One week until Christmas, are you finished with all your shopping and decorating?  Remember, it’s not the expense of the gift or the height of the tree, it’s what’s in the heart.  🙂

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the release of, at the time, the most expensive film ever produced Titanic was released in 1997 and The Music Man made it’s debut on Broadway in 1957.  Birth anniversaries include arctic explorer Sir William Parry (1790), Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (1906), suffragette Mary Ashton Livermore (1821) and American black historian Carter Godwin Woodson (1875).

I have a question.  I keep seeing all these penalties the federal government is getting in the millions of dollars, BP in in the billions.  I mean this is constant, I can’t remember how many in just the past year was awarded.  This covers all bases, accounting, banking, environmental, etc.  Where does all this money go?

It was bound to happen.  They’ve had those posters around for years that look like a window with a view behind it.  Well Sky View has come up with framed faux windows with a high definition LED changing scene behind it.  It can also come with sound.  There’s about three dozen scenes to pick from and lots of options.  Needless to say, this Christmas gift ain’t cheap.  🙂

Have you been invited to, or organized your own Ugly Christmas Sweater Party and not been able to locate an ugly sweater?  This time of year, thrift stores can’t keep them in stock, the ugly Christmas sweaters are becoming quite the rage.  Some people are resorting to buying a regular holiday sweater and then finding tacky embellishments at thrift stores or craft stores and applying them to the sweaters themselves.  Andrew Sutton is organizing to have a national ugly Christmas sweater party day on December 21 and has over 3,500 likes on his Facebook page.  You can find ugly sweaters at the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party web site,  ugly Christmas t-shirts can be found at Vardagen, the ugly Christmas, or travel to the virtual Dr Frankenstein of ugly Christmas sweaters, Gail Tavernaris who sells her wares on Esty and in The Trading Post in New Brighton.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the American Studio-Glass movement.  It started when Dominick Labino a Carnegie Mellon University engineer and inventor joined teams with Harvey Littleton.  They developed a small portable furnace and low-temperature melting point glass giving studio artists get into what had been restricted to those with access to large industrial furnaces.  Celebrating this at Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery at 5833 Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside is Cheers, Salute, L’Chaim to the Next 50.  Eight national artists are showing a wide array of various applications of this art form.  It runs through January 30 and there’s more information at their web site or by calling 412-441-5200.

For the seventh year in a row, Western Pennsylvania Humane Society is at The Mall at Robinson doing free gift wrapping all the way up to Christmas Eve.  WPHS brings adoptable pets with them as well as service animals which are quite a hit with the young and old.  They pared up with Panera Bread who donated the boxes and wrapping paper.  As I said, the gift wrapping is free although WPHS is asking for donations to help with the care for 12,000 animals they service each year.  I was there today and they have the cutest pet themed holiday wrapping paper.  Any donations go directly to WPHS.  By the way, on Charity Navigator WPHS comes up 4 out of 4, an excellent rating.  More below.

With government funding being cut more and more, charitable organizations need our help more and more.  And Americans are stepping up to the plate.  The National Day of Giving had a 53% spike in donations this year over last (it grew up to $10M).  And it’s more important than ever to donate wisely.  Particularly at this time of year, you get a ton of requests through snail mail, e-mail and on the phone.  The most dangerous are the requests on the phone.  NEVER give credit card information to these people.  NEVER give cash.  NEVER make a check out in the name of an individual, ALWAYS in the name of the charity.  If you buy into what the phone call is plugging, insist on mailing a check and double check the address given to you that it is legitimate.  The most common scammed charities identify the recipient is a police, fire or veteran’s organization.  Generally, even if it is legitimate, they generally source the collection out to a company that charge outrageous fees, most of the donated money goes to the soliciting company.  If you would like to donate to one of these three, contact your local organization and ask how you can donate directly to them.  When giving to a charity, be sure you are actually donating to the charity you want to receive your donation.  For example, the Children’s Defense Fund sounds a lot like the Children’s Charity Fund.  Both are legitimate charities, but which do you want to donate to?  And of course, there’s the obvious scam where some nefarious person or group creates a web site that looks a lot like the legitimate one and re-directs you to their site.  A big thing these days is texting to a charitable organization.  Be careful here as well.  If you are not 100% comfortable with texting to a charity, check them out at the Mobile Giving Foundation.  Remember, any donation over $250 has to have a receipt to be tax deductible (depending on your income level, there’s a certain amount of charitable donations you can make with no real documentation, when you go over that thresh hold, you need receipts for anything over that).  One  thing to consider, everyone has their hand in the pie.  (And I’m not talking scamming here.  There are “legitimate” costs like credit card processing fees the charity has to pay to redeem your donation, if you do it by credit card).  It may be more cost effective to donate to one charity $100 instead of donating to four charities $25 each.  Finally, make a “wish list” of what tugs at your heart.  Do children’s charities move you more than environmental?  Did a police officer give you a ticket and a fireman saved your child when your house caught on fire?  Then do your homework.  What charities are out there that service needs that appeal to you and make a list.  Then find out which charities are most effective, don’t believe what they have to say, go to the TripAdvisor of the charity world.  In addition to Charity Navigator,  there’s Great Non Profits, Guide Star and finally  Wise Giving Alliance  (Wise Giving is a division of the Better Business Bureau and I’m not a big fan of the BBB.  They’re not evil, but they very actively solicit sponsorship for a fee).

Yuengling , America’s oldest brewery, took the title of the largest American-owned beer maker from Sam Adams.  Dick Yuengling, great, great grandson of German immigrant David Yuengling still brews beer in Pottsville, PA.  Dick attributes his success to several things.  #1, let quality speak for itself.  #2, keep with the nuts and bolts of your industry.  #3, push profitable products, they sell a lot more of the highly profitable kegs than Sam Adams and finally, #4, don’t waste advertising dollars.  As beer sales continues to slip in the US, craft beers continue to grow.  Which means one thing, small business craft beers are steeling market share from the huge internationals Anheuser-Bush, SABMiller and Miller Coors Brewing company.  Yeah!  🙂

Have a great day, keep warm and dry on this dreary day,


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