Thursday, January 31, 2013

Share your best advice for couples starting a new life together

What are the four most popular words spoken on Valentine’s Day?

Nope, I love you, is only three words. 

It’s, “Will you marry me?”

According to the United States Census, approximately 10 percent of proposals will occur on Valentine’s Day. Then comes the big move -- and as thrilling as the process of starting a new life together might seem – it can also be a trying time. 

Let’s say, for example, she does not like your moose head trophy. Maybe she’s a vegetarian or finds the whole idea of showcasing a deceased animal to be tasteless and cruel. She’s not moving in without baggage either. Do you tell her you're extremely allergic to the cat she's had since she was a child? How about the antique table she inherited from her mother -- which you hate? 

What do you do? 

Whether you’re newlyweds or celebrating your 50th anniversary you’ve got to have at least one tip or story that you can share to help spouses-to-be make the move easier?
Send your anecdote and best tips to: gina.joseph@macombdaily.com so we can share them in a future Sunday column.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Any little trip will do for Valentine's Day

Either one -- a box of dark Godiva chocolates or a beautiful piece of jewelry would be a wonderful gift for Valentine’s Day.  But if you really want to make your Valentine happy – surprise him or her with a trip.  

Anywhere will do.

As long as it helps your Valentine momentarily forget about everyday life. 

One of the most popular choices at this time of year is a cruise. All it takes to set up this trip is a call to the cruise line or a visit to their website. If you’re not opposed to flying to a different port such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale you can really get in on some cool deals (4-night cruise for $199). What’s also nice about a cruise is they are usually all-inclusive meaning there’s no worry about food, entertainment and lodging. There’s also the advantage of visiting a variety of ports in one trip.

Consider the local wineries. They are busy during the spring and summer months but during the winter – they might be anxious to have visitors. Some wineries have an Inn or bed and breakfast on site or have an agreement with local businesses in town to offer packages. Sampling vintage wine around a cozy fire -- if you’re looking for something with an adults-only environment this would probably be it.

Visit a city near you. Not every trip has to be an out-of-state adventure. Have you ever stayed at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham? It’s a favorite among many stars including Sir Paul McCartney and Elton John. Valentine’s Day packages might include a two-night stay plus dinner. Be sure to take advantage of local museums, art centers and shopping areas that attract tourists throughout the year.

Travel to a concert hall or small venue hosting a popular singer or musician. There is nothing more romantic than listening to music together. It could be a blues bar in Detroit or a concert hall in Ann Arbor. Google a favorite artist to see where he or she might be playing or just visit a venue on a night when you know there’s going to be a show. Every Friday night, for example, there is a performance at the DIA in Detroit. See a live performance is usually memorable and in many cases quite affordable.

Swap time-shares. Visit TimeShareJuice.com and see if someone might be interested in swapping time-shares or looking to rent out their property. Looking to stay in a cozy cabin on Higgins Lake? How about a villa in Tuscany? Sites such as VRBO.com feature cottages and estates in the United States and abroad. I know of one woman in Michigan who took a chance and rented a one-bedroom apartment in Paris, France and developed such a good rapport with the owner she rents out the apartment for a week every summer.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Create a playbook for Super Bowl parties

The countdown to Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, has begun. For the millions of people watching the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens battle the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers for the National Football League title, the biggest problem may be choosing where to plant oneself for the game. But for the generous souls who have volunteered to be the Super Bowl party hosts, now is a time for strategizing.

It’s a lot of work hosting a football party but it can also be a lot of fun – which is probably why there are so many parties going on. To help in the planning process, party experts at Metro Newspaper Services put together a list of strategies to help in planning the perfect game-day party:

* Know your playing field. If you’ve got a big house with a ginormous great room and plenty of couch space, then by all means invite all of your friends. But if you’ve got a small home, you might want to limit the number of people you invite.
Look around the room and take stock of how many people you can seat comfortably. If you want to squeeze in a few more guests, consider moving non-seating furniture out of the room to accommodate additional seating (folding chairs or puffy cushions).
“Crowding too many people into the house can be uncomfortable and dangerous, never mind trying to talk and hear above the cacophony of too many people,” states the report by Metro News.

* Size up the competition. This is a once-a-year-event so you can bet you’re not the only one hosting a Super Bowl party. That means anything you are looking to rent, as in big screen TV or chafing dishes for the food, are going to be in high demand and possibly unavailable if you wait too long. The same goes for party-theme items such as Super Bowl paper plates and other game day items.

*Create your own play book. Decide in advance what kind of party you plan to host, be it a chips-and-dips type of gatherings or something more substantial in which you supply the main dish – like a 50-yard submarine sandwich – and have everyone else bring a dish to go with it.

