My favorite things: Squarespace

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Since the beginning of this year, I keep getting into conversations about Squarespace. Someone would ask if anyone knows anything about it and one of my friends would reply and direct them to me because I tend to be pretty vocal about how much I like it. I'm far from an expert on Squarespace, but I have become a loyal customer over the last three years. 

When I started blogging, I signed up for a Blogger account. It was free and easy to use. I did all my own design from day one. I have never done anything overly fancy or cool, but I think my layouts were generally nice for a typical blog layout. My current layout is simple and minimalistic - exactly what I wanted. This blog is my hobby, so even though I was tempted to hire a designer, I knew I wouldn't do it as long as I was on Blogger.

An alternative to Blogger

Then I started thinking about Squarespace. I had learned about the platform through podcasts they sponsored back in 2007ish? In fact, several of the podcasters were so impressed when they tried it out that they used it for their own sites. These were tech podcasts, and these tech journalists knew what they were doing. So, when I decided to make the jump from Blogger, despite having set up a Wordpress account already, I chose to go with Squarespace.

A comment problem

My only regret has been the lack of threaded comments. One of the primary reasons I was switching platforms was to have a more "grown up" blog conducive to discussion, which isn't easy unless comments are threaded.  I'm disappointed to this day that they haven't integrated them into version 5. It's a paid platform and it should have threaded comments if Wordpress, the "free" platform does. I'm not sure we'll get comment threads on V5, though.

Problem solved

Two years ago Squarespace announced a new version - V6 - was coming! It has threaded comments, gorgeous templates and lots of social integration. Yay! Six months after the full launch of SS6, I finally moved this blog over. The biggest challenge I had was figuring out where everything was and it still only took a few hours over a couple of days to set up my site and import everything from V5. Squarespace makes it so easy!

Easy breezy customization

I've taken HTML and CSS. I have coded my own website from scratch - nothing fancy, but I'm more proficient than the average bear. With Squarespace, I don't have to know any code at all. I can customize the templates to my heart's content to create a unique site for myself without ever coding a single line. I've incorporated the Nivo slider into one site before Squarespace introduced slideshows. Now I don't need to custom build a slider if I want one - it's a built-in function.

While I find customization in Version 5 to be much more flexible, Squarespace releases new features regularly, so I'm hopeful that V6 will become more versatile over time and I have no doubt that they'll introduce more and more fabulous templates.

Squarespace vs Wordpress

I surprise people regularly by telling them I don't like Wordpress. I've been using Wordpress regularly as long as I've been using Squarespace and I've done lots of site customization/design on WP. I can easily spend four times longer customizing a WP site as I do customizing a SS site. 

Wordpress is a "free" platform. It's open source, which means there are thousands upon thousands of plugins (and themes and other stuff) to pick from built by the open source community! The downside is that not all plugins are created equal (and you have to sift through thousands and thousands). Sometimes they don't work with your Wordpress install or your theme or they don't quite do what you want. My head is spinning just thinking about it. I bought Thesis for a self-hosted site I developed in 2011. Of the (admittedly few) themes I've used, Thesis was the easiest to customize. However, it was not "easy". Custom themes? Ugh. Have I mentioned I don't like Wordpress?

My personal preference

If Squarespace disappeared tomorrow, I'd go back to Blogger before I sign up for Wordpress again. My opinion is that Wordpress is a bulky beast that is about as user-friendly as Microsoft Access (and I know Access well). I don't subscribe to the notion that just because everyone else is using it, I should too. Yes, WP has the lion's share of the market when it comes to blog platforms, but that doesn't mean that other tools aren't worthy of attention - and Squarespace is attracting more attention all the time. To me, Squarespace is a superior tool. The time I save on every aspect of my site - design, maintenance, software updates, etc. (NO updates!!!) - makes up for the cost of a premium hosted service about three times over. 

