Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day is cool for many reasons

Boxing Day Down Under marks the start of the annual Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race.
Today is Boxing Day, and once again my family and friends (those here in the states) will look at me with that funny grin and say: "So, what is Boxing Day anyway?" Should I wish Muhammad Ali a Merry Christmas, or maybe send Mike Tyson a "box" of chocolates? I heard it has something to do with the queen. Doe she "box" Charles' ears on Dec. 26?

Such are the comments I've heard over the years and though a bit off, even most Canadians cannot always give a serious answer to the comical queries regarding the origins of Boxing Day?

I bet if I were to do a random survey at any "Timmy's" (TIm Hortons) today -- most Canadians surveyed would say: "I don't know? We've had the day off since forever. It is as a national holiday. Or, better yet, here in Canada and Britain (Oh, and the Aussies too) we are greedy, it's not enough for us to have Christmas Day celebrations we have added another civic day to spend with family and friends, eh?"

However, ask any one of our grandparents and they would tell you its origins are steeped in history and tradition. 

A "Christmas Box" in Britain is a name for a Christmas present. The day after Christmas is also the day when churches in England and Canada empty their collection boxes for the poor and needy.

An article from The New York Times dated in December of 1936 states the holiday could be traced back to a Roman custom of giving and receiving gifts during Saturnalia, the season dedicated to exchanging presents.

In the "Book of Days," it is stated the fathers of the church denounced, on the grounds of its pagan origin, the observance of such a usage by the Christians. But their anathemas had little practical effect, and with the passage of time, the custom of giving Christmas boxes and New Year's gifts attained universal recognition.

This was also a time when tradesmen and journeymen were in the habit of levying contributions upon the customers of their masters. The tradespeople in turn would add to bills they had already rendered, thus completing the cycle of compensation.

I was told by my father that it was on this day that the queen honored the hard work and loyalty of her servants by presenting them with boxes of goodies (in the old days it was leftovers) and gratuities, along with the day off. I believe this remains a royal tradition. As for modern Brits, Boxing Day is an opportunity to show off their true eccentricity by taking part in silly activities such as swimming the English Channel or participating in a fun run for charity. For the Aussies there is the annual Boxing Day cricket match hosted by their national team and the Sydney to Hobart Yach Race. In the early days of the annual sailboat race a priest would place a small container or Christmas box on the ship. If the crewmen wanted a safe return they would drop money into the box. It was then sealed up and kept onboard drung the entire voyage from Sydney, Australia to Hobart, Tasmania. When the ship came home safely the box was opened and its contents were shared with the poor. In Canada, consumers no longer deal with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, but remember their broker, post person or hairstylist. Canadians also partake in a polar bear dip for the poor but in recent years it's become more of a New Year's Day tradition.

It's gratuities of all kind, along with food and boxes of clothing for the poor, that are presumed to be the derivative of Boxing Day. As with any holiday -- new traditions rise up every year -- but ideally it remains a time when the queen remembers her servants, when the boss shall remember his menials, and when the poor shall be remembered by all of us.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's not Christmas without 'Ava Maria'

One of the things I enjoy about the holiday season is the music. Since Halloween I've been listening to Christmas jingles and while they are all great in their own way -- the holiday season doesn't seem complete until I've heard "Ava Maria." 

So, I went surfing. 

Now, without further ado here's a wonderful rendition by, "The Priests." I have not had the pleasure of seeing them perform but did an interview with them a couple of years ago. They are warm-hearted, humorous and extremely talented friends, who use their harmonious gift to inspire audiences around the world.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Stars of the season

There’s a new book for everyone on your Christmas list

For those of you still shopping for the perfect gifts with just days left until Christmas, consider this year’s release of new books.

No matter who’s on your list –- mother, child, man, woman, teacher or student – there’s bound to be something they’ll like and appreciate. Books can also serve to inspire someone on your list – like a teenager learning to play guitar. You never know what they’ll glean from a book purchased with their hearts and desires in mind.
So, without further ado, here are a few of the new books that have come across our desk in the past year. Some of them have been read - others suggested. Take your pick and be sure to get one for yourself - in case the weather turns (bring on that snow) and you find yourself snowed in for a few days.

Charles Santore's beautiful illustrations breathe new life into the classic story, The Night Before Christmas ($18.95, www.applesaucepress.com). Share the story on Christmas Eve or let the reader dive into the book's big and colorful pages themselves. Each page is a mural with enough details to feed the muse for hours.

Santa is coming to Michigan ($9.99, Sourcebooks) and it is likely that children will be excited about the news and the wonderful illustrations of Detroit's Renaissance Center and Comerica Park depicted in this book by Robert Dunn, a freelance illustrator from Scotland. 

One Child, One Planet: Inspiration for the Young Conservationist ($19.95, Emerald Shamrock Press) is a joint effort between Michigan's award-winning wildlife photographers and co-creators of the New York Times best-selling "In The Woods" series of books, Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick and author, Bridget McGovern Llewellyn. Beautiful and amazing images partnered with simple but elegant words provide young readers with a wonderful message about the world we need to protect.

