America Saves Week, February 24-March 4, serves as an opportunity for Americans to begin saving for their financial future, or to assess their current money saving practices.
According to www.americasavesweek.org, making a commitment to save money is the first step to create a stable financial household and financial future. Setting savings goalsno matter how big or smallcan help ensure long-term financial success.
West Virginia University Extension Service offers up a few pieces of financial advice for families on its website, fh.ext.wvu.edu/financial_resources.
- New graduates are often faced with a mountain of school loan debt and a whole new world of responsibilities, which can be overwhelming. Learn how WVU Extension Service experts can help with financial management tips for recent grads.
- Exciting events and holidays can sometimes put pressure on a household budget. A seasonal holiday, a child’s birthday or other occasion that prompts a larger-than-average-purchase can put a burden on parents to spend. It’s important to avoid holiday debt and create a budget by planning expenses and gift purchases.
- Another way to avoid spending a large sum of money all at once is to take advantage of layaway programs. Layaway is making a huge comeback in the retail industry with the increase of budget-conscious consumers. By using layaway wisely, it can help effectively purchase the items you needwithout breaking your budget.
Although it’s important to create a realistic budget and spend sensibly, it’s even more important to save for the future.
Opening a savings account at your federally funded, local bank is a safe way to start saving for the future. Used alongside employer-sponsored retirement and 401K investment plans, building a strong financial future can be easy.
America Saves Week isn’t just for adults. There are more than 54 Ways to Save Money. Children and young people can also learn smart, money saving habits from an early age.
Parents have the power to encourage their children to start saving, from earning an allowance to birthday presents and gifts, teaching children responsible saving habits is key to create adults who are successful managing their money.
Click to learn more about America Saves Week.
“Aware,” an oil and gas safety training course developed by West Virginia University Safety and Health Extension specialists and industry experts, has earned accreditation by the International Association of Drilling Contractors Rig Pass Program.
The Rig Pass Program monitors curriculum to ensure it meets SafeLandUSA endorsement standards. SafeLandUSA is a volunteer organization which sets minimum requirements for the oil and gas industry’s safety orientations.
“This is a high-risk industry,” explains Tiffany Rice, WVU Safety and Health Extension specialist. “It’s crucial that employees are trained before entering the workforce so they can learn to recognize, and potentially avoid, hazards on the jobsite. ‘Aware’ helps them to do that.”
The “Aware” course provides a unique picture-based learning system which helps the participant to relate safety hazards in a practical and clear manner for employees. Current and potential oil and gas employees can register for the course on the WVU Safety and Health website, safetyandhealth.ext.wvu.edu.
WVU Safety and Health Extension is also accepting applications to train future “Aware” curriculum instructors. Potential instructors must have two years of experience with health, safety and environmental work and/or experience in the oil and gas industry. Relevant training and teaching experience is also required.
For information on applying for the instructor course, or more information on “Aware,” contact Rice at Tiffany.Rice@mail.wvu.edu, or call 304-293-2852.
CONTACT: Cassie Waugh, WVU Extension Service
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.
AmeriCorps seeks 500 individuals to help children through summer reading and nutrition program Energy Express
AmeriCorps is recruiting mentors and community coordinators for Energy Express, an award-winning, 8-week program offered in rural and low-income West Virginia communities.
The program is designed to provide learning opportunities and nutrition during the summer months, when children are most at risk for falling behind on reading levels a preventable loss known as the “summer slide.”
“Energy Express brings opportunities for enrichment, growth and just as important a little fun for children who might not otherwise have access to these resources,” said Terri Collier, WVU Extension Service 4-H Literacy and Academic Success specialist. “We find that when children can have fun during the learning process they become more focused and driven.”
There are two ways in which people can serve Energy Express through AmeriCorps: as a mentor or community coordinator.Energy Express mentors are college, or college-bound, students who make learning fun for small groups of school-age children by creating a safe, enriching environment focused on reading, writing, art and drama.
In addition to the learning activities, mentors eat nutritious, family-style meals with children, make family visits and complete a community service project.
The community coordinator recruits volunteers to assist Energy Express children during reading, writing, art, drama and non-competitive recreation activities.
Other community coordinator duties include raising awareness and involving the community and family members in children’s learning. Each community coordinator will also complete a community service project with other Energy Express AmeriCorps members.
In return for their 300 hours of service, AmeriCorps mentors and community coordinators receive a $1,850 summer living allowance and a $1,175 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award valid for up to seven years to pay for college tuition or loans.
Each summer, AmeriCorps engages college-bound graduating high school seniors and currently enrolled college students to serve communities in need. AmeriCorps’ Energy Express mentors must be at least 18 years of age before June 13.
