Goodbye 2010!

It’s inevitable – this time of year brings mixed emotions. While  reviewing the past year – remembering the good, and trying to let go of the bad – you may also be looking forward to a new year, which usually means a new start.

For those living in the United States, New Year’s is a time of celebration – a time to gather, eat, drink, and be merry. It’s our tradition to count down to midnight and when the clock strikes 12, we grab a significant other (or a willing participant for that matter) and plant a kiss on ’em. Others may ring in the new year by honking their car horns, blowing whistles, and setting off confetti poppers.

New Year’s Day is usually spent watching one of many championship football games, as well as the annual Tournament of Rose Parade, which takes place in Pasadena. Americans also prepare and eat black-eyed peas, hog jowls, ham, rice, and cabbage on New Year’s Day to bring good luck throughout the upcoming year.

However, the most common way to celebrate the new year is by making resolutions. According to www.about.com, the top 10 New Year’s resolutions are as follows:

1. Spend More Time with Family

2. Fit in Fitness

3. Tame the Bulge (aka Lose Weight)

4. Quit Smoking

5. Enjoy Life More

6. Quit Drinking

7. Get Out of Debt

8. Learn Something New

9. Help Others

10. Get Organized

Whether you decide to live a healthier lifestyle, or just plain enjoy life period, we hope that you make a resolution that will better your well-being, and hopefully those around you. May you have a safe New Year’s, followed by a year of celebrations and prosperity.

What’s In Your Wallet?

Getting rid of your debt can be a hassle, but the outcome is liberating!

 

Now that Christmas has come and gone, there’s one thing that lingers – the debt accrued in purchasing gifts and hosting holiday parties. And considering Christmas is at the end of the year, the money spent in December is just the cherry on top of the debt-layered cake that has been around all year long.

So in an effort to get you out of debt and into a healthy spending pattern, Main Street offers five ways to become debt free this upcoming year. Sounds like a worthy resolution to me!

1. Evaluate Necessities: The most logical step is also the hardest! It sounds simple to get rid of the things that aren’t necessary, but what’s considered unnecessary? Although answers to this question are undoubtedly different, the best way to put it is to only pay for the things that you absolutely cannot live without – food, housing, health insurance, etc. Therefore, elaborate cell phone and cable packages are not necessities – and neither are vacations, restaurants, and shopping sprees. The money you save by cutting out the extras can in turn be applied towards any debt you may have, eliminating your deficit quicker as you are paying more off, while not spending and adding more debt.

2. Strategically Make Payments: Most debt doesn’t originate from a single credit card, but rather a combination of balances held on various cards with different interest rates. To effectively lower the cost of your debt you should concentrate payments toward the debt with the highest associated APR. After you reach a zero balance on all of your cards, you can use their monthly payment allocation to your car payment, school loan, or mortgage until you are completely debt free.

3. Don’t Pay Less Than the Minimum…Ever: Generally speaking, credit card companies regard payments below the minimum amount required as no payment at all. So if you don’t have enough money to cover the minimum, it’s suggested that you refrain from paying anything until you do. However, if you are delinquent, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between the required minimum and the total amount due – the minimum payment is the amount required to avoid slipping further into delinquency, while the total amount due is what you must pay to become current on your payments, which is the sum of the minimum payments you have missed plus the upcoming minimum payment.

4. Negotiate: If you start falling into delinquency and the above options prove unsuccessful, it’s recommended that you call your lender and try to negotiate for a lower debt total, decreased interest rates or a repayment plan that involves a lower monthly minimum. Be mindful that you must approach these negotiations with knowledge and tact. When calling the issuer, know how much you can afford in terms of the lump-sum and per-month payments. Explain your situation calmly and politely and do not exceed your means with the terms of any agreement, because breaking restructured terms will likely trigger expensive penalties.

5. Consult a Professional: If your negotiation efforts fail and your debt continues to worsen, it may be in your best interest to pay a professional for debt settlement or debt management services. Debt settlement is when your credit card company is concerned by the fact that you are severely delinquent and agrees to lower your debt in return for you paying off the decreased sum with a single payment. Debt management involves developing a payment plan that often includes lowered interest rates and decreased monthly payments in exchange for closing all your credit cards. While these methods require an outlay of money, they might be worth the extra cost because of the experience and relationships these organizations bring to the table. Do NOT pay any company that promises debt relief before it actually provides you with tangible results.

