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Friday, December 2, 2016
This year marks the 27th anniversary of National Lampoon's Christmas classic, Christmas Vacation. To celebrate, the film will return to the big screen this year at theaters around the country.

It's a favorite holiday classic around our house. We watch it every year and try to stump each other with little-known-facts and trivia about the movie. Here are a few new things I learned this year to boost my odds of winning the game this year.
  • Frank Capra III was assistant director on Christmas Vacation. Capra was named for his grandfather, who directed It's a Wonderful Life in 1946 - one of the most popular Christmas movies ever made.
  • Christmas Vacation was the last film Mae Questel made, who started her film career in 1930 as the voice of Betty Boop. She passed away at the age of 89 in January of 1998.
  • Only two Christmas movies were released for the '89 season: Christmas Vacation and Prancer. 13-year-old Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory was in both of them. 
  • Clark and Cousin Eddie drink their egg nog out of Wally World mugs, the theme park the Griswold family visited in National Lampoon's original Vacation.
  • We never actually see the Griswolds on Christmas Day - the film ends on Christmas Eve.
Now that you know, you can catch the film on the big screen with your friends and family - and wow them with your vast Christmas Vacation knowledge. 

Your "Yule Crack Up!" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, November 25, 2016
I have a love/hate relationship with my Christmas list. While I absolutely love shopping for THE perfect gift, my list never seems to stop growing!  Sometimes we want to give gifts to family, friends, co-workers, coaches, teachers, neighbors, hairdressers, mail carriers, sanitation workers, and even your pets, but you don't have time or budget to extend your gift list beyond immediate family and a few close friends, right?

So what's a gift guru like you to do?
  • Unleash Your Creativity: There's a lot to be said for homemade gifts. Christmas goodies on holiday plates are not only inexpensive, they're easy to manage along with the rest of your holiday baking. My son is making holiday cards and my daughter and her friends are making bracelets for each other this year.  
  • Think Decorative: Ornaments are an inexpensive gift that can be used year after year after year. And it's so easy to find a perfect ornament to suit that special someone.
  • Be realistic: It's no secret that times can be tough - especially around the holidays. You might have to curb your list a little bit, but you can still let those special people know they aren't forgotten. A steaming cup of cocoa or soup and a chat at the curb with your mail carrier or sanitation worker is an inexpensive way to make a difference - in their day and their holiday season. 
Before you let your list take over your happy holiday, check it twice. Maybe you can come up with some more ideas to get your list, your schedule, and your budget under control this year.

Your "Check It Twice" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, November 18, 2016
We probably all know about International Women's Day, right? But did you know that tomorrow is International Men’s Day? I think it's a great idea. It gives us a chance to think about and honor all the good men in our lives.

International Men's Day is fairly new. It started in 1999 in  Trinidad and Tobago. While the main purpose was to focus on male health, the holiday has grown to include aspects like demonstrating how men are positive role models, and improving gender relations and equality.

International Men's Day is celebrated in over 60 countries. Join the celebration by honoring the contributions men and boys make to their families and friends, their homes and workplaces, and their countries:
  • Find a celebration near you. IMD celebrations range from cookouts to sporting events and everything in between. 
  • Pick out something he'll like and surprise him by leaving it in his man cave. (Chances are he won't even know it's IMD!)
  • Take them out to dinner, or better yet, cook up a feast fit for a king!
Whatever you do on November 19, just remember to show the men and boys in your life how much they mean to you. 

Your "What A Man!" Gift Guru,
Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, November 11, 2016
Ever stayed in your pajamas all day long? It's perfectly fine until you get a delivery at your door. Or a neighbor drops by. Then all of a sudden you feel guilty, right? You feel like a "slob", a "slouch", or a "slacker", right? Well, I'm about to help you banish those feelings and learn to embrace your PJs even in the face of disapproving faces with three reasons why staying in your pajamas all day is a GOOD thing:
1. Comfort. Pajamas are comfy. That's why we sleep in them. But there's no law that says that once you leave your bed, you have to leave the comfort of your PJs. In fact, whether you're doing housework, answering emails, working on a craft project or just puttering around, you'll be more efficient if you're comfortable.
2. Environmentally Friendly. The fewer clothes you wear, the fewer you have to wash or dry clean. That means you use less water, less electricity and less soap. Besides saving money at home, you'll also save at the dry cleaners. A fine reason to leave your street clothes in the closet until you're ready to go out.
3. Style. Some of my cutest outfits are pajamas. I have soft floral flannels and lively plaids. Leopard prints and leprechauns. I even have a set of camo footie pajamas. I think I have about a dozen pet-themed sets. And I'm not the only one who thinks they're stylish. Designers are even making pajama-inspired street clothes (and charging a small fortune for them).
Now you don't have to feel guilty when the doorbell rings and you're still in your jammies. And if that neighbor or delivery person gives you a sideways look, tell them to talk to me. I'll set them straight.

