Best Canon Lenses for Portraits – Best Gifts for Photographers

The Holiday Season is right around the corner, and that means fantastic sales! It also means fighting for parking space and waiting in lines only to find out that the things you wanted to get for your friends and loved ones aren’t in stock.

This is where on-line shopping comes into play.

Not only do you not have to deal with the undue stress that comes with shopping at the malls, but you can be guaranteed that what you want to buy I in stock. On-line companies have even gone one step further by offering steep discounts on high-demand items.

So what do you get for your favorite photographer? Well, there are a bunch of lenses that Canon has out on the market this year, and they make the perfect gift for the person who loves taking pictures, but may not have the special attachments to take those detailed, wide angle, long distance, or even underwater shots. Canon Lenses are by far the most adaptable and widely used by professional photographers and home users alike.

Let’s take a look at a few of the great lenses Canon is offering during the Holiday Season.

The Canon Ef 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens

Most users and reviewers sum this lens up as being “outstanding.” The Canon Ef 85mm has an extremely sharp focus, which makes it ideal for portrait shots. The Ef 85mm also gives you control in low lighting, as well as giving you fantastic depth-of-field ranges. It’s a little on the heavy side, but the Canon Ef 85mm is easily portable, durable, and well worth the money.

Pros: Extremely durable; Fast & accurate auto-focus; incredible depth of field

Cons: Bulky; A little on the high-end

The Canon EF 180mm f3.5 Macro USM AutoFocus Telephoto Lens

This is by far one of the best telephoto lenses for beginners and professionals alike. The Canon EF 180mm AF Telephoto Lens is rugged and durable (perfect for photojournalists, nature photographers, and outdoor events), but comes packed with features. The EF 180mm has a long macro lens, which is fantastic for getting your subject matter in full detail at long ranges. The Canon EF 180mm will work at long ranges for both long zoom and close-up shots, and will also allow you to de-focus the background to let your subject matter stand out.

Pros: Ultra-sharp imagery; Superior design

Cons: Heavy; Comes with 72c adapter for macro flashes

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras

The EF 70-200mm USM Lens comes from Canon’s Luxury Lens Series.Known for being extremely durable, the Canon EF 70-200mm USM is also very lightweight and portable, with metal mountings.

This Canon L-Series Lens is perfect for taking incredible shots of moving objects – birds, cars, players at a sporting event, kids running through the house. The Canon EF70-200mm’s built-in Ultra Sonic motor allows you to take clear and sharp pictures of moving object, while allowing you to toggle between auto and manual focus, so you don’t have to worry about missing any of the action while fiddling with settings.

Pros: Fast auto-focus; 4-Stop IS; Incredibly sharp images; Superior design and quality; Lightweight

Cons: A little on the pricey side – until you see the quality of your pictures

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8   Tilt  Shift Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

With the Canon TS-E 90mm Lens, you have complete control over the  tilt , shift, and rotate adjustments. This means that you can place your subject matter at the angle your want, form the position you are in to take a picture.

The  Tilt  option of the Canon TS-E 90mm allows you to adjust which objects are in and out of focus while taking a portrait shot. The Shift option gives you control over perspective distortion So if you want things to be enhanced or corrected, you can take care of that by using this lens, rather than dealing with photography software after you’ve already taken your picture. The Rotate function gives you complete control over the sharpness of the focus then taking specific portraits.

Pros: Ultra-sharp images; Superior design and lens quality; Consistent picture quality

Cons: According to reviews and users, there aren’t any.

The Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

This is without a doubt the best Canon portrait lens on the market today, combining blindingly fast focus speed and pinpoint accuracy. The Canon EF 135mm has response functionality, such that you can get focused on your subject matter in microseconds.

Portraits come out ultra-sharp, and you can use the Canon EF 135mm to blur anything within a 3-foot radius of your subject matter. This means your portrait shots will come out crystal clear, and no one will be distracted by anything other than your subject matter.

The EF 135mm from Canon is light and portable, making it easy for taking wherever you go. The Canon EF 135mm is a fantastic multi-purpose lens, but in the field of portrait shots, the EF 135mm gets nothing but rave reviews from professional and consumer photographers alike.

Pros: Super-fast focus; Ultra-sharp images; Full field-of-view focus control

Cons: None!

This is just a handful of the Canon lenses on the market for the Holiday Season. There are ten in total, but this is a good overview of a few of the best. The great thing is, that even with the Black Friday rush, many dealers are offering these lenses (and the rest in the Canon line) at up to 40% Off the in-store and catalog prices.

5 Tips Help You Buy Car Sun Shades

1. Is there a standard size?

That’s a perfectly rational question, as windshields come in a variety of dimensions. A car sun shade won’t fit the windshield of an 18-wheeler. The dimensions for standard size are 24″ x 58″ and fits most compact to mid-size vehicles, while the dimensions for the large are 27″ x 67″ and are perfect for SUVs and RVs. Its best to start by measuring your car’s front windshield to determine the exact size you need.

2. Should I still buy them if I already have tinted windows?

Yes, yes and yes. Now we cannot stress this point enough. The fact is that even if your windows are tinted all the way around, if you tint your car’s entire front windshield you’re screwed – your car is pretty much useless. At best most front windshield tints only cover a tiny sliver at the top, leaving about 95% of your windshield and dashboard exposed to direct UV rays and merciless heat. Until manufacturers find a way to install transition lenses as front windshields, drivers will have to rely on the car sun shield is.

