Archive for the ‘ Personal Experiences ’ Category

My Travel Bucket List

Imagine this – a dazzling pool that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, an outdoor ampitheater where you can watch the bright orange-red orb dunk into the night sky. It’s a stunning image – your internet browsing has yielded visual gold. You tell yourself, remember this place, you want to visit this some day….you might even add it to your hundreds of bookmarks.

Tomorrow you won’t be able to find it again.

Not me.

Did you know that you can create custom maps with Google Maps? I have several, but my most favorite is my Bucket Travel Map. Every time I stumble across some amazing destination I quickly search the address and save it to my Travel Bucket Map within Google Maps. If you’re feeling organized or have a few moments to spare, you can even edit it to add a photo or website link. For me, this means I have an annotated, central map of all the amazing, wondrous places I stumble across while on my deep, dark, internetting holes.

My Travel Bucket List looks something like this (click “View Larger Map” below to see all my annotations on this map):

In the end, it’s pretty simple. Any time you have a location pop-up on Google Maps there’s this little selection, “Save to map”:


It will allow you to create a new map or save to an existing map. I have several maps saved up. My Travel Bucket List, The Places I Have Gone (obviously want to move as many from the first map to the second as possible), Niagara Wine Tour….to any vacation I could possibly plan or have been on. This is how I track the amazing places I see and find – so I can eventually go visit them. When I’m ready to plan my next exotic trip, I’ve already a road map all laid out.

So, what map are you going to make?

Goodbye Facebook Part 2: Life After Facebook

Four months ago I quit Facebook.

I was nervous, filled with trepidation about how my friendships would proceed next. My quitting Facebook was not an impulse decision. I was finally taking my friendships back, showing my friends that I was tired of the broadcast environment and that I wanted to spend more time with them on a far more personal level. What happened next?

Several friends immediately contacted me to setup lunch plans, make sure I had their contact information and generally show their support and encouragement for my decision. Many agreed with me but weren’t ready to close their own account. One wrote me in angry protest.

My blog post about quitting Facebook went semi-viral. My biggest post to date, it still rakes in regular traffic here. The web response was unreal, more than 80,000 hits in a 24 hour time period. As a nominal blogger, these numbers are huge to me. I couldn’t keep up with the comments here on the blog, Google Plus, reddit and Hacker News. As a writer, it’s hugely flattering to find your words carried meaning for others. For everyone who read my first post, thank you.

I will admit, I feel slightly cut off now that I’ve stepped away from receiving the broadcasts of every small detail of the daily lives of my 200 or so closest friends and family. People truly do have to take an extra step to loop me in to their lives. What’s been impressive are the number of people that take that extra step. I’m learning, quite clearly, who truly values my input.

Having lunch with a friend, she suddenly remembered news that she’d already shared online. “Oh yes! You’re not on Facebook, let me tell you about….” But you know what? I loved hearing it from her personally rather than reading a post. It was far more fun, more personal to hear the story over a shared meal at our favorite restaurant. Being able to see the happy glow in her eyes, share laughter and smiles and give her a hug at the end far outweighed reading smaller updates on a daily level.

My circles have grown much smaller, but infinitely tighter. On the flip side, losing all that extra “noise” in the background has helped me focus on deepening the actual relationships I share with them. I’ve withdrawn from my circle of friends somewhat, but the individual interactions are richer and deeper. Gone are the daily hellos, traded in for afternoons at the beach, lunches at our favorite restaurants, emailed photos when a friend stumbles on to something that reminds them of me.

I have one friend in particular that was upset I left Facebook. She felt I’d traded Facebook for another social network. She didn’t realize that I use them for different purposes and I wasn’t swapping one for another. She seemed angry and after one awkward dinner, we haven’t spoken, texted or emailed since.

I was deeply saddened that she’d let my leaving Facebook come between us. Then I realized something very important: We’d been drifting apart for several years now. The only thing really holding us together was the superficial ties on Facebook. I think, rather than keeping the friendship afloat, Facebook prolonged the inevitable death throes of two people moving in different directions. Facebook was a tool to help falsely maintain an ending friendship. We’d simply grown too far apart.

