Thursday, February 19, 2015

Flowers, red banners and lanterns signal Lunar New Year's arrival

Last week we were buried in roses. This week, keep your eyes open for peonies, branches of flowering plum trees and lucky bamboo. These will decorate homes around the world as more than 1 billion people celebrate Lunar New Year.
"The Chinese new year is almost like a combination of Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's," said John Chen, a Charlotte resident who was born in China’s Sichuan province. "You visit friends and relatives and you eat. It's almost a nonstop thing."
The 15-day spring festival to kick off the year of the goat (or sheep, depending who you ask) began Thursday.
While Christians bring pine-scented trees home to celebrate their big winter event, Asians choose flowers for the spring festival as a symbol of renewal.
Families also hang garlands and red banners painted with good wishes. They eat special foods and follow other traditions to bring a year of health, prosperity and good fortune.
Yet the sentiment that keeps coming up when Chen talks about the festivities is reunion. “You socialize with family and friends – that’s the priority,” he said.
You eat noodles for longevity during those gatherings as well as soft, sweet dumplings. The round shape is a symbol for a smooth, satisfying year.
After time with your family, the community celebrates the final day together with a lantern festival, this year on March 5. You’ll see the red lanterns hanging outside near doorways or elsewhere.
“We are brightening up the evening,” he said. “Instead of fizzling it out, you celebrate going into the new year.”

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Even Cupid is going high-tech for Valentine's Day

Every Valentine's Day, my grade school teachers would give us a few minutes to pass out little red and pink greeting cards. Candy hearts with messages like 'Be Mine" were also a part of these swaps.
We'd end up with a pile of loot on our desks – a happy diversion from classwork. And now, it seems, that's changing.
Now we're more likely to have animated characters – with blinking eyes and beating hearts – delivered to our phones or in boxes. Some of them even sing to you.
Technology is redesigning our biggest commercial “holidays.”
If we get candy hearts, they could very easily have come from a transaction on Amazon.
Ninety-seven percent of the people in a recent survey said they would use smartphones or other devices to find gifts for Valentine’s Day this year, according to Verizon Wireless, which conducted the study. Eighty-two percent said they would also use those devices to get restaurant recommendations or reservations.
“It shows that people are continuing to embrace technology,” said Michael Swearingen, spokesman for Verizon.
E-cards and bouquets from may not be the best examples of ways that technology is connecting us with others. But when we’re separated from those we care about, dialing up with Facetime, Skype or Google Hangouts for an on-screen visit can be better than anything bought.
That’s because, even in grade school, half the fun of making your friends smile is being able to see it.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Consumers are weighing the benefits of 'smart' homes

There are all kinds of gadgets on store shelves now for automating your home. Using a smartphone, you can adjust the thermostat, turn up the heat and turn on the lights before you get out of bed.
With all those choices – and more – it seems we're most impressed with just one part of the “smart” home product catalogs: security systems.
That detail comes from a report by Mooresville-based Lowe’s home improvement store, which collected opinions from more than 2,000 people last year for its Smart Home Survey.
Sixty-two percent of those surveyed ranked security and home monitoring as the top benefit of smart-home technology.
Half of the respondents said their homes would be more secure with access to features such as locks that can be set remotely. Forty-six percent said they would want to monitor their property when they are away from home.
So while retailers are pushing to get technology onto their shelves to give us more conveniences and energy savings, many consumers are still deciding.
You probably can guess why there might be cautious excitement for the broader range of products. Cost is one reason.
For home monitoring, these consumers are less excited about systems that call for a monthly fee, according to the survey.
I’ve got to agree. I’ve been looking for a new security system for months to get around the bills that just keep going up. I just want a reliable, basic setup, maybe the type you install yourself.
I’ll keep trolling the aisles to find something that works. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of company as I do.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Smaller houses will be in the spotlight this year

This probably won't be the last time you hear about smaller living spaces this year. The fact is, there's a portion of the population that wants or needs less. That's especially true for millennials, according to a report from the National Association of Home Builders.
Income, housing costs, busy schedules, retirement and concern for the environment are factors pushing this trend forward, so it’s not just limited to people who became adults at the turn of the century.
So if you’re moving to a smaller space or considering it, you might appreciate these online resources:

