Saturday, September 20

Don’t fall for holiday hype
By Alex Carrier

No need for alarm but there are less than 100 shopping days until Christmas. Don’t shoot the messenger!

The point is not to hurry the holiday but to help you prepare for the ambush of commercialized camaraderie, ho-ho-ho marketing hype and the push to turn your goodwill toward men into buying more goods than you want this holiday season.

The average American is facing higher fuel costs, higher grocery prices, more money out and less coming in. Consumers are cutting back, downsizing and minimizing.

Reason enough then to take this opportunity to do some planning and preparation for the upcoming holiday season and the material mayhem it brings.

Before you are swayed by warm fuzzy commercials attempting to persuade you that the perfect gift (whatever is being advertised) is the only way to bring holiday happiness to those you love, take an unemotional, rational, cold, hard look at your monetary limitations before you hear the first jingle bells.

You are not the only one hurting and now is the perfect time to talk Christmas turkey with family and friends - to discover ways you can all enjoy the season without increasing your debt and stress levels.

Begin with an honest inventory of your finances. Once you have this information, you can determine how much you can realistically spend on holiday gift-giving.

Instead of using your regular income, consider downsizing in some area to save the money for the holidays. This will give you a more immediate connection to the person you are giving a gift. You may find some people are simply not worth the sacrifice.

Do you remember each gift you gave each person last year and the gifts you received from them? This can be a sobering reality check on what is truly important.

Talk with family and friends about replacing gifts to each other with time spent together. Go to a holiday event as a group. Pool resources and energy for the holiday dinner or party. Put your money toward travel to spend time with those you love.

If you are going to travel, make your reservations now. Airlines have cut routes and are filling planes to capacity. If you wait, you may not be able to get to your destination especially at a price you can afford.

If you must give a gift, give quality not quantity. Choose names within the family or social group and give only one nice gift. Using personally compiled gift suggestion lists will help reduce unwanted or undesirable gifts.

There is plenty of time before Thanksgiving to try your hand at making a gift. Do-it-yourself is one way of giving your best.

Even if you decide to buy something, starting now will give you the best chance of getting what you want at a price you can afford. If you do buy something early, make sure you understand and accept the store’s return policy.

The point of planning is not to reduce the pleasure of the holiday but to carry it through into the next year. Giving is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for both people.

When you hear the first strains of “Joy to the World” and begin to feel the pressure of approaching holiday cheer, remember that you are prepared to embrace the spirit of the season with a doable budget, a firm grip on your wallet and anticipation of a truly happy holiday.

If you like this blog read our free web magazines Virginia Greene and Greene Lite
© 2006 - 2008 Virginia Greene

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Monday, May 12

Spring bird babies 2008
By Alex Carrier

The Blue Jays
We love watching the birth of spring from feathers to foliage. This year we have a blue jay's nest outside our kitchen window and are watching the progress.

Did you know the Blue Jay is one of the “Johnny Appleseeds” of the bird world, playing an important role in dispersal of acorns, and hence oak trees, in the Midwest.

When the jay's left their nest to find food we discovered four large eggs - cream colored with brown speckles. The inside of the nest is amazingly round and smooth.

It would seem we were not the only ones doing birdwatching. While we were watching the blue jays, they were watching us - or so says this study. Are you looking at me?

We look forward to seeing the babies. While we wait, we found these neat pages on Blue Jays.

Blue Jays at Cornell Lab of Ornithology From Cornell's site - listen to Blue Jay's call (my dog tried to find the bird in the speaker when this played.)

The Canadian Geese

Even though Virginia is just supposed to be a migratory stop for our Canadian feathered friends, many of them have decided they like Virginia, Greene County and, in particular, the golf course and have become permanent residents.

These two were parading their babies during a golf tournament but when my husband approached to take their photos, they were less than hospitable. Even the golf course cats (necessary to pest control) don't bother these residents. Smart cats!

Cornell has some great facts about the Canadian Goose and this sound recording of their loud call/honk.

