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Keeping Thanksgiving alive while living overseas

Posted by mandyf on November 14, 2012

With so many of our troops stationed abroad and Thanksgiving just around the corner, it is easy to get down. Missing family, friends and the routine of the holiday can be depressing – particularly for those away for the first time. There is good news, however. Keeping the tradition of Thanksgiving alive and well while overseas may seem a daunting task but in all honesty it is easier than you might think. As a nineteen year old kid stationed half a world away from home I got my first introduction to the best way to keep the tradition alive. Simply put, the best way to do so is to celebrate and enjoy it without worrying about making it just like back home.

At the time Thanksgiving rolled around I had been at my duty station a month at best. I was stuck in the dorms knowing few people, had no vehicle, and absolutely no plans aside from working a twelve hour shift that ended the morning of the usually festive day. I supposed my Thanksgiving experience would be lunch at the dining hall assuming I woke up for it. Instead, however I was given an option. My duty officer invited me to his house for the day, after I went to the dorms and got a little sleep that is. Around 1:30 that afternoon he stopped by to pick me up and took a second to walk through the dorms looking for people that were for one reason or another alone. He rounded us up and we were off to his house.

The Captain and his wife opened their home to us and another of the officers from work along with his wife were waiting to greet us all when we arrived as well. Drinks were available, football games that had been taped were being shown on the television, and if you didn’t know better it felt like home. We even argued a little bit but thankfully only over the ref’s calling the game. Once inside the house we were reminded this was a particular day we checked our pay grades at the door. We were encouraged to relax, and most of all take time to know one another in a manner we usually wouldn’t.

Food began rolling out and it wasn’t quite what most of us expected. First the seafood and noodle dishes were served which made sense as we were in Asia and the Captain’s wife was Chinese. We were treated to a sampling of dishes from her home country and the old saying about how Chinese food is great but a half hour later you’re hungry was thankfully true, because the next course was prepared by the Commanders wife who was from an Italian background. The antipasto and escarole soup came out first followed by a selection of a vegetarian lasagna and another that was so huge and heavy with the three cheeses and seemingly pounds of beef you’d swear the table actually groaned trying to stay upright under it’s weight. We all dug in and thought this was about as good as it gets.

The truth is it got better. The Commander was from Texas and as a Texan he loved his deep fried turkey. We were so busy eating and yelling at the football game on television we never noticed he was outside most of the time tending the bird. Usually it would be hard to make room for more food and you wouldn’t try getting another bite down after ingesting so much already but we all tried anyway when “Tex Turkey” as he called it made his grand arrival. All the trimmings surrounded him down to the cranberry sauce that was served so it didn’t have the tell tale signs it was just out of the can. By then belts had been loosened and buttons popped so there was no excuse to not dive right in. As we all sat around the table we took turns talking of our family back home and being thankful for our family there, because we were a family. A family of different races, ages, religious denominations, and feelings on the Dallas Cowboys, but we had the unity all families should.

The important thing I learned is that no matter where you are or what meal you put on the table the Thanksgiving tradition lives so long as you gather people together and share a bond, even if for that day alone. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what we have and the people we care about. So long as we surround ourselves with others whether we be at home in the U.S., a tiny Pacific Island, a Middle East desert, or an air base in Germany, then Thanksgiving is alive and well in our hearts.


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The SCRAM bracelet: Monitoring drunk drivers

Posted by mandyf on November 5, 2012

The SCRAM bracelet, Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring System, is a tool used primarily by law enforcement authorities under judicial order to ensure that when a repeat DUI offender is released on bail that they comply with the order for not imbibing alcohol. Lindsay Lohan is an example of someone that is familiar with the SCRAM. The device looks a lot like the ankle bracelet used to enforce home arrest on released offenders which ensures a certain perimeter is not broken. The SCRAM Bracelet operates on a similar principal in that via transdermal monitoring it identifies any traces of alcohol which enter the wearer’s system.

The device is worn just above the ankle – and with most models weighing around 8-10 ounces it is not something you forget is strapped on. If the device is removed somehow it sends a signal that the transmitting connection has been broken and you’re busted. If you drink alcohol the transdermal monitor will pick up any traces of ethanol released in perspiration and you’re busted. Try as many may, there is not yet a way to beat the SCRAM bracelet – and if there is those smart enough to figure it out are not bragging about it.