Community coordinators must also be 18 years of age by the above date. However, these positions are not limited to college students.
Applications for both positions are available online at energyexpress.wvu.edu, or by calling 304-293-3855. The selection process begins March 1. Applications are accepted until all positions are filled.
Energy Express is a program under the leadership of WVU Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development program. This AmeriCorps program is funded, in part, by grants from the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts and Volunteer West Virginia. Volunteer West Virginia encourages West Virginians of all ages and abilities to be involved in service to their communities.
Based on the success of Energy Express participants and the unique aspects of the program, the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University named Energy Express program one of the nation’s best summer learning programs in 2009.
For more information about Energy Express, visit energyexpress.wvu.edu, or call 304-293-3855.
CONTACT: Cassie Waugh, WVU Extension Service
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.
by John PorterOne of the hottest new trends in gardening is beverage gardens. This trend includes options for the health-conscious (growing your own teas and ingredients for juices and smoothies), the DIY crowd (growing ingredients for homemade sodas) and those who enjoy an intoxicating beverage or three (ingredients to brew or flavor homemade alcoholic beverages).
There are lots of things you can grow to drink instead of eat. Authors and bloggers are picking up on the trend and a flood of books has been hitting the shelves on how to grow and create their own special beverage concoction.
Why the interest?
This groundswell of interest in growing and making your own beverage is influenced by a few different factors. First, there is a growing DIY movement around the country. Believe it or not, young people are more and more interested in growing things, making things, home canning, knitting, quilting and more.
A second influence is a growing trend in appreciating unique and interesting beverages, both homemade and commercial. This has given rise to an increase in local microbreweries and vineyards, a swell in the popularity in old liquors such as bourbon and gin, and the desire to experiment by making your own.
What can you grow?
There are lots of different plants that can be used to make or flavor beverages. Herbal teas are a pretty straightforward affair, and herbs can be dried for use in teas throughout the year. To find out what plants are in your favorite intoxicating beverage, I suggest “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks” by Amy Stewart. The book is basically a laundry list of plants and how they are used in alcohol, with lots of history, lore and science thrown in. It’s a great little book that is a quick read.
Fruits lend themselves both to a large number of uses, from juicing and sodas to producing wines. Grapes, of course, are the fruit of choice to make more traditional wines, but fruit wines such as raspberry and peach are popular homebrews as well. Last week I sampled a homemade red currant wine that was pretty tasty. It’s not all that easy to grow European wine grapes here in West Virginia, so you won’t be making your own cabernet or merlot, but several varieties of American and French-American hybrid grapes, such as Van Buren, Catawba, Norton, seyval and chambourcin, make good wine.
While it is possible to grow your own barley and other grains to make beer, the most common homebrew ingredient that is home-grown is hops. Hops, a nonintoxicating member of the Cannabaceae family, gives beer its bitter flavor profile. They grow as long bines (similar to a vine, but it doesn’t have tendrils or suckers to guide it) that need to be trellised. They will grow out of control, so you have to cut around the plant root area with a spade in the spring to keep it at bay.
A variety of herbs can be grown for both tea and flavors for liquors and liqueurs. Herbs and flowers such as chamomile, calendula, lemon balm, mint and bergamot are all common tea plants that can be used dried or fresh for a cup of tea. In an article last year, I shared that I grow the camellia used to make actual black, green and white teas, but you’ll only be able to do this if you are in Zone 7, which is along the river between Charleston and Smithers (though I’m still waiting to see the full effect of the recent arctic vortex on my shrub).
Herbs and other plant parts are also infused into alcoholic beverages too. Juniper is the main flavor in gin (though there’s lots of other stuff in there too), lemon balm can be made into a liquor (and is also an ingredient in absinthe), and even violets can be used to make liqueurs. There’s a whole host of plants that can add a licorice flavor to drinks (but I’m tired of things that smell like licorice, so I’m ignoring those).
Making fermented beverages
There are lots of resources out there on how to make your own beverages, so all you have to do is visit a bookstore or online retailer to get a book. There’s also plenty information online, but be sure to check multiple sources to make sure the information is accurate. Currently, I’m looking through a book called “True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home” by Emma Christensen. It looks to be a beginner’s guide with lots of good information.
I’ve made root beer before (from a kit), but plan to make some ginger ale in the near future and keep on moving up. Sodas and fizzy drinks tend to be fairly simple. You use juices or extract flavors into liquid, add some sugar and a little yeast, bottle them up for a few days to allow the yeast to eat sugar and produce carbon dioxide (and a very small amount of alcohol), then refrigerate to slow the fermentation process. Beer and wine are more complex and require specialized equipment, so you will definitely have to plan.
