Tag Archives: Holiday

You Butter Believe It, I’m Celebrating National Popcorn Day

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

My Childhood Popcorn Memories

Popcorn has been one of my most favorite snacks since I was a little kid. I remember growing up and my mom popping kernels of it over the stove. She would dawn oven mittens and shake the covered pot from left to right. I could hear the kernels rattling in the bottom of the pot. I could smell the aroma of the corn popping. Ah, yes, the sweet anticipation! She had a serous knack or maybe a maternal instinct of knowing just when to remove the popcorn from the stove so that it didn’t burn. She knew exactly how much oil, salt and popcorn kernels to place in the pot. Most times it came out perfect. It was our Saturday afternoon treat along with watermelon slices. We would munch on popcorn watching episodes of Soul Train trying to figure out the scramble board and the latest dance moves.

Microwave Popcorn

Empish getting ready to use microwave

Then the 80s came and microwaves were all the rage. We slowly migrated to microwave popcorn instead of stovetop. This was a new invention and not bad tasting. Sometimes the challenge was getting the timing exact and it was different for different brands of popcorn. The worse thing in the world was the smell of burnt microwave popcorn wafting out of the kitchen. But the cool thing was there was little clean up. Microwave popcorn was self-contained so once the bag was empty just throw in the trash. There was no pots or bowls to wash afterward. And, of course, this new popcorn innovation didn’t stop us from our Saturday afternoon ritual of watching Soul Train. That continued on business as usual.

These days I don’t watch Soul Train anymore but still eat popcorn. Sometimes with my mom. Sometimes with friends. Sometimes by myself. I usually have a bag full at my local movie theater. But since COVID I have stayed home and had my popcorn while watching an audio describe movie.

Other Popcorn Options

I have had popcorn during the holidays. You know those Christmas canisters with the three sections. One for butter, one for cheddar, and one for Carmel. During my Christmas visits home, my family would enjoy one of those canisters while watching TV and sharing family stories and gossip. When my mom and I weren’t eating regular popcorn we enjoyed Cracker Jacks and Fiddle Faddle. I remember Cracker Jacks would come in these little boxes. Along with the caramel coated popcorn were peanuts and a little surprise inside. Not sure if Cracker Jacks is still around anymore. I am sure someone reading this post will let me know. As I got older I moved away from Cracker Jacks and ate Fiddle Faddle which is similar but no surprise inside. Then some years ago a friend introduce me to Poppycock. This one is the best as it is a gourmet caramel glazed popcorn with a variety of nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts and peanuts. OMG, it is to die for!

Celebrate National Popcorn Day

All of these memories and thoughts of popcorn were prompted by the fact that today, Jan. 19, is National Popcorn Day. There is a National Popcorn Board. Yeah, who knew a board like this existed? Well, they decided to create this delicious day of celebration and I’m all in. I will be popping my bag of homestyle flavored popcorn. But what about you? Do you enjoy popcorn? If so, how will you celebrate this popular snack?

Working From Home? Here’s 5 Safety and Security Tips.

Empish Touching Fire Extinguisher Mounted on Wall

Home Office Safety and Security Week

As this pandemic continues on so does the attractiveness and ability to work from home. According to Findstack, 16% of companies in the world are 100% remote and 77% of remote workers say they’re more productive when working from home. With that being said it is important   to make your home office environment safe and secure. This week is Home Office Safety and Security Week. Observed every second week in January, people use this time to reevaluate their home office space. Check fire and smoke alarm systems. Clean clutter from office space. Back up files, use password protection and antivirus software.

When I read about this special week I had to take a pause. Is my home office safe and secure? After doing my own inventory, I am now ready to share with you what I learned. If you work from home this post will help you look at your office environment too.

1. Security Alarm and Fire Safety

The first thing I think about when it comes to home safety is my alarm system, smoke detector and fire extinguisher. A home security system is not just ideal for protecting your personal possessions but for work as well. Now that more people are working from home it is important to keep office equipment, computers, and other devices secure. Additionally, don’t forget to engage your alarm system during the day while you are working. Many folks tend to turn it on at nighttime only or not at all.

When I purchased my home some 20 years ago, one of the first things I did was go to a home improvement store and buy 2 fire extinguishers. I have one in the kitchen and the other is in the hallway upstairs near my office. According to the National Fire Protection Association it is best to have a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, in the kitchen, the garage and near exit doors. You never know when you might need to put out a small fire and you will lose precious time running around the house to get an extinguisher. Two things to remember though check the agent class. They come in A, B, C or a combination. I purchased one for all fires so I don’t have to worry about if the extinguisher will work properly. Also, I try to keep track of the agent levels in the extinguisher. Over time the agent strength level decreases and the worse thing is to have a fire, grab the extinguisher, aim and spray and nothing comes out!