The reason the bracelet is so difficult to beat is that it registers an alcohol level of just 0.02 which means even a 2 ounce slug of beer can pop a positive on most all people. The SCRAM also takes a reading every thirty minutes, so there is no true grace period to rid your body of alcohol between readings. Every reading SCRAM takes over the course of the day is stored on a chip in the bracelet. Once every 24 hours, the person wearing a SCRAM has to go to where the SCRAM modem they are assigned is housed, usually their home, and stand within 20-30 feet of the modem for a period of about 15 seconds for the data to be transferred to the SCRAM monitoring center. Failure to do so is considered a parole violation – and again – you’re busted.

People have tried beating the SCRAM by sliding a moist towelette, or swatch of fabric between the SCRAM transdermal monitor and their skin thinking it would fool the system – but they were wrong. SCRAM has a micro laser that monitors how much space is between the unit and wearer’s flesh. Anything that breaches that and changes the normal limits reading is recorded. Not just that though, it signals the SCRAM center that the unit has been tampered with with in turn will be considered a potential parole violation and require the wearer to appear to have the unit checked – along with the readings for that time frame to see if everything is in order.

SCRAM has been an invaluable tool to helping cut down on repeat offenses for DUI. It has been used in the private sector by parents to monitor teens, and has been rumored to be used by a limited number of private enterprises – not in the U.S. yet, but there has been talk of it so long as it can be done without being considered a violation of rights. The bottom line is that you may fool a cop once, you may sweet talk a judge once, but you will not beat the SCRAM.

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Househould uses for coffee grounds

Posted by mandyf on October 29, 2012

Just because the coffee has been brewed and your caffeine fix is in check doesn’t mean those coffee grounds left in the filter are no good anymore. For the thrifty coffee drinker, their usefulness has actually just begun. As many people know coffee grounds are fantastic in compost piles and serve as a great fertilizer for both indoor and outdoor plants. What many people don’t know is that they have many other uses most people have never even dreamed of before. With no further ado, let’s take a look at some creative alternative uses for your old coffee grounds.

Something all cat owners should know is that they cannot stand coffee grounds. If you have a problem with cats, your own or anyone else’s using your garden or kids sandbox as an auxiliary toilet, start dumping your old grounds around wherever it is they are going and it will end in the snap of a finger. If the problem is in the garden the effect of this can be further heightened by tossing some orange peels around as well. Also if you have a cat that loves getting into the garbage, toss some coffee grounds in there and the problem is solved.

For dog owners, rub some coffee grounds through their coat after you bathe them. While no scientists have chimed in on this, it is said that this will help repel fleas which will keep Rover and you happy, especially if he is primarily an indoor dog.

Coffee grounds are also good for your hair, but not because of a flea problem, but because of what old coffee grounds can add to your hair. When you wash your hair, rub some old coffee grounds through those locks when wet, rub in, and then thoroughly rinse them out. This will add some extra shine to your hair as well as soften it. As a bonus if you have brown hair old coffee grounds will add highlights to it.

Its benefits to your beauty regiment don’t end there though. Pat the old grounds on your skin and massage them in for a few minutes. Rinse and repeat if desired, and you have just exfoliated your skin without having to pay for any fancy products. You can also add some old coffee grounds to your skin mask as another alternative.

Rather than using baking soda to deodorize your refrigerator or freezer, empty some grounds into a Dixie cup or small bowl and try that instead. The grounds absorb the moisture that leads to odors just as well and are always available. A general rule of thumb is to change the grounds out about one each month just to get the best results possible. You can also dump some old coffee grounds into

cheesecloth or old nylons and hang this anywhere you may have an odor problem like a closet, near a litter box, or even in the bathroom.Also if you have handled anything which leaves a strong smell on your hands, rubbing them with old coffee grounds before washing will get the stink off you in short order.

Yet another alternative use for coffee grounds is to use them as a cleaning agent. Anytime you need a good abrasive cleaner, aside from on something that will stain, old coffee grounds work wonders. If you use wet old coffee grounds, you can use them to remove scratches from furniture.