If these options are inapplicable or unsuccessful, you might want to consult a bankruptcy attorney. Bankruptcy is a last resort, but don’t take it out of consideration if it helps you in the long term.

Christmas Around The World

Numerous countries throughout the world celebrate Christmas by decorating Christmas trees, which signify life and the waiting for Spring.

It goes without saying that Christmas is a hugely celebrated holiday in the United States. Most Americans celebrate Christmas by adorning their homes with twinkling lights, towering trees, elaborate nativity scenes, and homemade stockings, in addition to giving gifts and gathering with family and friends to feast.

But what’s most interesting about the holiday is that, for the most part, it’s a season celebrated worldwide. From Mexico, to Finland, to Australia, each country carries it’s  own traditions and celebrates the day in a fashion only their country carries out.

Here are some interesting facts about how other countries and cultures celebrate Christmas:

Australia – Christmas in Australia is always warm and sunny, as Christmas falls into the country’s summer season. A traditional meal including ham, turkey, mince pie, and plum pudding are usually enjoyed at a beach picnic. Santa is believed to arrive via boat or surfboard instead of by sleigh or reindeer.

Belgium – Christmas celebrations begin on December 6, when the country celebrates Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). Santa Claus is known as de Kerstman or le Pere Noel is believed to come on Christmas day to deliver presents to the children. A traditional Christmas breakfast in Belgium consists of cougnou (or cougnolle) a sweet bread that is shaped in the like of baby Jesus.

Brazil – Father Christmas in Brazil is known as Papai Noel. Many of the Christmas customs in Brazil are very similar to those in the United Kingdom and United States. In addition to a traditional Christmas meal, Brazilians enjoy a dessert called Brigadeiro, made of condensed milk and chocolate.

China – Christmas celebrations in China only exist for tourists and those from other areas of the world who happen to live there or be visiting over the holiday season.

Cuba – Before Castro’s rule began in 1959, Christmas Eve was a time of celebration for Cubans, when families gathered to dance, feast on roasted pork, and attend midnight Mass. Gifts were exchanged on January 6, a day known as Epiphany and when beliefs of Santa Claus came into Cuba during the 1940’s and 50’s, he was known to only bring children candy and sweets, not toys. But when communism took over with Castro’s rule in 1959, Christmas celebrations were halted, but have returned to a certain degree in recent years.

Egypt – Although not primarily a Christian country, Christian Egyptians celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ on January 7, as do many other Orthodox Church religions. Christian Egyptians do not eat any meat or drink any milk from November 25 to late in the evening on January 6, in which a meal of meat and  rice is enjoyed following an evening church service.

Finland – Finnish people believe that Father Christmas lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi, a town north of the Arctic Circle near a theme park called “Christmas Land”. They celebrate three Holy days – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Christmas Eve is when Finnish people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup made of dried fruits; tune into a mid-day “Christmas Peace Declaration”, that is broadcast on television and radio from the city of Turku by its mayor. The Finnish also put much effort into decorating graveyards on Christmas Eve, bringing candles to the graves of lost loved ones either before or after attending church. Christmas Day is celebrated by opening gifts and feasting throughout the day, on numerous meals and snacks including Rosolli, a cold salad made from peeled, cooked, and diced potatoes, carrots, beetroot and diced apples, onions, and pickled cucumber.

France – Christmas in France is known as Noel and most of the French decorate their trees with red ribbons and white wax candles. Christmas dinner is very important in France and usually consists of meat and wine. In France, it isn’t common to send Christmas cards.

Germany – The Christmas season in Germany officially begins on December 6 – Saint Nicholas Day. On this day, children put a shoe by the fireplace and Saint Nicholas comes by with his “naughty or nice” list. “Nice” children find treats to eat in the shoe, while “naughty” children find twigs. Germans are also known to celebrate the Advent, meaning the “coming”. Adventskranz wreaths are made of leaves and four candles and signify the four-week period prior to Christmas. A traditional meal is cooked on Christmas Eve and once finished, the children are invited to open presents and sing carols.

Greenland – The singing of carols is very prevalent in Greenland during the Christmas season. Carolers might be spotted walking past houses singing very early in the morning. Church services are attended throughout the Advent season, as well as on Christmas Eve. Because only one percent of Greenland is forested, residents either make a Christmas tree from driftwood, or choose to buy an artificial tree or import a live tree from another country.