2. Office Clean Up  

Next, I work hard at keeping my office free from physical clutter. That is papers, folders and boxes. It is so easy to plop things down on the desk or floor and before you know it piles of stuff are everywhere. So, I stop from time to time to organize and clean things up. Not just because it needs to be done but because it is a physical hazard. I can easily stumble and fall. And because I am self-employed there is no workers comp pay for me! HaHa! Got to pay my own medical bills.

A paper shredder and a clear bin with paper being shredded.

3.  Shred Sensitive Documents

Along with that is shredding sensitive documents. Your job might require this so investing in a good quality shredder is key. One of my goals last year was to empty my overflowing shredder box. I was all geeked up to do it. Then my shredder died. So, this is on my list to do this year. I have got to clean out all these old papers and dump them in the trash.

4.  Secure Your Technology

Another essential part of working from home is securing your technology. Whether that is a desktop, laptop, tablet or other device is it secure? Do you use a good antivirus software? What about password protection? Are you running the latest software programs to do your job? Depending on your line of work this is critical. Also, backing up your files. I do this constantly. I use a combo of Dropbox and One Drive. They both work well for my writing and photo storage.

5. Protect Your WIFI and Router

My last tip is to protect your internet connection. Make sure your Wi-Fi is appropriately encrypted with a password. Make sure your internet provider gives you the newest version of available routers and that it has basic security to keep your data protected with a firewall. Or you can set up your own wireless modem rather than use the one that comes from your internet service.

It takes some time to evaluate your home office so use this week to get started. Once done it can be simple to maintain. Checking your office safety and security on a regular basis will help ensure your peace of mind and work productivity.

5 Microwave Cooking Hacks to Put the Ho Ho Ho in Your Holidays

Empish at gas stove

Mostly Use Gas Stove

I use the microwave mostly for heating foods but not for cooking. It comes in handy for warming up a nice mug of coco during these cold winter months. Or reheating leftovers and popping my all-time favorite snack, a buttery bag of popcorn, to munch on while watching an audio described movie. Otherwise, it is sitting on the kitchen counter holding double duty as a quick device for heating foods and a place holder for my vitamins, memo pads and other odds and ends.

When it comes to major meal preparation I cook on my stove. I love my gas stove and have been cooking with it for many years. I like the way it cooks quickly yet evenly but boy does it get hot in the kitchen! Microwaves cook quickly and evenly too and can be an excellent kitchen appliance when you want to keep it simple. Over time I have learned microwaves have more functionality than for what I gave them credit. Although, National Microwave Oven Day was on Dec 6th I still want to recognize the importance of this useful kitchen appliance especially as we are in the midst  of the holiday season and gathering for special meals with friends and family.

5 Holiday Microwave Cooking Hacks

If you  want to whip up something in a pinch, create a festive and savory side dish  or just cut down cooking time in the kitchen these holiday hacks are for you. Just be sure to follow safety guidelines for your make and model and you will be ready to go. Now, let’s get ready to Ho Ho Ho in the kitchen this holiday with five microwave cooking hacks:

1.  Drying herbs-spread herbs on a plate lined with paper towels and cover with another one and zap for 1 minute followed by 20 seconds bursts until fully dry. Then store whole or grind them. Fresh dry herbs are great for seasoning soups, meats or cooked veggies. I especially love herbs to season when roasting my turkey breast.

2.  Frying garlic-place sliced garlic in microwave safe bowl with neutral oil, like vegetable, and cook for 5 minutes, stir and cook in 1-minute intervals until golden. Then strain for salads or recipes. I absolutely love fresh sautéed garlic in a skillet on my stove. The fragrant smell is to die for but using the microwave is another great option too.

Empish getting ready to use microwave

3.  Toasting nuts and seeds-put nuts in neutral oil in a microwave safe bowl, like vegetable, for 1-minute intervals tossing in between until golden brown. No need to preheat the oven for this healthy snack. Great for pumpkin seeds, pine nuts or sunflower seeds.

4.  Steaming veggies-cover veggies with damp paper towels and microwave on high for a few minutes until veggies are tender then season to taste. Be careful of heat and steam from paper towels and food when removing. Great for green veggies like broccoli, spinach, green beans and brussels sprouts. I do this one all the time instead of bringing out my clunky 4-part steamer and filling with water. Then having to wash, clean and return to my pantry. Too much work!

5.  Cook sweet potatoes-cooking sweet potatoes in a conventional oven for either side dishes or desserts can take about an hour. This is too much time and too much heat in the kitchen. Scrub the potatoes clean and prick them with a fork. Microwave up to 4 potatoes for 6-8 minutes, rotating them periodically until tender.

