Long-standing holiday myth debunked

December 23, 2011 – True or false: the most dangerous day to drive in the U.S. is New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day since most people drive home after midnight.

Seems logical enough to be true. After all, lots of people drink and drive on New Year’s Eve — even though we all know better — causing some to refer to the drink fest as amateur night, and even more to stay in or close to home.

The answer is actually false. While there is a certainly a grain of truth in drunken-driving dangers on New Year’s Eve, it’s the patriotic holiday, July 4th that is the most dangerous day for traffic fatalities, according to a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And that’s followed by Labor Day. New Year’s Eve  ranks 7th on the list.

A recent study by AAA proved that while the above is true, New Year’s Day holds the record for more pedestrian deaths – over Halloween when high numbers of children and parents take to the streets – and these deaths are attributed to alcohol in 58% of the cases.

So, when you go to that New Year’s Eve Party next week, tell the host or hostess you’re in for the long haul, and won’t be leaving until January 2. For the sake of everyone’s safety, of course.

Unleashing the appreciation for music one song at a time

December 22, 2011 – Legend has it if you open Pandora’s box, which contains all the evils of the world you unleash grave disaster that can’t be undone.

Ah, the Greeks and their wonderful imaginations.

In reality, the name Pandora means, “all gifted” – and gifted she was as the gods bestowed her many gifts, including the gifts of curiosity and music.

Like Pandora, I have a curious side to my personality, and also love music. I love it so much that I never mind getting caught in traffic jams as long as I have a good stereo system in the car. It’s more important to me than a set of good tires.

I recall driving to a concert on a rainy night years ago with my stereo, defrost and windshield wipers going simultaneously. This particular car was about to be put out to pasture, so something had to be turned off if we wanted it to make it there. The old girl just couldn’t take it. Naturally, I turned off the windshield wipers while my friend looked at me in horror before she burst into laughter. And the music played on.

As music lover, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve just discovered the pleasures of Pandora radio, which has been in existence for over 10 years. I’d heard of it before, but really came to appreciate it this week. I know that probably makes me the last one on the planet to hop on board the great radio wave of the Internet.

If you’ve been living under the same rock as I have and aren’t familiar, Pandora is an online radio station that allows you to set up your own playlists of the music you love. It combines my love of curiosity and music because the folks at Pandora will suggest music by new artists that share the same style as your favorite artists. So, not only do you hear good music, but you also discover new songs and artists that most likely match your musical tastes.

Pandora first hit the Internet in 2000 as part of a Music Genome Project, and is touted as the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken. Their teams of musician-analysts listen to thousands of new and old songs from the well-known to the obscure, paying close attention to musical details such as melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics and more to partner them with existing musicians or songs that you already love. I’m thrilled with the results they’ve presented to me, but if you find you’re not a fan of what they select for you, you can tweak and refine your selections until they get it right.

I’ll admit I typically shy away from listening to new music on the radio, and usually turn to artists I am familiar with instead. That can easily put you in a musical rut. With Pandora, I’ve discovered it’s not actually the new music I did’t like, but rather the style or artist. Recently they’ve presented two artists new to me, Jack Johnson and Mazzy Star. Both are singer/songwriters I would have most likely passed over, but Pandora knew they would likely appeal to my taste. Additionally, I’ve rediscovered artists like Van Morrison and Dire Straits since Pandora offers the deeper cuts on their albums, over their greatest hits, which makes them seem new again. And to think I was given all of this by simply typing in the name of one of my favorite songs.

Thanks, Pandora. I may have taken the long road to get here, but I’ve arrived and I’m a big fan.

Personalized books aren’t just for the little guys anymore

December 21, 2011 – Here’s a novel idea.

If you’re wondering what to get that special couple in your life, why not have a romance novel crafted and personalized just for them.

You can do it easily at Yournovel.com by answering a series of 26 online questions about the couple. Although it might require some pretty tricky investigation on your part to find out her pet name and her favorite color of lingerie, many of the questions are basic, such as their names, the city they live in, and what type of car he drives.

Customers can also choose other features, such as location and storyline, they can put the couple’s photo on the front cover, and also decide whether it will be a mild or wild ride. While the site claims the wild version may be a little racy, they don’t handle requests for x-rated material, even though it is often requested.

Yournovel.com was created 20 years ago by Kathy Newbern-Fletcher and her husband, J.S. Fletcher. The husband and wife writing team, who also moonlight as travel writers, cooked up all of the 20 storylines available, and say their novels also make terrific wedding gifts.

I don’t quite buy into the wedding gift idea unless you know the couple really well and plan to also give them a nice gift along with it, but it could make an awfully fun holiday gift. And think of it this way – a couple’s gift makes it easier because it helps you cross two gifts off your list at once. It won’t save you much cash – the personalized books are pricey, ranging between $40 and $100 – but it will save you precious time. It also might be an interesting gift option for your own sweetie pie.

Of course, it’s too late to consider a personalized novel this year, but there’s always 2012 to look forward to. And Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

The changing faces of today’s home buyers

December 20, 2011 – Even though the sales of new and existing homes have decreased over the past few years due to a sluggish real estate market and a weak economy – in 2003, we saw 7.5 million homes sold, and in 2010, only 5 million sold – certain patterns emerge.

Statistics show that today’s homebuyers are older, the median age increasing during the last 10 years from 34 to 39. They also show that although most buyers are married couples, single-person households, especially single women, are a growing part of the equation.

Senior citizens comprise another demographic group of homebuyers. They are moving out of their empty nest and into smaller, more practical housing.

Extended families make up a new batch of homebuyers. Senior citizens living with their children, young adults moving back with their parents, and divorced singles with children are marrying each other and combining families.

Finally, minorities and immigrants are the fastest growing home-buying segment in the United States. In fact, Hispanic and Asian populations are forming households more rapidly than any other ethnic groups and will be buying a large number of houses from now well into the 21st century. A steadily increasing number of African-Americans are also buying their own homes.

During the last decade, nearly 40 million people immigrated to the U.S., compared with an average of 3.3 million a decade in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Will those immigrants have a great impact on the real estate market? Many analysts believe they will, and plenty of mortgage lenders have the insight to see the  business opportunity ahead, and  have created programs for immigrants to help. See your mortgage lender for more details.

Appearing younger can help in the workplace

December 19, 2011 – There’s talk of officially increasing the retirement age to 72, as people are working longer and longer these days whether they want to or need to for financial security. But that may not be such a bad thing since studies show that working longer is good for your physical and mental health.

So, you’d think that all of the experience in motion would be a good thing for the workplace, right? Unfortunately, our youth-obsessed society doesn’t respect the old adage with age comes wisdom. And I’m not even referring to ripe old age. Once you’re over 40, especially at work, it’s hard not to be perceived as being over the hill.

So how do you compete?

Here’s some humorous and yet sound advice from the subject matter experts at theladders.com that can help. These tips won’t erase the years, but they can take 10 or so years off your perceived age, which is a plus at work or when going on a job interview.

Who made the most impact on our world this year?

December 18, 2011 – Barbara Walters names her most fascinating people of the year, Katie Couric copied her style to talk about the most influential events of this year, and then there is Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

It’s the time of year for those “best of” lists, folks, and my favorite list maker, ranker.com is covering everything just like the top journalists and publications. You can’t escape it. Not even here.

But there is one major difference in Ranker.com’s Most Influential People of 2011 – the Ranker community — which means you and me —  selects the people on the list so we have the final say on what’s what.

That actually makes all of us among the most influential, doesn’t it? Well, at least it makes it more interesting.