Reading List in Google Chrome

How do you save web pages you want to read later?

Until recently I’d been saving web pages in a variety of places, including Facebook and Twitter bookmarks. I still use those, but now I’ve become better organised. Sites I visit regularly are bookmarked in Google Chrome (so they synchronise across all my devices) with my top sites on the favourites bar as icons only.

I don’t know how long Google’s [Reading list] has been available, but I’ve only recently discovered it. If it’s not showing you can activate it after typing the following command into the address bar and pressing [Enter]. You can also use the same command to disable it.

chrome://flags/#read-later

Anything I want to read later now gets saved into my [Reading list] by bookmarking and choosing that option. Most recent pages are saved to the top of the list and get moved to the bottom of the list (below a divider) when you’ve read them. You can then delete them, keep for future reference, or transfer to another bookmarking service.

For long-term bookmark storage I use Pocket, which I’ve written about here.

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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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The Woman at the Well (Lent 1)

Whataboutery annoys me. It’s when someone responds to criticism, or an opposing view, by accusing someone else of similar or worse faults. Whataboutery is a shallow way of diverting attention away from yourself (often, but not always) when criticised. Irritating in children and pathetic in adults. You find it everywhere, in Facebook conversations, in politics, and in media interviews etc.

Often it’s simply trying to change the subject, at other times it’s trying to start a diversionary argument when the truth becomes too hot to handle. I think sometimes it comes out of instinct, a learned response, especially since it’s so prevalent today, not least in news media.

Equally, whataboutery is nothing new, it’s been around as long as humans have. In the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake! Genesis 3

When the Risen Jesus challenged Peter to follow him despite all the challenges, Peter pointed to another disciple and said, ‘Lord, what about him?’ John 21:21

But the Bible passage I have in mind is John 4:1-42, read it now and look for examples of whataboutery.

In this reading from John’s Gospel we see an act of kindness with enormous consequences, the fact that Jesus and the Samaritan woman even began a conversation. For centuries Jews and Samaritans had been hostile to one another. The safest way to live together was to keep their distance, live in their own little world and not notice the other’s presence.

Most people would have considered Jesus to have been very brave, or very foolish, to have been in Samaritan territory at all. And to stop at a well was double trouble, because that was where the women came to draw water, and in a society where the sexes were carefully separated it wasn’t the place for a man and woman to be found on their own.

The modern equivalent of a well is the water cooler, an opportunity for conversation. But far from getting off to a good start, it looks like the conversation will get bogged down in whataboutery, misunderstanding, and cross purposes.

I’m not going to go over what you can read for yourself, but a careful reading and re-reading of the passage will pay dividends.

You’ll notice how Jesus wisely refuses to become engaged in an argument, and how often we fail in this respect when we want to score points on social media, for example. He doesn’t take the opportunity to reinforce a partisan position, but rather he proposes that the true worship that God desires is worship in spirit and truth, not dependent on any particular place or shrine. He keeps a level head.

The story is about evangelism, and how it can start with a simple encounter and a conversation that broke down prejudices, and allowing entry into a new world shaped by God.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:11-14

Here is the universal longing of the human condition, that our spiritually emptiness might be filled, and this thirst is something Jesus satisfies. Here is God’s continuing presence with his people, and he nourishes us day by day in our journey of faith.

Jesus said, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6), but he also demonstrated the perfect example in his response to whataboutery.

Note: This Sunday (21 February 2021) is the first Sunday in Lent. I’ve not mentioned Lent in this devotional, but you can click here for one of today’s Lectionary readings and find out more here.

Reflections on events in America

In the course of the last twenty four hours, armed supporters of Donald Trump have stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and forced a lockdown. Here are a selection of my thoughts on Facebook and Twitter:

Where are the Christian leaders condemning Donald Trump for the violent insurrection provoked by the immature ‘President’ throwing a tantrum since the election defeat?

American friends, I’m heartbroken for you right now. Love and peace, John.

After Joe Biden’s speech: This is what a president looks and sounds like, the last four years have been an aberration. It’s what presidents prior to 2016 have looked and sounded like, both Democrat and Republican.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of Christianity. My faith is about vulnerability, grace, love, and willing self-sacrifice. Demonstrated by Jesus. End of.

Trump holding a Bible as a political weapon offends me!