No matter how much your other car windows are tinted, the majority of heat and damage will come through at the front, while your backseat passengers get hit with a blast of heat the moment they open the car door. Eventually you will have to replace your car’s entire dashboard when it becomes cracked along with any electronics and gadgets in your vehicle that got fried. Online retailers make it affordable and easy to own car sun shields, so you can pay almost nothing for a car accessory that will protect your largest investment apart from your home.

3. Do they really work?

Yes, feel free to try them sometime.

4. I have a car sun shade with one side reflective and the other side matte white. Which side of my car sun shade is supposed to face out?

Most shiny surfaces reflect both light and heat, while matte surfaces absorb light and heat. Initially the answer might not seem so obvious but it’s the reflective or shiny side of your sun shield. Note to the rookie, please make a point of removing your sun shade before driving off into the sunset.

5. Which design is best?

Now this one is perhaps the easiest question of all. All of them, from charming Eyes Sun Shades that make your car come to life, to Zebra Stripes that bring out your wild side. With a cornucopia of innovative car sun shades out there you can’t go wrong.

All About Hurricane Shutters

Hurricane shutters are a necessity if you live anywhere near a coastline. Your home needs protection from the elements, especially tropical storms. Hurricane force winds can devastate a house and blow in the windows, causing waves of water to rush in and destroy all of your possessions. Hurricane shutters also protect the windows form flying objects blown around by the high force winds.

Sure, you can store particle board by the slat in your garage and nail them up when the red warning flags go up. But that is time consuming and can rip the window frames. It usually takes several people. You have to climb ladders, haul up the pieces of wood and nail them to your windows. Then after the storm, you have to climb the ladder, rip out the nails, take down the particle board, if it is salvageable, and figure our where to store it in a waterproof area. Investing in hurricane shutters is in the long run a much better plan of action.

If you live within 30 miles of a coastline in from Florida to Maine or California to Washington State, or along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, hurricane shutters are highly recommended as a first line of defense against tropical and hurricane force winds. You never know when one will be headed your direction. It is better to be prepared.

Hurricane shutters can add retail value to your home. Purchasing them may even get you a discount in your home insurance policy payments. You need to verify that with your agent. When you have these shutters installed, it lets people know you care about your house, you want to protect it’s contents and you take the maintenance of your home seriously. There are several varieties:

Storm panel shutters come in steel or aluminum and close over the windows Some use tracks to slide the panels over the windows. Others just used bolts to secure the shutters over the windows. Panels, like wood do require storage. So even though they are the least expensive at $7-$10 dollars a square foot, they are a hassle to take on and off.

Accordion shutters permanently attach to the sides of the windows, but are often not very aesthetically pleasing. Still, they are very effective and cost between $16-$20 per square foot.

The colonial slatted variety are expensive, but also the most pleasing looking shutters. They are easy to put in place by one person and takes about 15-45 minutes to secure an entire house full of windows. They run between $18-$30 per square foot to purchase.

Roll down shutters store in a box directly above the window similar to a shade, just a heck of a lot stronger. They even come with an automatic, battery operated mechanism that lowers them at a push of a button. The most expensive of all, they run around $35- $50 per square foot. They are also the most vandal proof, which can be worth considering when you have to evacuate.

Finally there are Bahama-style shutters that are made of metal and are permanently attached to the top of the windows. When open they act as a sort of   awning . They are held open by bars then are easy to close and bolt shut when the wind warnings come. They cost about the same as the colonial hurricane shutters but are not as strong.

Whichever style you choose, hurricane shutters area worthwhile investment. The home is the single most expensive investment most people will ever make. Hurricane shutters give you a peace of mind that in times of high winds and water, it is well protected.

17 Inch Laptop Bags – Tips & Advice

You’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a laptop, which to most is a large chunk of cash, and the one important thing you must do is protect it. A laptop bag itself is extremely cheap in comparison to a laptop itself; it only makes sense to purchase one! If you are planning to take your laptop anywhere a laptop bag can be a very convenient and protective means of transportation.

When in the market for purchasing a laptop bag, you will have to ask yourself a few questions before going out and purchasing blindly. Researching anything before purchasing it can save you from many mistakes and frustrations. A simple Google search about what you’re thinking about buying can do a lot of good.

The first question you are going to want to ask yourself is what size laptop do you have? If you purchase a bag that is too small, your laptop obviously won’t fit in it and that bag won’t do you any good! Whereas if you purchase a bag that is too large for your laptop, it will be able to move around and could crash into hard objects causing it damage.

The focus of this article are the 17 inch laptop bags. These are the more rare bags as the 15.4 inch laptops are the most common size you will find. They are easy to find online, but if you are purchasing 17 inch laptop bags from a store you may want to call ahead and see if they stock them. If they don’t, you may have to do your shopping online.

You’re also going to want to question how many accessories do you have? There are so many things that a bag can carry, but if you don’t have all of those items it’s not necessary to get the most decked out, compact, efficient bag you can find. When you find one that fits your needs you are saving yourself some money! With 17 inch laptop bags the increase in the size of the bag will usually allow ample space for placing all the accessories you can think of into it.

The last thing you will want to become aware of is you cannot sacrifice quality for fashion! There are huge amounts of great looking bags out there, but be weary if they are a bit on the low priced side. While sometimes you can find a bargain, but you most often get what you pay for. It won’t look so good if you’ve bought a cheap bag and you’re carrying around your laptop looking good when all of the sudden it tears open that little hole that started to form and drops your precious computer on the   pavement ! Be smart, quality first!

