Saturday, December 31, 2011

The world bids adieu to a tough year

AP Photo/Rick Rycroft. Fireworks burst over the Sydney Opera House, rigfht, as New Year's celebrations begin in Sydney, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011.

Cheers to a bright year for everyone

PARIS (AP) -- With glittering fireworks and celebrations from New Zealand to Times Square, the world eagerly welcomed a new year and hope for a better future Saturday, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.

Read full story

The Old Year has gone.  Let the dead past bury its own dead.  The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.  All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!  ~Edward Payson Powell

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Make your dreams of being an entertainer come true in 2012

Cedar Point auditions 2011.
Have you ever entertained the idea of performing at Cedar Point or auditioning for a local theater production?

Now is the time to do it. 

With the new year just around the corner many community theater groups and summer entertainment venues are lining up talent for their upcoming productions.

Representatives from the Ohio amusement park will hold auditions in Sandusky on the first Friday of the New Year (Jan. 6) for this summer’s entertainment lineup.

What are they looking for?
  • Performers: singers, dancers, singers/dancers and singers/musicans
  • Musicians: electric/acoustic guitar, keyboard, fiddle/mandolin/utility players and drummer/percussionists
  • Technicians: stage managers, audio and light technicians, stage crews, ushers, costume shop personnel and dressers
  • Peanuts characters: costumed characters and escorts
  • Karaoke hosts and DJs
Applicants, who are 18 years of age by May 2012, should limit their audition to 16-32 bars. Consider music that is upbeat and illustrates one’s personality and ability to interact with audience members. A CD or piano will be available but other instruments and amplifiers will not. Those who audition will be asked to submit a one-page resume with references as well. Those who cannot make the auditions can send audio and /or videotape with a resume via snail mail to: Cedar Point Live Entertainment, One Cedar Point Drive, Sandusky, OH 44870-5259.
How good is the gig?
Cedar Park itself is known for its entertainment, its live entertainment division having earned more than two dozen Big E awards, presented by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions for excellence in live entertainment. The park has six live show venues and was named the Best Amusement Park in the World for the 14th consecutive year. 
If you land the job, as an employee you will be entitled to free admission to Cedar Point, the Soak City outdoor water park and the park’s sandy beach. Other benefits include low-cost housing for employees who are 18 years old and live more than 30 miles from the park, on-site employee cafeteria, recreation program and extensive employee activity program.
Open auditions at Cedar Point’s Live Entertainment Office will be held 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Jan. 6. Registration runs: 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. The park opens for the season May 12, 2012.
For more information, contact the Live Entertainment Division, 419627-2388, by email at liveshows@cedarpoint.com or online at Cedar Point

Be a part of "Chicago!"

Put on your dancing shoes and grab your hat and cane! Clintondale Community Theater's award-winning troupe will be holding auditions for the smash Broadway musical, "Chicago!

The more time you spend on stage the better. Local theater groups not only provide aspiring singers, dancers and actors with an opportunity to grow but to make new friends in the business (show business that is).

Auditions will be held Jan.9-12 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the Clintondale High School Auditorium. The high school is located at 35200 Little Mack, Clinton Township but all those auditioning should enter from the 15 Mile Road entrance across from the Baker College entrance.

Be prepared to dance and sing a selection from the show chosen by the production staff.
Directed by Todd Swanboro, this musical will be presented in the Broadway production format, and costuming will reflect this style of production. For further clarification, please check the internet for previous theatrical productions (not the movie), of costume examples. 

For further information, call 586-791-6301 ext. 2409

Other auditions
Southeast Michigan Youth Theatre auditions for musical “The Secret Garden,” 6 p.m. Jan. 5-6, at Aud Regional Youth Complex, 68931 Main St., Richmond; open to those in kindergarten through 12th grade. Show dates March 9-11 and 16-18. Call 586-430-1039 or email audtheater@gmail.com.

