What I Really Want for Christmas

It’s a few days before Christmas and all through the house, not a gift is in sight, not even a tree. What?!  Oh, I’ll dig out that plastic, partially decorated tree that sits in the store room, protected under an old sheet most of the year when I’m done with this blog post, but the only thing that will be found underneath it will be a cat enjoying a nap. Perhaps, in some eyes that seems a bit odd, so allow me to sprinkle a twinkle of my reality into this holiday post.

At the risk of sounding baby-boomer cliche’ (but trust me, it’s true) I came from a blue collar family at the lower part of the pay scale, but my sister and I never knew we were “poor”. Sure there were gifts, but as soon as we realized who Santa Claus was, the gifts became something the entire family could enjoy – a reel-to-reel tape recorder so we could converse with family thousands of miles away (AT&T long distance was $5-7 a minute), a camera to capture precious memories during special occasions (film and development costs were a luxury), a used station wagon so we ladies didn’t have to ride to church squished in the cab of Dad’s dirty work pick-up, and one year we voted for a new refrigerator (we lived in Southern California with no AC and we were ecstatic that we finally had ice cubes again!)

Our “real gifts” were family moments – decorating the tree together and singing carols, reading the Bible and stringing popcorn with Mom, baking cookies or making fudge with my sister and roasting a 25 lb. turkey with Dad; topped off with visiting relatives and attending Midnight Mass. Christmas Day was spent relaxing and chatting with visitors who stopped by for a cup of eggnog and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on our black and white TV – the only one in the house. We were together, laughing and smiling. Nope, I just can’t see how a box with a surprise inside would have made Christmas any brighter!

Today, now that there are a few more pennies in my pocket book, I do give a few gifts to the children whose sparkling eyes and giggles fill me with joy, or to a special, grateful few who have a real need.  But personally, I don’t expect, nor do I want any store-bought gifts piling up under the tree tagged with my name.  My husband and I agreed before we were married to give what we’d otherwise spend on each other to a children’s charity each year, and I also have an agreement with most other adult family members – don’t buy for me, I won’t buy for you; make something if you like (fudge is always welcomed!), but let’s just appreciate and celebrate the fact we still have each other in this world.

So for those who have an uncontrollable urge to hand me a gift – if you really must because it makes you happy – I request the following:

  • Don’t buy me a book or movie video – do read or view it and write a poem or tell me a story about how it inspired you and what you’ve learned from it.
  • Don’t buy me music – do sing me a song or join me in a carol or two.
  • Don’t buy me jewelry, trinkets or clothes – do give me something you’ve made with your own two hands from recycled materials or those found in Nature (that includes fudge).
  • Don’t buy me a bank gift card – do give that amount to the Food Shelf and visit or write me after so I can experience the love that your sharing surely created.
  • Don’t give me a frown if you’re not able to buy what you wanted to give me – do please give me your beautiful smile.

That’s all I really want for Christmas – just a smile – because to me, a loving smile is the most precious gift of all.

So, having said that, I’m headed for the store room for that Christmas tree that needs to be decorated with the only ornaments that I carefully put away each year – handmade gifts and family heirlooms that bring to mind loved ones who have given me tons of wonderful smiles. Some ornaments are as brilliant as the day they were new, others are a bit tattered with age, but each and every one comes with a cherished memory that makes my heart sing.

And so I’ll leave you now until next year, wishing you and yours the best of holidays! Make some memories, string some popcorn, whip up a batch of fudge. May your homes be blessed with cheerful laughter, and may the only tears be that of joy!  Merry Christmas to all and to all many, many smiles! 🙂

Lovin’ my Kindle Fire!

Well, I did it. I bought a gadget – something I swore I’d never own because I don’t buy anything unless there’s a real need. But when I found I was spending too much time running into the office and turning on the computer only to check for urgent messages from clients while cooking my Thanksgiving meal, I started rethinking my “gadget need” and hit that Amazon.com “buy button” on the Kindle Fire sales page. I’m now one happy gadget owner!

Granted, I wasn’t so pleased last week when my Kindle Fire arrived. Ten minutes out of the box and I was ready to ship it back to Jeff Bezos with a nasty note! But I soon realized I simply had to wait for the cold Fire to thaw (pardon the oxymoron). The box had been sitting in the garage a few hours where the UPS man is instructed to leave all packages – it’s cold in Minnesota. After a sufficient amount of time plugged into its power adapter (included with the $199 purchase), it fired right up (pardon the pun … this is just too easy). But the touchscreen is warm-hearted, getting stubborn when finger-tips are cold, so it was necessary for me to occasionally warm my finger – or tap it furiously. I’ve since purchased a $6.95 Mini Suit stylus that has completely taken care of the problem.

Ebay email opened in the Fire.

I’m quite computer literate, but not gadget savvy, so any mobile device smaller than a laptop is strange territory for me. Nevertheless, set-up took less than five minutes, and when I got to registration, the Fire told me who I was!  Buying it directly from Amazon.com has its perks.

Initially, I just wanted to make sure that email worked well enough to monitor during my time outside of the office – the main reason for the purchase. AOL Mail, as well as Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, and an “Other” category are pre-installed, making set-up a no-brainer. “Freedom is mine!” I proclaimed, as I walked around the house to test out the WiFi. It dropped a bar in a few spots, but no more than one and not for long. Email arrives instantly and sending emails/texts is easy! (Note, the keyboard expands when the Fire is held to rotate to its side, and typing is a breeze when it’s held either way when using a stylus.)