What about kids? If they’re coming you may want to have a back-up plan for them or even adults who have come for the social aspect of the party but are not necessarily interested in the game. Maybe you can provide a second TV set set up for movies or video games.  

*Do your equipment check. If you’ve ever thought about trading up on your TV, now is the time to do it as most retailers will be offering deals on new televisions pre-Super Bowl. If buying a new TV is not possible at this time, consider renting a unit. Just remember ‘tis the season so there will be other hosts thinking the same thing.

* Be a savvy host. Know important details like the kickoff time is 6:30 p.m.  and that the game is being played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game also will be streamed live on CBSSports.com, if for some reason you’re not able to get it on the TV. Make sure the bulk of your food preparation is done before the game starts so guests can mingle and chow a little beforehand. You could do it in parts such as having snacks and appetizers ready when guests arrive and then have the main course set up buffet-style in another room -- ready in time for the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII halftime show featuring BeyoncĂ©. Alicia Keys is scheduled to be sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. You’re the host so you are the one who has to fill up the empty chip bowls during any action in the game. You may also have to play butler to any beverage requests as well. Make everyone aware that you’re heading in for more snacks or beverages so you get all of the requests at once rather than here and there.

* Remember your role. You are hosting the Super Bowl party not a party that happens to be on game day. In other words – no entertainment is really needed apart from the game itself and maybe a football pool or two. Make sure the TV is placed in a position where everyone can see the game clearly. It’s OK to show your team spirit, as long as the 49ers banner does not obstruct the view of a Ravens fan. To enhance the experience, consider having two TVs tuned into the game running in separate rooms. This will allow guests to mingle a little more and not be tied to one area. Having a houseful of guests celebrating and socializing is part of what makes Super Bowl parties so much fun.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hard times call for trimming the fat on our grocery bills

Sunny skies are nice for picnics but the scarcity of rainfall last summer is one of the reasons we are paying more at the more at the grocery stores.

The record-breaking heat waves we experienced in 2012, scorched crops in many of the nation’s grain-producing regions resulting in poor fall harvests. That in turn created higher prices on everything from boxes of cereal to bottles of pop, and from bacon to burgers.

Even worse is the fact that the World Bank is predicting that high and volatile food prices may be the new normal.

It’s for this reason I am looking to change the way I shop for groceries.

Like instead of buying a lot of processed packaged fruit snacks or roasted and salted peanuts in a can, for example, I’m going to make a serious effort to visit more of our local fruit markets this spring and summer. “Less processing equals greater value,” said Kara Newman, author of “The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets.”

To explain further Newman cited a United States Department of Agriculture study that focused on price inputs for a typical box of corn flakes. “When you buy packaged food, only 15 to 20 cents of every dollar does toward the raw commodities used in that product,” explained Newman.  In a box of cornflakes, for example, 15 to 20 percent of the price goes toward the raw corn. The rest goes toward processing, transportation and fuel, advertising, and other expenses related to getting a box on a retail shelf. “In the end, you pay more for the packaging than you do for the corn in your corn flakes,” Newman said.

Another tip from Newman, that will not only save us money on groceries but put us one step closer to a healthier lifestyle. And that is to try out meatless Mondays or Fridays or Tuesdays. “Consider preparing vegetarian meals at least once a week. In 2012,” Newman said.  “’The steepest food price increases were among beef and veal, and poultry products,’ according to the USDA figures -- and those products are expected to trend higher still in 2013. By comparison, fresh vegetables were the only category that saw a decline in prices last year.”

I love vegetables but I still have fussy eaters living at home. Since they’re not keen on vegetables Newman suggests subbing eggs, dairy and fish for beef and poultry - which are all products that have had slightly gentler price increases. For example: On meatless Friday go with fish and chips, homemade macaroni and cheese or do something fun like designating it Breakfast Friday. French toast and waffles are always a favorite in my household. Another recipe for Breakfast Friday is quiche or some kind of breakfast casserole. Incredibleegg.org is an incredible source if you need recipes.

Never shop when you’re hungry, plain and simple.

Another idea is to consider discount stores that cut the frills in order to be able to provide lower prices on food. By frills I mean plastic bags, free carts, restrooms, concession stands, stock displays and decorative shelving.

Make a menu for the week first, then a list of items you need. 

If you’ve spent any time around farmers you know one of the best ways to save money on your food is to cut out the middleman. In western Canada - where I spent a great deal of my summers as a youth and most of my time as a journalism student - people buy their food directly from the neighbors. “One of the secrets nobody tells you is that you can opt out of buying commodity products if you want,” Newman said. “(But you can by shopping) at greenmarkets where you can buy direct from farmers and other food products.”

Steaks, roasts, hamburger, eggs, milk, cream and even items such as sausages, cheese, jam and bread - and then supplemented their stock with a monthly visit to the grocery store (40 miles away).  Among the items that we would buy “just in case” was powdered milk. It sounds gross. I know. But if you get into the habit of making it the night before - and keep it chilled - you’ll get used to the taste (sweeter than regular milk) and texture (like skim milk).

