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Guilt free treats during the holiday!

Now is the time of year when many of us decide to say “heck with it”!  regarding our eating and just wait till the 1st of the year to start a new diet/exercise program.   There’s so many tempting foods out there and ‘hey- why resist when you’re going to start your new regime soon?      Here’s a way to get through the holidays without ADDING any weight and still enjoying some yummy treats.    Then when you DO start your new exercise program after the 1st you aren’t starting with an even bigger (ha,ha) deficit – which will only make it harder/take longer to lose.

I call them cheat days!   It’s kind of a mental trick…allowing yourself to eat what you want without feeling like ‘you’ve blown it’ (which for many of us just puts us on binge track!).   

Here’s how it works:

If you are craving let’s say a piece of cake, or a cookie OR something very tempting is put in front of you then tell yourself TODAY will be my cheat day and go ahead and eat what you want (within reason!).    

You can do so guilt-free knowing that you’ve chosen to ‘take the day off’ from eating ‘good’ but that you will get back on track.  You may even find that it’s a Tuesday…and you know you have your ‘cheat day’ coming whenever you want…and decide to wait…and wait…. And before you know it, it’s Friday, and you haven't even used your ‘cheat day’ yet!    Again, it’s kind of a mental trick of diet forgiveness knowing that you can have that one day (or one meal per week) guilt free!    As I always say – if you eat well/exercise the majority of the time  (i.e. the 'ole 80/20 rule), then bring on the holiday treats and it won’t have any impact on your diet!

 

Cyber Monday shopping tips

Still not done shopping? There’s always Cyber Monday. Here are a few ways to have a safe and successful online shopping experience today:

Shop with credit: Credit cards carry anti-fraud protections, making shopping online safer.

Minimize information: Use a unique password to shop on Cyber Monday that you don’t use for other accounts and provide the least information possible when placing an order. Unless it is a website you frequent, check out as a guest instead of registering. Use a special “shopping” email address to receive confirmations, receipts.

Get organized: Make sure you’ve searched for the best price of the items you want using price comparison tools. Find coupon codes or cash back offers before you start shopping. And know the requirements for free shipping so you to don’t get stuck at checkout paying more than you intended.

Shop Securely: Update your software to make sure you have the latest protections and features. Shop at home (or…ahem…at work) where you know the Internet connection is secure.

Shopping tips for Black Friday

You may be hoping to score some great buys during Black Friday weekend, but most shoppers know — Black Friday is not all about the deals. It’s an experience. To make sure yours is a good one, keep these tips in mind when heading to stores Thanksgiving evening or on Black Friday:

Make a plan: Don’t try to hit every store that opens at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. If you want multiple items at different stores, enlist friends or family members to help. Or track the waves of doorbusters being offered and figure out if you can get the desired item at a different store during an earlier or later time. Plan a driving route that saves time and gas.

Know the policies: Some retailers have introduced new policies this year for Black Friday shopping. Be sure to check the details online or in-print before you go to the store. Everything from price matching to how you line up for those doorbuster deals may be subject to certain rules.

Stay informed: Get traffic and parking updates from your local news radio station or check mobile apps. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination.

Must have gifts for the outdoor enthusiast

Black Friday changing with the times

Carolyn Atherholt has been waking at the crack of dawn for years. It’s an occupational hazard for a baker. But Black Friday is the one day it just doesn’t seem worth it.

“I’m used to getting up early, but I don’t want to get up early to go shopping,” says Atherholt.

Many consumers are thinking like Atherholt these days, leading the traditional concept of Black Friday — long considered the day to hit the stores for the best deals — on a slow march toward obsolescence.

Atherholt once made those groggy 6 a.m. store runs with the deal-crazed masses in search of everything from electronics at fire-sale prices to bargain basement cashmere. Not anymore.

“If you look around, you can find things [on sale]. You don’t have to wait until Black Friday,” says the 49 year-old co-owner of Carolyn’s Cupcakes and Taqueria el Vecino in Decatur, Ga.

This year, Black Friday could make a bit of a comeback as the economy slowly strenthens, with 55 percent of shoppers surveyed by Accenture saying they would shop the day after Thanksgiving. That’s up from a low of 44 percent in 2011.

