Monday, 7 December 2009

Content Management Systems for Dummies

This subject could well bore most people, but here goes anyway.

I finally managed to do some major stuff today, backing up Live in and downloading/uploading a newer version of drupal. It is a huge relief to have that done - every time I went into the site I saw the red signs around the place reminding me of the necessary updates and the security alerts.

Until a couple of years ago I was clueless about web sites and once I decided to start Live in I had to work out how to build one. Sure I could get someone to build it for me, there are plenty of solo site designers around offering to do it for a cheap price, but I needed something I could make changes to myself and it had to have a whole lot more features than the standard flat website. One friend suggested going and doing an html course, but somehome I discovered content management systems - don't remember now how but I think it was a chain of events and I was without doubt influenced by this blog, I have learned a lot from the blogger tool.

Once I decided it should be a content management system I then needed to decide if it should be one I buy or one that is open source, which ultimately means it's free. I met with web companies and decided I didn't want to be dependent on one for their CMS - I mean what if I didn't like the results or working with them or if they went bust?? So that left open source and I contemplated three of the big ones, Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal. A number of people told me not to get too worked up about which one I chose, I could make a change at a later date and that they were really all much of the same. On the other hand I wanted something I could grow into and the idea of changing everything from one system to the other was mind-boggling. I found that the best way to compare is to go to CMS Matrix and check the boxes of the ones you are interested in. Assuming you have a clue about what you are after (this too is a long process for the novice!) and know all the necessary jargon, the results are really helpful. I'm guessing that if these people don't have a CMS listed, its either too new or not worth knowing about.

There are a ton of pros and cons for each system and for all the research I did it ultimately depended on whose opinion you asked and what their personal preference was. At the end of the day I was influenced by a couple of web companies that suggested Drupal was the better option for my site.
After having two web companies go bust on me (luckily I had not parted with any money) I finally found someone who was willing, able, and affordable. Buying services is tough when you are a novice, it is hard to envisage everything you need, especially fairly "technical" services. It was far from the easiest thing I have done.

Eventually, after many, many months of decisions, discussion and designing, I had the frame of my website, looking just the way I wanted it to. Then it was time to learn how Drupal works and start filling the site with content. It was pretty easy to navigate around and despite some minor frustrations that have led to changes, it hasn't been too hard to learn.

As with most projects, they change along the way and factors became evident that we hadn't discussed, hadn't solved or hadn't been obvious. All in all I felt I wanted more control over the site and decided I want to learn more about Drupal. I went along to the Geek Girl Meetup recently and listend to Annika Lidne share her thoughts, knowledge and experience of this CMS. It was enough to ignite a lot of enthusiasm and I was hoping the WPGirls or the WPFika group would be converted enough to start up a Drupal gang. Alas, that has not yet been the case. I'd be the first to sign up to learn more....

Annika did make it seem easy and I have decided to build a new site in Drupal. Myself. From scratch. More about that another time......

So while things have been going along relatively smoothly I have been getting increasingly nervous about the big version changes that are being made to the system and my need to update Drupal as well as do something about the security alerts!! I can't help but feel like I am way out of my depth. My manual from the web guy was far from complete but luckily a friend had a much better manual for her site. Still it was overwhelming and I hardly dared open it and look at it....

Today I managed to corner my darling other-half and force him to draw on his old IT skills by putting himself into the workings of Drupal. It took a while, and we worked through both my friend's manual and the accompanying Drupal instructions. We did it. Everything is finally, newly backed up and the latest version of Drupal has been uploaded - no more security warnings from the administration side!!

Thank heavens for that. Now it is on the the next task!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Why is it so difficult to talk about suicide?

Just found out that one of the kids at school committed suicide. It is a tragedy like no other and makes my stomach churn. My heart goes out to all those who knew this kid, the parents, siblings, friends and teachers.

What I don't understand is why it is so difficult to talk about suicide. None of the information available mentions how this teenager died, yet we all wonder. I felt the need to have an answer, perhaps because it gives me an idea of what happens to teenagers, what risks and dangers they face and what my children may one way face.

