Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bargain Shopping After the Holidays

Who doesn't like a good sale? I shop for sales after Christmas rather than before. I am not a big fan of "Black Friday" because of the mass amount of people who crowd the stores. Plus standing in four hour lines to HOPEFULLY get what you want just isn't appealing to me. I know a lot of people love it but I think the after holiday sales are better. You can find more bargains and you don't have to run or box out every other customer that is also trying to get the same deal. Me sprinting down the aisles to try and get to something before someone else isn't a pretty sight at my age, not to mention I don't feel like having a heart attack before the New Year. So, like I said I wait for the rush to pass on by and shop after Christmas. Believe it or not you can shop for next year and be done with your Christmas shopping a year early. I also like to buy birthday presents for the new year. I may even sneak in a sweater or two for myself since I am saving so much money.

Know What You Want Before You Shop
After Christmas sales are a great time to
buy next year's decorations.
What I usually do before I hit the after Christmas sales is make a list of people that I need to buy birthday presents for in the coming year. I also see if all my Christmas decorations and lights are in good shape. The worse thing is when you start decorating for Christmas and you open up your light box and realize you have a strand that doesn't work.  It seems like we are always looking for lights every year so I always buy a box or two after Christmas when they are 75% off at Target, Walmart, or Kmart. You can also find wrapping paper, bows, and greeting cards for more than 75% off.  I don't wait to buy any Holiday wrappings right before Christmas anymore and I have saved hundreds of dollars by doing this. Another secret place I loved to go to before I found all my outdoor Holiday decorations was Home Depot. I went there for a few years right after the Holidays to get all my big outdoor decorations. They always have a ton left over and you can buy big items for pennies on the dollar.

If you are buying birthday presents for the upcoming year here are a few tips to remember while walking through the shopping mall and big department stores. 
  • Teenagers can be a bit more trendy then most of us, so stick with scarves and sweaters for the girls and sports clothing for the boys. Those are things that are always in style.
  • Buy toys for younger children since they are constantly growing and their clothing sizes change quickly.   
  • Find some home decorations that everyone on your list will love. There are always great bargains. I've saved up to 60% off on candles, bowls, frames, and wall decor that the department stores are trying to get rid of to make room for the new products that are coming out in the Spring.
  • Hit the Clearance racks too not just the sales. You will find that there will be additional markdowns on top of the clearance prices. You can sometimes find clothing that is 90% off by the time they take off all the markdowns.You can't pass up that kind of bargain.

With the new year coming this can also put a damper on medical expenses. If you are like me, January means my deductible is back and I have to start paying for all my medical costs and prescriptions until my deductible is met again. I can't help much with bargain shopping there but what I can help with is making sure you get the FamilyWize discount for Rx's with your card. Don't ever go to a pharmacy without it.  

Marci Psalmonds
Contributing Writer

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Cheer—Local Food Banks

The holidays have that special way of reminding us that this time of year is a season of giving. Even if we find ourselves wanting or needing a little something extra this year, chances are that others could use it even more than us. The entire month of December—and sometimes even parts of November—offer the perfect setting and opportunity to get involved in charitable efforts aimed at helping others to have a more cheerful holiday. From local food banks to donating for shelter animals and even toy and clothing drives, you can find numerous ways to get involved in a good cause in your immediate neighborhood or local area. For some great ideas and links to volunteer opportunities, see our previous article, Volunteering for the Holidays.

The terms malnutrition and poverty may strike you as something suffered mainly by third world countries, but sadly, even folks in our own community are hungry or homeless and in need of a little extra help. I was very young, but I vaguely remember my mom volunteering at the food pantry when I was a little girl. From sorting food to making donations, men, women, and older children can all do their part in this special type of charity or community service. It only takes a few moments to do your part to help stamp out hunger in your local area. Can you spare a half hour to do your part?

What Is a Food Bank—Significance of Food Banks and Similar Programs

Soup kitchens, food pantries, and food banks provide those who are less fortunate with warm meals or the supplies needed to create their own. For anyone not familiar with how the process works, food banks and food pantries typically accept food donations and find other ways to obtain food at low costs. A soup kitchen tends to prepare and hand out hot meals while a food pantry or food bank will often distribute pre-packed bags of food to families and individuals in need, often as a result of generous donations.

A number of people can benefit from food banks and their nutritional provisions. Seniors and those on fixed incomes may benefit most from food donations, although lots of families and individuals down on their luck may also be in line to receive some rations.

soup kitchen
Organize a food drive in your
neighborhood to donate to
those in need.
According to Fundraiser Insight, food banks are desperately in need of more food and supplies this year. If you want to contribute above and beyond your personal donation, you can organize or participate in a food drive. Food drives can be especially successful when you indicate what types of food items are in the highest demand.

What Do Food Banks Need?

The food bank nearest to your home or place of work may have different needs than the next organization on the list. It can be helpful to do a little research before going out and buying things. To get started, you might consider calling your local food bank or food pantry to get an idea of what items they need.

Different food banks may have different policies, so be sure to check into any special needs and requirements before you begin your donation process. If you do go shopping, keep some key nutritional facts in mind. Those benefiting from your generous donations may benefit most from healthy foods, fruits, vegetables, protein-rich foods, and even some healthy carbs for energy. You may be able to donate all the components for wonderful meal ideas, like a turkey or ham dinner for the holidays, or more basic foods and snacks that will certainly help as well. Depending on the individual health needs of the recipients, you may find that the healthier food options make the biggest impact.