Grosse Pointe Theatre auditions for “Hairspray,” 1-5 p.m. Jan. 28, and 3-7 p.m. Jan. 29, at the rehearsal studio, 315 Fisher Road at Maumee, Grosse Pointe Farms. Performance dates May 6, 9-13 and 17-20, 2012, at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial Fries Auditorium. GPT also holding dance workshops to help those interested in auditioning, 7-10 p.m. Jan. 10, 17 and 24, at the rehearsal studio. Call 313-886-8901 or visit www. gpt.org.

Check out our list of family-friendly events and activities going on throughout the Detroit area:

A magical evening planned for New Years Eve in Mount Clemens

Not everyone can stay awake until midnight on New Year’s Eve, which is why Mount Clemens boosters have set up a special menu of family-style entertainment in the hours leading up to the city’s big fireworks celebration on Saturday. Read full story

 Avon Players
Avon Players Community Theatre presents the zany musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 13-28, at 1185 Washington Road, Rochester, rated PG-13 for strong language and mature themes and situations and not recommended for children. 
Ticket prices range from $16-$18, and are available at www.avonplayers.org, the box office or (248)608-9077.

Chamber Music Society
Chamber Music Society of Detroit presents the Tokyo String Quartet, 8 p.m. Jan. 7, at the Seligman Performing Arts Center, 22305 West 13 Mile Road, at the corner of Lahser and 13 Mile roads, Beverly Hills,

Line dance & couples dancing
*Beginner and Beginner Plus Line Dancing Classes, 12:30-2 p.m. Thursdays starting Jan. 5, at the Warren Community Center, 5460 Arden Road (off Mound Road between 13 & 14 Mile roads) in Warren, $4 per person, countrycuzzins@wowway.com or call Joe/Penny 586-777-7242.
*Line Dancing Classes, starting Jan. 10, with line dance beginners 7 p.m., line dance easy intermediate 7:40, couples 8:20, at Roseville Rec. Center, 18185 Sycamore, Roseville, $5 per person, for more info, call Rec Ctr at 586-445-5480 or Joe & Penny at 586-777-7242.
*Line & Couples Dancing for Beginner to Intermediate, starting in late January, in Utica, Shelby Township and Clinton Township, Danceduo@wideopenwest.com or 586-286-6002.

Gem Theatre
“All Night Strut Holiday Show,” 8 p.m. through Sunday, also 2 p.m. Dec. 29, 3 p.m. through Dec. 31, at Detroit’s Gem Theatre, 333 Madison Ave. Tickets $39.50-$44.50 at Ticketmaster outlets and Gem box office; visit www.gemtheatre.com or 313-963-9800.

Historical Museum
Detroit Historical Museum offers free admission through Dec. 31; extended hours 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, at 5401 Woodard Ave. at Kirby. Parking: $4. Call 313-833-1805 or visit www.detroithistorical.org. Features include Streets of Old Detroit, Glancy Trains and Detroit Toy Stories. Also, Historical Society’s “Behind the Scenes” series opens 10 a.m. Jan. 14, with Detroit Opera House, same time Jan. 21 at Country Club of Detroit, and Jan. 27, at Joe Louis Arena. For information, call 313-833-1801.


Museum event
Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm exhibit “The Rochester Home Town Christmas Parade Celebrates Six Decades of Christmas Joy,” continues through Dec. 30. For information, 248-656-4663 or www.rochesterhills.org.

‘Earthy Treasures’
Pewabic Pottery “Earthy Treasures” holiday show, through Dec. 30, at 10125 E. Jefferson, across from Waterworks Park, Detroit. Call 313-626-2000 or visit www.pewabic.org.

Winter spa
St. Clair Shores F.O.E. Auxiliary No. 3619 hosts Winter Spa Treatment demonstration, 1-3 p.m. Jan. 8, at 23631 Greater Mack, St. Clair Shores. Admission $10 includes facial and hand and foot massage; limited seating.
Proceeds to Wigs for Kids. Call 586-775-4665.

Alliance Francaise
King’s Day (“La Fete des Rois”) celebration by Alliance Francaise de Grosse Pointe, 1:30-4 p.m. Jan. 7, at Grosse Pointe War Memorial. Family event includes French film and refreshments. Admission: $9 per person. Email specialevents@afgrossepointe.org.