The Squarespace team's response to Hurricane Sandy just re-affirmed my choice. That's a commitment to customer service that cannot be denied. They also have actual support. I can ask my buddy Google (or the SS Help forums) how to do something and get answers, or I can send in a support ticket. I always get an email so fast that it takes me by surprise every time.

There are a lot of people who prefer Wordpress over Squarespace. Some reviews give me the impression they haven't truly given SS a fair shake. For others it's just not a platform that meets their needs. There's also a really strong community out there that believes in open source software. 

What should you use?

I think the question of what platform to use should really come down to what suits your needs and preferences. For me, that platform is Squarespace. It's not perfect (realistically, none are), but it's very, very good. 

Just in case anyone's curious: This is not a solicited review. It's my thoughts about the blogging platform I use as compared to others. Squarespace hasn't paid me or verified the accuracy of anything I've said so feel free to take it with a grain of salt. I just wanted to be able to send people a link when they ask me about Squarespace. ;)

There's quite a bit of grey to think about with Black Friday

This week, I’ve been frustrated with some comments about Black Friday. For many, the idea of Black Friday is wrong. I understand where they’re coming from, but the reality is that as long as consumers show up, the hype isn’t going to die down. 

Black Friday used to be more commonly known as “the day after Thanksgiving”. For as long as I can remember, that day has marked the official kick off to Christmas shopping. I have personally gone shopping on the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of the sales as I completed my shopping lists for Christmas.

I once worked 14 hours on the day after Thanksgiving. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day. The atmosphere was happy, energetic, excited. People were gearing up for my personal favorite holiday of the year - Christmas. Working that day was actually fun. I was even interviewed for the local news.

Though the term “Black Friday” has been around for decades, it became a marketing ploy only in the last decade.

As with most things, the press has taken isolated yet extreme incidents and created an impression of rampant violence fueled by the greed of American consumers. 

I’m not a fan of what Black Friday has become. I think many of the “deals” are suspect and it saddens me to see shoppers worked into a frenzy to spend money in order to save a few dollars. If I lived in the US, I would no longer participate in any way with what it has become. I also won’t participate in the burgeoning Black Friday sales that have made their way into Canada. (And, for the record, we avoid Boxing Day as well.)

There’s been a lot of disturbing criticism of Black Friday that hits home to me, because it comes across as judgmental, uses generalizations or makes accusations of hypocrisy. 

The judgmental criticism is usually centered around the idea that Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family. And I totally agree. The Black Friday sales that are creeping into Thanksgiving Day (Black Thursday) - ugh. I just hope people boycott those retailers. However, the day after Thanksgiving sales really aren’t any different than Boxing Day in Canada. And though there haven’t been the same reports of the kinds of crazed shoppers that have happened in the US, it doesn’t mean that can’t or won’t happen here. 

I’ve seen a lot of generalizations that lump all Americans into various unflattering categories (both implied and explicit) - selfish, materialistic, greedy, etc. Sometimes generalizations can be used to make a point and recognizing that they are generalizations can soften the impact. But there are a lot of people in the US who are really good people. Some of them choose not to participate in Black Friday. Others do participate. The vast majority of the shopping that goes on happens with long waits, but customers remain civilized. Unfortunately, that’s boring, so it doesn’t make the news or internet memes. 

Finally there’s the hypocrisy claims. Suddenly it’s bad to be thankful Thursday and then go out and buy things Friday. I could probably come up with a list of dozens of reasons that people might be out shopping that don’t have anything to do with acquiring more posessions. One happens to be the original purpose of Black Friday - Christmas shopping (presumably for others). And so what if I go out and buy something new for myself? Does doing so the day after Thanksgiving make me somehow less thankful?

Instead of questioning the motivations of those who are going out on Black Friday to shop, perhaps it’s more productive to think about the reasons we’ve gotten to the point of frenzied shopping in the first place.

  1. We have had years of downturn in the economy, workers who can’t find jobs, etc. 
  2. There is more pressure than ever before to keep up with all the latest and greatest stuff - affordable or not.
  3. People want to save money wherever they can to live up to a certain standard.
  4. Some people think they will feel better if they go shopping (retail therapy).