And if you are interested in making your own beverages at home, there’s no better source than a local expert. There are several homebrew and home-winemaking groups around the area so be on the lookout to join and get great tips from people who are already making their own.
Winter weather can make for hazardous driving conditions during commutes to work, school and while traveling across the state and beyond during the chilliest months of the year.
A West Virginia University Extension Service expert offers advice to help motorists prepare their vehicles for cold weather travel by providing safety tips when winter-weather driving.
WVU Safety and Health Extension Specialist Dan Whiteman recommends following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “three P’s” of safe winter drivingprepare for the trip, protect yourself and prevent accidents on the road.
The three P’s can help reduce the risk of being in a wreck, or assist when you’ve become immobilized in a stopped or stalled vehicle.
“Take steps now to maintain your vehicle and keep necessary emergency items on-hand,” said Whiteman. “Doing so can reduce worry and distress if you are involved in an automobile accident, or if your vehicle breaks down while traveling.”
Before setting out on a trip through town or across the state, you can utilize your computer or mobile device to get a look at traffic reports and detailed road conditions in your area.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation’s 511 website offers a quick glance at the traffic and road conditions on major roadways throughout the state of West Virginia. If you’re on the go, you can download the free “WV511” application for any iOS or Android phone.
Prepare for winter driving and follow these OSHA guidelines to help ensure that your vehicle transports you safely from point A to point B:
- Check your car’s battery. A normal battery lasts approximately four years before it needs to be replaced; a battery close to the end of its life may fail during cold temperatures.
- Be sure windshield wiper blades work properly and replace them if they cause a streaking effect when wet. Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with no-freeze fluid and keep vehicle windows clear.
- Check the vehicle’s antifreeze levels.
- For long trips, or if you’re unsure of your vehicle’s reliability, consider having a professional garage or dealership perform an inspection of the vehicle.
- Use the coin test. Insert a penny into your tire treadhead-side downand make sure that part of the tread covers the head of President Lincoln. If none of the president’s head disappears below your tire tread, it is less than 2/32” and should be inspected by a qualified mechanic.
“Tires have wear bars molded into the rubber. When these wear bars start touching the pavement the tire should be replaced,” added Whiteman.
Whiteman suggests keeping an emergency kit in each vehicle you own. The contents of the kit may vary by season and length of travel. Food and water should be kept for long distance travel, while a flashlight, blankets, jumper cables and a shovel are important when driving all distances.
Special considerations should be made for winter travel, including some items that may seem unconventional on first glance.
“Keeping an abrasive material in your vehiclesuch as sand or kitty litteradds weight to your vehicle which can help with traction in the snow. It can also be spread in snow surrounding tires to help them grip the ground,” remarked Whiteman.
If you become stalled or stranded during winter travel, stay in your car and don’t overexert yourself. Only run your car long enough to stay warm.
“Run your vehicle for 10 minutes each hour to keep warm and conserve fuel,” said Whiteman.
Before setting out, it’s important that you plan the route you anticipate to reach your destination. Allow for extra travel time if the forecast is calling for wintry weather conditions.
“Familiarize yourself with the trip’s directions; let someone know when you are leaving and an approximate expected arrival time,” added Whiteman.
“Take your time when driving in hazardous conditions to ensure the control of your vehicle, and be sure that visibility through the windshield and windows is good.”
When driving during any season, it’s important that you always wear a seatbeltprotect yourself and children by wearing it properly. If an infant, rear-facing car seat is being used, never place it in front of an air bag. Children under 12 years old should always sit in the backseat where it is safer for them. Air bags can seriously injure or result in death to younger children.
Finally, be responsible when taking the wheel. Alcohol, mixed with driving and unsafe winter road conditions can result in accidents or death. It’s important to designate a sober driver to ensure you make it to your destination safely.
Learn more about how to stay safe this winter season from WVU Extension experts, visit http://ext.wvu.edu/disasters/snowstorms.
CONTACT: Cassie Waugh, WVU Extension Service
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.
How do you feel about your marriage or dating partner? Your family relationships? Roller coaster? Stuck in a rut? Research shows that satisfying relationships affects our emotional, physical, and even financial health.
The New Year is a great time to pause and reflect on how you might tweak your relationships to make them easier and more satisfying. If that feels like a lot of work, know that small, simple steps can make a big difference in the relationships you cherish.
Remember the “Change Yourself First” rule
None of us can change our partner, but how we act influences how he or she reacts. At any moment, you have the power to change how things are going between the two of you. Trying something simple, like raising your head and greeting your partner when he or she comes into the room, can have a positive effect.
Seven Great Relationship Intentions for 2014:
1. Play together
“Couples who play together, stay together.” Psychologist Art Aron and colleagues found that couples that participated in physically exciting activities together, like navigating an obstacle course, felt happier in their relationships. New and physical shared activities made the most difference.