I want my interactions with my friends to be honest and real. I don’t want to maintain a friend list because “I should”. I want the people who keep me around to do so because they like and value my company and opinion. I’m not going to lie, I still miss seeing a lot of those status updates and photos. But I also know that each time someone calls, emails or texts me – it’s because they wanted to share that specific moment with me.

And, for the first time in 10 years I did not call my friend and sing to her on her birthday. Sometimes, it’s best to just quietly slip away.

John Franklin Stephen & His Beautiful Words

I don’t normally talk politics, but this is important.

Although this is a response to a political comment, this goes much deeper. But first let me tell you a story about my cousin, Jeffey.

Jeffey was born different. It became apparent early on that he wasn’t like the rest of us and his mental development stopped permanently at 18 months old.

He was physically strong, but never progressed past toddlerhood in his mind. Although I lived in a different state, Jeffey always remembered me. I was the only person who’s hair he pulled. It was a ritual between us. It always made me smile, to know that he recognized me from year to year.

We never thought he’d live to adulthood. His teen years were difficult for my aunt, as his strength grew. I clearly remember one year he managed to ingest some silk flowers. The wire lining tore through his intestines and he was hospitalized for weeks. When his kidneys shut down, they had to give him drugs to keep him awake but paralyzed so they could perform dialysis to keep him alive.

Terrified, with no understanding of what was happening to him he laid there. Awake and unable to move. His teenage brother Chad climbed into bed with him, soothing him. I don’t know of too many teenage boys that would do something like that, but Chad did.

Chad did, because Jeffey taught our entire family so much about unconditional love. He was never institutionalized and always lived at home with his mother, father, brother and sister. Our entire family knew a selfless, giving love that he taught us.

When Jeffey’s brother grew up, he joined the army. Chad struggled with the use of “retard” during boot camp. It was a trigger point for him and he had to work very hard to maintain control when his drill sergeants used “retard” to insult the new recruits.

And then the unthinkable happened. Shortly before Chad’s boot camp graduation, Jeffey died. He’d gotten into the family dog’s food dish, eaten some dog food, choked and died. He was 25 years old. Chad left boot camp early (meaning he needed to repeat it) for his “retarded” brother’s funeral.

Jeffey’s favorite song was “Your Are My Sunshine” and we all sobbed as we sang it during his funeral. It’s a bittersweet mix as Sunshine has always been my nickname. Even more bittersweet was the knowledge that Jeffey died on the very day I discovered that I was pregnant with my Little Bit.

Folks, words have power. Mr. Stephen’s letter is beautiful and amazing. Please give it a read. Then, watch yourself when you decide to sling insults.

John Franklin Stephen’s Letter:

The Power of Social Search: Bing or Google?

I’m a Google Girl, I happen to enjoy all things Google. I almost exclusively use Google for searches, but I know that technology changes and it’s a good idea to challenge your conceptions from time to time. Reading about Bing’s integration with Facebook, I decided to give a Bing a try.

*Note I did this little experiment about 2 months ago, before I closed my Facebook account.

My experiment: I linked Bing to Facebook and searched “andromeda” in both search engines.

First, Bing made me complete a captcha! Shut. The. Front. Door.

Once completed, I was able to retrieve my search results. The Facebook plugin put a ticker on the right side of my screen. It was reminiscent of the ticker found within Facebook and I found it made my screen feel cluttered and claustrophobic. However, collapsing this ticker defeats the purpose of evaluating the new social search features.

My top search results: Wiki article on the Andromeda Galaxy, two scientific articles and a male infertility clinic followed by a preview of an image search. Wedged between my search results and the social plugin was a list of advertisements and a list of related searches. The social plugin? It just provides me with a list of Bing searches that my friends have posted on Facebook. None of this list pertained to my actual search. Instead it was a complete distraction and provided me with nothing useful.

Bing Results

On to Le Goog:

With Google, the “personal” or social search results were interspersed with the regular results. A toggle allows me to view just the personal results if I prefer. My top results were a bit less varied in that it suggested Wiki articles on both Andromeda Galaxy and the television show, as well as an IMDB link. On the side it suggested related searches to expand the search range and below was a quick preview to an image search.

On the landing page there is also a list of search tools that include limiting your search to a particular time frame, dictionary results, reading level, translated pages. While my main landing page has a little less variety, it seems laid out in a more intuitive way. The main search topics are more thoroughly covered but there is also easier access to more complex searches.

