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10 BEST – NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC RANKS U.S. PARKS

English: Thurston Lava Tube, Hawai'i Volcanoes...

English: Thurston Lava Tube, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island of Hawai’i, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The NATIONAL PARK SERVICE MAJESTIC VALUE WITH FREE ENTRANCE ON JUNE 9, 2012

English: Yosemite valley, Yosemite National Pa...

English: Yosemite valley, Yosemite National Park, California, USA. Français : Vallée de Yosemite. Parc national de Yosemite, Californie (États-Unis). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In their new book, The 10 Best Of Everything.”, National Geographic declares 10 of the hundreds of U.S. National Parks as the best. Read the Huffington Post article here. The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, as you might expect, is in the top 10.

There was, for me, some unexpected listings.  Like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii; New Orleans Jazz Historical Park, Louisiana.  

English: The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum at Hawaii...

English: The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the rim of the volcano Kilauea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether you take National Geographic’s picks or compile your own, the U.S. Parks are a great value. And, I don’t think you can overuse the word “majestic” when referring to most of them.  

Read 100+ Places to Park Free in the U.S. to get details on the bargains and workings of the parks.  This article details all the Entrance Free days, what “free” means, and details on many of the parks.

 

As a reminder:

Free entrance to over 100 National Parks and Historical Landmarks. See detailed coverage in Free U.S. Parking in September 2011.

June 9, 2011 is the next free entrance day for hundreds of U.S. Parks. Including National Geographic’s Top 10

These treasures belong to you, America, so go out and enjoy them. And, if you can make it on June 9, get in free.  If you can’t, no worries.  The National Park Service is still a bargain, especially if you check out the passes.  Senior citizens you can get a pass for life!  

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Consumer, Know this?

 

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AN APPLE EVERY DAY—Enjoying that Mark-up?

Cnet’s recent article on the likely cost to manufacture iPhone and iPads after Apple allowed ABC News into its Chinese factories.  Would it make you sick to know that  expers calculate that cost at less than 10% of the retail price? I understand R & D, but come on this is the 4th generation. And if I remember from my school courses (yes, I was listening professor), there’s a thing called amortization that should diminish that cost over time; and each generation seems to have fewer new bells and whistles. None of the creations were cheap. The  iPhone4S reportedly brought in four million dollars for Apple in the first few days of its release.  Even if you inflate the cost to 25% to take marketing, etc. into account, that’s still a 75% profit.


Per CNet, even adding in shipping from China and cost of potential warranties for Apple, it’s still seems a rather ridiculous mark-up. Especially, sin
ce Apple has a ravenous market in Asia, so shipping there would likely be pretty inexpensive. A mark-up, I think, that Apple knows they can get away with because of our need for the cache.  The latest and greatest.  As well, as the psychological: many of us think that (insert the name of any “high-end” product here) must be good, special if it’s really expensive.  And, it could be that many of you really, really, REALLY love that phone and find it indispensable.
Only the recent version of the iPhone held any interest to me. Still, the cost never matched up to its worth. But, then I’m a Frugalista. Also gadgets don’t make me salivate. If Siri and I ever get together, it will likely be after another generation comes out and the price drops to more Macy’s than Bergdorf Goodman. For those of you who have held out against purchasing the (whatever) new generation of Apple products, you might find this website helpful: iPhone Repair Services, Top Ten Reviews 2012.

 

As an iPhone owner if the markup info wounds you, here’s a bit of a salve. Cnet has a whole section dedicated to comprehensive coverage about your iPhone. It also answers questions, such as: “Why does my iPhone take upside down photos?  Go here to check it out.

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Consumer, Know this?, Uncategorized

 

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DYING RESPONSIBLY

The wife of a seventy-plus-year-old relative told me he refused to even discuss a will. She thought it was because he didn’t like to think about dying.  Well, hello!  You’ve  over 70, man, and in poor shape. If anyone should be thinking about dying, it’s you.

All jokes aside, many people don’t want to talk or even think about this topic.  In my experience, this is especially true of elderly and people with crippling ailments. With the elderly, it seems that they think, when they die, their “loved ones” will figure it out among themselves. Or, that doing a will and having an exit strategy where their affairs are in order, will jinx them into heaven sooner.  And with those with crippling ailments, I wonder if they fear signing over rights or giving someone privy to their personal stuff.

