The Lighter Side
22 August

The Ice Bucket Challenge

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

15 August

Brain Games

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

08 August

Lazy Day

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

01 August

3 Ways to a Cool Summer Kitchen

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

25 July

Celebrating the Mutt in Your Life

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

18 July

Rubber Band Woman

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

11 July

And The Nominees Are...

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

04 July

Laugh Long and Prosper

Professional improv man, Chris Crotty knows how to make people laugh. He's made a lifestyle of cracking people up and now he's traveling around California speaking to those who might actually need laughter in order to heal -- people with traumatic brain injuries. He believes laughter is a way of sharing and making connections -- and that's something the human brain craves.

He should know. He studied neuroscience and cognitive thinking at Stanford and now he's the General Manager at ComedySportz in Sacramento. People go to comedy clubs to cheer up, to make connections with others, to laugh and forget the stress of the day. Crotty says laughter is good for our bodies because the behavior evolved in humans as a way to signal that we're out of danger. So it automatically reduces our stress.

Laughter, Crotty says, comes from something that "can never happen in a lifetime, like a talking animal or chickens crossing the road." The element of surprise works our brains because the unexpected catches us off guard. The bigger the laugh, the better for us. When we fall to tears laughing, stress decreases and we're left with an overall sense of well-being and happiness. So, laugh hard, laugh freely and laugh a lot. It really is good medicine!

Your "Take Two Laughs and Call Me in the Morning" Gift Guru

27 June

Fabulous Flip-flops

Flip-flops are my favorite things about summer. First, flip-flops are the very best reason to treat yourself to a spa pedicure. But the very best part of flip-flop season is freeing my toes from the confinement of socks and shoes.

Love of flip-flops isn't a new thing, either. According to the Wiki, "Thong sandals have been worn for thousands of years, dating back to pictures of them in ancient Egyptian murals from 4,000 B.C." Cultures all over the world have been wearing flip-flops for centuries, making them out of everything from papyrus and palm leaves to rawhide and even wood.

Named for the sound they make when you walk, you can get flip-flops in every style, color and material imaginable. You can even get them with built-in bottle openers. But my new favorite pair is the grass flip-flop. It's like being barefoot in the grass -- without having to worry about stepping on something yucky or dangerous!

Your "Flip-flop, flip-flop" Gift Guru

Flip-flops bottle openerLife is better with flip-flops t-shirtGrass Flip-flops

20 June

Happy Independence Day

Fourth of July is just a couple of weeks away, but if you don't think you're ready, don't panic. The best thing about this holiday is its informality. You don't have to put on a big sit-down dinner, buy a new outfit or search high and low for the perfect gifts in order to put on a grand celebration.

Our ideal July 4th holiday includes a backyard barbeque with the neighbors, a few tasty drinks and a whole lot of fireworks. Since my dear husband does the grilling and takes the kids along for the fireworks shopping, I'm off the hook for most of the work.

If you need a few tips on what to cook, check out Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction, where you'll also find some tasty summer cocktail recipes. Are fireworks a no-no in your neighborhood? No problem. LED fireworks are big this year and there's no risk of fire or getting in trouble with your neighbors or local authorities. Whatever you do to celebrate America's independence, don't forget to fly the flag, stay safe and, most importantly, enjoy your freedom!

Your "Fixed for the Fourth" Gift Guru

LED Fireworks Grand FinaleLighted Wand American FlagFireworks Light Show Gun