The Lighter Side

Is It Halloween Yet?

September 12, 2014

I guess it's time to start getting ready for Halloween. I know because my kids are already on it. They started dragging out spooky decorations and old costumes last weekend. The family room is full of boxes of spiders and ghouls and scary sound makers and the kids are full of ideas for this year's costumes.

My son is undecided. One minute he wants to go as a character from Duck Dynasty, the next maybe he'll be a "Walking Dead" zombie. But then he changes his mind again and he's looking at superhero costumes from "Guardians of the Galaxy." Or maybe Batman. I can't keep up so I decided to stay out of it.

My daughter is slightly less confused about her costume. She and her best friend are going as princesses from "Frozen." They just haven't decided who will be Anna and who will be Elsa. I think they might be arguing a little, so I'm staying out of that decision, too!

Your "Happy Halloween" Gift Guru

Happy Teddy Bear Day!

September 05, 2014

September 9th is National Teddy Bear Day! It's a day for bringing out, showing off and cuddling your favorite stuffed bear. I didn't know teddy bears had their own holiday and I also didn't know that the teddy bear is named after US President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.

The story goes like this: At the end of a hunting expedition where President Roosevelt had found no game, someone brought out a baby bear and suggested that Roosevelt might want to shoot it. Roosevelt, a sporting man, refused. The incident later turned up in a newspaper cartoon, which inspired a New York toy maker to create a new stuffed animal, "Teddy's Bear." And the rest is history.

So on September 9th we can celebrate all the joy we get from our stuffed, fuzzy friends. And we can celebrate Theodore Roosevelt, whose refusal to shoot a helpless little baby bear inspired a toy that's given us comfort and cuddles for more than a hundred years!

Your "Hug A Bear" Gift Guru

The Smell of Sunshine

August 29, 2014

Baseball and summer go hand-in-glove so when the leagues -- big and little -- start to wrap up, you know summer is coming to a close. The Little League World Series is over but the pros still have a few weeks left before the Boys of Summer play their last game.

So we decided to take the kids to a ball game last weekend. It was one of those perfect days. The smell of freshly cut grass, dirt rising from the diamond and food from the concessions filled the air. We got great seats under clear blue skies where a foul ball might just land in one of the kids' at-the-ready baseball gloves. And the home team won.

At the end of the day, as we gathered our troops to head to the car, my daughter asked if we could come back again. "So you like baseball, eh?" I asked her. "It's okay," she said. "But I just like the smell of sunshine." I laughed, but then I realized she was right. If sunshine has a smell, there's no place like the ball park to breathe it in.

Your "Take Me Out To The Ball Game - Again" Gift Guru

The Ice Bucket Challenge

August 22, 2014

I'm sure you've seen the ice bucket challenge by now. Social media has helped the ALSA fundraising and awareness campaign reach stunning heights on the "trending" scale. And with help from some celebrities and lots of just plain folk, the campaign has raised over $41 million for the charity.

The challenge is this: douse yourself with a bucket of ice water on video, post the video to social media, then nominate others in your social network to do the same. People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice, or both.

Now I'm somewhat of a fumbler when it comes to technology, plus my cell phone camera isn't very good. Not that it matters. I couldn't quite figure out how to post the fuzzy, half-out-of-frame, too-dark video selfie anyway so I just gave up on that part and made a donation to the cause. And now I'm challenging all of you! Grab your checkbook and/or a bucket of ice water and some towels and let's help the ALSA Ice Bucket Challenge get to $50 million!

Your "Brrrrrrrrr!" Gift Guru

Brain Games

August 15, 2014

My kids are like most kids -- big fans of video games. And their parents are like most parents -- struggling with even the simplest of gaming apps. Our kids will play a game for just a few minutes before they "level up" while it might take us days or even weeks. Truth be told, it took me a month to score enough points to figure out what "level up" meant.

I love games and puzzles and brainteasers and riddles. They're good for keeping your brain active, for sharpening problem solving skills and improving hand-to-eye coordination. I persevere with the apps because some are really cool, but I prefer the old school way of puzzling and gaming. Not because the gaming apps aren't fun or challenging, but because we typically play them alone, even when the whole family is gathered in one room.

Old school jigsaw puzzles and board games have a wealth of benefits missing from electronic gaming. Like inspiring creative thinking, since few are loaded with the "hints" that gaming apps offer. They also encourage players to work as a team to devise strategies and achieve goals, instead of racing from level to level alone. But the best thing about old school games is they bring the family together, not just in the same room staring at separate screens, but at the same table.

Your "Go Team!" Gift Guru

Lazy Day

August 08, 2014

Sunday is officially Lazy Day. Okay, maybe it's not so official, but according to the folks over at Days of the Year, it's a holiday. So I'm celebrating. But not too hard. Because, obviously, I won't have time to put on a lavish celebration; I'll be too busy coming up with creative ways to be lazy.