But the number of people physically going to a store to shop for deals on Black Friday is on the decline.

The continued growth of online shopping, a compressed shopping season and the holiday creep that has resulted in most major stores opening on Thanksgiving Day have all helped decrease the overall importance of Black Friday.

“Back in the day, Black Friday was Black Friday and stuff happened on that day. Now Black Friday is a season,” says Mark LoCastro, spokesman for consumer website DealNews.com. “Some people think the whole concept of Black Friday is dead because it is just another shopping day. Some people think Black Friday will never die.”

Both groups are probably right.

Consumers have a lot of options for holiday shopping, and which one they choose is largely a matter of preference.

The number of people shopping on Black Friday may on the rebound, but almost half of those consumers are now shopping online.

In 2012, 47.5 percent of shoppers during Black Friday Weekend shopped online, according to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF). Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday shoppers split almost equally between online and in-store. Online shopping is expected to increase this year.

“The majority of people will be shopping online,” says LoCastro. And they are not necessarily losing out on big deals.

Dealnews data from previous years has shown that up to 70 percent of in-store Black Friday deals are available online for the same price. And recent data reveals that some of the best deals are offered on Thursday and Sunday. “[Black Friday] has nothing to do with the deals at all. It is a cultural phenomenon,” LoCastro said.

That cult-like following may be key to keeping the Black Friday fires burning.

Sharron Lennon, professor of apparel merchandising at Indiana University, has studied Black Friday shoppers since 2006. She’s found that people who go to stores on Black Friday fall into one of two groups: those who do it for the experience and those who plan to score big bargains.

“There are families, generations of women, who go out every Black Friday,” Lennon says. “They want to get bargains, but they also look at it as a bonding experience.”

These hold-outs and some new entrants, primarily millennials — the largest demographic group shopping in-store on Black Friday last year (72 percent according to NRF data) — may preserve the tradition of Black Friday for now. But with 36 percent of millennials shopping on Thanksgiving Day last year, they are also aiding its decline.

Black Friday is still considered the kick-off to holiday shopping season, and it remains one of the biggest shopping events of the year. The name derives from the belief that many stores make a big chunk of their holiday profits on that day.

But now stores put up holiday decorations right after Halloween and start promoting holiday toys and gift items long before late November.

This year, the holiday creep reached fever pitch thanks to fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Retailers’ holiday themed television ads aired as early as September with announcements of price matching, layaway and other holiday shopping incentives following soon after.

Two years ago, there were few stores open on Thanksgiving Day. This year, most major retailers and some malls will open by 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Consumers and workers may have lobbied to keep Thanksgiving Day sacred, but NRF data shows, 28 percent of people who shopped during the holiday weekend in 2012 did it on Thanksgiving Day.

“Black Friday is still a very important day for consumers and a day to look for great deals, but with holiday shopping so spread out, how will that impact it?” says Trae Bodge, senior editor for RetailMeNot. “Black Friday will become less important as a shopping day and more of a long [shopping] weekend.”

Amazon, Postal Service team up to offer Sunday delivery

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SEATTLE -- The U.S. Postal Service and Amazon are joining forces to get packages to their destinations faster with the possibility of Sunday delivery in some markets, specifically Los Angeles and New York City. 

Members of Amazon Prime, who already receive free two-day shipping, will be able to get their Amazon purchases on Sunday starting this year.  In 2014, the company plans to expand the service to Dallas, Houston and New Orleans, among others. 

If a purchase is eligible, the Sunday-delivery promise will show up at checkout when it's available in the shopper's region.  

It’s Fall ya’ll and I smell funnel cakes!

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As if I needed the calendar to tell me that last week marked the first day of Fall.  What gave it was away was the roar of the crowds at local High School football games, the leaves on my maple tree starting to turn from bright green to yellow, and of course the sweet smell of yeast and dough hitting the hot oil of a deep fryer when serving up  Funnel Cakes  at all the fall fairs!  Oh yes ya’ll Fall is here!  And there is more fun than you can shake a corn dog stick at.  Whether you like apple and pumpkin picking, country fairs, or exploring the mountain leaves, you’ll have enough choices to make everyone in your caravan happy!