Not up for rock climbing? These ideas can bring a spark into your relationship:
- Try a new hobby together
- Bike or hike through an unexplored area
- Take a weekend trip to a nearby town
- Learn to cha-cha or salsa dance as a couple
2. “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel”
According to relationship experts, James Taylor had it right. Research finds that giving and receiving messages of affection improves both the health of the relationships and the individuals in supportive relationships. Don’t expect that your loved ones automatically know how much you appreciate their actions.
- Say you love each other more often
- Figure out their Love Language and use it to show you care!
- Not familiar with the Five Love Languages? Take this quiz.
3. Choose to focus on the positive: The 5-to-1 nice-to-nasty ratio
Dr. John Gottman found that couples who maintain a ratio of five positive moments (interactions) to each negative moment have relationships that last. In fact, he was able to reliably predict divorce in couples who had four negative moments for every three positive. Despite some of your partner’s annoying habits, it is important to think before you criticize or make snide comments that can damage your relationship.
- Consciously choose to have positive moments (showing interest, being kind) each day
- Stop yourself from commenting on every irritating habit or action of your partner
4. Put away your cell phone
Research shows that the presence of a cell phone during a face-to-face conversation, even if it is never touched, reduces people’s satisfaction with the conversation. It may surprise to realize that having your cell phone on the table while talking with your partner sends the message that your attention could be called away at any moment.
5. Talk positively about your mate to others
Within earshot of your mate, say something sincere and positive about your other half. This can be about either something they did or a character trait.
6. Make regular date nights a priority
The idea is to make well-deserved time for the two of you. It can be easy and cheap, like taking 15 minutes to eat pizza by candlelight or put on music and dance together. To make sure you keep the date, mark it on the calendar. Take turns planning your date night! Dates for special “one-on-one time” with your teenager or child who needs extra TLC can be beneficial, but make the couple time a priority, too. That’s usually what gets squeezed out in most families.
7. Use technology
During your day, send an unexpected text message letting your partner know you are looking forward to spending the evening together. Remember how you felt when you sent notes or cards while first dating? That affectionate text or tweet can have the same result! Depending on your partner, they might like a Facebook post that shares a photo of a fun time you had together.
Here’s how to use the Relationship Resolutions:
- Review the tips above and pick 1-2 that seem doable this week
- Pick small positive changes that you can track. Example: I will say something kind each day to my partner
- Write them on your calendar or your smartphone reminders to keep your intentions in mind daily
Aron, A., Norman, C., Aron, E., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (2), 273-284. psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/78/2/273/
The Positive Perspective: Dr. Gottman’s Magic Ratio! Gottman Institute Blog, December 3, 2012. gottmanblog.com/2012/12/the-positive-perspective-dr-gottmans.html
Pinterest Group on healthy couple relationships pinterest.com/GottmanInst/relationships/
by Emily Murphy, WVU Extension Service Obesity Prevention specialist
It is the second week of 2014, and if you are like many Americans, you have already slipped or completely given up on your New Year’s Resolution for 2014. But don’t worry, you still have 51 more weeks to be successful in making a positive change in your life this year.
One of the most important things that you can do to improve you overall health is live a physically active lifestyle, so why not make this a priority for 2014 and years to come. Regardless of your size and shape, physical activity has been proven to add years to your life, and life to your years. The benefits of physical active are endless and include such things as:
- Reducing your risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Increasing muscle tone and your metabolism.
- Improving learning and keeping your brain fit.
- Improving self-esteem and body image.
- Improving stress and lifting depression.
- Improving sleep habits.
If you are thinking about starting or improving your physical activity routine, here are some simple tips for long-term success:
1. Make the time.
- The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that for substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.
- If you are just starting out, start slowly. Gradually build up to 30 minutes on most or all days of the week.
- Schedule your exercise time into your daily calendar so that it becomes a regular part of your life.
2. Have reasonable expectations for yourself.
- If you have been sedentary for a long time or are at risk for chronic disease, consults your primary care provider before starting an exercise program.
- Don’t get discouraged if you miss a day or two.
3. Have fun!
- Choose activities that you enjoy and add variety to your workout routine.
- Ask family members or friends to join you. Social support is an important component to maintaining a physically active lifestyle.
4. Set goals and celebrate your success.
- Check your progress each week by setting attainable and realistic goals. Try to set a plan that will allow you to go farther, faster or longer each week. Remember to make your goals realistic for your ability level.