Historical Society
Greater Clinton Township Historical Society meeting 7 p.m. Jan. 16, at Clinton Macomb Library auditorium, 40900 Romeo Plank Road. Program by James Tottis will be about his book on the history of Detroit’s Guardian Building. Call, 586-286-9173 or clintontwphistory.org.

Stevenson concert
Stevenson High School choir, in conjunction with Davis Junior High choir, presents “Fighting Away the Winter Blues” concert, 7 p.m. Jan. 12, at the high school, 39701 Dodge Park Road, Sterling Heights. Tickets $5 at the door.

GP Theatre
Grosse Pointe Theatre presents “Jekyll & Hyde,” 2 p.m. Jan. 15, 22, 8 p.m. Jan. 19-22 and 26-28, in Fries Auditorium of Grosse Pointe War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe Farms. For tickets ($24), call 313-881-4004 or www.gpt.org.

Chamber music
Grosse Pointe Chamber Music concert, 2:30 p.m. Jan. 15, in Crystal Ballroom of Grosse Pointe War Memorial, 32 Lakeshore Drive, Grosse Pointe Farms. Selections by Telemann, Bruch, Poulenc and Schickele. Ticekts $12 at the door, free ages 18 and younger. Call 586-945-6830.

Clothing swap
MacombCountyCafe Yahoo! Group clothing swap, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. third Wednesday quarterly, at the DAV Hall, 47326 Dequindre, Utica. Call 586-739-5267.

Go Comedy!
Shows in December at Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, www.gocomedy.net, Pj Jacokes at pj@gocomedy.net or 248-327-0575: The “Go Comedy! All Star Showdown,” with hors d’oeuvres, 8 and 10 p.m. Dec. 31, $25 at 8 p.m., $35 at 10 p.m. with a champagne toast and special prize, or $50 for both.

Dog Classic
Michigan Winter Dog Classic show featuring more than 7,000 dogs, noon-6 p.m. Jan. 19, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Jan. 20-22, at Suburban Collection in Novi. Hosted by Oakland County and Livonia kennel clubs. Admission $10 adults, $8 ages 7-12, free 6 and younger; $35 family plan includes two adults and three children. Visit www.themichiganwinterdogclassic.com.

Blind bowlers
Macomb Blind Bowlers for visually impaired and/or blind individuals 18 and older, league bowling 11:45 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Fraser Star Lanes, northeast corner of 14 Mile and Garfield roads. Fee $10 per week. Call 586-360-9543.

Come out and paint!
Lakeside Palette Club has studio space 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays in Room 111 of Adult Education Center on Masonic near Jefferson. Call 586-350-4518 or visit www.lakesidepaletteclub.org.

Senior volunteers
Senior Companion Program of Macomb, sponsored by Catholic Services of Macomb, needs volunteers age 55 and older to provide companionship and support to other area adults. Volunteers must meet income eligibility guidelines and have reliable transportation; benefits include a tax-free stipend for their services. Call 586-756-1435.

Square dancing
Patches Squares dance club hosts beginning square dance lessons, 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays at First United Methodist Church of Warren, 5005 Chicago Road. First class (no matter when dancers start) is free, $3 for following sessions. Call 248-613-3169.

Senior club
2nd Horizon Club for ages 60 and older, meets noon Fridays at Mount Clemens Rec Center, 300 Groesbeck, light lunch, cards and socializing. For details, 586-463-7711. No fee to join.

Volunteers needed
Senior Companion Program of Macomb, sponsored by Catholic Services of Macomb, needs volunteers age 55 and older to provide companionship and support to other area adults. Volunteers must meet income eligibility guidelines and have reliable transportation; benefits include a tax-free stipend for their services. Call 586-756-1435.
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Macomb needs educational support volunteers in county elementary schools and Head Start programs during 2011-12 school year. Also, opportunities for tutoring adults through Macomb Adult Literacy. For details, contact RSVP of Macomb, (586) 756-1430 or rsvp@csmacomb.org.
Macomb Literary Partners needs volunteers to help adults become better readers; applicants trained to tutor an adult 2 hours per week, with training sessions held on weekends or evenings. Call 586-286-2750.
Detroit Historical Guild seeking volunteers interested in participating in historical activities, including flea markets at Historic Fort Wayne, tea parties, excursions to historic sites, etc. Call 586-777-5898.

