Time to Sparkle!
Holiday Party Season
I confess, I am obsessed with the winter holiday season. I’m always sneaking in decorations early, hoping only I notice that there are pinecones along with the pumpkins. It’s a great time of year to put together a capsule wardrobe so you will be ready for any special holiday event. Whether your get-togethers are cozy home events, work-related, or all-out dressy, there is something this year that will make you feel festive.
Sequins are all the rage for the 2023 holiday season and can be incorporated into all your outfits, both casual and dressy! If you want to sparkle but aren’t ready for head-to-toe sequins, I recommend a black top embellished with sequins. Always classy, a black sequined top looks great with jeans for a casual vibe or with a long black skirt for a work party. Even under a black tailored jacket, a little sparkle adds a fun vibe.
Another way to wear sequins that works for any festive occasion is a straight, knee-length pull-on sequined skirt. Simply add a solid black top, black tights (tights and leggings are back for winter) and black shoes or boots. It’s an easy and very effective party look! For a more casual vibe, add a bulky sweater with booties, tall boots, or athletic shoes. For a work event, add a black blazer. For an all-out dressy event, add a white satin blouse and black pumps. When wearing sequins, the secret is to keep the rest of the outfit very simple—let the sequins be the star.
Metallics are also important this season. Both gold and silver fabrics scream fun holiday fashion. Again, the key to pulling off this shiny look is to keep everything worn with metallic fabrics very simple and basic.
Designers and fashion sites have been pushing the sheer look for the past couple of years. But how do you wear it? I personally love the look of sheer flowing sleeves. It’s a way to go with the trend without being too revealing. A top with sheer sleeves can be worn in so many imaginative ways! Wear it under a vest for a cool juxtaposition of tailored and flirty. Layer it under a sleeveless jumpsuit or dress.
The predominant holiday color this year is easy-to-wear, always-flattering black. Dressing head to toe in black is the universal formula for looking taller, slimmer, and more urban. Want to grab some attention? Wear winter white and get noticed in the sea of black! The winter white snow bunny look is so refreshing and elegant. Pair a white cashmere sweater with white wool blend pants and you will look perfectly chic. Add some pearl earrings to underline this look of elegance and sophistication.
Don’t forget to shop in your own closet for holiday clothes! You don’t know what you need until you know what you already have. There are lots of ways to create an uptown vibe with a downtown wardrobe. For example, take your black leather moto jacket or jean jacket and combine it with a solid-color, feminine skirt. I saw this done with a sheer black flowing skirt and a jean jacket, and it was spectacular. Add some sparkly jewelry to top it off. I am so glad the simplicity in jewelry is over and we can celebrate chunky gold pieces and sparkling crystals again!
We have always thought of certain fabrics for evenings and deemed them too fancy for daytime. Maybe this is the year to break your own rules! Wearing something that shines, glitters, or shimmers takes the boredom out of basics and creates a glow. A fun way to find new outfit ideas in your own closet is to arrange your clothing by color instead of by type of item. It’s fun to mix up your seasonal clothing into new outfits.
Accessories are a key element of holiday dressing. Maybe you want to wear your basic black ensemble but feel like it needs a little something extra. Dress it up with a fabulous sequined handbag or go for the gold with chunky gold jewelry. One sure way to turn up the volume on your outfit is to wear red lipstick. Yes, lipstick can be an accessory. Tone down the eye makeup and turn up the lip color for a big impact.
Take some time to make yourself feel special this holiday season. We know we are happiest when we feel confident about how we look. Pay some attention to yourself this season to make sure you feel like your best self when you enter a room. Let’s enjoy the wonderful world around us as we welcome the holiday season. Happy holidays!
Editor’s Note: Holly has been in the fashion industry for over 30 years as a buyer, boutique store owner, visual merchandiser, and fashion show producer. She is currently the owner of a modeling agency. Holly regularly appears on local TV doing fashion segments.
By Holly Bell
Holiday Festivities and Joy—Let’s Eat!
Morning Honey Casserole
Sauté 1/2 pound of cubed ham with a cup of diced onion and a cup of diced green and red pepper for 4–6 minutes. Add a few dashes of black pepper and a pinch of thyme. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and add 4–6 chopped-up croissants. Spoon the ham mixture on top. Mix 6 eggs with 1 cup of Half and Half; pour this on top of the ham mixture. Sprinkle on a cup of grated pepper Jack cheese and a cup of grated white cheese. Push the croissants into the liquid. You can refrigerate overnight or bake immediately at 350 degrees for 45–50 minutes until bubbly and cooked through. Rest the casserole for 10 minutes before digging in.
Oven Baked Crispy Bacon
Mix 2/3 cup of brown sugar with 3/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Spread 1 pound of bacon slices onto a cookie sheet (use a rack or line with foil). Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the bacon. Bake at 350 degrees for 25–30 minutes.
Sausage Biscuits with Gravy
In a stockpot or large skillet, melt 1/4 cup of butter. Whisk in 1/3 cup of flour. Add 3 cups of warm milk and whisk together. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the gravy is smooth and thick. Add seasonings as desired—salt, black pepper, seasoned salt, etc. Serve with cooked sausage patties and warm buttermilk biscuits, or chop the sausage into bites and add it to the warm gravy.
Mix 3 cups of pomegranate juice (or fruit punch) with 1 cup of orange juice, 1 cup of pineapple juice, and 1 bottle of sparkling apple cider or lemon-lime soda. Mix and pour over ice. Alcohol optional.
For the streusel topping (make this first): Mix 1/2 cup of flour, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour in 4 Tablespoons of melted butter and a dash of vanilla.
For the muffins: In one bowl, whisk 2 cups of flour with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, a pinch of cloves, 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In another bowl, mix together 3/4 cup of buttermilk, 1/3 cup of molasses, 1 stick of melted butter, 1/4 cup of oil, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 egg, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and lightly combine.
Divide the batter into paper-lined muffin cups. Sprinkle the streusel mix over the muffins. Sprinkle with a bit of sanding sugar or turbinado, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 20–25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. When done, remove to a rack to cool.
Buzzy Overnight Waffles
For the waffles: Mix 1 and 1/2 cups of milk, 6 Tablespoons of melted butter, 2 Tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 2 eggs. Add 2 cups of flour and one packet of instant yeast. Stir well. Refrigerate overnight and make waffles in the morning.
For the buzzy apples: Core, peel, and slice 4–6 apples. Place the apples in a zip-top bag with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and 1 ounce of whiskey (or amaretto, or rum, or orange juice). Refrigerate for several hours. Sauté the apples in 3 Tablespoons of butter for 15–20 minutes, until the fruit is fragrant and tender. Serve with the waffles.
White Chicken Chili
Put 2 Tablespoons and 1 teaspoon of butter in the bottom of a stock pot. Add 1 cut-up onion, 1 stalk of celery (diced), and 1/2 of a carrot (diced). Cook until fragrant—5 to 10 minutes. Add 1 clove of minced garlic and cook for another minute. To the pot, add 3 cups of cooked and diced chicken, 1 can of chicken broth, 1 can of tomato-chili mix (like Rotel), 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of cumin, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of chili flakes. Stir. Add 2 or 3 cans of white cannellini beans. Simmer for 1 hour in the stock pot (or put everything in a slow cooker on low for 3–4 hours). Stir occasionally. Add 2–3 cups of shredded Jack cheese and 1 cup of sour cream—or serve this on the side. Combine and heat through.
Chicken Velvet Soup
Melt 3/4 cup of butter in a stock pot. Add 3/4 cup of flour and mix until smooth and bubbly. Mix together 1 cup of warm milk, 2 cups of warm chicken stock, and 1 cup of Half and Half; pour this into the flour mixture. Whisk until smooth. Cook until it thickens. Add 4 more cups of chicken stock and 2 cups of chopped cooked chicken. Season as desired with salt, pepper, onion powder, or garlic powder to taste. Heat through.
Standing Rib for Four
Smear a small (3 pounds or so) standing rib roast with a bit of mustard and a generous amount of cracked black pepper. Place the roast on a roasting rack surrounded by sliced onion, carrots, and garlic cloves. Make a few slices into the meat and insert slices of fresh garlic. Let it come to room temperature (should take about 1–2 hours). Pour 1/4 cup of beef broth or water into the bottom of the pan. Bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn down the oven to 325 degrees and roast until the thermometer in the roast shows you’ve reached the desired internal temperature—about 130 degrees. Tent with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. Make au jus or gravy, if desired.
Peel and chunk-cut 5 or 6 potatoes. Boil until tender. Drain and let sit for 5 minutes. Pour in 1/2 to 1 cup of warm milk and add in whatever fixin’s you want, tasting along the way: sour cream, chives, minced garlic, cream cheese, cottage cheese, any type of grated cheese, salt and pepper, herbs.