I’m not so naive that I think everyone is out there due to misfortune or for altruistic reasons. However, I know that not everyone is out there for the negative reasons that are being thrown about on social media lately. 

There are over 300 million imperfect humans in the US. There are over 30 million imperfect humans in Canada. Both countries have their pros and cons. Both countries have awesome people and not-so-awesome people. Neither country is better than the other. 

In my opinion, it is foolish to think that Canada is immune to these kinds of incidents, especially as they’ve already happened here before. So, perhaps it’s time to stop being critical and start speaking with your feet by walking away from Black Friday. That’s the only way retailers are ever going to tone it down.

A more thoughtful argument for Pamela McColl

I’m embarrassed to find that I missed comments on my blog for about the last six weeks. (Bad blogger!) Hopefully I’ve fixed the problem that kept me from getting notifications now.

BAD SANTA! Source: blindgossip.com (click on image to see original)When I went back to review the comments received, I found that the infamous Pamela McColl - of rewriting ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas fame - didn’t particularly appreciate what I had to say about her anti-smoking efforts. So, she decided to provide more information for me to digest in an effort to sway me to her point of view.

I suppose it’s not her fault that I forgot to link to my previous post that revealed my feelings about smoking. I think it’s clear that I’m not a fan. What isn’t so clear from that piece is that I have a realistic side that knows that we absolutely do not have the resources in place to institute a smoking ban that will assist smokers in quitting. 

My thoughts about the efforts that Pamela McColl has gone to in re-writing ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is that it’s not going to convince even one person to stop smoking - or prevent them from being influenced to start. I’ll change my views when I see evidence - hard facts and figures - that point to Santa as a primary culprit who is influencing children to smoke. 

Let’s have a look at what Ms. McColl so graciously posted to my blog:

In 1998 the United States Goverment had finalized the Master Settlement Agreement and one of the three provisions was the prohibition of cartoon characters smokiing in promotions. Joe Camel is illegal everybody and back then you thought that was great. !!!

Joe Camel was a character used to market cigarettes. Santa is a character used to market Christmas. I fail to see how the two can be compared. It was and is a good thing that Joe Camel is gone. They aren’t the same.

Do some reading - The Cigarette Century, The Journal of American Medicine studies on young children 3-7 and the influence of cartoon characters smoking, go read World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, Smoke Free Movies, The 905 pages of the Surgeon General’s Report on the status of youth and smoking. 

I don’t need to read these. Smoking is unhealthy. Children being exposed regularly to characters smoking is unhealthy. Occasional once-a-year pictures of Santa with a pipe is not the same as coming home to watch Popeye every day after school, assuming today’s kids actually watch that many cartoon characters smoking.

We cannot protect our children from every possible bad thing in life. We cannot hide the ugliness from them and expect them to grow up as well-rounded, balanced individuals who know how to handle everything that life throws at them. If my son asks me what a smoking Santa is doing, it’s an invitation for me to have a frank and honest conversation with him about smoking. There has to be some value assigned to parents’ ability to guide children through life, especially on major issues like smoking.

This is not about censorship but freedom of speech and I am trying to talk about tobacco prevention and it is my right to artistic license or whatever else you want to call it to take a piece in the public domain and do this. 

I challenge anyone to read my original post on this topic and find the word censorship mentioned in the text that I wrote. I checked. It’s not there. Furthermore, freedom of speech works both ways. You, Ms. McColl, have the right to your beliefs, actions and defense of them. I have the right to state my opinion - even if you don’t like it. If we disagree, we each have the right to say our piece. At no point did I say you didn’t have the right to your revised version of the classic poem. I even carefully made sure to mention that it is in the public domain. Perhaps you’re thinking of others who have also criticized the new book.

To call this effort “talk(ing) about tobacco prevention” is misleading. You’d first have to establish a clear causal link to Santa smoking in this story creating increases in smokers.