- Making a healthy lifestyle change is not always easy. Being physically active on a consistent basis is something worth celebrating. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
Small Steps to Better Health
Believe it or not, you do not even have to go to a gym or a formal exercise program to reap the benefits of physical activity. A simple way to increase your physical activity level, is to simply incorporate more activity into your daily routine. In fact, research has shown that simply reducing the amount of time spent sitting each day can improve your health. Here are a few simple ways to increase your daily physical activity routine:
- Take the stairs.
Make it a rule that if you have to go up two flights (or less) or down three flights (or less) to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Remember every time you take the stairs instead of the elevator you are making a positive choice to improve your health.
- Park farther from the door.
Whether you are at work, the mall, the grocery store or school, parking the car at the edge of the parking lot forces you to add steps to your daily routine. This will only add a few seconds to your trip, but if done every day it could add minutes to your life.
- Garden or do yard work.
Gardening or yard work are great because they not only increase your physical activity level, but they also give you an excuse to be outside. Planting vegetables, mowing the grass, raking leaves and shoveling the snow are all great ways to be active outdoors.
- Turn off the TV.
Time spent in front of screens are an independent predictor of disease, especially for kids. Research has shown that watching less TV not only translates into increased physical activity levels but it also results in a healthier diet as well. When you watch TV, you not only sit for a long period of time, but you are also exposed to commercials for high-sugar and high-fat foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 2 hours or less of TV each day.
This year, make physical activity a priority, it is one of the best things you can do for your health. Remember, any amount of activity is better than none, but the more you get the better. Have a healthy, happy New Year!
by Cindy Fitch, director of Families and Health for WVU Extension Service
Each New Year brings an opportunity to reflect on the past and look toward the future. For many of us, that includes resolutions for change. Whether we are looking for stronger relationships or better health, or developing new habits for self-improvement, the New Year is a great time to set goals to improve our quality of life.
A common resolution for adults is to lose weight. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Excess weight impacts health and quality of life. Many people resolve to “go on a diet” to lose weight. They omit certain foods, usually ones that they enjoy, and restrict others. It is no wonder that few people succeed.
Going on a diet does little to improve quality of life! However, it is possible to make small changes in the way we choose to eat that will
- provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients,
- improve health,
- help manage weight, and, last but not least,
- bring pleasure to eating.
For a resolution you’re likely to keep add not subtract
Keeping a resolution to add something may be easier than a resolution to restrict something. The foods that have the most nutritional value tend to be the most filling, and leave us less hungry for empty calories.
The suggestions below are based on many years of research studies on weight management and health promotion. Some of them may be brand new to you and you can try them out. Others may be things that you do sometimes, but could do more frequently. The “best practice” recommendation is given in the list, but it is okay to start slowly and set small, realistic goals.
- Eat breakfast every day. When we skip breakfast, or lunch for that matter, our metabolism (the rate at which we use calories) slows down to preserve energy stores. Eating at regular intervals triggers changes in the body that promote energy use.
- Eat two cups of vegetables every day. Vegetables contain fiber and water, both of which fill the stomach, and they are good sources of vitamins and antioxidants that promote health. Eat a variety of colors to get a variety of nutrients.
- Eat one and a half cups of fruit. Fruit has similar healthy properties to vegetables with a sweet taste. Eat fruit more than fruit juice for more nutrition with less sugar.
- Have three cups of low-fat milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese. These foods provide more calcium and vitamin D than other foods do and they provide high-quality protein.
- Eat fish twice a week. Fish is a lean source of protein and many types contain omega-three fatty acids, which decrease inflammation.
- Make half your grains whole grain. Aim for three ounces or more. This can include whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and other whole grains. Whole grain has the outer bran layer for fiber and the inner germ layer for healthy fats along with minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium essential nutrients that are in short supply in most foods. If you cook from scratch, try substituting whole wheat flour for half of the white flour in recipes.
- Keep your protein lean. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, and nuts are all good sources of protein. Think of meat as a flavor enhancer instead of the centerpiece of the meal.
- Be mindful of your eating. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. Enjoy the different flavors of the foods.
This year, make a plan to eat what you need first, then, if you are hungry, eat what you want. Have a healthy, happy New Year!
From a banana-shaped smartphone stand to an Internet-connected, color-changing light bulb to Samsung’s S9C Series OLED TV, you’ll find all kinds of devices and gadgets for your family and friends this holiday shopping season. (The last item was included to see if you are actually reading this article, since the price tag on this luxury item is $8,999.99 and just one of many tech gifts for millionaires!)
Like other consumers, you will probably be spending money on tech gifts this holiday. So, what items might be on those lists?
Some of the most popular tech gifts this year include tablets, smart fitness devices, laptops, smartphones, digital media receivers, gaming consoles, digital still and video cameras, device accessories, and budget-friendly stocking stuffers.
While this article offers some advice, it is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the possible tech gifts available. Hopefully, it will provide some ideas for your shopping list.