Fundraiser Insight  suggests donating the following items:

food bank
Charitable donations to feed the hungry
are a welcome relief this season.
  • Canned meats/fish
  • Peanut butter
  • Beans, peas and lentils
  • Soups, stews, rice, pastas, prepared meals
  • An assortment of cereals, canned veggies and fruits.
  • Milk products like canned evaporated milk and powder or dehydrated milk.
For more information about how to best tailor your charitable contribution to the needs of the food bank’s recipients, simply call the food bank location and ask.When in doubt, you can also make a cash contribution that will certainly go toward helping others in need.

How You Can Help

Every little bit helps and there’s definitely more than one way to feed the hungryFeeding America reports that a donation of just one dollar can provide eight meals! Consider doing your part to help in feeding America one mouth at a time.
  • Donate cash or groceries to your local food bank.
  • Host a food drive or volunteer your time with a community cause.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter.
  • Shop with coupons and donate the surplus of your great buys.
  • Donate your excess coupons to the local food bank, if they accept them. (Some food banks will leave out a bin for coupon collection.)
  • Talk to others about getting involved.
Many people also struggle to pay for prescription medications. Consider downloading the free FamilyWize discount prescription card and enclosing it in your holiday cards this year, or attach it to a gift. The opportunity to save money is always a welcome gift!

And last but not least, consider sharing this article to inspire others to do their part!

By Kathryn M. D’Imperio
Contributing Writer

Friday, December 14, 2012

Safe for the Holidays

Every holiday season, fires kill more than 400 Americans, injure 1,650 more, and cause approximately $990 million in damage. Although fires top the list of holiday hazards, there are plenty of other dangers during this time of year. What have you done to make yourself and your family safe for the holiday season? Use these safety checklists to ensure that everyone is able to ring in the new year, safe and sound.

What's wrong with this?
(image from blog.allstate.com)
For your home: 
As stated, your biggest concern should be fireproofing your home. Ideally, fire safety should be a priority year-round, but the opportunities for disaster multiply when Christmas trees, rogue holiday lights, candles, and extravagant cooking is involved. Don’t take any chances, follow these prevention tips from safetyathome.com:

  1. If you prefer an artificial tree, check to make sure that it is flame-resistant. Flame-resistance doesn't mean a tree can't or won't catch on fire, but it will help slow down the process and buy you time to get a fire under control.
  2.  If you have a real tree, water it daily. A well-watered tree is much less flammable than a dry one.
  3. Place your tree at least three feet away from any sources of heat, including the open flames from a fireplace or even a candle.
  4. Also, don’t put your tree in an area that would obstruct an exit in the case of an emergency. Safety first!
  5. Don’t use an electric decoration that is noticeably damaged! If it is cracked, frayed, or you can see the internal wiring, throw it away. Replace the item, if possible. 
  6. When buying a string of lights or similar decorations, check to see if the product has the “UL” mark, signifying that it’s been tested and meets the highest safety standards.
  7. Keep in mind that there are decorating ideas that don’t even use electric energy. These decorations are a safer and less expensive alternative.
  8. As always, check the batteries in your smoke detectors and review your escape plan with all members of the household. It may seem like a silly drill, but it could prevent life-threatening panic during a fire.
  9. Consider getting carbon monoxide alarms, too. It could save your family from a “silent killer.”
  10. Lastly, remember to consider the threat that a slippery, snow and ice-covered walkway presents to elderly people who may be celebrating the holiday at your home. Salt the walkway to prevent a disastrous fall.

S Holiday Pet Safety Tips
This may look cute, but it's dangerous.
(image from hulenhills.com)
What family would be complete without beloved pets? Specific holiday pet safety tips, like these suggested by the ASPCA, should also be on your checklist! 
  1. Christmas trees present a variety of dangers to the household pet. First, make sure that your tree is properly secured and won’t fall on top of an overly-curious furry friend.
  2. A secure tree should also prevent any of the tree-water from spilling. This mixture, a likely concoction of fertilizers and bacteria, would give your pet an upset stomach and diarrhea.
  3. Beware of tinsel. Sure, it’s cute to see the cat play with the shiny pieces like yarn, but there is a risk of ingestion. This could cause vomiting or an obstructed digestive tract, and may require surgery all of which are not cute.
  4. Keep your festive food away from pets and off of the floor. Chocolate and bones pose a particularly high danger upon ingestion. Cover the trashcan, and warn guests to be mindful of that danger.
  5. Even guests who are aware of checklist tip #4 might think it’s okay to give pets table scraps. Remind them that the pets are not allowed to eat human food, and offer to give guests pet-appropriate treats to share. Keep pets’ eating and exercise habits as close to normal in order to avoid holiday weight-gain (Yes, pets are subject to it, too!)
  6. Poinsettia and cats will it kill him? Actually, this is a myth. There are not enough toxins in the plant to kill your pets. However, this does not mean it is a healthy snack. Eating a poinsettia may cause an upset stomach or vomiting, so it’s best to keep this festive holiday plant where your pet cannot reach it.
  7. Holly and mistletoe pose the same mild threat. If you are hanging mistletoe, make sure it is secure and won’t fall into Fido’s lap.
  8. If you are leaving the room, you already know to extinguish any candlelight, right? A hovering tail over an unattended flame could pose a seriously painful threat to your pet. 
  9. Just as with the holiday food, make sure that adult beverages are out of reach from pets. Weakness, coma, and death by respiratory failure can all be tragic results from a pet’s ingestion of alcohol.
  10. Have a safe place for your pet to go if you are having guests. If the party gets a little too loud or busy, your pet might appreciate a space of his own.This will also prevent an accidental escape by the unknowing guest who forgot to close the door behind her.

by Amanda Gilmore
Contributing Writer 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tis the Season to Eat Healthy

Festive food alternatives for the holidays

I’ve often kidded with friends that the easiest way for me to watch my weight is to fatten my belly – to get it “out there” in front of me so I can more easily watch it. (Insert appropriately timed Santa’s belly gesture.)