Share Your Favorite Hack

Are you ready to use your microwave for cooking this holiday season? Tell me which hack resonated the most with you. Or do you have one of your own to share?

Hoopla: My Favorite App for Reading Commercial Audiobooks

Empish using iPhone

Discovered Hoopla App

I have shared off and on about an audiobook reader app I discovered this year called Hoopla. Well, to be perfectly honest a librarian told me about it. We were preparing for our virtual book club and I couldn’t find the selection in audio format. So, she suggested using Hoopla. And why did she do that? OMG! This app has been so wonderful since that day. So much so that I have almost abandoned my other book reading app, Voice Dream. In honor of National App Day, Dec 11th, I am going to share a bit more about this fantastic app and how it has enhanced my enjoyment of reading.

As many of you know the word app is short for application. It is a computer program or software and has grown rapidly over the years. Today there are apps for virtually everything imaginable. Every day I learn about an app that can help me do this or that. Some apps are free and some come with a cost. Some are simple to use and some are complicated. Some have raving reviews and some are pitiful. Regardless apps are here to stay and there are folks out there developing ones all the time.

App Accessibility

Now with that being said when I look for an app to use accessibility is numero uno. If I can’t access it as a blind person what is the point? The majority of apps I use are on my iPhone so that means they have to work with Voiceover, which is the accessibility feature build into Apple products for the blind and visually impaired. Things like edit boxes and radio buttons must work properly. AppleVIS does a great job reviewing apps for accessibility. I have gone to their website to research an app before downloading and especially before purchasing it. When it came to the Hoopla app I was already aware that it was fairly accessible and I wouldn’t have too many problems.

Hoopla Connects with Library

After downloading the app and creating a username and password I got to searching for the book for our discussion. The process was straightforward and took little time. The Hoopla app is free and who doesn’t like free? It connects directly with your local library. So, you need to be a current patron of the library and have a library card to use the app. Your library card number will be required as part of the set-up process. Since I’m active at my local library that was no problem.

Hoopla Offers More Than Books

Hoopla offers so much more than reading commercial audiobooks. They have a large music catalog. I have accessed all kinds of music. This has allowed me to expand my music library and listen to artist old and new. Recently I listened to Alicia Keys read her audiobook, “More Myself” and then listen to her music directly afterward. It was a wonderful experience to hear her story about her music career and then listen to her sing too. And all on the same app at no cost to me. You can’t beat that!

But wait, there’s more. Hoopla has   movies and TV shows too. Now, I have to say, I haven’t accessed this part of the app yet because there is no indication these films are available in audio description. But I have heard the catalog is plentiful. So, you will have to check that out and get back to me.

The last thing I want to point out on Hoopla you can access is eBooks. When you do a search for a book Hoopla will display the results in either audiobook, eBook or both. So, you have some options of how you want to read your selection. Personally, I like commercial audiobooks because eBooks are in a text format   and when read are with a synthesized voice not a human.

Other Cool Things

Other cool things about the app I like is I can borrow books immediately. They call it instant borrows. With other library apps you might have to take a number and wait in line but not on Hoopla. I can borrow and download right away. Then I have 21 days to read it and I can manually return it or it will be done automatically. No fines or fees. Again, you can’t beat that!

I can also borrow 10 selections per month. Hoopla displays the total and counts down as I borrow. When I exhaust the number I can’t borrow anymore until the next month and the number starts fresh. Since I have a limited number I reserve my commercial audiobooks for Hoopla and all other books I read someplace else. I find the quality of the audiobook readers to be excellent which can make or break a book for me.

Share Your Favorite App

For the book lovers reading this post, do you have a favorite book reading app? Have you heard of or use Hoopla? Share your experience as we continue to celebrate National App Day.

Author and Former Caregiver Abbie Johnson Taylor Writes About Life and Love

Abbie Johnson Taylor

This is the month to write. Write. And write some more. November is National Novel Writing Month more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. Authors take on the challenge to write a novel (at least 50,000 words) by the end of the month. Although I am not a book author, I love reading audiobooks and engaging with authors. So, in honor of NaNoWriMo I chatted with a good writer friend Abbie Johnson Taylor. In the interview below Abbie shares why she became an author, her writing routine and gave nuggets of wisdom for newbies. Enjoy!

Abbie Becomes an Author

Empish:  Why did you decide to become an author? What was it about writing books that piqued your interest?

Abbie:  I’ve always enjoyed writing. But as a kid, whenever I wrote anything for school, whether it was a story or poem or a research paper, my mother, a college English teacher, always rewrote it. I’m not talking about just writing a version with all spelling and grammar mistakes corrected. She actually rewrote my papers so they sounded better. As a result, I lost faith in my own ability to write good material.

