Monday, December 22, 2008

December 22nd Edition of The Holiday Spirit




I'm pleased to present the 5th Edition of The Holiday Spirit Blog Carnival. I hope that you'll enjoy it and I hope that you've enjoyed this as well as the other editions of this blog carnival. This is the last edition for 2008, I hope to run this again next year, so you can start looking for it around November. Time to spread a little of The Holiday Spirit.


Gift Ideas

FIRE Getters presents Frugal Creative Gift Ideas for Holiday Cards!, Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 posted at FIRE Finance.

Alex presents Printable Christmas Cards posted at Home Life Weekly, saying, "Save money make your own cheap printable Christmas cards. Its really quick and easy all you need to do is download the free Christmas Card design of you choice then print and fold."

Belle presents Handmade Christmas Gifts: Embroidered Tea Towels posted at Homesteaderbelle's Blog, saying, "I made the tea towels in this post for the women in my family for Christmas."

marjorie presents 5 Holiday Gifts That Can Help Build Wealth posted at Wealth Junkies, saying, "From personal finance books to the gift of time, here are some gift ideas that can give your loved ones a head start on improving their finances and building wealth."

Don presents Vasque Shoes at Great Prices, posted at Wilderness Exchange Unlimited, If you're looking for some gift ideas for the outdoorsy person(s) on your list, this might be what you're looking for?

KCLau presents Christmas On A Budget posted at KCLau's Money Tips, saying, "This post is contributed by Jacquelyn Sarah Wong, the co-author of The Secrets to Writing an Ebook in Three Easy Steps. It is about how to be frugal this Christmas season with the economy down."

Flat rate USPS boxes are Frugal posted at Living Almost Large, "Sending gifts cheap"

Matthew Paulson
presents Tips for Tipping Over The Holidays posted at American Consumer News.

Silicon Valley Blogger presents Last Minute Gift Ideas and Shopping Tips For Holiday Procrastinators posted at The Digerati Life.

Mr. CC presents Wishing You Joy For The Holidays | Ask Mr Credit Card's Blog posted at Ask Mr Credit Card's Blog.

The Smarter Wallet presents Best Gift Ideas for the Holiday Season posted at The Smarter Wallet.

Lilu presents Erotic Holiday Gift Ideas posted at Everybody Does It: An Alternative Sex Blog.

Holiday Recipes

Gretchen presents Simple Holiday Sugar Cookies posted at Dishes & China

Ben presents Seven Cheap Foods to Serve At Your Holiday Party posted at Money Smart Life.

Julie presents Fun and Tasty Christmas and Holiday Desserts posted at More4kids Family.


Decorations

Vickie Sloderbeck presents Kid Friendly Homemade Ornaments posted at Sidetracked Moms.

Traditions

Vickie Sloderbeck and Faith Janes presents Teaching Children about Giving on Christmas Day posted at Sidetracked Moms.

Aahz presents Zaira and Aahz Kill Their First Christmas Tree! posted at Philaahzophy, saying, "Every Christmas tradition has to start somewhere..."

Vickie Sloderbeck and Faith Janes presents Fun Christmas Traditions posted at Sidetracked Moms.

New Year's Resolutions

Debt Free Destiny presents New Year's Resolution: Get Out of Debt For Good posted at Debt Free Destiny.

Humor

Madeleine Begun Kane presents It Is Hereby Resolved (New Year?s Resolution Humor) posted at Mad Kane's Humor Blog.

Vickie Sloderbeck and Faith Janes presents Holiday Don’ts posted at Sidetracked Moms.

Christmas with the Beatles

Bertone presents Merry Christmas Greg Hallmark and Christmas in July in September posted at Bertone Beatle Bonanza, a couple of podcasts about the Beatles and Christmas for your enjoyment.

Enjoying the Outdoors

Don presents The Park Weasel's ice conditions report posted at the Wilderness Exchange Unlimited

Don presents Whipper of the month posted at Wilderness Exchange Unlimited


Not Related to the Holiday Spirit

Joe Manausa presents What Is A RSS Subscripton? posted at the Tallahassee Real Estate Blog

Sandy Naidu presents Bernard Madoff's Ponzi Scheme posted at FutureNestEgg.

Debt Freedom Fighter presents How to Find the Debt Relief Company That is Right For You posted at Discover Debt Freedom!.

Savings Toolbox presents Set Your Children Up With Savings Accounts posted at Savings Toolbox.

Mike C. presents Are TheStreet.com Ratings Great Contrarian Indicators? posted at Stock Investing Tips.

Decorative Candle Holders And Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

If you're looking for something that you can make with your kids, why not make some Decorative Candle Holders to decorate your home or that your kids can give as gifts. And in our “Show Me The Money”, “What’s In It For Me” age and given all the recent glum and doom, we really need Santa (read more).


That concludes the final edition for 2008. Submit your blog article to the next edition of
the holiday spirit using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page .

Photo credit: Some frost covered trees in our village from Christmas 2007.