A few other neat alternative uses for old coffee grounds are that you can add them to a bowl (or larger vessel if necessary) of warm water and allow them to sit until they create a natural dye. Simply strain the grounds out and you can use this to color fabric, Easter eggs, add to henna for a temporary tattoo, or paper. If you add some old coffee grounds into the soil you are keeping bait worms in they will actually live a little longer, they can be used to repel ants, and they can be sprinkled in a fireplace so that you don’t have to deal with a cloud of ashes when you clean it out.

Old coffee grounds have so many good practical uses that apply to all areas of the home and garden that just tossing them out is a waste. Even if you don’t have an immediate use for them, take them outside and sprinkle them in your garden or flower beds. You’ve already paid for them and reaped some of their benefits, why not take full advantage of the others?

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Haunted destinations: Island of the Dolls (Isla de la Muenecas)

Posted by mandyf on October 6, 2012

The Island of the Dolls, Isla de la Muenecas, is a small island located on Teshuilo Lake nestled between Mexico City and Xochimilco. While no one lives on the island anymore, at least in human physical form, it is one of the scariest, creepiest, haunted destinations in the world. Travelers from around the world make their way to the Island of Dolls every year. Some may be looking to contact a spirit. Some have to take in the scene with their own eyes. Others simply cannot resist the scene that is described as many to be innocence gone macabre.

As the legend goes, three young girls were playing on the island one day when one girl drowned in a canal. It didn’t take long for superstitious locals to begin reporting visitations from the departed child, and suddenly the isle was haunted. Bit by bit, then entirely, the island was abandoned and considered terrain so haunted no one should ever set foot on it. That all changed when Don Julian Santana purchased the island nobody wanted and made it his home.

Santana cared little for the rumored haunting. Santana cared little for the living as well, and made the decision to live as a hermit on the island after cutting ties with everyone he knew including his family. Santana did however enjoy a relationship with the spirit of the departed little girl. Some believed she manifested herself to him, others said he was just crazy. What is known for sure though is that Santana wanted the spirit of the little girl to be at peace, and to do so he made offering s to her. Offerings of little girls dolls.

Santana began by leaving  a doll near the canal now and then. Eventually he began positioning them elsewhere as well. On stumps, tied to tries, hanging from tree limbs, on rocks – basically anywhere he felt needed a doll and would please the little girls’ spirit. As time marched on, the curious began spying on what Santana was doing. Being averse to people, Santana began hanging dolls with scary faces near where the curious gathered hoping to frighten them. Then he began getting more twisted. No longer was it just newer in tact dolls appearing everywhere, any old doll would suffice. Some dolls were mutilated, mangled, missing heads and limbs. Dirty dolls hung in tortured decomposing poses everywhere the eye could see.

Don Julian died in 2001. By then, he had been accepting a few visitors here and there he charged a fee to give a tour of the island to. Although he is no longer there to prevent the curious from traipsing around his island, the dead cold mutilated faces of baby dolls hang everywhere as a marker of his sweet intentions gone very the route of very disturbing. Thousands of dolls, or parts of dolls, greet visitors on a near daily basis. To add a creepy twist – as if that was necessary – when Don Julian Santana’s bodied was discovered, it was in the same canal as the little girls that died so many years earlier. He, like her, drowned to death in that canal.

The Island of the Dolls can best be reached by departing from Cuemanco Landing located near Parque Ecologico de Xochimilco. Te trip is about two hours each way, but visitors are usually advised to plan on a five hour round trip to account for delays which are at times common. It is further advised you bring plenty of bottled water with you as well as a heart snack. Although certainly not required, some say it is “good” to bring a flower as an offering to Don Julian to leave on his memorial.

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Haunted destinations: Gov. Sprague Mansion, Cranston, Rhode Island

Posted by mandyf on October 4, 2012

Sprague Mansion in Cranston is considered one of Rhode Island’s most haunted places. Passing by on the road you would never think anything strange is afoot, but for those who go inside the innocent looking exterior slowly melts away. The Mansion was the home of Col. Col. Amasa Sprague and his brother William Sprague II. It is the actions of these men that have long been alleged to be the reason that spirits are trapped at the mansion to this day.

Amassa and William owned A&W Sprague Company back in the Civil War era. They produced calico cloth – millions of yards of calico cloth. Enough in fact that by some estimates they were the richest men in America at the time. Both brothers were very well known and connected. Amassa built the Narragansett Trotting Park, while William turned his attention in a different direction. He sought political offices – first a senator’s seat, then governor. He married well tying the knot with kate Chase whose father was the Secretary of the Treasury before joining the Supreme Court. It would seem they lived a charmed life without a want.

