The Lighter Side
18 April

Creature Comforts

Chimp on a bed or nest in the Ugandan forestDid you know chimpanzees know how to make a bed? They might not do hospital corners, but they do seek out the most comfortable and most stable woods in the forest to construct sleeping platforms in the trees.

How do we know? Scientists from two U.S. universities measured the physical characteristics of over 1,800 chimp "beds" or "nests" in Uganda's Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve and found that 74% of the population choose build their beds out of rare Ugandan Ironwood over more commonly available tree species. The study suggests that the tree's stiffness and bendability along with its densely packed branches are ideal for sleeping platforms constructed in the trees.

They speculate that the great apes seek protection from predators and pathogens in the Ugandan Ironwood along with creature comforts like temperature regulation. According to Dr. David Sampson, the chimps' choosiness "suggests that for apes there is something inherently attractive about a comfortable bed." Just like humans, chimps will search far and wide for bedding that will help them sleep like a log!

Your "Forty Winks" Gift Guru
Linda

Monkey Shaker Set

11 April

Garden Fever

I'm not much of a gardener -- my roses don't win prizes and my tomato crop is always hit-and-miss -- but I love to play at it, despite my sometimes mixed results.

There are a lot of reasons to start a garden, including fresh air, exercise and stress reduction. Gardening seems to bring me back to earth. Maybe it's the outdoors, the loving care I put into each plant or my silly garden decorations that make me so happy. Or maybe it's the real-world escape from the realities of my increasingly digital life. Whatever the reason, I look forward to the planting season every year. Regardless of the success (or failure) of my crops, I just want to get out there and dig in the dirt!

You can grow flowers to nourish your soul or food to nourish your body in small pots or big buckets, on rooftops or on windowsills and nearly everywhere in between. Potatoes grow very well in buckets and indoor herb gardens are nearly effortless. So you don't have to have dig up a backyard to become a gardener. All you need are a few seeds, some soil and water and the desire to disconnect from the grid and reconnect with Mother Nature.

Your "How Does YOUR Garden Grow?" Gift Guru
Linda

Mushroom Solar Garden Lights Grow A Head Herb Pots Grow Dammit Garden Stone

04 April

Hoppy Easter!

Easter is just a couple of Sundays away and I'm glad my kids are still young enough to get excited about decorating eggs -- so excited that they spent their hard-earned money on their own decorating kits! But they don't want to hunt for them anymore because, according to my daughter, "Mom, we know the Easter Bunny doesn't hide eggs."

Chick Magnets Refrigerator Magnet Set EasterMy kids don't believe in Santa or the tooth fairy anymore, either, but being curious like their parents, prepping for Easter sparked a lively family discussion about where the Easter Bunny tradition actually came from. After voicing our wildest theories and laughing ourselves silly, my son pulled up his favorite web site to look for a more serious (and perhaps more accurate) answer.

According to MentalFloss.com, the egg-delivering rabbit might find its roots in pagan cultures that celebrated of renewal and rebirth in Spring rituals. As pagan and Christian cultures blended over the ages, so did their holidays, and voila! The Easter Bunny was born. I guess that's as good a theory as any. But it doesn't really matter, does it? Not when the true magic of Easter is spending time boiling, coloring and decorating eggs with my not-too-old-yet kids. As long as I don't forget to buy the eggs!

Your "Hippity-Hoppity Easter's On Its Way!" Gift Guru
Linda

Easter Bunny SlippersPeanuts Snoopy Happy Easter T-shirt teeEaster Lamb Sings Peter Cottontail

28 March

Easy As Cake

Do you have a birthday season in your household? That month or two when it seems like it's everyone's birthday at once? We do and it's just about to start. My dad's birthday is first, then two nieces, a nephew, my husband and our son - all before mid-May. Which means a lot of cake baking for yours truly.

Luckily, I like to bake. Luckier still, I've found a few labor-reducing tricks to help me create great cakes without spending the entire month of April in the kitchen. First, I shop for all the non-perishable ingredients I'll need, which reduces sudden trips to the store for a forgotten this or that in the middle of my bake-a-thon. Second, I get a couple of good cookbooks with quick and easy recipes for glorious cakes. And third, yes, I do use mixes. But only if, like our colorful tie-dye mix, the cake will be more interesting and fun than one I could make from scratch.

With a little help from some good cookbooks, a few mixes and a little bit of pre-planning, there's no reason to spend your whole birthday season hovering over a hot oven, either.

Your "Bake Up Some Fun!" Gift Guru
Linda

Mug Cakes CookbookDump & Bake Cakes CookbookTie Dye And Camouflage Cake Mix

21 March

The Big Bang Theory Persists

CBS's The Big Bang Theory has ranked the most popular sitcom on television since 2010. So it wasn't rocket science to predict the show would be renewed for further seasons. But when CBS announced that the show would run for three more years, nerds and nerd-lovers everywhere rejoiced.

There are lots of reasons why viewers love The Big Bang Theory, including Sheldon's Spock fixation and the on-again-off-again romance between Leonard and Penny. Me, I love the characters, the writing, the almost-over-my-head humor and, of course, the wardrobes. Sheldon's vintage comic tees, Wolowitz's tonally matched dickies and the superhero costumes are as much a part of the script as the jokes!

