Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Creating a Healthy Balance

Monday, December 25th, 2017

The path to wellness takes more work in a world where technology distracts and disconnects us

Conventional wisdom has long held that living a healthy life means eating well and getting enough exercise. Both are true enough, but those are just two pieces of a much bigger picture.

Forty years ago, the founders of the National Wellness Institute came up with six tenets they identified as necessary to living a healthy life: physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional and occupational.

One is no more important than the other, according to Matt Lund, the institute’s executive director.

“Being healthy basically means that you are balanced: spirit, mind, body,” he says. “When you are balanced, you are more likely to live a longer, purposeful life.”

Autumn Pappas, founder of Pacific Northwest Health and Lifestyle Coaching and an art therapy book editor, believes striking that balance means being in tune with one’s needs and wants spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.

“It’s important that we recognize how to fill those needs,” says Autumn. “How we feel about ourselves is often projected with what we put out into the world, and that projection—good or bad—gets magnified by each and every one that we come into contact with.

“If we are in a positive and healthy state of mind, we will project goodwill and good health to others. Living a healthy life is about taking care of one’s self first, so then we can, in turn, take care and enrich the lives of others around us.”

Building a Healthy Body
Although four decades have passed, the six tenets identified by the Wellness Institute in 1977 remain the same, though achieving them today may call for more attention than ever.

That is particularly true in staying physically healthy. It is as important as ever to keep moving, whether that means walking, yoga, kayaking or a specific sport, such as tennis or golf.

But with advancements in technology, we aren’t moving nearly as much as we used to.

“The more technology that comes out, the less we do,” Matt says. “We are the generation of now. We have access to everything now. That physical aspect is getting lost more and more each day. There’s a lack of family activity, of parents getting out with kids. Even though we’ve become technologically savvy, it’s killing us health wise. We no longer ride a scooter. Now they are motorized. Nothing makes us get our heart rate up.

“We were put on this earth as hunters and gatherers. That has changed. We are missing out on the physical aspect of it.”

Autumn stays active by walking everywhere she can.

“I do use my car, but if I’m in town, I don’t park close to the stores, and once inside, I walk around the stores,” she says. “I went through a time when I was very anxious. Walking was one of those things that helped me to not be anxious.”

Stretching is also important, Autumn says.

“In the ’80s, everyone was into stretching,” she says. “People have come away from that. But because we are so hunched over our computers, we really need to stretch. That’s why yoga is so good.”

Forming Meaningful Relationships
Technology also has a big impact on our social health. Instead of shopping in actual stores, it is just as easy—or easier—to shop online. Likewise, visiting with friends and family can be just a thumb stroke, a quick click or a camera chat away.

But being socially healthy means being part of the community, volunteering or otherwise being a positive contributing factor, Matt says.

“Social health is important because it builds purpose for one to continue living a full life,” says Hailey Shaughnessy, a mental health therapist. “It’s not only good for your health and wellbeing, but it’s also good for your soul. Social interaction builds our mental capacity and has proven to help us live longer and fuller lives. When keeping our brains active, I believe it helps us work through depression, anxiety and self-destruction.”

Social health is also about building sustainable and meaningful relationships, being in a positive relationship with a life partner, strengthening your family and friends around you and growing your positive personal network.

Being socially healthy may also mean being a bit choosy about who becomes part of your life.

“When you go out and are talking to people and meet someone for the first time, really evaluate if this person is going to be a positive impact in your life,” says Matt. “If not, it’s probably best not to create that relationship.”

Mind and Spirit Critical, Too
Intellectual health often equates to personal growth and challenging yourself to think outside your comfort zone. It is also about knowing your trigger points and understanding what makes you angry and what makes you happy.

Once you have identified the problem spots, you can work through them, and that leads to an overall happier and healthier life, Matt says.

Autumn, who considers herself a lifelong learner, makes it a point to attend talks by speakers she admires. She believes that enriches her brain and gives her insight to their way of thinking and their world views.

Spiritual health is defined differently from one individual to another. For some, it is traditional religion with services in a church. For others, it is a walk outside in nature.

“One of my big spiritual practices is gratitude,” Autumn says. “I try to find gratitude not only for good things, but I look for things to learn from bad experiences.”

She is also a believer in the benefits of meditation.

“When I was dealing with health issues, meditation helped me so very much,” she says. “I was so anxious at one point it took me three days to get out of the house and go to the grocery store. Now I am a wedding officiant. Being able to go from not being able to get out of the house to in a few months speaking in front of hundreds of people is just all due to meditation.”