While that line may be good for a chuckle (try it – it works), we all know how frustrating it is to lose all our hard-earned weight loss progress in the name of happy holiday feasting.

After all, what’s a few THOUSAND calories among friends…

Health experts estimate that the average adult gains about a pound of excess body fat every year. 

Just a pound. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

But do some quick math, and you realize that a pound a year means that those fit 18-year-olds are toting around an excess of 32 pounds of lard by the time they hit 50!

While that “slow creep” is what gets us, the National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCFS) has stats that lead me to believe that nearly all that annual weight gain happens during “the treacherous six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year,” as the NCSF describes it. NCSF cites a 2006 study indicating that we gain weight in proportion to our levels of obesity; that lean to normal weight individuals will gain about a pound during these six weeks and that those who are overweight to obese gain from 3-5 pounds, to as much as seven pounds of weight gain in the same six weeks.

We are what we overeat

The holidays bring on a mega-assault against our weight control efforts:
  • Getting’ junky with it – Many of us abandon our normal healthy diets to enjoy six weeks of holiday snacks and other “carbacious” delights. That kind of holiday joy can stick with you for the rest of the year, in the form of excess body fat.
  • That dreaded hyperphagia! You may suffer from acute voluntary hyperphagia – most of us do during the holidays. Acute voluntary hyperphagia is doctor language for “overeating.” No matter how healthy we eat, too much of a good thing is a heavy thing, weight-wise.
  • Stress! The NCSF reports that the heightened stress and emotion of the holidays may be even more to blame than just the presence of food. Our daily stress is more than in most other countries, but holiday obligations increase the psychological strain, between extra family and other social functions, as well as financial stress from the costs of the holidays.
  • Lack of sleepHoliday celebrations, and prep for same, often results in nights of less sleep. It has long been known that inadequate sleep (less than eight hours) negatively affects circulating insulin and ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite, leading to an increase in hunger response.
This all adds up to one common holiday recipe – the recipe for weight gain disaster.

But ‘tis the season, right?

Right, of course it is. No one wants to be the bah-humbug party pooper because they’re trying to avoid over-eating or junk food eating.

The good news is, you don’t need to be the food Scrooge this Christmas. Just follow a few smart holiday eating strategies and you can minimize or eliminate the common holiday button popping and belt adjusting.

Your circle of influence begins with you

You are in charge of you. There are ways to control your intake without pure dietary abstinence by substituting either the choice you make of treats or the quantity. 

For example, one of my favorite holiday dishes is sweet potatoes. If I’m going to go a little crazy, it’s better to do so on a solid complex carbohydrate like sweet potatoes rather than simple carbohydrate treats, such as candy corn (To get a better handle on what foods with carbohydrates are healthy, check out WebMd's article about the Glycemic Index). Another easy trick is to eat something healthy before you go to the party, filling yourself up on good stuff.

Maybe your circle of influence goes beyond your own intake. If you’re a guest of a holiday gathering and you are bringing food to share, choose wisely. Consider, for example, the health difference between a relatively healthy appetizer such as deviled eggs vs. deep-fried and breaded poppers; or a healthy carrot-and-celery-with-dip plate compared to potato chips and dip. By taking along healthier but celebrative alternatives to the gathering, you can be assured that you’ll have a low-calorie or low-carbohydrate option to snack on. 

And talk about influence – consider how much of it you wield if you’re the host or hostess.  While all carbohydrates have calories, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Check your carbohydrate calories to make sure you’re mostly getting complex carbs. You can cook up some wonderful alternatives to high-carbohydrate dishes, like a tasty mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes (recipe at LiveStrong.com). That’s an easy way to swap simple carbs for complex carbohydrates. LiveStrong also offers other creative ways to go for complex carbohydrates in your holiday dishes, like Turnip French Fries. While regular fries are far too high in carbs to be part of a low-carb diet, substituting turnips will lower both the calories and the carbs. By comparison there are 23.6 g carbohydrates and 105 calories in potato fries, vs. turnip fries (oven-baked with olive oil), which have only 36 calories and just 8.4 g carbohydrates in a comparative sized serving. Read more on this and other healthy cauliflower recipes at LiveStrong.com.

Gluten-free peanut butter pie, anyone?

A Gluten-Free Holiday Treat
Anyone Can Enjoy

Yes, even your holiday desserts can be healthier.  Here’s a recipe from a friend of mine Lisa McClellan. She designed it for runners, but it makes a tasty and healthy holiday dessert for just about anyone (i.e., being a runner is optional). Her Picky Bars Mini Gluten Free Peanut Butter Pie is a no bake, gluten free desert that’s easy to make and so tasty that none of your dinner guests will be the wiser: that it’s actually good for you.

Low-carb and low-calorie cocktail drinks

From a get-healthy perspective, it’s certainly better to avoid alcohol altogether. But if you are going to imbibe this season, there are simple things you can do to lower your calorie or carb intake. 
  • Drink “neat” or “on the rocks” – if you truly enjoy the taste of the alcohol, skip the carb- and calorie-rich sweet additives and just sip the alcoholic beverage straight up. 
  • Use a sugar-free substitute – ask for a rum and diet coke, instead of a rum and coke. Or if your cocktail calls for you to sugar the rim, use a healthy sweetener alternative like Xylitol, which still has some of that “crunch” you get with real sugar, but with far fewer calories and carbs.  And here’s one of my favorite low-carb mojito recipes that uses real limes and a sugar substitute.
  • Use smaller glasses – an easy way to cut out the bad stuff is to serve it up in smaller glasses.
You can get more low-calorie cocktail recipes and info at WebMD

Happy holidays, and may you enjoy them in moderation and with healthy substitutions.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is Video Gaming GOOD for Kids?