Features editor Debbie Komar contributed to this list.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

‘War Horse’ is sure to spur interest in horse stories

A scene from DreamWorks Pictures' War Horse.
I have yet to saddle a seat for "War Horse," but I am sure I'll love it.
"What's interesting about this story is that you're watching the horse, go through the war but you're not necessarily watching a war film," explained producer Kathleen Kennedy. "It's not a story that's designed to take you to the front lines to watch what happens to these animals in war. It's really a story about how the horse comes into contact with all the aspects of the war and the people who represent all the different sides of the war."
The new film by director Steven Spielberg, "War Horse," is a story for all ages set in England and Europe where quiet pastures have been unearthed by the conflict of the First World War. At the heart of the story is the remarkable friendship between a horse by the name of Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. What audiences witness when the two are torn apart by circumstances is the extraordinary journey that Joey takes through the war and the inspiring influence that the horse has on all those he meets -- British cavalry, German soldiers, a French farmer and his granddaughter -- before reaching the story's stirring climax in the heart of No Man's Land.
If you've been around horses, you know they can exhibit a ubiquitous demonstration in person perception. So, the idea of taking a journey with an equine -- uprooted from its familiar surroundings on a family farm and the beloved relationship that it had with the owners' son, and sold to the British Army at the outbreak of the war -- is not as preposterous as it might sound.
Even actor Tom Hiddleston, who plays Captain Nicholls, the British army officer who takes possession of the farm horse, Joey, as his personal mount, came to realize how expressive horses can be. "I'm amazed by the strength of the bond between horses and people. Horses will teach you about who you are much more than you could possibly learn on your own. They can sense fear, arrogance, true confidence, true self-possession and inner peace," he said.

This rider knows this to be true of at least one horse, a little pony that I rode as a child, who knew exactly what I was feeling. Every time I thought I was in control of the reins and headed for an afternoon ride, he would bite down on the bit and haul my saddle back to the barn. On one occasion, my escorting equine hauled me right into a stall. It wasn't until I knew what I was doing, and had gained a little confidence, that the feisty little pinto allowed me control of the reins. Then out of the barnyard we flew.
"War Horse," based on both Michael Morpugo's 1982 children's novel and the hugely successful international theatrical hit that is arriving on Broadway next year, was adapted by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall. It has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama and besides an Oscar nod is likely to rekindle our affection with other horse movies.

Below is a list of beloved films about horses:

1. "National Velvet" (1944) is the classic story about a girl who wins a horse in a lottery and turns him into a champion.
2. "The Man from Snowy River" (1982) is a story about a young man, left stranded after his father’s death, who proves his manhood by single-handedly rounding up a herd of wild horses, while pursuing the rich rancher's daughter.
3. "The Horse Whisperer" (1998) is a beautiful story woven from the lives of a workaholic mom and her injured daughter, an abused horse and the horse whisperer whose gift for healing broken spirits, touches all of them.
4. "Hidalgo" (2004) is the story of a cowboy and his mustang, Hidalgo, who travel halfway around the world to enter a race across 3,000 miles of the Arabian Desert's punishing terrain, against Arabia's finest horses and riders and the evil schemers who vow victory at all costs. 
5. "Dreamer" (2005) is the inspiring story of a father who, for the love of his daughter, sacrifices everything to save the life of a racehorse and help to restore its promising future on the track.
6. "A Day at the Races" (1937) is a comedy featuring the Marx Brothers.
7. "Flicka" (2006). A young girl tames a wild horse and proves to her father that she has what it takes to one day run the family's ranch. 
8. "The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1968) is a comedy about a businessman who enlists his daughter and her show horse as the means for promoting a product.
9. "The Black Stallion" (1979). Based on Walter Farley's children's book of the same name, it is about a boy who, after surviving a shipwreck, is stranded on an island with a beautiful Arabian stallion, who he befriends. Once rescued, they ride in a race against the best horses in the country.   
10. "Seabiscuit" (2003) is based on the story by Laura Hillenbrand about an undersized Depression-era racehorse whose victories not only inspired the spirits of its team, but a nation.
Bonus: “Secretariat” (2010) is the story of the 1973 Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, who is considered by many to be the “greatest racehorse of all time.”