Autumn encourages clients to stay open-minded about spiritual matters.

“Being spiritual is a very personal thing,” she says. “Everyone has these beliefs. I don’t ever want to be that person that said, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ The lines in a spiritual sense are very blurred. I think it’s good to stay curious about it.”

Emotional health is largely about working with people, says Matt. But it doesn’t mean avoiding negative situations.

“It’s OK to be angry,” he says. “It’s how we project it. If you are happy, let people know. Show it. If you are sad, ask what are ways you can work with this? If you are frustrated, how are you able to work that out? It’s being able to understand and accept your feelings and also understand someone else. It’s building trust and respect for each other, and understanding that being optimistic is better than being pessimistic.”

Hailey believes the necessary work still bears a stigma in many communities.

Because she is a therapist, she has numerous friends who also are therapists and no shortage of people to talk to when times are tough. Others are not so lucky.

“People under-utilize therapy,” she says. “There is a stigma. People are afraid to say, ‘Hey, I went in and saw a therapist.’ There are some people that have to be very brave to make that first phone call. If you are suffering emotionally, therapy is a great tool. Laughter is great, too. The more physically healthy you are, your brain benefits as well.”

Finding One’s True Calling
The tenet that may be most difficult for many people to maintain in optimum condition is occupational.

Most adults work at least 40 hours a week to support themselves and their families. When someone’s occupational health suffers, odds are good that the rest of their health does, too.

“I believe 80 percent of people in the workforce work for an organization or boss they are unhappy with,” Matt says, citing articles he has read. “Only 20 percent work in a job they are happy at.”

He says how individuals choose their jobs has changed significantly with recent generations—and for the better.

It used to be common for people to follow in a family member’s footsteps. If an individual lived in a town built around paper mills, and their father worked there, it was understood his children would likely make a living at the paper mill.

“Now people say, ‘I want to find a job I love,’” Matt says. “It’s important to find a career you are passionate about, something that aligns with your personal values. You want to look for personal growth and development, and not putting up a bunch of debt.”

Hailey says it took her time to find occupational health.
She wanted to be a writer, but feared, “I’d starve to death,” so she pursued a degree in business management, then went to work in the computer industry—a job at which she excelled, but which required her to travel for months on end.

“I loved going to the gym,” she says. “I said I am going to do that instead. I became a fitness instructor. It was really interesting to me. People came to me to lose weight, then they’d come in and say, ‘No, I didn’t do my workouts.’ I realized there was an emotional component, and I found that fascinating. I went and got my master’s in mental health counseling.

“Computers and teaching and yoga and fitness—these things don’t seem to go together, but they all go perfectly together for what I do. You can create your own path.”

While other wellness specialists may call for additional or different dimensions to a healthy life, it is generally agreed wellness is multidimensional and holistic, positive and affirming, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being and the environment, Matt says.

“Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential,” he says.

Communities Lead Wellness Initiative

Monday, December 25th, 2017

Live longer by applying principles shared by people who have lived to 100 years old

For people in The Dalles, Oregon, January 2018 isn’t just the month to celebrate a new year. It is the month they will kick off an important step in becoming part of the Blue Zones Project—an initiative designed to lead to a healthier community.

After months spent identifying the health priorities for the community, project leaders in The Dalles will begin the “transformation phase,” which is essentially involving the community in moving ahead on implementing its priorities.
“This is where we can really get people involved with how to participate, how to get engaged,” says Leti Valle, community program manager.

The Blue Zones Project was established in 2010 and inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world—known as Blue Zones—with the highest concentration of people living to be 100 years or older.

Dan researched those regions and came up with the “Power 9”—the commonalities shared in each region.

Nick Buettner, Blue Zones Project community corporate director, describes those commonalities as places where roads and streets are built in ways that encourage natural movement; residents have a strong sense of purpose and could articulate it; they know how to downshift; they eat a healthier diet and fewer calories; they have a focus on family and a strong sense of faith; and they have supportive networks of friendships that reinforced healthy behavior.

“If your three best friends are unhappy or overweight, there’s a good chance you will be,” Nick says. “Health traits flow through a community the same way the flu does. You also need the friends you can call on a bad day.”

The Dalles is one of four communities in Oregon chosen for the initiative. The others are Grants Pass, Klamath Falls and Roseburg. Other western states do not yet participate.