Surprising New Facts – Just in Time for Christmas Gift Giving

“Zack, what do you think you’re doing – it’s way past your bedtime. Turn off the computer and go to bed!”

“But, Dad, I can’t sleep, so I figured that—”

“Then read a book. Count sheep. Anything but getting your head lost in a video game. You’re too smart to be turning your brain to mush on all this gaming!”

Any chance you’ve had similar discussions in your home? 

This particular “script” is straight from the pages of our child-rearing days. My wife and I were sure that computer gaming and video gaming was destroying our son, turning him into a future aimless degenerate. 

But it turns out we were wrong. Less than three years later, our son was hired by Microsoft as a game tester! Which resulted in two things: A burgeoning career in computer programming for our son and a whole lot of egg on our faces.

Results may vary…

I’m not saying that letting your kids spend hours daily in front of gaming systems will necessarily result in a hire from Microsoft. And I suspect you may not want to arm your kids with any further “ammo” in favor of the gaming systems or latest video games that are taking over their Christmas wish lists. But I feel obligated to tell you that, indeed, there is a growing collection of evidence that challenges many long held parental assumptions, such as the belief that children will lose their competitive edge in life if they spend hours of their growing years lost in the world of video gaming.

Possible benefits of gaming

Before sweeping away the notion of gaming and game systems from gifting plans, consider the following.

Video gaming and social skills  

video games
Video gaming can encourage
social interaction.

Surprising stats from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reveal that gaming has evolved into a surprisingly social activity. The ESA's study 2012 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry shows that:

  • Sixty-two percent of gamers are engaged socially, either because they are playing with others in the same room or because of the online multi-player features of the games. 
  • Fifty-nine percent of parents polled feel that online and video game play has helped their kids connect with their friends.
More than ever, video and computers games are designed to be social – to be interactive with humans, not just machines. But beyond just togetherness, many computer and video games can aid in the development of social skills. Many online games are multi-player games, played with a community of other gamers, and played in a way that game success is only possible when the team’s individuals work cooperatively. And since many of the multi-player games require the assignment of leaders, the social games can aid in developing leadership skills.

What about violent games? Apparently, even they may be less harmful than previously assumed, according to the results of two studies from Ohio State University. While research has long established links between playing violent video games and aggression, these new studies showed that students who teamed up to play violent video games, later showed more cooperative behavior, and sometimes less signs of aggression, than students who were encouraged to play the games competitively.

Video gaming and physical development

Countless news studies and real-world experiences show that some video games can be physically good for you. Sure, computer games will rarely have the same physical benefits as having your children involved in sports such as soccer, track, or football, but many of today’s computer and video games are very physical, specifically computer games in the category of exergaming – video games that are also a form of exercise, made possible by using technology that tracks body movement or reaction. Some examples:
  • Most of the games designed for the Wii gaming system are physically active, as the Nintendo Wii system games interpret your body movement into game play through its handheld devices. 
  • Computer video games such as Dance Dance Revolution require intense physical movement, coordinating with eye/mental activity, to succeed. Some gamers have even reported significant weight loss through regular Dance Dance Revolution gameplay.
Recent studies by the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), a teaching institution and certification agency for fitness trainers, show that exergaming can increase metabolism, reduce insulin resistance, promote sodium-potassium pump activity, and burn calories.  Purportedly, some video games even serve as a springboard to the real sports that the exergames mimic and are even being encouraged by sports coaches.

Even non-exergames have physical benefits when they require hand-eye coordination and develop manual dexterity. Preschoolers studied by Deakin University playing interactive video games improved important object control motor skills, including catching, kicking, and ball-throwing.

Video gaming and intelligence

Some video games can develop mental skills, according to the University of Rochester.  Their studies show that those who play action-based games improved decisions making skills, scoring 25 percent better than non-gamers, both in terms of speed and accuracy. Other studies reveal that games improve the reasoning ability and problem solving skills.

Yes, there can be risks

Too much of even a good thing can be a bad thing, as they say. So maintain active parenting, watching the types and volume of games that occupy your kids’ time. Video game systems are not good babysitters; don’t let the game system replace good parenting.

As well, help them choose games that are age-appropriate by verifying the age rating for each game, as judged by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Their ratings scale:
  • E – games designed for everyone – i.e., considered safe for children 
  • E10+ – games appropriate for everyone over the age of 10
  • T – best for teens or older
  • M – for mature audiences over age 17
  • A – for adult audiences over 18 years old
Beyond ratings, here are a few other precautions you can take to reduce the risks.
  • Keep the online computer in a public area of the house.
  • Use caution with children gaming "after hours” unsupervised.
  • With multi-player online games, use “street smarts” – be aware that your kids can be playing with online strangers, with all the risks that an online chat room can have for kids.
Summary: If you’re on the wall about giving video games as Christmas gifts, choose the games and gaming systems wisely and you may be doing a good thing for your child.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Homemade Holiday Gifts

When I think of homemade holiday gifts the first thing that pops into my head is COOKIES. When I was growing up, my best friend's mom would make hundreds of cookies and give them out to all their friends and family. That is no exaggeration either; they really made hundreds. They had one room in their house during the holiday season that was just for the cookies. She had them piled up high from candy cane cookies to traditional chocolate chip. Along with the cookies were all different tins and containers to choose from. That room was heaven for us kids and of course we always provided our taste-testing expertise! I definitely had my fair share of cookies over the holiday season.  

