Mixed Fruit and Vegetables

Having moved away from the checkout at Lidl recently, I noticed two large boxes of assorted fruit and vegetables in the corner. They were out of the way and easily missed, but a bargain at only £1.50 a box.

I didn’t get one at the time, but I might buy one quite often as they’re such good value. Something to check out before shopping, rather than after. It’s good that food which otherwise might go to waste is being used in this way.

One blemish on an apple doesn’t mean you throw the whole apple away, as I keep telling my children.

Note: If you shop at Lidl regularly, don’t forget to get their app to save money and get great offers.

Grounding Exercise

This grounding exercise is really helpful if you’re anxious or feeling overwhelmed by life. It can be used to keep you alert, to return to the present after some fantasy or imaging, or as a way of dealing with negative experiences.

Sit upright in a supportive chair, and take a few deep breaths.

  • Become aware of the soles of your feet in contact with the floor.
  • Guide your attention to the chair, feel it touching your body.
  • Tell yourself, ‘I am safe, and no harm is happening to me’.
  • Become aware of what you hear around you, continuing to feel your feet in contact with the floor.
  • Become aware of what you see around you that is pleasant and interesting.
  • Remind yourself that you are safe, and stay aware of your feet on the ground.

Now, move your focus to what is happening in your body. Remain aware of your feet on the ground, and remind yourself that you are safe.

  • Become aware of any tension in your body.
  • Become aware of any emotions related to that tension.
  • Still feel the soles of your feet on the ground, remember you are safe.

Finally, move your awareness to the most relaxed place in your body and remain in your chair for as long as you need. You then might like to move into a more comfortable place and listen to some relaxing music.

Note: Breathing apps can also be helpful, see here.

Google Photos (OCR)

I’ve been using Google Photos for ages, but it was only recently that they added an optical character recognition feature. Basically, if you take a photo of text on your smartphone, check it out in the Google Photos app or (after it’s been uploaded and synchronised to the cloud) computer web browser and you get the option to optically scan the text in the photo and convert it to editable text. It will even read it aloud for you.

While we’re on the subject of Google and text, there’s also another app that’s very useful, one that I use all the time. One of the features of Google Keep is that you can record audio notes that are automatically transcribed into text. It’s remarkably accurate and useful for those times when you have an idea and are unable to type. I used it for this blog post and it required minimal editing to finish it off.

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Too many notifications?

We live in a technological world where everyone and everything is trying to grab our attention. It can drive us crazy, but we don’t have to accept it or put up with it.

Every app on your smartphone demands your attention and will notify you about all sorts of things, often distracting you from what you’re doing or important conversations you might be having. They’re designed to do this, to keep themselves at the forefront of your mind, to take you away from far more important things.

Default notification settings can increasingly irritate you and those around you.

Quality time you might be having with a loved one, or a person in need of your full attention, is far more deserving of your time and attention than the fact that someone might have laughed (or groaned) at your joke on Facebook or your opinion on Twitter.

All notifications can be turned off individually, and doing this can substantially improve your quality of life. For example, I choose when I check Facebook to see who has replied to me, rather than being disturbed all the time. I take control of my smartphone, instead of my smartphone controlling me.

Every time you get a notification, ask yourself if you actually needed it at that precise moment. If not, mute it in future.

You can also set the [Do Not Disturb] feature, so that even those notifications you do want during the day don’t disturb you at night. Technology is a truly wonderful thing, but can also be very intrusive.

Are you getting too many noisy notifications? The means to control them is in your own hands.

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Ambient Mood (Bandcamp)

Bandcamp is a website for musicians and labels upload music and control how they sell it, setting their own prices or the option to pay what you like and offering occasional discounts. I use it to discover independent music, listening mainly to ambient music, although not exclusively. I’ve also made a number of online friends through Bandcamp. You can find my fan profile and public music collection here.

Bandcamp’s website offers users access to an artist’s page featuring information on the artist, social media links, merchandising links and listing their available music. Artists can change the look of their page and customize its features. Source

You can stream the music on the website, listen via an app or download. Downloads are offered both in lossy formats as MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis, and in lossless formats as FLAC, ALAC, WAV and AIFF. Some artists may offer the purchase of their music on physical media such as CD, vinyl, and even cassette.

I download my purchases and listen to them on a dedicated music player, as well as listening on the website and app on my smartphone. You can read about some of my favourites by clicking here.

Stargazing with Matilda

Home schooling is a very real and present challenge (understatement) for millions of parents and families in the coronavirus lockdown, but Matilda and I had an enjoyable adventure at the end of what has been a tough day. There was a homework task in her school app inbox from before Christmas, to explore the night sky. So off we went in the car (including Chippy the Elf, don’t ask) to a quiet country lane a few miles from home.

Winter is the best time to explore the night sky in the northern hemisphere, because it’s darker than the summer (obviously) and because there are more distinctive constellations, with Orion dominating.

It was muddy and windy (my flat cap blew off) and a little scary for Matilda, but we had a great time and saw some wonderful objects in the night sky once our eyes had adjusted.

The most obvious object in the sky was the Moon with Mars and Uranus appearing close in the sky, although the latter is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark. We saw the dramatic constellation of Orion and used his belt (three stars in a line) to point down to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) and upwards to the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. We spotted the distinctive W (or M) shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, and the plough shape of Ursa Major.

It was a very short lesson as Matilda soon wanted to get back into the car, but we could still see quite a lot inside the car and on the way home. A positive experience of home schooling at the end of the day.