    Looking to read another inspiring story about a horse? Reckless was a little sorrel mare purchased by a Marine to pack ammunition to the front line and carry the wounded back to safety. Read more here

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Think B&B for holiday accommodations

    The Kingsley House.
    Not everyone is comfortable being an out-of-town guest even when a parent or close family member insists it is no trouble at all putting them out and on the couch. It's for this reason many families choose to stay at a bed-and-breakfast while traveling during the holiday season.

    It's a "home away from home."

    "We used to have a family that booked the whole house at Christmastime," said Dominique Johnson, front office manager for The Inn on Ferry Street in Detroit. It was considered home base for the family who traveled from around the country to reach their home state. Unlike most bed-and-breakfasts, The Inn on Ferry Street not only rents out rooms but has several houses available as well.

    "Think of it as Monopoly and we're the Boardwalk side," Johnson said. The residential group on East Ferry Avenue is part of an upper-class neighborhood originally developed in the late 1800s. The homes and carriage houses feature a variety of architectural styles popular at the time, including four Victorians. Popular among these historic homes is Pungs House, a beautifully restored home that was originally built in 1891 for William Pungs, who was vice president of the Michigan Railroad Supply Company and founder of the Anderson Carriage Company. Besides all of its Victorian charm, this historic structure boasts inlaid hardwood floors and two fireplaces. "We decorate each house for Christmas," said Johnson. That includes a Christmas tree where guests can hide away gifts for opening on Christmas morning.

    As for Christmas dinner, Johnson said there are numerous restaurants in the area — including The Whitney — or catering services. "That's what one family did," Johnson said. In some cases, because some of the homes can seat 35 guests comfortably for dinner, it is the families staying at the bed-and-breakfast that become the holiday hosts.

    The Owen House is another popular choice, not only for Christmas gatherings but holiday weddings, as it features a beautiful grand staircase.

    The Inn on Ferry Street.
    Prices on the rooms at The Inn on Ferry Street are between $139 and $239 a night. The cost for renting a home: $955 and up.

    How about parents coming in to visit a college student?

    A search at http://www.bnbfinder.com found several locations, including the Vitosha Guest Haus Inn, a Gothic mansion complex featuring down comforters and fireplaces.

    One amenity that is common among any B&B you choose is the hearty breakfast offered by your innkeepers. In some cases, guests can request complimentary shuttle service, within reason, and even a loaner car. Coffee, teas and fruit of the season are available throughout the day.

    Send your comments or home and garden tips to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Local singers' Christmas carol gets its wings on YouTube

    Cathryn Joanna of Macomb County.
    Cathryn Joanna was born with a beautiful voice and a talent for songwriting. This Christmas, she is sharing her gift for music with the world and they are responding.
    Shortly after being uploaded to YouTube, Joanna's new Christmas song, "Little Baby Loved," had more than 3,000 hits and, according to her mom, Gail, who has been tracking its success, is getting the attention of listeners in six continents. "It's amazing how it's taking off," said the 18-year-old singer and songwriter. "It's being played on 103.5 (the inspiration radio station WMUZ-FM) too!"
    Hearing her song on YouTube was cool but hearing it on the radio, was a dream come true.
    "It's kind of surreal," said Joanna, who finished recording the song at a studio in Ohio, shortly before its launch into cyberspace. One minute she's hearing her voice on the radio -- singing a song that she wrote. The next minute celebrity disc jockey Chris Stevenson of WMUZ-FM's "The Morning Light" is saying her name and announcing an upcoming song by a big recording artist like Francesca Battistelli in the same breath.
    Joanna is a high school senior, dual-enrolled in home-school and classes at Rochester College. She's always loved music and while her parents were not keen on her becoming a singer/songwriter, they came to realize her gift should be shared. So they and Joanna traveled to a music studio in Toledo, Ohio, and recorded "Little Baby Loved."
    Before they returned home, Joanna's best friend had the song uploaded to YouTube.
    "I did not want my daughter going into the music business," said Joanna's mother. "It's not the kind of life you envision for your child. It's a hard life. But about a year ago, my husband and I realized this was a gift - her singing and songwriting abilities - and it needed to be shared and this song is part of that."
    "It's a great song... about the true meaning of Christmas," she added.

