Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ready For Halloween?


When I was a little kid I loved Halloween (as kids do), in spite of the fact that I dressed up in the same bear costume for four years in a row.  That's because before I entered school, I didn't realize that kids changed costumes every year.  

My parents didn't bother to tell me.  They just dressed me up in the bear outfit, made a fuss, mocked excitement and pretended they didn't recognize me that year again!  So totally oblivious to the fact that trick-or-treaters changed themes, annually, I happily walked around my neighborhood, collecting candy, as the same, not-so-scary bear for four straight years.  

My parents got away with their omission until I came into day-to-day contact with other kids, and the jig was up.  

So this is what I want to know:  Were my parents (a) clever [saved time and money, extra points for recycling], or (bwily [took advantage of my youth and inexperience, plus played me like a fiddle!]?

According to National Geographic, Halloween dates back more than 2,000 years.  Europe's Celtic peoples celebrated their New Year's day, or Samhain on November 1.  On Samhain eve (October 31) it was believed that good and evil spirits roamed the earth on their way to the afterlife.  People wore disguises -- face masks and animal skins -- to fool the evil spirits, so the demons wouldn't possess them.  The early Celts also went from house to house, engaging in silly pranks, in exchange for food and drink.  And, they celebrated with bonfires and community pageants.

 As time went on, the Christian Church got involved and the eve of Samhain acquired a new name, “All Hallows' Eve,” later shorten to Halloween, the day before All Saints Day.  It continues to be observed on October 31, mostly in The UK, Ireland, the United States and Canada.
 
National Geographic reports that in 2010 the Average American will spend $66.28 on costumes, candy and decorations. [My 4 ideal places to find them are a corner drugstore, Target, thrift shops and a family attic.]  If you want to be original, or not, consider the following interesting lists:

Source: National Geographic
The Ten Most Popular Adults' Halloween 2010 Costumes are:
The Ten Most Popular Children's Halloween 2010 Costumes are: 
1. Witch
1. Princess
2. Vampire
2. Spider-Man
3. Pirate
3. Witch
4. Nurse
4. Pirate
5. Wench/Tart/Vixen
5. Disney Princess
6. Cat
6. Action/Super Hero
7. Zombie
7. Ghost
8. Fairy
8. Pumpkin/Vampire (Tie)
9. Athlete/Batman (Tie)
9. Batman
10. Dracula
10. Star Wars Character

I have a feeling, today's tots are a lot wiser than yours truly was years ago.  Happy Halloween, everyone.  Go ahead ... enjoy your favorite treats, or a good scary movie. Boo!


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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Story Of English, A Review



"The Story Of English" may sound like a textbook, but it's a very compelling read.  When I picked it up a few years ago, I couldn't put it down until I finished it.  The evolution of the English language is an endlessly fascinating subject.  Across the continents, English has scores of faces, and there are many varieties of the language.  English has twice the vocabulary words of French, Spanish, German, or Italian.  The book explains why.  English has always been ... and continues to be, an evolving language.  From Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and cockney peddlers to Hessian soldiers, African slaves and Appalachian settlers, each group contributed to the rich lexicon that has become modern English.  Whole chapters are devoted to Scotland, Ireland, Australia, the Caribbean, India and contemporary African nations.

The book was co-written by Robert MacNeil of PBS's The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.  It's well researched and covers centuries, yet is vivid and easy to follow.  There are useful photographs and maps throughout the text to provide clarity, insights and make history come alive.  If you read it, you will be absorbed, entertained and learn a great deal about the vernacular.  Every English speaking person should read it.

Meanwhile, Loretta (a reader) sent me the following fun trivia, which explains the roots of some popular English language sayings.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  Read them just for fun -- I didn't turn up information to disprove them, but scholars often debate the definitive origins of words and phrases:

SchoolIn Shakespeare's time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes.  When you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on.  Hence the phrase, “Goodnight, sleep tight.” became popular.  Submitted by Marg Duncombe.