Since the iPad’s release, Apple has held the market share for tablets, but other companies are starting to find their niche especially those tablets running Windows 8/RT. If you are new to the tablet market, you might want to think about usage, cost, operating system, camera(s) needs, and other features as you decide what tablet might suit your needs or those of the person on your gift list.
Who will be using the tablet and how will it be used? If the tablet is one to be enjoyed by a family for all types of functions (office work, reading books, Internet browsing, streaming movies, etc.), then you will want a device with a large, high-resolution screen and long battery life. If it is only to be used by a younger family member (with smaller hands), then the tablet can be one geared for kids. Kid-only tablets are usually less expensive and sturdier. PCMag’s review of top tablets for kids is worth reading if you have no idea of what model to buy. Keep in mind that applications (apps) might determine the decision.
Buying a tablet that uses the same operating system as your smartphone allows you to share apps and also gives you a familiar experience with the device. So, if you are an iPhone user, you will probably want to purchase an Apple iPad, iPad mini, or iPad Air. Conversely, purchasing a Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus, or Asus MeMO would make sense if you have an Android smartphone.
How much will you need to spend? This varies greatly by what you want the tablet to do. You will definitely spend more for a unit that is connected to the Internet with 3G/4G service versus one that is connected via Wi-Fi only. You can get a great tablet around $200 that is multi-featured but especially good for entertainment purposes.
Sizes and weights vary somewhat, so you need to look and touch models similar to the ones you think you like. Is a smaller one (7- to 8-inch tablet) suitable? Or, do you need the larger 9- to 12-inch one? If you like the size of the iPad mini but don’t want to spend that amount, check out PC Mag’s article titled “13 Affordable iPad Mini Alternatives.”
Something to keep in mind is storage space. Do you need to keep photos, videos, and other files on the tablet? Check the storage capacity and also determine if you can add a storage card (iPads don’t have this capability) or if there’s a USB port for a jump drive or other device.
Will this tablet need to be connected to a projector? Standard projectors require an adapter for iPads, so calculate any extras into the price.
Some tablets come with a short cable for charging, so you might want to look into additional purchases like longer cables, keyboards, and cases.
Is this gift for someone who would be more comfortable with a PC-type experience? If so, then you might look at Microsoft’s Surface 2. Since this tablet runs Windows RT, you can get the RT version of Office (Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint) and use it for work tasks. The Surface Pro tablet runs Windows 8, which also gives you a PC feeling. As Windows 8 is designed to be used on a touchscreen device, you will enjoy how it works on the Microsoft tablets. For more about how the Surface stacks up against the iPad, review the article “Microsoft Surface 2 vs. Apple iPad Air: Tablet Showdown.”
Smart Fitness or Activity Tracking Devices
Get a head start on one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions of “moving more” by asking for a fitness device that tracks what you do (or don’t do!). One of the top-ranked trackers is the Fitbit Force. The Best Activity Trackers for Fitness reviews all types of trackers, so don’t miss the section on clip-on activity trackers, too.
Many of them sync easily (usually with a USB dongle or Bluetooth connection) with your computer or mobile device and also update fitness apps (e.g., My Fitness Pal) or websites (e.g., SparkPeople) to help you stay motivated and accountable. Road Runner Sports has a nice selection of fitness trackers to view, but you also can search your usual shopping sites (e.g., Amazon or others) or local sporting goods shops to find and purchase a device that’s right for you. These range in price from $50 – $200.
This might be the year to get a very good deal on a laptop or desktop. Since tablets have taken a bite out of total number of PCs purchased, you can find laptops and desktops at unbelievably good prices. Check out dealnews (“where every day is Black Friday”) for your bargains or go directly to manufacturers’ and distributors’ websites (e.g., Dell). Keep in mind that if a factory-refurbished computer has the same warranty offer, then you can get a great machine for a lot less money.
However, don’t be so impressed by a bargain that you overlook the unit’s specifications.
Rule of Thumb: If a computer has a warranty of only one year, is this an amount you would be willing to lose after a year?
In today’s market, smartphones basically come down to two choices for consumers: iOS (Apple) and Android (e.g., Samsung, Nokia, HTC) models. However, you may have constraints on what phones to buy based on your provider’s contracts with the various companies.
Until recently, U.S. Cellular, a provider in much of West Virginia, did not have any iPhone models. Now that iOS phones are available with this provider, customers will have more options.
Before buying a phone, you might want to look at the latest cell phone review from c|net. Also, ask others what phones they have and if they are happy with theirs.
Cell phone plans and bills can be confusing, so take time in the process to understand what you are getting. How much data (email, Web browsing) can each person in the plan have monthly? Make sure the cell phone company representative is taking his/her time answering your questions. It’s advantageous to look at the provider website for plan details before visiting the store.