Don’t think it couldn’t happen in the UK. Guard democracy. Value truth and integrity. Preserve free speech. Protect impartial journalism. Don’t take our freedoms for granted.

Following a tweet by Donald Trump that was deleted by Twitter (he was later blocked) because it was an incitement to violence: Where to start? I am absolutely shocked to the core by this tweet, now rightfully deleted by Twitter. This is unconscionable language and an obscene abuse of the high office of president, and totally trashes his oath made before God. If you didn’t see it before today, I hope you can now. This is the final reveal of his true nature after four years of pernicious words and actions.

There are certain moments when you’re aware of history in the making, this is one of them.

The appalling events in America didn’t just happen in a vacuum, they have been four years in the making. Events made possible because the words and actions of a ‘president’ have largely gone unchallenged by those putting power before conscience. The ugly side of America has been deliberately and painfully exposed, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, action by action. True Democrats and Republicans must come together to rebuild and protect what has been systematically trashed.

Don’t tickle the egos of tyrants.

Beware UK politicians and political leaders who have said similar things to Donald Trump in the last few years. Protect democracy and a free press, value truth and integrity, guard our freedoms often gained through sacrifice. Words matter.

Down for Everyone or Just Me?

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We’ve all been there. When you click on a website and nothing happens.

Is it me? Is it my wi-fi? Is the site down?

It happened today when I wanted to track the status of an envelope of important documents with Royal Mail.

What do you do? Ask your friends on Facebook? Check Twitter to see if it’s down for everyone?

Well, as it happens, there’s a website for this problem.

It has one job, and it does what it says on the tin, is it down for everyone or just me? It’s a really useful site.

So, was Royal Mail down for everyone or just me? It was just me, nothing personal I hope.

A Calming Influence (Gaz Rose)

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The other day I posted on Facebook: OK friends, I need album suggestions of seriously calming music while I work this evening. Wrong answers also welcome. Go! I received some great suggestions, and I’m working my way through them.

Gaz Rose replied (with a smile), “Would it be wrong of me to suggest my new one? His brass neck cheek was just the nudge I needed to buy and download it, it lived up to the promise and I can thoroughly recommend it. Find it in the usual download places.

There’s no real official blurb, it’s simply an album for personal or corporate reflection, using Christian songs as a basis for the relaxed feel music. There’s something for everyone, including a track for the Christmas market – which I skipped by the way. The album finishes with an arrangement of Ascalon, his favourite hymn tune.

Gaz hasn’t paid me to promote this, but he owes me a coffee!

Maintaining Mental Health

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Looking after our mental health is always important, but especially so during the lockdown associated with the coronavirus pandemic. As this BBC web page says: Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.

How has the lockdown affected your mental health? I asked this question on Facebook and the following are some of the responses I received. They have been sensitively edited and permission for sharing given.

Karen: I’ve been struggling big time with not being able to talk to people properly and my depression has hit an all-time low, but I feel it’s not fair to speak to my doctor about it because they’re so busy with everything else. We have a houseful, so it’s not caused by loneliness, simply not having breathing space and time to think. I’m finding I sometimes just have to walk around the garden alone and talk myself out of the way. I feel we’re all grieving as well as my nana died recently, so keeping busy is my only way of getting through it apart from my 10 minutes out time. Not sure how helpful this is, but helps to share how I feel and not feel like a failure as a person and mother.

Joy: For a couple of weeks leading up to lockdown I was really anxious about going into lockdown. I stood and cried in the chemist queue. I knew I was getting very low and feared what lockdown would do to my mental health. To be honest I envied two people I knew who had passed away before this. I was becoming forgetful, forgetting things like bringing the washing down in the morning which i do I every morning, and forgetting to take my daily medication which included anti-depressants which also didn’t help my mental health! Once I realised this was an issue I gave hubby permission to remind me every morning. First week of lockdown I woke up feeling quite panicky, but got better as the day went on. I’ve had to learn not to put myself under pressure to achieve anything great. Getting through the day is in itself and achievement. I always use my one allowed walk each day. Three weeks into lockdown and I’m doing better than I thought I would. I can now get my head round cooking proper meals, but still can’t keep on top of housework. Initially, I was more anxious about lockdown, now I’m probably more anxious about the virus. Sorry it’s a long one but it’s done me good to share.

Paula: I’ve found it hard, but have found incorporating daily exercise and limiting the wine has helped! I’m still working, and so is my husband, so that has helped keep some sense of normality!