If you like this blog read our free web magazines Virginia Greene and Greene Lite
© 2006 - 2008 Virginia Greene

Monday, December 24

The Eleventh Hour Christmas Gift Save

By Alex Carrier

What were you thinking? It’s Christmas Eve and you still have gifts to buy. You used your best excuse last year with the whole “kidnapped by aliens” story.

Your Christmas goose is cooked – or is it? Believe it or not, you can still find a gift as long as you have a sense of humor and a little creativity.
Some stores might be open but if you have waited until all the regular options are gone, there are still places to shop.

Twenty-four-hour grocery stores stay open later on Christmas Eve or may even open a few hours on Christmas Day. Obvious choices include fresh flowers, cards and foods. Larger scale food stores even stock non-food items to consider.

If other last-minute shoppers have taken all your ideas, you are still in luck. These suggestions may be unusual (the sense of humor helps here) and not what you wanted (remember you are desperate) but they will allow you to arrive with gift in hand.

Look at everything in terms of containers and contents. A pretty container holding something you don't like can always be emptied to hold something else. Check your home before departure for containers you can fill or use one from the store.

Here are some ideas. Give a pasta gift. Fill a colander with pasta and a container of sauce. Add bread sticks and Parmesan cheese. Top with tongs and brightly colored towel. If you want to be fancy (and bribe your gift recipient with an more expansive show of generosity), go with gourmet products, fresh if possible and top the gift with a grater and a chunk of fresh Parmesan cheese. Add a good bottle of wine and perhaps the person receiving your gift will toast you over a nice Italian dinner.
If you want gifts for children, get cookie and brownie mixes. Pile them up in the containers needed to bake them. Top with a bottle of special sprinkles and a card offering to give them a “baking” lesson. This can double as a gift to the parents who can take a few hours off together while you are in charge of the children.

Go chocolate for the chocoholic on your list. In a large mug or teapot, put gourmet candies and a selection of hot chocolate mixes. A small bag of mini marshmallows will warm any chocolate lover’s heart. Can’t find a mug or teapot? Use a large microwave safe measuring cup or small sauce pot.

Go ice cream with some dishes, gourmet ice cream, an ice cream scoop and assorted toppings. Put it all in a small cooler for extra effect and portability.

If you want to stay away from food products, check out the sundries and pharmacy aisles. Get the weekend warrior a microwavable heating pad and Epsom salts.

Fill a foot massager or footbath with pedicure products and soft socks. For something a little personal, buy scented candles, baby oil or lotion and attach a note offering a massage.

Give an emergency cold care kit with heating pad, soothing rub, a box of tissues, cough drops, a digital oral thermometer, and a paperback book or two.

If you are going to a home with children, buy a large trash container. Inside, put a disposable camera, a photo album or frame, and assorted batteries for all the toys that don’t come with enough supplies. Offer to take pictures of all the fun. You can add a bottle of wine or a bottle of pain reliever for the parents.

This will also work if your recipient has a digital camera. Buy some photograph quality paper and add an extra frame or two. Make sure you take time to take a picture of the whole family together.

Does the person you are buying a gift for have pets? Pack some toys and treats into a fancy food dish or pet bed. Add some large fluffy towels for drying off wet pets - especially dogs.

So, it’s the eleventh hour and even grocery stores are closed. You are not yet out of luck. Some gas station food marts are open. Although selection is limited, you can still make do.

Containers may be your biggest problem but most of these stores carry coffee mugs and thermal beverage containers. Don’t forget coolers and plastic food containers. Even plastic drink cups will suffice.

Buy a sports television survival kit. In whatever container you have chosen, put a selection of nuts, chips, popcorn and snack items. If you can get a small cooler, you can add dip and cold beverages.

If the gift is for a commuter, get the mug and a gift certificate for coffee. You can also buy coffee, sugars, creamers and some breakfast snacks.
Put together an emergency travel kit. The overnight kit would include toothpaste and brush, soap, deodorant, and anything else available. Slip in a small sewing kit.