SchoolAt one time, English pubs baked a whistle into the rim, or handle, of their ceramic cups.  When patrons needed a refill, they used their whistle to get some service.  “Wet your whistle” is the phrase inspired by this practice.  Submitted by Marg Duncombe

SchoolBefore thermometers were invented, brewers of beer had to dip a thumb or finger into the mix to find the right temperature for adding yeast.  Too hot or cold, and the yeast wouldn't rise.  This is where we get the phrase "rule of thumb."  Submitted by Marg Duncombe.

SchoolA practice in Anglo-Saxon England was for the bride's father to supply his new son-in-law with all the mead [or honey-wine] he could drink for an entire month after the wedding.  Since the calendar was lunar, this period was called the “honey month,” which we know today as the honeymoon.  Submitted by Tana M. Schiewer

SchoolIn old English pubs, ale was ordered by pints and quarts.  When customers got unruly, the bartender would yell,  “Mind your pints and quarts, and settle down!”  From this, we get the phrase, “Mind your P's and Q's.”  Submitted by Marg Duncombe.

If you know the origins of other old sayings, please share them with us.


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Step Into The World Of Ideas
The Story Of Stuff, A Review
The Everly Brothers Sing, Reviews

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Millions Shop Ebay

Founded in 1995, ebay is headquartered in San Jose, CA
As noted in last week's post, cyber shopping is a convenient avenue to find incredible deals and save serious money.  And, no discussion would be complete without mentioning ebay.  To date, it has 212 million registered buyers and sellers worldwide.  Since I'm not an experienced ebay shopper, myself, I turned to someone who is, Ms. Angel D.  Not only is Angel a brilliant bargain shopper, in general; she knows ebay's terrain and is fantastic at explaining the ins and outs to a greenhorn.  Here is our interview:

Q: Explain in a nutshell how ebay works.  And what you need to shop on it.


A: In order to shop on ebay you first need to set up an account.  Accounts are free.  You can than make a purchase in two ways:  You can either bid on an item you want, or sometimes people have a "buy now" option.  Payment takes place in a number of ways, and is up to the seller.  Some sellers will accept a personal check (you mail the check to them; when the check clears - they mail your item to you); others use PayPal, exclusively.  I prefer to use PayPal.

Q: Talk about ebay's great appeal -- its advantages over a retail store and how you can save money on it.

A: The greatest appeal is, you can find things on ebay that you can't find in stores anymore.  Not only antiques and older collectables, but also things that are only available in specialty stores ... and sometimes you don't know where the specialty stores are.  For example, I have an Italian charm bracelet.  I have no idea where they sell these charms anymore, but on ebay I just type "Italian charms" into the search box, and it brings up 50+ online "stores" that sell these charms.

Q: Name some of the great stuff you bought on ebay.

A:  Collectables (vinyl LP's, CD's, hall china), Italian charms, handmade sewing items -- I CAN sew, but often don't have the time.

Q:  Besides ebay, are there other websites you like?  Tell us which ones, and why you shop on them.  

A:  I use Amazon.com more often than ebay lately --- I mostly buy books and CD's, but Amazon has just as much variety as ebay -- especially since they have the buy “new” or “used” options.  And, Half.com -- a devision of ebay that is strictly "buy now," new and used items .... for books/movies/music/video games only.

Q:  What tips have you learned about getting the best deals?

A:  I generally compare between ebay and amazon to find the best price available that includes shipping.  Free shipping is a supreme bonus.
Q:  Do you have any buyer beware advice?

A: Always check feedback when buying .... especially on ebay.  A “good feedback percentage” is a must.  Some people never buy from new sellers, but I have taken a chance, or two and have not had a problem.  Also, if you are getting a lot of emails with multiple excuses that's probably a sign that the item isn't what it should be.  Move on ... because honest sellers will settle on a fair price and close the deal.  You want to buy from sellers who are professional; people who answer back right away.  Not people who send you endless emails that say how hard it is to get to the post office and how they must set up a special box just for you, etc.

Q:  It might be fun to talk about the items you bought, which turned out to be a steal.  And what you paid for them.

A:  Some of the best "steals" I got were vinyl records.  Many people do not know what they have, or will sell things in a "lot" instead of individually, to save time.  I once bid on a lot of 20 vinyl 45's -- all Jerry Lee Lewis ... paid $5.00 + shipping, and discovered an original, mint "Breathless" recording -- stamped, “signed 45” in the stack.  NICE!