    In addition to singing at church, Joanna was asked to be the opening act for the Chuck Tocco Band's CD release party, Dec. 17 at TV's Great Event banquet hall in Trenton.  This spring she will graduate from high school. And while she entertained thoughts of pursuing a music degree, much depends on "Little Baby Loved."
    "I could say I want to be a recording star," Joanna said. "But... my ultimate goal is whatever God has planned for me."
    Click here for more on TV's Grand Event

    Help your children shine at Christmas parties

    Kids are never politically correct.
    I'll never forget the Christmas I made the gravy. I was in college and my brother, who lives on the family's homestead and always hosts our holiday dinner, tossed me a whisker and asked me if I could finish cooking the gravy. No problem. I mean really, how hard could it be, right? We're all sitting at the table, enjoying each other's company when my niece, who was about 5 or 6 at the time, started whimpering. My sister-in-law whispers, "What's wrong?" My niece doesn't answer so she persists until finally she belts out, "Do I have to eat my potatoes? The gravy is lumpy."
    We laughed, but I was with family members who know I can cook, some dishes rather well. Had I been with strangers, I'm sure the remark would have had me ducking under the table.
    "The holiday season is when parents tend to notice most acutely which of their kids' habits could use improvement. After all, friends and family are there to witness what you see as an embarrassing display that reflects poorly on your parenting skills," according to Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, CSP, and author of six self-help books, including her newest release, "The Engaging Child: Raising Children to Speak, Write, and Have Relationship Skills Beyond Technology" ($18.95, Red Zone Publishing). "As a parent myself, I know that in the everyday hurry and worry of life, it's easy to let your kids' smaller foibles go uncorrected. And once you're in the midst of the packed holiday social season, it's too late to correct behaviors you previously overlooked."
    "My experience as a professional and as a parent has convinced me that one of the most valuable gifts you can give your kids is to teach them how to effectively (interact) with others in a variety of settings. And the holiday season provides a wealth of opportunities to demonstrate and practice those skills," Kuzmeski said. The time to explain the rules of holiday engagement to a child is now, before all of the parties and gatherings begin.
    So, where do you start?
    Consider all of the parties, pageants and social settings that you and your children will be attending, and decide beforehand what habits and skills you want your children to demonstrate.
    "Don't assume that your child 'would never' act in a certain way or even that he or she knows better than to engage in a particular behavior," Kuzmeski said. "Remember, kids don't' always know intuitively when they need to be on their best behavior, and they can't fake it as easily as adults can."

    * Teach them that it's cool to go unplugged
    With all of the gadgets available for emails, social networking, text messaging and mp3 players, a great deal of our time these days is spent plugged into something. As with anything, one must learn to step away from the gadgetry, especially at this time of year, when face-to-face interactions are so important. So, create a rule for Christmas. "Place a basket at the door during any family event and collect all electronic devices before the mingling starts," Kuzmeski suggested. "Include a note on the basket that reads, 'So you can enjoy the friends and family you're with.' Explain to your kids how important it is to engage fully with people you love, especially if you don't see certain individuals during the rest of the year."

    * Arm your kids with ice breakers
    "For youngsters who spend most of their days 'LOLing,' BRBing,' and 'TTYLing,' having a good old-fashion verbal conversation might be unfamiliar, if not downright intimidating," Kuzmeski said.
    When adults meet a new child, they'll often ask easy-to-answer stock questions such as "What's your name? How old are you?" Besides teaching them how to answer simple questions, help your child think of something extra they might offer to the conversation. For instance, "Hi, I'm Stephen. I'm 5 years old and I love football."