“It was a highly competitive process to be selected,” says Leti. “Seven communities applied. The Blue Zone state team came and visited to check for readiness. We filled out the application in the fall of 2016 and were selected in April 2017.

Since then, the local team has identified its priorities to make The Dalles healthier.

One of the most important is food.

“There have been strong movements to help combat childhood obesity,” Leti says. “We had the highest rate in the state a couple of years ago. Before Blue Zone came to town, everyone was working independently. Now that Blue Zone is here, we are getting everyone in the same room and spending our time where we have the highest impact for the priorities.”

The goal of the food policy is to create an environment where healthy and local foods are available and embraced by all within The Dalles, Leti says, noting they hope to source more local foods and attract mom-and-pop shops to the area.

“We know if we have mom-and-pop local stores in the area, the community gets about 60 cents on the dollar back as opposed to about 20 cents on the dollar from franchises,” Leti says.

Another focus is increasing food security for residents. Currently, food insecurity in the Gorge is at 14 percent, which means 14 percent would have had to skip a meal in the last week.

“We have a very specific objective to increase overall consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Leti says. “It’s all related to making the healthy choice the easier choice. Live longer, better.

“We’re doing all of this because for the first time in history, the life expectancy of our children is shorter than the parents. It’s really sad.”

Finding Wellness Via Travel

Monday, December 25th, 2017

Longtime international traveler John Munson has led hiking tours in countries throughout Europe, including Scotland, pictured here.
Photo courtesy of John Munson

Whether local or international, planned or spontaneous, travel keeps the mind and body sharp

John Munson enjoys fishing so much, his wife jokes he would fish in the bathtub if he thought he’d catch something.

The real question is not if he could catch anything, but when would he ever find the time? The 73-year-old wears so many hats it’s hard to know where to begin—not only career-wise, but as an avid hobbyist. His list of favored pastimes includes golfing, hunting, traveling, fly-tying, woodworking, canoeing, biking, volunteering and of course, fishing—along with many others. He also has four grandchildren who keep him busy.

A professor emeritus of health promotion at the School of Health Promotion and Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, John’s career highlights include his role as one of the originators of the National Wellness Institute, of which he is the past president of the board of directors; and the founder of the first academic wellness program in the U.S., established in 1989 at UW-Stevens Point.

In December, as John looked forward to his 73rd birthday and he and wife Barb’s golden anniversary, they were also preparing for another trip. He has no doubt that his travels, often combined with some of his other favorite hobbies, go a long way toward keeping him well.

“I’ve always been an international traveler,” John says. “If I want to go to Switzerland and want to hike, I have to stay in shape.

“I love rafting the Grand Canyon. It’s not something you do every day. You have to have enough energy to make it 230 miles down the river. You sleep on the sand banks at night.

“I wade streams for trout fishing. It’s really good for balance. You have slippery rocks. If you’re not ready for that, you can’t trout fish.”

John also leads tours, reminding the travelers with him that the trip is a “wellness event for active adults.” The trips have been designed around hiking, including tours of Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Scotland, England, Poland and Hungary.

“When you do those kind of hiking trips, you are walking all day long over all kinds of terrain,” John says. “I work with the people I take before we go. I talk about good shoes, and tell them to walk on a regular basis so they are comfortable walking 8 miles.”

Other tours have involved biking, including a five-country swing through Europe and over the Tour de France courses.

Traveling has also opened the door to new friendships, expanded John’s palate and helped keep his mind sharp.

“I’ve met people from all over the world,” he says. “I have friends in different countries. From the point of pure social wellness, you get to know those people really well when you are out traveling and you share the experience with them. They become long-term friends. You become a connoisseur of foods from different cultures. You get to try out things you wouldn’t normally give a try. The intellectual dimension is important.”

John and Barb even find ways to include the element of travel in their home state.

“We take another couple on a mystery trip,” he says. “We don’t tell them where it is, but we do tell them how they need to dress or how much money they’ll need. We go to concerts, museums, sporting events, historical sites, artists’ shops, all kinds of things. You have to know what your friends like, too. We like to pick things that are different. Lots of times it’s not very expensive. We go to county parks, state parks. There are lots of interesting things in your area that most people don’t take time to see. We do that with our family, as well.”

John’s current trip is for volunteer work in Ghana, where the mission team he is part of will work with schools and a local orphanage.

“This will be my third trip to Ghana in the past five years,” John says. “Travel many times exposes people to cultures that have a lot less than they do. Ghana is a very poor country.

