Don't turn off the machine, get a regular external drive and transfer just your visible user files you can see (no folders) to the external drive as soon as possible.
Do no transfer anything in Library, just your pictures, documents, music etc. just the basics, and export your bookmarks, email addressed and any other vital data.
Either your drive is dying or you might be having some sort of software/malware issue which will restort in a complete erase and install, perhaps on a new drive.
If you go lazy and copy folders or TimeMachine or cloning software, it can contain malware.
Once you done backing up, then disconnect the drive and attempt to find out what it is.
Can you tell me what leads you to think there is either a HD failure or malware issue? Is there a particular message in the console that I should be alerted to? This morning, it is working fine after running disk utility and restarting (sorry my husband shut it off last night). We are in a hotel at the moment so will backup tomorrow when we have our external available. Thanks for your suggestions. I'm pretty sure this computer still has applecare on it so if it's a new hd, we'll be covered.
Can you tell me what leads you to think there is either a HD failure or malware issue?
We are in a hotel at the moment so will backup tomorrow when we have our external available.
the keystrokes hesitate and the beachball spins. I am seeing this in both safari and firefox for email.
Upon new information provided it was likely very heavy traffic from other hotel guests at night as your all sharing the same bandwidth and the problem appeared in two web browsers.
Most of the time people who have your spinning beach ball issue it's a problem with a hard drive and corrupted data, so we tend to recommend a immediate backup while the machine is still operating, as the next reboot does a fsck drive check and attempts to repair the boot drive and if it can't, then it stays stuck on the gray loading screen and it's more of a headache/expense to fix.
This morning, it is working fine after running disk utility and restarting
People either left and/or are getting up or still sleeping, thus less internet trafffic.