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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Decorative Candle Holders

Are you looking for a last minute, inexpensive Christmas gift or maybe just something to brighten up your home over the holidays? Why not make a nice decorative candle holder? They’re simple to make and it can give you and your kids something to do when it is too cold to go outside or you just feel creative.

What is needed, you ask? You need some sort of jar. This could be a pickle or some sort of other clear glass (some colored glass might work, but the results could vary). You’ll need some decorative Christmas napkins and maybe some other decorative ribbons and stickers, you can get very creative here, so you don’t need to buy a whole lot of stuff. You’ll also need a glue that will seal your decorated items to your jar. Finally, you’ll want some tea lights or other suitable candles. You probably have most of these items around your house already anyways.

Cut the napkin or stickers out so that they fit nicely on your jar. Then glue them on. You might also decide to add some ribbons and glitter, be creative. After allowing the jar(s) to dry, you can add your candle(s).

These jars look really nice when a candle is lit and they’re sitting on your table with your lights dimmed. They’re also nice gifts for your kids to give. Happy Holidays!

Photo credit: All of the pictures used in the article were taken of candle holders that my daughters made.

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Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus


In our “Show Me The Money”, “What’s In It For Me” age and given all the recent glum and doom, we really need Santa. A little more than a century (1897 to be more precise) eight year old Virginia O’ Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, where she asked if there was a Santa. Francis Pharcellus Church wrote a response that has become legendary.

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

"VIRGINIA O'HANLON.
"115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET."

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

I found the text at newseum.org and of course there is an interesting story about the people involved at Wikipedia. Happy Holidays everyone!

Photo Credit: "Dear Santa" courtesy of woodsy

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Why The Big Three Need Bridge Loans


I was thoroughly disappointed that the Senate failed to pass the bill that would have provided the Big Three a bridge loan last week! I realize that this is a complex issue and that there are many reasons not to do it, but failure to provide some kind of lifeline can not help the already delicate economy of America and the world during these trying times and just shows the short-sightedness of many of our leaders today! I decided to have a look at some of the reasons for not helping out the Big Three as well as some reasons why Washington should.

I was really hoping that the bill would get the support that it needed in the Senate. I followed the saga as Congressional leaders and the President were able to work out there differences to get a bill together to put before the House of Representatives and the bill passed the House getting past presidential insistence that the money didn’t come from the financial bailout funds (the T.A.R.P. funds if you will), I knew it would be a tough vote in the Senate, but I was hoping that Washington would do what it had to do. I’m still hoping, but now it appears up to a lame duck president or the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve to step in and approve use of the T.A.R.P. funds.

“It’s the economy, stupid”, is a phrase that was first used a few years back but this is the biggest reason why, the Big Three need a bridge loan now and why the Federal government should do something to help. Given the U.S. economy hadn’t already been in a recession for a year and in the shape that it was (over 500,000 jobs were lost in November of this year alone), it might be able to weather the storm of losing part of the Big Three (but even then it would be a big bitter pill to swallow), however given the sheer numbers of people that would lose their jobs directly and indirectly, this is too many people to be thrown into the unemployment lines without dragging the economy down further. If there were some other sector of the economy that could absorb even half the people, it might be an option, but there is no part of the economy at the moment that could step up, in fact you hear more and more each day about layoffs around the globe.

From what I’ve heard and read, some Senators wanted to tie the bridge loan to the U.A.W. agreeing to lower their wages to match that of autoworkers working for the foreign competitors in the South in 2009 and the U.A.W.’s president didn’t want to appear before the Senate to discuss it. This is nothing that had been imposed on any of the financial firms that have received a lot more funds than the Big Three were asking for, in fact, there have been very little conditions applied to companies that have received any of the Federal financial bailout loans period! This was purely a political move aimed at making the U.A.W. look bad, and many people are pointing their fingers at the U.A.W. for the problems that have plagued the Big Three, but this not really understood by many people and the “overpaid” American autoworker is an easy scapegoat.

The figures that are often thrown out for the wage differences and what the Big Three autoworkers receive are often misleading and are more complex that just how much money they’re paid for hour. A lot of articles and news stories have been throwing around a figure of $73 and hour, which is truly misleading. I ran across and article in International Herald Tribune (Wage Cuts Won’t Save the Big Three, David Leonhardt 11 December 2008) that explains how this figure is derived and how it is misleading (here is a similar version of that article online). The figure comes from the car companies and is part of their public relations strategy during contract negotiations. The figure does show that for every hour worked by a unionized worker, $73 is paid, but this is made up of three different parts. The first part is made up of the purely cash amount, which is what most people with think when they hear about compensation. This includes straight hourly pay, overtime, vacation pay, and so on and comes to about $40 an hour (these do vary a bit by company). The next part is the fringe benefits like pensions and health insurance. These come to about $15 an hour. Added together the two parts come to $55 an hour. Granted this is more than most other workers in the U.S. but it isn’t so much higher than $45 an hour being made by the non-unionized workers at Toyota and Honda in America. Most of the difference between the unionized and non-unionized figures then comes from less generous benefits. The remainder of the $73 figure comes from costs associated with benefits paid for retired workers. These tend to be fixed costs that don’t change regardless of how many vehicles are produced and sold. They are a “real” cost, but not truly associated with the payment to “current” workers. A crucial point not to be overlooked here is that the third part of the calculation isn’t just a difference of how generous the benefits are but that there are a lot of retirees. This pool of retirees was built up long before Toyota and Honda opened up plants in the U.S.