Ten Most Desired Tourist Attractions in Australia

The names that come across one’s mind while speaking about Australia tourist attractions are Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Barrier Reef and many more. Visiting the different cities of Australia is a great experience in itself. Vacation at one of the top ten Australia tourist attractions literally means experiencing great shopping, great food and exciting entertainment. Nevertheless the scenic natural surroundings that these Australia attractions offer are mind blowing. Ten most desired tourist attractions include Fraser Island, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Great Barrier Reef, Scenic World, Jamison Valley, Kakadu National Park, Sydney Opera House, Port Arthur, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Amp Tower Centrepoint, National Gallery of Australia etc.

Fraser Island:

Fraser Island has become the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. The tourists would be enthralled to see the lush rain forests, fresh water lakes, eye catching sand cliffs and many more at the Fraser Island. Dingo population is one of the factors that draws the tourists towards it. Moreover the vast stretch of white sandy beaches add to the beauty of the place and increase its credibility as a major tourist attraction in Australia.

Sydney Harbor Bridge:

Sydney Harbor Bridge has been one of the major tourist attraction in Australia through ages. It is a very rare phenomenon that a tourist visiting Australia has not visited the famous bridge. At the foot of the bridge one can see “The Rocks” placed which are considered as the birthplace of Sydney. A brave tourist can also take a walk up to the top of the bridge with an escort.

Great Barrier Reef:

One of the most visited tourist spots in Australia is the Great Barrier Reef which is also considered as the most well protected marine site in the whole world. The Reef stretches along 86 million acres along the North East Australian Coast. A tourist can enjoy the superb natural beauty offered by this marine site. The place bears a mark of historical significance because of the 30 shipwrecks that have been found here.

Jamison Valley:

Famous for the steepest cable car journey of the entire Southern Hemisphere, through a picturesque locale, the Jamison Valley attracts a number of tourists from across the world. One can enjoy a memorable ride in a glass floored cable car through the picturesque valley and enjoy the beauty of the Katoomba Falls, Three Sisters Rock formation etc.

Kakadu National Park:

Kakadu National Park is also a World Heritage site and a most visited tourist attraction in Australia. Covering about five million acres in the Australia’s Northern Territory, this site is the home of about 300 Aboriginals. One can find the Aboriginals residing among the Savannah Woodlands and Tidal Wetlands.

Sydney Opera House:

Constructed by the famous Danish architect John Utzon in the twentieth century, this Opera House is a world famous tourist attraction drawing a number of tourists from across the world. A tourist can take a tour of the backstage and the front of the house.

Port Arthur:

This a prison that happens to be a tourist attraction where visitors can take a guided tour. The doors of the prison are passable through both ways and this unique feature adds to the attraction of this prison. This prison house is one of the extremely notorious penal colonies in Australia housing as young as nine year old prisoners.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park:

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a famous tourist attraction in Australia noted for being the largest rock monolith in the world. According to the Aboriginal people this rock was created at the time of the creation of the Universe. Uluru was previously known as the Ayres Rock.

Amp Tower Centrepoint:

Amp Tower Centrepoint is situated at the height of 1000 feet and is the tallest building in the city which gives awesome views from the observation deck and from the revolving restaurant situated at the top of the building.

National Gallery of Australia:

National Gallery of Australia is the house of some of Australia’s finest art collections which are more than 10000. Here one can see glimpses of the international works and exhibitions of photography.

Visit these ten most desired tourist attractions while touring Australia and enjoy the uniqueness and individuality that each of these tourist spots offer.

Coming To America But Not Made In The USA – Honda, Toyota Are Coming And You’re Paying The Toll

Local value added economies that once energized a vast middle class in the USA are being destroyed. Local value added economies that produced the awesome industrial might that won World War 2 and help restore other local economies around the world has been chopped up into pieces and sent around the world. Now we are paying economic bribes to bring some of the pieces back to the USA. In essence tariffs have been taken off products and put on workers.

The states of Ohio and Indiana competed for the new Honda auto   assembly  plant. This comes after more than 400,000 U.S. auto workers have lost their jobs. The Made in the USA label is gone. They call it Built in the USA now. They should call it Only Assembled in the USA. The parts come from the wage slave labor markets of the world. Workers in Central America make only 50 cents an hour. When they try to organize, they lose their jobs with some losing more.

Ohio had offered Honda $78 million dollars to come to Ohio. Indiana offered Honda about $56 million dollars to come to their state. Plus, Indiana will spend another $100 million dollars to build roads etc. to support the Honda facility. This means, Indiana is spending over $100,000 for each job. Indiana “won” the deal.

This comes at a time when about 20,000 auto parts workers have lost their jobs in Indiana. In their place, Honda is hiring 2,000  assembly  workers. This is a net loss of about 18,000 workers. Obviously this does not make any sense. On top of this one city in Indiana paid out $10 million dollars to entice Honda to come. The money comes from their share in gambling casinos. So like tax payers, gamblers are paying money to lose their jobs too.

