It's never too late. Start here: http://www.apple.com/support/mac101/
Most of it will seem pretty remedial to you, but perhaps you may find something useful.
If you're more inclined to read books, I recommend David Pogue's The Missing Manual series.
People accustomed to Windows are usually shocked that the Mac needs almost no care and feeding. Macs are designed to be used, and stay out of the way of what you're doing - if you're actually getting your work accomplished, that's intentional.
thank you john. i can email, use certain software, google, etc. but i don't understand so much of this machine's strengths (not that i understood so much of a pc either...) and when people talk about solutions on these discussion pages, it just makes my head swim. WAY above my pay grade...
and it does instill fear that i will do something ridiculous that will mess it up and not having the knowledge, that i will not be able to "unmess it". when i lived in a huge city, my husband's it guy would come to the house. spoiled, as charged. now i'm totally on my own with this gorgeous machine and totally ignorant beneath the surface usages of it. husband still a pc'er.
i'll check out the missing manual book. thank you so much!
David Pogue's book will go a long way toward removing the mysteries.
The Mac is pretty forgiving and won't let you cause any permanent damage, however, nothing can stop you from erasing all your photos or music or whatever you have on your Mac that you would prefer not to lose. Even if you don't do something dumb, hard disks have a finite life and eventually fail, often with no warning. Most people don't realize how much they have on their computer or how valuable it is until they lose it all.
Don't be one of them. Read this: Mac 101: Time Machine
You have to buy an external hard disk but they are not terribly expensive - a little over $100. Configuring it is literally as easy as plugging it in. Time Machine asks you if you want to use it as a backup, after which it does the rest completely on its own.
Time Machine is the best way to avoid the consequences of messing something up, and is worth it for peace of mind alone.
There are video and text tutorials available > Apple product tutorials
And here > Apple - Find Out How - Mac Basics
Even though you live in a rural town you may be able to locate Apple - User Groups
For help switching from Windows to Mac > Apple - Support - Switch 101
And in case you need help nagivating Apple Support Communities > Apple Support Communities - Tutorials
i actually have another communities post about time machine. taking 12-14 hours to back up since my switch to lion. also thinking about buying a new backup device - old one configured by it guy in old city. would be worth it to buy a new backup that is originally configured for a mac IF it will cut down on the time involved. also, will have to find out if it's possible to set up time machine to simply backup/keep only the most recent "snapshot". i don't want to see what it looked like on a certain day 2 1/2 months ago, as an example. just want the most recent backup because you're so right - you never know when these machines are going to fail us!
Are you using the Time Capsule? It's normal for it to take a very long time to back up initially, especially if it is doing it wirelessly. It can take days if the wireless connection is tenuous. An external hard disk connected to your computer with USB or FireWire will be faster, but speed is not necessary for backups - reliability is.
… also, will have to find out if it's possible to set up time machine to simply backup/keep only the most recent "snapshot". i don't want to see what it looked like on a certain day 2 1/2 months ago, as an example.
I would not recommend trying to do that and I don't think it's possible anyway. Time Machine will always keep one complete copy of your existing system, plus copies of older items that gradually become erased according to a clever algorithm. If it runs out of space it erases them as necessary, but the most recent copy of your entire computer's contents will always be safely archived.
John was asking about Time Machine - not the expensive wireless Time Capsule offered by Apple. You can use Time Machine on any external hard drive that has a storage capacity of about 2-3 times your hard drive. It's free - included in your Lion update - and it's wonderful for making mindless (hunh!) back-ups. Just tell it where to back-up and it gets rolling. The first back-up will take some time, but after that the drive doesn't crunch too much, just making the changes you've made on your internal.
For me, it's the best back-up scheme going.