  • Becoming Minimalist: The author of this blog, Joshua Becker, says the best things in life aren’t things. Becker writes about his family’s effort to change their focus from materialism.
  • National Association of Realtors: The association’s “Field Guide to the Small House Movement” is a compilation of links for those considering miniature homes. The association included a reminder that New Yorkers in Manhattan have lived in tiny spaces for decades.
  • Topics range from housing to decorating, recycling, storage and moving.
  • Forbes: Its article called “Downsizing The Family Home: What To Do With All The Stuff?” gives practical advice that might be helpful as you plan and make a move.
  • Kyle Schuneman's "The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces" includes examples of decor for small spaces. One of his makeovers is shown in the picture above. (Photo by Joe Schmelzer) 

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, January 22, 2015

To look after Earth, start in your backyard

Make your backyard a better home for wildlife this year. That's one of the things we all can do for the environment, says Earnie McLaney. Planting trees is another.
But that's not enough, says McLaney, president of Charlotte Reconnecting Ourselves With Nature, or CROWN. We also need to make sure to look after the other natural resources that are special to us, including farms, waterways and parks.
McLaney sent out an email blast last week asking people to get involved in protecting the places we would want our grandchildren to enjoy one day.
His letter is a response to two bills on EPA policy that are moving through Congress.
McLaney’s views on those proposals – H.R.1422 and H.R.4012 – are not the subject here. He does want to remind us that we need a healthy ecosystem for our survival, just like the creatures outside. That means we need to pay attention as changes take place in the agencies we’ve put in charge of protecting it.
So devote some time to making your backyard more welcoming to wildlife. But save some time for working with your neighbors through environmental groups in our area.
He suggests the N.C. Conservation Network, N.C. Audubon, Catawba Riverkeeper and Catawba Land Conservancy. CROWN, the organization McLaney leads, is a local chapter for the N.C. Wildlife Federation.
Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

These apps help you stop junk mail, live "greener"

Your smartphone or tablet can become a tool for cutting household waste and making choices that are better for the environment and perhaps your health.
Apps for “green” living are becoming more popular and useful. These are worth a try:
PaperKarma makes it easier to stop junk mail from filling your mailbox, your home and ultimately the landfill. Take a photo of the pesky mailer you want to stop. PaperKarma goes to work to remove you from the mailing list.
Good Guide gives you ratings on eco-friendly products, including shampoos, cosmetics and cleaning products. Scan the bar code to see pros and cons for the contents.
iRecycle helps you find places and ways to recycle more than 350 materials. Batteries, construction waste, household items, and garden and hazardous waste are some of the items it can help with.
Go Green, shown at left, offers tips for a greener lifestyle, with a new idea popping up each time you open the app. Also get a “green” rating for yourself, based on your habits.
Sierra Club Trail Explorer has information on more than 40,000 trails in North America. Use the app to compile trail lists and write reviews. With an account on, you can also sync to GPS.

Mark your calendar
The Greater Charlotte Home & Landscape Show will be Jan. 23-25 at Cabarrus Arena & Events Center, 4751 N.C. 49, Concord. Jason Cameron, host for DIY Network’s “Sledgehammer,” and “Desperate Landscapes,” will host free seminars.
Karen’s blog:; on Twitter: @sullivan_kms

Friday, January 9, 2015

This school is for learning about honeybees

The school run by the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association has been around at least 12 years, and Jodie Rierson is Bee School principal.
It takes a special person to aspire to that position. Rierson, who’ll welcome a new class of students Jan. 13, has been fascinated with honeybees since childhood. The honey she now harvests from her four backyard hives is one reason she continues to enjoy them. And she finds much more to admire about these communal creatures.
“It’s how smart they are,” said Rierson, 51, an association member for three years. “It’s incredible to me that they take the nectar from flowers and they cure the honey, they fan and evaporate the water out of it, they ripen it and cap it. How do they do all of that?”
Honeybees also pollinate plants that produce our food. Colonies have been declining, so Rierson was pleased to welcome more than 100 people – grade-schoolers to seniors – to the school last year to learn how to care for bees and manage hives of their own.
The class costs $70 and will take place 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays, Jan. 13-March 17, at Providence Baptist Church, 4921 Randolph Road. To sign up, register online at
Build, Remodel and Landscape Expo has returned 
The 16th annual Build, Remodel and Landscape Expo continues Jan. 10 and 11 Saturday and Sunday at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the show, which started Friday.
The show includes hundreds of exhibitors (remodelers, designers and landscapers), along with seminars and demonstrations. For more information, visit

Karen’s blog:; Twitter: @sullivan_kms