Homemade holiday gifts are always a great way to show your extra love. Not to mention you can save a lot of money too. There is something about a handmade Christmas gift that makes you feel extra special. If you are giving a homemade gift you feel a great accomplishment of doing something by yourself and if you are receiving a homemade gift you feel extra warm on the inside because you feel special that you were thought of while the gift was being made. When I was growing up I always felt good when I would give my family a homemade ornament from school. The look on my family's faces when they received the gift was also a feel-good moment. They were always so excited to see my masterpiece.  
There are a lot of handmade Christmas gift ideas out there that can bring a smile to anyone's face. The key to making it special is to think of what you would like to receive as a homemade gift. Most likely if you think it is special so will the person who receives your wonderful gift. It can be anywhere from cookies to a handcrafted ornament.  What it really comes down to is the idea of being thought of. There are a lot of easy homemade gift ideas that can save you money too. You just need a little imagination and maybe a little help from the Internet to get the juices flowing. Here are my top 10  Christmas homemade gift ideas that are pretty easy and cost very little to make. I normally get all my supplies and ideas from local craft stores or even dollar stores. I like to wander through the aisles and see what kind of craft ideas I can come up with to make a great homemade Christmas gift. They also have crafts displayed that you can make yourself or use to get ideas.

Nothing beats a homemade gift for the holiday.

  1. Cookie In A Jar 
  2. Candle Jars
  3. Best Christmas Fudge
  4. Fabric Covered Boxes
  5. Personalized T-Shirt From a Child
  6. Homemade Memory Box
  7. Ornaments of all kinds -- You can make them from dough, paper, popsicle sticks, buttons, etc.... The most important part though is to add a picture to it. That is always a crowd-pleaser and you can't go wrong with it.
  8. Homemade coupon book offering services to friends or family, such as, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry for a week or shoveling snow.
  9. Memory Book  -- This is a great gift for a family member who doesn't live close to you. You can make your own memory book at half the cost of buying one through a photo company. It just takes a little more time and some creativity. You don't even need a book. You can buy some scrapbooking pages and instead of buying an expensive book punch holes in the paper and tie all the pages together with ribbon. It is very cute and inexpensive.
  10. Homemade Wooden Signs -- I make these every year and they are a great Christmas present. I get the wood from a local hardware store where I can pick through the odds and ends. You can get them very cheap and they come in all different sizes. You may even get lucky and look around your house and come across some old wood that was left over from a do it yourself project. Paint or stain the wood whatever color you like. Next search around for good sayings to put on the wood. Once you have figured out what you want to say go to your computer and make a sign.  I use my printshop program but you can use any kind of program that has lettering.  Pick the font and size you want and print out. Before printing though make sure you check the "Print reversed for iron on transfer box." This will  print it backwards. What you want to do next is take the paper and put it on the board so the ink side is on the board and you are looking at the back of the paper  Make sure it is lined up correctly and then rub the lettering onto the board with a pen.  It will leave a light shade of lettering for you so you can just paint over it. This is much easier then stenciling and comes out nicer.

Homemade gifts that they will cherish forever.
Happy holiday shopping and may you be able to save a few dollars over the Christmas season.

Marci Psalmonds
Contributing Writer

Monday, December 10, 2012

Saving Your Change - Dollars and "Sense"

pennies worth
A penny saved is a
penny earned!
Did you ever wonder just how much you could save if you started saving all those loose coins from the washing machine? I am always pulling out quarters or dimes and nickles from the bottom of my machine. Some years ago I started putting them in a can just because I didn't want to carry all that weight around in my wallet. I believe in a penny saved is a penny earned! I still have that can and it weighs about ten pounds now. I have yet to count it all.....I like surprises!!
In days gone by, pennies actually could buy something.  I am old enough to remember "penny candy" from the local grocery stores.  They had bins full of little bits of sweetness for sale for just a pennies worth or two!  Of course, it was displayed right at the eye levels of many of the eight year old customers! Unfortunately, those treats have long disappeared from the shelves due to current health and safety requirements of the grocers. But it could still pay off to save those pennies and other coins if you want to treat yourself to something else down the road. 
change counters
Turn your pennis worth into cash!

Some people think that saving their change is a complete waste of time. But it can actually be a great way to save some extra cash, and I think you might be surprised just how fast it can add up to some real money! I will concede that it is harder nowadays to save your change as so many of our purchases are made with debit and credit cards....thus no change! However, the banks have gotten in the game and started a similar program through your online banking programs. They will round up your payments and then put your "change" in a savings for you. 

A Treasurer Chest of Savings!

You might set up a "Mom's Savings Jar" and have everyone in the family drop in their loose change every chance they get. It could be used as a vacation fund or family night out fund, so the whole family might benefit from the little extra effort. Another great idea would be to let the family pick a favorite charitable organization to donate it to when it gets full. This can be a very rewarding experience for the kids and mom and dad. It could be donated to a childrens' Christmas Fund during the holidays. If you start your savings jar in January and keep "donating" to it all year, by the time December rolls around you will be amazed at just how much you might have in your stash! 

You could use your change for the kids' lunch money each week or extra gas money, if needed. We all know how the higher prices of gasoline have hit our pocket books lately! It might ease the pain just a little to know you have a little extra to count on. 


One thing that I have found is that it is harder to get the paper type coin rollers these days. We used to be able to just ask the bank for extra rollers, but so many now use plastic wrappers that are rolled by change countersOh, but for the good ole days!!! However, you can find the coin wrappers at some of the dollar store chains and at some banks. It is really kind of fun to sit in the middle of the floor with a pile of coins as you roll them and anticipate just how much you will end up with. Of course some banks and super markets have change counters where you can pour your change in and watch it be counted. Some make it a little contest where you guess how much you think you have, and you win a prize for coming within a certain range.

