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Friday, August 19, 2016
As a self-appointed 'gift guru', a skill I acquired from my grandmother who had a keen mind for dates, I'm pretty good at keeping up with holidays. So imagine my surprise when one of my best friends presented me with a gift earlier this week in honor of National Friendship Week.

I was sure she was mistaken, but of course I couldn't point that out. It would have been rude. Besides, the gift she brought was a week's worth of my favorite chocolates. (Full disclosure: they didn't last the week!)

When I looked it up, I discovered she was right. At least according to some people. It seems there are about a dozen versions of Friendship Week across the globe and they all happen at different times. Which makes me feel a bit better as far as keeping track of the dates goes.

And since I still had a few days to pick out some fun and funny gifts for all my 'Besties', I didn't actually miss it — and neither did you! Whew!

Your "In Under the Wire" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, August 12, 2016
Have you been watching the Olympics from Rio? Although the games have been plagued by problems, including the Zika-carrying mosquito, reports of unsanitary water in the ocean and lagoons and now in the diving pool, and all those empty seats, the games have been just as exciting and competitive as ever.

Americans are doing well this year, so far bringing home medals in diving, fencing, archery, and gymnastics. But the swimmers took center stage this week. Katie Ledecky is a veritable machine, breaking her own world record and bringing home gold after gold. And Michael Phelps schooled long-time rival Chad le Clos, showing him that winning at trash talking doesn't earn you a medal. In fact, Phelps took home the gold in the 200m butterfly while the South African swimmer didn't even merit a spot on the podium.

Even through the controversies, which included dozens of athletes being banned for doping, the Olympic Games are still the best international competition in the world — no matter where they're held and no matter who wins. Though I must admit, as an American who can barely stay afloat on a pool noodle, it's fun to watch our swimmers pick up so much metal.

Your "Go For The Gold" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, August 5, 2016
"Melts in your mouth, not in your hand." 

You probably remember that famous M&M's slogan. It's one of the most famous, longest running and well-loved advertising slogans in the world of candies. But do you know why the Mars Candy Company adopted those famous words? The whole idea of candy-coated chocolates was inspired by a British candy making method that allowed soldiers to carry chocolate without it melting.

Now the candy-coated chocolate treat is celebrating its 75th anniversary with events across the country, a new flavor and what Forbes Magazine calls "America's Most Loved Spokescreatures". Earlier this year, the candy lovers were called upon to vote for their favorite new flavor, Honey Nut, Coffee Nut or Chili Nut.

Here's how you can celebrate with the chocolaty, nutty family of treats:
  • Pick up a bag (or two or three) of the winning M&M's flavor, Coffee Nut (the one I voted for, of course). If you can find them. Stores are having a hard time keeping them in stock!
  • Grab a to-go bottle. In honor of their anniversary, the candy maker is releasing all kinds of new M&M's themed bottles, including their own Spokescreatures and a series of eight X-Men bottles.
  • Join the fun on their Facebook page. You can catch a modern reboot of the song "Candy Man" with Zedd and Aloe Blacc, plus keep up on all the silly fun with M&M's spokescreatures. 
In honor of the little candy's role as a WWII ration, $750,000 worth of M&M's will be included in military care packages this year through Operation Gratitude. That alone is something worth celebrating!

Your "Coffee Nut" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, July 29, 2016
Did you know that Harry Potter and his creator share the same birthday?Author J.K. Rowling was born on July 31st, 1965 near Bristol, England. And though Rowling imagined Harry and his world of magic on a train on an unknown date in 1990, she decided to give the young wizard her own birthday.

Fans of the novels and movies have lots of reasons to celebrate with the author and the fictional character this weekend:
  • The much anticipated play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens at London's West End theater on July 30.
  • On July 31, the script will be published in book form. (But no, this is not the 8th novel in the Potter series, nor is it a prequel, according to Rowling's Twitter feed.)
  • If you get the channel Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family), you can watch a marathon of Potter movies starting this Friday. See the full schedule here
And though we still have a while to wait for Rowling's "new era of magic", check out the jaw-dropping early trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, released at last weekend's International Comic-Con:

Even for the world's most famous wizard and his creator, that's a pretty full birthday weekend.