I bought my Mini Suit stylus and folio case through the Fire using the app for Amazon.com One-Click shopping. My recently viewed items or similar recommendations immediately appeared in the stream, as well as current specials. The Amazon.com search bar is available and the collapsing menu allows access to my Wishlist, Cart and Account Information. Now, instead of driving to a store or even turning on my computer, I can walk around the house taking inventory and shop all at the same time!

Amazon.com Prime members receive free shipping for almost everything sold by Amazon.com, and Prime Kindle members also get access to “Kindle Owners Lending Library” of movies, TV shows and Books. I didn’t expect much more than saving a chunk on yearly shipping costs for my $89-a-year Prime membership, so I was quite surprised at the offerings – there aren’t enough years to watch all of the available movies and TV shows that I’ve wanted to see but have had to sacrifice to keep on schedule.

Although the best sound is achieved with head phones, it’s not unbearable through the small speakers. Movies run seamlessly, and the video/graphics is clear and colorful on the 7″ screen. The Kindle Fire is perfect for viewing movies or shows in bed; it isn’t too heavy, fits comfortably in one hand and if you fall asleep in the middle of a movie, the Fire goes to sleep too, but not before tucking your movie on the Carousel shelf, awaiting for you to “Resume”. (Yeah, that really happened to me!)  “Amazon’s Whispersync technology automatically syncs your library, last page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights across your devices. On Kindle Fire, Whispersync extends to video.”

The Carousel saves the most recently viewed apps, books, movies, etc. on the book shelf with storage on lower shelves. I was already familiar with Kindle Books, having installed Kindle for PC, and was pleasantly surprised to see a few of my books already on the Carousel. As well, my entire established Kindle Cloud library is tucked under the Books tab.  Thanks to Whispersync technology, I can start reading a book on the Kindle, then finish on my laptop without loosing my place.

The Fire will either play Amazon MP3 purchases or any music file uploaded to the Kindle Cloud. As well, it will surf to YouTube on the web, and I think I even saw an app for that. Using apps that connect via the Kindle Cloud instead of using the Web URL location bar is likely a better idea, as URL surfing requires a tight connection in order to load content quickly. There’s plenty of room to download and store tunes with “8GB internal (approximately 6GB available for user content). That’s enough for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books.”

Facebook runs a bit quirky, with only the status text loading okay, but without some profile images, and posted images won’t load at all. (I suspect there is in issue with the Fire loading Flash content.) According to a very helpful Kindle Fire CSR (thank you Valerie), images refuse to load because my WiFi is weak; and per the Frontier folks, my WiFi connection has a conflict with my neighbor’s connection. Well, I wasn’t about to ask my neighbor to shut off his modem so I could verify the possibility, and I refused to try the “maybe-this-will- work” solutions that Frontier suggested, which required changing passwords in all my WiFi connected computers. I am quite satisfied with the way everything else works right now, so I’ll not be checking Facebook often or any other web sites that contain a lot of content and take too long to load. I have computers for that anyhow.

Facebook folks will also want to know: Facebook Security Settings must be set to Disable “secure connection only” for a mobile device to connect. It took me three days of trying to log into Facebook before I recalled that mobile devices can’t connect if that Facebook security feature is enabled – a rule I’d seen float by in the News Stream a year or so ago. (I had ignored it thinking I’d never need to know that – ha!) I usually go the secure route, so I had chosen to enable the “secure connection only” setting. After trying in vain to hack into my own account I can confirm, Facebook’s secure connection works quite well! I disabled the setting for a temporary test of the Fire and then logged in successfully, but I’m not sure how long I’ll leave it that way. Note that this would be an issue for any mobile device trying to connect to a Facebook account and should not be a consideration when purchasing a Kindle Fire.

Kindle Fire comes preloaded with 10-15 apps. I fail to recall the exact number and I’ve since added a few to the shelves like Adobe Reader that will retrieve any PDF file I email to my very own @Kindle.com addy in the Kindle Cloud. I have suddenly become app happy, digging through Amazon.com’s Android App Store available via the Fire, and that led to searching for a way to delete unwanted apps that were piling up on the shelves: hold finger on top of the app and wait for a menu to appear that asks if you’d like to “add to favorites” or “delete the app.

I love the preloaded PULSE app that gives me news and feature stories of various interests. The first article I read was about the Kindle Fire from TechCrunch. I thought it appropriate. Well, actually, I worried it might be one of those “beware, don’t buy” warnings but was relieved by its report, “New estimates from IHS iSuppli have Amazon shipping 3.9 million Kindle Fires this quarter, which would make it the No. 2 tablet after the iPad 2 (with an estimated 18.6 million shipments). The Kindle Fire will become the No. 1 Android tablet by a wide margin (the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the next biggest, with an estimated 1.4 million shipments).”

Personally I agree, even if I can’t rightfully compare the Fire to anything else. There’s a lot of us non-gadget folks out there who don’t need the features of a Smartphone and don’t like the size or the price of an iPad — the Fire fits my budget and it fills my needs. Combined with Amazon’s excellent service and brilliant way of bringing it all together the Kindle Fire is smokin’ hot! (Seriously, no better choice of words!)