Saturday, December 23, 2006

New England Youth Theater Triumphantly Parades to New Location

When the NEYT presented its first performance in March 1999, the show took place in a rented room in a school in Brattleboro, VT. The next year they found a permanent home in a former Chinese restaurant in the Latchis Theater Complex in downtown Brattleboro. Last week they performed the last of their two week run of Oliver!, they bid farewell to the old Chinese restaurant and more than 300 actors, students, kids, parents, and supporters marched a few blocks to a new facility being built just for the NEYT. Founder and artistic director Stephen Stearns addressed the group in the partially constructed theater, and flipped on a giant light switch to symbolize the forthcoming completion of the theater as the gathered fans cheered. Stearns also led the group in singing a few songs including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "The Impossible Dream."

The new theater will open in January to present productions by other theater groups. The first NEYT production is set to be presented in February.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Secrets for Not Gaining Weight During the Holidays

It's said that calm comes before a storm, but for people wanting to lose weight or get into better shape, the last few weeks of the year are the storm before the calm. The period from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day can be one long binge of parties and family dinners, followed by the obligatory pledges of healthy living including promises to start eating right and join a gym.

Trying to lose weight during the holidays is insanity, most nutrition and fitness gurus would admit, but some are taking a more moderate position: enjoying the holiday cheer but making a point of trying to maintain one's weight during the holidays. For me, traveling to visit family means plenty of downtime in airports, which I take advantage of by walking from terminal to terminal. It doesn't give you the same benefits of running a race or playing raquetball, but walkng at a moderate pace can burn about 120 calories in 20 minutes.

As many trainers and fitness experts agree, the best way to get in shape is to combine aerobic exercise with weight training . Even though you may not be able to make it to the gym during the busy holiday season, you can certainly find the time to do a few sets of strength training with a set of dumbells or a barbell. Weight training builds greater muscle strength and mass, which require more energy to maintain than less-developed muscles. So your newly strengthened body will actually burn more calories even as rest than it did before.

So forget about trying to lose weight during the holidays, or going in the opposite direction and just letting yourself give in to the orgy of overindulgence. Try to maintain your weight and then, come the new year, you can make good on those resolutions to improve your diet, exercise more, and join a gym or fitness program.

(This post sponsored by noexcusesgym.com)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Harmonica Workout--America's Latest Fitness Craze?

Americans love fitness trends. Not that they love actually getting in shape, but they eagerly try out every new workout plan and diet theme that comes down the road. Willingly accepting the bizarre, they seem to hold the contrarian belief that the more offbeat the plan sounds, the greater the possibility that it works.

One of the latest workouts to come down the crowded road could be called "The Harmonica Workout," as mentioned in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Promoted by the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (yes, this is a real organization), it seeks to show that all the blowing in and out of playing the mouth harp is good for the mouth, throat, and lungs. Who knew?

Terry Rand, a 71-year-old member of the Society and a harmonica evangelist who travels around his hometown of Naples, Florida giving our harmonicas, has been actively promotion the idea that playing the harp can play a role in strengthening the lungs. He and other harmonica society members have been passing out the instruments at senior centers, hospitals, and other gathering places.

If you're really into harmonicas, you can join the organization and even attend their annual four-day convention. In 2007 it will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No word on if harmonica workouts will be featured in the year's annual convention.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How to Make Your Rooms Look Like a Million, Without Spending a Lot

As someone who's always had a limited budget for making my apartment look good, I long ago learned a simple trick for making my home look classy without spending much money. Instead of shelling out big bucks outfitting a room with a lot of fancy furniture and other items, I go for a straightforward look using inexpensive furnishings that have a high-quality appearance, then add a few choice accessories that add a touch of class and luxury (without paying luxury prices, of course!)

There are many items that can fill the bill and make a room look rich. Wall sconces are a classy way to light walls and hallways, and they come in a range of materials, from bronze and stainless steel to genuine wrought iron, for an old Parisian feel. Wrought iron can also add a distinctive European touch in other accessories--a wall vase draws attention to the walls while allowing you to add a festive floral touch, and shelf brackets and door toppers made of the same material will complete the look and give the room a consistent theme.

If you're unsure of how to use these and other decorative items, pick up a copy of your favorite shelter magazines and scan the photos for a look that you like. Choose a look that will be appropriate for the room you're decorating, your style preference, and your type of furniture. Then go shopping for more reasonably priced versions of the expensive fixtures and accessories you see in those photos.

Making your home look expensive doesn't have to be expensive, if you know how to make smart use of quality decor items.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Is $3 Million Too Much for Vodka?! Nyet, My Friend!

OK, it's not actually the drink itself that sold for that price, but rather the vodka.com domain name. A billionaire Russian entrepreneur who heads the country's biggest vodka maker has paid $3 million to buy the vodka.com domain to smooth its path to expand into the U.S. market, the broker handling the transaction announced on Thursday, December 14.