Christmas Jewel Cookies
Mix 1 cup of soft butter with 2/3 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix in 2 cups of flour. Refrigerate for one hour. Portion dough into 1-inch balls on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Make an indentation in the middle of each ball with your thumb. Fill the indentation with seedless jam in the flavor(s) of your choice. Sprinkle with nut dust, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 12–16 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Cool. Remove to rack.
Editor’s Note: Kate has been an Omaha area culinary instructor since 1997. She attended The Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha.
By Kate Beiting
Sagittarius November 21 – December 21
There is a lot of clutter in your life. Getting rid of that which no longer serves a purpose is a good way to start clearing your space and your mind. Clean out closets. Give things away that you don’t use. It is time to make room in your world for some magic that is just about ready to happen.
Capricorn (Dec. 21 – Jan. 19) Sometimes you get so caught up with the routine that you forget to stop and smell the roses. You might have a long journey ahead of you in this life, but if you are not enjoying the trip, why bother to travel? Take time to explore the byways of life.
Aquarius (Jan. 19 – Feb. 19) Relax this December! Let go of the controls. You are creating your own barriers with impatience. Life wants you to have all that you desire. Everything will get done when it is time for it to be done.
Pisces (Feb. 19 – March 21) Fall in love with yourself again. Discover those things you have been longing for since childhood. The answers you seek could come in a dream, so start a dream journal. As you write down your dreams, you will be writing messages from your heart.
Aries (March 21 – April 20) This month, take a leadership role and allow your talents to shine. Expand your consciousness in exciting new ways. Wake your inner child and try something new in your playtime.
Taurus (April 20 – May 21) Demands from others are just too much for you right now. Spiritually, you are feeling more connected to your own life’s mission. It is good to know that you are making the right choices in your personal development.
Gemini (May 21 – June 21) Your own personal vision quest may be your journey this month. Take courage and plunge into undiscovered territory. You will find that life is getting better and better.
Cancer (June 21 – July 23) You have waited long enough for someone else to take the initiative. Things will only happen if you dare to take action! Reach for the possibilities.
Leo (July 23 – August 23) This is your month to step up and be counted. Love and relationships are more about communication at this time. Listen carefully to your loved ones, even if they sound a bit critical.
Virgo (August 23 – Sept. 23) Recent happenings might have you in a tailspin. You may need to restructure some relationships to make them more productive. Trust your intuition!
Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22) Get back into the swing of life this month. Call up old friends. Reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Accept and extend invitations. You will find love by giving to others.
Scorpio (Oct. 22 – Nov. 21) Spontaneity should rule this month. Take a risk and begin a new adventure in a way you have never tried. What you find will delight you!
A Woman's Work
Learn the Facts
Old wives’ tales, urban legends, tall tales. Myths go by many names, and we’ve all heard them… stories that have been passed down through time, often with cultural, religious, or historical significance. In most cases, they stem from a nugget of truth (or a misunderstanding). I’ve discovered some recent fictions that I thought were facts. Have you heard these ones?
Bulls are angered by the color red. When a matador waves a red cape, it incites a bull to charge, right? In fact, bulls (like other cattle) are partially colorblind and can’t distinguish the color red. It is the movement of the cape, not the color, that triggers the response.
George Washington had wooden teeth. Our first president did have false teeth. They were composed of ivory, gold, lead, and even other human teeth, but not wood. This myth probably emerged because his false teeth were stained.
In the days of Christopher Columbus, everyone thought the world was flat. According to historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, “with extraordinary few exceptions, no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed the Earth was flat.” When Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he knew the Earth was a sphere. What he didn’t know was that there was a giant land mass on the path west from Europe to Asia.
The Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure visible from space. This tall tale most likely developed as an attempt to convey the grand scale of the wall. NASA images prove that dams, bridges, highways, and many more structures can be seen from space.
Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis in your hands. When I was a child, it drove me crazy when my friends cracked their knuckles. I had heard that the practice would lead to arthritis, and I told them so, hoping they would stop…which they didn’t. Luckily for them, cracking your knuckles doesn’t actually increase your risk of developing this painful joint condition. The noise comes from collapsing gas bubbles in the joint.
Bats are blind. Bats can see just fine. A bat’s flight pattern is often more erratic than a bird’s, and that may have led to the misconception that they can’t see where they’re going. In actuality, they are navigating by echolocation—they make sounds that are too high-pitched for human ears and listen for the echoes to locate their prey.
Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Actually, this happens quite often. Some locations and structures are far more likely to be struck by lightning than others, especially if they are much taller than their surroundings.
The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th. The Continental Congress approved the resolution on July 4th, 1776, but delegates did not start signing the actual document until August 2nd of that year.
Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day. This actually celebrates a specific military win. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army defeated France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations begin on the evening of September 15th and commemorate the call to arms against Spain issued by Mexican leader Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in 1810.
Fortune cookies are a Chinese invention. When I go to a Chinese restaurant, I love opening a fortune cookie. Interestingly, the fortune cookie is not Chinese. The creator was Suyeichi Okamura, a Japanese immigrant who ran a confectionary store in Northern California in the early 1900s. When Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II, Chinese Americans took over the fortune cookie industry.
Brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs. The color of an egg’s shell is determined by the type of chicken that lays it. Brown eggs are no healthier than white eggs.
Peanuts are a type of nut. Peanuts do not grow on trees, like nuts. They grow underground and are part of the legume family, like lentils and chickpeas.
The odds are always 50-50 in a coin toss. Stanford University researchers proved this myth wrong in 2007 when they flipped a lot of quarters and found that a coin was slightly more likely to land on the face that it started on. The researchers put your actual odds at closer to 51-49, so pay attention to which side of the coin faces the sky when you make your call!
We only use 10 percent of our brains. This myth may stem from a metaphor—that humans are often not fully engaged in the world around them. It doesn’t actually mean that the brain is not functioning. Modern brain imaging shows us that most parts of a healthy brain are active at all times.
By Deborah Daley
Inspire Joy This Season
Be Magic, Merry, and Bright!
Spike your holidays with the magic and wonder of the season, and joy will follow! In between warmth from the crackling fire in the hearth and the scent of peppermint spices wafting through the air, many of us will indulge in family traditions, plan and attend holiday parties, seek the best gifts for family and friends, and—I hope—make some time for ourselves! Planning is just as important as spontaneity. Decide when to clear your schedule, work out a plan for crowds to gather, ponder gift ideas, and then sit back and bask in whatever the glow of the season brings you.
Most people in the United States participate in a variety of much-loved winter holiday traditions, including exchanging gifts, gathering with family, enjoying holiday foods, and attending religious services. Let’s illuminate our hearts and homes this season and make every day joyful! The holidays are busy, and your calendar might be full. That’s all the more reason to focus on bringing joy to yourself and others.
If you haven’t made a holiday budget yet, now is the time! Consider how much you’re able to spend on gift-giving and party-hosting. Having a spending plan helps you lower stress during the holiday season and avoid the stress that over-spending brings on after the holidays.
When you’re making your budget, don’t forget to include donations to a good cause! If you have a soft spot for a particular charity, donate your dollars there. If you don’t have a favorite already, donating money, food, or time to a local food bank is a pretty good bet. Whatever makes your soul sing will ignite a happy heart for you and for the cause. The act of giving connects us to the community, reducing feelings of isolation that may pop up during the season. Giving creates good cheer and lots of hope.
Don’t forget the concept of surprising a stranger—a genuine smile, allowing someone in line to go ahead of you, patience with others who may be struggling. If someone needs a compliment, give them one! During those blustery cold days and nights, open the door for others. Joy will follow!
Let’s talk about planning holiday parties during the season. From budget-friendly at-home celebrations to the glitziest of shindigs, start the plan and send out invites early. Ideally, guests need 30 days in advance of the party date, and email invitations are completely acceptable. For parties at home, be sure to clear the entryway and tidy up living areas. If you need help preparing your home for guests, consider hiring a maid service for a single clean (or a double—one before the party and one afterwards!).
Place Bluetooth speakers throughout the house for festive music. This time of year, the newest album from many recording artists will be a Christmas album, but your playlist doesn’t have to be all Jingle Bells. Jazz, blues, rock, classical—choose your music to suit your guest list and the mood you want to have at your party.
Prepare the holiday menu a few weeks early. If you’re not up for cooking and storing, catering will zap stress levels, allowing you more time to enjoy the party. What’s served on the table makes for an unforgettable party and is a great way to bring joy to your guests. Choose from less expensive drop-off catering or full service with kitchen staff, bartenders, and servers. Caterers and party rentals often set up tables, chairs, plates, and napkins. Reach out to those on your guest list for food allergy considerations, and then hire, eat, and relax.
Of course, you can have the party at a separate venue. Move your holiday party from home and you’ll often gain more space for a bigger guest list. Some venues provide food, drinks, live music, and service. They’re often responsible for cleanup, too. The joy of not cleaning up after yourself and your guests is often worth the bigger price tag.
Consider giving your holiday party an unusual or unexpected theme. Plan a Grinch-mas party (you heard that right). Go with a Nutcracker theme, a Harry Potter masquerade ball, a Hawaiian Christmas Luau, or a winter beer tasting. Make a point of inviting some new people to your holiday celebration. A friend who is not a part of your religion might enjoy participating in some of your religious holiday traditions…and maybe they’ll return the favor and invite you to theirs! Diversity is joyful, and learning about what other people hold close to their hearts is a meaningful way to bring people together.
Celebrate old traditions and create new traditions that bring family and friends close together. Enjoy a dive into family photos, or step away from the memories to create new ones. Get outside of your comfort zone and dance under the twinkle of Christmas lights. Dancing in the snow is acceptable and will likely bring joy to the neighbors watching you from indoors. Enjoy new family games with the kids, create new boundaries for everyone specifying relaxation time, or have a family discussion with a new perspective on what the holiday season means to each member.
When it comes to holiday gifts, consider giving yourself and your family the gift of an experience rather than a material box. Connect to your spiritual side by attending a new church for holiday celebrations, create abundance with thoughtfully crafted homemade gifts, or build new merry and bright memories that will inspire for seasons to come.
Like to move? Take the family or friends to a winter dance class. Don’t worry, beginner classes are common, just be sure you have the right shoes. Go on a Christmas lights tour on a party bus (book early) or gather in your own vehicle and make a night of it. Stop along the way for fancy hot chocolate and you’re on your way to rejoicing in the experience. Spending time together is the best gift of all!
Of course, the colorful sparkle of wrapped presents still brings joy. The key to giving great gifts is paying attention to what is going on in the lives of the people on your gift list. They probably won’t just volunteer gift ideas during the holiday season, but they might talk throughout the year about books they’ve enjoyed, a restaurant they want to try, a place they want to travel, or an item they’d love to have at home. Taking note of these things gives you an opportunity to get a gift that is a truly thoughtful surprise and is something they will enjoy using. That’s a great way to spread joy.
How about a coffee table book that is keyed to your loved one’s interests? Travel photos, baby animals, home design, wild horses, vintage cars, musical instruments—whatever they’re interested in, someone has probably made a lovely coffee table book about it. For people who love to stay home and read, how about a book by their favorite author, some cozy wool slippers, and a scented candle? Music lovers might enjoy new headphones, tickets to a live show, or a book about their favorite band. Gardeners can get a little down when it’s too cold to work in the yard—how about a low-maintenance plant in a bright ceramic pot? Unique jewelry and clothing from your favorite local boutique works for just about everyone (including you).
Many publications track bestsellers for kids and grandkids that will set their hearts aflutter. Top hits this year include the new Crayola Light-up Tracing Pad or Magic Mixies Magical Misting Crystal Ball. Brainteaser games like Kanoodle are a TikTok pick, while a Cake Pop Maker will inspire potential future bakers. Check out popular lists from major publications for the best take on gifts and where to find them.
Want to get away this holiday season? It can sound overwhelming to plan a vacation while you’re also planning holiday parties and shopping for gifts, but it will be worth it! You’ll have time to relax after all the festivities. Or book a trip as a gift for everyone, and your holiday shopping is done! Consider the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, or Hawaii for a spot in the sun under a palm tree. A trip to a big city in December will charm your group with festive lights and merry music. Whatever you choose, the journey and the destination are sure to bring joy. Cheers!
Sources for this article included:usnews.com, bhg.com, and cftsap.com.
By Janette Calabro
A Spa Package
The Gift of Time for Yourself
If you’re looking for a great holiday gift idea, a spa package definitely fits the bill. Give someone you love the gift of time for themselves in today’s hectic world. A spa experience requires no storage space, provides no unwanted calories, and won’t sit on a shelf, collecting dust.
There are mix-and-match options to suit every need, from mani-pedis to full-day packages, for both individuals and couples. Popular choices include facials, massages, body treatments, or even refreshments and lunch. Expect to spend around $50 to $250, depending on what’s included in the package.
A manicure or pedicure is a great place to start. It’s more than just a nail trim and polish! Today’s mani-pedis often include exfoliating scrubs, hydrating massages, paraffin hand dips, and oil-infused foot baths. Chocolate lovers can enjoy a chocolate foot soak while indulging in a decadent piece of dark chocolate. The wine lover can have their feet wrapped in a grapeseed oil mask while sipping on a glass of chardonnay. A margarita girl can soak her toes in a lime bath, followed by a sea salt scrub and a shot of tequila!
Facials are one of the most popular spa treatments. Basic facials clean, rehydrate, and rejuvenate the area of the body that is most exposed to free radicals and the elements. Beyond the basics, an antioxidant facial utilizes creams and masks enriched with vitamin A, vitamin E, and beta carotene, all of which fight those free radicals. Paraffin facials place layers of paraffin-soaked gauze on the skin to soften and seal in moisture. Light therapy facials are one of the newest trends. Light therapy uses LED lights around the face to stimulate skin rejuvenation. These facials can help heal sun-damaged skin as well as improve the appearance of rosacea or dermatitis.
Who doesn’t love a massage…especially after surviving the hectic holiday season? A massage relaxes muscles, relieves stress, gets rid of knots, and can help with chronic pain. Swedish massages utilize broad strokes up and down the body, focusing on specific regions. Hot stone massages help relax tight muscles by placing warm stones at strategic locations on the body. A deep tissue massage is an intense massage, targeting muscle knots. Shiatsu is a Japanese technique where pressure is applied to multiple areas, holding each one for several seconds. Reflexology applies pressure to reflex areas of the feet and is especially wonderful for someone who stands for long periods of time.
Current massage trends include a crystal healing massage or a gold massage. Crystal therapy works by placing gemstones on chakra centers around the body, helping to realign the body’s energy, relieve stress, encourage relaxation, and assist with healing. Different crystals have different associations. For example, amethyst is known for helping with equilibrium, rose quartz promotes peace, and clear quartz balances energy flow. A gold massage uses gold to stimulate circulation and promote deep cellular growth. It helps discharge waste from the skin and slows down the signs of aging.
A couple’s massage makes a great gift. These aren’t just for romantic partners! They can be for besties, sisters, platonic pairs, mothers and daughters—any two people who want to relax together. Like other massages, a couple’s massage can include soothing music, aromatherapy, and candles. Refreshments like champagne are often included. They’re also individualized. You don’t have to get the same massage; you just get to enjoy your massage together! One person may just want to relax, while the other may want a more therapeutic treatment. Or one person may have shoulder tension, while the other may want to address a post-surgery area. Each half of the couple will get the massage they choose.
One of the newest spa experiences is known as a sound bath. Sound baths utilize sound to activate certain nervous system reactions, which is meant to reduce stress and anxiety. These sessions incorporate Tibetan singing bowls, rain sticks, chimes, gongs, and tuning forks.
Good spas often know how to serve a good lunch. For solo spa-goers, lunch can be an enriching part of the experience in more ways than one. While some prefer a little me time, others may turn the opportunity into a chance to meet new people who also enjoy the spa experience. Some spas offer innovative healthy menus designed to make you look and feel your best before you leave. Others offer indulgent menus that are perfect for enjoying celebrations and time with loved ones.
This holiday season, give the ultimate gift of relaxation and rejuvenation. Treat someone on your list to a refreshing spa package. They’ll get the me time they want and the luxury of being pampered.
Sources for this article included: healthline.com, linkedin.com, and skinmds.com.
By Loretta McCollum
Please, Just Listen
We All Want to Be Heard
How many times have you come home from a long, challenging day, wanting nothing more than to have your spouse listen to you? You don’t want advice. You don’t want solutions. You simply want to be heard.
“Do you need me to just listen, or do you want me to help you brainstorm what to do next?” — John Gottman
This question is a brilliant way for couples to start ANY conversation. So often, when we begin listening to our mate, our brains go into fix-it mode…I know Manny’s does! What this means is that we actually stop listening to the other person. It also may mean we are giving our spouse the exact thing they don’t want or need. They just want us to listen.
“People don’t listen to understand. They listen to reply. The collective monologue is everyone talking and no one listening.” — Stephen R. Covey
Communication—healthy communication—takes a commitment from both partners. Learning what our partners need and want from us in a conversation will help us both be tuned into the same channel. When we are both tuned into the same channel, we feel loved and respected.
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” — Bryant McGill
I’m not saying this is easy. Being able to focus and give our partner our undivided attention can be a challenge. It means putting the phone down. It means not interrupting. It means looking them in the eye. It helps if you sit and hold hands. That physical connection will help us to drown out the chatter that we all have running through our brains. The payoff, though, is a stronger connection and relationship where our spouse feels loved…and heard…and respected. You’ll feel that way, too.
I remember when I first met Manny, eleven years ago. I would constantly interrupt him…and everyone else I had conversations with. He would tell me how disrespectful that was to people. I truly didn’t get it! For a while, I thought he was just being overly sensitive. Then I began watching how Manny interacted with people. All people. The servers at restaurants. Customers at retail stores. Drive-through staff. Family. Friends. I began to notice how others reacted to his level of respect. I thought I’d try it. Amazing.