The Big Three and the U.A.W. had the luck (some might say bad luck) of helping to create the middle class in a country where companies (and not society or the government) have to cover much the responsibilities of retirement. If this gap between the Big Three and their competitors producing vehicles in the U.S. were taken out of the equation and the U.A.W. agreed to take the actual wage being made by the non-unionized workers at their competitors, this would still only reduce Detroit’s cost per vehicle down to $800. Given all the attention that labor costs get, they really only make up 10% of the price of a vehicle. While $800 per vehicle is still substantial, the Big Three often sell their vehicles about $2,500 less (factoring in various incentives and so on) than the equivalent Japanese models (according analysis from the International Motor Vehicle Program).

One of the other “real” problems being faced by the Big Three is a “perceived” lack of quality to the public. There was definitely a time when they had reputation for producing inferior product and this reputation or image has stuck with much of the American public. Many Americans have experienced vehicles that broke down a lot, didn’t seem to be put together well, or didn’t seem to last very long. While the Big Three have made a lot of effort to correct these problems, the perceptions still exist and so often “perception” becomes “reality”. Add to this that the designs have often not been as flashy as many of the imports that are sold in the U.S. and you’ve seen a constant deteriorization of market share for the Big Three over the last couple of decades. Many of the critics of the Big Three will point out how they haven’t made enough effort to get away from the gas guzzlers of the past, certainly the whole S.U.V. wave the past decade or so has not silenced the critics.

The recent financial meltdown has only put the Big Three’s problems on steroids and has made their situation truly dire. Because so many people don’t have “confidence” in their own jobs and future, they’re holding off buying or leasing new vehicles and the banks have tightened their lending down so much that they’re hardly making any vehicle loans. Just think about this for a moment, in any other industry could the market just disappear overnight and companies would be able to weather the storm, and for how long? In any other industry if the market just dried up overnight and you aren’t able to make adjustments (like getting into another industry or line of products or services), you could only hold out so long before going out of business.

Some critics of providing any aid to the Big Three had said that they should go through bankruptcy, to which the Big Three have responded that it wasn’t an option. I’m not truly aware of too many companies that have been truly successful after emerging from bankruptcy (maybe some exist). A point that is often lost is that people will be hesitant about making the huge investment of buying or leasing a vehicle, if you don’t know if that company will be around and you’ll be able to get your warranty honored, any necessary repairs made, or just be able to buy replacement parts. Normal bankruptcy in the U.S. is a complicated and slow process and if the Big Three were to go through this, it would surely detrimentally affect their suppliers who have their employees to pay and their bills to pay as well. This process would likely bring down some of the Big Three’s suppliers. This would eventually affect even the non-unionized companies producing vehicles in the U.S. as suppliers begin to run out of money to operate and supply their other non Big Three customers. Multiple that by all the “just in time” supply chain management that companies have adopted the last couple of decades and this becomes a recipe for disaster. If you’re a bank or other financial institution you’re not likely to make the loans necessary for these companies to continue their day to day operations. The cycle goes on and on. Providing the bridge loans gives the Big Three time to work on the restructuring, which they don’t have at the moment. A restructuring is needed but doing it by the normal bankruptcy channels would be disaster and it likely wouldn’t help the economy out either.

Much of the blame for the condition of the Big Three can be directly attributed to management, no doubt about it. Back in the 70’s, they all should have seen the writing on the wall that they would eventually have problems with oil and that “cheap” gas would not last forever, nor would the oil supplies. Later they saw the profit to be made on “high-priced” S.U.V.’s but they had to know that it wouldn’t last and needed to plan for the future. One argument that has often been made by the management of the Big Three for not being more aggressive in producing fuel-efficient and alternative fueled vehicles has been that they were only producing the cars that the public wanted. Good management needs to have an eye on the future, if you want to have a future that is. There are many things that they could have done differently, but hindsight can always illuminate things that weren’t clear in the past. I wouldn’t be opposed to changing management, before kicking any of them out, I’d like to see some qualified replacements lined up so that little valuable time is wasted. At the moment there doesn’t appear to be too much time left and things are of an urgent nature.

Globalization has taken its toll on the manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Companies that used to produce and build things in America and Western Europe have now moved much of the manufacturing jobs to lower labor cost countries, and in large part, these jobs haven’t been replaced by jobs that paid anywhere near the jobs that left. America can’t afford to see all the auto worker jobs “disappear”, propelling millions more into the unemployment lines and further eroding the pool of good paying jobs that are available in America. Even in our modern society, not everyone will get a university/college education and therefore blue collar work is needed. As more and more manufacturing jobs are “off-shored”, the educational system needs to produce workers that have the right skills and education to do the work that is needed within that country, or the next wave of jobs disappear as well. This is already happening with more and more white collar jobs moving off-shore. You have to wonder how far off the companies are from “off-shoring” management positions, they could save millions in salary and benefit costs there.