Roustam Tariko controls the Russian Standard Co. conglomerate, which entered the crowded U.S. premium vodka market in September 2005 with its Imperia brand. According to Russian Standard, Imperia's recipe was discovered by 19th century Russian scientist Dimitri Mendeleev, known for inventing the periodic table of elements which, as we all learned in school, is the road map for the science of chemistry.

Russian Standard Co. controls two-thirds of Russia's sales of premium vodka, and it also owns Russian Standard Bank, the largest private bank in the country.

While expensive, the $3 million cost for vodka.com isn't the highest for a generic Web domain. Reports have said that in May 2006 diamond.com reportedly sold for $7.5 million to Ice.com, a jewelry retailer. Other high-prifile domain sales that are publicly known are said to be business.com ($7.5 million, 1999) and sex.com (allegedly about $12 million, though the precise sum hasn't been disclosed).

Free Christmas Ecards, Great for Last-Minute Gifts



With Christmas fast approaching, are you wondering how you're going to get your greetings out in time to friends, family, and colleagues? Ecards have become more popular than ever, and they make a great option for greetings during the holidays or anytime. If you're looking for some laugh-out-loud cards to send to your cynical hipster friends and smart-aleck relatives, check out how to get a free Christmas card from Egreetings.com.

These certainly aren't your father's Christmas cards (unless your father is Dave Chappelle or Robin Williams). These are cards that offer a risque, off-color brand of humor that nevertheless will effectively convey your holiday wishes. If you go to this ecards blog you can get a free Christmas card and check out the author's top 10 funny cards list.

What's more, Egreetings customers can get a free 30-day trial to send unlimited ecards. A one-year ecards subscription is only $13.99--a lot cheaper than sending traditional paper cards to everyone on your Christmas list (if you've got a good-sized list of people, the yearly subscription is cheaper than the postage alone). And, of course, ecards are ideal for last-minute Christmas wishes.

Among my favorites in the eGreetings.com Christmas offerings are the Double Dare card (yes, from the movie A Christmas Story) and Personalized Christmas Hits, which parodies those famous (and famously repetitive) K-Tel rock hits collections on late night TV.

And what says "Christmas cheer" better than a card with a farting reindeer?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Read the Magazine, Smell the Cheesecake

We've all heard of viral marketing--but is America ready for nasal marketing? Kraft Foods has sponsored a holiday issue of People magazine that will feature five different ads that allow readers to scratch a spot and smell a Kraft product being advertised.

Scratch and sniff is nothing new for the perfume and cosmetic trades, but for snack foods? Apparently the products to be given the olfactory treatment are Chips Ahoy! cookies and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. It's said that a full-page ad for the cream cheese shows a photo of a strawberry cheesecake and, when sniffed, will yield the smell of the dessert. The other scratch and sniff products are said to include cinnamon coffee, cherry Jello-O, and white chocolate. Besides the special ads, one of the articles has been said to include pictures of food items that release a scent when rubbed or scratched.

So what's the thinking behind the scented ads? As often is the case with unusual marketing techniques, the idea is to make the product or company stand out in an increasingly crowded product field and marketing environment. Whether the smell of strawberry cheesecake mixed in with that of the magazine's paper and ink is another question.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Leaving Las Vegas? No, Just the Opposite

Contrary to the Nicholas Cage film (and Sheryl Crow song) of that title, very few people are Leaving Las Vegas. To the contrary, Vegas is the nation's fastest growing city, with some estimates saying it's adding 5,000 new residents each month.

Business is booming in Vegas, and it's not just casinos. Many companies are starting up in or moving to Las Vegas, and Californians frustrated with congestion or high home prices are moving east to places such as Vegas that are still within striking distance of the Los Angeles area. Though Las Vegas can be a competitive environment, there are plenty of opportunities for making money, including startups and entrepreneurial ventures.

So how to test the waters? Many new arrivals start out by renting a home and getting a feel for the area, then buying later on when they are more established and have a better sense of the neighborhood where they'd like to settle.

There are all types of housing options in the city, from existing single-family homes to apartments to new construction to Las Vegas Highrise Condos. And buyers of new homes will find a number of incentives, including paid closing costs, free appliance upgrades, assistance with downpayments, and more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Record Companies Turn the Tables on Downloaders

Facing slumping sales and increased online piracy, record companies have decided to turn lemons into lemonade. Companies have started planting advertiser-sponsored video clips of their artists on video sharing sites--the exact same kind of sites they've been battling for years.

The Wall Street Journal noted in October, for example, that rapper Jay-Z authorized a video clip from one of his summer concerts in New York to be placed on a variety of illegal music-sharing cites. The action occurred at the request of Coca-Cola, the Journal said, and the clip included promotions for Coke.

While record companies have usually battled file-sharing sites by planting fake "decoy" files to thwart and frustrate downloaders, this new tack by Jay-Z recognizes that the people who download files are also some of the biggest music fans and buyers, and that it may be more in their interest to market to them rather than sue them. So the decoy files being planted on leading file-sharing sites contain promotional materials, which are then seen by eager fans. So when fans turn to the file networks for purposes of piracy, they're getting a marketing message instead.