When I was in the eighth grade and had to do a research paper on cancer, she took me to the library, where we found books on the subject. At home, she read me the material and wrote the paper while I sat there and listened. I learned a lot about cancer and was glad to get a good grade on a paper I didn’t write. After that, I was content to let her do the leg work whenever I was assigned any kind of writing.

It never occurred to me to consider a career in writing until after my mother passed in 1999. At that time, I was a registered music therapist, working with seniors in nursing homes. I’d just gotten my first computer and loved the idea of putting words on a virtual page, then correcting mistakes and making changes with ease.

Empish:  You share on your website’s bio that in 2005 you got married and quit your job and volunteer work to focus on writing full time. I am sure that was a major change in your life. Share what that transition was like.

Abbie:  Yes, it was a major change but a welcome one. Although I had enjoyed my work as a registered music therapist, I was ready for a change. I was only too happy to spend all day at my computer, writing, revising, and submitting material for possible publication. But after Bill suffered his first stroke in 2006, I was again balancing writing with another full-time occupation-a family caregiver. Although this wasn’t easy, I managed to self-publish two books in the years I cared for him at home before he passed.

No Particular Genre

Empish:  Many authors place themselves in a particular genre such as romance, suspense, Mistry, self-help, etc. However, when I look over your body of writing work, you have written poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Is there a reason your books and writing don’t fit a specific genre?

Abbie:  No, not really. I just enjoy creating material in the many genres in which I write.

National Novel Writing Month

Why Grandma Doesn't Know Me Book Cover

Empish:  This month, as you know, is National Novel Writing Month, where the focus is writing a novel in 30 days. For the books you have written so far, how long did it take you to write them?

Abbie:  At the most, my three novels, “We Shall Overcome,”The Red Dress,” and “Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me;” and my memoir “My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds,” took about a year to write. My two poetry books, “How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver” and “That’s Life: New and Selected Poems,” took several years.

Empish:  Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not? What was your experience?

Abbie:  No, I like to take my time when writing a novel. I know you should write first and edit later, and I do that. But I like to have an idea in my mind of what will happen to my characters before I sit down at my computer.

Writing Routines and rituals

Empish:  Many authors have a writing routine or process, such as writing at a specific time of day, writing so many words a day or having a favorite spot to write. Share your most important rituals that help you be a successful writer.

Abbie:  Since I no longer have a full-time job and have few obligations during the week, I spend most days at my computer, either writing, editing, or submitting. Most of this time is taken with creating posts for my blog, which go live almost every day. I also spend at least an hour a day reading posts from other bloggers I follow via email. I try not to work on weekends, but this isn’t always possible.

Empish:  Along the lines of your writing rituals, what adaptive technology do you use to assist with your writing process?

Abbie:  I use a Windows PC with screen reading software and a Braille display. I sometimes like to write in my recliner. For that purpose, I use a Braille tablet with the ability to copy files directly to Google Drive so I can access them on my computer.

Characters with Medical Challenges

Empish:  In your novel “The Red   Dress” and your newly released one “Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me,” both deal with characters with dementia. Why did you decide to write stories with characters who are struggling with severe memory loss?

Abbie:  I created the characters in both these novels for different purposes. I really don’t want to go into detail for fear of giving away spoilers. So, let’s just say that I created these characters to provide a source of tension in the plot.

Empish:  Your other books are peppered with stories about your husband and his medical challenges. Why was it important to write about those experiences and share them with your readers?

Abbie:  Being a family caregiver can be an isolating occupation. You often don’t have an opportunity to socialize with other people, let alone others in your situation. So, I share my experiences to let those people know they’re not alone.

Abbie’s Writing Advice

Empish:  Lastly, for people who want to write a book and get published what words of wisdom and/or encouragement would you give them?

Abbie:  First of all, read, not just books in the genre in which you want to write but books and magazines on writing. Writers, like doctors and lawyers, must read up on the latest practices and trends.

Also, get involved in writing groups, either in-person or virtually. I’ve found people in such groups inspiring and supportive over the years.

Last but not least, write every day, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes, even if it’s just an email message. No matter what you write or how long you write each day, always consider yourself a writer.

Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in Magnets and Ladders, The Writer’s Grapevine, and other publications. She lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where, for six years, she cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Before that, she worked for fifteen years as a registered music therapist in nursing homes and other senior facilities, facilitated a support group for visually impaired adults, taught Braille, and served on the advisory board to a state trust fund that allows blind and visually impaired individuals to purchase adaptive equipment. Learn more about Abbie  on her website, read her blog or connect with her on her Facebook page.

Becoming a LinkedIn Rock Star: Chris Reed Shows Me How  

Wall of Book Shelves

I can’t believe it! The month of October is almost over and so is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Well, actually for me disability employment is every month of the year. As a blind freelance writer and blogger, I am working all year long. I spend the majority of my writing on the disabled so this month is like many others. But don’t get me wrong I appreciate the national observation. The focus on how we disabled folks are working, want to work, can work and are still working is needed.

Audiobook on LinkedIn

Now, that being said I have to share about this great business audiobook I read   this month. It gave me tips to take my LinkedIn profile to the next level. As a blind person I have had a love hate relationship with LinkedIn. I love it for the ability to connect and engage professionally with people. Yet, I hate the layout of the

platform because I find it hard to navigate as a disabled person. Since LinkedIn is the top go to social media place for professional networking I soldier through and do the best I can. Finding and reading this book has helped me to do just that. So, are you ready for the name of the book? Want to know how it helped me? Have I left you in suspense? Probably not because my headline gave it away, right? The book is “How to Become a LinkedIn Rock Star” by Chris J Reed.

I stumbled on it while searching on my Hoopla app. And boy what a Jem of a find it has been! Let me share the things Reed showed me on how to become a LinkedIn Rock Star. The first thing he wanted to make clear is what LinkedIn is and isn’t. LinkedIn is the most underutilized social media platform compared to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tick Tock and etc. People wrongly assume that LinkedIn is just for job seekers only. This is not true because it provides a rich opportunity to make professional connections. As a result of this myth people assume they don’t have to develop and manage their profile as long as it’s there and the job info is accurate. But when someone searches for you online your LinkedIn profile comes up first the majority of the time. This is true because I checked mine and next to my personal website my LinkedIn profile did come up first in a Google search. Hence, if it is not updated, no active engagements and few connections, then you are missing important opportunities and don’t even know it.

LinkedIn is More Than a Profile

So, how do I work this knowledge to my advantage? Reed told me to be sure my summary, about   and experience sections are written in first person. He compared Your LinkedIn profile to a in person networking function. If I were at a business mixer, I would talk to people in first person. I would use casual voice while being professional. I would share about my business, myself and how I could help the person I’m talking to. I found this way of thinking about LinkedIn immensely helpful because I had been approaching my profile as an online resume instead. I now realize that is not the same thing and I need to update my profile and make some changes.

My Personal Brand

Reed spent several chapters stressing the power and importance of your personal brand. He is widely known as the CEO with the mohawk. It is a part of his personal brand and makes him stand out over others. Reed says his Mohawk is the best icebreaker and he loves it because it starts the conversation and then we can get down to business.

Therefore, the question becomes what is my personal brand? What makes me unique? What am I an expert in? What makes me shine and stand out? Next is being sure the answer is clearly communicated on LinkedIn. Because Reed continuously stated throughout the book your LinkedIn profile is seen all the time. Additionally, having a compelling personal brand makes an impression, communicates confidence, helps with referrals and recommendations.

Cold Calling is Dead

After establishing my personal brand, it is time to set up social selling. It is the process of developing one-on-one relationships using social media. It is a soft sell. LinkedIn has the ability to give a broad reach and name drop without doing so. It is a digital networking platform and great for introverts like me. Reed says social selling unlike cold calling allows you to build relationships over time. This is the new way because cold calling is dead. People don’t pick up the phone when the number is unknown. When Reed talked about this I totally agreed. I screen my phone calls all the time. I truly dislike robocalls and don’t pick up the phone if I don’t recognize the number. The same goes for unsolicited emails. I am quick to unsubscribe when companies add me to their marketing emails without my permission. Whereas as on LinkedIn, people’s business profile is right there. You can see their photo. Check job history. Look at the number of connections. See if they have shared connections. You are not going into it blind, no pun intended.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

With social selling, you share content valuable to people who are interested. As you share and engage, you will establish yourself as an authority and strengthen your personal brand. As I read about social selling I noticed that I do share content on LinkedIn, but I don’t return the favor. I need to engage more with my connections. Liking, commenting and sharing on their content not just posting my own. I also need to thank my connections when they like, share or comment on my posts. This too will boost my engagement and not make the interaction one sided.

Leader or Follower  

The chapter on the One to Nine to Ninety was interesting. Reed says that 1% creates and leads. These are the people who are consistently providing content, blogging and engaging with others. The next 9% are active responders. This group likes, shares and comments on content that is posted. Sadly, the majority are 90% and they do nothing. This group is called the silent viewers because they watch but don’t respond to what they see.

He encourages you to engage, just don’t watch. Be a leader, influencer and shine as the expert you are. However, each group of people has value and play a vital role. We need people to lead the way. People to engage. People to watch and be influenced by what they see. But the critical question is what group will I be in? What role will I play? Will I be a follower or a leader?