The State of Georgia is paying KIA $400 million dollars to have KIA build their  assembly  plant in their state. It adds up to about $200, 000 for each job. Many workers at Toyota in Kentucky say they have been betrayed. Full time workers have been replaced by part time workers and temporary workers who make much less – about $13 an hour. In 1970, a brand new medium size car like a Mercury Montego cost about $3,600 brand new. A first class postage stamp cost 8 cents. There were plenty of $10,000 to $15,000 a year jobs. Today the same car costs about five times more just like a first class stamp. This means there should be plenty of $50,000 to $75,000 a year jobs but they no longer exist. Two workers in a family are happy to make that much today. In the inner cities, workers are making much less. In Cleveland Ohio, Wal-Mart got more than 6,000 applicants for about 400 jobs. These jobs only average about $11 an hour which means most of the new workers make much less. The Wal-Mart store was built where steel factories once were. It seems like a sacrilege. In Chicago, Wal-Mart got about 25,000 applicants for about the same number of jobs at each store. This proves there is a vast underclass trying to survive.

Reportedly 50 percent of Honda, Toyota and Nissan auto parts are made in the USA. However, this percentage most likely includes sub-contractors from outside the USA. These foreign auto assemblers farm out the auto parts to contractors who in turn use sub-contractors. Some parts like pistons and valves are machined abroad. 25 percent of the transmissions are imported too. Honda workers in India are protesting for the right to organize. For many years, workers in other countries have tried to organize without much success. Many organizers have lost more than their jobs. How can any employer live off the working poor in this country and destitute workers abroad? In the Free Enterprise system, workers should enjoy a living wage but now owners and employers are far from the places where the work is done.

Once upon a time, companies in the USA who employed 5000 workers were considered to be small to medium size companies. The stock market rewarded companies who increased their work force with an added value for their stocks when worker once meant growth etc. Now , workers are fired for the sake of stock values and productivity is based on the same thing – cutting workers. Then when companies need workers, they complained there are no experience workers to find.

The first assault on American auto companies took out more than 400,000 auto workers. More than 700,000 workers have lost their jobs in steel. Now workers are paying taxes that are used to replace their jobs. This is the New World DisOrder of the Dysfunctional Globalists.

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Home Audio Systems

When choosing a home audio system, you will come across many options. Due to this fact, making a sound decision can become overwhelming and confusing. Without some first hand knowledge of how home audio systems are put together it is doubtful that you will end up with the best audio system for your money. It would be beneficial to do a bit a research before venturing out to that electronics store for the very first time. Here are some tips and strategies that may be helpful in your quest for the perfect home audio system.

When building an audio system you will have a choice of different components related to the system. Some of the components you are able to choose from would be a amplifier, a tuner, a hi-fi CD player, a turntable, a cassette deck, possibly a DVD player, video cassette recorder, a laser disc or a mini disc recorder as well. Though some of these components are outdated and may not be as popular as others, they are still used on occasion depending upon your personal preference. One of the most important components out of that list would be the hi-fi CD player. When choosing what CD player to purchase you will have a choice of many different brands and features. A few consumer grade Hi Fi CD Players include NAD, JVC, Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood, Sharp, Aiwa, and RCA. These are durable, popular brands for the consumer and are usually moderately priced. There are other brands that are considered on the high end of hi-fi CD players. Some of these brands include Harmon Kardon, Onyko, Denon, Carver and a few others. These are on the higher scale when speaking of price and are usually purchased for professional use or for someone who is well versed on electronics.

If you have found a brand of CD player for your home audio system that you are interested in, make sure that the system includes the features you may be interested in also. There are CD players that also include a DVD feature, there are CD systems that also record, there are CD changers that will accommodate more than one CD, some hold up to 500 CDs, and most if not all Hi Fi CD Players will include a remote control with the system. Some other features that may be included but are a lot less common than a remote would be music calendar, headphone jack with a volume control, and a fader just to name a few. An important feature that you do want to make sure is included with your hi-fi CD player is an optical output. An optical output carries a digital signal instead of a typical analog sound. You will have limited background noise and enjoy a much better sound with the optical output vs. the analog sound.

Now that you have a bit of insight on the world of home audio systems and Hi Fi CD Players, you can make a better and more informed decision than if you did not have the information that was covered here. Remember to ask questions and if you do not understand something at first explanation ask that it be explained again. Most people don’t realize just how involved a purchase like this is, but you should feel more confident now that you have some background on the subject. Take your time, choose wisely and you will be enjoying your new home audio system for a long time to come.

Autism Isn’t Fair to Me! Promoting Positive Feelings Among Siblings

If you have more than one child, do they compete for your attention? Do you detect jealousy that you would rather not see? Does the amount of bickering among your children and lobbying for No. 1 position concern you as a parent? Welcome to the world of parenting!

In addition to that, if you have a child with special needs that requires extra time, money and attention, you unfortunately increase the risk that normal sibling resentment will impact your household. No matter how secure your other children are their individual temperaments and personalities can make them more susceptible to feelings of envy when their sibling has Autism. Warding off feelings of jealousy or rivalry when one child may need more attention than another can be emotionally draining for parents of autistic children.

Every child, regardless of ability or disability unconsciously competes with their siblings to define who they are as individuals. On their path toward self-discovery, all children want to show they are separate from their brothers and sisters and want to be recognized for their specific talents.

If children feel they are getting unequal amounts of attention or acknowledgement from their parents they often start to compete to prove their worth or withdraw into themselves. Thoughts such as, “What about me?” or “It’s not fair!” can rattle around in a child’s head to fester and develop into behavior problems. Wondering what you can do to promote more positive feelings?

Here are some tips that will help you promote healthy relationships in your children and reduce jealousy and rivalry among siblings.

1) Promote connection among siblings yet allow for separateness as well: Finding a good balance between having your children spend time together and away from each other is an important challenge for parents to take on.