“Travel gives you a different perspective, a history of the world. I think that gives you a personal life satisfaction of being able to understand other cultures. That makes you a well-rounded, more interesting person.”

What’s On Your List?

Monday, December 25th, 2017

It’s OK to dream. Dreams and aspirations are what motivate us. But if they are ever to be realized, it’s important to take the next step and act. One of my early mentors used to say the difference between dreams and reality “is doing.” So, do.
© iStock/gustavofrazao

Some people play fantasy sports. My family plays fantasy reality.

Sitting around the holiday dinner table with friends and family, the conversation almost always drifts to what I call the three Rs: resolutions, regrets and rewards.

They are not exactly bucket lists or New Year’s resolutions, more like a combination of the two. It’s an exercise in possibilities.

Here are a few tidbits we talked about the past holiday season. Maybe you can identify with or benefit from one or more of them.

  • Get out more often. Don’t just talk about it. Take time now to enjoy favorite pursuits.
  • Take that big trip. You have talked about it for years. Now it’s time to act.
  • Get organized.
  • Go someplace new.
  • Give back. Take a kid fishing, contribute to a favorite outdoor charity or mentor a Scout merit badge segment.
  • Document adventures. Never again regret not getting a picture of that trophy catch or beautiful sunset, or journaling an awesome trip.
  • Get in shape.
  • Hone crucial skills.
  • Repair, replace, replenish. Go ahead and splurge a little. Take advantage of seasonal clearance sales.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Make plans and reservations now.

Where the Fishing is Fine
Bass fishing is exceptional in Florida, even in winter. Most other states can’t say that, not to mention none can come close to Florida in terms of the number of trophy fish landed this time of year.

For best prospects, head south and look for lakes with good vegetation, such as Okeechobee, Tarpon and Istokpoga in south-central Florida. Plan to fish shallow. Target areas of vegetation or along their edges. The pros suggest using soft plastics, and topwater and swimming baits for winter success.

The 11th Essential
Unlike many people I know, a smartphone isn’t a crucial piece of my day-to-day existence. However, when it’s time for outdoor pursuits, I consider a smartphone to be the 11th essential.
A smartphone is like a digital multitool. Its main function is communications—when cell service is available—but it also supplements some of the Ten Essentials, such as navigation, first aid and even illumination in a pinch.

You can download to your phone’s memory topo maps, field guides, first-aid primers, survival tips, knot-tying demos and other useful information. Better yet, there are hundreds of apps designed to make outdoor experiences safer and more enjoyable.

What’s Special About This Month?

  • January is National Hobby Month.
  • January 5, National Bird Day.
  • January 7, Old Rock Day.
  • January 21, Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Our Photo Roots

Monday, December 25th, 2017

Just as the Renaissance masters of the 15th century teach and influence contemporary painters, images by celebrated documentary photographers W. Eugene Smith and Gordon Parks subtly influence how I see. Though I never try to copy them, their images are stored deep in my mental archive, and I cannot but help see them from time to time. These images shot in Florence, Italy, in 2017 are reminiscent of the work Smith did in the 1960s. © David LaBelle

Several years back, while asking students during the first week of classes where they were from, a football player shared he was a freshman running back from Chicago.

“Wow,” I said, “from the same city where one of my favorite running backs of all time played, Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet.”

He looked at me blankly.

I added that I photographed Sayers and Dick Butkus in the Pro Bowl once.

The class was unimpressed.

I politely asked the young man if he knew of Gale Sayers, who played for the Chicago Bears, was one of the greatest running backs ever and is in the Hall of Fame.

“No, sir,” he answered.

“You might want to look him up,” I suggested.

Though I tried not to show it, I was shocked and troubled someone from Chicago who wanted to play the same position
as Sayers didn’t know the legend. The young man had no idea of his football roots.

It would be like an African American baseball player not knowing Jackie Robinson, or a tennis phenom not knowing Bjorn Borg or Chris Everet.

I thought about how most of my photo students suffered from the same disconnect with photo history, with no idea of their photo heritage.

I gave my students a noncredit quiz to learn what they knew of pioneering photographers who shaped today’s camera-filled world.

The quiz includes brief biographies of 25 photographers, including 10 relatively contemporary ones: Matthew Brady, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Irving Penn, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorthea Lange, W. Eugene Smith, Gordon Parks, Richard Avedon, Sally Mann and Annie Leibovitz.

Students fill in the blank with the name of the photographer being described.