Apples, Pumpkins, and Corn- Oh My:  Since fall is all about celebrating the harvest, you certainly can’t ring in this season without spending a little time with the bounty!    North Georgia is brimming with farms full of fall’s harvest.  Did you know that Ellijay is the apple capital of Georgia?  So you know that they take their apple picking seriously! Hillcrest Orchards hosts the Apple Picking Jubilee throughout October.  Not only do they have every type of apple imaginable for picking, but they have plenty of activities too like train rides, a petting zoo, live music, kid’s rides, and what else, pig races!  Not far from the apples, you will find Burt’s Pumpkin Patch  and Buck’s Corn Maze.   Both are up near Amicolola Falls.  Next to first day of school photos, I can honestly say that Burt’s is easily the most popular photo op currently trending on social media!  Propping kids up on one of Burt’s huge pumpkins is a rite of passage!  Not to mention running around picking out a pumpkin, and going on the hayride is fun too!.  If you still need more fun with produce, check out Bucks corn maze which is approximately a 12 acre field of corn that has 4 miles of maze cut into it.  They also offer hay rides, and on Saturday’s, when the farm is open till 9, they offer the Haunted Maze. Check websites for times and pricing.  Don’t want to actually pick your produce? All of these farms have general stores where you can “shop” for favorites items including a funnel cake!

Fair Play—Where else do you get to see blue ribbon livestock, a bearded woman, a giant stuffed gorilla, and a nationally known country singer all while eating a  turkey leg, and of course, a funnel cake?    Why the country fair of course!  Oh yes, fill up the car, turn on your favorite music cause we’re road trippin’ to the fair! I just love these short trips to small towns around North Georgia.  Some of the must see fairs are Cumming Country Fair  happening 10/3-10/13 and the Georgia State Fair at the Atlanta Motor Speedway 10/25-11/3.  Although both of these fairs boast fun rides, carnival games, and fair food, the Cumming Country Fair will also be offering a Miss Cumming Beauty Pageant, bull riding, and a performance by Country singer Kelly Pickler.   The Georgia Sate Fair will be hosting an array of attractions from “Freak Show Deluxe” to Grizzly and Sea Lion acts and don’t forget the Rhinestone Roper…Yeah C’mon!!.  If you are more into taking in the natural surrounding and enjoying local food, beer, and crafts, check out 43rd annual  Octoberfest in Helen Georgia for beer, brats, bands and Lederhosen!    Or celebrate the discovery of gold 185 years at the  Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega, Georgia 10/19-10/20 . Points of interest are a parade, children's activities,  gold panning contest, and hog calling all with a black drop of Dahlonega’s spectacular fall colors. 

Leaf it up to you- If heading up to the North Georgia Mountains makes you think of cameo, a banjo, and a jar of moonshine then think again.  Some of the best fall colors will be on display this side of the Appalachian Trail.  You don’t have to go far either.  Just a short 40 minute drive from the city will land you at Red Top Mountain.    But take the time to head further north because the views are spectacular.  If you travel north of Dahlonega you will hit the beginning of the Appalachian Trail at Neel’s Gap-  From there you can take in the views off of the landing behind the general store or travel one of the trails to Blood Mountain.  Vogel State Park is in Blairsville just a short 2 hour drive from Atlanta.  There is a short lake loop or a longer 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail that makes a nice day trip, offering great mountain color and a birds-eye view of the park’s lake.  If mountain biking is more your speed, consider taking on the 7.5 mile bike trail of Unicoi State Park in addition to shorter foot trails.   Check out this Leaf Watch Guide provided by the Georgia State Parks for more details directions and suggested trails.       After a long hike, considering a little down time with a visit to one of the many North Georgia wineries. Get a complete of nearby wineries. 

Georgia never looks better than she does in the fall.  All dressed up in gold from the autumn sun and swaying her leaves to mountain music.  All I can say is don’t miss the chance to take in all that North Georgia has to offer and experience, the best part of the season,  a little Southern hospitality!

OMG It’s a GNO!