Asking your mate what they want and need from your conversation will make a huge difference in how you feel about one another. Your trust and your love will grow. That is all good.
“In love, listening is an art, and the canvas is your partner’s heart.” — Anonymous
By Janet Van deWalle
Holiday Stress is Here!
How Are You Going to Handle It?
The winter holidays are nearly here. What we hope will be a time of joy, good cheer, and love with family and friends often becomes a season of stress. How do you handle it?
I decided long ago it was easiest to identify the problem and determine if I can do anything about it. If I can, I do; if I can’t, I let it go. Most of the time, the stressor is a case of “What if…?” What if grumpy Aunt Edna starts complaining and spoils the fun? What if Uncle Charlie and Uncle Ed start arguing again? What if the cousins start a row? What if something happens to put a damper on the festivities? I’d say ahead of time: “This is a happy time. Please leave your troubles and differences at home. If you can’t do that, then please decide not to come. We will miss you.” Worries we bring on ourselves pop up all the time. We just need to be proactive and learn to handle them.
Having teenagers and young adults around for the holidays might present problems. They think they’re grown up, and we still think of them as children. This isn’t a pleasant situation for anyone. What can we do to establish a new relationship and avoid possible conflict?
Make time for them when you can be alone together. Maybe it will be over coffee in the morning or fixing a meal or wrapping gifts…whatever time or activity allows time spent getting reacquainted. You can ask questions, but respect their privacy. Don’t judge. If they share their frustration with a class or a friend, encourage them to tell you about it. Having a conversation where you talk with each other, sharing memories, stories, problems, or ideas, is much nicer than constantly giving (or getting) advice.
Interaction is the key. Talk to the kids like you want them to talk to you…with respect. Let them know what you expect of them while they’re at home for the holidays. It’s a courtesy to let you know when they’ll be gone, whether they’ll be around at mealtimes, or if they’ll be bringing a guest. We used to leave notes for each other. Today, most of us do this electronically. Remember, you’re setting an example for them when they have kids of their own.
Young adults want to sort things out for themselves. If you’ve let them solve problems on their own over the years, they’ll be in good shape now. Trust that you’ve done a good job. Let the kids know you’re proud of them and what they’re striving to do. A little praise goes a long way! You’ve been teaching them to make sensible decisions and choices. By that, you’ve encouraged independence. They’ll make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how people learn, and kids are people, too.
Editor’s Note: Marge has three children, two grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews. She holds advanced degrees in education. Her life’s mission is to teach everyone that kids are people, too.
By Marge Shoemaker, BS, MS
Interiors By Design
Give the Gift of Better Living
The Best Smart Home Gift Ideas
As tech becomes more integrated into our daily lives, smart devices are everywhere. What began with smart phones and smart watches has evolved to smart devices that span the entire household. With the holidays just around the corner, a smart home gift is a wonderful way to give your loved ones a life-enhancing gift that they might never think to buy for themselves. Let’s check out some of the best home tech gifts for 2023.
Smart home devices offer enjoyment, place convenience at your fingertips, enhance energy efficiency, and provide safety and security. With so many devices on the market, how do you decide what makes a good smart home gift? Consider something that fits into your loved one’s lifestyle. A smart refrigerator, for example, is a welcome gift for busy families. A smart fridge reduces waste and saves money by keeping track of food, letting you know what you have and when it will expire. Sensors and cameras inside the fridge track when food is removed, making it easy to know when you need to restock. A smart fridge paired with your home assistant enables you to remotely check inventory and create and send a shopping list. It can even provide recipe ideas based on what’s in the fridge so you’re never stumped for meal ideas!
What makes an appliance smart? It can be app connectivity, home assistant connectivity, or inter-appliance communication. A smart microwave, for example, offers all the features of a regular microwave plus more. Simply connect to your personal assistant or smart phone app to give your smart microwave a command—you can even get a microwave that responds to verbal commands! From defrosting seafood to cooking a casserole to perfection, a smart microwave takes the guesswork out of cooking with built-in sensor-cook technology. Let the smart microwave do the cooking while you do the eating! Even better: you can open the door to retrieve your dinner by simply waving your hand in front of it!
A smart washer lets the dryer know what type of load has just been washed, allowing the dryer to pre-set itself to the correct cycle. Other smart washer features include sensors to detect the soil level in a load, so it can set the appropriate cycle length and dispense the optimum amount of detergent.
A smart range connects to your home Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth, allowing you to control the oven and range from anywhere in the home. Additional premium features include internal cameras to keep an eye on what’s cooking and the ability to heat two areas in the same oven to different temperatures. What a boon to holiday cooking!
Show a loved one you care by giving them a robot that can clean their floors…and then clean itself. A robotic vacuum eliminates loud noise, the hassle of maneuvering a heavy machine, and the tripping hazard of a cord. With powerful suction and brushes, a robot scoops up dust, dirt, and pet hair from carpet and hardwood floors. This super smart device can navigate around obstacles in the home, and it even returns itself to the charger when it’s done cleaning.
We all enjoy the glow and excitement of the holiday season, but the dark days of wintertime that follow cause many people to slow down and suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Lighting technology has come a long way, with fixtures and home systems designed to mimic the color of sunlight throughout the day, helping to balance our circadian rhythm and promote better mood and higher quality sleep. The gift of well-being can brighten your loved one’s days with lighting that can be conveniently managed through apps.
If you’re looking for a tech gift that strikes a sentimental chord, grandparents, aunts, and uncles might enjoy a digital photo frame. It’s easy to set up, even for the tech novice. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection to add new photos from near or far (once uploaded, photos can be enjoyed without internet connectivity). With the touch of a button, a digital photo frame brings family members together from across the country or across the world.
Gamers might enjoy upgrades to their controllers, charging docks, or graphics cards. Be sure to check with family members in the know before you buy so you get something compatible with what they already have.
Smart home devices truly are the gift that keeps on giving. Every time your loved one follows a recipe on a smart display screen, saves money on their energy bill thanks to that smart thermostat, or turns on connected lights with a simple voice command, they’ll think of you fondly!
Sources for this article included: consumerreports.org, houzz.com, and hgtv.com.
By Robyn V. Powell
Happy Holiday Decorations
Trends for Cozy Holiday Décor
With fall coming to a close, it’s high time to start thinking about winter holiday decorations! You may already be known in your neighborhood as a decorating champion, or you may be trotting out the same old string of multi-colored lights to clip on your gutters like you have since the beginning of time. Either way, incorporating some of this year’s holiday decorating trends can bring a festive change to your home!
We are seeing a definite departure from the loud, gaudy holiday décor of yesteryear. Instead, trendsetters are going for a more natural, understated look by replacing glitter and tinsel with greenery and pine cones. The popular aesthetic this year is more of a “serene winter” than “holly jolly holiday,” and we’re here for it. Interior design experts suggest taking inspiration from classic Scandinavian and Nordic décor, using neutral tones and soft textures. The idea is to find decorations that match your home’s already established color palette rather than pasting a bunch of bright colors on top of everything. The natural aesthetic is great for all elements of holiday decorating, and that includes things like putting out simple, farmhouse-style table settings and beautiful floral centerpieces for your holiday parties.
An excellent source of natural holiday decorations that you may not have considered is your local florist! What better way to add natural, earthy décor to your home than to get fresh greenery and poinsettias from the flower shop? This is also a great spot to get some holiday decorating inspiration. Florists often come up with original arrangements every year, and these can be an excellent source for fancy centerpieces or any number of other holiday decorations.
Before you rush out to buy all the fresh greens you can fit in your car, you may need to consider other members of your household—namely, small children and pets. Some of the classic holiday plants, like poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly, are poisonous to dogs and cats. You’ll need to keep these dangerous plants away from your furry friends or find safer alternatives.
Though not poisonous, live Christmas trees can also pose a hazard. Pets can become sick after ingesting pine needles or drinking tree water, and both pets and small children are often tempted to grab at tinsel, low-hanging glass ornaments, and cords, all of which have the potential to cause injury. Fortunately, most of these hazards are easily prevented with a little planning. You can choose artificial trees and plants, hang ornaments out of reach, or even just put a gate around your tree.
Kids and pets aren’t the only ones who need to keep safe this holiday season! Adults can also fall victim to accidental harm or injury. The Red Cross recommends keeping candles on a sturdy surface and blowing them out when you leave the room, checking all your light cords for frays or breaks before plugging them in, turning off lights and decorations when you’re not at home or are asleep, and removing hanging decorations on the mantel before lighting the fireplace. Tree safety is also important. Artificial trees should be labeled as fire-resistant, and live trees should be fresh and well-watered. If you’re going out of town, you’ll need someone in place to keep a live tree from drying out into kindling.
