters, I have had the most fun opening my mail to find some of my friends in faraway places have written back! Some thanked me via facebook or email, and that was thrilling too, because they all said it brightened their days. It’s funny how a simple gesture can make a difference. Seriously, it doesn’t take long to write a quick note, especially on a postcard, and mail it.

If only Big Blue Marble were still on, kids could all get some new penpals all over the world. If I had actually participated as a kid, it would have been a great way to learn about different cultures. I suppose it’s a little old-fashioned now, but I still think it would be fun. Sure, some people use social media to meet “new friends” in other countries, but I don’t trust that. I’ve seen a few too many episodes of 90 Day Fiance, so I see how people get “catfished.” I even saw an episode of Dr. Phil on which a woman had sent thousands of dollars to her “true love” in some foreign country, and then, every time she was supposed to meet him, he missed a flight or had some other lame excuse. He was catfishing her. So no, social media is not the same as the good old Big Blue Marble days, and receiving an email isn’t as much fun as receiving a handwritten letter or postcard.

So I’ll just keep on sending letters and postcards to friends and family in faraway places. If you’d like to receive a postcard, send a private message with your name and address!

In fact, I’m walking down to the mailbox to send off a few more postcards now.

 

It’s Official…I’m Not Tech Savvy

It’s official. I’m not tech savvy.

I went to college at a time when it was OK to not be tech savvy. I knew how to type. I knew how to use a Mac for journalism, since that was my major. I didn’t take a programming class, because I took Spanish…I loved learning a new language. I didn’t learn how to make a spreadsheet or how to use Microsoft Word. I don’t even know if all that existed then. I knew how to do what I knew how to do, and that was fine. It was the 1980s.

Right out of college, I took a job as a flight attendant. All I needed to know how to do on the computer was sign in for trips and sign out when I was done. Easy peasy! I didn’t need to know more! I later worked in the travel industry, planning trips and meetings, but there was a certain computer system we used for that. I knew what I knew, and it worked for me. I was a pen and ink girl for a lot of things, because I found that I remembered things when I wrote them down. I still take constant notes when I’m in a meeting or on the phone, because that’s how my memory works…write it down, and I’ll remember it. My memory rarely fails me. Four hundred people attending a meeting? I have immediate recall if I write the names down before typing them into the computer. When they arrived and told me their names, I knew if they were registered or not…immediate recall. If someone couldn’t find someone’s name in registration, they would come to me, and when I heard the name, I would know if they had actually registered or not…immediate recall.

And then, technology moved a lot faster than I did. I can use a computer. I can launch a simple website using WordPress. I have always been able to do most of the things I needed to do, or I knew who to ask.  I have a dear friend who is a librarian, and she has taught me a lot. Sometimes, when I knew it would take time for her to teach me how to do things, I simply asked her to do them for me, and being the awesome friend she is, she did them. But I should do better.

One thing I learned during this pandemic is that I need to get up to speed on technology.

With the pandemic, everything has become “virtual.” That means I had to learn how to join Zoom meetings and Google Meet. Seriously, I had never done that before, but now I get it! I haven’t set one up yet, but I’m going to figure that out too. I might even try that today, just so I know how when I need it.

This year, I became a member of the board of a club at our daughter’s school that produces and presents a big awards show at the end of the year, and I signed on to chair that event. Fortunately, the people who have chaired it for the past six years were still on board, and I would treat this year as an apprenticeship, because I learned that I have a lot to learn…about the event, the process, and about technology.

I like to think I “learned on the job” this year. I can usually open an app and figure it out. I’m not completely inept. And I’ve worked with the Word app before, but this year, I was given a Word template to use for the awards show, and it threw me for a loop! It was something that was to be top secret, and only my eyes could see the finished product, so I had to figure it out. Word is a pretty simple app, right? Well, I sat down to work with the template, which I had been warned was a little tricky, but I thought, “I’ve got this!” No, I didn’t. Every time I would try to replace script within the template, it became skewed, or it wouldn’t do anything at all! I would click where I wanted to type…nothing.