Another point against Washington helping out the Big Three that is sometimes mentioned is that of international trade. There were some cries from the European Union that aid to the Big Three could result in trade wars. The argument goes that by propping up inefficient domestic automakers, they’re only being made less competitive, and you’re throwing good money after bad. This discussion becomes a bit hairy while many big companies try to use their national government to legislate advantages for them against foreign competitors. This has been done via weakening various currencies, thus making their product “cheaper” when they’re exported. It has also been done by enacting traffics and quotas on imports, and so on. There are some industries and services that are badges of national honor that governments don’t typically like to see fail, airlines are one (especially when the country only has one national carrier) and car companies are another. Given the scope and reach of the Big Three, you would hope that the nations likely to make a stink about “protectionism” and trade wars, will realize the stakes involved here. Certainly Europe and much of the world would be hurt if any or all of the Big Three were let fail.

The bill that failed in the Senate was for bridge loans. This was intended to keep G.M. and Chrysler a float until a better more thought out solution could be reached and agreed. Because the situation is so dire, if action is not taken soon, G.M. and Chrysler won’t be able to pay their bills and operate. Ford was asking for a line of credit, only to be enacted if G.M. and/or Chrysler went under or the economy worsened. Bearing this in mind, the likely price tag for “helping” the Big Three will no doubt be higher than the $14 billion that was in the failed Senate bill, but just letting any or all of the Big Three fail would be far more expensive.

The effects of Washington not acting with more haste can be seen already. G.M is halting construction on a plant that is supposed to produce engines for the Chevy Volt, its electric car in an effort to hold onto desperately needed cash. This is a sign of a company just trying to hang on, not one thinking about its future. G.M. and Chrysler have both announced layoffs and major cuts in planned production going into the first quarter of 2009. Perils of the current economic situation are causing other manufacturers to reconsider their strategies as Honda has pulled out of Formula 1 racing and Suzuki and Subaru have announced that they’re pulling out of the World Rally Championships.

The world seems at a point of enormous change. The automobile industry seems destined to embark on tremendous transformational changes. Certainly, nobody can know what will emerge, but given the current economic climate, the world is not ready for an “uncontrolled transformation”. Now could be the time to truly make use of alternative energy, and to produce vehicles that are more environmentally friendly. This could also explode beyond the auto industry as more and more suppliers make more environmentally friendly products that spillover into other industries and markets. Such a transformation gives all of the companies license to look at everything they’re doing and rethink many of their past strategies, it is almost like starting with a clean sheet of paper. Washington needs to act and quickly, or the Big Three’s ghosts of Christmas past might just become their ghosts of Christmas present and future. I’m still hoping that Washington will help.

Photo credit: "At Rest" courtesy of eieio1948

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Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15th Edition of The Holiday Spirit


I’m pleased to present the forth edition of The Holiday Spirit Blog Carnival. We had several great submissions for this edition and I’m pleased with the submissions that we’ve had this time around. There is some humor in this edition as well as a story about giving that will tug at your heart, so please read on. I look forward to seeing what other posts will be submitted as we go along with the rest of The Holiday Spirit Blog Carnival.


Shopping and Gift Ideas

From Tina at ThinkSimpleNow:

Tina has made some drastic changes to her gift-giving strategy but has still managed to come up with 38 creative gift ideas. “this year’s list leans towards gift ideas that are practical, clever, frugal, or eco-friendly “

38 Creative Gift Ideas


From Living Almost Large:

Some ideas for trying to keep your gift-giving budget under control.

Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas


From GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life:

“by Patrick Buckley and Lily Binns, this is an entertaining and informative romp through twenty "kitchen science" projects [book review]. I think it is a great book to use when planning "theme parties" for your friends and family.”

The Hungry Scientist Handbook: Electric Birthday Cakes, Edible Origami, and Other DIY Projects for Techies, Tinkerers, and Foodies


From Elizabeth Able at Quote Snack:

Elizabeth relates this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson to the meaning of gift giving.

The only gift is a portion of thyself. - Ralph Waldo Emerson


From Music Road:

Some ideas about musical related gifts that you can give to many of the people on your list.

For your holiday gift list


From The 10 Hour VA:

“So, is there someone out there in the business world that you truly appreciate, but don't want to send a costly gift that they might never use? Why not give them something that will be out there on the Internet for all time...the gift that keeps on giving...word of mouth! And don't let them find out about your good deed accidentally - send them a holiday themed email and let them know. Here are some ideas:”

8 Holiday No Cost Gifts for Colleagues / Service Providers in 2008


From Lazy Man And Money:

Talks about this infamous yearly shopping event and asks why does it exist?

Black Friday: Why Does It Exist?


From Savings Toolbox:

“Recently the idea of a gift registry has expanded to monetary gift registries for weddings, gift registries for baby showers, and now there are even monetary gift registries for college savings.”

Save Up For College with Freshman Fund’s 529 College Savings Plan/Gift Registry


From Cindy Morus at Mend Your Money:

As we get farther into the holiday season it is more important to have some strategies for your gift-giving, so that it doesn’t get out of control.