To the elderly,  those with crippling ailments and the young with the elderly mindset, death is one certainty for you. For the first group, you have to realize that you’re closer to “going up yonder” than most people. Even if all you have is a house and/or money in a bank, you leave the people you claim to love with legal problems and headaches if you haven’t taken care of business. Not to mention the potential fights between Ginny and Oscar over the cherry 1969 Mustang.  Your will needn’t be elaborate, simply unambiguous.

Why, also, would you want to leave the care of yourself and your assets to chance?  What good are any of your asset accounts if they end up on your state’s Unclaimed Funds list because no one can get access to your accounts? Especially when completing a power of attorney (medical and financial) is easier than ever. Do you want your children to have their childhood home or not?

Suze Orman has proved herself as a trustworthy financial adviser.  She says that the four most important documents you should prepare for your future (especially your demise) are a:

She also offers a self-contained, nearly indestructible kit with these and other “life” forms. Everything in one place for you to grab in case of emergency, or to make it easy for relatives who may take over your care or handle your death.

A Wall Street Journal article last year also made a good point. The article began with: It isn’t enough simply to sign…end-of-life instructions. You also have to make your heirs aware of them and leave the documents where they can find them. Why do all that prep then drop the ball? At least tell a couple of people now where to look once you’re dead or incapacitated. That includes safety deposit boxes, home safes and inside your mattress or favorite recliner.

I heard a sad recount of a dear uncle who passed away. His close relatives knew he had socked away some money, but had no clue where.  They broke down his favorite recliner, for disposal, when they cleaned out his house. Inside was remnants of paper currency that the rats had feasted on. I’m pretty sure that the Mint only replaces bills if you have at least half of it.

  

If you have a loved one who’s elder  or has elder mindset, or an ailment that might render them incapacitated or dead sooner than later, then please give them the information to make an informed decision about unnecessarily burdening those left to mourn or care for them.

Then give them a chunk of the cake you baked (OK, picked up) to soften the message. 



©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Consumer, Tips, Uncategorized

 

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$500 worth of dreaming and playing for Minnesota girls

Ann Bancroft dares girls to dream and encourages them to play.

She founded the Ann Bancroft Foundation (ABF), which advances the belief: …by supporting a girl’s ambition and hope, we are validating ourselves. The foundation has two major programs, Dare to Dream and Let Me Play Grants. ABF produces an annual fundraiser, the dreamXchange, that occurs on April 25th this year. It’s meant to celebrate the possible and a call to action to fully engage girls. 

Image - RGBStock.com

Dare to Dream provides micro grants for experiences ranging from arts to educational to wilderness. Girls , living in Minnesota, ages 10 through 10th grade can apply. Basically, they apply to live a dream up to $500. The idea is to get girls to recognize their own potential and/or have the courage to reach their dreams. Past dreams have ranged from attending space camp to learning a foreign language to taking boxing lessons. This year applications are due by April 15, 2012.

The Let Me Play micro grants cover sport/athletic or dance fees and equipment cost. Minnesota girls, ages 5 to the 10th grade, may apply for up to $500. The idea is for the grant recipient to learn teamwork and experience personal growth. Awards are made in the spring and fall.  Check the website for updated deadlines.

Read about the 2011 student DreamMaker recipient, Shawnnise Watkins, who transitioned from reacting with tough words and her fists to becoming a change agent.  Essentially both micro grants help girls grow in to better, stronger women who will lead–and reach back.

Image - Public Domain

Although this involves a limited segment of the population, this seems to be such a worthwhile endeavor. Hopefully you–the reader–might know a girl/parent in Minnesota who could use this information.  

Check out the application process here. 

©2012 DLewis

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NOW 10 DAYS & COUNTING – THE TIME FOR LOVE REALLY IS NOW…

…and if you want to make an impression these gifts will help. These gifts show you’ve given it some thought and gone beyond the “usual suspects”.  I think it’s safe to say, most of us don’t need a big ol’ box of sugar and carb-laden candy filled with cremes, nuts and fruit.  Most people have watches, or they’d rather pick their own anyway. Flowers, well they’re nice, but they die within days.  You get the idea.

Some of you have Valentine’s Day covered, but this post is for those who need some creative examples. Bonus: All these suggestions are under $50US.  However, time’s running out to to order. 

