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