In case you haven’t heard, there is a new phenomenon among women and their circle of friends.  It’s called a Girls Night Out or GNO and it’s definitely not your mother’s bridge night!  Anywhere you hear the sound of a cork being popped or the splash of wine hitting a wine glass, you can best bet there are women gathering to celebrate spending time with their girlfriends away from the pressures of everyday life.

The 30-40 something crowd has taken the GNO to a new level.  These are independent women who relish their time apart from significant others, husbands, and their kids.  These women are fun, full of life, and sassy-  No ordinary dinner and drinks will do.  Oh no, these women have taken the Girls Night Out to a whole new level.  Here are some ideas that are extremely fun, easy to do, and won’t break the bank!

 

  • Shop and Swap:  Like the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.  Now a days, the saying should be “mothers with a necessity for bags, invented a swap.”  This may be the greatest thing that came out of the recent recession.     The idea of a purse swapping party is that everyone brings a purse that they no longer want and swaps it out for another purse. One woman's junk is another woman's treasure.  Make a list of about 15 of your friends that you think would like to be a part of the swap, and maybe more importantly, might have a good purse sitting in her closet!  Try to encourage the women to bring a purse that they still would carry but just might be tired of.  Once a bunch of your “besties” has signed on to come, you can plan a fun menu.  Try a signature drink like a skinny lime punch-    -  You won’t be at a loss for entertainment as you watch your otherwise subdued friends act like a pack of lioness circling their prey when they lay eyes on a slightly used Tory Burch bag!  By the way, this swap idea can be used for all sorts of things-  Try gently worn clothes or shoes, or even beauty products.  

 

  • Paint Nite:  If you haven’t put paint on paper since the age you used a finger instead of a paint brush, then Paint Nite is a perfect idea for a Girls Night Out .  The idea behind Paint Nite is to take two popular pastimes, artistic painting and drinking cocktails and puts it in a fun social setting at local bars and restaurants.  And don’t worry if you’re not a Picasso or a Van Gogh because Paint Nite invites a local artist to offer step-by-step instructions.  Between sipping a Cosmo and giggling with your girlfriends you will have taken a blank canvas and created a completed picture that you can hang on a wall at home.  Paint Nite is happening in a variety of neighborhoods bars and restaurants all over town.  Check them out here.

 

  •  It’s my Party and I’ll Wine if I Want To:   So we already know that where ever women gather, the wine is sure to follow.  But here is a fun twist on a Girls night Out with wine.  Host a blind wine tasting party.  It’s not only fun to taste a variety of wines but you might be shocked to find out that the favorite wine of the evening was under $10!  Score!  So the concept is to use a theme for the selected wine like from the same region or price point or variety.  Since many of us are not wine connoisseurs, my friend kept it easy by having us all choose a wine with an animal in the name.   Ask your guests to bring two bottles.  One for tasting and one to be used as part of the grand prize.  Then put all of the tasting bottles in brown bags and number them.  Print out score cards based on look, smell, taste, finish and ask the girls to rate the wine on each category from 1-10.  The wine with the highest score wins the party and the person who brought it gets to go home with the grand prize….The one extra bottle of wine that each guest brought.  Since all the ladies will have their hands full with a glass of wine, try offering some easy finger foods so no one goes hungry. Get some easy ideas here

Women have always enjoyed spending time with one another in small groups.  Maybe it’s in our DNA from ancient days when we were gatherers.   The modern knitting bee is now the Girls Night Out and I for one am much happier that female bonding has taken a turn.  I could never knit anyway and I’d much rather laugh with my girlfriends while eying a handbag!

What’s in store: Holiday gifts for kids

For our complete holiday gift guide, visit www.accessatlanta.com/s/atlanta-holiday-guide/.

Like many American businesses, the toy industry isn’t all fun and games right now.

U.S. toy sales were down 2 percent last year, and have dropped in four of the past five years, according to the Toy Industry Association. The decline has been attributed to everything from a dearth of new hits, free mobile games such as Angry Birds taking a bite out of the market and the rise of smartphones and tablets that have cut into video-game sales.

But don’t cry, little Baby Alive doll: Even while in a slump, toys still rang up $21.2 billion in U.S. sales last year.