Steady – Breathing Exercises App

screenshot-play.google.com-2020.06.11-21_02_25

There’s a lot of anxiety and other mental health concerns around at the moment related to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and so anything that can help us is welcome.

Steady is an Android app that I’ve started using on my smartphone. I recently came across this recommended app in a magazine and expected to have to pay for it, but it’s free with no adverts.

Breathing exercises are a really helpful way of relieving anxiety and stress, and this app helps you tackle your anxiety. It also provides daily reminders and encouragement for hitting monthly goals and the like.

Note: I’ve discovered there’s also a free app (Insomnia) to help you sleep, this can be accessed via the above app.

Update January 2021: Although I’d been using this app regularly, it failed to work after an Android OS update, so now I’m using the equally excellent Breathly app.

Essential Chromebook Apps

focused woman browsing laptop on windowsill
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

When I first got my Chromebook I downloaded loads of apps, but I’ve deleted many of them because you can do most things you want in the Google Chrome browser.

Amazon Prime Video and Netflix: Although you can watch movies and TV series in the browser, there are some apps that work better as apps and these are two that I do use. Other content providers are available.

Chrome Canvas: This is an excellent, and possibly little-known, drawing app that comes with the Chrome OS. Yes, you can use it in a browser on any operating system, but there are advantages of using the app on a Chromebook, not least the fact that the app defaults to full screen.

JotterPad: This is a wonderful distraction-free notepad app that I use on my smartphone and tablet as well as on my Chromebook. It’s free, but does have in-app purchases. Two of these are one-off payments to unlock extra features, but if you want to connect to a cloud services there’s a monthly payment. I’ve paid for the two one-off benefits, but haven’t bothered with the cloud integration as you can easily share the notes manually with other apps and services. There are many adjustments you via settings, so an altogether essential app for me.

Nimbus Screenshot & Screen Video Recorder: This is a Chrome browser extension rather than an app, but I include it here because it’s useful on whichever device you use this browser. It does what it says on the tin with many different options.

Photoshop Express & Snapseed: Everyone knows about Photoshop, and so their app for Android devices is pretty much a must-have. Snapseed is not so well-known, but it’s a neat little photo editing app to have in your Android tool box. Take your pick, or install both.

VLC: This media player is simply essential on any device, make sure you have the app on your Chromebook.

ZArchiver: If you work with ZIP files this is an essential app.

Note: I hope this selection of Chromebook apps is useful to you, and remember the apps can be used on any Android device.

Recognising Birdsong

photo of perched common blackbird
Photo by Jozef Fehér on Pexels.com

In her recent guest post (Digital Wellbeing) Sue Thomas mentioned birdsong. I’ve always been fascinated by birdsong and can recognise a few, but birdwatching has never been one of my hobbies. Perhaps it should be with my retirement coming up in a few months time.

Coincidentally, I’ve just come across a recommended app for recognising individual birdsong, so I thought it might be useful to share it here. It goes by the unfortunate title of ChirpOMatic, but it’s been thoroughly recommended by WebUser magazine.

It costs £3.99 (although it’s worth every penny) and there are versions for both Android and iOS. The link in the text is for Android, but I’m sure iPhone users will be able to find it easily.

10 Tips for Top Sleep

woman in gray tank top lying on bed
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

First of all, let me say I’m not an expert on sleep, although I’ve read widely about it and written about The Need for Sleep on this site.

Sleep can be elusive at the best of times, but in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, it can be even more difficult with so many emotions and thoughts going through our minds.

Here are tips I’ve found helpful and I try to apply them whenever possible. Although I don’t always get it right, especially with three young children.

  1. Stick to a specific sleep schedule, try to settle down and wake up at the same time each day. Remembering that a lie-in at weekends won’t make up for and lack of sleep during the working week, and might well make it harder to get up on Monday morning.
  2. Try to avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine too near to bedtime as these can be detrimental to good sleep. The latter two are not a problem for me as I’m teetotal and don’t smoke, but caffeine can be. I don’t usually drink coffee after 12 noon (2.00 pm at the latest) although I still drink tea, and so to reduce my caffeine intake before bed I’ll often drink decaffeinated tea. Another option is herbal tea, which I try to drink at least once a day, usually with a teaspoon of acacia honey to sweeten.
  3. It’s often tempting to eat late into the evening, but this isn’t always a good idea. I’m also at an age when my bladder can wake me up in the night, so I try to balance the need to be hydrated with my overall fluid intake.
  4. Exercise is good, but not too near bedtime. We all know that exercise is beneficial for our overall health and wellbeing, but it’s better done earlier in the day.
  5. Naps are good and can help to make up for lost sleep, but it’s best not to take these after the middle of the afternoon as these can then make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  6. Make sure you unwind before bed if possible, schedule it into your daily routine. Reading or listening to music can be helpful ways to relax.
  7. Avoid screen time before bed and, if possible, keep smartphones and tablets out of the bedroom. You can also use a blue filter to reduce the detrimental effect of screen light while winding down to sleep. Many devices and operating systems now have these built-in, or there are apps you can use. You can also turn the brightness down.
  8. A hot bath is good for helping you to relax and unwind, but also the lowing of body temperature that occurs after a bath helps you to become sleepy.
  9. Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, and get rid of anything that might distract you. If it’s not completely dark you could try an eye mask.
  10. This last tip depends on you as an individual and may vary in different circumstances. If you can’t sleep, do you get up or simply lay resting? I usually apply the rule that if not sleeping is making me anxious it’s probably better to get up for a while before returning to bed, otherwise I stay put. But always avoid the temptation to check your smartphone.

Finally, in all of this don’t forget the old adage, that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Sleep well.