Penguin and Pinecone ($12.99, Walker & Company) by Salina Yoon is a cute friendship story about a little penguin that finds a lost pinecone in the snow.

My Feelings Activity Book ($12.95, Ruby's Studio) by Abbie Schiller and Samantha Counter-Kurtzman is a special kind of book featuring personalized fill-in-the-blank activities to help children explore who they are and how they feel. Cool stickers included.

You can take your children to a museum or you can read them, Hello Circulos! and Colores Everywhere ($7.95 each, Arte Kids). The first board books in a Spanish/English bilingual series are the brainchild of the San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Library Foundation and Trinity University Press. The bright and colorful books make learning about art and a second language fun.

For the reader, movie-goer and ultimate fan there's this colorful collection of "Hobbit" keepsake books from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (www.hmhbooks.com) including: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey/The World of Hobbits" ($9.95); The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey/Visual Companion by Jude Fisher ($19.95); "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey/The Movie Storybook ($9.95); and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide by Brian Sibley ($14.95).

Star Wars Origami ($16.95, Workman Publishing) by Chris Alexander is filled with Star Wars facts, stories and enough paper-folding projects (72 sheets of specially designed paper) to keep a little Jedi busy for months.

For writers, historians or the best man looking for a toast there's, Great Sayings: Classic Words for Modern Times ($20, Penguin Group). Although another book of familiar phrases this one also includes outlandish anecdotes and a few unexpected discoveries. 

A Shtinky Little Christmas ($9.99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) is a delightful snack for anyone who enjoys the Mutts or humor.

Consider the Fork ($26.99, Basic Books) by Bee Wilson is a historical look at how we cook and eat. It is an odd topic for a book but Wilson's style makes the information interesting and even entertaining. Talk about food for thought!

If she's got a sense of humor or has already read Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress you'll want to give her the New York Times Bestselling Author's newest book, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? ($24.50, Grand Central Publishing.

For the bride-to-be or that fun person who always volunteers to have the party at her house there's Mermaids and Martinis: Turn Your Party into a Memory ($19.99, Dunham Books). It's a one-of-a-kind guide to creating a party everyone will remember (and enjoy).

A teacher, mom, artist, anyone can appreciate, Craft techniques & projects ($40, www.DK.com). This hefty hardcover book features more than 50 contemporary projects that people can create at home with inexpensive equipment and materials.

The Alex Cross Collection, Volume 1 ($26.97, The Hachette Book Group) is out just in time for Christmas. If they love James Patterson chances are it's on their wish list. The holiday paperback package includes Patterson's "Double Cross," "Cross Country" and "I, Alex Cross."

The Essential Supernatural : On the Road with Sam and Dean Winchester by Nicholas Knight, Eric Kripke and Christopher Cerasi ($50, www.insighteditions.com) is new enough that it might not be on someone's wish list. However, what a surprise this would be for the "Supernatural" fan. This hardcover edition features a wicked collection exclusive photos and memorabilia.


Stephen Colbert takes a funny look at America (as do readers who use the enclosed 3D glasses) in America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren't ($28.99, Grand Central Publishing). 

Now Eat This! Italian ($26.99, Grand Central Life and Style) is an ideal choice, whether it’s for the aspiring chef, foodie book collector, or anyone who loves to cook but has to watch their weight. Award-winning celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito’s presents a low-calorie, low-fat but still delicious versions of 90 classic Italian recipes.

Forbes staff writer Monte Burke’s 4th & Goal: One Man’s Quest to Recapture His Dream ($26.99, Grand Central Publishing) tells the story of Joe Moglia, who, at the age of 60, left his job as a successful CEO to accomplish his lifelong dream of becoming a college football coach. It’s a book for jocks, financiers, and anyone in need of inspiration.

52 Little Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life, by Bob Welch ($15.99, Thomas Nelson) revisits the defining lessons in Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film, reminding us that life’s most important work is often related to an unexpected situation.

For the ultimate football fan or sports historian there's, The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book ($34.99, Grand Central Publishing). This collectible hardcover book is not just a story about the game of football (1892-2012) but features the kind of quotes and anecdotes one might hear in the locker room before and after a game.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Homeworks: The best TV is going to be different for every family

The Samsung PN60E7000 3D Plasma HDTV ($2,119.99).
So you’ve decided to spend your Christmas bonus on a new television. It’s a wonderful idea and likely to be a fun trip for the family. That is, provided you check into a few things before heading to the store. As you will soon find out, the old days when TVs were a simple appliance featuring an on/off switch and rabbit ears antenna are gone.
Consumers today have their choice of small, medium or mammoth LED, LCD, HD or 3D, Smart or just plain awesome.

Ask Matthew Skeltis, a blue-shirt associate in the home theater department at Best Buy in Chesterfield Township (blue-shirt being an honor bestowed to employees who know their stuff) what his store can offer in the way of televisions, and he’ll ask you where the set is going. Who’s going to be using it and for what reason? These questions are not to be difficult but to help him determine which television is going to be best suited for your family’s needs.