After struggling with the template, I called my librarian friend to ask her what I’m doing wrong. After telling her what was happening, she said, “I think you have a different version of Word on your laptop, and maybe you need the latest one.” I couldn’t get my computer to download the latest version of Word, because well, my laptop is on my husband’s ID, and I don’t know the password. He was out of town, so I called him…he doesn’t know it either. I think it’s time for me to get my own laptop. That was the first thing I learned.

I struggled. I stressed. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I refused to admit defeat. I refused to admit to the other committee members that I didn’t have a clue. I had a few days to figure it out at that point, so I put it aside and went to bed.

At about 1:30am, I woke up and had a thought, “Maybe I can download the latest version on my phone and make it work?” I downloaded the latest version of Word to my phone, and lo and behold…within two minutes, I had everything on the template changed. I slept peacefully after that. I had found a solution to my problem, and I even felt a little…dare I say… savvy!

In reality, I know I’m not savvy. When other people send me documents to peruse or edit, it still scares me. I’m terrified I will mess it up beyond repair. I tend to think of the old Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman, Steve Sax, in the 1983 season. I remember hearing someone say about him, because he was the error king, “He has messed up second base so badly, nobody will  ever be able to play it!”  (In all fairness, I should tell you Sax eventually overcame his case of the “yips” and had a full career in Major League Baseball…and he was easy on the eyes. You can see an old picture of him on TMZ here.)  I suppose I need to take my own advice that I often give our daughter. She enjoys sports, and I always tell her that if she believes she can do something…if she can visualize herself doing something in a game…she can do it. Sometimes, confidence will pull us through. My brother goes into things knowing he can do them. He’s not cocky. He’s just confident. I need to approach technology with the same confidence.

So if I’ve learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that I have a lot to learn. I have set a goal to learn as much as I can over the summer about different useful apps…so I won’t be afraid of them anymore. I’m going to learn how to create slides and videos and fancy, complicated spreadsheets. Sure, I might have to ask my teenage daughter to tutor me along the way, but that’s OK.

I also know I owe my librarian friend dinner and a cocktail for all the whining she has listened to!

Bring on the technology!

I Ordered The Summer Reading Book

It’s almost August, so I finally broke down and ordered the book my daughter, who is a rising high school sophomore, has been assigned for her required summer reading. I didn’t assign it. Her school did, and I’m not gonna lie…I resent it.

First, summer is my time. I’m not complaining. I love our daughter’s school, but summer is my time. I don’t want to receive school emails. I don’t want reminders. I don’t want to see her schedule or her school supplies list. I don’t want any of it, because frankly, I don’t even want to think about school. This is summer. It should be free time… and I’d appreciate it if I could keep it that way.

Alas, I can’t. Every year, we have to do health forms. I took her for her physical early this year, in June, so I wouldn’t have to keep seeing the emails from school, requesting the information. I got her physical done, got the forms signed by the doctor, and sent them in early! Done! I eliminated those weekly “reminder” emails about the health forms. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful our school requires them. I’m grateful that they want all her health info, in case they can’t reach me when something happens. But I want to do it all while school is in session. I don’t want to ruin the peace of summer with health forms.

Recently, apparently, there was an email about high school students at our daughter’s school picking up their iPads before school starts. A mom came by my house today, and while she was here, she asked if my daughter is picking up her iPad tomorrow. I hadn’t seen the email, because it is summer, and I don’t check my email very regularly in summer….so ummm…no, she won’t be picking up her iPad tomorrow. It’s July 28th. School doesn’t start till August 21. She would likely misplace the damn thing before school starts if she picked it up now. Aside from that….I don’t want to think about the school iPad yet! Truth be told, I wish she didn’t even have a school iPad.

It’s times like this I wish the whole world could be more like the 1980s. When I was in high school, we had cheerleading practice all summer, but we didn’t talk about school stuff till school was about to start. Summer was for lounging by the pool; eating French fries in the clubhouse; going to the beach, where we walked to Dairy Queen every afternoon; family vacations; watching soap operas (Dr Noah Drake, anyone?); and just hanging with friends. And we never had summer reading!

It is a pain in my butt every…single…year. I know some people have kids who love to read. They love any book they can get their hands on, and I admire that. But mine isn’t that kid. She would rather be running around a field hockey or lacrosse field, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, eating French fries at the club…or other stuff I did in the 1980s. I ordered the book today, though, and it will arrive by the weekend, and she will read it when she reads it. And I will resent it.