Everything changed on New Year’s Eve in 1843. Amasa’s body was discovered outside of the home. There was visible evidence of a severe beating and multiple gunshot wounds – although some claim there was only one gunshot wound. Records were not that meticulously kept at the time. There were no witnesses to the crime, but the authorities knew someone had to be arrested to at least appear as if justice had been carried out.

A man named Nicholas Gordon owned a nearby pub, and by all accounts he was chosen as the murderer for just that fact. The Sprague brothers were very upset that their employees drank, and as Gordon’s tavern was the closest to their factory he drew the bulk of their ire. Anasa used his power to get the city to pull Gordon’s liquor license just because he didn’t like him. When that happened, Gordon and his family went from having one of the most profitable taverns in the state to having nearly nothing. Therefore he was not only a prime suspect, but in actuality the only suspect.

Once Nicholas Gordon was taken into custody things got ugly. The entire Gordon family was rounded up and one by one – including their dog – and they were tried as co-conspirators. Even by standards of the era, the trials were a sham. There was a complete lack of physical evidence and the only person that stepped forward at the trial with any “information” was a prostitute that couldn’t even remember the Sprague brothers’ names much less identify them. Years later it was found she testified to escape charges she had pending that were dropped.

The jury that sat in Gordon trials did not contain a single Irishman, and impartial observers years later commented that all of the authorities involved in trial displayed blatant and overt bigotry and even refused the defendants the right to speak at times. Eventually, Gordon’s brother John was convicted and hanged. The problem is he didn’t commit the murder – the murderer was William Sprague II.

Since then many sightings of apparitions have been claimed. In some cases the apparitions have been said to be solid. Sometimes it is a man – sometimes a woman. People report cold spots throughout the house, reoccurring images on heat sensitive film, even actual physical contact with the supernatural. The stairway is a hotbed of activity said to be like a real life stairway to heaven – or wherever. Phantom footsteps are nearly a daily event on the stairs as is the image of a man in black. The doll room is so beyond creepy you need a diaper to visit it – you really do. The wine cellar is possibly even worse.

Who these spirits are is unknown. Some say William Sprague I is the man in black condemned to the mansion for eternity. Many believe that it could be the son of Kate Chase Sprague, William III who committed suicide in 1890. Almost everyone agrees the woman haunting the house is Kate who wound up divorcing William and blew her entire fortune and ruined her reputation. The feeling is the mansion was the point of her pain and she is tethered to it until she lets go of whatever it is that plagues her soul.

Whether you believe in ghosts or haunting matters little when you walk through Sprague Mansion. People that enter having no idea of the history of haunting often leave feeling a very distinct but indescribable feeling of something being wrong. Many of the sightings can be written of to lighting – and nobody argues that – but there are far too many other things that cannot be explained. Believe it or not, but pay it a visit and keep an open mind. The Sprague Mansion is open for tours, for further information you can contact the Cranston Historical Society, or visit the mansion at the address below.

Sprague Mansion

1351 Cranston St

Cranston, Rhode Island 02920

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Is there such a thing as a functional family?

Posted by mandyf on September 13, 2012

There sure are plenty of functional families spread all over the face of the Earth, however it would seem most are best described as functional in a dysfunctional manner. What is meant by that is there is dysfunction in every family whether that reality is faced up to or not. What separates families is that some learn to deal with dysfunction and move forward in a positive way and others find themselves mired in drama which inhibits being what most would consider functional.

With that said, for some families the drama and outward chaos is what is functional. Not every shoe fits every foot so to speak. When we talk about drama it isn’t about the extremes of that spectrum wrapped up in abuse and the such, just good old fashioned goofiness that people on that outside don’t understand. Everyone has seen or knows families that seem so far out on the fringe of what is accepted as normal that it is amazing they seem to not only function, but quite often thrive.

A wonderful personal example for this was provided by my daughter of all people. As parents it was thrilling to get a note from her new school concerning how well she was doing both academically and socially, as well as the comment which read “Knowing of her family history prior to entering my class I was pleasantly surprised she is so well adjusted and healthy.” In all actuality that was a backhanded compliment at best, but it was testament someone thought we were doing a good job as parents.