10 Best Debt-Busting Holiday Strategies for 2008


From Fitz Villafuerte at Ready To Be Rich:

“Shopping for gifts this Christmas? Then read first these tips so you can save and get the best value for your money.”

10 Money Smart Tips For Buying Gifts This Christmas


From Credit Karma:

“In a tough economy, any saving is a nice bonus so we compiled a list credit cards with 0% APR for 6 or 12 months on new purchases to help consumers stretch their Holiday shopping dollars. Combined with the 0% APR, the rewards and cash back features could save you hundred dollars this holiday season.”

0% Interest Rate Credit Cards for the Holidays


From Kevin at Credit Shout:

“Having your identity stolen would be a devastating thing during the holidays, as well as any other day of the year. Imagine the anguish that credit card fraud would cause for you and your family; and especially around the time of year that normally would be a joyful time. Taking certain precautions and additional security measures can protect your credit cards during the holidays and throughout the entire year.”

Common Sense Ways to Protect Your Credit Cards During the Holidays


From Lauren Rose at No Debt Anymore.org:

“With the holiday season in full swing, Credit card and ATM theft is increasing at an alarming rate. Here are 3 common ways thieves may try to gain access to your personal information using a skimmer device, and 10 tips to protect yourself.”

Credit Card Skimmers - Keep Your Eye on Your ATM card


From One Family’s Blog:

A comparison of the best value laptops and netbooks that should allow frugal shoppers to decide which one to get for general family use.”

Best Value Notebook/Laptop and Netbook/Mini-Notebook Computers - Comparison/Review (ASUS Eee PC, Acer Aspire One, MSI Wind, HP Mini-Note, Dell Mini 9)


Stories

From Surfer Sam And Friends:

“A Cute Christmas Story You'll feel warm all over. It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me. Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving. It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that I'd wanted for Christmas. We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible.”

Cute Christmas Story.


Holiday Stress

From Astrid Lee, Reiki Master Teacher at World Healing:

“Not everyone is happy about Christmas. In fact, it's one of the most stressful times of the year. This article offers solace and some genuinely good advice on how to stay worry-free. Happy Holidays”

Trust, Stress-Combating Thought & Saintly Help


Humor

From Lisa at Condo Blues:

“There are a lot of good green gifts out there. None of them are on this list.”

10 Green Gifts That Suck


From GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life:

“Holidays mean celebrating with friends and family, but what about our pet birds? How can we keep them safe?”

Ten Tips to Keep Your Pet Birds Safe This Holiday Season

Our Pets

From Vera Lang at Fine Pet Care:

“The holiday season can be stressful for pets, with all the additional 'comings and goings' and changes in the daily routine. This article helps you to consider the needs of your pets at this time.”

Including Pets In Your Holiday Plans

Not Related to the Holiday Spirit

From Louis Burns at the NLP Marketing Blog:

This article is about not only visualizing your own goals but the experience you want other people to have as well.

Crafting Mental Movies for Others

From Rich Leverage:

“The level of consumer confidence in the United States rose unexpectedly in November, rebounding from a record low. This surprising change apparently came as concerns about the rising rate of unemployed coupled with tumbling financial markets was alleviated by falling gas prices.”

Consumer Confidence in United States has Increased

From KCLau’s Money Tips:

“Now let’s talk about money and how to manage cash flow.”

How to manage monthly cash flow



Holiday Movies

Is there a holiday movie that you just have to watch every year, one that your holiday won’t seem complete without? Here are some movies that you might want to watch ove the holidays to put you in The Holiday Spirit. (read more)

Thank you to all the participants. I received a flood of submissions and I wasn’t able to review all of them yet, so look for some of these to be in the next edition (planned for December 22nd). Remember that the Holiday Spirit isn’t necessarily about only Christmas, so I’d love to hear about Hanukkah, Ramadan, and other non-Christian celebrations as well as Christmas. It would be great to hear about your family traditions, your creative gift ideas, and your recipes for holiday treats. If you’d like to become involved please feel free to submit your post and help spread The Holiday Spirit.

Photo credit: "Christmas Raccoon" courtesy of gravityx9

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Great Christmas Movies

One of the things that I have always liked about this time of the year was watching the Christmas movies and tv specials that have become a holiday favorites. So I thought that I'd write about some of my favorites.

It's a Wonderful Life has become a holiday favorite, seen by millions of people. The story of George Bailey finding out that he had effected so many people and that the world was a better place because he lived is inspiring. I had the pleasure of watching this movie at the Redford Theater, where they have an old Wurlitzer organ that they play before movies and during intermissions. The showed the movie about 8 years ago and arranged to have the actress played Zuzu tell her stories about the movie.



Miracle on 34th Street has inspired more than one version. I prefer the version with Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood, but that's not to say that the newer version isn't good too. The real Santa is hired by Macy's to play Santa in their Thanksgiving parade at the last minute when their Santa becomes too intoxicated to do the job. Maureen O'Hara is a single mother that stopped believing years ago and Natalie Wood is her daughter that doesn't believe, they're all in for a surprise. Santa has to go to court because a disgruntled Macy's employee feels compelled to have him committed. Does Santa go off to an insane asylum?