Your "Perfect Pajamas" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, November 4, 2016
Have you ever wondered what your dog dreams about? What's going on in their dreams that makes them twitch, spasm, make running motions with their legs and even make noises?

My little fur baby once even barked herself awake! Then she looked like she was confused about how she got from wherever she was in her dream to her favorite spot on my couch. It was one of the funniest things I've seen her do, but it did make me wonder what she was dreaming.

Now, it seems, science has found the answer. Harvard psychologist Dr. Deirdre Barrett says that dogs dream about their owners. As the logic goes, humans, canines and other mammals have similar sleep cycles – a phase of deep slumber followed by Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

Dr. Barrett told People magazine, “Humans dream about the same things they’re interested in by day, though more visually and less logically. There’s no reason to think animals are any different. Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you.”

It makes sense to me since I dream about my dogs, too. And every now and then, I even jerk myself awake just like my little pup. But (I hope!) I don't bark when I do it.

Your "Dreaming of Doggies" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, October 28, 2016
The holidays are almost upon us, which means it's time to hone our rusty baking skills for the homemade breads, cakes, muffins, cookies we'll need to create a festive, fun and delicious holiday. With that in mind, I got out my trusty bread machine and got to work last weekend.

It's been a while since I did any baking, so I decided to start out with a "simple" whole wheat loaf and then work my way up to sweet breads and rolls. Unfortunately, my first three loaves turned out like the one at left. Sadly, my skills need a lot of sharpening. (After my son tried to slice this inedible brick of "bread", so do my knives!)

I figured I wasn't the only one who might be having trouble, so, I did some digging to find tips to use and share in hopes that the beginning of your baking season will be a bit more successful than mine. Here's what I found out:
  • Check the dough ball. If you use a bread maker like me, you miss the hands-on feel of kneading, which can alert you to problems with your dough. During the second kneading cycle, open your bread machine and take a peek. If it's dry and flaky, add lukewarm water a teaspoon at a time until the dough ball circles freely in the pan. If it's moist and shapeless, sprinkle in flour until the ball rounds out and is almost dry to the touch.
  • Whole wheat is hard. We all want to eat healthy whole grain breads, but it's hard to get them to rise and hold their shape because of the flour's weight and low gluten content. Choose a high protein 'hard' wheat flour or use whole wheat bread flour. Or, try the no-fail alternative: add vital wheat gluten. 
  • Fresh ingredients only. If your flour, salt or yeast have been around since last year, don't use them in your baking projects. This is especially important with the yeast and salt because they interact to make the bread rise and keep it from collapsing (as I learned the hard way). 
If all else fails, I know you can always buy mixes or refrigerated dough, but I wasn't ready to give in yet. After buying some fresh ingredients and diligently checking the dough ball, I managed to make one successful loaf last weekend. I wish I could show you, but after smelling fresh-baked, but inedible bread all weekend, the family took the knife to the loaf before I could get to it with a camera. I didn't even get to taste one slice before the whole thing disappeared!

I'll guess I'll just call that a success and move on to practicing holiday muffins next weekend.

Your "Better Baking" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, October 21, 2016
One day, out of the blue, Josette Duran's son Dylan started asking his mother to pack two lunches. She automatically assumed she wasn't sending him enough food to get through his school day. That wasn't it. Dylan had noticed that a boy at his school had only a fruit cup for lunch every day, which he ate by in a corner by himself.

It seems the boy's mother had lost her job recently and wasn't able to afford a complete lunch for her son. When Dylan told his mom the story, Josette Duran didn't hesitate to pack the extra lunch her son requested, including fruit, sandwiches, snacks, drinks and a little note that said, "Have a great lunch boys!" (The exclamation point was dotted with a little heart.)

One day, Ms. Duran was called down to the principal's office. There she met the student's mother, who had found a new job and wanted to thank Ms. Duran for feeding her son. She also offered to pay her back for all the food. Dylan's mom refused her offer. Then she took things one step further: the school volleyball team that she coaches donated $400 to the school cafeteria for other kids whose parents can't afford lunches.

In interviews with the press, Josette Duran says, "I don't think I did anything special." She's wrong. Because small acts of kindness lead to large acts of kindness. Because her little boy just asked for one extra lunch, now every kid at that small school in Albuquerque, New Mexico has a whole, healthy lunch to eat. Every day. And that's pretty darn special.

Your "Random Acts of Kindness" Gift Guru,

Posted by: Linda | 8:00 AM | permalink

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