Google Results

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

The “personal” results brought up a search results of all public posts within my Google Plus sphere, but not just any old post – only the ones pertinent to my search. My Googleverse has just been blown out of the water. With a vague recollection that a friend shared an article about Andromeda, I can use the personal results to quickly locate their original post. This search is far more, well, personal.

Google Personal

Sorry Bing, you’re just not there yet. Like Facebook, I feel like I’m being broadcast at rather than customized to. And if you’re out there still wondering how Google Plus can be useful for you? Go circle up a group of people who post on topics that interest you. Your search results will thank  you.

Conversations with Mohammed


With a sad heart, I’ve realized Mohammed closed his account. Our conversations are over and I have this vague, incomplete feeling like something is now missing from my life.

I first met Mohammed in a Google Plus Hangout. With 10 people, our group video chat room was full. Most of us were Americans and Mohammed’s video was muted. He wasn’t talking, nor was he joining in the text chat on the side of the room. After an hour or two, I’d forgotten he was even “in” the room. As a non-Muslim American, I’ll admit there’s a lot of bias, suspicion and general doubt that involves reading about or interacting with anyone named Mohammed that lives anywhere in the Middle East.

I’m not sure how or why we managed to get to this topic, but I mentioned an article I’d read about a teenage boy in Saudi Arabia who’s father had 4 wives. He’d done an “Ask me anything” thread and I was absolutely fascinated at this glimpse into a completely foreign life. With the introduction of this topic Mohammed came alive, first in the text chat, next by speaking and finally, by coming on camera and fully debating with us. We learned he was from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian. A product of a harsh, war torn life he was nonetheless very respectful of us, listened and debated in the true spirit of a real dialogue.

I. Was. Fascinated.

I love people. I find them intriguing. My main thrill with Google Plus Hangouts is the ability to connect with so many diverse, interesting people. They all have a story to tell, hopes, dreams, fears, worries, families and friends, pains and troubles. I have so many interesting “pen pals” and “conversation partners” from around the world. I love listening to them and finding out what makes them tick. I like having my own view of the world challenged, I absolutely love it when someone presents an opposing view point and persuades me to their point of view.

Mohammed and I kept talking. He didn’t work Fridays and I found myself looking forward to my next Thursday night. As the evening drew late for me, the sun would be rising for him. We’ve spent long hours debating politics, religion, families, society. I saw the peace he found in his religion. It truly gave him what he wanted and needed from life and I can appreciate that about him. He lived in a mosque. In his late 20’s he and his brother were building a house and it needed to be finished before he could begin looking for a wife. The only women he interacted with were his family members, but he talked to his mother every day and had a deep respect for her. You could see it in his eyes, the healthy respect he had for all his female relatives. He told me I reminded him of his favorite sister – she too had green eyes and he said I even looked like her.

He was intrigued by American culture. His only real information was what he saw in movies and he had no real concept of the average, daily American life. At first, he felt that we had no values. As we talked, he began to see that we did have a value system, it was just rooted in a very different core value. Everything in his life came back to submitting to the will of Allah. Everything was about obedience – from how you lived, to where you worked, to what you ate and when you slept. I still cannot fathom an entire lifestyle built on this core value. As an American, I value independence. I’ve been taught from an early age to find my own way, educate myself and make decisions based on my own thought process.

We come from opposite ends of the world, opposite ends of culture, opposite ends of religion. And yet, we had so very much in common. We both have families we love, we’ve both been misunderstood, we both just get through each day the best way we know how. He told me stories of childhood in a strict Muslim community, from having trouble staying up late for the last prayer of the day to time spent with his sisters. I learned about his pride in his community, the things he ate and his surprise at our perceptions of where he lived. He learned all about us too. Our frustrations at how deeply our government has let us down, how much many of us don’t support war in the Middle East (although we do support our troops!), how grounded I am as a Mom and how connected my family is to each other – that we also have family values here.

He never said good bye. I don’t know why he’s closed his account. Perhaps his house is finished and this chapter of life is over. Or maybe these conversations with a foreign woman were taboo. I’ll never really know, but my friend Mohammed, I shall miss you.

Independence Interrupted

This is not my usual post.

Typically I like to write about how the digital world influences me, particularly as a parent. Sometimes life events make you sit down and really take a good, long look at some of the simpler things of life. Basic and human sometimes life gets in the way of, well, life.