That comes to light because to the outside world, our family appears to be the epitome of dysfunctional. As our daughter once said, “Being the daughter of a transsexual mother who was once my father and my other mother not my birth mother, but the only mom I ever knew prior to having two moms is a little weird.” That is agreeable. It’s also not normal for one mother to be very publicly outspoken and known, and the other to be an authority figure that constantly challenges authority. We thrive on conflict and heated debate on every topic most people cringe at even thinking of.

You add that on top of having an elderly asthmatic cat that does little more that hack, wheeze, and fail to reach the litter box before everything just…comes out…an extended family made up of four different ethnic backgrounds, numerous mixed marriages, all of whom know everything about everything, are never wrong, and are willing to take it to the lawn to fight out who the winner is, and we appear pretty dysfunctional. We won’t even get into the fact we have therapists on speed dial we use with great regularity, even though just the local extended family boasts three actively practicing the trade. Somehow though everyone achieves some level of success, nobody has been incarcerated or even indicted, so far as I know we don’t have any uncle/daddy situations, although in my case for awhile at least I was daddy/mommy…

The point of it all is, that for us what so many others see as dysfunctional is normal. We get along just fine with all the insanity. Another family might crumble under all of that. By the same token if we were what is perceived as more mainstream we might wind up being dysfunctional. In summation, there is most definitely such a thing as a functional family, it one that has learned to cope with its dysfunction.

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Why soldiers who suffer mental or emotional damage should receive a purple heart

Posted by mandyf on September 8, 2012

Discussion has been raised yet again as to whether the Purple Heart should be awarded to those whom have suffered mental/emotional damage due to their service in a declared war zone. The sentiment seems to be that the answer is no, although Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated it is something that needs to be looked at. As soon as Gates intimated further review was warranted on this possibility camps set up on each side and the battle began.

The Purple heart was established in 1782 by General George Washington and has historically been awarded to only those suffering a physical injury in combat although there have been rare exceptions. Such conditions such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that are directly linked to combat but show no physical scars are now being considered as possibly qualifying for the Purple Heart. The Army argues PTSD is not an injury but an illness and therefore unqualified for such honor. Countless veterans suffering from this condition would disagree as does Army psychologist John Fortunato. Fortunato contends “PTSD affects soldiers by physically damaging their brains, making the condition no different than conventional wounds.”

“What will they think of next?” the man sitting next to me in the blood draw waiting room at the VA asked me and pointed to an article with the headline “Purple Hearts for emotional injury?” I shrugged a bit as I didn’t feel like getting into a discussion, I just wanted the vampires to tap my vein and get me off to my next appointment so I could salvage part of the morning. “Whaddya think, isn’t this nuts?” Again I shrugged a non-committal response. He continued staring at me with the article open and then he said something that really got under my skin, “At least you’re being a good girl and waiting here quiet for your husband instead of yapping about things you can’t know about. It’s my fault for thinking you could understand.”

I turned to the man and stated I was not waiting on my husband but rather my own appointment and I was hoping it would come up soon as I didn’t want my PTSD group to have to wait for me, especially as my wife was due any minute as this specific meeting was open to spouses. He looked at me a bit confused, and opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something but the words couldn’t find their way out. Finally he said “Broads can’t have PTSD they ain’t allowed in combat!” Fortunately my name was called and I gathered my bag and windbreaker. As I did so I leaned closer to him and said, “Between you and me, I was a guy when I was in combat, and if you ever call me or any lady here a broad I’ll show you what an injury fitting a Purple Heart is.” I then smiled and blew him a kiss to his utter disgust and the amusement of the other vets watching the exchange. One even gave me his best Oprah style “you go girl!” as I disappeared around the corner.

The point of sharing this is that you would think only a few random people would entertain the belief that combat related PTSD is not a real injury. “We vehemently disagree that PTSD is a physical wound that warrants a Purple Heart, says Joseph Palagyi, the national adjutant of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.” Palagyi argues awarding the Purple Heart to those with PTSD degrades it and by proxy those that have “purely” been injured. He further states “I don’t think people should get the Purple Heart for almost getting wounded.”