“Basically, it comes down to lifestyle,” Skeltis said.

If you’re putting the television in a dark family room, and the kids are going to be using it for gaming, you’ll want a design that creates bright images, strong vibrant colors and sharp edges. Also crucial to gamers is minimal lag — which is basically the amount of time that it takes for commands/messages to go from the computer to the television screen. A gamer will become frustrated if he or she makes a move but does not see instant results.
LEDs with a higher hertz rate, such as 240Hz or 280Hz, would be good for gamers. A standard 60Hz would be fine for basic TV programming, but a gamer and even someone watching a lot of sports or action movies would be disappointed with it.

Another popular choice for gamers is a plasma TV, which is also known to have less motion blur. In the early days of plasma there was the problem of “screen burn,” which occurred when an image remained on the screen for long periods of time. Skeltis said it can still happen but only if the set is improperly used or abused. Thanks to new technology and because most games no longer use static backgrounds the chance of “screen burn” has become a nonissue.

Also, because of the bad rap they’ve had, you are likely to find better pricing on a plasma as opposed to an LED.

What exactly is an LED as opposed to an LCD? “It’s brighter technology,” Skeltis said.
LCD or a liquid crystal display TV has a higher electrical output because it is lit by fluorescent lighting. With the newer LED or light-emitting-diode television, the fluorescent lamps have been replaced by LED lights that are brighter and use less energy. “These televisions also can be viewed well from many angles and they have a high-definition picture,” according to a report by Metro Newspaper Services. “LCDs are not overly reflective, so they’re a good idea in bright rooms.”

When it comes to the size of a television, one should also consider the room it’s going to be in and how close you’ll be sitting to it, Skeltis said. A 152-inch 3-D plasma might be cool for gamers playing on a set in the great room, but it’s going to be far too big for mom and dad watching movies in a small living room.

One also needs to consider the resolution of the screen. You’ll see numbers such as 1080i, 1080p, 780i and 780p. The difference between the (i) or interlaced scanning or (p) for progressive scanning is the way the signal on an HDTV is sent from a source component to the screen. Progressive scanning, also known as full HD picture, is usually preferred for gaming or watching sports and fast-action movies.

“The higher the number is — the higher the resolution and crispness of the picture,” according to Metro Newspaper Services report.
As for 3-D technology — it is great but do you really need it? Most regular television programming is not created in 3-D.  Do you want a standard television or a Smart TV? This is another option to consider, although not as important as screen size and whether it’s an LCD or LED.

“A Smart TV is capable of connecting to the Internet and a variety of sites such as Netflix and Facebook. A lot of customers also use it for Skype, which, for instance,  allows someone in the military stationed overseas to talk with their family back home,” Skeltis said. “I’ve had soldiers who have purchased Smart TVs just for this reason.”
However, Skeltis said if the television doesn’t have Smart (technology) you can always add a device to make it Smart for an additional $90 to $200 depending on the applications you want.

If you’re still not sure which television is right for you, consider attending an in-store demonstration or visit Best Buy online at www.bestbuy.com. Send your comments or home and garden tips to Gina Joseph gina.joseph@macombdaily.com; @gljoseph

Friday, December 14, 2012

Detroit theaters extend 'BURN' for another week

Photo courtesy of detroitfirefilm.org
It was a favorite with audiences at the Tribeca Film Festival. Now thanks to sizzling sales at theater box offices, the Detroit Fire Department documentary BURN will be showing for another week.

Director Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez’s gritty and personal look at a day in the life of a Detroit firefighter proved to be a hit with audience members – who attended the select screenings last weekend – with the film that no one in Hollywood wanted to touch bringing in $29,568 per screen average. 

"BURN's" director and producers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez.

Not bad considering Putnam and Sanchez every Hollywood broadcaster and film distribution company they pitched the film to told them there is absolutely no audience for a firefighter series or film.

"BURN isn’t just about Detroit firefighters. It’s about all national first responders, whose budgets are on the chopping block,” said its producers. “It’s about the people you hope will make it to your house when there’s a fire.”

Read aloud Web show, ‘Goodnight Michigan,’ inspired by old-time radio

Storyteller Mellissa Greene
When you were a kid with a designated bedtime, was there anything better than a story read aloud from a beloved book or a tale conjured up by a parent with a great imagination? 

That and a hot glass of milk – a tradition started by my British grandmother who saw it as a soothing beverage before bed -- set the stage for a night of sweet dreams, or odd depending on the story that was told.

This week, I had the pleasure of hearing a story read by Mellissa Greene, a mother of four and host of “Goodnight Michigan,” to a group of kindergartners at St. John Lutheran Church and School in Fraser. 

If you’re looking for a funny bedtime story, Greene’s version of “Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s Christmas” by Joy Cowley is a hoot, and a cackle and a moo-moo!