We were spending a warm, lazy summer evening at the beach. Every Saturday night, the locals gather for a large, informal drum circle. The rhythmic drums enjoy a background of cascading waves, crying gulls and giggling children. The belly dancer within the circle crashes her thumb cymbals as a balmy breeze gently kisses your skin. We’d brought a picnic and the adults lazily chatted while the children ran off to twirl and dance, perhaps sneaking a spot on someone’s drum for a while.

It can be truly amazing just how quickly the giant orb of the sun slips into the ocean horizon. For all the slow tracking across the expanse of the sky, you can miss that silent drop in a blink. Although the sun now slumbers beneath the ocean line, the sky is still an amazing motley of reds, pinks, blues and purples. To the south, a thunderstorm gurgles and grumbles and you can see an occasional wire of white hot lightning. The storm is just far enough away that the party continues on the beach, but it’s just close enough to make the sunset a truly incredible rainbow of colors.

As the light fades away ever quicker, the faithful drumming continues. Glow necklaces, batons and sticks now dot the circle and the kids and adults continue to twirl and sing. To the right, a man begins to juggle fire and everyone’s attention is temporarily diverted to the swirling pools of flame. It’s been a glorious day, and after several hours of eating, conversation and playfulness the day has come to a close. Now the time comes to pack it in, to end a pleasant evening with friends and drag weary children off to a hot shower and warm bed.

My younger son is heavy-lidded and half asleep as I carry him on the boardwalk over the sand dunes. The night sky is fully dark and pitch black; to preserve the habitat for migrating birds and sea turtles the boardwalk is not lit for human interlopers. Carefully I walk down the steps, placing first my right foot and then my left foot on each step before proceeding downward to the next step. Confident I’d made it to the bottom I took one more step and felt nothing but air.

It’s an odd sensation when you expect there to be firm, solid ground beneath you, only to find yourself wholly unsupported. I went down, falling firmly on my backside, protecting my son from any injury. As white pain shot through my ankles it dawned on me that I would not be rising from this fall under my own steam. Unable to do anything more than gasp, the air itself seemed to hold me down and the searing pain tingled up and down both ankles and feet.

In this fleeting moment I’d managed to sprain both ankles and break my right foot. This split second, this unexpected tumble took away my independence.

I’m thankful that this injury, in the grand scheme of things, is relatively small and unimportant. I have help and employment that doesn’t rely on my feet and ankles being healthy. But, for a period of time I’m learning multitudes about me, the human being.

Being independent has always been a core piece of my identity. On dating sites I used to describe myself as “fiercely independent” and while I have a strong, close knit family I’ve taken great pride in being a single mom who’s quite capable of caring for her family all by herself.

The first 48 hours were the most humbling. Unable to stand unassisted and I didn’t have in my possession any sort of braces, boots, crutches or wheelchair, I was entirely reliant on another person for everything. I felt guilty, not just for leaving all my responsibilities on their shoulders, but adding to that, the burden of caring for my needs. Thirsty and in pain, I’d agonize over how often I was asking for help, asking for a drink, asking to be lifted to the bathroom. All help was freely given, but in my strong independence I felt each request quite deeply.

Once we’d gotten to the doctor and I was armed with a walker, a wheelchair, leg braces and a boot I had slightly more ability to fend for myself. The wheelchair was not one I could propel on my own and I was only to use the walker for very limited movement for the first week. But, I could manage a little scooting here and there and I felt somewhat less of a burden now that I could be pushed, rather than carried.

As healing continued and we ventured out in public I felt my pride prickled more than once. One long, arduous walk to a bathroom at the back of a restaurant left me particularly sore, embarrassed and ready to cry. Each step throbbed, I was embarrassed when I bumped my walker into someone’s chair and I felt everyone was staring at me. It was the ultimate walk of shame. Slow and painstaking I imagined everyone stared at me with disgust. I’d never seen myself this way. I always confidently clickety-clacked on my heels through a room; I’m an attractive woman and I am unused to anyone looking at me with that particular mix of pity, contempt and empathy. It’s human nature, none of us want to be “the cripple” and to block the idea of it from our minds, we ostracize them.

I’m certain I was completely over-reacting. To be honest, I’m sure it was nothing more than a passing moment for them. But, to me it was humbling in the extreme.

Over the last week I’ve faced several small inconveniences, that as they add up, bring me to an entirely new appreciation for anyone dealing with a disability. Do you have any idea how much people love to put seams in the flooring between each room? Every little seam is a bump I have to work across. Trying to navigate through narrow store aisles on a motorized scooter, reaching products up high, even throwing my paper towel away after the bathroom all become tasks that require more planning than you realize.  Everything takes longer and muscles ache in new places as they’ve had to unexpectedly bear more of my body weight to compensate. I look at my walker in disgust, the fleshy parts of my palms and my shoulders ache at the thought of supporting my weight on it for the long trek to the bathroom. Even as I write, I debate that next sip of water, weighing how long it’ll be before I need to make that trip again against my thirst level.

In the end, our lives as we know them are beyond fragile. In one sharp second your entire world can be turned upside down. With a good support system, you can muscle through relatively unscathed, but I shudder to even consider my life the past two weeks without help. It’s been humbling, painful, at times humiliating. By the same token I’ve discovered a new wealth of strength not just in myself, but in the loved ones around me that have sheltered  me, picked me up, helped me dress and bathe myself, fed me, ferried me around and cared for my children. I’ve learned a new appreciation for the challenges people face when they operate outside the norm and deepened the empathy for the struggles others endure.

It’s harder than you imagine, losing that piece of yourself…even when you know you’ll gain it back fairly quickly. I cannot imagine losing it permanently.

Liberating My Facebook

I did it. I finally make that agonizing decision to cut the virtual cord and quit Facebook. 

I announced it publicly both on Facebook and through my blog here. I wanted to give my friends time to download all my information and I knew they didn’t all log in daily.

Then it hit me. That horrible sinking feeling as I realized I didn’t have all their information either. I couldn’t just arrogantly announce I was leaving and expect all of them to contact me if I wasn’t willing to put some effort in from my end.

I suddenly realized that if I didn’t save their information before closing the account it would *poof* vanish into thin air. Terrorized at the thought of all their phone numbers and emails evaporating from my phone in a mere instant, I broke into a cold sweat as I painstakingly attempted to export their data.

Once again I’ve grown lazy. It’s so easy to just link the accounts and never have to manually track phone numbers and emails. And again, the point is crystal clear that I’m not taking ownership of my relationships.

Then, the popular argument for keeping Facebook, “I’m just doing it to stay in contact with my friends” suddenly hit home hard.  As much as I detest how far our interactions have deteriorated, I paused to consider leaving a placeholder behind to keep the contact list. Unfortunately, that would entirely defeat the whole purpose of closing the account. Moving forward, resolved strengthened, I knew I needed to cut off the Facebook serpent right at the head.

This next part is about how I managed to liberate my contacts from the iron-clad Facebook grasp. Facebook clearly didn’t want me leaving but I was determined. Some of you may have different experiences, but I thought I’d share how I finally managed it.

My first stop, the download feature within Facebook turned up fruitless. This only works if people have opted in and all the default email addresses were now Facebook email addresses rather than their main ones. One Google search later yielded the Yahoo – Facebook solution. Seemed simple enough, log into Yahoo and use the import Facebook feature. The problem was, it just hung there. It said it was downloading, but no. No error messages, no completion, just a frustrating, endless loop.

The next time I went to my Yahoo account it gave me the opportunity to sign in with Facebook. When I took that route, the Facebook contacts dropped right in! Better yet, they had their real email addresses. Turns out I had a nice list, but the export function apparently went no where. It seems the Big Bad Facebook worked very hard at breaking as much download functionality as it could muster.

Weary at the prospect of copy/pasting each person into my regular contact list my entire day brightened when my Knight in Shining Armor charged in and automated the process. Fueled by a fierce debate on my Google Plus commentary, he made me a script that gathered the data and saved it nice and neat in a ready to upload CSV file. Want to do the same? He even freely posted it for you:

Within minutes my Contacts were complete and I disabled my Facebook account. Of course Facebook tried to guilt me into staying first: Are you sure you want to leave? Your 219 friends will miss you no longer be able to contact you.

Oh yeah? Who cares….I can contact them any time my little heart pleases. Suck on that Facebook. My communications are no longer held hostage by you.

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