Many people choose to leave the decorating to the pros, especially when it comes to outdoor lighting. Professional holiday lighting companies will start installation as early as October. The earlier you call, the more likely you are to find discounts on service, but they will still be doing installations through late December, so it’s not too late! Professional lighting installers will do everything from house and roofline lights to tree and bush lights to permanent lighting. They’ll often offer packages based on the size of your property, and you usually have several light decoration styles to choose from. Hiring a professional has the benefit of being safe and hassle-free (the pros will most likely have a team of people and extra-tall ladders) and the added benefit of being able to change out your lighting style every year by renting decorations instead of buying.
Whether you choose to fully replace all of your old holiday décor with new items or want to keep it simple and reuse sentimental items you’ve had for years—or some a combination of the two—experts say the most important goal for holiday decorating is to make your home feel nice and cozy. It may be cold outside in most parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t warm up your home with holiday decorations!
Sources for this article included: bhg.com, flowershopnetwork.com, be.chewy.com, and redcross.org.
By Anne Yankus
To Your Good Health
Take Back Your Life!
Close to 60 million Americans over the age of 12 years have used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs in the past year, and 25 percent of them suffer from addiction. Of the ones with an addiction, 25 percent have an opioid addiction, which includes prescription painkillers or heroin. Of the 140 million Americans who drink alcohol, 28 million abuse it. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain. People with an addiction cannot simply stop, even when they know it is negatively affecting their life. Addiction is treatable with medication, therapy, and family support.
Why do some people who drink or use drugs become addicted, while others do not? There is no single reason for this, but some common causes include heredity and environment. Addiction, like many diseases, can run in families. As with conditions like diabetes or heart disease, a family history of addiction may increase someone’s risk of substance abuse, but it does not mean it will definitely happen. Although genes may make someone more susceptible to addiction, limiting the use of addictive substances, talking to a therapist, and learning about addiction can offset the chances of it becoming a reality.
Environmental factors that can lead to addiction include easy access to substances (especially at a young age) or peer pressure to drink, smoke, or use drugs. For others, the trigger can be a traumatic event, a mental illness, or an attempt to cope with discrimination or violence. Self-medication with drugs or alcohol to cope with negative experiences can easily become an addiction.
We often hear people talk about having an addictive personality, which is not the same as having an addiction. Addiction is a medical diagnosis. An addictive personality refers to the vulnerabilities someone has that may lead them to develop an addiction to certain activities or substances. These may include traits such as thrill-seeking, poor coping skills, low self-esteem, or being overly impulsive.
When it comes to addressing the challenges of an addictive personality, the medical community has rediscovered an older treatment technique: hypnosis. Hypnotherapists can help patients overcome negative patterns by tapping into the subconscious mind to address the learned beliefs that contribute to addictive behavior. It’s not a magic cure—hypnotherapy simply helps people to identify their subconscious motivations and choose healthier alternatives. Anyone seeking hypnosis as a treatment option should check a therapist’s credentials to ensure they are licensed to practice in the state.
The first step toward recovery is admitting there is a problem to be solved. Defensiveness, justification, and even denial are common parts of this process. Once someone admits the addiction and has chosen to overcome it, recovery can begin.
Treatment options for substance abuse vary, and different styles of treatment work better for some people than for others. The most basic categories of substance abuse treatment are inpatient and outpatient therapy.
Inpatient treatment requires someone to reside at a facility throughout the initial stage of treatment. Length of stay can be 30 days or more. Treatment modalities employed at rehabilitation facilities include detoxification, group and one-on-one therapy, and medication. Outpatient treatment offers the same treatments but allow the person to visit the treatment center without residing at the facility.
People with addiction who complete a detox program before entering a rehabilitation program have a higher rate of success. Support groups and 12-step programs help people in recovery resist a relapse. It can take years to reach long-term recovery. The good news is that most people who complete addiction treatment go on to live healthy lives.
It is important to emphasize the vital role that family plays in addiction recovery. It is very painful to watch a loved one succumb to an addiction. Addiction damages every aspect of family life and ruins trust.
During treatment, family members can take on healthy and supportive roles that encourage and support recovery, especially for adolescents going through treatment. With the help of trained therapists, families can become the long-term support that their loved one needs to reach long-term recovery. Families should also join their own support groups to talk through the struggles shared by those who are helping a family member recover. Family members of people with addiction may need their own therapeutic support to help rebuild broken trust.
Regardless of the substance consumed or the behavior that has turned into an addiction, help is available. The first step to getting help is asking for help! The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) staffs a free and confidential helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 800-662-HELP(4357) to find treatment locations and resources near you.
Sources for this article included: recovery.org, choosingtherapy.org, drugabusestatistics.org, recovery.org, and instituteofclinicalhypnosis.com.
By Leslie Byrne
Focus On Finance
Mr. Market’s Cousin
The Bond Market
We all know Mr. Market, but have you met Mr. Market’s cousin, the bond market? He’s from the same gene pool as Mr. Market, but he has different parents. In dollar terms, the bond market is $15 trillion larger than the stock market. Both date back to when our country was founded in 1776.
Unlike the stock market, the bond market has no central New York exchange where trades are made and prices reconciled. The majority of bond activity is conducted among deep-pocketed commercial dealers who are flung across all regions of the country. In the stock market, trades are made among high-speed computers. In the bond market, on the other hand, trades are negotiated between two human beings on an old-fashioned invention called the telephone.
There is no bond market index comparable to the S&P 500, which makes it difficult for individual investors to monitor its daily fluctuations. Professional money managers and traders rely on the yield of the 10-year treasury bond as an indicator of the direction and health of the bond market. (In financial news, you may hear the treasury bond referred to as the t-note.) Over 90 percent of the total value of the bond market is held by institutions such as large Wall Street banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. This is in stark contrast to the stock market—more than 75 percent of the stock market is in the hands of individual investors.
For the first two decades of the 21st century, the bond market operated quietly in the shadows of the stock market. During this period, inflation was at historic lows and interest rates hovered near zero. The national debt was growing at a snail’s pace…in 2000 and 2001, the United States government actually operated with a surplus.
Then, along came the pandemic. Portions of the economy went into lockdown, supply chains collapsed, and store shelves grew empty. The government responded with a spending spree that was unthinkable pre-pandemic. The economic slowdown led to a dramatic decline in tax revenues, and the government turned to the Treasury Department to fund its spending frenzy.
The Treasury went to the bond market with trillions of dollars’ worth of bonds to sell. The response of the bond market was underwhelming, so the Fed jumped into the fray, yelling, “I’ll buy, I’ll buy!” The $64,000 question is: where did the Fed get the money? Well, they cranked up the printing presses. Within six months, the inflation rate zoomed from a benign 1.7 percent to double digits.
For the first half of 2023, Mr. Market was in a mellow mood, and the indexes moved slowly upward, led by the Nasdaq, which was driven by the public’s fixation with artificial intelligence. Stocks like NaVida, Apple, and Microsoft went ballistic, driving the market into the nosebleed seats. But the bond market grew anxious about the soaring rate of inflation and the Federal Reserve’s anemic effort to squelch it. During the spring of 2023, the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond hovered around 3.5 percent. Then, following pessimistic comments from the Fed Chairman, the usually calm bond market went berserk, acting much like its mood-swinging cousin. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond shot up to 4.8 percent, sending both markets into a tailspin.
The conventional wisdom is that bonds (especially government bonds) are safe investments. Prior to the pandemic and the government’s out-of-control spending spree, inflation was benign, interest rates hovered near zero, and the government had 15 trillion fewer dollars to borrow. But when interest rates go up, the principal value of a bond goes down. Tens of millions of Americans own trillions of dollars’ worth of bond mutual funds. Rising interest rates caused the principal value of bonds (and the bond funds holding them) to decline. The bond market fell and pulled the stock market down with it, leaving investors in both markets to ask: where do we go from here?
The stock market is neither monolith nor static. Wall Street and the financial media present a picture that the financial conditions of individual companies are the driving force behind stock prices. There is an element of truth to this, but there are times when other factors come forward and drown out the fundamentals. This belief in the driving force behind stock prices, combined with the belief that bonds are universally safe investments, has led financial advisors to create computer-driven accounts that contain a formulaic mix of stocks and bonds. Recent events should move all of the parties involved to re-examine these beliefs. This includes both those who construct robo accounts and those who own them (this could be you!).
Editor’s Note: George Morgan has five decades’ experience in all phases of the investment process. He is currently the Founder and Principal of Morgan Investor Education. His website is morganinvestoreducation.com.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing.
By George Morgan
Seasons of Life
Times Are a-Changin’
Gifts for Today’s Grandparents
It is time to get serious about holiday shopping! Gifts for grandparents (your kids’ or your own) have become more complicated. Our elders have been affected more than anyone by the mind-bending changes of the last few decades. It’s not just our culture that has changed, either—grandparents themselves have changed.
In the late 1990s, we were new grandparents—young enough to downhill ski but too old to rollerblade. We listened to CDs on our commute to work. VHS movies or Blockbuster gift cards were welcome. We didn’t use the internet much, as it involved a long-distance charge on our phone bill. No social media yet, so we wrote letters and cards. A box of stationery or a set of greeting cards was a fine gift.