It is choice which edition you want to give your young child. Frankly if you are 65 and want to read an edition with even all the reindeer smoking go at it but please lets try and protect this next generation of children. 

To imply that purchasing the classic version that millions across generations have enjoyed would be the equivalent of not protecting the next generation is insulting and gives the piece (the original and yours) far more power than either deserves. The impact of childrearing choices on our offspring is determined by a wide range of variables and this poem just isn’t going to lead children down the smoky garden path.

One billion people will die in this century from tobacco use and you want to argue over a verse in a poem that was written in 1823 by a man who hated smoking?

No, I don’t particularly want to argue. I expressed my views and you responded. I have no problem with that, but let’s be absolutely clear that it was your choice to do so.

Is your book going to save even one life of someone who is a smoker? No, because the only people who will buy it are going to be passionate non-smokers who buy into the fear that Santa will influence someone they love (most likely children) to smoke. Or people who accidentally buy it not realizing that it’s been revised.

Lets get serious and get on the same page.

I don’t think that’s going to happen on this subject.

The Centre for Disease Control issued a study that shows pipe smoking increased by 583% since 2008 - it is cheaper than smoking cigarettes.

I fail to see how Santa smoking a pipe has an impact on this. I also find it interesting that “583% increase” is the number quoted rather than numbers that have actual context.

It will take one generation to not start smoking to strangle tobacco and that is what we need to be talking about.

I agree. So, why is time being wasted on this poem? I agree with the end result, but I don’t agree with the road you’re taking to get there.

As I quoted in my original post: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, Life of Reason I) I stand by the need for smoking to remain a part of the discussion, even if an entire generation ceases to smoke. Personally, I doubt that will ever happen. The government gets too much tax money and doesn’t provide enough resources to help smokers quit. It’s a vicious cycle.

25% of smokers had their first cigarette by the age of 10. 
35% of current smokers age 15 will die a premature death. 
1 in 324 young women ( in their child bearing years) are smoking. 
Smoking rates have stalled over the past few years - they are not declining. 

Knowing these facts and figures doesn’t mean that the actions chosen to deal with them are the best course to solving the problem. Case in point: revising a Christmas poem will not reduce these statistics.

 i don’t care about Frosty I care about Santa - the most influential character of them all - why do you think Coke has been usiing him since the 1930’s. 

Coke uses Santa in advertising because it works and he’s influential and it’s legal for them to do so. Cigarette companies do not use him, because as you mentioned above, the law forbids it. If Santa is holding a pipe in a picture book, it isn’t placed there by a pipe tobacco company or a cigarette company as an advertisement. As smoking becomes more taboo, those pictures are fewer and further between. The evolution of our decreasing acceptance of smoking is already at work. 

What this new book has done is call attention to a single stanza that was probably quoted for the first time in connection with the stories about this new book where they’ve been deleted. It addresses a single incarnation of Santa that isn’t at the forefront and hasn’t been for a long time. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure everyone could tell you that Frosty has a “corn-cob pipe and a button nose”.

Here’s some research for you: a google image search of “Santa” nets 2,520,000,000 results and the first picture of Santa smoking is on page 5. A google image search for “smoking Santa” nets 36,100,000 results and most images are content meant for adults, not children. I’d say this is evidence that the image of Santa that most hold doesn’t contain a pipe.

I need help here not criticism that I truly believe is shallow and not well researched as I must say this book most certainly was. 

The people who need help are smokers who want to quit and can’t shake the addiction. The people who need help are those who are suffering the ill effects of inhaling cigarette smoke - first or second hand. When I see valuable, compassionate, non-shaming anti-smoking advocacy happening, I’ll help. 

To your second point, since I was stating my opinion, I’m not required to do extensive research. Calling my opinion shallow is insulting, although I’m sure you were insulted that I called this effort a waste of time. My view on that isn’t going to change. I can agree to disagree.

The Kirkus Review - reviewing children’s books for the past 80 years calls the deletion of smoking a “legitimate” edit.