I just want her to be a kid while she can be a kid! These kids have so much more pressure on them than we had as teens. As early as seventh grade, parents at her school, in meetings, were asking about curriculum paths for their kids to get into the “right colleges.” Honestly, I don’t give a crap where mine goes. She will go somewhere. But I don’t want her worrying about that, because guess what? She is in 10th grade. She doesn’t know squat. And do you know why she doesn’t know squat? Because she is a kid, and she shouldn’t be having to make life decisions at 15. She should be thinking about teenager stuff and enjoying the lazy days of summer.

Plus, I think kids learn a lot in summer, in a different way. I think they learn about scheduling. If they travel, they learn more about the world in which they live…even if they just travel to a neighboring town. They learn that the world is a big place. They meet new people and hang out with people with whom they don’t go to school. They grow. They play. They learn how to do things on their own. When our daughter was a toddler, any time we traveled…even just for a weekend…I noticed she was different when we got home. She had learned something that made her a little different. Has she ever been changed like that by a book? Maybe, but this was every time we went somewhere…she came home different. Being exposed to different places and people is a different kind of education.

So, am I going to badger her about her required summer reading? Nope. I’m not even going to “remind” her. She will get it done on her own terms, but mostly, I hope she enjoys the last few weeks of summer. I hope she hangs out at the pool with friends, goes to concerts, hangs out some with me, listens to music, eats as many French fries as she wants, floats around on a giant inflatable pink flamingo, and doesn’t even think about school.

Maybe I’m the slacker mom, but I know she is going to be OK. I know she would be OK without summer reading, and she will be OK with it too.

But most of all…I hope she enjoys the last few weeks of summer…like kids are supposed to do.

***If you’re wondering, the required summer reading book is called A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah. I’m ordering one for myself too, just so I can see what makes it special.***

woman lying on pink flamingo bouy on body of water

Photo by LRM Exterior on Pexels.com

One Year of Blogs

I say it all the time, and the older I get, the more true it is: time flies.

It has been one year since I started “blogging.” I started it as my own form of therapy a month after my mother died, and I do believe it has helped me cope with her death. If you had asked me about that this past December, I might have said otherwise. The first anniversary of her passing was extremely difficult for me…maybe harder than when she actually died. I think I was in so much shock after her death that I didn’t fully digest what had happened. At the one year mark of her death, I was heartbroken. Fortunately, the holidays are a busy time, so I could find lots of things to occupy my mind: shopping, parties, wrapping gifts, spending time with family, spending time with friends. I still grieved throughout the year. There are still times I think I’m losing my mind with grief. But the blog was also a big help.

The blog has morphed somewhat over the year. Originally, I wanted it to be a place where I could share great things I had found and share the stories behind them. There has been some of that, but sometimes, I find myself just sharing stories. I love a good story. I also have a pretty good memory, so I have a story for lots of things that happen. I don’t profess to be a great storyteller, but I appreciate folks who are.

I love writing about my favorite products, but my favorite pieces are stories about my life, my friends, or family members. Yes, I have favorites. I’ll list them at the end of this piece.

Just when I think I’ve run out of stories or new things to share, something else pops up. Lots of times, I see someone or something that reminds me of something else. I make a note in my phone, and then, when I get time, I sit down and write about it. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Some things are easier to write about than others.

But here’s the thing: I write for me. Do I like that people read it and sometimes reach out to me? Of course I do! Does that make it more fun? You bet! But I’m really writing it for a selfish reason: my sanity. It’s a great outlet. If I’m mad, sometimes I write about it. I might not ever share it, but it’s saved in my “drafts” folder. If I’m sad, I write about it, and again, it might not make it past “drafts.” If I’m happy or amused, I might write about that too! In fact, I just took a look at my drafts folder and found that I have about 240 blogs in that folder! And I’ve published just over 140. And hopefully, one day, when I’m long gone, my daughter will still have some of my stories.

Thank you for reading me. I never expected this to become “the next big thing.” I expected it to help me get through the first year without my mother. And it did. Now, I hope it will help me through the second year without my mother. Readers have sent me messages about how some of my stories remind them of things that have happened in their own lives. That’s what I enjoy. I enjoy the feedback. I enjoy the interaction.