A few decades later, young grandparents are much more tech savvy. Older grandparents are living longer than ever with modern medicine and an emphasis on fitness. Your gift list might include your children’s grandpa and grandma along with your own grandparents. Regardless of age or stage in life, we look for gifts that communicate affection and appreciation.
A thoughtful gift can improve a relationship, but an ill-conceived one can have the opposite effect. Many people appreciate a gift that involves an experience over one that is material in nature. Seniors, especially, prefer something that can be used up. Many start to feel overwhelmed with “stuff” and are beginning to de-clutter.
Photos are popular with grandparents of all ages. A custom framed family photograph is always welcome. Electronic photo frames that display a rotating slide show make a thoughtful gift. Some of the high-tech frames can be updated remotely via email. Photo calendars are nice, as well—even those of us who keep calendars on our phones still like to see one hanging on the wall.
The best gifts are personalized and useful. Simple things like warm slippers or cozy blankets have been among my most appreciated holiday gifts. I’m wearing warm pajamas, a gift from my grandson, as I write this! Sitting by my laptop is an electric mug warmer, a gift that ensures every sip of tea is piping hot.
With the pandemic behind us, everyone is catching up on the travel they missed. This re-opens an entire category of gift-giving. From simple travel accessories like a neck pillow, portable charger, or travel journal to an all-inclusive trip, travelers will be sure to appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Giving a trip as a gift is sure to wow the recipient but is tricky to pull off as a surprise. You also don’t want to give a trip that will end up costing the grandparents. Why not enlist the services of a travel advisor? A surprise trip may be fun to receive, but don’t discount the possibility of working with a travel advisor and the recipient. That can simplify the process and ensure success.
Hobbies or interests are good to keep in mind when choosing gifts. Grandparents of any age often have a favorite sports team. My husband loved receiving a set of license plate holders with his favorite college team’s logo. With a sufficient budget, you could get tickets to a game. Enough cash for an Uber ride to and from is a nice touch.
For older grandparents, security is often a concern—both home and personal security. A smart watch or medical alert system can give a senior living alone a sense of security (and ease your mind, as well). A friend received a smart watch from family and considered it a fun novelty until she slipped and was unable to get up. Her watch had a fall detection function that got her much-needed assistance.
Home security systems have come a long way and make a great gift for grandparents. From door and window sensors to cameras and voice controls, there are systems to fit a variety of budgets and technical abilities.
Smart home assistants make useful gifts for all ages and can be customized to fit different needs. Voice activation is especially helpful for seniors. In addition to playing music and checking the weather, the system can manage other smart devices, send texts, and make calls.
More traditional gifts for grandma might be jewelry customized with charms or birthstones of her grandchildren, a foot massager, a magnifying vanity mirror with lights, or solar garden décor. For grandpa, consider an old-fashioned board game, personalized golf balls, a neck massager, an insulated cup to keep his coffee hot, or perhaps a DNA genetic testing kit, if he’s into genealogy.
Remember, the most prized gift for any grandparent will include a phone call from or time spent with the grandkids!
Sources for this article included: safehome.org, cntraveler.com, theseniorlist.com, and dailycaring.com.
By Linda Barnes
New Year’s Resolutions
Strive for Positive Change
Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, hoping to spark positive change or reach a personal goal. The most common resolutions focus on health, finances, relationships, and living life to the fullest. These are all great goals, but it’s hard to make big changes. Rather than saying, “I am going to meet these goals,” try resolving to take steps in the areas that are most important to you. Keep two or three top-of-mind by writing them down and posting them on your computer, your bathroom mirror, or your refrigerator—anywhere that you’ll see them often and will remember to cheer yourself on when you take a positive step, no matter how small.
If you want to eat better, start by adding more fruits and vegetables. (When you start with adding, it doesn’t feel like deprivation…because it’s not!) Many people skip breakfast. Make a commitment to eat the first meal of the day. Many of us also don’t drink enough water. If water seems like a boring drink, try adding lemon juice or cucumber slices.
For many people, the key to exercising more is to have a partner. If you have a dog, add to your walk, one block at a time. Ask a neighbor or friend to join you. Medicare provides free access to things like aquatic centers and fitness programs. Join an exercise group or enroll in a dance class. Every step counts!
If you are like me, you need support for the difficult task of losing weight. Many groups (TOPS, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and more) provide meal plans and camaraderie to achieve your goals. Groups often run enrollment specials in January because they know this is a popular goal.
It is hard to quit smoking, and not every strategy works for every person. Some people cut back one cigarette at a time. Some people use patches or other medications. Many people seek professional help. Remember that breaking an addiction takes time and often includes setbacks. Don’t let a step in the wrong direction stop you from celebrating all the steps you take in the right direction!
You may not think of getting organized as a health goal, but experts agree that clutter is bad for your health—it literally stresses you out. Start by taking on a single room, or a single closet, or even a single drawer. If you haven’t used something in a year, you probably don’t need it anymore.
The first step to improving your finances is to truly understand your budget. I like the envelope system. Once the bills are paid, I put envelopes together for entertainment, gifts, travel, and other expenses. Having a cushion allows me to take advantage of buying on sale or buying in bulk. I used to shop a lot for clothes but have learned a trick since I retired. I ask myself where I’m going to wear a particular item. If the answer is unclear, I don’t need it, and I don’t buy it.
Many people push to live to the fullest by focusing on what they really want to do. For some, that means learning a new skill. For example, once a month, I experiment with my air fryer to make my chicken dishes healthier. Whether it’s learning to play a musical instrument, to crochet a scarf, or to grow a kitchen garden, ask someone knowledgeable for help. Focus on something you love! If you are fascinated by creative things, visit an art museum or craft fair. If you like music, commit money from your entertainment budget to go to a concert.
Many people wish to travel more. Start putting money away in your travel envelope while you hunt for the best deals. Commit to taking a weekend trip once a month and drive somewhere you’ve never been. Visit a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
Some of us just want to turn off the noise and read. Start with a subject you’re interested in or an author you’ve enjoyed. Ask friends, family, librarians, and bookstore owners for recommendations. If you want to share your reading with others, join a book club.
The last goal to examine is spending more time with family. This can be a tough one—we live in a hectic world. As with other goals, start small. Try carving out one night a week to have dinner together, play a game, or watch a movie. Get your family’s input on what you can do together and commit to it in small ways. Take that first step!
New Year’s resolutions can lead to positive change if you approach them with the right attitude. You don’t need to reach your goal on January 2nd! Small steps are the healthiest route to transformative change.
By Deborah Daley
Car Lovers on Your List?
’Tis the season to make a list and check it twice. And if you have a car lover on your list, you need to read on. There are so many gift options for the automobile aficionado that it is hard to know where to begin, but begin we will. From keychains to smart speakers, there’s something at every price point for everyone on your list!
Leather driving gloves are a great option for the serious driver. They will look stylish and practical in a buttery soft pair of leather driving gloves. They’ll have a good grip on the wheel, will protect their hands from the UV rays coming through the windshield, and will definitely thank you for your thoughtfulness.
For people who often drive long distances or suffer tedious commutes, how about a really comfy car cushion? A lovely stainless steel water bottle or coffee mug that fits nicely in their cup holder would be greatly appreciated, also.
We all know someone who is, let’s say, particular about the cleanliness of their vehicle. A gift card for a much-appreciated professional detailing would be a welcome gift. If they prefer a more hands-on approach to cleaning and polishing, they might like a home detailing kit—that way, they can take their time and control all the details! A flexible dust protector outer car cover may be just the ticket for cars that are not driven during inclement weather.
Drivers who often ferry kids and pets may have given up on having a squeaky-clean vehicle, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to keep a handle on the mess. Everybody needs a Catch Caddy car seat console gap filler. Items that fall between the seats are no longer lost for all time; they’ll stay in reach for easy retrieval. How about a collapsible trunk organizer with an insulated, leakproof cooler bag?
For the things that still fall through the cracks, a busy driver would probably love a great car vacuum. A hand vacuum like the Black & Decker Lithium Cordless is a great option for those of us who want to keep our interior looking tip-top. This particular model fully charges in six hours and even comes with a flip-up brush head for dusting and cleaning upholstery.
Professionally installed add-ons and upgrades are always favored gifts. A new sound system or remote car starter system can really take a well-loved vehicle from 0 to 60.
Fancy floor mat kits are all the rage right now, and there are many choices to turn a vehicle’s interior into a customized inner sanctum. You can order mats outright or you can have them custom made. Your car person will love the way it enhances their personal space! As a bonus, car mats are a great way to protect their investment, as well.