The National Commander of the MOPH (Military Order of the Purple Heart), Henry J. Cook III, a retired Army Special Forces Colonel said, “Today, as a Band of Brothers,’ we must withstand courageously, any attempt at degrading our most prized Purple Heart Medal.” Ironically The MOPH and the Purple Heart Service Foundation which these enlightened chaps are members state that they “stand in harmony and are dedicated to providing and protecting benefits and entitlements not only for the recipients of the Purple Heart Medal, but to all veterans who have taken the pledge to serve faithfully the United States of America, and to defend the Constitution of the United States.”

One can only draw from their statements however that is true so long as you don’t have PTSD since it is degraded and not a true injury that merits recognition. Their words, not mine. To them no blood equals no injury. No information has been made reasonably available on how these men earned their un-degraded Purple Hearts.

In all fairness these are not the only organizational leaders against the issue. Michael Wysong who serves as the director of national security issues for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), likens PTSD to Gulf War Syndrome. “Not to diminish the illness or effects of PTSD, but it is the VFW’s belief that awarding the Purple Heart for PTSD is not consistent with the original purpose and would denigrate the medal.” Spokesman for the American Legion (AL) agrees but states that if PTSD or such associated conditions are determined to be an injury they may support the new policy.

So what is the answer, are PTSD and such conditions arising from combat injuries or not? Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker, Surgeon General of the Army has stated it needs a second opinion. “Whether or not a medal should be awarded is not in my purview,” is the only statement he would make on the topic. He wouldn’t discuss PTSD as to whether or not it is an injury or an illness, or an illness caused by injury. No matter what decision is handed down someone is going to be upset.

The tragedy in all this is not that the Purple Heart may or not be awarded to suffers of PTSD but the utter lack of disrespect and lack of knowledge displayed by people like Palaygi, Cook, and even the old man sitting next to me waiting for blood to be drawn. Saying PTSD is not a pure or real injury as Palaygi would like us to believe is an easy thing to do. Easy that is until you have to deal with it firsthand. I encourage Mr. Palaygi and Cook to visit their nearest VA Hospital and inform veterans that served just as they did that their bouts with PTSD have no merit in regards to the Purple Heart since people shouldn’t be awarded medals for “almost being wounded.”

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,85 99,1812757,00.html?xid=feed-cnn-topicshttp://www.pur pleheart.org/Membership/Public/Articles/PTSDPressRel ease05082008.aspx

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Tips to bond with your sister

Posted by mandyf on September 7, 2012

The bond between sisters is unique. While brothers can be close, as can the mix of brothers and sisters, there is just something special about sisters. Maybe women are predisposed to staying connected better, or maybe it just feels that way , but it is undeniable that it is a special bond. As we age and settle into our own lives and families however, sometimes we’re reduced to more infrequent contact or find we rely on the toys of the electronic age to stay connected. The questions arises of how can sisters bond and remain bonded?

It’s actually much simpler than many of us think, it just requires the investment of a little bit of time. Phone calls are fine for what they are but they just don’t pack the punch of being face to face. It’s important to have time that is just the two of you, not you the spouses, the kids, or the rest of the family. While there are more challenges to maintaining the bonds when geography becomes a significant factor, it is still possible to keep your sisterly bond tight and growing.

For those who live close to each other it’s really simple to stay connected. Making a commitment to do something as simple as meeting for lunch once a month is a great start. With my sister we find that even with busy schedules and a moderate commute, we can make this happen easily. Sometimes I travel to her, or she comes to me. When time is tight we try to meet in the middle, but we always make it a point to stick to our date!

When it rolls around to our birthdays, we make it a point to take a day that is just for us. Maybe we head to the spa, and top it off with a nice dinner and a trip to our favorite dance club. Sometimes we spend the day shopping, or more appropriately window shopping, but again, we make sure it is just the two us and we never skip a year. It isn’t so much about what we do as it is about doing it together.

We also try to surprise each other with visits. Sometimes we revert back to being teens and just show up at each others house for a sleep over. We load up on ice cream, cookie dough, or whatever there is to raid from the refrigerator, hop into our jammies, and settle down for a night of movies or our favorite television shows. We take the time to talk in nice relaxed manner and shoo everyone away from us. We make it known it is our time and we stick to that.