This is actually a good way to teach kids how to save money.  They can start filling their piggy banks for something they might want to buy for themselves down the road.There are also websites set up to help you track your savings such as www.savingyourchange.com. They make it a type of game and offer information on saving and investing if you are so inclined.

And don't forget that if you need to save money on prescription medications, download the free FamilyWize discount prescription card and save an average of 30 percent at the pharmacy. Over $400 million has been saved nationwide. That's a lot of savings!

So save that change and make it count. In these tough economic times turn your loose change into cash and make every penny count!

Cindy Foley
Contributing Writer

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor

The most memorable day in United States History - Pearl Harbor Day - December 7, 1941

Japanese aircraft during the bombing of Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941

On December 7, 2012, we will remember one of the most significant days in the history of the United States of America. On this day 71 years ago,  the US became a participant in the European Conflict later to be known as World War II. Our involvement began as a result of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the home of the Pacific Fleet in Oahu, Hawaii.

We honor those killed in the attack that hit just before 8:00 AM on December 7, 1941, that is now known as Pearl Harbor Day. This attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy was intended to neutralize the US Pacific Fleet so that Japan could advance its military into Southeast Asia without threat from the US. 

World War II
Pearl Harbor attack.

Surprise Attack - December 7, 1941! 

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took the US by complete surprise.  The United States military commanders felt that if Japan were to attempt an attack on US soil, it would come in the form of submarine warfare.  They didn’t believe that Japan had the firepower in their Air Force to accomplish such a feat. The US commanders had placed battleships and other vessels along with aircraft close together around the Oahu military installation, thinking it was enough protection to ward off such an attack. They didn’t believe that Japan’s air power was strong enough to sustain a prolonged attack overseas.  Looking back, it is easy to see just how wrong our military was at that time. 

Japan’s air force had no trouble reaching the US port in Hawaii. Just seven minutes after the attack President Franklin D. Roosevelt was notified of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He immediately ordered a formal investigation into the surprise hit, and then he addressed the shocked nation the following day. This began the United States war with Japan.

In May of 1940, President Roosevelt had ordered the American Fleet out of San Diego, California, to go to the Hawaiian Territory which then placed US naval power closer to the British interest.  FDR felt that this was a “vital” move to help our European allies, while serving as a naturally protected safe haven for our fleet. 


The intensity of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan crippled the Pacific Fleet before anyone really knew what had happened, leaving the US with inoperable anti-aircraft guns. The attack destroyed 188 US planes and put the US Pacific Fleet almost out of commission. Along with the loss of our air power and ships, the attack on Pearl Harbor left 2,403 Americans dead.  Of the 360 planes launched by the Japanese only 29 were lost and only 64 Japanese soldiers perished in the attack. In one well planned air strike on our military installation in Hawaii, the United States became an active participant in what was to become World War II.  On December 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. The attack itself was said to have "awoken a sleeping giant."  Japan was an ally of Germany in the European Theater and, therefore, provided the incentive for the US to get involved in this conflict. 

USS Arizona - Memorial
at Pearl Harbor, HI.
The USS Arizona, one of the ships sunk on that dreadful morning, is known as “ground zero” for the US involvement in World War II. The remains of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed aboard that ship still lie at the bottom of the ocean on the island of Oahu. This memorial is visited by more than one million people annually who wish to pay their respects to the sailors who gave their lives serving our country as well as those who fought for us in World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in world history."  This is a day to think about all those who have gone before us and the sacrifices they made, and think of what happened in our past.  We will never forget them. Hopefully, we can learn from those dark days and honor their sacrifices and live our lives with a more peaceful vision of our future.

Cindy Foley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quin-what? Quinoa!

gluten free
Quinoa seeds image from mensfitness.com
If you've never heard of quinoa before now, you’re probably thoroughly confused at the moment. If you already know about this energy-boosting complete protein, you’re probably a fan of all it has to offer. The list isn't a short one, either; quinoa has bragging rights to numerous healthy qualities. Do you know all about quinoa nutrition?

Lesson One: Rewind! What is quinoa?

Quinoa is a seed, technically, but is eaten and prepared as a whole grain. Quinoa is from the same family of vegetables as spinach and beats. It grows in mountain air 10,000 feet above sea level and poor soil, so quinoa stalks come from a tough plant. Through even extreme weather, quinoa stalks grow up to about six feet and can produce an entire cup of seeds. Equivalent to about the size of a sesame seed, a quinoa seed can be found in a variety of colors but store-bought quinoa is typically white. Specifically, quinoa can be purchased at natural food stores and occasionally the well-stocked organic section of your local grocer.

Lesson Two: Why should I even care about quinoa?

To start, vegetarians capitalize on it as a complete protein; it’s packed with all of the amino acids necessary to meet nutritional protein levels. Quinoa is also a friend to celiac patients and others who abide by a strict gluten free diet. And the list goes on. Nearly everyone can appreciate the fact that its high levels of Riboflavin boost energy levels and metabolism, and that it contains nearly twice as much fiber as most grains. To top it off, quinoa is a good source of iron, calcium, manganese, copper, lysine, and magnesium.

Lesson Three: You've got my attention! But how can I prepare and eat this super-food?

Luckily for you, quinoa is known for its versatility. It can be incorporated into so many different types of meals and snacks. There are quinoa salads, quinoa soups, curried quinoa— the possibilities are practically endless. It can easily become a staple in your kitchen. However you incorporate it into your diet, the first step to cooking quinoa is always the same.