– Plan family activities that are fun for everyone. When kids have good experiences together, it acts as a buffer when they come into conflict. It’s easier to work it out with someone you share warm memories with.

– Help your children find their own space. Make sure each child has enough time and space of their own. Kids need chances to do their own thing, play with their own friends without their sibling, and they need to have their space and property protected.

– Avoid putting your neuro-typical child in a position of responsibility for their sibling on the Autism spectrum. Short time periods and emergency situations aside, asking a young child to watch over their special needs sibling is too much to ask for and can trigger anxieties in addition to feelings of jealousy or hate.

2) Dole out love on many levels: Young children actually believe there is a finite resource of love. Therefore, young children can seem desperate to keep it all for themselves and they don’t understand that love can grow exponentially. Make it clear that there’s enough love to go around for everybody.

– Label your “alone time” with each child as it occurs. When you spend one-on-one time with any of your children refer to it as “mommy & me time” or “dad time” so they actually realize what is happening. Try to spend at least a few minutes each day. It’s amazing how much even just five minutes of uninterrupted time can mean to your child.

– Take some time to create unique and meaningful rituals for connecting with each child – different games or activities that speak to your common interests, special pet names, mystery passwords, or secret handshakes.

3) Explore raw feelings: Remember as children voice their opinions they think abstractly but talk in absolutes. They are usually not very subtle. Being slightly annoyed by their autistic brother becomes “I HATE HER! I WISH SHE WAS DEAD!”

– When in the heat of the moment: DON’T diminish or dismiss such statements with “You don’t really want mean that. You love your sister.” Instead, breathe deeply and validate her strong feelings with an empathic stance like “Wow. She really made you angry, huh?” Let the steam blow off and don’t rush to make ‘nice’ immediately. Resolving conflicts should wait until later when tempers have eased.

– When things are calm: DO check in during private moments to safely explore how your kids feel about each other. Ask them what they like most and least about each other. Encourage them to say whatever they want, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Just notice, don’t judge the negatives and focus on the positive things they hopefully express and affirm their ability to recognize them. This is a great way to help them vent and allows you to keep tabs on their feelings about their relationships.

4) Stay away from direct competition: Don’t set siblings up to compete with each other directly. If your children are drawn to the same activities allow them to pursue them but be careful not to set them up to be adversaries with each other very often.

– Set your kids up to cooperate rather than compete. Have them race the clock together to pick up toys, instead of racing each other. How fast can you do this together? Give them a brief amount of time to plan a strategy – this promotes great teamwork.

– When alone OR together with your children, do not use comparisons as compliments to pump up one of your child’s egos at the expense of the other (i.e. “Wow, you’re so good at math. Joey’s nowhere as good at math as you”). This is NEVER a good way to promote bonding among siblings.

Remember that tired, hungry or bored kids are more likely to become overly sensitive and perceive degrees of parental attention as unfair. Treating your children impartially is important but it is not the same as treating them equally. As your children “see” you meeting their needs, they will come to realize that you are doing your best but they also need to “feel” it. This is where listening, genuine listening and connecting to each child is important. If each of your children feels heard then they truly know you care and this has the power to reduce or diffuse any negative emotions towards each other.

Educational Benefits of Playing With Wooden Puzzles

Wooden Puzzles are an important learning tool that can be used with children to enhance child development. The following are just a few of the many benefits that can be gained when using this incredibly well rounded learning tool.


* capture attention

* motivate participation

* stimulate conversation

* can be challenging without being overwhelming

* encourage success

* encourage independence and self esteem

Puzzles are a Self Correcting Learning Tool

When Children attempt to place a puzzle piece in it’s place it will only fit if it is placed properly in the right space. The act of manipulating each piece, turning it and testing the fit, is the way children learn to problem solve and develop critical thinking.

Language Skills

Puzzles offer children an opportunity to develop many language skills. When a child asks for a certain piece they will often describe what they are looking for. For example, the round piece, the blue bumpy piece, etc. Puzzles are often used when working with Autistic children who have delayed speech ability as a playful tool to encourage speech.

Math Skills

Puzzles teach children several basic math concepts as well. While working with a puzzle children learn to categorize and organize pieces while doing that they are able to classify and label the pieces as well.

Eye-Hand Coordination

Wooden puzzles build eye-hand coordination. The ability to coordinate what the eye sees, the mind wants to do, and what the hands can accomplish takes a lot of practice. Puzzles offer an enjoyable way to practice this skill while encouraging independence.

Fine Motor Ability

Puzzles offer a fun way to develop fine motor ability. Children need to develop strength in the muscles in their fingers so that they can grasp things and hold onto them. This will later give them the ability to hold a pencil.

Social Skills

Wooden Puzzles offer opportunities to expand social skills as well. When children work cooperatively to complete a puzzle they engage in conversation. They develop a plan to solve the puzzle, they take turns and help each other solve problems as they arise.

Developing Persistence

When a child works on a puzzle until completion the child is developing persistence. Once the puzzle is solved the child can feel a sense of accomplishment which boosts his independence and self esteem.

Adaptable and Abstract Thinking

Children use adaptable thinking and deductive reasoning skills when they find different ways to put the pieces together. They gain the ability to think abstractly when they are able to see negative space, like the space where a puzzle piece may fit, and figure out what type of shape would be needed to fill that space.

Spur Imagination and Creativity

Playing with mosaic puzzles encourages imagination and creativity. The colors and shapes of the mosaic pieces serve to stimulate brain cells and encourage prolonged interest when arranging the pieces in endless designs.