David: I’ve not struggled as much as some, partly because I’ve been working from home for three years now. I have my own business, so actually having work to do every day has filled my day. So, in a sense, I didn’t expect to struggle, but there have been a few for me, just the unsettledness of the situation has had an effect on my concentration levels. I’ve been used to my daughter being out at school every day and my wife in and out all the time. Now there are three of us rattling around this modest 3-bed semi, it’s really strange and has taken some adjustment for me.

Kate: I’ve been up and down through this so far. Trying to keep busy, but there’s only so much to do. It’s the isolation that’s the hardest. I’ve been exercising a lot, which helps, and playing lots of music. And also allowing myself to feel a bit rubbish, because it’s a rubbish time. It’s ok to struggle a bit, it’s really hard.

Kevin: It hasn’t really affected me, I’ve spent a lifetime social distancing anyway. I think though if you are suffering, it probably helps to keep busy. Writing a blog or an online diary documenting your feelings and day-to-day experience is a good idea. Something you can share that might help others, who in turn can help you. There’s always cooking, gardening and a myriad other hobbies that needn’t cost a lot.

Kerrie: I’m an introvert and enjoy time at home anyway. I’m never bored and could often go a weekend without speaking to or seeing anyone, but having a two and a half-year-old on my own, and as a key worker also trying to work from home I’ve found it very hard. I don’t have time to do all of the things I can see others doing, such as reading and other hobbies. My mum can’t come and help at all as she’s on the vulnerable list. Getting shopping is difficult. I don’t drive and I’m a single parent now, my daughter also has a heart condition, so don’t want to risk taking her into shops so I rely on friends to get what I need and just muddle through. I feel huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my daughter and also huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my work. I’m a Domestic Abuse Practitioner and I know this is increasing at this time, but there’s little I can do with no childcare and a toddler on my own. My mum doesn’t have any facility to video call and we both don’t drive so are cut off. But I think of Anne Frank, Terry Waite and others who had to endure far worse and know we have to keep on keeping on.

Heather: For me physical exercise truly helps. As a nurse I encourage grounding techniques, there are many suggested. I also recommend: Headspace. Helpful techniques.

Finally, Sarah helpfully suggested some advice being given out to students:

  1. Reach out before you freak out! Call a friend, a family member, pastor (teacher in our setting) or a hotline – it’s better to talk before it’s too overwhelming.
  2. Be gentle with yourself. If all you managed to do today in this pandemic was make it out of bed to go to the bathroom or grab a glass of water or something to eat, well done – your survival brain is working hard enough for you so take the time to rest.
  3. We are all in this together – no one has it all together right now no matter what Facebook or Instagram says, this is an unprecedented time we are all trying to figure it out.
  4. Stand outside and ground yourself for at least 5 minutes (15 is better). Feel the sun/wind on your face. Touch the plants. Take your shoes off and let your feet feel the earth below you. This is a scientifically proven technique to assist mental health, grounding is vital.
  5. Finally, just know that you are not alone. Reach out before you Freak out!

Thank you everyone for your contributions, feel free to add any more thoughts in the comments. Be affirmed, John.

Four by Four and Four by Sixteen

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Photography (a smartphone is all you need by the way) and writing, whether personal or for work, are two of the things that are currently helping me maintain my mental health and sanity in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Partly by accident, but also by design, I’ve developed a way of posting them on social media and here. I take four square photos and then stitch them together with an Instagram app to make a four by four photo which I share then to Instagram (and automatically to Facebook and Twitter). I repeat this three more times, and then stitch the four stitched photos together into a four by sixteen photo. The above stitched photo is today’s offering from my afternoon walk in Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend.

I then add all the individual photos to a Google Photos album, and you can see the ones from today here. I’m particularly pleased how the dandelion shot turned out, I spotted it in a ray of sunshine that didn’t extend to the background, making it stand out dramatically.

I also took four photos of some fungi on a tree stump that I’ve stitched into a standalone four by four one. Again, you can see all the individual ones here.

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Oh, and even though I concentrated on nature, I was with my family. Here’s the one shot I did take of them (Naomi was taking photos of the children), and I immediately loved it.

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A Year of Us (Naomi Ager)

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Naomi and I have been considering the adverse effect the coronavirus pandemic lockdown can have on couples, especially those (like us) with young children. I posted something to this effect on Facebook today, not because we had fallen out, but because we both recognise that couples need to work harder on their relationships in times of crisis. This is her guest post. Thank you Naomi, I love you.