High Quality Connections

LinkedIn is not just about sharing content but connecting with people as I mentioned before. Reed spent time explaining the importance of first-, second- and third-degree connections. He also stressed the importance of high-quality connections. Looking at how many people they are connected to because if their numbers are small that will limit your engagement. Also, looking at if they are active on LinkedIn. Do they share content, post blogs, comment, like or engage with others? Knowing this will impact your interaction with them as well. If they are active then their second- and third-degree connections will be familiar with them and more likely to be active too.

Whenever I have gotten a LinkedIn invite I would look at the profile first before accepting. I would look at current and past jobs. See if we had shared connections. See how many connections they had. But that was about it. I never really focused on the person’s engagement and activity on LinkedIn. I didn’t pay attention to second- and third-degree connections. Reading this book shows me I need to go deeper.

Conclusion

There was so much more in this audiobook, Comparisons with Facebook. Personal brans of the Joker and Godfather. How sales Navigator works. But I will stop here. I need to start improving my LinkedIn profile and engagement. You need to get and read the book. Reed is a pretty well-known man on LinkedIn and has thousands of connections. So, I trust his advice in helping me to become a LinkedIn rock star.

Hey Siri, What Special Occasion is It? It’s Your 10 Year Anniversary

Empish Using an iPhone

I remember several years ago, when I first started using an iPhone I was giving Siri a command. But before I did, I got distracted talking to my boyfriend at the time and said, “Oh, my God!” Siri heard me and immediately replied, “I am not a spiritual advisor. You must get a human being for that.” I looked down at my phone in shock and amazement. Did I hear correctly? Yes I did. Then I started to laugh loudly. My boyfriend asked me what was so funny and I shared with him what Siri said. Then he started laughing too. Siri can do all kinds of things; but that day she made it crystal clear that things related to religion was not one of them.

Since that day, I have become more skillful using my phone including Siri. Today I give her all kinds of commands. What is the weather for today? What is my doctor’s number? Set the timer for 10 minutes. Text this or that person. Spell the word Entrepreneur. Open Netflix or Overcast. These are some of the daily commands I give Siri and she doesn’t complain. This little personal assistant built into my iPhone has become so helpful over the years. I hate to admit it but I have become a little dependent on Siri to complete these tasks. When it comes time to cook in my kitchen or write a blog post I am hunting around for my phone so I can call up Siri for assistance.

This month is the 10-year anniversary of Siri. Some might say in all these years Siri should be doing more like other personal assistants on the market. Yet, for me I am happy with her performance. I am a low-tech person and the help I get is exactly what I need. So, Hey, Siri happy anniversary.

Making Smart Money Moves: How Accessible Online Banking Benefits My Life

Empish Working in Home Office

For the last several years I have enjoyed the independence and convenience of online banking. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case. I remember getting on the bus to make that commute to the bank. Rushing after work to get there before they closed. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to get there right when they open so I could be the first in line before work. Or locating a branch that was open on the weekend in a local grocery store letting me do double duty. Filling out deposit slips and getting paper statements in the mail. Well, those days are over for me. Online banking has become such a regular part of my daily life it is second nature. I just get online and log in to my account. It is just that fast. Just that simple. Just that accessible.

Yet, that is the thing. Accessible. If online banking were not accessible then I would be up the creek without a paddle. My independence would be gone. My privacy would be gone. I would be susceptible to fraud and identity theft, which happen to me in my early years of blindness. I would have to depend on sighted folks to help me with my financial management. So, let me really break it down. How valuable and how critical accessible online banking is to my life as a blind person. Why it should be accessible to anyone with a visual impairment.

All of my financial institutions I have accounts with are accessible. This means checking, saving, investments and credit cards. All of these accounts I can access online with my internet connection and my screen reader. I can perform the same functions as my sighted peers such as checking balances, pay bills and read statements. And, of course, the most important thing, getting paid!

Paying Bills Online

Initially I started using online banking for its easy and convenient bill pay feature. The endless drudgery and challenges of paying bills the old fashion way was difficult as I lost more vision. It was too much paper to keep track. You know how that goes when it is bill paying time. You got to write numerous checks, note them in the check register and then file away the bill invoice. I had to do all of that as a blind person. Then I had to get sighted help to address envelopes for mailing. Whew, that is a lot of work! So, online bill pay became one of my smart money moves. My billers are located in one place and when I log in I just input the amounts for payment and press the send button. Done. No more writing checks. No more check register. No addressing envelopes. It is all done online.