In three years of giving this quiz to about 300 students, few have identified more than three. Often, the quiz is returned empty. A couple of students got 15 names right.

I understand ours is a very different photography world than even 30 years ago, when digital photography was born.

Modern technology seduces us with the present, but has little time for the past. Most today are far more interested in how many likes they get, how many selfies they take, and what celebrities are eating or doing than learning about photographers who came from prehistoric yesterday, like, before 1990.

Genealogy is big business today. Even National Geographic offers ancestry kits to discover who you are and where you came from.

Young people are hungry to know their roots.

For the documentary photographer, or any photographer, knowing your roots feels essential. History gives us context—not to copy, but to imitate and learn from.

As has so often been said, “How can we know where we are if we don’t know where we came from?”

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit www.greatpicturehunt.com.

Give the Gift of Readiness

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

These are the key three: a water source, a fire source, and a knife or multitool. They are the three most critical items on the list of Ten Essentials. While an experienced outdoorsman can get by without the other seven items, the gravity of an unexpected survival situation increases exponentially without one or more of the key three.

The Ten Essentials list has been around since the 1930s. It is comprised of 10 things people should take when venturing into the wild, in the event of an emergency.

In addition to its original purpose, the Ten Essentials list is an excellent source for gleaning gift and stocking-stuffer ideas for the hard-to-buy-for outdoor enthusiast.

Here are the Ten Essentials, with a few gift suggestions for each category:
1. Hydration: Water bottle, hydration bladder, water filter, water purification tablets.
2. Shelter: Tent, tube tent, Mylar emergency blanket.
3. Fire: Lighter, steel and flint, waterproof matches, candle.
4. Tools/repair kit: Pocketknife, multitool, paracord, heavy-duty sewing kit.
5. Navigation: Compass, altimeter, GPS unit, topographic maps.
6. First Aid: Compact first-aid kit, instruction cards, booklet or app.
7. Insulation: Wool or fleece clothing, waterproof outerwear, gloves, stocking hat, wool or synthetic socks.
8. Illumination: Mini flashlight, headlamp, glow stick.
9. Nutrition: Energy bars, dried fruit, nuts, candy.
10. Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat.

App of the Month—Merlin Bird ID
Florida is a winter destination for many species of migrating birds, so now is the perfect time to check out Merlin Bird ID. It is a free, interactive bird-identification app. Simply answer five quick questions or snap a photo of the bird in question to view possible matches. The app also features a library of species range maps, more than 3,000 bird photos and 8,000 sounds. It is available for iOS and Android devices.

December 21 is National Flashlight Day
National Flashlight Day is always observed on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The day is a reminder to have a flashlight on hand wherever you are. It is also an opportune time to check flashlight batteries and replace them as necessary.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to moc.stnerrucadirolfnull@ofni.

Writing With Pictures

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Sometimes we can capture subtle emotions in a picture that we are unable to express with words. Every communication vessel has its strength. The emotion in this photograph of my 88-year-old father would be impossible to express with words. Too many conflicting emotions are gathered in this face. © Photo by David LaBelle

A dear friend asked if I would always make pictures. I paused.

“Yes, but probably not with a camera,” I said. “I will likely make most of my pictures with words.”

Early in life, speaking with a camera was a lot easier than trying to communicate orally or with the written word.

Photography was the perfect, magical voice for me to share what I saw and felt.

As I learned to write, I was encouraged by a friend to write like I photographed.

“You see environment, emotion and details, and you study relationships,” he observed. “Instead of using a camera, try making those same pictures with words.”

His advice was sage.

While the written word remains more challenging for me than communicating with images made in a camera, I have become a more comfortable and confident writer.

Through the years, I realized photography, writing—even public speaking—are more alike than different. Of the three, speaking to live audiences—the larger the better—is now my comfort zone.

This month’s challenge is to write with a camera what you feel comfortable doing with words. Instead of describing the person, their height, shape, walking canter or face in words, show those characteristics in a photograph.

To get started, here are a few tips to help unshackle your creative spirit and help you become a better photo writer.

Don’t let technical stuff discourage you. Just as grammar and punctuation can erode confidence and choke creativity for the writer, the technical “rules” of photography can tempt you to quit.

I took a beginners’ Italian class that focused on grammar, which just about killed my spirit to learn the language. As children, we learn to speak years before we learn about adjectives, verbs and nouns. If we were forced to learn grammar before we talked, many of us might never speak.

