Why Gmail Is The Only “Real” Email

I lead a youth group.  Most of these young men and women think  that having an email address is basically laughable.  But for a busy, work-at-home, homeschooling, 30-something mom, email is still an absolutely indispensable part of life.

And in the two years that I’ve had a Gmail account, I’ve basically abandoned all my other email providers and gone full-on Gmail addiction.

Reasons:

  1. Gmail provides a way to check all other emails (except Yahoo) from one address.  And I have a LOT of different emails…several different ones for work, one for my freelance writing, one for family, one for online shopping, etc, etc.  I was about to go crazy until I recently discovered I could conglomerate almost all of them into one location.  AND it will let you send from whatever account the email came to. I can even have them come in with different colors for different accounts.  Priceless!!
  2. Labels!!!  Gmail has this terrific system for adding labels to your messages.  Its kind of like tagging pictures in a photo software, I guess.  But you can give labels, or categories, to any incoming or outgoing message so that when you need to find that email three months ago with the cannoli recipe your aunt sent you, you simply search your labels for “recipes” and voila – – there it is!  Ingenious!!
  3. Gmail Chat.  Although I don’t use it that often, I love looking over at my sidebar to see who is and isn’t online when I am.  If someone has sent me an email, sometimes its just more fun to respond to them in real time.  Snazzy!!
  4. I don’t know about you, but I live and die by “to-do” lists.  I always have at least 157 balls in the air at any one time, and if I didn’t keep track of what I need to do NEXT, then they would all come tumbling down on my head.  Gmail Tasks takes care of this easy-peasy.  You can simply type in your daily tasks (which is also automatically imported into the Google calendar), but you can also turn an email INTO a task, which is awesome!  So you get an email reminder from Joan at your co-op that you are supposed to bake 3 dozen Danish wedding cookies for the International Cuisine celebration two weeks from Tuesday.  You simply click on “Add to Tasks”, and it will let you choose the date, and will also connect directly back to that email, and it will all come to you in a big ole’ reminder two weeks from Tuesday on the dot!  Has. saved. my. life.   Miraculous!!
  5. How many times have you sent an email and forgotten to include the attachment?  Yep, me too.  Or you wrote an angry message you immediate wish you hadn’t.  Well, gmail gives you several seconds after hitting “send” to then click “UNDO.”  The message stops sending, you get to correct your boo-boos, and all is well with the world.  Stupendous!!
  6. If you use your email for work, or blogging, or any repetitious type of information, then you often need to include different web links in your messages. Gmail has a feature called “Quick Links” that sits in your sidebar and lets you insert any common web link into your email in one click.  So if you have told 20 different email friends about this new restaurant they need to try, and you have had to go searching for the link each and every time, you will never have to do that again with Quick Links.  It is always waiting there for you to click right in.  Wonderful!!

I’m telling you, if you aren’t using Gmail, you aren’t really emailing.

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Twittered Out and Fed Up

You know that aunt that comes to all your family gatherings and feels the need to share in great gory detail about her various aches, pains, surgeries, and scars?  And if you end up having to sit by her all night, you pretty much have to knock back more than just a few Bud Lights to survive the evening with any measure of your sanity intact?

Well, I am telling you to give the woman a break.  Sometimes, even when you know other people don’t care, you just NEED to share.  And besides, throw in a few bad email experiences, and some Windows Vista and I am that aunt.

You see, when things aren’t quite working out in my techie little world, I simply must tell someone.  And since my husband gets this really glaze-y stare when I try to share my online woes with him, then I’m afraid that you are the ones stuck sitting next to me all evening.  It sucks, but life just does, sometimes.  So go grab your lager of choice and DEAL, k?

First of all, I’m tired to death of Twitter.  If you follow me on Twitter, or I have been following you, I apologize in advance if this hurts, but I AM BORED OF YOU!! For some reason, no matter what people Twitter about lately, it just feels rehashed, contrived, and time-wasting.  It was a great experiment, but a failed one overall – – for me at least.  I’m happy to give over my Twitter time to Facebook, anyway because I actually KNOW those folks, and have a history with them.  Face-less messaging somehow just wasn’t my cup of tea after all.

Secondly, I have been lamenting on the fact that no one was updating their blogs lately (including myself).  The truth was everyone else was doing fine…it was my Windows Feed Reader that had gone to hell in a hand basket.  You guys had been saying big important things, like you were moving, and you were having pseudo-fantasies about Dave Matthews, and you were finding snow on the beach, and finding out your children were getting key parts in a play, and I was MISSING IT ALL!  Stupid, stupid Windows!  So, I threw in the towel and manually entered all my feeds into Google Reader (which I later found out you don’t have to do manually, but I’ll save that gory story for another family gathering.)  idaho

Oh Boise, Idaho do I love Google Reader!!!  (BTW, that’s my new  thing.  I randomly insert U.S. cities as exclamations.  I figure it will somehow improve the boys’ geography.)  Now that is a real woman’s feed reader.  It is stylish, sexy, and oh-so-easy on the eyes.  And the best part?  It actually works!!

So let’s go back and recap now, in case you missed one of the details while you were grabbing that last beer.  I’m…

TWITTERED OUT AND FED UP…get it? got it? good.