A Christmas Story didn't impress me too much the first time that I saw it but it grew on me. I watched it with my dad the second time that I saw it and I was hooked. A young boy wants a Red Rider toy gun for Christmas. There were so many things in there that my dad could relate to in the movie that I saw it from a different angle and got a chance to see it through my father's eyes. The story takes place during the golden age of radio (1940's), before television, when radio dramas were one of the main forms of entertainment. At one point Ralphie has got his secret decoder ring and listens intently to the radio, expecting to get some earth shattering message only to find out that this just a ploy by Ovaltine to get you to use their product. The use of the adult Ralphie narrating the movie helps to make it special, you get a glimpse into the mind of young Ralphie.



You're probably familar with Charles Dickens "A Chirstmas Carol". This might have been the first non bible based Christmas story, but it has become engrained in society and many of us have read it. There have been several movies made out of the story and they've stared George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart. Even Bill Murray has played Scrooge.





The Santa Clause is about a divorced father (Scott Calvin played by Tim Allen) that accidentally hits Santa and puts on Santa's red costume and evokes that Santa Clause, where the wearer agrees by virtue of putting on the suit, to become Santa. Scott Calvin and his son Charley are taken by the reindeer to the North Pole and are returned the next morning. Scott Calvin thinks that this was just a dream but Charley remembers it as as only a child can. Scott Calvin's ex-wife (Wendy Crewson) and her psychiatrist boyfriend (Judge Reinhold) begin to think that he is trying to play tricks on Charlie's mind and he even loses the right to see his son as a result. Will Scott Calvin be able to see his son again? This warm and entertaining move inspired to additional films.




If you're in the mood for a vacation, why not watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? Chase Chase is back as Clark Griswold in the third installment of the Vacation series. Clark is the same accident prone, bad lucked Clark Griswold who is expecting a large Christmas bonus. Randy Quaid is back as the unemployed brother-in law. Lots of gags and the script is from John Hughes.




The Polar Express is a recent addition to the world of Christmas movies. This ground breaking animated movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks portrayed 5 different computer generated characters. Although some people might find the use of computer animation to be eerie, this is destined to become another Christmas classic.






How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a classic Dr. Seuss story told as only he can do it. Director Ron Howard and Jim Carey have brought the Grinch to life as only they can do it. It seems that Jim Carey was born to play the Grinch. This movie might be scary for young kids, so be prepared. There is an animated version of the Grinch made in 1966 that airs on television from time to time that is very good as well, I've put this under some of the classic animated television movies further down.



Original Christmas Classics is a wonderful collection of children's holiday favorites including Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and others. Most of these are the television classics from when I was a kid with voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and plenty of classic Christmas songs that most of us know. If you have young kids they're sure to enjoy these.




Christmas Television Favorites is a collection of Christmas television specials adding to Original Christmas Classics and includes the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolf's Shinny New Year, and others. These are more wonderful shows that aired when I was a kid.



Peanuts Holiday Collection, you can't really celebrate Christmas without Snoopy now can you? This set includes Its the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Celebrate these holidays with Charlie Brown, Linus, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Lucy, and of course everyone's favorite beagle, Snoopy.



Why not take some time our of your busy holiday schedule and enjoy some of these holiday favorites with your family. Maybe you can enjoy some homemade Christmas cookies, popcorn, and egg nog. Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 8, 2008

December 8th Edition of The Holiday Spirit


I’m pleased to present the third edition of The Holiday Spirit Blog Carnival. We had several great submissions for the first edition and I’m pleased with the submissions that we’ve had this time around. There is a lot of humor in this edition as well as little bit of controversy, so please read on. I look forward to seeing what other posts will be submitted as we go along with the rest of The Holiday Spirit Blog Carnival.


Thanksgiving

Realizing that Thanksgiving is behind us for this year, I wrote about doing a Thanksgiving Review last year. You can do this during the current holiday season or maybe as part of planning for 2009.


Shopping and Gift Ideas


From Chief Family Officer:

“It would be good, of course, to practice random acts of kindness throughout the year, and I do. But I think, especially with strangers, they're easier to do at this time of year. So here are five that I've come up with”

Five free or cheap random acts of kindness for the holiday season


From Money Blue BookBlog:

“As a stereotypical male, I seem innately handicapped when it comes to performing… “confusing activities” that include shopping and picking out the right gifts for the right occasion. I’m sure there are some men out there who love to cruise the malls and spend hours window shopping to their hearts’ content like most of the women I know, but I’m most definitely not one of them…. but yet somehow, whenever I step foot in a retail department store, I quickly become fatigued. Somehow, I instantly become drained of all energy and stamina the moment I am faced with the grueling ordeal of mall shopping. Worst yet, I’m a terrible buyer when it comes to gifting - which is why gift cards and gift certificates are such a God send for people like me.”