Most great storytelling photographers don’t fall in love with the technical side of photography first, but learn the workings of cameras and lenses later, as needs arise.

Just do it. My informal writing coaches—including my wife—continually remind me to quit thinking about grammar and punctuation, which clog the flow of feelings and ideas, and “just write.” This is good advice for those struggling with the technical side of photography, too.

Some of the best photojournalists have been dyslexic or would have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Many have little competence with artificial lighting or the technical side of photography. They hire experts to augment what they do not do well.

Few of us are good at everything. I never thought I’d say this, but there is a time to put your camera on an “auto” setting, which allows the camera to choose the aperture (lens opening), the shutter speed or both. If you leave the exposure to the camera, you are free to focus on the content—the “heart” things.

Choose visually interesting subjects. Consider Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.” His captivating character is the thread that carries us through the story. The same is true with documentary, narrative-driven photography. An interesting, visual subject is often the difference between success and failure. Some people, some faces, are more visually interesting than others.

Become a good visual reader. To become a good writer, you first need to be a good reader. Similarly, studying the work of other photographers will raise your visual intelligence and help put your work in context. Seeing how others handled light or subjects can be invaluable guides to strengthening your work.

Like any art form, photography is an acquired skill that requires practice. Some photographers are successful because they are masters at assimilating or gaining access to challenging environment or cultures. Others are gifted at seeing light and composition. Studio photographers excel in controlled environments. Others love gadgets and technical problem-solving.

One type of photography is not better than the other.

Like the right-handed batter who learns to hit left-handed, my natural side—my power side—is still the camera. But I have learned to make solid contact with words as well.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit www.greatpicturehunt.com.

Home for the Holidays Shopping

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Nearly two-thirds (64-percent) of Americans still prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, but
79 percent of them do at least some of their shopping online, according to the Pew Research Center. Photo by Lightfield Studios

17 tips to make your Christmas shopping experience merrier

  • Shop Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Those are the days when most online retailers post their latest sales, incentives and discount codes.
  • Use technology to streamline your holiday shopping, including tracking sales, item prices, coupons and discount codes. Check apps such as Ibotta, Flipp, Camel Camel Camel and Honey.
  • Score free or discounted gift cards from reputable online sources such as Swagbucks, Cardpool, Raise and Giftcards.com. They offer discount gift cards for hundreds of national retailers.

Sometimes It’s the Little Things

  • If you have the time and the patience, add items to your online shopping cart and leave them there. Retailers want the sale, so they may offer you additional discounts or other incentives to close the deal.
  • Delete your browsing history—including cookies—before embarking on an evening of online shopping. Some online retailers use that information to offer different prices to different people for the same products. It is called dynamic pricing.
  • Competition amongst retailers is fierce during the holidays, creating pressure to match competitors’ prices. Don’t be afraid to call or email a retailer to ask for a price match.
  • Subscribe to retailers’ email newsletters. Often, they send subscribers discount codes and notification of subscriber-only flash sales. That goes for social media, too. “Like” and follow your favorite brands and retailers.
  • Not sure what is a good price for a particular item? Put the item in your shopping cart to reserve it, then search the internet to compare prices. Many online retailers reserve items in your cart for anywhere from 5 minutes to 24 hours—or longer. Beware: Not all sites reserve items in shopping carts. Some—such as Amazon—don’t reserve items until you commit to buy them.

Shop Safe and Secure

  • Whenever possible, avoid shopping at unrecognized retailers and shopping sites.
  • Pay for online purchases with a credit card. Credit cards offer users extra protection against unscrupulous retailers and the ability to dispute charges, when necessary.
  • Protect your credit card information when ordering online by checking to make sure the website address begins with “https”; the “s” means the website is secure, and your financial information will be encrypted.
  • Buy gift cards directly from the retailer or through a recognized gift card broker. Avoid buying them third-party, such as from sellers on eBay.
  • Make sure the retailer has a good return policy, preferably one that provides a return authorization and pays return shipping.
  • Many retailers offer incentives and discount codes to visit, like and share them on social media. Take the discount, then delete the like/share if you want to avoid future marketing pitches and clutter.
  • Avoid shopping from unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots, such as those at many hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and other retailers. Shop from home or use a virtual private network (VPN) when on the road.

After the Holidays

  • Watch for deep discounts at clearance sales right after Christmas and during the first week of the new year.
  • Check your credit card and bank statements to verify you were charged correctly.