Here is a quick roundup of some of the choices that caught our eyes (at major toy retailers and Amazon.com, unless otherwise noted):

1. “The Avengers” conquered not only a galaxy of bad guys but North American box offices this year, holding down first place to the tune of $623 million. “The Amazing Spider-Man” flung a tenacious web in multiplexes, its $262 million in ticket sales raising it to fourth place. You might say then that Build-A-Bear Workshop has 885 million reasons to think that there will be strong demand for its furry friends decked out as a trio of “Avengers” — Captain America, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk — and Spidey. (Ages 3-plus; costumes, $15; the bears as pictured, $15-18; www.buildabear.com)

2. Kids get into music at earlier and earlier ages. And parents concerned that young ones will have shredded eardrums before they even hit their teens can rest a little easier if the small-fry are listening through Griffin Technology’s Crayola MyPhones earbuds or headphones. Both styles limit volume and keep sound pressure to levels recommended as safe for young ears (peaking at 85 decibels). The earbuds come in a carrying case shaped like Crayola crayon, with three sizes of soft ear cushions, available in Purple Pizazz, Cotton Candy, Caribbean Green and Blue Berry. (Ages 6-plus; earbuds, $14.95; headphones, $24.95)

3. There’s no concern about National Hockey League lockouts when the A League of Its Own Air Hockey Table from Land of Nod is in the house. The 40-inch-by-20-inch game can fit on a table top or, if you like, 28-inch-tall legs are available. For parents facing off against clutter, it can, at 8 inches high without the legs, easily slide under most beds for storage. (Ages 8-plus; game, $89; legs, $19.95; www.landofnod.com)

4. Mr. Potato Head has gone over to the Dark Side, becoming Darth Tater, a tubular cousin to “Star Wars” movie villain Darth Vader. This Darth dons the trademark black helmet, mask and cloth cape and wields a red light saber. Classic accessories including the googly eyes and red nose are included, of course. If you want to pit some good vs. the Darth evil, Playskool has spud versions of Chewbacca and Yoda available, as well. In any guise, Mr. Potato Head encourages the development of fine motor skills. (Ages 3-plus; $9.99)

5. Most kids hate it when they’re playing ball outside and it starts to get dark. With the Nerf Firevision Sports Football, that’s when the fun is just beginning. Sporty kids can see it in the dark with the two pairs of included Firevision glasses, which make the graphics and ball surface reflective in the dark. Thanks to something called Microprism Technology, the soft ball generates a glow, even in the light. One pair of glasses reads the light as red, the other as green. The range is 100 feet, which should get happy young’uns glowing with sweat. (Ages 6-plus; $19.99)

6. For budding mechanical minds, Worx Toys vehicles provide insight into how things work. The Apex Police Helicopter gives children a clear look inside the toy and identifies each of some 20 parts with lights and sounds activated with a touch-pad code. A corresponding hard-bound storybook explains what each part does while taking the reader on an adventure in the vehicle. Also included is a transmitter that remotely activates the different parts — including rotors, engine, landing gear and instrument panel. (Ages 6-12; $34.99)

7. We don’t know if Po, the littlest Zoo Atlanta panda, has an iPod or iPhone. But if he does, we can guess which of this Electric Friends quartet of animal-themed portable docking stations from Noetic that he’d choose. In addition to presumed favorite Sing Sing the Panda, you can select among Chew Chew the Dog, Ki Ki the Cat and Kwack Kwack the Duck. While cute as heck, they feature two five-watt speakers that produce plentiful sound. The eyes hide the speakers; the ears serve as volume controls. (Ages 5-15; $59.99 at Toys R Us stores, staples.com, bestbuy.com)

8. We wouldn’t be the first to note the irony of Zynga’s popular mobile word app Words With Friends, which was based on Scrabble, morphing into a board game itself. But we doubt you’ll hear many “Wordies,” who can now challenge family and friends to a face-to-face showdown, complaining. Younger players in particular can’t help but build vocabulary. The Hasbro game includes full-size board, four curved tile racks, 104 tiles and a storage bag. (Ages 13-plus; $19.99)