Hungary – In Hungary, Santa Clause comes on December 6, when children put their shoes outside next to the door or window. Candies and small toys appear in red bags next to the shoes if the child has been “nice” and a golden birch (symbolizing spanking) is placed next to the shoes if the child has been “naughty”. On Christmas Eve, children visit their relative’s homes because Jesus brings the tree and presents that evening. Families cook a traditional meal of fresh fish and rice or potatoes, followed by homemade pastries for dessert. After dinner, the tree – adorned by golden-wrapped chocolates and meringues – is viewed by the children for the very first time. Present are then opened and Christmas carols are sung.

Iceland – Christmas, known as Yule in Iceland, is very similar to that of the United States. The major differences, however, are the mutton that is eaten and the 13 distinct Santas that are part of the Yule customs.

Latvia – Latvians believe that Father Christmas brings presents on each of the 12 days of Christmas, starting on Christmas Eve. The presents are usually put under the family Christmas tree. It was also in Latvia that the first Christmas tree was decorated. The Christmas Day meal consists of brown peas with pork sauce, small pies, cabbage, and sausage.

Mexico – Mexicans celebrate Christmas with Las Posadas, a nine-day festival that re-enacts the journey of Joseph and Mary to the point when baby Jesus is born. Champurrado is a traditional Mexican drink similar to hot chocolate and tamales are a Christmas favorite. Most Mexicans attend an evening Mass on Christmas Eve, followed by a traditional meal and the opening of presents at midnight.

Middle East – Because there’s only a small percentage of Christians in the Middle East, only small, intimate family and religious celebrations occur. The celebrations, however, do not share the same fanfare and commercialism that other regions have become accustomed to.

New Zealand – Celebrations in New Zealand are very similar to those in other countries, with the only exceptions being that they gather with friends and family to barbecue and enjoy beer and wine.

Nigeria – One of the biggest ways Nigerians celebrate Christmas is by returning to one’s hometown to visit with friends from the past and to spend time with relatives. A traditional dish consists of yams, vegetables and hot spices. And when it comes to gift giving, Nigerians give presents to only those less fortunate.

Portugal – In Portugal, presents are left under the tree or in shoes by the fireplace. A special meal of salted dry Cod-fish with boiled potatoes is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Romania – Romanians start celebrating Christmas on December 6, with children waiting to receive little gifts – or twigs – depending on whether or not they were “naughty or nice”. Those that live in the countryside raise their own pigs, which in turn are sacrificed for Christmas on December 20. each part of the pig is used in different ways to make different dishes for Christmas dinner. Those in the countryside also dress as bears and goats and sing traditional songs at each house in the village. Romanians from Transylvania serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve, as well as the next day for lunch.

Russia – In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time, when Father Frost brought presents to children. With the fall of communism, Christmas can now be openly celebrated – either on December 25, or more commonly, January 7. They celebrate on January 7 because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar for religious celebration days. Traditional Christmas foods include cakes, pies, and meat dumplings.

Sweden – In Sweden, the most important day is Christmas Eve, when a special meal of ham, herring fish, and brown beans is served. Christmas Eve is also when families exchange presents since many people attend church early on Christmas Day.

No matter how you and your family celebrate Christmas, Ernst & Haas would like to wish you a wonderful Christmas, overflowing with joy, peace, and the fulfillment that comes with being with those you love.

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Adopting an olive tree brings a taste of Italy to anyone's home, delivering a year's worth of olive oil to the recipient of choice.

There’s only four days left until the big day and not surprisingly, many of us still have some shopping to finish up. If you are anything like us, you probably don’t want to fight the traffic, parking lot, and rude sales people at the mall – especially with the kind of weather we’ve had lately. But thanks to www.kiplinger.com, here are some gifts ideas that aren’t only beneficial for the heart and soul, but also in avoided the masses:

1. Adopt an Olive Tree: Nudo is an olive-tree adoption program that allows you to adopt a tree in an olive orchard and sends the fruits of that tree to the gift recipient of your choice throughout the year. The recipient also receives an adoption certificate and information about the grove in Le Marche, Italy, where the trees are grown. It’s a year’s supply of olive oil and a taste of Italy, without the airfare! Cost: $109, plus shipping.

2. Battery Charger: More than three billion single-use batteries are sold every year, and with all of your Wii controllers and battery-operated toys laying around the house, a battery charger is only logical. A charger will not only eliminate the expense of batteries, but will also provide hours and hours of energy. Cost: $29.97 for the Energizer NiMH Rechargeable Family Battery Charger.