Buying Discount Gift Cards As Presents

From Money Blue BookBlog:

“By buying these retail gift cards at the bonus reward locations, cardholders have the potential to earn up to 5% or more cash back through credit card discounts and rebates through a process that’s essentially a mild form of gift credit card arbitrage.”

BuyDiscount Gift Cards With Reward Credit Cards

From Sean Gallagher at Shop My Web:

Are you giving self mixed CDs or have you spent hours putting together special family videos together, why not get one of these decorative tins to dress them up?

TinShop Holiday CD/DVD Tins

From Madeleine Begun Kane at Mad Kane's Humor Blog:
”…there is a cure for the holiday gift blues. Just substitute this agreement for those subtle hints — the ones that are always either missed or misconstrued. Then kiss that Returns Counter good-bye. This year’s gifts are for keeps.”

Mad Gift Giving Guide



Traditions

From Thursday Bram at Wise Bread:

“My family doesn't exactly respect the calendar. We've heldThanksgiving on a Friday, moved Mother's Day to the last week of April and moved around just about every other holiday to suit ourselves. This adaptability has saved us an unbelievable amount of money.“

Flexible Holidays Are Much Cheaper (And Less Stressful)



Not Related to the Holiday Spirit


From Jessie at My Investing Blog:
“I’ve been mulling this post over for about a month now and have been taking notes back and forth to come up with valid info to ease people from getting too worked up about it.”

How Is What We Are Going Through Now Different From The Great Depression in the
1930’s?



From KCLau’s Money Tips:

Two reviews had been posted about my new book Top Money Tips for Malaysian

Top Money Tips for Malaysian Book Review


From Gill at gilocafe:

Gilocafe has posted a video from a visit to the Teotihuacan Pyramids of Mexico City.

Teotihuacan Pyramids Mexico City


From Daly Dalia:
Is wondering about a surge in gun purchases (hand guns and more). This one so far hasn’t branched off into one of your crazy Second Amendment shouting matches. It is nice to see when people can have different views without making comments our other people’s parentage or

intelligence.

Bang Bang


From Jon Swift:

“No one has been hit harder by this financial turmoil than conservatives. Although conservatives generally support self-reliance when it comes to others, the situation is so dire that the only thing that will save our conservative institutions at this point is a quick infusion of government aid.” Note: some readers might take offense as this is a politically charged article, so please bear this in mind.

Conservatives Need a Bailout



Advent Calendars

Do you have an Advent Calendar? Have you ever seen one? Living in Germany you see them all over the place and can buy them almost anywhere. (read more)


Thank you to all the participants. I received a flood of submissions one the last day that I wasn’t able to review yet, so look for some of these to be in the next edition (planned for December 15th). Remember that The Holiday Spirit isn’t necessarily about only Christmas, so I’d love to hear about Hanukkah, Ramadan, and other non-Christian celebrations as well as Christmas. It would be great to hear about your family traditions, your creative gift ideas, and your recipes for holiday treats. If you’d like to become involved please feel free to submit your post and help spread The Holiday Spirit.


Photo Credit: There are two Advent Calendars that we have around out house this year.


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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advent Calendars


Advent Calendars

Do you have an Advent Calendar? Have you ever seen one? Living in Germany you see them all over the place and can buy them almost anywhere. It seems that the first one dates back to 1851 in Germany. Now a days they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and offer all kinds of things. Typically they have 24 doors counting down the days of Advent till Christmas Eve. Every day a new door is opened, revealing whatever is under the door. Many kids will have chocolate ones, so that they can get a different piece of chocolate with a different design everyday (or possibly the same chocolate depending upon the calendar), but there are many other different advent calendars in existence today. Several years ago we had had a couple of Advent Calendars from Playmobil, where the kids would get a new toy figure or accessory every day. There are some Advent calendars that can be reused and others that allow you to be creative.

Here are some sites that you might find of interest related to Advent calendars:

Advent Calendars from Bronners- Bronners is a famous Christmas store located in Frankenmuth, Michigan. There are different Advent calendars here as well as other Christmas items. If you’re in the Detroit area and have some time, a trip to Frankenmuth can be a lot of fun and it is less than a couple of hours by car.

How to Make an Advent Calendar from eHow

TeachingMom's Online Advent Calendar- A nice site that you and your family can use in creating your own Christmas Traditions. There are bible verses and explanations of various things related to Christmas and Christianity.

Advent Calendars at MegaCalendars- There are all kinds of calendar here that you can buy.

Advent Calendar article at Wikipedia- Article describing the history of Advent Calendars.

Online Interactive Calendar from Woodland’s Junior School- This is an

extremely popular interactive online Advent Calendar for kids of all ages. You can find out how Christmas is celebrated around the world

Online count down with Christmas stockings-

Advent Calendars at Amazon


Teddy Bear Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

Kinder Friends




Winnie the Pooh



Barbie




Playmobil is very popular with kids in Germany...

Christmas in the Forest



For those kids that are into pirates...



Dueling Knights...



Unicorn Paradise...




Of course Lego has a few Advent Calendars...

Lego 2008 Advent Calendar



Lego City 7907



Lego Castle



Of course like most everything else in life you can spend a lot of money on this if you like. Here are some of the more expensive ones that I found as well.