A Gift-Giving Guide

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Gadgets make excellent gifts because everybody loves them. The trick is to match the gadget to the person’s interests or personality type.

Consider gadgets for hard-to-buy-for people on your shopping list

Everybody has at least one or two people on their Christmas list who are nearly impossible to buy for. The answer may be to think gadgets.

Gadgets make excellent gifts because everybody loves them. The trick is to match the gadget to the person’s interests or personality type.

Here is a short list of gadgets and the types of individuals they may appeal to. Most—if not all—of the items are available at online retailers.

This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, nor is it the latest or greatest gadgets of the season. It is merely a starting point to open your eyes to what is out there and get you thinking beyond ties, slippers and fruitcakes when it comes to bagging the perfect gifts for those on your Christmas list. Happy hunting.

For the Angler … PowerRay Angler Underwater Robot
What could be better than being eyeball-to-eyeball with the fish you are trying to catch? That is the view the PowerRay Angler Underwater Robot offers anglers, photographers and marine life watchers. It has taken drone technology to a new level. PowerRay can dive to a depth of 98 feet. Its onboard Wi-Fi transmits images from its 4K ultra-high definition camera as well as data from its detachable PowerSeeker FishFinder, which includes distance, depth, water temperature, underwater terrain and fish alerts. The PowerVision line of aqua robots—which retail for $1,488 to $1,888, depending on the model—are the gold standard for underwater drones. But fear not: There are other, lower-priced brands out there, if the idea of an underwater drone is intriguing, but the PowerRay price tag is too steep.
www.store.us.powervision.me/products/powerray

For the Sleepy Head … Clocky Alarm Clock on Wheels
The Clocky Alarm Clock with Wheels takes morning wakeup calls to a new level of obnoxious. Not only does it have the usual, annoying alarm, but if the snooze button is pushed one-too-many times, it makes even more noise, jumps off the nightstand and drives away. It won’t stop until someone gets out of bed and catches it to turn it off. Thankfully, there is an option to switch off the wheels and use it like a normal stationary alarm clock. Clocky runs on four AAA lithium batteries (not included). Estimated battery life is one year—depending on how many times a person oversleeps and has to chase it around the bedroom. Clocky retails for $39.99 and is available in a rainbow of colors.
www.shop.nandahome.com

For the Whiz Kid … Cozmo Life-Like Robot
Cozmo is an interactive play-and-learn robot that gets more personable, intelligent and life-like the longer it hangs out with a human. It quickly learns to identify a child’s face, name and movements. Cozmo also loves to play games, including keep away and quick tap, and comes with Code Lab, so kids can use their imagination and learn rudimentary computer coding. Cozmo operates on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery; battery and charger are included. STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—toys such as Cozmo are all the rage now. Cozmo retails for $179.99. Other notables include Kano’s build-it-yourself computer kit for kids 6 and older, $119, and Meccano robot kits for kids 5 and older, starting at $39.99.
www.anki.com/en-us/cozmo

For the Weight Watcher … Smartplate TopView
Billed as a personal nutritionist, Smartplate Topview takes the advice “watch what you eat” literally. This high-tech nutritional tool features two built-in mini cameras and a tiny scale. It is the 21st-century alternative to weighing and logging food intake manually. The plate and app work together to identify what you are eating and how much—up to three foods at a time—and analyze and output nutritional values and guidance. The idea is to help people eat smarter. The Topview Solo basic package retails for $99. It includes a plate, lid, countertop device, app and annual membership. There are also Topview packages for two, three and four people. The plates are dishwasher and microwave safe. This new product is not scheduled to ship until after New Year’s Day.
www.getsmartplate.com

For the Entomophobiac …InaTrap Electronic Insect Killer
Entomophobia is the fear of bugs. Does that describe someone on your shopping list? No matter. A person doesn’t have to be afraid of mosquitoes, gnats and fruit flies to want them dead, so the $79.95 InaTrap Electronic Insect Killer could be a welcome gift for almost anyone. InaTrap works indoors or out. It is suitable for picnics, camping, barbecues or sitting on the back deck. The unit is quiet, and safe for humans and pets. It may look like a toadstool or hip nightlight, but the soothing light and CO2 emitted by its special bulb attract bugs to their doom. They enter beneath the hood, are zapped by a coil inside and fall into a removable container in the unit’s base. InaTrap is powered by a rechargeable battery, which is included with a charging cord.
www.gadgetreview.com/inaday-inatrap-gr-330-mosquito-trap-review