I saw this book on Amazon and, given the stress we find ourselves under as a family, but more so as a couple in these days of lockdown, I thought engagement in a couple’s journal together might work in some way to deepen our connection and allow us to explore each other and not lose sight of ‘us’.

There’s always something else you can learn about the person you love whether you’ve been together for a week or 60 years. By sitting together each evening to explore the 365 interesting questions laid out in this book, I feel it will give us a beautiful insight into our hopes and dreams, as well as our most desperate needs that perhaps are going by the wayside right now.

I’m personally finding it difficult to do something as simple as engaging in meaningful conversation when the children have gone to bed. But, having explored this book prior to us starting it together, I think it will give us the opportunity to bring up issues whether deep and heartfelt or more whimsical in nature.

In this period of lockdown, it’s more important than ever to maintain healthy discussions as a couple and to ensure important things are openly talked about. Things such as family finance and sex life (for example) and hopes for now and the future when we are eventually released back into the big wide world again.

It’s also important to talk about our hobbies and interests with each other, and in turn to encourage the person we share our lives with and love with the things that interest them. I want to take even more of an interest and have a better understanding of what interests John. So maybe I’ll read up on stars, planets, space and the universe or listen to one of his weird and wonderful music albums.

Making time to talk about our interests outside of homeschooling the children and general survival at this time, in my opinion, can only solidify the foundation of our relationship and improve life massively, especially whilst living under such pressure.

I plan to share a lot of the daily questions with my friends on Facebook, so they too can sit with their other half, turn off the television, put pen to paper and learn a little more about each other.

Digital Wellbeing (Sue Thomas)

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Our lives crossed when I lived in Leicester and we’ve been Facebook friends since. Sue Thomas has some important things to say about digital wellbeing and I’m pleased she agreed to write a guest post for me. Her book is excellent, click here for details.

I have spent the last 15 years researching the connections between nature and our digital lives, trying to find out whether it is possible to get a real connection with nature through technology. After speaking with and studying many important thinkers in the technology industry, environmental psychology, design, and urban planning, I felt certain that it is.

At times, my findings have been seen as controversial, but today in the COVID-19 epidemic that has changed. Now, digital wellbeing is becoming a lifeline for people stuck indoors for days and weeks on end. Some of the techniques I learnt about, such as watching nature on screens, following wild animal webcams, and listening to recorded birdsong, are being recommended by health experts. More and more researchers now know that such activities reduce stress and anxiety. Even playing a video game with natural landscapes can promote mental wellbeing!

So here are a few tips to help you get the benefits of nature while you’re stuck indoors during the epidemic.

  1. First things first – what can you see from your windows? If nothing much, consider moving the furniture around. A good view of greenery, trees, or even just more sky, can slow your heart rate and help you relax.
  2. When you’re browsing through Instagram, don’t swipe too fast. Take a moment to stop and appreciate the breath-taking sunrises, evocative dusks, gorgeous landscapes and intoxicating blooms. Imagine the texture of those leaves and petals. Recall the scent of that bluebell wood. Remember running your fingers along the bark of that oak tree? The sensuous outdoors is right there in your phone.
  3. Choose a new wallpaper for your phone or computer screen. Research has shown that pictures of dense groups of leafy trees are very calming, so why not search for a jungle or forest? Then make sure you set time aside on a regular basis to just be with that image and sink into it, perhaps even meditate for a short while.
  4. Do you usually ignore your houseplants? Now you have the time to give them some love and be rewarded with a relaxing biophilic experience. Gently clean their leaves with cotton wool and warm water, make sure the pot is moist and they have the light level they need. Chat to them if you like. There are benefits for both of you.
  5. Search for recordings of birdsong. They are everywhere online but the BBC is a good place to start. If you can listen with headphones that’s even better. Just allow your senses to fill with the memories of all the times in the past when you have wandered through a wood, sat in the park or just been out in the garden, yet never paid proper attention to the birds. Now you have the time to do just that. Enjoy!

Other Information: Sue Thomas is the author of Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age, available from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. Visit her Facebook Page. She’s also on Twitter: @suethomas and Instagram: Digital_Wellbeing.

Sue also blogs here: https://suethomasnet.wordpress.com

See also: Recognising Birdsong