3. Water Purifier and Bottler: This gift is for the friend or relative on your list that has an expensive bottled-water addiction. Water purifying systems, such as the Filtrete Water Station, filters water into reusable bottles to preserve the convenience of bottled water. Replacement filters, which cost $10 each, only have to be replaced every three months or every 100 gallons. Cost: $36.98 for the Filtrete Water Station.

4. A Charitable Donation: By making a donation in any given person’s name, you show that you care about the organizations they support and relieve some of the responsibility they feel to support specific groups. Before donating, be sure to do your research and that the group you choose is operating efficiently and putting the donations to good use. And remember to keep the receipt – this gift comes with a tax deduction as long as you itemize your taxes. Cost: Up to your discretion, minus the tax deduction.

5. Energy-Saving Eco Button: Got any computer geeks  on your list? Or anyone that has a computer? This little gadget plugs into the USB port of any PC (a version for Mac is in the works) and when pressed, sends the computer to sleep or its energy-efficient mode. The button serves as a handy reminder to power down, saving on energy use and the cost of keeping the computer kicking. Cost: $19.99, plus shipping.

6. Community-College Gift Cards: Many community colleges offer gift cards that can be used on books, merchandise, and more importantly, credit hours. This is perfect for anyone looking to complete a degree, or brush up on their French before a trip to Paris. Contact your local institution for a course catalog to include with your gift. Computer software, such as a course from Rosetta Stone, can offer similar benefits. Cost: Up to your discretion, and based on the college’s cost per credit hour.

7. A Career Coach: This is great for someone who is unemployed, or who has recently graduated from college. A session with a career coach can help create and polish a resume, and perhaps help someone get that promotion they’ve been waiting for. Cost: Several hundred dollars in most cases, depending on the coach and the level of services. Seek a free consultation for starters.

8. Reusable Shopping Bags: Many retailers offer incentives for customers to haul their groceries in their own reusable bags. The most user-friendly variety of reusable bags can be compacted into a small pouch and carried easily. Cost: $20 for four bags from Waste-Less Bags.

9. Beverage Carbonator: Appliances such as the SodaStream carbonate water with CO2 in less that a minute, saving on supplies and allowing recipients to make their own drinks. Flavors and juices can be added to the carbonated water to replace soft drinks. CO2 canisters come in different sizes that last for about 60 or 130 liters of water. Used CO2 cartridges can be traded in for full ones for approximately $30. Cost: $80-$200 for the appliance, which usually comes with reusable bottles and one or two CO2 cartridges, depending on the model.

10. Movie-Rental Subscription: A movie-rental subscription allows the movie buff on your list to make a list of the movies they’d like to see, and receives them in the mail one at a time. As each movie is returned, companies such as Netflix sends out the next movie on the list. There’s no limit on the number of movies subscribers can watch each month and there are no late fees. Plus, Netflix allows you to pull up additional movies on your TV – using your game console or computer – through your online account to watch instantly, for FREE! Cost: $9.99 a month or $119.88 a year.

11. AAA Membership: In addition to offering peace of mind while driving about, a AAA membership offers countless savings such as free tire changes, free delivery of gasoline, and much more. The AAA member card can also be presented for discounts off the road, too! Numerous retailers offer up to 20% off their services, just for showing your membership card. Cost: $65 a year.

12. A Savings or Investment Account: This is a great way to help anyone looking to sock away some extra cash. For a youngster, a 529 college-savings plan is a good choice. Or, for a recent graduate, a Roth IRA can provide a jump-start on tax-free retirement savings. And for someone who is saving up for a new house or a new car, consider seeding an online savings account with low fees and a high interest rate. Cost: Up to your discretion.

13. Cooking Classes: Cooking classes or seminars can be a great way to cut your recipient’s restaurant budget. Check community calendars for seminars or look to chains, such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table, for a schedule of seminars. Cost: Various prices.

14. A Big-Box Store Membership: It’s hard to fit a year’s supply of paper towels into a gift box, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it. By giving a membership to a big-box store such as Costco or Sam’s Club, you’ll save he recipient money on groceries, electronics, household products and office supplies year-round. Cost: Around $50 for a year’s membership.

15. A Gym Membership: With the economy in the state it’s in – and the New Year approaching – many gyms are offering special rates and discounts to those that sign up. Not only will you be promoting good health, you’ll be paying for it. Who wouldn’t want that? Cost: Various prices.

We hope you enjoy giving these gifts just as much as you’d enjoy receiving them!