An auto emergency kit might include gloves, lock deicer, ice scraper and some snacks in case the driver gets caught in traffic or an accident. If there is kitty litter available, add that for traction under tires. Disposable cell phones or phone cards are a thoughtful addition.

Most grocery and gas stores offer gift cards. Even if you have been reduced to the gift card selection, put it in something interesting and wrap it up.

If even the gas store is closed and you have a computer, fate has handed you a “get out of jail free” card. With Internet hookup and a credit card, you can get gift certificates emailed to you within minutes. If you need a gift for someone out-of-town, you can email the gift certificate directly to them.

To make the certificate special, wrap it in a box with a picture of the item you think they would like and you have provided sufficient funds to purchase. Try to get a certificate to a company that has an actual store where the gift recipient lives. Some people prefer to shop in person. If it is a catalogue company, have the current catalogue mailed to them.
Keep your sense of humor and holiday cheer. Between people who care for each other, it truly is the thought and not the gift that counts.

If you like this blog, get more holiday help and humor and read our free web magazines Virginia Greene and Greene Lite
© 2007 Virginia Greene

Monday, August 27

Pete – Repeat – Delete
By Alex Carrier

Pete and Repeat are sitting on a wall. Pete falls off. Who is left?

Pete and Repeat are sitting on a wall. Pete falls off. Who is left?

When you’re kid some jokes are just funnier than others. When you are an adult, those same jokes may not be as much amusing as they are annoying.

Kind of like boomerang email. The Pete and Repeat space squatters, Internet invaders of Inboxes.

They are the emails you receive and delete (and then delete the deleted emails) and; then, some not-distant-enough time in the not-far-enough-in-the-future, they reappear in your Inbox – again.

Same email but usually trapped in the endless folds of a forward of a forward of a forward from some well-meaning friend of a friend of a friend who just wanted to share this interesting, important, must-see information.

I have seen it! I saw it the first time and the second time and I checked it out and it is no longer true or never was true or “okay it’s true but I know it already.” Enough is enough.

Speaking of childhood, when I was a kid I loved the television show Mission: Impossible. I loved the drama, the deception, the devious disguises and the fact the good guys always won. Not to mention the awesome music and that burning fuse.

I also loved the part where the mission orders said, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”

Don’t you just love a happy ending?

Read Deja True @ for the latest used-to-be true, here it comes again email.

If you like this blog read our free web magazines Virginia Greene and Greene Lite
© 2007 Virginia Greene

Sunday, August 12

Three-letter weather
By Alex Carrier

It’s Virginia. It’s summer. It’s the weather you wear. Or, in meteorological terms: hazy, hot and humid.

I am not a great fan of summer weather. The heat, the humidity, the oppressive warmth really toast me.

Summer weather is no surprise even if the season seems abnormally hotter and longer. Every August in Virginia, you can count on the heat and humidity and the ever present possibility of sudden showers.

Local meteorologists repeat themselves with every forecast. “Hazy, hot and humid with a chance of late afternoon and evening thunderstorms.”

Do you suppose the weather reporters get tired of saying the same thing day after day after day? I say, this year; we give the forecasters a break from redundancy.

I think every able-voiced man, woman and child (anyone who can say these words and keep a semi-serious countenance on video, and if your dog can do why not?) should make a short tape.

All the would-be weather prognosticators need to do is look straight at the lens and say, “Hazy, hot and humid with a chance of late afternoon and evening thunderstorms.”

The news department could put all of these weather want-to-be recordings on a continuous loop of video. Each day, as time rolls around for the repetitive prediction; a new unknown face would voice the familiar words and then fade to commercial.

Send your videos today.

Who knows? We might find the next best weatherman or woman. At the least, we would give all their current counterparts a reprieve from repetition.

If you like this blog read our free web magazines Virginia Greene and Greene Lite
© 2007 Virginia Greene