A quick search on the net gave me the answer. There is always someone out there making things public, so why can't the school? They are going to have a memorial at school later in the week. They are going to tell our first graders that a student died, so why is it so hard to tell us parents how it happened? Why is it not mentioned on the intranet in any way or form? Don't we need to be able to answer, or at least try to answer our children's questions. Won't there be "rumors" around the school anyway. Let's hope the little kids are not touched by the unofficial sharing of information....

It is a subject that goes straight to my heart, and one that I wrote about just over a year ago. Funnily enough Makaila and I had a chat about suicide just a few days ago. We discussed why it is ok to put a cat to sleep but not a person, but why a person, namely my father, might choose to take matters into their own hands. It's tough for her to understand. But then as I told her, it is just as hard for me to understand, even now, 28 years later.

Suicide is something we should be talking about, whether we understand it or not. It should not be happening and I hardly dare to contemplate what each person must go through before making such a final decision. And I don't need to contemplate what it is like for the family left behind. It is earth-shattering.

Once again the subject comes to my attention and I went searching the net to see who and what is around. It is disturbing to see, yet heartening to know that there are people out there spreading the word - sufferers: mothers, sisters and more.

Here are some valuable suicide links:

Ludmilla - a Swedish mother who lost her 14 yr old daughter. I look at the photos and imagine what the grief must be like. Incredible that she can turn it into something positive.

Two big sisters who lost their brother - fantastic resource with lots of Swedish information, blog and a forum. Inspirational girls doing something really fantastic.

10 common myths about suicide - excellent reading and everyone should take the time to do so.

SPES - Sweden's suicide prevention and support for the survivors of suicide. A brilliant and very valuable resource.

Spread the word, don't let suicide be the subject no-one talks about. Because no matter how much we pretend it doesn't exist, no matter how much we ignore it, it is not going to go away anytime soon.

Rest In Peace dear girl. My thought are with you and your loved ones.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

My baby girl is no more. Makaila turns 7!

This time 7 years ago we were rushing around with a little babe, organising citizenship papers, passports, packing and getting used to the whole idea of having a baby girl. She was just 4 weeks old when we flew to Australia, which was kind of daring of us now that I think about it. But then I tempted fate too when I booked ballet tickets for the day she was due. Haha! What baby is born on their due date?
Mum was here helping me with everything and actually thinking back things were pretty calm. We took everything in our stride. It was close, getting the Australian passport was the closest shave, but they rushed it through for us. The poor kid was born stateless, all three of her citizenships had to be applied for. Neither of us were Swedes at the time so I included her in my application the following year, but applying for her Canadian and Australian ones was fairly straightforward.

So now she is 7, and while her life might be light years apart from what mine was at her age, not just because of the geographical differences, I feel like I know what it is like to be her. I remember being a little girl about her age, I remember the joys, the pains, the fears and hopes for the future. For the first time I look at her and I see myself, I recognise her, I recognise where she is at. It's a weird feeling, but its also a comforting feeling. Somehow we are closer.

Makaila was really excited about turning 7, probably even more so because as a November baby she is one of the last in her class to have a birthday. The intake runs from January to February here so some of the kids will turn 8 in about 6 weeks. I remember that feeling too, February babies in Australia are also towards the end of the intake year.

She was doubly excited because this year she was going to celebrate with her best friend from school, born just two days earlier - and in the same hospital too. We can only wonder if we said "hi" to each other passing in the corridors of the ward... The girls have known each for a few years but they were in different groups at daycare and it is only since they started school that they have become really good friends. They are as different in their personalities as in their appearance but they have found each other, and it is lovely to watch the friendship between these gorgeous girls grow.

It is a tradition in Sweden to wake the birthday child (young and old) up by going into their bedroom singing and carrying a cake with candles on it along with their presents. We haven't followed the tradition to its full extent but we do sing for her and she got to open a couple of presents at the breakfast table.