DR OZ APPROVES

So, as a different take on the chocolate idea, consider, Figs In Chocolate with Walnut and Orange.

Luigi's Figs in Chocolate


This beautifully packaged presentation is from Calabria, in Southern Italy where the fig is king. That alone could spark lively conversation. Once your recipient
tastes one, there might be too much ooohing and ahhing going
  on for intelligible talk. Each ‘Dottato’ fig is stuffed with walnuts and a piece of candied orange peel, then immersed in dark chocolate. Figs, walnuts and dark chocolate? Love with a side of healthy. All prettily packaged in a wooden box tied with a generous ribbon. Now, that’s a memento. Available atLuigi’s of London ,  300 g – £12.95 (Currently about $20US, but use a converter, such as http://www.xe.com/ucc/ for exact pricing if you purchase. ) 
CLASSY CUPPA
To continue on the healthy, yet memorable, theme. How about the Bronze Japanese Koi Teapot?  This also is a conversation piece, not only at presentation, but at later small gatherings with friends. At any rate, even if your recipient isn’t trying to drink more healthy tea, this teapot works a great addition to any decor. The enamel coating interior in this beautiful, classic cast iron teapot ensures it won’t rust. Cast iron means the water heats evenly. A removable stainless steel tea filter is included. The Koi insignia on the teapot symbolizes perseverance, courage, and good fortune.  Now, that should give you something to talk about over drinks.  And if you’re really astute, you might Google the history of the Japanese teapot and tea. Knowledge is not only power, it’s endearing. Just remember a little goes a long way on these occasions. Maybe, it’s a better idea to print off the information and present it in a frame or bound nicely. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a nice green or black tea to go with your gift.Check out the Koi teapot at Enjoying Tea for $46US
FAMILY TABLEAU 

Especially for the couple with children or one on the way: the family sculpture.  

Family Sculpture

Bonus: If your recipient is into sustainability and free trade, this gift hits both marks.  The sculpture’s available through Serrv.Org for $40US

                                            HEART IN POCKET


Isn’t it lovely? She’ll likely think so, too; and smile every time she checks her appearance in the red Compact with Jeweled Heart. Smile because she’ll be thinking of you. She’ll easily find this beautiful  mirrored compact in her purse.  And get admiring looks as she uses it. The compact is almost a piece of art. 

Get it for $28US at Beautiful Wishes.   

NOT A SONIC SCREWDRIVER, BUT…

Know a Doctor Who fan? Or some similar iconic figure? Check out this Doctor Who TARDIS Talking Cookie Jar. A series fan will go bananas over it. The light and sound effects will tickle them.   Fill it with their favorite type of cookies (no one said you had to BAKE them! That’s why God made bakeries), with a promise of more in the future. Nothing says love like: I understand and respect your obsession.

$33 at BBC America Shop

Doctor Who Cookie Jar

 


WANDER LUST IN THE ROUND

Does your loved one love to visit a certain city or miss one because of relocation? Get them hand-drawn globes that depict a single city (e.g. Los Angeles, Rome, San Francisco, Paris, NYC). The globes include descriptions of landmarks and points of interest in the chosen city, as well as the usual map detail. Includes informational booklet elaborating on the historic and tourist sites illustrated on the globe. Comes in 4″, 6″ and 9″ sizes. starting at $31 from Pylones-usa

If you visited, or love the same, city, then this is a gift you both can enjoy. And one  that evokes great memories.

LOVE IN THE LOT

Does he or she ramp up  for the tailgate party every other weekend? Do they love to hang out at the beach or love to camp? The Grande Chef Portable Chill and Grill BBQ Set with Chiller is a great gift for this type.  This two-in-one grill and cooler combo has heavy-duty insulation and lots of room. The grill is portable and easy to store. It even has an ash catcher.