At the top of my list for Lazy Day inactivity is my least creative idea: sleep in. And I don't mean just an hour longer than you normally sleep on a Sunday -- I mean, really sleep in. Next, don't cook, forage. After you finally rise from your decadent slumber, rummage through the kitchen for leftovers and no-prep snacks. And a bottle of wine couldn't hurt. The next non-activity might require a tiny bit of work: hunt for the remote controls and binge watch television. Queue up your favorite shows, watch a movie marathon or just surf channels until it's time for bed again.

With some carefully laid plans, you can lay around in comfort all day on Lazy Day. And if anyone tries to make you feel guilty, just point to the calendar and explain you're doing your part to celebrate an international holiday.

Your "Lavishly Lazy" Gift Guru

3 Ways to a Cool Summer Kitchen

August 01, 2014

Trying to cool your house during the summer can be a challenge - and an expensive one at that, especially if you're cranking up the air conditioner at dinntertime to overcome your stove or oven. But don't worry, there are a few things you can do to beat the heat, save some dough and take the bite out of the dog days of summer.

  • Grill: The grill isn't just for meats anymore. All you need are a few innovative recipes to grill up an entire meal outdoors, including vegetables and desserts.
  • Crank up the crockpot: Slow cooking lets you prepare a delicious hot meal (or even a cake!) without working up a sweat. Just set it and forget it.
  • No-bake brilliance: Abandon the oven entirely and go for desserts that finish in the refrigerator or freezer.

With a grill, a crockpot and a few good recipes, your kitchen can be comfortable all summer long, you'll use less energy and you can keep your cool when the electric bill arrives!

Your "One Cool Cook " Gift Guru

Celebrating the Mutt in Your Life

July 25, 2014

July 31st is National Mutt Day. By definition a "mutt" is a dog of mixed breed with genetic makeup that might come from two breeds or many. While some people view them as inferior in many ways, we mutt lovers know better. Here are my top three reasons to love and adopt a mutt dog:

  • They inspire creativity: A purebred dog looks much like any other dog of its breed. But a mutt dog can look like anything, which means you can make up fun names for your mutt's mixed breed. Like a chi-wienie (chihuahua + daschund) or a bocker (cocker spaniel + beagle.)
  • Excellent roots: Forget those ancestry sites. You can tell by looking if your mutt is descended from the earliest domestic dogs. For example: a small- to medium-sized mutt with a short, light-colored coat and prick ears resembles its early ancestors much more than most purebreds.
  • They live longer: This is the best reason of all to love a mutt. Many purebreds today are victims of inbreeding, which is detrimental to their health and longevity. But most mutts are born of pure canine passion, which ensures the genetic diversity that leads to better health and longer life spans and makes them the true love children of the dog world.

There are many more reasons to love mutts, including the fact that they're cheaper to own and easier to find - your local shelter is full of mutts just waiting for someone to notice their special qualities. But if you already have a mutt (or three, or four) and can't adopt even one more, here are fifty ways to celebrate your loving mutt(s) on their special day.

Your "Mad for Mutts " Gift Guru

Rubber Band Woman

July 18, 2014

My daughter has completely fallen for the rubber band loom craze, which is more than a little surprising to us, her dear parents, because the loom has no batteries, no camera and isn't internet connectible. But she loves it, spending hours on end in her room sorting rubber bands by color and planning her next design. She's a prolific rubber band weaver, making dozens of bracelets and necklaces, anklets and watchbands and giving them freely to just about everyone she knows.

But a UK mom has taken the rubber band loom to a whole new level -- and made a BIG profit doing it. She and a friend made a dress from 20,000 loom bands and put it on eBay with a starting bid of $85. At that price, the two would have made a handy profit, but after a heated bidding war, the dress sold for a whopping $291,000! Not bad for forty hours of work.

As you can see from the picture at left, the stylish design is very colorful and looks attractive on the model. But, as someone who's watched many of my creations fall apart completely when a single band breaks, I have to wonder: what happens if one of the bands breaks while you're wearing it?

Your "Woven Wonders" Gift Guru

And The Nominees Are...

July 11, 2014

Nominations for the 2014 Emmy awards were announced Thursday and the internet is abuzz with cheers and jeers for the Television Academy's selections. But the big story this year is how cable and and online shows whacked network television -- again.

HBO snagged 99 nominations this year for shows like "Game of Thrones" (19) and "True Detective," which scored three nominations including Outstanding Drama Series and pits Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey against each other for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Netflix wasn't far behind with 31 nominations for "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards" among others. Still, network television managed to hold its own with old familiars like "Breaking Bad" and "The Big Bang Theory" and PBS was once again recognized for their original and addictive series "Downton Abbey."

See the complete list of nominations here. So how did your favorite shows do? Did they get a nod or did they get snubbed? And the very big question: who will take home the statues? We'll have to wait until August 25th to find out. Until then, all we can do is binge-watch our favorites, make our own scorecards and hope our picks will take home top honors.

Your "And The Winner Is?" Gift Guru