Sacramento, California that was good to get off my chest!!!  Now you want to hear about my ingrown toenail?

 

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – – Google Apps Part Deux

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

So in last weeks HHH post, I kind of gave you a glimpse of how Google Apps could help increase productivity and organization in your homeschool. 

Today, I thought I would get a little more nitty gritty and outline some of the specific ways you can use Google Apps…

First off, you will need to sign up with a Google Account, if you haven’t already. You will also need to sign each of your homeschoolers up with an account. They are free, and relatively painless to register for. Here is the link to get started.  One Google registration is all you need to get signed up for ALL of Google’s many services, including Google Docs, Gmail, Google Talk IM, Google Calendar, and Google Sites. If you have a Blogger account, you are already covered.

One of the first things you will want to do is explore the Google Docs interface. Like I said last week, this is the keystone of the Google product line.

If you have worked with Microsoft Office at all, Google Docs will be a breeze, because it has most of the same capabilities – – word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations.  It will even upload and download in Office file extensions! For a full tutorial on how to use the Docs interface, go through this edutech lesson.

My favorite homeschool use of the program is as a lesson planner/calendar.  I create a spreadsheet grid that I use to keep track of the boys daily assignments.  The great thing is that once I share the sheet with their google accounts, they can access my spreadsheet from any computer, make changes to it, cross things off when they have completed them, etc.

(click to view in full screen)

google docs

The daily assignment sheet, in essence, becomes a collaborative effort.  Even if you are unschooling, and aren’t anally retentive like me, Google spreadsheets are still a great way to track what your kids are accomplishing, and a place for you to provide resources and suggestions for what they are currently interested in.  You can both access the spreadsheet in real time from two different computers, which is the true cool feature.

I have started having my boys submit all their written assignments in Google Docs as well.  There just isn’t a better way, in my opinion.  When they finish an essay, for instance, and share it with me, I don’t have to print it out, or worry about losing it, or anything.  I can just access it on my computer, make comments, notes, and highlight any areas that need more attention.  Then they go back in, see my notes and make their changes, and voila!  I file it in a subject-specific file and can keep it until infinity.  This is a great way to store items if you live in a state that requires portfolios of each student’s annual work.  Instant access from any computer, and you have saved several trees in the process. 

Next week, I will cover some of the even cooler, creative ways for using Google Apps in your homeschool.  Stay tuned…

To see all of my Friday’s Hardwired Hints posts, go to my HHH page!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Google Apps

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic Today I’m going to push the envelope, shake the sauce, change things up…you get the drift.  I’m not going to hit you with a bunch of cool sites today, but rather highlight one really gnarly web application (hey San Fernando Valley and Silicon Valley aren’t that far apart; there was bound to be a crossover at some point).

If you homeschool and have more than one computer in your home, you will wonder after today how you ever lived without Google Apps.  Google Apps (GA) is a homeschool mom’s dream come true.  In fact, you might just throw out all those other expensive organizers when you discover that you can keep track of all your homeschool business in one easy-to-access place.

It’s called…the internet.

See, the cool thing about GA is that you can store as much stuff as you want on there, and you don’t have to be on any specific computer to access it.  Your info is stored remotely on the Google servers.  In other words, you can be at the library, the coffee shop, or on your Blackberry, and “Presto!”: instant homeschool access.

google docs So – – here’s how it works.  Google Docs is the star of the show – – it’s sort of a mocked up Office Suite.  There is a word processor, a spreadsheet app, and a presentations application.  I’ll get into some creative uses for each of those in a later post, but for now, I just want you to get a mental image of what homeschooling with Google Docs can be…

  • Rachel just finished her history assignment using Google Docs word processor and saved it in her docs file, sharing it with you.
  • Bryan took his math quiz on Google docs and shared it with you.
  • You are busy Instant Messaging with a blogging friend when an email comes to tell you that these assignments have been finished.  So you simply open up Google Docs from your laptop.  You see that Rachel kind of skimped on her 2nd and 3rd answers, so you highlight those in yellow and insert a note letting her know how she can improve her answers.  Bryan got a 100 on his quiz, so you drop his grade into his Grade Spreadsheet on Google Docs, and insert a big note of Praise in his Daily Assignment log.  As soon as he logs in for his next assignment, he sees his embarrassingly sappy “Great work from a Great Son” note, and rolls his eyes (secretly smiling with pride)
  • Rachel sees that you have looked over her history, and she gives a perfunctory glance at your notes, but decides to come back to edit it later, because she is busy working on her multimedia Aerodynamics project using Google Presentation.  She wants to be a film editor when she gets out of college, so she is having a blast creating an image and text slideshow including a video clip she took at the air fair last weekend
  • You, meanwhile, are sipping your coffee slowly, sitting on the back porch swing, and looking over tomorrow’s lesson plans on Google Spreadsheet app.  An email comes in from your friend Lyla reminding you of the homeschool field trip next Tuesday.  You copy and paste her reminder into your Google calendar, and set it to send you a polite reminder the morning of. 

This is just a Polaroid shot of what Google Apps can do for you, but I hope you can start to see the possibilities.  One application.  Any computer.  Multiple uses.  More to come next week…stay tuned!