The article notes that other artists including Audioslave and Ice Cube have also benefited from decoy files, putting bits of a song into the files and promising that the user and this companions will be able to stream the entire song once the file is forwarded to a certain number of people.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How to Save Money on Holiday Shopping

Online shopping isn't just convenient, it can save you a lot of money. You can save even more with the many coupons that online stores offer, and the good news is that you don't need to go hunting all over the stores' Web sites to find these deals.

Web sites such as CouponChief do all the digging around for coupons, so you don't have to. And you'll find coupons for leading retailers you probably already use. For example, the site has Buy.com coupons that will help you save money on gifts for everybody, from CDs and DVDs to digital cameras, flat-screen TVs, and MP3 players.

If you want the great savings of coupons without hunting all over the Web or signing up on countless merchants' Web sites, give CouponChief a try.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pimping the Crib (the Baby's Crib, That Is)

Today's tech-loving parents know it's never too early to pamper their little bundle of joy. And since everyone has an iPod these day, why should the smallest consumers be deprived of listening to some kickin' tunes just because they can't walk, talk, or even use the toilet?

A company called Munchkin has come out with a product called iCrib and, you guessed it, it's an iPod holder/player designed to be installed on the side railing of baby's crib. The idea is to play some music that will lull the little one to sleep, though it could also be used to introduce Little Ozzie to Black Sabbath or Metallica. Or give junior a leg up on getting into that exclusive French nursery school camp by playing French lessons.

The iCrib dock lets parents play custom tracks for kids, set volume limits to avoid waking the little one, use a timer, and avoid tripping in the dark with a nightlight feature that even can be set to different colors. It goes for about $30 at Amazon.com and other retailers.

Now if they could just design some massive subwoofers to go with iCrib, baby could really rock out...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fine Optics Make a Fine Holiday Gift

Before PCs and the Internet, lots of people would explore the heavens through a telescope or peer into the natural world through a microscope. I had both of these instruments when I was a kid, but people of all ages can find enjoyment today through the use of high-quality optics. I often attend concerts and sporting events, and find that a good pair of compact binoculars is an essential item to have.

Fine optics can be hard to find in stores, but you can get all kinds of useful instruments and fun items online at OpticsPlanet.net. Optics can make a unique holiday gift, and this site has a huge selection of the best brand name telescopes, microscopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, and digital camera scopes, as well as rifle scopes, red dot sights, pocket monoculars, and rangefinders. They also carry many related products including radar guns, sunglasses, goggles, and flashlights, and offer free UPS shipping on orders over $29.95.

Taco Bell: Drop the Chalupa and Head for the Border!

In the New York City metro area, the big story this week has been an E. coli outbreak that's sickened upward of three hundred people. What's the culprit? Turns out that all these folks have eaten at one of several Taco Bell restaurants.

The source of the bacteria has been identified as green onions that came from a supplier not in the Eastern U.S., but in California. Taco Bell has pulled green onions from all their restaurants in the area; some public officials are calling for more urgent measures. New Jersey health officials are asking all Taco Bell restaurants in the state to throw out all their food. They're not asking them to shut down restaurants, but does anyone really go to Taco Bell just to buy a Coke?

I don't know where all this is going to end up, but I'm not taking any chances. I'm gonna drop the chalupa and think inside the bun.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Travel Sites from Off the Beaten Track

I love to travel and have a number of popular travel Web sites bookmarked on my Web browser. But I often want to find some different Web sites for locating travel information. And, off course, I'd rather spend my time body surfing on a beach than surfing the Web for new travel sites.

Fortunately there are now Web sites that collect information on some of these lesser-known sites and put them all in one place. In particular there's one I've found– 50 Travel Sites - courtesy of Luggage Online –that covers dozens of different travel sites you may not know about.

If offers details on everything from flights and booking to specialty travel, luxury and budget travel, even travel blogs and social-travel networks. I'm always interested in discovering new places to travel, and in finding travel information that not everybody knows about. Sites like this one make it quick and easy to do just that.

Flaming Farts Force Flight's Fizzle

Should Homeland Security monitor people who are munching down bean burritos at the local airport Taco Bell? An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing on December 4th after a passenger lit a match to cover up the smell of her flatulence.

The Washington-to-Dallas flight landed in Nashville after a female passenger lit the match and passengers noted the smell of burning sulfur. The 99 passengers and five crew members left the plane and were screened, but the woman who lit the match was not allowed back on board.

The unidentified passenger was questioned and admitted to striking the match or matches. She was said to have an undisclosed medical condition that may have caused the flatulence. She was released by the FBI and will not be charged.

Passengers are allowed to bring a limited number of matchbooks on board planes, but it is illegal to strike a match in an airplane, a transportation official said.

As far as I know, Homeland Security is not considering naming flaming flatulence as an imminent terrorist threat. But they'll clearly not allow lighting fires on aircraft to get rid of that stinky-poo smell. So if you've got someone with bad gas on your flight, well, you'll just have to grin and bear it. Or hold your breath until you land.