Empish Writing a Check

In fact, online banking for bill pay is a God sent because I can track my payments to my biller. I had to incidents where a biller told me they didn’t get my payment. At first I was stressed out. Then I remembered I paid through online bill pay and those payments could be tracked. After a sigh of relief, I went back to my bank and sent a confirmation of payment. It was just that simple. My bank backed me up on both situations and showed that I indeed paid the bill. Both billers accepted it and the situation was resolved. Now, if I had mailed it the old fashion way I might still be disputing that bill months later. You just can’t track those checks in the mail to well. We have all heard that story, right? The check is in the mail. But with online bill pay I don’t have to deal with that.

Reading Statements Online

Reading my statements online is another feature of online banking that is accessible for me. In the past I would have to scan my paper statements to read with an accessible scanning software. Or get a sighted person to read them, or not read them at all. None of these options were ideal. Scanning the statement would result in columns and rows sometimes being off track leading me to read facts and figures incorrectly. A sighted person left me vulnerable even though they were trustworthy. Not reading them at all left me ignorant of important financial information. Today, I can make smart money moves by going online and reading my statements. I can read them from the actual website or in an PDF file. Either way the process is fairly accessible.

Getting Paid Online

Lastly, online banking is accessible with my freelance writing income. Last year I shared about trying to deposit my blogging checks on my bank’s mobile app. It was a stressful and frustrating situation because the app was not accessible. I advocated for myself but hit a brick wall. So, I pivoted and encouraged my client to do electronic payments and they did. Most recently I had a client that sent me directions to connect to their payment system for direct deposit. It was completely accessible and I got my check in about a week’s time. No more paper checks in the mail. No more getting a ride to the bank to make a deposit. Getting access to my freelance income is another smart money move for me. On a side note, I work with folks that use Quickbooks and this software is accessible. I can easily make electronic payments to them for services rendered.

National Online Bank Day

Today, October 11th, is National Online Bank Day. Ally Bank founded this day in 2015 to honor its 1 millionth customer. But this day has expanded into an awareness campaign educating people about the topic. You can easily scroll the internet and find tons of info about online banks. Since traditional banks are closed today because of the federal holiday of Columbus Day and Indigenous People Day, this might be a good time to look at online banking and make some smart money moves yourself.

Listening in the Dark: My Favorite 10 Blind Podcast for 2021

Empish using iPhone

I am a huge podcast fan! I started listening to them as a great alternative to audiobooks on my long commute to work. Even after I started working from home my enjoyment didn’t diminish. I listen to them while I cook. While I eat. While I clean the house. While I relax on the sofa. And even while I take a shower. Yes, I love a good podcast. I noticed and increased when the pandemic struck last year and they are what’s hot right now. It seems like an explosion and everybody and their mamma is doing a podcast. Every time I open Overcast, my podcast app, and do a quick little search there are more new shows available. It has been amazing the volume of content to choose from.

I have tuned in to shows about a variety of topics from news and politics, finance, health and fitness, technology and entertainment. The range of subjects are as wide and vast as your imagination. Yet, as a blind person it wouldn’t be right to talk about podcasts and not share about the ones for the blind I love on my blog and of course on International Podcast Day. These ten shows about the blind address distinct aspects of our lives showing our diversity, humanity and love for life.

AppleVIS

1.  AppleVIS is an excellent resource for blind and low vision users of Apple products like the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Their podcast provides current and useful info for me on my iPhone. I learn about updates to iOS, tips and tricks on using my phone better, fixes on apps and so much more. And all from folks who are blind just like me.

Bold, Blind Beauty on AIR

2.  This is a fairly new podcast from the creator of Bold Blind Beauty, Stephanae McCoy. The focus is to “clear the air for more AIR”, meaning having Access, Inclusion and Representation because it’s essential for people with disabilities. We need these key elements to survive and thrive. The podcast reflects the content from her years of blogging where she interviews blind women and discusses health, beauty, fashion tips and so much more.

Eyes on Success

3.  Peter and Nancy Torpey host the Eyes on Success Podcast  and have been doing it for many years. They are truly dedicated to bringing useful and interesting content to the blind community. Each week they discuss products, services and daily living tips. They usually interview a special guest and have a segment called “The Tip of the Week,” which I find helpful.

Freedom Scientific Training and FS Cast

4.  Freedom Scientific is the company that makes my screen reader, JAWS. They produce two podcasts but I am lumping them together. The first one, called FS Cast, is a show discussing updates to the software, interviewing special guests and is also an archive of their open line chat, where people call in and ask questions. The other podcast is an archive of their training materials. This is a wonderful experience for me as I can keep my Windows skills up to date in a podcast format. For example, I just recently learn some new skills for Excel that will help me navigate spreadsheets better. I can listen on my phone while doing the steps on my computer. In the past I had to do both on the same device which was hard and cumbersome.