Then it was time for school where they sang for her and gave her a birthday card. The two girls were later celebrated at the after-school care where they sang, ate cake and gave each of them a present, a little rose quartz stone..

Finally an excited child filled with anticipation came home to the rest of her family presents.

Her big present from us was her new bike (thanks to Yvonne and Yvette!!) and she was absolutely thrilled with it - as was her brother who thinks it is just like a motorbike. It has gears on the right handle bar, just like the throttle on a bike, so he is convinced and can't wait for her to grow out of it! I think it is pretty cool that she has a real "Aussie" bike all the way from Melbourne.

She got a book from her bro and a few other bits and pieces from us, packages arrived from Australia from Mormor, as well as her cousin and aunts, and a present from Grandma in Canada.

The day didn't end there, friends knocked at the door to say Happy Birthday and returned again after dinner for a play while the adults got to chat and have a couple of drinks.

The next day was her party where she and her friend were joined by most of the girls from their class. It was a glorious day and the photo of the kids on the trampoline looks surreal after all the gray days in November.
We celebrated with games, present giving, candle-holder decorating and typical Swedish birthday party "cake" - merangue, banana, chocolate sauce and ice-cream. The girls (and a couple of little brothers) had a great afternoon.

We left there in time to come home for a "family" party, with our adopted Swedish families. More celebrations, presents, cake and lots of hugs.

This year's cake was made by her dad. They chose it together, he baked and iced it under her supervision and my guidance. It has become a great birthday tradition with each year being a new design. The kids love looking through the cake books and making their choice as much as the love the finished product. This year the icing was more like cheesecake than in the past and it was pretty good.
The guests enjoyed Ty's freshly baked sour dough too!

I have no doubt that this will be a birthday she will remember, long into her old age. It was an action packed weekend that started Friday night with friends dropping in and ended Sunday night with another friend's birthday party. A fantastic weekend of festivities, fun, friends, food and haha!!, I can't think of any more Fs.

Monday she finally got a chance to get out and ride her bike, and the sun shone in her honor!

My little Makaila with her upturned nose in no longer a baby, a toddler or a little girl, but has grown into a lovely school girl who is a pleasure to spend time with. It is amazing and a joy to watch her grow. She is bright, optimistic and easy-going, stubborn but thoughtful, emotional but rational, both serious and silly. She is a delight - but then I'm her mother right! Haha!, ask me in a couple of years!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Ballet at Stockholm's Royal Opera House

On Saturday evening a friend and I got to experience the sheer joy and wonder of a child going to a ballet for the first time, and in a magnificent building too.

She walked into the entrance of Stockholm's Opera House and said "it's so beautiful!". We sat on a seat waiting for our friend and studied the details in the ceilings, she was fascinated.

Our friend arrived and we took her up to look at the costumes, she was enchanted.

She then bounced into the Gold Room, captivated by its beauty.

The ballet itself, Coppelia, delighted her. And us.

And she was thrilled to see the photo and the write up in the paper the next day, and know that the prima ballerina was none other than fellow-Melbournian Nicole Rhodes.

All in all it was a wonderful way to spoil a little girl, and for us to indulge in living life through a child.

If you are at all tempted, tickets are available from 160 sek, half price for children and youth (up to 26!!). It is a long way between the seats and the stage but can make for a cheap, magical outing.

And intermission in the cafe adds to the excitement and the luxury.

Thank you my dear friend, for a wonderful evening.
From both of us.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Anti-food additives & pestiside awareness

After writing a long blog piece yesterday about the anti-food additives wave finally reaching Sweden I walked into the supermarket and saw DN's headlines -

Green Tea Found to have high levels of insecticide.

I drink a couple of cups of green tea a day and the thought of drinking insecticide made me feel ill. Needless to say it has put me off my tea today. I drank coffee, organic coffee.

According to the online article high levels have been found in (green) tea bags - even the so-called organic tea bags which were immediately taken off the shelves. I don't use bags, but neither do I drink organic tea - I haven't been able to find any I like. But I'm guessing there are high levels in all teas.....