When distance is more of a factor the challenges increase, but you don’t have to let that stop you from bonding. Try to make a point of visiting each other every year. When possible, take turns as to who will do the traveling. Sometimes a great idea is planning to meet somewhere neutral and make it a sisters only vacation. We had some great times booking trips on those last minute cut rate cruises, visiting Disney, or even just picking a city between us and painting it red for the weekend. There are endless options, and even though it costs a bit of money, can you really put a price on staying close to your sister?

While it isn’t the best way to maintain your bond, calling and emailing is a good complement to having face time. Even if you don’t have much to say, just calling to say you were thinking about her means a lot. It keeps the lines of communication open and let’s her know you care. Stay in touch, make time to spend which is just for the two of you, and stick to your plans! Don’t let trivial things or laziness keep you from each other. While these tips are far from the only ways to stay connected, they are a good start and should keep your bond to your sister strong!

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Hidden airline fees: What are they and can you avoid them?

Posted by mandyf on September 5, 2012

Hidden airline fees are becoming an ever increasing burden on travelers worldwide. For the traveler that flies every now and then on business and can pack light it generally isn’t a very big deal. For those who have to travel or are taking an extended vacation in which they can’t pack light it has become a nightmare. In 2008 when fuel prices began spiraling out of control airlines looked for ways to offset the cost without raising fares which would potentially drive away customers. What ensued was a large amount of travelers suddenly realizing that a $200 ticket could actually cost an extra $25 or more dollars, and that the amenities once common were now only available to those who were willing to pay extra. Recently the trend has gotten worse for travelers as carriers, specifically United Airlines, expects to make an extra $1 billion on hidden fees this year alone.

The first step to avoiding hidden fees when possible is to know what they are. Not all carriers are equal in this regard as some have a fee for everything seemingly and others just one or two. Some are fairly reasonable, and others are plain old outrageous. Let’s be honest, do you think paying a dollar for a glass of water is fair? What follows are some common hidden fees to look for, or that you should just be prepared to paid for, because in some cases there is no escaping them.

The baggage check in fee is the most common and was actually the first of the new fees to catch on fast and hang around. Some airlines stated that when fuel prices stabilized they would drop the fee, but so far none have. Stability in this case truly is in the eyes of the owners. In general you can plan on paying $15 per bag checked. Two carriers are planning to increase the rate to $20. If you fly Delta Airlines to Europe be prepared for a charge of $50/bag for each one after the first checked.

Some others fees to be prepared for are:

On U.S. Airways and United Airlines you will have to pay a $5 baggage fee at the airport if you do not book online. United Airlines implemented this in June of 2009, U.S. Airways will kick this off beginning July, 9, 2009.

On AirTran seats that offer extra legroom cost an extra $20 per seat.

Allegiant Air who is a small national airline touting them self as a discount carrier really isn’t when you get through their list of fees. Even if you purchase and print your ticket online they charge you $13.50 for the convenience of doing their job for them.

A similar European discount carrier

Raynair slaps fees on everything including just checking in for your flight! It costs $6.75 to check in because they are eliminating check in desks. If you pay the fee at the airport at the boarding gate the fee doubles to $13.50 per ticket.

Vueling which is a Spanish airline has gotten really sneaky and started charging passengers to pick a seat. it doesn’t matter what seat it is, you have to pay an extra fee on top of the ticket to sit down. A “basic seat” costs about 3 Euros which is around $4, but you can jack that price up if you want to sit on the aisle or the window.

 Of course there are the increasingly popular “overweight traveler” fees which can double a ticket price without batting an eye.

Then for some real gouging you need only look at good old United Airlines one more time. Sure you’ll pay extra for the headphones to hear the movie, that’s nothing new, but how about paying for your meal on long flights too? How about the outrageously overpriced beverages which just keep getting more expensive every year even when their price on the store counter is fairly stable? Don’t be surprised to see them install pay toilets at the rate they are going.It’s not that far fetched, Raynair is seriously talking about lavatory charges as well as charging for using airsick bags! Imagine that. The solution of course is to just get sick on the way to the lavatory one would suppose.

None of the above fees can be avoided, it’s just that simple. If you use any of those carriers they will hit you with those fees at a minimum aside from the last batch from United. That is of course if you can avoid eating or drinking on a long flight. There are some fees people wind up accepting without realizing it which they can avoid however. Sometimes people register online or over the phone and get in a rush or fail to read the fine print denoted by an asterisk and get an unpleasant surprise when they see their final bill.