So thank you. I’m grateful.

***Some of my favorite pieces from the past year (click on title):

 

 

 

 

 

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Group Text Etiquette

Group texts…I’ve started some and I’ve been included in others. Chances are, you have been on a group text too.

Sometimes I love technology and sometimes I hate it. I love when I can text five friends at the same time to share pictures of their sons or daughters involved in an activity. I love when we can arrange group gatherings more easily because of group texts, emails, or Facebook Messenger. Really, it can make life so much easier.

I was included on a group message on Messenger recently about an upcoming event. We were all able to let each other know if we would be participating, and we were able to volunteer to help with certain things. And maybe I did the wrong thing: once I knew my job, I dropped out of the message. Yep…dropped out of it. But I wasn’t making some terrible statement. I wasn’t saying I didn’t want to be involved in the event. I simply didn’t need to know how the sausage was made! I knew my job, and I knew I would do it.

A friend who was on the same message called me shortly thereafter, asking, “Did you leave the group message?” I replied, “Yes. Was that wrong?” I explained that the host knew I would be there, and she knew what I would be bringing…did I really need to know what everyone else was doing? Did I really need to hear my phone “ding” every two seconds for the rest of the day?!

Maybe I broke some unwritten rule. I’m kind of a no-nonsense, “just the facts” kind of person. When we had our pool resurfaced a few years ago, I asked the contractor when it would be ready. He started telling me what all they had to do, but really…I didn’t need to know how the sausage was made. I just wanted to know when I could use my pool again. Of course, I tried to say it in a nice way, “I have no idea what all that means. I’m leaving town for a couple of weeks, so I guess what I’m actually asking is what date the pool will actually have water in it. What date will we be able to get in the pool?” Just the facts, sir. Despite the fact that I am from the Heart of Dixie…in the Deep South…I’m just not good at sugarcoating things…at all.

So in that recent group message, it was the same situation: I didn’t need to know what Susie and Mary and Jane were bringing…I needed to know my job. I didn’t need to get more notifications on my phone.

Remember when we all first started doing the group email thing? Remember how everyone would “reply all”? I hated that. I still hate it. When I send a group email, I usually say, “Please do not reply ALL. Please simply reply to me.” But you can’t do that in a group text or group message on Messenger. You have to suffer through all the notifications that someone else has responded…unless you leave the group. And if it’s something I won’t even be participating in, well, I’m out as soon as I say I won’t be participating. Once I tell the host that I can’t be involved, I’m out. Get it?

Am I breaking some unwritten rule by taking myself out of group texts and messages when the business part seems to be done? If you’re not volunteering to help with decor for some event, do you really want to read all the texts about it? Am I crazy? Better yet…am I offending people when I leave the group?

Lots of times group texts are fun and/or necessary. There are plenty of times that we’re sharing pictures. I’m totally staying in that. I have some group messages with college friends that we use for special things. We don’t constantly send messages to the group…only when there is something we really want to share. Son’s getting married? Daughter made the team? And then there are times we are still in the middle of discussing what to do for decor for an event…I’m totally staying in if I’m participating. But if I’ll be on vacation while y’all are decorating, I’m leaving the group text. Sorry. I certainly don’t mean to hurt any feelings, but my brain can only take so many “dings” on my phone.

I can’t possibly be the only one who gets annoyed by excessive notifications. Lots of folks have made memes about it, so I know I’m not alone.

So, if I’m ever on a group message or text with you, don’t be offended if I leave it. Either I’m not attending the event you’re discussing, or I feel like the business is done, and I know what my job is. I’m not leaving you; I’m just leaving the notifications/dings.

I have a friend who once told me that if someone doesn’t return her phone call promptly, she automatically thinks she has done something to offend them. I told her, “Oh, I always think they didn’t get the message…or they’re out of town…or they’re as busy as I am.” I guess I’m just not easily offended, so I don’t expect people to be easily offended.

But please…someone tell me if it’s offensive to leave a group text. If it is, I will find a way to tolerate the excessive notifications and dings on my phone…or maybe I’ll just go back to an old flip phone that doesn’t receive texts!

 

 

 

 

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