Legitimate edit or not, it doesn’t mean it’s necessary or adding value. I doubt the Kirkus Review are weighing the legitimacy of the edit against the statistics and anti-smoking advocacy platform you have established as justification.

Ultimately, book sales will be the deciding factor. If people want this edit, they will buy it. I just won’t be one of them.

The key to selflessness is having children...yeah, right.

I have often said that parents are the single most judged group in society. I have no statistical analysis to back up my claim, but there has never been a stage of my life where I’ve felt looked down on or held to a certain standard more than since I became pregnant with Brandon.

I think many parents (especially mothers?) feel that way at one point or another. Matt and I have talked about it a lot and decided early on not to get too caught up in comparing what Brandon is doing with other kids. I’ve had those discussions where we all talk about the age our child did something and how they went about it, but that’s rarely purely comparison so much as it’s sharing different experiences. Every child is different, after all.

One discussion I don’t think I’ve ever had with friends is why they had kids. I have no idea how I’d answer that question myself. I’ve always wanted to have children and I can’t tell you why. The desire for a child became overwhelming after I had a miscarriage - a pregnancy that wasn’t “planned”. The topic of when I was going to have kids came up a lot after I miscarried, mostly among people who didn’t know I’d lost a baby.

In one instance, a chauvinist pig coworker decided to ask me when I was planning to have kids. It had been over 18 months since I miscarried, but I was still raw and this guy was the last person I would ever confide in. I lied and told him I didn’t know if I would have any kids. (Well, I guess it wasn’t a complete lie - you never know 100% for sure you can.) He proceeded to ask me why and tell me I really should think about because parenthood is so great.

His persistence on such a personal issue left me without any words other than the sarcastic ones ringing in my head: “Yes, I’ll be sure to let you know just as soon as Matt and I decide on the when. You’ll be the first on my list to tell.” 

After the grilling I received, I vowed never again to ask someone if they want kids or when they will have them. (Well, unless it came up in conversation and there was a natural opening that wouldn’t make me sound like a total busybody. There’s a difference between getting to know someone and being nosy about their decisions.) The main reason? Because it’s none of my business what someone else’s life plans are. 

The expectations that are default in society are being challenged and changed by each new generation. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in controversial ways. 

Somehow, though, there are still some archaic ideas out there that shock me:

Having children used to be the point of being a pair. It was the great aspiration — along with finding love everlasting — a biological impulse to go forth and multiply and, later, once your babies reached a certain age, to cajole them about the merits and benefits of doing their bit to join the ranks of parenthood while giving Mom and Dad some grandkids.

This is a quote from Joe O’Connor’s recent piece in the National Post (my favorite rag this week), “Trend of couples not having children just plain selfish”. Sure, there’s some truth to what Mr. O’Connor says, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right reason for “being a pair”. I didn’t marry my husband for his sperm or ability to procreate; I married him because I wanted to spend my life with him - kids or no kids.

I remember a couple telling me years ago that they were too selfish to have children. And you know what? I respect that. Life changed for that couple and they now have a child. They’re great parents who are involved and unselfish. But I certainly wouldn’t fault them if they’d maintained their “selfish” stance and remained childless. I think there is an overburdened foster care system that proves truly self-centered people who refuse to change are not good candidates for parenthood. So, why should anyone be faulted for knowing they don’t want or shouldn’t have kids?

So, while this article focused on the lavish lifestyle of childless couples, which is a suspect claim to say the very least, it completely left off many very legitimate concerns. What about the following situations?

  • Are infertile couples selfish?
  • Are couples with financial troubles selfish?
  • How about adults who grew up with abuse and fear doing the same? Also selfish?
  • And a couple who finds out both carry cistic fibrosis or another life-threatening genetic marker?
  • Or perhaps a couple where one or both have a debilitating disease or disability?
  • The article addresses life partners who choose not to have children, but what about people who choose not to enter a relationship and have children? Are they also selfish? 
  • Am I selfish for having only one child? Because having another isn’t a guarantee.
  • What about couples who make a conscious choice to adopt rather than have their own biological children? (I would say that’s the most unselfish option of all, personally.)