Your "Happy Magical Birthday!" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, July 22, 2016
No, I'm not talking about Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller that made people all around the world fear birds for, really, no good reason. I'm talking about the little doves that nest up in the eaves of my house and make my life miserable.

Now, you know I love all animals and all wildlife, but when I can't cross my patio without stepping in bird droppings...that's when it comes down to a "me or them" situation. I'd never, ever hurt them, but I'm encouraging them to build their messy nests in trees. Where they belong, thank you very much.

While searching out resources on how to harmlessly remove the winged critters, I came across literally hundreds of other people with the same problem. So I thought I'd share what I learned and what works — or doesn't.

First, never remove an active nest. If you find eggs or baby birds, let the parents raise the babies there. But the minute they fly the nest, spring into action and get rid of it. You can do it yourself, but it's a nasty job that includes rubber gloves, long sleeves and even breathing protection. The clean-up afterward is even worse. I strongly recommend hiring a professional.

Next, you have to keep them from coming back 'their' home. It might take a couple of tries to figure out what works for you in your situation, but here's what I found:
  • Rubber snakes: People have hit-and-miss luck with this method. It seems to work for a while, but then the birds figure out the snake isn't real and just build around it.
  • Fake predator birds: Statues of owls, falcons, eagles will scare away smaller birds almost every time. This is working pretty well for me and my doves.
  • Mirrors: When a bird sees its reflection, it assumes another bird has moved into its nesting place. This method works well with smaller, non-aggressive birds (especially pigeons). But birds like cardinals might attack the mirror trying to drive out the competition, which can be dangerous for the bird (and for you) if the mirror breaks. 
Before you start, don't forget to look up local and state laws that protect certain species — especially migratory birds. Often the Fish and Wildlife Service will relocate a nest for you at no charge, so that's a great place to start. You can have a bird-friendly back yard without all the hassle of letting them build their nests around your house. But it might take a couple of tries to figure it out.

Your "Love my Doves" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, July 15, 2016
Monarch Butterflies in Central Mexico
I love good news and I love butterflies. So when I heard that the Monarch Butterfly is making a comeback, well, that made my day! This photo shows branches just dripping with the insects over a whopping 10 acres of woodland fields in the central Mexico mountains.

Every year the Monarchs travel over 3,000 miles to winter in Mexico and then travel back to summer in the United States. Their numbers had been declining drastically until about two years ago when they started to make a small comeback, covering a little over an acre and a half. This year, their comeback got a lot bigger, but there's a long way to go to get to 1996 levels when the pollinators covered 44 acres of land. (It's impossible to count all of them, so scientists measure their numbers in acres covered.)

North America, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico, is committed to helping the Monarch recover by reintroducing milkweed plants and banning pesticide use along their migration route and getting tough on illegal logging.  Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is encouraged by the "beginning of success", and plans to keep building on it year by year by year.

I haven't noticed an increase in my garden yet, but I'll be on the lookout. And if you want to help, you can plant some milkweed in your backyard and cut down on pesticides during migration season. It's a small price to pay to see these beautiful, royally-named insects gather in your garden.

Your "Butterfly Garden" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, July 8, 2016
One person turning 100 years old is remarkable, but when three close friends, born within months of each other in 1916 turned 100, it was time to celebrate!

Bernice Grimes Underwood, Gladys Ware Butler and Ruth Chatman Hammett met in church when they were just kids. That very church — the Zion Baptist Church in Washington D.C. — hosted their centenarian celebration, which was attended by a D.C. congresswoman, the city's mayor and their family, which included several great-great-grandchildren. Even Oprah Winfrey sent birthday greetings to the trio.

All three still speak to each other almost daily. And Ms. Underwood still loves to dance, "sometimes by myself," she said. Watch her do the "Electric Slide" in this video.

The three offered bits of wisdom to the younger generation: “Don’t talk back,” said Ms. Hammett. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Ms. Underwood advised.  But Ms. Barnes had only one word for youngsters: “Respect."

Your "Growing Old Gleefully" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink

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