Christmas Celebrations Continue!

The Nutcracker will be featured at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center this weekend.

If you haven’t had a chance to catch a local holiday celebration, this weekend is your last chance because next weekend, you’ll be hosting (or attending) your very own gatherings.

 

***Progressive International Motorcycle Show***

Friday, December 17 – Sunday, December 19, various times

Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach

$10 for parking, Motorcycles are FREE

Call (714) 513-8400 for more information

 

***Glenn Miller Orchestra Holiday Show***

Saturday, December 18, 8 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St. in Long Beach

Admission is $38

Call (562) 985-7000 for more information

 

***The Crooner Pack Spectacular Holiday Rat Pack Show***

Saturday, December 18, 7 p.m.

Visit Web site for location

$69.95 per person

Call (800) 733-5639 for more information

 

***The Nutcracker***

Saturday, December 18, 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, December 19, 2 p.m.

Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach

Visit Web site for ticket prices

Call (562) 436-3661 for more information

 

12 Days of Christmas

The Microbrewed Beer Basket is just one of many gifts listed on gifts.com you can give this Christmas!

It’s official: There’s only 12 days left before Christmas, and while most of us aren’t asking for 8 maids a milking, 5 golden rings, or 3 french hens, we would all undoubtedly like to receive – as well as give – nice gifts this Christmas.

The challenge comes in providing wish lists that aren’t too wishful, and giving gifts that are personal and won’t be donated the following week to the local thrift store.

But there’s hope! Visit www.gifts.com for this year’s top-rated gifts to give and receive. You’re guaranteed to find something for everyone – from the microbrew club of the month for the beer-enthusiast, to iKaraoke for the American Idol-inspired, to personalized Nikes for the trendy.

The Web site provides more than 25 pages of gift suggestions, all ranging in price for those on a budget, and those willing to max out their credit card. And with this list, you’re bound to get everyone on your list shopped for!

Happy shopping!

And The Fun Goes On…

More than 15 tons of snow will cover Shoreline Village tomorrow for kids 12 and under to enjoy. Check out some of the other events going on this weekend below!

Time for Round 2 of holiday-themed festivities:

***Newport Landing Holiday Cruises***

Friday, December 10 through Wednesday, December 29, 5:45 p.m. & 8 p.m.

Newport Harbor in Newport Beach

Call (949) 675-0551 for more information

Christmas Boat Parade runs from December 15-19


***Prince of Peace Pageant***

Friday, December 10 to Sunday, December 12, 7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Located on the 5500 block of Wardlow Road at Bellflower Boulevard

FREE Admission

Call (562) 421-1721 for more information

Event put on by the Long Beach Christian Reformed Church, St. Cornelius Catholic Church,

St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Truett Memorial Southern Baptist Church,

& University Baptist Church


***Bringing in the Greens with Santa***

Saturday, December 11, 9:30 a.m. to Noon

Rancho Los Alamitos Historic Rach and Gardens, 6400 Bixby Hill Rd. in Long Beach

Adults $25, Children $20, RLA Members – Adults $20, Children $15

Call (562) 431-3541 for more information

 

***Christmas Candlelight Tours – “Navidad in Early California”***

Saturday, December 11 and Sunday, December 12, 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Rancho Los Cerritos Historical Site, 4600 Virginia Rd. in Long Beach

$10 Admission – Reservations Required

Call (562) 421-1721 for more information

 

***Daisy Avenue Christmas Tree Lane Parade***

Saturday, December 11, 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Located on 20th Street and Daisy Avenue in Long Beach

FREE Admission

Call (562) 427-5021 for more information

Best parade viewing is on Daisy Avenue between PCH and Hill Street


***Snow Day at Shoreline Village***

Saturday, December 11, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

401-435 Shoreline Village Dr. in Long Beach

FREE Admission

Call (562) 435-2668 for more information

 

***Long Beach Symphony Orchestra Holiday Celebration***

Saturday, December 11, 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 12, 2 p.m.

Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach

Visit www.lbso.org for ticket prices

Call (562) 436-3203, Ext. 1 for more information

 

***Naples Boat Parade***

Saturday, December 11, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Naples Canals in Naples

FREE Admission

Call (562) 370-4988 for more information

 

***The American Festival***

Saturday, December 11 and Sunday, December 12, 9 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Seaport Marina Hotel, 6400 E. Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach

FREE Admission

Call (619) 865-5904 for more information