$26 at Amazon

SOAKING DUO 


And well, what’s Valentine’s Day without a sensual option.  This is a gift to give yourself for both of you.The Bijoux Indiscret L’Eau à Deux – Romantic Bath Kit creates a most intimate romantic experience. A kit that includes bath milk, a romantic jazz CD and, one of the well-known symbols of sensual love, rose petals.$42 at A Romantic Gift

These are just a few suggestions. If they don’t quite fit your recipient, they’ll hopefully get your creative juices flowing to think outside the candy heart. You, of course, still want to make certain that the “unusual” is something that will delight the recipient.  And if you must do the roses and chocolate thing, do consider going the sustainable, free trade route.
Best wishes on your quest!
 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Consumer, Economic, Uncategorized

 

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SOCIAL SHOPPING: BUYER BEWARE–OF REVIEWS

   

In the last blog on price comparison sites, I mentioned product reviews in passing. I considered a short follow-up on that topic in regards to being careful about trusting product reviews on these sites as if they were gospel. Today, I caught part of a CBS This Morning story on problems with these reviews.

 If you’re making a large purchase, read reviews from several sites, retailers and otherwise. Do keep in mind that there are sources with nothing to gain from reviews. I’ve added a few more to the ones CBS mentioned:

 

 You’ll find product reviews on price comparison/deal, retailer’s and blogger’s sites. Some of them have begun to pay consumers to write positive reviews. It’s too much for some companies to resist.  Bad reviews can cost companies money—lots of money. Some companies put up fake reviews. The NY Times discusses this practice. It’s a good article to help understand how this practice works.

It might look enticing, but is it really?

Experts suggest employing these tips to avoid being seduced:

1)  Click on the “reviewers” name/handle to bring up other reviews they’ve done. Are there too many to be believable?  Have they reviewed several different variations of the same product? Are they effusive in every review?

2)  Did the reviewer do several reviews on the same day and/or within a small window of time?

3)  Does a glowing review seem out of kilter with the product to you? For example, someone rhapsodizing about a hair ornament.

4)  Does the review contain marketing speak? For instance, they describe something as “lightening fast”.

5)  Does the review include specific specifications like model numbers?

6)  Does the review fail to discuss the reliability, performance, and perceived value of product being reviewed? An average consumer would note these things in a review.

Lifehacker offers more suggestions for spotting fake reviews here.  

The FCC says fake reviewing is a pervasive practice. They claim it’s difficult, and tedious, to uncover and prosecute the fake reviews; and have neither the budget nor staff for this task. Additionally, the FCC only acts on reported incidents.

 So, if you encounter a retailer, product manufacturer or comparison site soliciting glowing reviews for cash or goods, report them to the FCC.

 

Also, pay attention. Be cautious. Buyer beware has taken on a whole new dimension.

UPDATE: A couple of articles (below) from PerformInsider.com help clarify this issue. Although these are meant as a caution to businesses, it could also help you recognize foul play. Sure, some will say reporting will be useless given the governmental agencies track record.  However, no change happens if there’s no change agent. 

http://performinsider.com/2012/01/how-to-guarantee-the-ftc-will-bust-you/

http://performinsider.com/2011/11/the-one-ftc-article-you-must-read/

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Consumer, Economic, Tips, Uncategorized

 

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SODAS YOUR WAY

  When I was searching, of all things, an Internet price comparison/deal site, I found a recipe for making your own soda.  The site, Become.com, has a blog with these informational type articles. A plus being that if you find a product you like in an article, you’re in the right place to research and price it. 

Read the article, “Make your own soda with an organic soda syrup”,  here.  

Great article and now I can attempt to make healthier sodas.  I see lots of floats in my future–with frozen yogurt, of course.  After reading the article, I searched for the root beer extract–which I didn’t know existed until now. I not only found it at a great price (4 oz/8.25), but discovered a great site for extracts and flavorings.  It’s now bookmarked.

FYI, in case you want to distill some soda after reading the article, the retailer is Cook’s Vanilla. They have other flavors, like Bourbon Vanilla, Chocolate, Hazelnut , coffee and Peppermint. Lots of flavors; organic, flavored extracts, powdered, and alcohol free; as well as premium vanilla.

I will have to get a carbonation machine, but as I recall Doctor Oz featured a mini-one that should do the trick.  And now I know all the places to search for the best price. If you want to compare other items beyond http://www.become.com, read here. 

 

 

UPDATE:  I found a carbonating system that’s not only reasonable, but is also eco-mindful.  The iSi Twist ‘n Sparkle Beverage Carbonating System is priced at $44 on Amazon. Use the comparison sites listed here to get the best price.  Read about the system at http://twistnsparkle.com/.

©2012 DLewis

English: Collection of Jones Soda Flavors Hous...

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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Consumer, Tips

 

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