In conclusion, wooden puzzles like the ones offered at are an incredible learning tools. I believe that of all the educational toys, wooden puzzles are the most versatile and well rounded learning tool you can purchase for your child because they offer a host of valuable educational benefits that support child development.

Other Peoples Homes – Casa Rocca Piccola, Valleta, Malta

Yes, I put my hands up. I admit it. I have an insatiable appetite for looking into other peoples homes.

No. I am not a “Peeping Tom”. When I looked up the definition of “Peeping Tom” in my Collins Concise Dictionary and Thesaurus I am told that Peeping Tom is a man who furtively observes women undressing. That is definitely not me. But, yes, I do confess to glancing furtively sideways when out walking to see how much I can see through any windows not shrouded with window nets. I prefer to think I am inquisitive, having a natural curiosity to find out what puts the soul into a home… what, inspires people and what treasures (or sometimes not) are hidden behind the front door.

Thankfully I can, legitimately, indulge my curiosity, because there are so many beautiful houses and gardens open to the public to visit both in this country and abroad.

On a recent summer trip to Gozo with my husband we decided to take the ferry back to Malta and drive into Valetta. There I found the Casa Rocca Piccola, at 74 Republic Street, the 16th century home of a Maltese nobleman. It is now the home of the 9th Marquis de Piro and his family. Frances, the Marchioness is English and it is her who greets you as you walk through the front door. The history of Casa Rocca Piccola goes back over 400 years to an era in which the Knights of St. John, having successfully fought off the invading Turks in 1565, decided to build themselves a prestigious city to rival European capitals. The house is named after the first owner, Don Pietro La Rocca, Admiral of the Order of St. John in the Langue of Italy. It was, in later years, let to a succession of Italian aristocratic knights and sold to a Maltese nobleman in the second half of the 18th century.

Casa Rocca Piccola is not a museum: it is, in a sense, more than that. It is a living relic of a past way of life burdened with the pretension and aspirations of Maltese lineage. There are numerous items of memorabilia to be seen, not only for their artistic merit, but also because they contribute reality to the overall scene.

Climbing the ornate marble staircase you will see, dominating the top landing a carved wood de Piro coat of arms. This was the last work of the Maltese artist Edward Pirotta. Hanging above is an enormously intricate chandelier from Bohemia. The first room to be visited on your tour is the Chapel in which the walls are painted to simulate damask. There are two crosses on the alter: an ivory crucifix that was granted two hundred days indulgence by Cardinal Godfrey in 1960. The second cross houses a particle of the True Cross behind a little red curtain. Its authenticity is confirmed by no less than seven Vatican seals on the reverse. As was the case with most European noble families it was the custom for the younger son to become a priest and for that reason in particular, many patrician families were given the privilege of keeping a chapel in the house. The Marquis’s grandfather represented George VI and his medals are kept here together with an exquisite pair of shoes known as Papal buskins and a pair of silver filigree earrings, a present from the Bishop of Gozo to Nicolina de Piro after her husband donated land to build the famous Ta’Pinu church in Gozo.

On next to the Green Room where the walls are indeed green! Here there is a magnificent marquetry bookcase that especially caught my eye. Made in about 1640 during the reign of the French Provencal Grand Master Lascaris it bears his arms on the door. The panels are inlayed inside and outside. A fascinating work of art. I was told that the veneer was a mix of olive and orange wood. There are many portraits hung on the walls and proudly placed is a photograph of the 8th Baron and Baroness who attended the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Moving on to the Four- Poster bedroom, the only room in the house not in use, the bed is a showpiece reputed to be great-grandmother Orsola’s matrimonial bed. Married in 1867 she produced 9 children: 7 boys and 2 girls. They all survived childhood and so the bed is considered lucky!

The next room is the Porphyr Room so called because the walls were at one time painted to imitate porphyry marble; then the Blue Room or petit salon with modern pictures collected by the family. Among them works by Annigoni, The Rathmells, Rowley-Smart and Durer. The style of the Dining Room that once had an open terrace overlooking the small garden contrasts with the rest of the house and is considered a “folly”. Built by the current family’s Grandfather in 1918 its white pillars and light aspect certainly make it very different to the rest of the house. It gives the impression of being a conservatory because of its lightness and airiness.A trompe l’oeil of a Spanish woman playing a harp on a black and white tiled floor produces an exaggerated perspective that gives the impression that the room is longer. The last room is the Carriage Room that was once a stable for a mule but, going back, perhaps my favourite room is the Library. Here I found what can only be described as the most outstanding piece of furniture imaginable. A portable chapel. When shut it looks for all the world like a large black lacquered bureau however, it opens up to become a fully functioning chapel with it own tabernacle, relics and the Way of the Cross. It is richly decorated with pictures of exotic birds and flora and panels depicting St. Francis Zavier in Japan and Goa. The idea was that you could have a Chapel in any room of your house and then it could be closed up to look like a secular piece of furniture. An absolutely breathtaking piece.

One of the treasures of the house I must not forget to mention though is a golden sedan chair made for the Knight of Malta, Fra Victor Nicolas de Vachon Belmont reputed to be a romantic figure who led his men personally, oh, and lastly “April” the family tortoise to be found in the small garden. Interestingly Casa Rocca Piccola was one of the few houses at the time of the knights to be allowed a garden. It was a great privilege for its owners as water was scarce and gardens were technically forbidden.