9. The princess with whom you share a less ornate castle undoubtedly will be drawn to this Princess Fantasy Castle from Playmobil, with turrets, gilded entrance gate, grand staircase and many rooms to display the things of life. (The set includes two figures, throne, chairs, chaise, chandelier, jewelry box, tea set, goblets and flower bushes.) Windows and doors can open, and the dance floor revolves. There’s even room to store the royal jewels in the tower’s secret hiding place. Full-size tiara, bracelet and ring for real lifeprincesses are included. (Ages 4-10; $149.99)

10. If you prefer wood to plastic and hand-crafted to factory-produced, another option is by Once Upon a TreeHouse, which produces handmade dollhouses, furniture and dolls, including 4-inch-tall Buttercup the Ballerina, sewn of cotton and wool with wooden feet. (Ages 3-plus; dolls $12-40, dollhouses $120-$325; www.onceuponatreehouse.com)

11. Kids need bling, too! The Blingles Bling Studio from Moose Toys provides more than 320 gems and tools that allow crafty children to make their own designs or to decorate the 10 pre-set patterns. The resulting bejeweled stickers can proudly bling up bedazzle smooth surfaces including cell phones, stationery and art projects. (Ages 6-plus; $19.99)

Back-to-school software: The five best freebies

You might also be interested in the following related deals:

You might also be interested in the following related deals:

Last week I told you about five awesome back-to-school apps and gadgets. Today let's go old-school on back-to-school and talk about software.

Chances are good you've already spent at least a few hundred dollars on a laptop for your high school- or college-bound students. Do you really need to spend hundreds more on an office suite, anti-virus software, and backup utilities?

No, no, and no. Let's take a look at the best free software for laptop-toting students.

Avast Free Antivirus

Effective security software doesn't have to mean expensive security software. Avast Free Antivirus is among a handful of products offering comprehensive protection from both viruses and spyware. It even supports remote control, meaning a more tech-savvy friend or relative can connect to the PC to help troubleshoot problems.  There are also coupon codes available for Avast if you have a need to upgrade to their paid versions. 

Again, there are other security freebies worth considering, most notably AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, but Avast routinely scores top marks from both CNET editors and everyday users. It's the single most popular download on CNET's Download.com.

BatteryBar

How much paper-writing time do you really have left before your laptop's battery runs dry? Windows historically does a poor job reporting a system's charge status, meaning you might suddenly find yourself staring at a blank screen even though Windows said you had 20 minutes left.

Enter BatteryBar, a free, easy, and so-smart-it-should-be-built-in power gauge that's compatible with XP, Vista and Windows 7.

The program adds a full-time, at-a-glance gauge to the right side of the taskbar, which by itself is handy. Mouse over the gauge, however, and you get a wealth of additional information, including total battery capacity, charge/discharge rate, AC status, and even a lifetime estimate based on historical charge/discharge data. 

GIMP

Whether it's tweaking a photo to use in a school presentation, building a Web page, or creating graphics from scratch, perennial favorite GIMP rivals Adobe's budget-busting Photoshop in offering diverse, sophisticated image-editing tools.

Seriously, this is one of those programs that's so feature-rich, you can't believe it's free. But it is--and it's fabulous.

Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012

When it comes to productivity software, every student needs a word processor, and many need a spreadsheet manager and presentation builder as well.

Google Docs 

Google Docs covers the basics pretty nicely, and it can even work offline (i.e. without an Internet connection) when enabled within Google's new Drive service. But for those schools that require a more traditional office suite, many parents feel obligated to pay a small fortune for Microsoft Office. Instead, check out Kingsoft's Office Suite Free 2012, which offers file compatibility with Microsoft documents and an interface that's cool, colorful, and familiar. 

SugarSync

A good cloud-storage service is essential for students--not just for sharing files, but also for making instant and effective backups of hard-fought school papers and presentations. 

Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive are among the many available options, all of them offering at least some free storage, but I give the nod to SugarSync for one important reason: It allows any files/folders to be tagged for syncing, not just those placed in an umbrella folder. That's a big convenience.

Plus, SugarSync offers 5GB of no-cost space, while the more well-known Dropbox offers just 2GB.

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