From Playmobil



Regardless of if you buy a chocolate or toy themed Advent Calendar, play around with some of the online ones, or make one yourself, Advent Calendars can be a fun way to count down the days till Christmas. Happy Holidays everyone.

Photo Credit: This is an Advent Calendar that we have had for years.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Ideas for the Airline Industry

I’ve done a lot of flying in the past few months which has got me thinking about ways that the airlines could improve. Some of the things that I’ve come up with might not be immediately implementable, but they could be incorporated into the appropriate plans.

The one thing that many passengers would enjoy the most is a major decrease in all the waiting around time. On a recent trip, a colleague of mine drove (from a different city) and I flew, but the total travel time was about the same, once you factor in all the “waiting time”. I remember reading that for a lot of shorter point to point travel that business travelers were starting to use other forms of travel for this very reason. The airlines might not have a whole lot of control over speeding up the security checkpoints but there are factors that they could work on.

More room! Even before the Southwest/Ryan Air business models were put into place, seats have been crammed into planes to fit the maximum number of people on flights. There is not elbow room, and two people can’t stand side by side in the aisles, and forget about trying to walk by the food cart if you’re going to and from the bathroom. It would be nice to have enough room to be able to look at a real newspaper without thinking that you’re bothering the passenger next to you. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve been kicked in the back of my seat because the person behind me shifted their legs. More room would make us feel less like cattle.

Get ride of the food cart and set up a few bar locations instead. The aisle ways wouldn’t be as blocked and people could get a drink or something to eat more when the wanted it. It doesn’t seem that as many warm meals are being served, most of the time they weren’t really that great anyways. Cold items could be kept at these bars, maybe even some nice healthy snacks.

Make sure that the flight crews and airline personnel realize where there paychecks are coming from. It doesn’t really seem to matter which airline you fly with, but so many people that you run into seem to think that passenger is a nuisance or a headache, sometimes they are, but without passengers, the airlines would be out of business. CEOs and other airline management need to fly economy or coach from time to time and try to experience flights from their customers’ point of view.

Develop and use alternative fuels with planes. If the planes could get away from the jet fuel that they use now and make use of more environmentally friendly alternative fuel sources, they could make a huge impact on the environment. Also maybe they could work out longer term contracts for the price that they pay for their alternative fuel so that they would see so many spikes in their fuel charges.

There isn’t enough room for carry-on luggage. On my last flight, even though I was at the airport way before scheduled departure, when I did finally board the plane, I found that all the space in the bin over my seat was full and I had to store my carryon and coat several seats behind me. This idea relates to the more room item listed above, because how many times have you wanted to get to your seat and had to wait from someone doing something with their luggage or you want put your luggage away and people keep coming by.

Make use of more entrances and exits. When the plane lands, there is a bottleneck of people wanting to get out. If you’re sitting in the middle or window seats, you’re not able to get to your luggage till some of the crowd leaves and the people in the aisles are stuck waiting for people to move. Using more exits on the plane could help with this congestion. Of course making the aisle wider would help a lot!

Be innovative. Why do airplane seats have to be in rows all facing the same direction? I was on a Southwest flight years ago and there were rows but they faced each other, which encouraged communication between passengers (at least I thought so). Why not create areas on the plane where there could be lounges and you could sit and talk with colleagues, friends, family, or other passengers that you wanted to talk to. Maybe, carryons could be stored like we did our books in our high school lockers, lets face it, one of the main reasons that people have carryons is because what they’ve brought onboard is fragile and likely to get broken with the rest of the luggage, they plan to use during the flight, or they’re afraid that it might get lost and they might be without it for a while (maybe forever) if it gets lost. Several years ago I few off to a wedding that I was taking part in and my main suitcase was “misplaced”, I did manage to get it back in time but I was worried about having to buy some of the essentials during all the hustle and bustle of the pre-wedding activities. Every airline carries loads and loads of passengers for at least 30 minutes (often longer durations), given all the social media that we have today, it would seem that there many potential relationships there that could be built and of course there might be a dollar or two in there somewhere.

You might have heard about the Boeing Dreamliner or the Airbus A380. Both of these aircraft are a departure from previous generations of airplanes. I’ve seen that both companies have played around with seating arrangements, better fuel economy, and a variety of goodies.

Here is a video that I found on YouTube that shows the interior of an Airbus A380 used by Singapore Airlines.





Here are some other interesting links about the two aircraft…

How Airbus A380 works

A nice history of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Wikipedia

A running history of the Dreamliner

A Boeing page about the Dreamliner variants and some specs

Both Boeing and Airbus have run into a lot of problems developing both planes, the latest being our current economic climate (and you can read about some of these "challenges" in the links above). I do hope that the airline industry, as well as all the manufacturers will see the bigger picture and invest in the future and a better tomorrow. These are just some of my ideas for the airlines. I’d love to hear yours. Feel free to comment and please pass long this article.

Photo credits: The first picture is "CB009686: passenger jet landing" courtesy of flysky. The second picture is "On a plane" courtesy of juanpi_2

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