So, if you ever find yourself strolling down Republic Street in Valletta, Casa Rocca Piccola gives you a rare opportunity to see inside one of the last private unconverted Valletta palaces still lived in today. It comes highly recommended to anyone like myself, with a curiosity and inquisitive appetite to see inside other peoples homes.

Painters – Why You Need Them

When deciding to renew and refresh the exterior of your residential home, finding a professional and reliable  painter  can be an intimidating or exhausting process. Some homeowners will simply decide to tackle the job on their own. However, a professional  painter  can significantly reduce the time and cost associated with internal or external jobs.

Some of the things that must be taken into consideration when painting your home are whether or not you want to do the entire house, cleaning and preparation of the surface, choosing the paint type, and proper application. You should also keep in mind the time of year and weather because too much sun or freezing temperatures can undo all of your hard work. Some of the common problems encountered when painting the exterior of a house include peeling, alligatoring, blistering, wrinkling, chalking, mildew, running sags, and pain that just won’t dry. Choosing the proper high-quality paint for the job will go a long way to reducing headaches and time.

Paint selection is a very important process and it is essential to consider a few factors before moving forward. What is the exterior surface material made of? What type of final finish does the homeowner desire? What was used on the house in the past? Does the contractor prefer the ease of latex application or durability of alkyd-based paints?

The first step that a  painter  tackles is preparation of the house exterior. Whether the siding simply needs a brisk hose wash or a more thorough brushing and peeling depends on the current state of the existing paint job. Be sure to inspect each corner and crevice carefully. Look under the eaves and window frames. Spending a little more time on this initial step may seem exhausting, but will go a long way to improving the final results. You may need to scrape, sand, melt, or use a liquid paint remover to help prep the surface. A good one also ensures that rust stains are removed, leaks are repaired, loose caulking is replaced, cracks in the siding are filled, and mildew is cleaned off.

There are a number of specific tips and techniques to ensure you get the most even color and overall coverage with your exterior job. A professional  painter  will follow the movement of the sun over the course of the day and, if possible, work in the shade after the moisture has evaporated. It is also important to try and finish an entire side or section before stopping for the day. Uneven layers and drying may result if you split up one area over two or more days.

Final steps for a  painter  involve the more detailed and often time-consuming work of painting exterior trim. Tips to make the job go faster and look better include working from the top down, ensuring new caulking is dry before painting, scraping off drips and spatters as you work, removing storm windows to paint them separately, removing doorknobs and latch plates before painting the door, properly cleaning and priming gutters and downspouts, and using appropriate materials for decorative pieces such as ornamental metal or porch railings.

Candle Chandeliers

 Chandeliers  have a classical elegance about them, and of all the  chandeliers  available, the candle  chandelier  “takes the cake” because of its lighting. Whatever the make of the candle  chandelier –wrought iron, crystal or antler–candles are fitted to it create a warm, romantic and inviting atmosphere. An incandescent candle  chandelier , with shadows flickering around it, is truly a spectacular sight. These  chandeliers  also give a medieval look to the place.

More than illumination, candle  chandeliers  are used more as mood pieces. It is as appropriate in a stately ballroom as in the sleeping quarters. It doesn’t belong either above the dinner table or above the bathtub.

What the candle  chandeliers  are not suited for are cramped living quarters, sleek furniture with clean cuts and lines or furniture with hard edges. This is because the candles exude a certain softness and do not look at home with such furniture.

Candle  chandeliers  require a bit of maintenance in the sense that apart from the regular cleansing and polishing of the  chandelier  frame, one has to also ensure that molten wax from the candles does not seep into the nooks and crannies of the  chandelier  carvings. Accumulation of the wax will give the  chandelier  a mottled appearance. Another thing to consider is that if the  chandelier  is made up of glass or crystal, then you have to clean the surface thoroughly or the fumes from the candles will blacken them.

A candle  chandelier  glowing in all its exquisite beauty is a fragile object. It has a timeless appeal, but care and nurturing are necessary in order to sustain its glory.

Anniversary of Sam Spade Radio Broadcast

Today’s date in history was the first time that Sam Spade was broadcast on the radio. On July 12, 1946, CBS radio set in motion the series as a Friday night special. When the audience heard it they enjoyed it so much and the response was so great that the network decided to make it a recurring part of their fall lineup starting September 29 of that year.

From that day onward until 1949, Sam Spade had found his home on the Sunday night radio service. The original sponsors for the show were the makers of Wildroot Cream Oil. Howard Duff was selected to star in the original title role. After his departure from the show Stephen Dunne replaced him as Spade. This final star remained with the show until 1950.

Sam Spade replaced the ever popular Maltese Falcon as a major radio crime show. Sam was a distinctive San Francisco detective created by none other then William Spier. For those into Old Time Radio, you will recognize the name from the thriller radio series entitled “Suspense”. Spier acted as the editor, director and producer of the show. He was a lifelong radio veteran who had entered the profession during radio’s early years in 1929. Upon accepting the position for the Sam Spade series, Spier enlisted the talents of Ann Lorraine and Bob Tallman for weaving the various tales of intrigue.

When selecting the actors to feature in the radio show, Spier was very much impressed with the tough voice qualities displayed by young Howard Duff. During Duff’s senior years in Roosevelt high school he had decided that the sound of the audience’s applause was overwhelming and he became determined to switch from art to an acting career. He worked with several of the local theatres until he finally made his mark in the radio world. When America entered the war, Duff was employed in the Armed Forces Radio services. His position as a war correspondent was held by him for 4 long years. The character of Sam Spade quickly launched him into the national spotlight.