With this renewal, the series will make the ten-year mark, joining an impressive list of long-running television sitcoms like M*A*S*H, Cheers and Frasier. Of the top ten longest running sitcoms, three are cartoons: South Park and King of the Hill both hit the ten-year mark and more, but The Simpsons takes home top honors, running an astounding 25 years! I doubt Sheldon Cooper and crew will outlast Bart Simpson, but like most viewers, I'll happily settle for three more years of the quirky crew.

Your "Bazinga!" Gift Guru
Linda

Big Bang Theory Genius GameBig Bang Theory Talking Sheldon Doll

14 March

The Chemistry of Love

Want to fall in love? Psychologist Arthur Arun believes he can show us how to fall in love - on purpose. Turns out love is all about chemistry, or specifically the seven hormones that control the stages of love: lust, attraction and attachment.

In the first stage, estrogen (women) and testosterone (men) drive us to seek a mate. In the second stage, dopamine fills the brain with feelings of reward and satisfaction while norepinephrine and adrenaline make our hearts race and our palms sweat when we see the object of our affection. These three chemicals are complemented by seratonin, which makes it impossible to stop thinking about our love and drives us "temporarily insane." In the final stage, oxytocin and vasopressin kick in to help us form long-term bonds.

If you want to fall in love on purpose, Professor Arun suggests you 1) find a complete stranger, 2) spend 30 minutes revealing the most intimate details of your lives to each other and 3) stare deeply into each other's eyes for four minutes without talking. When subjects carried out the steps in Arun's experiment, many couples felt "deeply attracted" after 34 minutes. And two of his subjects later got married! So, forget those dating sites, remember your chemistry courses and go fall in love!

Your "Power of Love" Gift Guru
Linda

07 March

Luck of the Irish

St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner and as I made my plans for the "Wearin' o' the Green", I started thinking about other Irish cultural traditions in America. My curiosity got the best of me, so I did some digging and, lucky me, I learned a few things!

  • Do you know why we wear the green? To make ourselves invisible to leprechauns, of course. Forget to wear it, and those mischievous little creatures will sneak up and pinch you.
  • Want to have a truly traditional Irish meal on the holiday? Make bacon and cabbage instead of using corned beef, which only came to be used as a less expensive alternative to bacon by Irish immigrants in America.
  • The phrase "luck of the Irish" is also American-born. It came into popular use during the gold and silver rush of the late 1900s, when "lucky" Irish and Irish-American miners became rich and famous.

An old Irish saying goes, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: the Irish and those who wish they were.” That may be true, but for at least one day a year, everyone gets to celebrate like the Irish!

Your "Lucky Irish" Gift Guru
Linda

Good Luck Coin SetIrish Limping SignIrish Pub Cooking Set

28 February

Oscar Swag

Win, lose or draw, everyone will be a winner at this year's Academy Awards. What you won't see during the ceremony are the $80,000 "swag bags" presented to losing nominees. Unlike last year's goodie bags, which were derided in the press for being the "cheapest in five years," this year's "Everyone Wins at the Oscars" gift "bags" are rumored to contain some serious swag that won't fit in a bag.

Among the luxury gifts are some truly strange selections including surgical procedures like the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant or the O-Shot. The not-so-lucky celebs will also receive $300 worth of organic maple syrup (and a maple tree to go with it) plus a couple of posh vacations including a train trek through the Canadian Rockies, a villa stay on the island of Kauai and a Best of Las Vegas excursion, which includes a meet-and-greet with Boyz II Men.

Not bad for consolation prizes, eh? But Hollywood stars aren't the only people who love a good bag of swag. We "real people" love free goodies for no good reason, too. Now, I can't spring for elective surgeries, maple trees or tickets to exotic locales, but still I wondered: if I were to build my own swag bag for an Oscar viewing party, what might I put in it?

Your "Serious Swag" Gift Guru
Linda

21 February

A Little Light Reading

With Valentine's Day behind us, the gift-giving holidays are over until Easter. And with nothing to shop for, decorate or plan, this is a small part of the year when moms (and gift gurus) can squeeze in a little "me" time.

I like to read, but I don't get much time for it except in this little break between holidays and spring cleaning. So when some downtime rolls around, my favorite thing to do settle in for long winter evenings with short reads.

Some of my favorite short reads are collections. Cartoon collections, magazine article collections, collections of fun facts (or not-so-fun facts) and how-to collections can always grab and hold my attention. And this year, I'm trying something a little different: a scratch-and-sniff wine lovers' collection! So what do you read on your "holiday break?"

Your "Long Nights, Short Reads" Gift Guru
Linda

14 February

Shirley Temple's Service

During the Great Depression, Shirley Temple lifted America's spirits, singing and dancing her way into our hearts. During her heyday, she was the #1 actor in Hollywood. Clark Gable came in second. But many Americans might not know that we truly lost a national treasure when she passed earlier this week.

Shirley Temple Black was more than a talented kid with a dimply smile -- her service to America went far beyond entertaining a struggling nation. She first served her country as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, tackling refugee and environmental issues. Then Richard Nixon appointed her ambassador to Ghana and she later served as Gerald Ford's Chief of Protocol. In 1989, George Bush made her ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

She once remarked that Americans had a hard time accepting her role in political public service because they refused to believe that she had grown up since her movies. But that didn't stop her. By all accounts she was an accomplished diplomat with the political and social skills to navigate the international landscape as well as she had once navigated across a dance floor. She was well-respected and well-received wherever she was asked to serve. On and off screen.

Your "So Long, Shirley" Gift Guru
Linda