I wonder if Mr. O’Connor and the people who (in the comments) agree with him have stopped to consider that their tunnel vision perspective on this issue is unfair and rather exclusive to what is likely a small minority of people that choose not to have children. And if they genuinely are too selfish, having kids isn’t likely to make them less so. Let’s consider that there are legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with selfishness that drive couples to remain childless. 

Dear Santa, it's time for you to quit smoking in front of my kid...apparently

Yesterday morning, I saw this status from the National Post in my newsfeed on Facebook and tapped the link (on my phone) for reading after I had a moment to sit down. What did it say?

‘[Santa] doesn’t go around killing kids. He doesn’t leave them bombs. I just think starting to rewrite and revise all of our history leads to something even more meaningless than even Disney’

Oh yes, clickbait for sure, right?

The actual headline of the article is:

After 200 years, Santa kicks a bad habit: Publisher, activist edit Twas The Night Before Christmas, take away St. Nick’s pipe

Now THIS is progress, don’t you think? For nearly two centuries we’ve been damaging kids with these words and mental images of jolly, old St. Nick with his pipe standing beside the Christmas tree propped up with dozens of presents. The article is accompanied by this picture:

Source: National Post

Source: blindgossip.com (click on image to see original)Yes, the part of the picture that kids are paying attention to is the pipe, especially with the exaggerated cloud of smoke circling his head. In reality, most pictures of Santa don’t even have a pipe, and the ones that do - like the one to the right - certainly don’t make it a centerpiece of the image.

I don’t like smoking, so I don’t. I wish other people didn’t and I’ve made my fantasy of a cigarette ban well-known. But the fact is that what I want isn’t even close to realistic - not as things currently stand. While I have expressed frustration at being forced to inhale second hand smoke, I honestly try not to berate, belittle or otherwise condemn smokers for their unfortunate and unhealthy habit. But I am not anti-smoker, I’m anti-smokING.

That doesn’t change the fact that it is a habit that affects others and I will always maintain that quitting is the best thing you can ever do for loved ones. Many smokers realize this and it is a constant struggle to quit, one that grows more and more difficult the more taboo it is to smoke in society.

So, of course it really helps smoker shame for Pamela McColl to remove Santa’s pipe. Because pipe smoking is such a common problem. I see pipe smokers everywhere. Don’t you?

Will she re-write Frosty the Snowman and take away HIS corncob pipe? 

Source: Unknown

As much as I dislike smoking, I like the smell of pipe smoke. I always have. I have fond memories of going to a few different houses of family friends growing up and listening to their stories as they smoked a pipe. It was rare. I don’t remember their names or why we were there, but I remember liking the pipe smoke. It was better than the smell of cigarette smoke (other than my grandmother’s cigarettes - somehow hers smelled good. How do grandmothers do that?)

This classic Christmas poem has been in the public domain for quite a while and these kinds of revisions are permitted as the rights have expired (along with the author). The problem is that it’s an unnecessary. How many people do you know who’ve taken up pipe smoking because Santa influenced them?

This sort of revision of a classic that generations have grown up with is ludicrous. It’s erasing a portion of history that kids generations from now should learn about. 

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, Life of Reason I)

If we ever get to the point that kids don’t know what smoking is (please, please!), would we actually want to omit that lesson from their knowledge banks only to have them “discover” the joys of smoking again? That would be such a shame. Just as it’s a shame that Ms. McColl is wasting time and effort thinking about a poem that isn’t even about smoking. If kids walked around quoting that stanza, I’d possibly have a different view. But that’s not my experience. 

To me, this is a waste of time, money, effort and smarts that could be expended in a far more useful way to give help to people struggling to stop smoking. 

It’s just one more case of political correctness going too far and highlighting a non-issue in a way that may not accomplish what she intends.