Really!  It is nice to find a treasure {signed by The Killer!} for 25 cents!  Thank you, Angel, for an excellent rundown.


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Friday, October 15, 2010

Shopping Online For Savings Is Easy

Online shopping is awesome.  You can save tens and hundreds of dollars on essentials, if you do your homework.

You save money because you have access to many sellers and special deals.  No longer are you limited to just the stores in your local area.  After a thorough search, you can place your order with a merchant, who offers the best value, regardless of his city, state or country.  Always look for quality and free shipping  ... or a steal, so that you get a bargain even if you do pay the shipping charges.

The internet gives you the tools you need to be a savvy comparative shopper.  I use Google's search engine, plus websites such as Pricegrabber, Amazon, and Overstock to pinpoint information.  Whether I need a new laptop, or pillow case, I type in the name of the item to see what my choices are.  A few clicks will pull up a list of sellers, offering the best bang for the buck.

Not having to drive out and haul a product home, saves money also.  My laptop and printer were each delivered straight to my door, free of charge.  Not only do retailers offer free shipping, they post exclusive price reductions on their websites.

If you are shopping for shoes, or a big ticket item like furniture or electronics, look in a few stores first to find the models you like.  Try the shoes on to get your correct size.  Listen to the sound of a stereo system.  Then check online to find them cheaper.  You want to avoid the hassles of returns, when possible.

Only shop online with retailers well known for quality merchandise and super customer care.  Why take unnecessary risks and end up stuck with products that don't work out?  When ordering online, I always read what other customers say about a product and the company under "customer reviews."

There are many online retailers who meet my criteria of “awesome” – i.e., they have great stuff, prices and easy returns.  Favorites include:
Amazon – Books, music, everything
Apple – Computers, ipods, iphones and accessories
Brody's Of Brooklyn – Undergarments.  A family business for over 30 years. Old style customer service and super knowledgeable staff.  If your style has disappeared from department stores, Brody's may have it.  Speak to Douglas.  He won't let you order mistakes.
Canon – All-in-one printers.
Land's End – Everything from outerwear and snow boots to bathing suits and more.
LightingUniverse – Lighting fixtures at unbeatable prices.
Overstock – Jewelry, housewares, furniture, and everything else, too numerous to mention.  Up to 70% off.
Zappos – Shoes, clothes and more.  Free shipping both ways.


And before you buy anything, visit currentcodes and fatwallet for extra savings.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Coffee, People Love It!

Are you drinking a cup of coffee this morning?  If so you're not alone.  Coffee is popular the world over.  First discovered in Ethiopia, its consumption expanded to Yemen in the 15th century ... then to Italy ... the rest of Europe ... to Indonesia ... and by the 17th century to the New World.  Although coffeehouses began in the Arab world, by the 1690s there were over 3,000 in England alone, and more in Italy, France, Germany and the Americas.  Naturally, coffeehouses became popular places to socialize and discuss politics, which didn't turn out well for the King and Queen of France.

Michael Pendergrast wrote a fascinating book, explaining how coffee changed the world.

Today coffee beans are grown in over 70 countries, including the top producers Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia.  Just like wine and chocolate, coffee grown and processed in different regions have differences in flavor, aroma, body and acidity.  Types include Colombian, Java and Kona.  Do you like your brew roasted light, medium or dark?

Coffee labeled as "fair trade" must be grown in eco-friendly and socially responsible ways.Coffee cup

No doubt: Coffee is a drug and stimulate.  Still, recent studies suggest there are some health benefits to drinking coffee.  In moderation [up to 24 ounces] it might prevent Alzheimer's, liver cancer, colon cancer, adult diabetes, Parkinson's, dementia, and gallstones.  My grandmother, who drank a large cup every day of her adult life, was healthy and mentally sharp in her 90s.  That's enough evidence for me to follow suit.  My mother says, “I know I'm addicted, but if I had to, I believe I could quit.”  (Yeah, right, mom.)  How about you?

Get tips for buying gourmet and organic coffee from these sites, or just be adventurous: