Pocket: A Handy Tool for Web Browsing

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (brother of ‘Becca) , who is a permaculture gardener, home energy efficiency auditor, and owner of a curbside recycling business in Kansas.

I got an email a few days ago informing me that I’m in the top 5% of users of a service called Pocket — I’ve used their free service to read more words on more Web pages than 95% of their users.  This is a totally unpaid and unasked-for endorsement, but chances are you haven’t even heard of this service, so let me introduce you and explain why I use Pocket so much:

  • Pocket makes it easier for me to save Web pages to read later than to read them right away, helping me to avoid distraction.  You know when you should be doing something, but someone has sent you an interesting link, or posted it on Facebook or somewhere, and you want to be sure to read it, but you’re afraid if you don’t read it now you’ll forget?  Being able to add it to your Pocket means you can be sure you won’t lose it and can resume what you were doing.  This has revolutionized the way I read blogs in particular; I scan the headlines in my RSS reader every morning, and rather than read any of them immediately, I save the ones I want to read to my Pocket and go on with my day.
  • Pocket is so integrated with my mobile and desktop browsers that it feels like how the Web was meant to work.  Saving a page to my Pocket is easier than bookmarking it in the browser.  Reading a page in Pocket is often easier and more pleasant than reading it in the browser, because Pocket gets rid of all the ads, menus, and other distractions in most Web pages so I can focus on the text of the page I’m interested in, and it reformats that text for optimal reading on whatever device I’m using at the moment.  I find that any Web page worth taking the time to read (rather than just skim) is worth saving to my Pocket so I can enjoy it more.
  • Reading a page in my Pocket is often more secure than reading it on the original site.  Pocket gets rid of all the tracking cookies that typically follow you within and among sites as you browse, and I can use Pocket to read a page over an encrypted (https) connection even if the original source site did not have a secure option.  Sure, Pocket itself is collecting data about my use of their service, but their privacy policy is as good as anyone’s. (In a nutshell, they will only share your info if required by law.)
  • Probably the most important factor in how much I read in Pocket is that the app for my smartphone will read articles to me aloud.  All Android phones (and iPhones) have text-to-speech capability built in, but most apps don’t support it.  The Pocket app does.  Since it’s already stripped out all the menus and sidebars and other distractions away from the text of the article, when I ask it to read a page it can generally get right to the point.  It’s perfect for catching up on my reading while I garden, wash dishes, or even drive on the highway!

I’ve had a really good experience with this service, and I hope you will, too!  Next time they announce statistics, I expect you to be in that top 5%!

Becca says: Thanks, Ben!  I never heard of Pocket before.  It sounds like a great tool to use when browsing Works-for-Me Wednesday, a weekly collection of over 200 helpful tips!

A Positive Experience at the Post Office

The United States Postal Service has had a rough time in recent years. “Snail mail” just seems so slow, now that we can do a lot of things online.  FedEx and UPS have made their services more convenient to use, so a lot of people no longer choose the post office as their method of sending a package.  As the USPS struggles, it’s had to raise stamp prices frequently and cut staffing at some locations so that customers wait in line longer.  Even I have complained about the post office vending machine and its horrible fake “stamps”.  The Christmas season is an especially busy time for the post office, and we grouchy citizens tend to focus on the tedious standing-in-line and the worries about whether our gifts will arrive in time for Christmas, instead of marveling at the number of cards and packages that arrive promptly in perfect condition despite icy roads and runways.

But this week, I had a great experience with the post office!

Read more…

Planning, Parenting, and Perfection

Welcome to the December 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: The More Things Change . . .

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about life changes.

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As a teenager, I went through several phases when I spent a lot of time daydreaming about my adult life.  I “planned” which neighborhoods I would live in at each stage, chose homes from architecture books and decided where I would put all the furniture, and selected names and birthdates for my child(ren) and their father(s).  Some of the details changed as I experimented with different possible futures–one child or two? Would I really be happy with just one man for decades?–but I was certain about a few things: I would become an architect, I would live in New York City, and I would give birth to a daughter within a few months of my 30th birthday.

Why 30?  Well, my parents are 30 calendar years older than I am and 30 years ahead in school, and that’s really neat!  It’s always been easy to figure out how old my parents are now, what year they were my age, and when they were in which grade.  It just feels right.  Also, 30 seemed to be a good age for parenthood: old enough to have experienced some adult adventures without kids, young enough to enjoy plenty of adventures with kids.

I was 20 when I admitted that I could not become an architect.  I changed my major to psychology, finished college, worked at a few assorted jobs, and eventually became the data manager of a social science research study–a career I’d never heard of when I was in high school that turns out to be very well suited to me.  Meanwhile, I’d decided not to move to New York, because I really love Pittsburgh–a city I’d never even considered visiting until Carnegie Mellon University sent me a recruiting brochure.

So I’d totally failed to meet my goals for my twenties, but I was very happy.  Also, oddly enough, I’d managed to do something that my cynical, depressed ninth-grade self had discarded as a dream too painfully impossible even to think about: I had found That Guy with the red curly hair and the beard who actually loved me in all my weirdness and understood and agreed about the kind of relationship I wanted to have with a man!  Daniel isn’t always in every way exactly what I wanted, but he’s much, much closer than I thought I would ever find.

We started trying to conceive shortly after I turned 29.  I knew that, with my long and irregular cycles, it would probably take several months to get pregnant, but that was perfect: I would be 30 when our baby was born!  It was all working out just as I’d planned!

But it didn’t.  Months passed, and I got more and more agitated about tracking everything precisely, trying to make my body do what I desperately hoped it could do–what if it couldn’t?  What if I could never be a mother, or if I could do it only with scary technologies that I wasn’t sure were really quite ethical in this crowded world?  I diligently prayed for pregnancy and was rewarded by getting my period on my 30th birthday–gee, thanks a lot, God!  I got more and more bitter and desperate.  Finally we started getting the tests to determine just how infertile we were, and I gave up on conceiving naturally.

That lasted two months.  Is it because I gave up control, or because the right time just was not quite when I thought it was?  I was 31 years 7 months old when Nicholas was born; he is 32 years behind me in school.  And he’s a boy.

Yet the timing was perfect!  He was conceived on 04-04-04, obviously a lucky day, and then my baby boy emerged into the world on Christmas Eve!  I was joyful and triumphant!  I completely forgave God for all the delay and worry (it took me much longer to admit what a jerk I’d been about it and to forgive myself) and accepted that this was the child who was meant for me, arriving at the right time. Read more…

Advent Prayer Tip

The four weeks before Christmas make up the contemplative season of Advent, in which Christians are supposed to prepare our hearts to welcome the newborn Prince of Peace.

The four weeks before Christmas are a time of frenzied shopping, cooking, housecleaning or travel-planning, and festive-event-attending for most people.

There are various ways to calm the chaos and have a less materialistic and stressful Advent and Christmas season, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

A few years ago, I saw a simple tip that has helped me to work in some prayers amid all the things I’m doing in preparation for Christmas:
Whenever you find yourself waiting, pray.
Advent is the season of waiting. But when we feel very busy with lots of things to do, waiting is hard–we get impatient and frustrated! Using that waiting time to do something can help, especially if it’s something you can do in your head with no special materials and it’s something that makes you feel a bit more holy and less humbuggy.

When you are waiting in the check-out line . . . waiting for the bus . . . waiting for the water to boil . . . stuck in a traffic jam . . . waiting for a fellow shopper to move out of your way . . . waiting for the elevator . . . waiting for the waiter to take your order . . . waiting for the computer to start up . . . waiting for your kid to cooperate . . . waiting for your toast to be done . . . waiting for the traffic light to turn green . . . scrubbing a crusty pan waiting for all that gunk to come loose . . . waiting for the rest of the family to get ready to go somewhere . . . waiting for your turn to see the doctor . . . pray. Because hey, why not? It’s something to do instead of just rolling your eyes and sighing.

Use a prayer you have memorized, or just make it up as you go. Pray for grace and peace in your soul. Pray for guidance as you decide what to do next and get your priorities in order. Give thanks for all the things that are going right–you may find that there are more than you thought. Ask for help with the things that are worrying you–they may seem smaller once you lay them down. If you can’t think of anything else to pray for, look around you, choose a person, and pray that whatever she needs will come to her today.

Like a lot of things, it works for me when I remember to do it! Here’s my reminder. I hope it works for you, too.