Hadley Presents

5.  I have taken remote courses from the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired and also listened to their podcast. This show brings on an expert in the field as it relates to blindness where specific topics are discussed. They have had mobility instructors, mental health professionals,,, a pharmaceutical company, a chef and many more. The topics are wide in range providing something for most everyone.

Mosen at Large

6.  I would dare to say John Mosen is a tech geek. As the host of Mosen at Large, Each episode he features something in the technology arena along with other topics of interest. The sound quality is exceptional and easy to listen to. Depending on the topic he will air listeners comments and views during the show. I particularly love this part because I get to hear the international perspectives of people with vision loss.

Picture This

7.  This podcast hosted by Carl Richardson and Brian Charlson explores audio description and accessible entertainment. The goal of Picture This is to bring awareness to this medium through interviews, demonstrations and sharing resources. Since I love a good audio described movie and TV show this podcast is right up my alley.

Reid My Mind Radio

8.  Thomas Reid hosts this podcast. It is from the perspective of a Black man adjusting to blindness as an adult. His content focuses on the typical things that most of us in the blind community deal with such as life, family, social stigmas and self-advocacy. On the Reid My Mind podcast, he will interview a special guest, discuss a thought-provoking topic, share a story or provide a useful resource along with his mindful and musical interjections.

Talk Description to Me

9.  When this podcast came out in 2020 I was so excited because of the type of content each episode examined. The two hosts J.J. Hunt and Christine Malec discuss recent events and topical issues to explore the content of important images and help place healthy descriptions in their cultural context. Through the Talk Description to Me Podcast I have learned so much because it is more than just an audio description podcast but a conversation  about current events as it relates to visual images.

Writing Works Wonders

10. This is my final blind podcast and interestingly enough my newest one. I started listening to Writing Works Wonders about a month ago because I wanted to expand my content and include podcast related to my writing career. This one was an added bonus because the writers are blind and visually impaired. The podcast, hosted by Cheryl McNeil Fisher & Kathleen P. King, is a recording from their live writing meetings and workshops where they might have a special guest, work on writing prompts, or critique each other’s work.

There you have it! My 10 favorite podcasts for the blind. So, what about you? What are your favorites? Share yours as we celebrate International Podcast Day.

Library in Quarantine: My Book Clubs Are Virtual During the Pandemic

Two facemasks expressing love of libraries and African American authors

Book Club Before COVID

Before COVID came along and turn things upside down I physically attended two book clubs sponsored by my county library. One was bimonthly where we met at local restaurants. We would discuss some of the latest reads over appetizing cuisine and drinks. Occasionally, While being served, even the wait staff and management would chime in on our lively chatter. It was a great time to talk books, eat delicious food and socialize for about an hour.

My other book club met at the library in the activity room. AS we gathered once a month, we would have our discussion while munching on snacks of chips and salsa, slices of cake and various salads. We would laugh and share about our lives, work and family sometimes more than we talked about the book.

But that all came to a grinding halt and the library closed. No more book club meetings. No more discussions at local eateries. No more talking about life, work and family. Everything just stopped.

Using Zoom for Book Club

If you remember lots of people started working from home and kids were doing virtual learning. Everyone was trying to learn how to use Zoom. Slowly people started to use the videoconference platform for activities like family gatherings, medical appointments and exercise classes. Book club meetings were added to the list too. I was using Zoom before the pandemic. It started when I joined the Bookshare book discussion in the fall of 2019 and I participate to this day. Since this group is virtual members are from all over the place which is pretty cool. We are all blind or visually impaired because Bookshare provides digital books in text to speech. Each month we get together for a live chat to share our thoughts on reads we like, love or can’t stand.

Library Book Clubs Go Virtual

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

So, when my two library book clubs decided to go virtual I was good to go. It was not a huge transition for me because I was already a member of a virtual book club. I just added two more to the list and kept it moving! Now, you might be thinking, three book clubs are  a lot. That is a bunch of reading. That is a lot to keep up with. Well, I am an avid reader and although today is National Read a Book Day, I read constantly all the time. I read while cooking and cleaning. I read before bed. I read while in the shower. I read while commuting. I read while exercising.

Plus, I am a very organized person and keep a calendar of all my meetings and a book list so I don’t miss out. Being an introvert has been useful too. I still get the socialization and interaction I want without it being too much for my life and personality.

Actually, juggling three virtual book clubs has been easier than I thought for exactly all these reasons. If I had to do this in person, well that might be another conversation all together. So, I guess in a weird sort of way, the pandemic has helped keep me active and social. Attending virtual book clubs have been enjoyable for me. Yet, since I love reading I know when we finally get out of this pandemic, and we will, I will go back to the library and meet in person. It will be an adjustment but it will be a joy.