When Spier created the character of Sam Spade he did so in such a manner as to provide him with several easily identifiable traits. Followers of the show will readily notice that Spades favorite means of transportation was the common streetcar. In those days he could go just about anywhere for a single dime. He was known for his disliked of taxi cabs and his favorite drink was cheap alcohol. Each week you would be greeted by Sam opening his desk draw and clanging glasses together as he began his dictation of the story line. He wasn’t a man with expensive taste in drinks for those clamoring glasses more then likely held a bit of Old Granddad or some other bargain basement booze. He would dictate each case carefully to his secretary Effie Perrine who recorded each word with total clarity. The episodes read like a report all signed and dated awaiting delivery.

Howard Duff left the show in 1950 making the last episode of Sam Spade broadcast on September 17, 1950. Although the show continued for another couple of months with Steve Dunne as the new Sam Spade it failed to achieve the greatness that it once held.

Being a fan of Old Time Radio I would like to offer readers of this article a free MP3 copy of the first Sam Spade program. Merely visit my link below to download it. I particularly enjoy listening to these radio programs as I drive long distances across the country. I hope you too will enjoy these long forgotten episodes.

Anniversary of Sam Spade Radio Broadcast

By Joseph Parish

Copyright @2010 Joseph Parish

Is Snow Shoveling Dangerous?

Snow shoveling used to be simple. Pick up a shovel and get to work clearing that driveway. These days it’s much more complicated. Many new models have come to the market for manually clearing snow because of health risks. Several studies have been done recently that show a strong correlation between increased risk for heart attack and shoveling snow. For sources on this, simply search the web, where plenty of studies are outlined on credible websites such as ScienceDaily. Besides heart attacks, many other injuries are correlated, such as strokes, broken bones, injured neck and back, pulled muscles and even strained ligaments.

What’s the science behind these studies? I mean really, how could snow shoveling lead to heart attacks? Well, it is usually done in bitter temperatures, and for those who are not exposed to strenuous workouts on a regular basis, shoveling can be a real shock to the heart, just like any other workout that you are unaccustomed to. Undergoing a strenuous workout with the addition of cold temperatures is what leads to increased strokes and heart attacks.

What does this mean for you? If you are older, it can be extremely dangerous and it is highly advised to find an alternative to conventional snow shoveling. There are a few easy alternatives to doing it yourself. Either have a younger friend or relative do it for you, or if that is unavailable, buy a snow shovel that will help lead to an easier, less exhausting experience. Buying smaller snow shovels and working at a slower pace is recommended, since that will lead less exhaustion than shoveling huge amounts of snow per shovel.

Since recent studies, there is a very important new shovel on the market named the “wovel.” The wovel has been tested to be the safest snow shovel on the market because of its unique design. It is named the “wovel” because of the wheel the shovel rests on. It acts as a wheel barrow of some sorts, and allows people to move snow with much greater ease and efficiency. There are many other safety benefits to the wovel because of its design, and will overall reduce stress on your body.

Shoveling snow in the winter is a daunting task sometimes. We all know that aching feeling of looking at a menacing amount of snow to be cleared in your driveway. It’s easy to grab the shovel and overexert yourself out in the cold, and I warn you against that. The last thing you want is suffering a major injury while spending some time outdoors in the snow. Once again, snow shoveling accidents are much more common than the average person would imagine, so take the necessary precautions by either buying a snow shovel that fits your needs or going at a slow and steady pace.

How to Install a Stair Lift

Ladder elevators can be a nice addition to the home to enhance accessibility. If the home has relatives or friends who are not able to move about the stairs easily, stair lifts are a good choice for this purpose. These days, it is extremely easy to install stair lifts and here are a few tips to get started.

Many Advantages

These days, installing stair lifts in the home is an easy task and with it comes the pride and assurance that the home is accessible for everyone. Even persons with lesser degree of mobility will be able to navigate the home at their leisure and comfort levels.

Easy Installation

Once the most appropriate stair lift has been chosen and, which fits the width of the stairs, installation is needed. Many people get intimidated by the installation process but the fact is that it is very easy. The only tools you need are a hammer, screwdriver, level and the kit. It is very important to consult with the owner’s manual in the kit before starting the installation but in general the basic installation steps are quite generic.

Three Carriers

The stair lifts typically come with three carriers namely one going on the top of stairs, one at the bottom and one at the middle.


Typically, the stair lifts come along with cables, which allow the lift to come back to the ladder bottom once it reaches the top of the stair. This is a special kind of power cord, right through the ring, placed against the wall and runs from the top to the bottom of the stair lift.

Installing And Seat Path

The next stage is the actual installation as well as placing the seat path to the track. The seat needs to be attached in between two tracks, which were available with the kit. The top of this seat should be attached to the top of the track and proper screws should be fastened to hold the seat in place. Then, the track combination should be set appropriately to connect brackets, which attach to the steps of the stairway. The track needs to be in level so the seat is not in a blocked position. Once the ladder path is set, the elevator screw of the ladder is placed into the track with the appropriate screws.


The ladder stair lift comes equipped with a pulley, which helps move the chair down and up across the stairway. The chain should be installed at the middle of the runway right at the center. You need to slide the pulley in forward as well as backward directions with ease.


The cord is critical to successful installation of the stair lift because it powers the elevator. This power cord has to be fed through a specific slot inside the track, which is specifically designed for this cable. Once the cord is fed through, the power cord needs to be connected to the ramp bottom and then to the outlet.