    *Share the importance of charm
    It doesn't matter the age of a person, a compliment is always a great way to break the conversational ice. Practice with your kids, giving them examples of how to compliment. A girl, for example, could say, "I love that necklace you're wearing. It's so pretty. For a boy, "Wow, cool watch."

    * The weather is the safe zone
    It's not the most interesting conversation, but the fact is it works, and it's a great way for a child to ease into a conversation with someone he or she does not know very well. Something they might say? "Isn't all this snow great?" or "I hope this rain turns into snow. I would really like a white Christmas."

    * Teach them how to find things in common
    If children learn to find a common interest with the person to whom they are speaking, small talk can turn from mediocre to meaningful in an instant. "Teach your kids to be aware of conversational and external cues," said Kuzmeski. "If your daughter notices that someone is wearing a (Spartan) jersey and she's also a fan, she can strike up a conversation about the team.

    * It's a wrap
    "One of the trickiest parts of small talk is the conclusion," Kuzmeski advised. "Give kids a few lines they can use to wrap up a conversation before it veers into awkward silence like, 'It was great to meet you.' Or 'Enjoy your holidays.'"

    Don't be yourself, be someone a little kinder -- Mignon McLaughlin, American journalist and author

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Welcoming out-of-town guests to your home

    Sharing your home for the holidays is a Christmas tradition everyone should experience at least once. For those who know what they're doing, it can be an event that is cherished long after the holidays are over.

    So Aunt Millie is coming to town? Face the date and get cracking.

    To help with the process, here's a game plan from one of the best penny pinchers I know, Ashley Grimaldo, whose advice for frugal-minded families has appeared here as well as "Redbook" and "The Chicago Tribune":

    Create a meal-sharing spreadsheet.

    "After a decade of gathering for Thanksgiving with my mother's extended relatives, we finally wised up and started assigning cooking and cleaning to each family," said Grimaldo. "We... made sure each group knew what they were responsible for. Make the most of Facebook and send out small group messages."

    Prepare the guest rooms with necessities.

    Your guests should have two towels, extra linens and enough toiletries to get them through the weekend. Once the room is stocked, let them know where they are and what to do if they need something else such as aspirin. "Don't forget to leave a few bestsellers and magazines on the nightstand for late-night reading," Grimaldo added.

    Do a guests-are-here drill with the family.

    "Most of us don't have spare rooms lying around throughout our house. Your guests will most likely need to encroach on current inhabitants," Grimaldo said. "If those evicted youngsters are under 3, let them share a room with their older siblings a couple nights ahead so they will sleep well when company arrives."

    Plan activities to burn off calories and steam. 

    "Two big ideas here: You will eat far more than you should (despite your steely resolve) and cabin fever leads to badness (as dramatized in 'The Shining')." A brisk walk gives family members time to talk, wear off dinner and enjoy nature.

    What's going on around town?

    Find out what shows, plays or fun activities might be going on around town and give your guests the option to attend. If you've got snow consider gathering everyone together to build a snowman or go sledding. 

    Be a good host and think ahead.

    Rather than playing GPS on the night of arrival, send your first-time guests an email with map attachments and directions. Include other need-to-know stops nearby such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

    Consider buying a good air mattress.

    How many times have you had to borrow a mattress for overnight guests? Watch for sales after Christmas on quality air mattresses. After all, if you're finally going to get one, be sure it's durable and something even you wouldn't mind crashing on.

    Ask about food allergies and what kids like to eat.

    If you have someone with severe conditions, check for tips and recipes on sites such as Eating With Food Allergies

    Spare the carpeting and the dishwasher.
    Instead of mopping up spilled soda or constantly filling the dishwasher with unidentified empty cups, consider purchasing a batch of souvenir cups with lids to contain the mess and give your guests something to take home later. Have a permanent marker handy so everyone can autograph their own cup.

    Consider the family's pets.

    "If your cat-crazy relatives can't make it through the weekend without toting Whiskers along, address it ahead of time," Grimaldo said. "Consult this list of safety tips for dogs at "ASPCA For everyone's sake, ask your guest if the animal has any peculiar habits or needs such as a pet bed or chewy toys.

    Send your comments or home and garden tips to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com.