United Airlines door to door luggage service catches people off guard at times. They check the box and without realizing it sign up to have FedEx come to their house and pick up their luggage and ship it to their destination. It is great if you hate the hassle of toting bags around on travel day, pretty bad when you see how much it costs to pay for it.

United and a growing number of other carriers on their coattails have instituted “premiere check in” programs. They bill them as speedy check in, but are they necessary? The angle is that for $25 per ticket you will get through both the airline and security check in process faster. The problem is there is no guarantee this will actually happen and there is no refund if it doesn’t. Some frequent travelers have claimed this only saves about 15 to 20 minutes at best on average. The general feeling is you just don’t need it.For the most part all it does is increase your odds of getting overhead compartment space directly over your seat.

The good news is you can dodge the premiere traveler fees, you can work around the food and beverage and movie charges. The bad news is airlines are making a ton of money off the check in fees, baggage fees, and convenience fees are are almost universally planning to increase them all as well as add in more. The airline executives actually have an annual conference focused just on this area of the business alone. Further bad news is if they do decide to charge for lavatory fees or sick bags there is nothing you can do about it if you need them, it is perfectly legal. They can even charge you to turn on the overhead reading light and buzz the stewardess if they want to. it really has gotten that bad.

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Adoption versus abortion

Posted by mandyf on August 31, 2012

Adoption is a wonderful thing, without it I never would have had the life or opportunities I now posses. I have always viewed adoption as one of the greatest gifts on earth to all involved. The child obviously becomes part of a home, the adoptive parents have a child to love and nurture, and the birth mother has the satisfaction of knowing she has provided much to each party. Then there is abortion.

However, I also wholly believe in the saying “A woman’s body, a woman’s choice.” I hate to see the government or any institution involve themselves in a decision which is so personal and impacts so many people on that same personal level. What is right, adoption or abortion?

As an adult adoptee and a mother, one would think that I would be an advocate for every child being born and have the opportunity for a full life, but that isn’t the case. While not a popular view, I have always subscribed to the utilitarian value of doing the best for the most. At times that does come at the expense of the individual, but in today’s world we have to be realistic. The planet is becoming terribly overcrowded, food shortages are the norm in far too many places around the globe, and to be perfectly honest I sometimes find it hard to fathom one more person being on the planet.

There has to be a system of checks and balances and unfortunately abortion is a part of that system. We simply have to live within the means of what the planet can realistically provide. We have to stop and ask what do we do when the population reaches critical mass? When does many become too many? We see in nature that when the animal population becomes overpopulated they suffer for food, fight for food, and eventually parts of the herd die for lack of food. As humans we are arrogant enough to try to hold ourselves above this principle, but we are simply animals which have evolved to a different level. We are still subject to the laws of nature and we see suffering for lack of food and basic amenities world wide. The human herd is simply that overgrown.

If, and if is a big word, there were more than enough people out there willing to adopt every child that needs a home, and could support them, then my outlook would be quite different. The simple fact however is that this is not the case. Children, especially older ones, go unadopted and become a part of the “System” every single day. Everyday another child is brought into the world that will never have a traditional family life quite simply because nobody wants to adopt them or people that do wish to adopt them are denied, often for rather trivial reasons.

The adoption system could be streamlined and made far more efficient by better regulation and removing the profit motive making it a true humanitarian industry. There are people willing to adopt that simply don’t because they view the process as too expensive and tedious with no guarantee of getting a child. Then there are couples denied children based on sexual preference that could provide good homes. I even know a couple denied adoption by four different agencies based on their age. Imagine being too old to raise a child, especially a child of primary school age when in your fifties. Eventually they did adopt, but had to go abroad to do so.

I would love nothing more than to say every child that draws breath will have a home, but as harsh and hated a thing as it is to say, there are times when abortion is not only justified but necessary and humane. Is it right to bring a child into the world the biological family has no desire to accept and simply hope it finds it’s way to home? Is it better to go back to old traditions of killing children after birth that are unwanted? We scoff at such a thing now, but it was common in our not too distant past. With abortion needless suffering is avoided and it provides children that are already available for adoption better odds of finding a family. Deciding between abortion or adoption is perhaps the hardest choice one can make, but it is a choice and as adoption is no guarantee, sometimes abortion is the proper choice.

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