For the Athlete … Zepp Baseball-Softball 2 Swing Analyzer
Hitting is arguably the most crucial skill in baseball and softball. Players constantly look for ways to improve. The Zepp swing analyzer could be the object of their quest. Through the marriage of an app and an on-bat sensor, the analyzer captures and evaluates bat and hand speed at various stages of the swing, as well as their path and angle. The app then offers personalized advice for how to improve the swing. It also features a reference section with general tips and drills. The app can save data points for as many as 2,000 swings. Even better, users can video swings, review them in slow motion and overlay them in comparison with the swings of major leaguers. Retail price for the kit is $149.99. Zepp sells similar kits for golf, tennis and soccer.
www.zepp.com

For the Music Lover … H2oVibe Showerhead Bluetooth Speaker
There is no need for the music to stop or to settle for a cappella solos in the shower. The alternative is the H2oVibe Showerhead Bluetooth Speaker for $36.95. It is quick and easy to install in place of an existing showerhead. It features excellent sound quality, especially in high to mid ranges. The detachable speaker is held in place magnetically and can be removed to recharge the unit. Its lithium-ion batteries last up to 15 days on standby or 11.5 hours of continuous play. The H2oVibe wireless speaker has a range of 33 feet and works by syncing with a smartphone or other Bluetooth-compatible device. There are many shower speakers on the market today, but few offer the ability to answer phone calls while in the shower, as this one does.
www.beyondshower.com/h2ovibe-rain-jet-wireless-bluetooth-speaker-review

For the Shutterbug …Prynt Pocket Instant Photo Printer for iPhone
An old idea is new again. Instant prints, made famous by the Polaroid camera in the 1970s and ’80s, is all the rave again. Prynt Pocket is a mini photo printer that turns an iPhone into an instant-print camera for $149.99. Attach the unit to the phone, take a picture with the Prynt Pocket app, apply any filters or formatting, add text or emojis, and print the picture. The process takes about 30 seconds. Prynt Pocket holds 10 sheets of ZINK sticker paper, and can print 20 pictures on a single charge. For baby boomers who may not think the Prynt Pocket comes close enough to the good old days, the Polaroid Originals OneStep2 instant camera is $99.99. It is the fraternal twin of the original. Either way, it is a relatively inexpensive, nostalgic trip back to the days of point, shoot and peel instant pictures.
www.prynt.co

 

For the Road Warrior …RoadPro 12-volt Portable Stove
Booorrrrrring. That is a common reaction to the lunchbox-style Roadpro portable stove. It isn’t flashy, it isn’t high tech and it doesn’t even have an app. But what this 12-volt stove lacks in looks and charm it makes up for in usefulness. It makes an excellent gift for truckers, travelers, construction workers or anyone else who wants a hot meal on site, where time or distance limit access to other food options. Simply plug it into a 12-volt outlet and cook a meal or warm up leftovers. It heats to 300 degrees. Find a handy cookbook at www.directdepot.net/manuals/roadpro-12volt-cookbook.pdf or visit this 12-volt recipe website: www.lifeontheroad.webs.com/familyrecipes.htm. The RoadPro portable stove is just one player in the company’s lineup of useful 12-volt appliances, which includes a coffee maker, a hot water kettle, a crockpot and more.
www.roadprobrands.com

Radiant Holiday Windows

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

To celebrate the Christmas season, Becky Schow paints decorative holiday designs on store windows throughout southeastern Idaho.

Using her secret blend of white paints, Becky Schow leaves a trail of radiant white Christmas window paintings throughout southeastern Idaho.

“People call me Mrs. Frosty,” says Becky. “I like white because when the sun shines through my designs, they’re illuminated and seem to glow.”

From her home in Rupert, Becky has been traveling throughout the region from November to mid-December for nearly three decades to paint distinctive holiday scenes on store windows.

“People think I use a stencil, but it’s all freehand,” she says.

She prefers to paint natural decorations such as pine boughs, aspen trees, pine cones, holly berries, garland, Christmas trees and wreaths.

Becky developed a water-soluble paint that withstands snow and rain, yet is still easy to clean up once the holidays end.

Demand for her artistry began when she painted windows at her husband’s auto parts and truck equipment and repair businesses.

“People saw the windows and asked me to paint theirs,” Becky says. “I’ve never advertised.”

She has never raised her prices, either.

“It’s not a business,” she says. “It’s an expression of a God-given talent that I share with others to brighten the holiday season. It makes me happy to make others happy.”