For the techie driver on your list, how about a dash camera? Manufacturers now offer cams for the front and back of a vehicle, with fields of view that go up to 135 degrees. That is awesome! If your techie loves Alexa at home, you might consider an Echo Auto so they can bring their virtual assistant on the road with them. Echo Auto connects to the Alexa smartphone app and car speakers. This amazing device has eight microphones and is designed to be heard over music and general road noise. Make sure the recipient’s car is compatible with the app before you buy!
GPS trackers are great for drivers who want to monitor their vehicle’s location. The Zeerkeer GPS tracker, for example, gives real-time updates on the location of a vehicle with a positioning accuracy as close as five meters. It is compatible with both Android and iOS and will give the owner complete peace of mind. This item gets bonus points because it is waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, and magnetic! You simply attach it to any iron surface on the vehicle—no other installation is required. Owners who want to monitor how fast their vehicle is being driven by other parties (teen drivers, anyone?) will surely appreciate the over-speed alarm function, triggered whenever the tracked vehicle goes faster than 70 miles per hour.
If the car lover on your list prefers to stay off the roads in the ice and snow, consider a book that might interest them during the off-season. There are some absolutely beautiful coffee table books out now with incredible photos of cars. For a more informative read, consider titles like Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors (by Edward Niedermeyer), The Life of the Automobile: The Complete History of the Motor Car (by Steven Parissien), or American Car Spotter’s Bible 1940-1980 (by Tad Burness).
Sources for this article included: caranddriver.com, popularmechanics.com and autoweek.com.
By Linda Sutherland
The Good Life
Achieve a Healthier Outlook
Many people plan family gatherings and celebrations during the holiday season. However, just because the season is supposed to be jolly doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. For some people, the holidays can bring on or worsen depression. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, “major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. For some individuals, major depression can result in severe impairments that interfere with or limit one’s ability to carry out major life activities.”
The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that approximately 21 million American adults suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2021. A person was considered to have a major depressive episode if they were depressed or lost interest or enjoyment in daily activities and experienced symptoms such as energy loss, feelings of lower self-worth, or difficulty sleeping, eating, or concentrating for at least two weeks.
Depression does not discriminate, impacting people of all ages, races, genders, and ethnicities. There are several types of depression.
As described above, a major depressive episode is defined as lasting at least two weeks. Persistent depressive disorder involves less severe symptoms that typically last for at least two years. Perinatal depression appears during or after pregnancy. Prenatal depression occurs during pregnancy, and postpartum depression occurs after childbirth. Seasonal affective disorder typically emerges in late fall and early winter and wanes in the spring. Depression with symptoms of psychosis is a severe form of the condition in which the individual experiences delusions or hallucinations.
There are a variety of signs and symptoms of depression. Typical symptoms include feeling sad, anxious, hopeless, pessimistic, irritable, frustrated, or restless. Other symptoms include feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless. Loss of interest in hobbies or other previously enjoyable activities is a common sign of depression. Additional indications include difficulty remembering, concentrating, sleeping, and making decisions.
Physical symptoms of depression can include fatigue or decreased energy, changes in appetite, unexplained weight changes, and health issues like stomachaches, headaches, and sexual dysfunction. Individuals with thoughts of self-harm or suicide may also suffer from depression.
Fortunately, depression is treatable. According to the Cleveland Clinic, most people (80 to 90 percent) who seek treatment for depression eventually respond well. Available treatments include psychotherapy, medication, brain stimulation, and complementary therapies.
In psychotherapy, individuals meet with a mental health professional to discuss their challenges. This therapy helps patients recognize harmful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to depression so they can make positive changes.
Several kinds of antidepressants are available to reduce depression symptoms. Each type of medication impacts the brain’s chemistry differently. Patients may need to try more than one medication before finding success.
Brain stimulation therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be helpful when other therapies are ineffective. ECT passes small electric currents through the brain, which trigger a brief seizure, resulting in changes to the brain’s chemistry. TMS is a non-invasive procedure that stimulates the brain with magnetic fields to improve major depression symptoms.
Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology, meditation, massage, guided imagery, yoga, deep breathing, and exercise may help individuals with depression. These therapies may provide additional benefits when combined with traditional medical treatments. Individuals should consult with their healthcare provider before using these therapies to treat depression.
Acupuncture involves penetrating the skin with thin needles to stimulate specific points, releasing chemicals into the brain, muscles, and spinal cord. This treatment can activate the body’s natural healing power for improved physical and mental health. Reflexology involves applying pressure to different pressure points on the body to stimulate the healing process.
Meditation, massage therapy, guided imagery, yoga, and deep breathing support a mind-body connection. These therapies promote relaxation and help reduce stress and tension. Exercise affects brain chemistry by releasing endorphins. Exercising can decrease stress while increasing energy, balance, flexibility, and relaxation.
What can you do if a friend or a loved one suffers from depression? Try talking to the person about why you are worried. Explain that depression is a health condition that improves with treatment. Please encourage them to get help from a licensed professional, perhaps starting with their primary healthcare provider. Help develop a list of questions for their initial appointment. Let them know that you will help set appointments and go with them if they want support. If you think someone might harm themselves, contact emergency medical services or a healthcare or mental health provider.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression allows you to help a friend or loved one get the help they need. Obtaining treatment can relieve symptoms, improve emotional well-being, and enable individuals to return to normal daily activities.
Sources for this article included: my.clevelandclinic.org, hopkinsmedicine.org, mayoclinic.org, and nimh.nih.gov.
By Angella Arndt
One of Many Trips to Come!
Have you been to San Francisco? There are over a dozen unique neighborhoods with so many things to see, eat, and do that everyone will find something to enjoy. On a recent trip, I broke things down for a general visit and wanted to share some of the details to make your trip even better.
The first thing that was really helpful was San Francisco’s official tourism site, sftravel.com. On the “Where To Stay” tab, I found great details on how to decide which neighborhood to stay in. I have a hard time paying $80 a night for parking, no matter how convenient, and I found that the Marina area had no-cost or low-cost parking. That left me extra money to buy a great dinner or take a fun tour, and there are public transport options nearby that easily took me into the other popular neighborhoods.
Second, I came up with a list of things my family and I would be interested in doing and seeing. I pinned the locations on my phone’s map. It has been decades since my last trip to San Francisco, so I wanted to do some touristy things. I also wanted to take my parents along, so accessibility was a concern. Alcatraz tour? Check. Ghirardelli sundae? Check. Fisherman’s Wharf? Check. Cable car ride? Check. We got the basics covered. As we traveled and had time for more, I would check my map to see what pins I had nearby, and we would go. It made things easy, and we didn’t feel like we were under pressure to spend a certain amount of time in each area.
Third, I considered day trips. Sonoma and Napa Valleys are just an hour’s drive north, and San Jose and Santa Cruz are an hour south. Oakland is just over the bridge, about a half hour’s drive, and Sacramento is less than two hours away. Redwood Forest, Half Moon Bay, Monterey Bay…the options in the area surrounding San Francisco are so numerous that another visit is required (at least!).
Now, for the weather, which may surprise you if you think of California as a series of sunny beaches and warm evening breezes. Did you know that San Francisco includes micro-climates and fog? Winter lows average in the 40s. You will need a sweater and jacket practically all year long, and it’s important to dress in layers. After the beautiful midday sunshine, it gets chilly again.
For public transportation, I recommend downloading the MuniMobile app. Enter your destination, and it will break down the ways to get there, how long it takes, and how much it will cost. You can even buy discounted tickets on this app, including single and multiple day passes.
Save your appetite for San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building, which hosts a popular farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It is one of the most highly acclaimed markets in the United States, where you will find local chefs sourcing the foodstuffs for their restaurants. Visit the market, restaurants, and shops before and after your ferry ride.
There are always big festivals and events to attend. Some upcoming events to consider include the Bay Area Brew Fest (January) and SF Beer Week (Feb 9-18) for beer, food trucks, and music concerts; or the nationally recognized comedy festival San Francisco Sketchfest (Jan 19-Feb 4). Flower lovers will not want to miss Tulipmania on Pier 39 (and their guided landscaping tours) or the Pacific Orchid Exposition event (both in February). In April, there is the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, where chocolate aficionados, lovers, fanatics, and addicts can get their chocolate comas on after sampling and buying their fill.
Another option to fill your day is to catch the monthly TreasureFest on Treasure Island (starts in March). Live music, food and drink, and over 300 artisan vendors guarantee a fun time as well as really cool gifts and souvenirs.
Did you know that San Francisco has some amazing ice cream spots? Ice cream is my favorite dessert, so I already have the best places pinned on my map—I never pass one without giving it a taste. If you have a hard time deciding between flavors, just go to Polly Ann Ice Cream. They’ll spin the ice cream wheel and decide for you.
It is impossible to fully experience this famous city in just one trip. You would not do it justice to even try. So make your first trip to San Francisco the first of many! Your travel agent can help you find great deals any time of year, so there are no excuses not to go.
Sources for this article included: sftravel.com, visitcalifornia.com, and sfmta.com.