Quinoa is covered with a bitter, natural coating called saponin. This taste will ruin even your best quinoa recipe if not thoroughly rinsed off. Fortunately, quinoa bought within the United States has usually already been rinsed and dried before it’s on grocery store shelves. To be sure, always rinse off quinoa before cooking or let it soak for five minutes in cold water. After the rinse, you can dive into either of these fine recipes with quinoa for your first venture into all that is quinoa.

Winter Fruit Salad from

Ingredients (for 6 servings):

1 1/3 cups quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
2 kumquats - seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Bosc pear - peeled, cored and chopped
1 cucumber - peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup trimmed and coarsely chopped watercress

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa and water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat stirring often, until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and cool completely.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the kumquats, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Steep for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, pear and cucumber. Add the dressing and toss well. Add the watercress and toss again and serve.

Vegetable Quinoa Winter Soup from

Ingredients (for 8-10 cups): 

1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup red quinoa, uncooked
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
Quinoa soup image from eatchicchicago.com
1 zucchini, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups diced tomatoes,  juice included

1 can aduki beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp curry powder
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped

1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
pinch of saffron threads

  1. Heat oil in large soup pot. Add onion and saute over medium heat until soft. Add carrots, zucchini, and garlic. Saute for another 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add vegetable broth, tomatoes, quinoa, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer for  20 minutes.
  3. Add spinach, stir, and cover. Simmer for another 30 minutes. As with all soups, the longer you let the soup simmer and set, the more flavor the soup will develop.
Amanda Gilmore
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Television - How Much is Too Much?

I would like you to take a moment to think about how many hours of television you watch on a daily basis. One hour a day? Five hours a day? Chances are, you are watching too much television.

The issue with watching too much TV is that you begin to develop a sedentary lifestyle. According to Dictionary.com, sedentary is “characterized by or requiring a sitting posture,” or “accustomed to sit or rest a great deal or to take little exercise.” Essentially, we have a bad habit of sitting on our butts too much and being lazy.

life expectancy
Watching too much television encourages a
sedentary lifestyle.
You may be asking yourself “what is so bad about being sedentary?” I too enjoy a night cuddled up on the couch watching the newest episode of Sons of Anarchy, but in doing so I am exposing myself to the negative effects of watching television. A recent study, conducted in Australia, has shown that individuals who are over the age of 25 shave 22 minutes off of their life expectancy for each hour spent watching TV.

Headed by Dr. Lennert Veerman, he and his colleagues reported their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study was based on an average of six hours of TV viewing per day, compared to a person who watches no television. Using data from the National Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, the research team generated life expectancy tables based on the viewing habits of the average Australian.

The research claims that sedentary behavior is as bad for your health as smoking and obesity, due to the dangers created by prolonged inactivity. Watching too much television puts you at risk of developing the same health complications as the aforementioned. A previous FamilyWize blog, Is Sitting Bad for Your Health?, reveals more about sitting and life expectancy.

sedentary lifestyle
Some effects of watching television are
eating unhealthy snacks!
Think about it. When you are settling down for the night and tuning into Dancing with the Stars, you usually grab a snack and a drink. This would be fine, but most of us aren't going to slice up an apple and wash it down with a bottle of water. Instead, we scoop a bowl of our favorite ice cream, or opt for that desirable bag of sour cream and onion chips from the cupboard. We pair it with a soft drink or perhaps a nice, cold beer. These items are full of calories and contain high contents of fat. This process becomes subconsciously habitual and the long-term negative effects set in. Diabetes. Heart disease. Cancer.

So next time you are ready to sit down and indulge in a calorie-laden junk food fest, think about the possible unhealthy side effects. The affects of watching too much television and living a sedentary lifestyle may not be immediate, but that does not make them any less real. The choice is ours. Do we want that extra hour of TV, or 22 minutes to truly live?

Sedentary behavior
Get Active! Use TV to play WII or exercise.
Healthy Alternatives - Get Active!

Go for a walk/run
Do some yoga
Take a bike ride
Go for a swim
Use Wii, or Xbox

Food for thought - Healthy Snacks

Fruit smoothies
Cheese with a glass of wine (just one, don’t get carried away!)
Nutty yogurt
Celery with sunflower seed butter
Peanut butter on a banana
Homemade trail mix

Derek Slichter
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Volunteering for Holidays

If you take the time to think about words like “giving,” “volunteering,” and “charity,” a slew of quotes and phrases may come to mind. It is better to give than to receive. A season of giving… You may even remember a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.” This is a good reminder for us all – every little bit does make a difference. No matter if we are speaking in terms of charitable donations or hours volunteered at local charities and support organizations.

Volunteering for the holidays can be a heartwarming activity by yourself or in the company of friends or family. First, think about this question – What is volunteerism? What does volunteerism mean to you? Perhaps visions of volunteering at a soup kitchen come to mind. Maybe you see yourself helping to organize a charity gala or other big benefit.

Places to Volunteer Your Time and Talents

If you are wondering how you can get started or where you should volunteer your time, you are not alone. Many of us want to do something, but we don't know where to start.

Some great places to volunteer, especially around the holidays, include:
  • Animal shelters
  • Food banks
  • Homeless shelters
  • Hospitals and medical centers 
  • Orphanages
  • Senior citizens centers and nursing homes
  • Soup kitchens
  • Toys for Tots and similar programs
Additionally, some meaningful community service efforts may be another way for you to get involved in the well being of your community and  areas. Consider cleaning up parks, roads, and public areas, serving as a mentor, or even giving your time through a program for underprivileged children.

If you are still looking for ideas in your local area, check to see if you can find a volunteer network to connect you with a cause or a group in need. Volunteer Match and Great Nonprofits are online services that can help you find a charity or important cause where you can volunteer your time and assistance in your area.

