I have no idea why this was a problem when it hadn't been before or why this solution worked, but opening the file apt.conf and deleting the line 'Acquire::http::Proxy "false"' fixes the problem (I do not have a proxy).
Commenting it out did not work, it had to be completely deleted so that there was nothing left in the file, then saving it and running sudo apt-get update got my first batch of updates going. After that the regular Ubuntu update desktop icon worked again.
For other newbies:
open a terminal and type: cd /etc/apt and hit enter.
type: sudo gedit apt.conf and hit enter, do your password and hit enter.
delete the entire line 'Acquire::http::Proxy "false"', in my case that left the file completely empty.
hit save and close the gedit window.
in the terminal type: sudo apt-get update
let it do it's thing then close the terminal and update as normal using the desktop icon, if it shows you still need updates.
Side Note from newbie me: for updating and installing programs I have read on forums for advise and people have mentioned using Synaptic -or- using apt-get, using the update icon -or- using apt-get, they always sounded like two different things, similar to using totem -or- zine to watch movies. It was only after weeks of frustrated searching that I was pointed to the common base (apt) for all the package management.
Knowing that let me do a better search which led to a forum discussion about apt-get updates (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=206692&page=2
which led to the above fix. Not knowing the connection between the 'apt' directory and synaptic/update icon was a huge a block in getting things working again.