Editor’s Note: Jackie has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her work has appeared in publications including Colorado Golf, Desert Golf, and Canadian Architecture & Design. Her blogs can be found at BoardandRide.com and the luxury and adventure travel website, ArtofTripping.com.
By Jackie Williams
The Green Thumb
The Bees and the Bees
Bees make the world go ’round, and that is no exaggeration. Bees are one of the world’s most important pollinators for all of our food and crops. Every day of our lives, we rely on bees and other pollinators to help with the production of our food. Production of about one third of a standard human diet requires insect pollination, and honey bees perform the majority of pollination for cultivated crops. One out of every three bites we consume relies directly on pollinators. But bees also pollinate many of the crops used for animal feed. Without them, it would be harder to produce lots of our meat, egg, and dairy products. According to some scientists, bees are the most important species on earth.
Bees are famous for being very industrious…that’s why we call them busy bees. These hardworking creatures help create many medicines and help provide food for wildlife. There seems to be no end to the jobs that bees have!
Unfortunately, bees are declining in population due to the rampant use of pesticides and, of course, climate change. Our cement-paved urban development provides little or no food sources or habitats that are necessary for a bee’s survival. Nectar from certain flowers can be pretty difficult for bees to find in urban areas.
These essential insects are part of the biodiversity on which we all depend for our survival, and they need to be supported. What can we do, as individual gardeners, to help keep bees around? I am glad you asked! The answer, of course, is planting flowers of all different shapes, sizes, and colors!
When it comes to supporting bees, the manner in which we plant is just as important as what we plant. Planting flowers in clumps is more effective than planting a single flower. Flowers in clumps make it easier for pollinators to locate their next meal. We can also use less mulch. Scientists say that 70 percent of native bees nest in the ground. They cannot get at the ground if everything is covered with mulch.
You can put bee houses out for their safety and enjoyment. These are the insect equivalent of a bird house. These structures provide nesting spaces for certain solitary bees. You can also put a dead log out, since bees like to nest in holes in dead wood. While you’re creating habitat, also remember that pollinators need water. Consider a shallow dish to provide a welcome drink for bees. Add rocks, sticks, or corks as resting places so thirsty bees have a place to stand.
What kind of flowers should you plant to attract bees? There are many to choose from. First up is the sunflower. These beauties are packed with pollen, and their broad, flat petals are an easy resting place for bees. However, sunflowers are not every bee’s favorite. A bee’s flower preference depends on the length of its tongue. Some bees have long tongues that can easily access nectar in tubular blossoms such as columbine and honeysuckle, while those with short tongues prefer daisies and asters.
Flower color matters to bees. They cannot see red, which is a color more attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Normally, bees are drawn to purple, blue, white, and yellow.
Bees love annual flowers like zinnias, salvia, verbena, alyssum, cleome, and the aforementioned sunflower. Culinary herbs such as thyme, lavender, chives, dill, basil, oregano, rosemary, and mint can do double duty as food for you and for the bees. Plant them throughout the vegetable garden, and let some of them flower. They will draw in pollinators to your other plants.
Trees also attract pollinators. Early bloomers like redbuds, maples, and willows are great attractions when not much else is blooming yet. Spring-flowering bulbs are also popular with early awakening bees.
When it comes to pollinators, lavender is, well, the bee’s knees. Lavender blooms all season, so it makes it a great choice for your pollinator garden. Be sure that you plant some plants that are native to your region. Native plants are adapted to your local climate, soil, and other native pollinators. There’s a reason they thrive in your area!
Let us review. Pollinators help to ensure that the world eats. More than 3,500 species of native bees help to increase crop yields. Honey bees are the single most important species of pollinator in all natural ecosystems across the globe. (Remember, there are other pollinators, as well, like hummingbirds, moths, wasps, butterflies, bats, beetles, and ladybugs.)
This spring, I suggest that you make a “beeline” to your local nursery to find pollinators for your garden. Like bees to honey, the plants that you purchase will support a diverse ecosystem.
Sources for this article included: fs.usda.gov, fws.gov, and farmers.gov.
By Linda Sutherland
Adopt a Rescued Pet
Save a Life and Improve Your Own
Adopting a rescue animal is an act of great kindness that brings great rewards. Every animal at a shelter or rescue deserves the chance to be a loved and loving pet. Sadly, there are not enough homes for all the potential pets born each year. Many animals are euthanized. You can help prevent this by choosing to adopt a rescued animal. You will save the animal’s life and gain a devoted companion for yourself and your family.
When you adopt from a shelter, humane society, or rescue organization, you have many animals to choose from. You can often begin your search online, perusing photos and descriptions of the potential pets available. If you see one online that seems like a good fit, go to the agency with your identification and meet the animal.
Many great pets are put up for adoption because of changes in the previous family’s circumstances, including health problems or financial issues. The agency may not have specific answers as to why the animal is available, but staff members will be able to tell you what they have learned about the animal while caring for it.
Some animals do indeed have behavioral issues to overcome. Staff will not sugarcoat an animal’s challenges—they want the potential pet to become your lifetime companion. Agencies also are usually willing to accept a pet back if your circumstances change or if the pet turns out to be not a good fit. Some agencies actually stipulate that you return the pet if it does not fit with your family. Be sure to ask ahead of time.
Staff members want every placement to work well. They have applications for you to fill out about what you want from your pet and what your family and lifestyle are like. They can advise you about the best pet for your lifestyle. They are also available to help you as you and your family get to know and love the animal. Keep in mind that toddlers and dogs may not be good for each other. Very young children may not have learned how dogs react to what they may perceive as aggression.
Adopting an adult animal has advantages, including easier bonding with pets already in the household. With older dogs, you miss the adorable puppy stage, but you also avoid the erratic behavior, excessive chewing, and boundless energy that puppies can bring. Training a puppy can take months or years. Adult dogs tend to be calmer, and they are often already trained. Adult cats bring the benefit of established personalities. A lap kitten may turn out to be a loner, while an outgoing kitten may turn out to be a loafer. With an adult cat, you know what you’re getting.
Most agencies take steps to ensure that your pet is as healthy as possible. These steps include providing immunizations and physical exams for all animals they take in. They have volunteer veterinarians who visit regularly. Most agencies also spay and neuter all animals they adopt out, saving you money. They understand the cost and the pain of too many pets and not enough homes! They care about the animals they work with.
When you have adopted a rescue pet, it’s a smart idea to find a professional trainer who will come to your home and see what your pet needs in the way of behavior adjustment. The trainer can offer advice about how to best help your pet to adjust to your lifestyle. They can also do training sessions with you and your pet. (Some trainers say that the most important part of their job is training the owners!)
Sometimes, all your new pet needs is a period of adjustment. One shelter advises three days of quiet time for a new dog: food, water, a bed, and a toy before exploring the neighborhood. Then provide three weeks of gradual adjustment to the outdoors, always on leash. Have family members take turns offering a bit of petting and easy play, one person at a time. Take short walks, with lots of sniffing time.
The best way to find a pet that is right for you is to visit a shelter or humane society. Many of the people who work for or volunteer at shelters have already rescued a pet—some have more than one. I’ve heard tell of one volunteer who goes home each night to five dogs. Most shelters welcome visitors every day they are open. Check online to find a shelter near you. You may find it a great way to spend an afternoon, or you may find a pet who makes you happy.
Sources for this article included: petfinder.com, wagwalking.com, and diamondpet.com.
By Jackie Byers
What Is Your Perspective?
I recently read an article about Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha. He mentioned a concept that I had never heard before. Most of us are familiar with the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Warren has upgraded his approach to life and follows what is known as the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated. “This approach does what the other person wants to be done and assures yourself of a better outcome,” Warren explained. He also noted that the Platinum Rule will activate empathy toward others in your life.
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”— Alfred Adler
This approach forces us to look at a situation from the other person’s point of view, Warren continued, instead of staying stuck in our own perspective.
When I read this, I was a little taken aback. I realized that this approach would be challenging. After all, most of us take the stance that if we feel we are right, we will defend our perspective to the ends of the earth. No need to look at someone else’s point of view! I call it digging in my heels.
“To change ourselves effectively, we first have to change our perceptions.” — Stephen R. Covey
If we can take a pause and attempt to see another’s point of view, we will open our eyes. Instead of rights and wrongs, we may begin to see possibilities. Instead of being judgmental, we may become more open-minded. Instead of being angry, we may become more empathetic.
“The opposite of anger is not calmness, it’s empathy.”— Mehmet Oz
I read this article several months ago, and I’ve been working on the concept a little bit at a time. Sometimes I imagine myself as a bird in a tree, watching the situation unfold below me. When I’m not “down in the trenches,” it’s easier to see things from a different perspective. I have learned that fighting for my way may not be the best way. I’ve learned that when I work with other people’s perspectives, the result is often better than if I were digging in my heels to have it my way. It also has helped me become calmer and happier…and that is always a good thing!
“It’s dangerous to think of yourself as a hero and someone else as a villain. It gets in the way of empathy.” — Megan Ganz