Digital Media Receivers
When Apple TV debuted, there weren’t many options on the market. A few years have changed the choices greatly. Besides streaming receivers like the Apple TV device, Roku (various models) and Google Chromecast also represent affordable content-streaming devices.
Wireless or Bluetooth audio receivers and speakers have also come into their own this year, and consumers will find many affordable models. Look for models that meet your needs (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, battery or corded, economical, supports the streaming service you use, etc.).
Read more at the digital media receiver review by c|net.
Unlike years back, gaming consoles do not necessarily merit standing in line overnight. That’s not to say the two main ones—Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One are not good products. Consoles are available for online purchase at reasonable prices, so the shopping experience is a happier (and probably warmer!) one now.
If someone on your shopping list has asked for a particular device, then that is the one you probably should get. Tip: Are you the parent of the one asking for this? If not, then ask the parent if the purchase is OK.
Since gaming consoles are useless without games (either locally run or online), you might want to consider purchasing a game (again, approved by the parent and age-appropriate) or a gift card.
Digital Still and Video Cameras
Even though many people are using their smartphones instead of digital cameras to take pictures, most digital cameras have a higher megapixel option (barring the Nokia 1020 with an incredible 41 megapixel feature) than smartphones and will take better pictures. Even though the latest Consumer Report review rated most cameras below 70 out of a possible 100, many families will still take the plunge in order to have a small, yet powerful, digital camera to share.
However, serious digital photographers who will be investing more than a few hundred dollars will want to consider carefully the various models before making a purchase.
To help you make a decision on cameras ranging from subcompact to SLR, peruse the reviews by c|net, PC Mag, Digital Photography Review, Digital Camera Review and its Holiday Buy’s Guide: Best Cameras of 2013, Dave’s Picks from Imaging Resource, Steve’s Digicams Gift Guide, or your own “go to” website or source for camera reviews.
When purchasing digital cameras, don’t forget extra batteries and high-capacity storage cards.
A very cool item that might be on the sports enthusiast’s list is the GoPro action video camera. This item is dubbed by the company as the “World’s Most Versatile Camera. Wear it. Mount it. Love it.”TM
If you are not familiar with the camera, you might want to visit the website to watch promotional videos and testimonials and also view the 60 Minutes’ segment about the GoPro video camera a must-see even if you aren’t going to buy the camera. The story is about the founder’s perseverance, entrepreneurship, and innovation and is worth watching.
Device Accessories and Apps
What do you get the person who has everything that you could afford? Maybe that person needs accessories for a device!
Since cold hands and hot tech don’t always work together, you might want to put touch gloves on your list for those with a smartphone. These gloves not only keep hands warm, but also allow thumbs and index fingers to “work” on the sensitive, on-screen keys of touchscreen devices. Some of these include: metallic, multisport, and bargain.
Who on your list would like tech gifts that are the ultimate in cute? These include scented gummy bear earbuds, a robotic fur ball vacuum cleaner, a USB hub in the shape of peas, and more.
For the person who likes (or maybe needs) organization, Cocoon Innovations has numerous products to help tame the tech clutter.
As mentioned in the Digital Media Receivers section, wireless or untethered audio speakers are the way to go these days (really, cords are so last year!). Search the Web for “wireless speakers” to find many choices in a wide price range. To see many versions, do a quick search at Amazon. Both online and local retailers have good selections. Features to consider are sound, battery life, range, size, style, and price.
For the HDTV viewer, he/she might appreciate a gizmo to calibrate the TV’s colors the Colorvision Spyder3 ($49-$99).
Other affordable gifts or stocking stuffers might include:
- Headsets/earbuds (styles, prices vary widely search the Web)
- Zipper pull and light
- Phone cases phone wrist wallet, OtterBox, pricey 22-tool iPhone 5/5S case
- Key finder
- USB mini fridge
- Device to make your iPad/iPhone into a universal remote
- Remote for digital camera
- Tools to help you take better “selfies” include: CamMe app (company’s description), the #TheSelfie, iSnapxRemote (app required)
- Something to create a 3D of yourself
If you want to pursue apps for creating better “selfies” of yourself or tweens and teens in your life, search a device’s respective store with the phrase “selfies” to locate apps for shooting, embellishing, or sharing your pictures.
Other Gift Options
Specially Created Gifts
Do you have skills in digital photography, desktop publishing, or social media? Creating a custom-made calendar, set of note cards, or a book of gift certificates can be uniquely tailored to the recipient and add a personalized touch.
What do those on your list need that you can provide? Can you give Facebook or Twitter lessons to loved ones who could be on a “Social Media DON’Ts” poster? Your help, in gift certificate form, might be a time for both instruction and cross-generation sharing.