As times get harder more and more people will be looking for new ways to be frugal - and we’ll be looking to share those ideas with readers. Let us know if you’ve discovered a greenmarket in your area. Email: gina.joseph@macombdaily.com.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Don’t give up on that New Year’s resolution, just yet

How goes your New Year’s resolutions? Are you losing weight or the willpower to continue the quest?  Making a commitment to change at the start of a new year is a great thing, a longtime tradition for people all over the world. The problem is most people give up on those resolutions way to quickly says Croix Sather. He’s the author of “Dream Big Act Big” and “Better Body Better Life” but most people know him as the guy who ran across America in 100 days last year. He not only broke a world record with his 146 mile run through Death Valley while pushing a 270 pound car but proved he’s a man who sets goals and achieves them.

I am impressed. However, what I need and I’m sure what others need right now is a pep talk or a few inside tips. 

So, without further ado here are a few of Sather’s suggestions for achieving our goals in 2013:

·      Stop thinking small – The only thing that will get you is small results. Instead, Sather recommends following up on those big dreams and audacious goals. Expect more and you’ll get more. “Live your life with a big purpose and meaning and you’ll achieve big bold results,” says Sather.

·       Don’t blame anyone but yourself – The only way to move forward is to take responsibility for your actions. “You can’t blame the past or current administration, your upbringing, education, or anyone or anything else,” Sather said. Just get on with your goals and the life you want to lead.

·       Hang with achievers – If you want to make more money be around people that make more money. If you want to lose weight hang out at the gym or a fitness center or join a club for fit people. A lot of people think it’s depressing to be around someone who has done what you want to do but it’s often the opposite – what they’ve done becomes inspiring. “Whatever you want to accomplish – get away from toxic people and get around those who have already accomplished it,” Sather said.

       Do not procrastinate – If you do not take action (when you think of it not a day later) you miss opportunities. “We miss going on adventures, meeting amazing people, falling in love, finding new friends and making new business connections,” Sather said. These are things that tend to happen spontaneously. “If you don’t take action today, when will you? If it doesn’t happen today it never happens.”

     Be brave – If you want to get noticed you need to stand tall and run boldly through life. You’ll never get your resume to the top of the pile or make it to the finals by always playing it safe – as in being just like everyone else or following the crowd. Be a salmon. Swim against the flow once in a while. “If you want the big reward you have to be bold and standout,” Strather says.

     Do not stop trying – In the words of Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister who was known for his stubborn determination to be triumphant with all tasks before him (including World War II) ,  “Never give in, never, never, never.”
“Success goes to those who are the most tenacious and persistent. This is more important than intelligence, education and experience,” Sather says. “When do you stop? When you achieve your outcome.”

Friday, January 11, 2013

You got to love polka dots, especially this year

Lucille Ball still from "I Love Lucy"

Water prints - so vivid you can smell the chorine – that’s one of the fashion trends flowing down New York runways and likely to puddle in stores across America this summer.

And while I do enjoy the water and anything blue, the idea of wearing a garment that’s going to add waves to my ruffles – I don’t think I’ll be buying into that.

What I am excited to hear is that polka dots are still in style. Fashion gurus in fact are predicting a plague in 2013 -- with the old time print showing up on everything from basic t-shirts and summer capris to formal dresses, handbags and pumps. 

They are as hot today as they were when people got their first glimpse at Micky Mouse's female companion, Minnie, born in the Walt Disney illustration studio dressed in a polka dot skirt, back in 1924. Minnie's red and white dotted skirt became her trademark.
Just as the polka dot dress became a staple for Lucille Ball's wardrobe in 'I Love Lucy (1953)." In those days, all of the female celebrities, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, they were wearing the fanciful print. Even the airways were graced with polka dots thanks to Brian Hyland's 1960 hit, "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Yellow Polka Dot Binini."

Why do we love it so? 

I think it’s because polka dots like argyle can be both elegant and whimsy, formal and fun, dressy or hey are whimsy. They can be fun and casual or elegant and debonair.
Polka dots like the argyle print can be both elegant and whimsy, formal and fun, prim or lackadaisical.

So, without further ado here are a few polka dot items Wallis (www.wallisfashion.com) is highlighting online as well as a few other items you might see in a clothing (or pet store) near you. After all -- spots look good on animals too!

Wallis black and ivory spot jacket, $56.


Wallis stone spot button cardigan, $44 and             
black and white spot pencil skirt, $35.


Marshalls polka dot blouse, $34. 

Keds for Kate Spade New York Footwear Collection, $75.

Petco Anim Polka Dot Lavender Dog Dress, $24.29.