A great way to find volunteer opportunities is through the United Way. Give, Advocate, Volunteer. With its network of over a thousand community based United Ways, they are able to coordinate individuals, communities and businesses to work together to make stronger communities and a stronger world. If time is your concern, remember that you can also volunteer online through the United Way.

community service
Volunteer with the Red Cross.
Helping Our Neighbors in Need

Just a month ago we suffered through one of the greatest storms on the upper East Coast due to the high winds and heavy rains of Hurricane Sandy. Many families were without power for days, if not a week or more. The American Red Cross and the Humane Society NY and NJ work to gather supplies to help disaster victims, families, individuals and pets, make it through these tough days until their power is restored and their homes are repaired. These organizations need volunteers, supplies and water.

community service
Pets make great
volunteers for the elderly.
Another way to contribute time is to help an elderly neighbor clear away debris from the storm, or assist with other small tasks that may be too difficult for an older person to handle. Make the time to visit shut-ins and the elderly in local nursing homes and hospice care units to bring a smile to those who may be lonely or depressed.

If your family has a dog and you have some free time on your hands, you might also consider training your pet as a therapy dog. These well-trained, friendly canines bring joy to young children and senior citizens alike.

It’s Never Too Late to Lend a Helping Hand

My first memories of volunteering date back to high school at Bethlehem Catholic, where we had to satisfy 20 hours of community service to graduate (or perhaps it was every year – the memories are just a bit fuzzy). My friend and I coached a little league soccer team and I also tutored younger kids to help them in school. I am sure I volunteered at other points, doing other things, but these are the most memorable occasions.

If you have a hospital near you, you might also be able to serve as a medical volunteer. Food and clothing drives can also be meaningful ways to volunteer time and energy.

Even if you only have a little time to dedicate, your actions speak louder than words. Giving an hour or two of your time once or twice around the holidays to help those less fortunate… the emotional rewards are greater than any holiday gift you can buy.

By Kathryn M. D’Imperio
Contributing Writer

Monday, December 3, 2012

Protecting Family-National Toy Safety Month

New Toy
Always inspect your child's new toy for any dangerous parts.

December is National Safe Toys Month, which is perfect timing since some of you may be wondering what kind of Christmas presents to get a special little person in your life this year. 

Whether it's your own child, a grandchild, niece, nephew, or just a family friend you may want to check into what is age appropriate for that child. Most toys have recommended ages listed right on the box to help you decide what is age appropriate. It's important to pay attention to this information because a toy can cause harm to a child if it isn't intended for their age. 

With thousands of new toys coming out every year we can get a bit overwhelmed with what toys are appropriate for each age group. The best way to find out about a new toy is to read reviews to help you understand what it is and if it fits your child's age. This can be time consuming; and, if you are like me, time is what you are lacking the most during the holiday season! But in the long run it will be well worth it.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that consumers should be aware of lead hazards in some toys. Imported toys as well as toys made in the US can contain lead hazards. For instance, the use of lead in plastics is regulated in the US, but it is not completely banned. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issues recalls on children's toys that are unsafe. 

Choosing Toys With Safety In Mind

Kidshealth.org lists some tips to keep in mind when shopping for safe toys for kids. 
  • Stuffed or fabric toys should be washable and flame-resistant.
  • Look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) seal on electrical toys. This seal will tell you if it has been tested for safety.
  • Look for toys without sharp edges and small parts. 
  • Painted toys should say lead-free on them.  
  • Make sure toys are labeled non-toxic.
Safety Solutions For Old and New Toys
  • Always check used toys to see if there are any hazards.  A toy may end up with a sharp edge due to a child breaking it or a splintered edge if it is a wooden toy.
  • Read all of the instructions and explain them to children. This can be tedious but after running a preschool/daycare, I've seen children turn things like a hoola hoop into a lasso to round up his friends and a shovel instantly turned into a sword. Making sure kids understand how the toy should be used could avoid injury later.
  • Keep toy shelving safe. Make sure your child can reach their toys safely and that the shelves are sturdy so they don't collapse when a child is reaching for a toy.
  • Keep their toy chest safe. Make sure there are no sharp edges. The lid should be light and have a hinge that catches so it can't slam down on their fingers. There should also be some kind of ventilation since a lot of kids love to play hide and seek and this is always a favorite spot for them.
I owned and ran a preschool/childcare over the past twenty years and I have seen a lot of toys come and go.  I decided to make a list of toys that I have noticed are played with the most and are the safest. One of my favorite toys for kids are the Little People products by Fischer-Price. They are safer for little ones because they are chunky with no small parts and they really keep a child's interest. 

new toy
Toys without small pieces and sharp
edges are safer for small children.
BabyCenter.com lists the types of toys that are appropriate by age group. They also give numerous tips for picking out the safest toys for your child. For example, they advise to avoid toys that contain small magnets. The CPSC named magnets as the number one hazard for children in households. If a child swallows two small magnets, or a magnet and a small piece of metal, the two objects can attach to each other and cause a blockage in the intestine, or cause twisting or pinching of the intestinal wall.

Picking a toy shouldn't be that difficult but in this day and age it has become a tough thing to do. Since 1970 there have been 1,500 hazardous toys that have been removed from store selves. Manufactures, distributors, and retailers have a legal responsibility to make sure they aren't selling dangerous toys. Although toys are inspected thoroughly there are still some toys that slip through the cracks. We may not know it poses a safety issue until someone gets hurt and there is a recall. The number one way to make sure a toy is safe is inspect it yourself.  Keep your child safe this Christmas and the whole year by always inspecting old and new toys. 

Marci Psalmonds
Contributing Writer