Of course, gift cards (whether digital, plastic, general, or store-specific) are appreciated and can be purchased in many retail stores and online. Make sure the amount does not expire or include fees. Gift certificates for iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, or other online retailer are a nice companion to a coordinating device (either new gift or current device). It’s predicted over 80% of us will purchase gift cards, and total spending on gift cards will reach almost $30 billion.
Another gift idea to consider is an extended warranty for an item. Most of the time, this type of warranty can be bought within a few weeks of the item’s purchase, but you should verify this option and coordinate it with the giver of the main gift. Not as elaborate as the more costly gift, it will still be appreciated in the event of its need.
Shopping (and More!) Service
If your recipients are frequent Amazon shoppers, the best gift you can give them is Amazon Prime. This $79 gift entitles the recipient to free, two-day shipping, unlimited streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows on Prime Instant Video, and access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. This service can be shared with the recipient’s family (via a secure login), and ordered items can be shipped to different addresses and even billed to different credit cards.
Note: The only downside to the “family sharing” part is that others in the family can look at the purchase history and see their own gifts!
Another avenue for gift ideas is to search Pinterest for “tech gifts” or “cool tech” or similar phrases to find all kinds of ideas for your family and friends. Warning: Pinterest can be addictive, so set a timer to keep yourself on track for your other holiday tasks!
During the shopping madness, stay calm and remember to enjoy the experience. You might even have time to find something for yourself!
Sources with more information:
- Tech Stocking Stuffers Under $15
- Top 9 holiday tech gifts of 2013
- TECH NOW: Gadget gifts for the whole family
- Last minute gifts
- 2013 Holiday Gift Guide
- 12 Cool Gadgets That Make Your iPhone Even More Magical
- 28 Practical Yet Clever Gifts
- 31 Clever Gifts You Might Want to Keep for Yourself
- The Top Tablets for Your Kids
- Santa to Deliver Game Systems, iPads to Children This Year, According to NRF Survey
- Gift cards are great last-minute gifts, but purchase with care
- 13 Affordable iPad Mini Alternatives
- Top 10 Holiday Tech Gifts of 2013
- Best tech gifts under $100
- Camera accessories for your favorite photog
The holidays often provide opportunities to consume excess calories by eating mindlessly. Small snacks, like office cookie trays or holiday appetizers, can add up quickly if you aren’t aware of your consumption, warns West Virginia University Extension Service Public Health Specialist Kristin McCartney.
Americans can gain seven to ten pounds through the holidays, according to McCartney, and she warns that it’s harder to take the weight off than it is to put the pounds on.“People think that they’re being careful with their weight if they just limit themselves to fewer snacks or don’t add ice cream to their apple pie,” she says. “Those are fine first steps, but people still need to be careful when it comes to calorie consumption during the holidays.”
In order to help combat this, McCartney provides tips for holiday meals like Thanksgiving. Her tips will not only keep turkey, stuffing and gravy on the menu, but also leave guests satisfied after the traditional meal.
“It’s all about healthy preparation and substitutions, reducing the fat and sugar in your meal and taking a healthier mental approach,” McCartney explains.
Small changes can make meals healthier without compromising quality. For example, steam, bake or broil foods instead of frying them. Skim the fat off gravies, soups and stews.
For healthier and tastier vegetables, leave out butter, oil and lard. Instead, substitute low-fat and low-sodium broth to retain flavor while trimming fat.Try new spices to give food more pizzazz without adding fat or salt. Avoid adding additional sugar to sweet dishes; add vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg instead.
“Using nonfat or low-fat counterparts of pantry staples is a hassle-free way to retain flavor while making the dish healthier overall,” says McCartney.
Items such as salad dressing, mayonnaise, whipped topping, butter, sour cream and cheese all have low fat counterparts readily available. Artificial sweeteners provide an alternative to sugar when preparing desserts.
Substitute white meat for dark, load up on vegetables and watch portion sizes on gravy and starches, such as stuffing and sweet potatoes.
“Limit your desire to overeat by grabbing a healthy snack before you head to a dinner party,” McCartney explains. “Wear clothing that fits you a little bit tighter so you notice yourself feeling full faster.”
While these are just a few ways to help your waistline during the holiday season, it’s also important not to lose perspective.
“Most importantly, remember that you’re sharing meals to spend time with family, so slow down while eating and enjoy visiting with them,” McCartney says. “There’s plenty of time to enjoy non-food related activities, too. Play games, watch movies, walk outside or play football.”
To learn more about how WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Programs help citizens of the state make choices to improve their health, visit familynutrition.ext.wvu.edu or call your local office of the WVU Extension Service.
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