Will there ever be an end to the garbage that is put in our food and beverages. And we wonder why so many people get cancer???

I do trust the Swedish KRAV certification process, but obviously there are loopholes.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Is it Swine Flu?

Asks a 7 year old as we walk in to school to have a "development talk" with Makaila's teacher today.

She has been off school for two days and spent the day in bed yesterday sweating it out. 30 hours of fever seems to have broken the worst of the virus and she was much, much better today, just a mild cough and a few sniffles.

Weird how we have lost our ability to have a cold, much less a normal flu without everyone wondering.

Oh, and if you're wondering about this "parent teacher interview" as it was called in my day and part of the world I can inform you that everyone is happy. When asked by her teacher she said she loves everything, she's pretty good at drawing and English and she'd like to be better at writing her numbers. Pretty good at English?? Ha! Got to love her modesty! She's a keen student, at least at the tender young age of almost 7, and takes any chance she can to practise her reading and writing - Swedish or English.

It is lovely to see her enthusiasm, lovely to see her blossom.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Our Halloween celebrations

Not being from a Halloween celebrating country and not living in a Halloween celebrating country, the celebration of Halloween is new to me but it is a tradition we have made our own. And I love any celebration of the seasons, and any excuse to brighten up the darkness, so it fits into life quite nicely.The kids have been excited for days, weeks. The concept of running around knocking on doors and being given candy is about as thrilling as they can imagine. It was like Christmas eve here yesterday, the waiting and waiting went on longer than they thought possible.

It's the third year in a row we have celebrated with a dinner with friends and it has become a combined Thanksgiving-Halloween celebration with a turkey and pumpkin pie. Luckily the 31st falls in the school holidays here so a mid-week celebration has not yet posed a problem. And as with any celebration the preparation is as much a part of the fun as the event itself, especially Halloween preparation.This year the magic started with a birthday box arriving from Australia from Mormor (mother's mother for the non-Swedes amongst us). Knowing it contained costumes they were allowed to open it early while talking to Mormor on the phone. Two very happy little chickadees decided to wear their new costumes for Halloween, the boy even wanted to sleep in his!
Now that we had costumes there was the turkey, the pumpkin pie and the pumpkins to prepare. Turkeys were once hard to come by in Sweden, but are now readily available in most of the big grocery stores and I knew just where to go to get both a turkey and pumpkins at a reasonable price. Gone are the days of paying exorbitant prices for pumpkins at Hötorget, the fruit and veggie market in town! But saying that you can never be too sure and I was relieved once we had actually made our purchases.

Pumpkin carving is usually a big deal for the Canadian amongst us and designs are usually carefully considered according to pumpkin size, shape and over-all difficulty. He and the kids scoured the internet until they found the right designs and carving was soon underway.Once everything was prepared, including the roasting of the pumpkin seeds, it was time to bake Halloween cookies. With the aroma of freshly baked cookies lingering the guests arrived and it was time to play, talk, put the turkey in the oven and paint faces. The table was set, the wine corked and a delicious dinner was enjoyed by the adults at least. The kids were too excited and too eager to get outside and go door-knocking.
Finally the time had come. A few final adjustments were made and the candy bags were gathered.
They were ready, the were prepared. They were scary. Or not. The were definitely excited!
And the neighbors were all well-prepared and expecting our arrival - I had warned them and handed out candy earlier in the day to make sure!

And we weren't the only ones having a dress-up party! We brightened up a few peoples' day - who can resist this cute little bunch? The neighbors love it when the kids come knocking!
These little trick-or-treaters were thrilled with their adventure - each coming back with a bag filled with candy (or lollies as we say in my part of the world) and a few other goodies from the 10 neighboring apartments. They then settled down in front of a movie and chomped away while the adults got a chance to relax and talk.

Whether our neighbors were celebrating Halloween or not, it was sure hard to miss its presence in our street!

Halloween is a fun, crazy, silly tradition. It is about kids, seasons and doing things out of the ordinary. It spices up life as we head into the coldest, darkest part of the year.

Hope your Halloween was as great as ours!