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September 24, 2007


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From the Inside Out...
Ronald's Risk

Fascinating Facts...
Showing True Colors

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Losing Earnest Ernie

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Buy When the Buying's Best

Far Horizons...
Complexities of the Canaries

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Most of my life I've believed that the greatest risk we take comes from taking no risk at all. I guess you could call me an "envelope pusher" ... someone who asks herself, "What's the worst thing that could happen if I do this?" and then takes the leap of faith. I can tell you that, somehow, the greatest good has always been served when I've listened to the voice of my soul and have not been limited by earthly restrictions.

Chelle Thompson, Editor
~ Chelle Thompson, Editor

... you can help people all
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From the Inside OutRonald McDonald and Friend - Inspiration Line

A number of years ago (1983-1987), I had the opportunity to play the character of Ronald McDonald for the McDonald's Corporation. My marketplace covered most of Arizona and a portion of Southern California.

One of our standard events was "Ronald Day." One day each month, we visited as many of the community hospitals as possible, bringing a little happiness into a place where no one ever looks forward to going. I was very proud to be able to make a difference for children and adults who were experiencing some "down time." The warmth and gratification I would receive stayed with me for weeks. I loved the project, McDonald's loved the project, the kids and adults loved it and so did the nursing and hospital staffs.

There were two restrictions placed on me during a visit. First, I could not go anywhere in the hospital without McDonald's personnel as well as hospital personnel. That way, if I were to walk into a room and frighten a child, there was someone there to address the issue immediately. And second, I could not physically touch anyone within the hospital. They did not want me transferring germs from one patient to another. I understood why they had this "don't touch" rule, but I didn't like it. I believe that touching is the most honest form of communication we will ever know. Printed and spoken words can lie; it is impossible to lie with a warm hug.

Breaking either of these rules, I was told, meant I could lose my job. Toward the end of my fourth year of "Ronald Days," as I was heading down a hallway after a long day in grease paint and on my way home, I heard a little voice. "Ronald, Ronald."

I stopped. The soft little voice was coming through a half-opened door. I pushed the door open and saw a young boy, about five years old, lying in his dad's arms, hooked up to more medical equipment than I had ever seen. Mom was on the other side, along with Grandma, Grandpa and a nurse tending to the equipment. I knew by the feeling in the room that the situation was grave. I asked the little boy his name. He told me it was Billy and I did a few simple magic tricks for him. As I stepped back to say good-bye, I asked Billy if there was anything else I could do for him.

"Ronald, would you hold me?"

Such a simple request. But what ran through my mind was that if I touched him, I could lose my job. So I told Billy I could not do that right now, but I suggested that he and I color a picture. Upon completing a wonderful piece of art that we were both very proud of, Billy again asked me to hold him. By this time my heart was screaming "yes!" But my mind was screaming louder. "No! You are going to lose your job!"

This second time that Billy asked me, I had to ponder why I could not grant the simple request of a little boy who probably would not be going home. I asked myself why was I being logically and emotionally torn apart by someone I had never seen before and probably would never see again.

"Hold me." It was such a simple request, and yet. I searched for any reasonable response that would allow me to leave. I could not come up with a single one. It took me a moment to realize that in this situation, losing my job may not be the disaster I feared.

Was losing my job the worst thing in the world?

Did I have enough self-belief that if I did lose my job, I would be able to pick up and start again? The answer was a loud, bold affirming "yes!" I could pick up and start again.

So what was the risk?

Just that if I lost my job, it probably would not be long before I would lose first my car, then my home, and to be honest with you, I really liked those things. But I realized that at the end of my life, the car would have no value and neither would the house.

The only things that had steadfast value were experiences. Once I reminded myself that the real reason I was there was to bring a little happiness to an unhappy environment, I realized that I really faced no risk at all.

I sent Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa out of the room, and my two McDonald's escorts out to the van. The nurse tending the medical equipment stayed, but Billy asked her to stand and face the corner. Then, I picked up this little wonder of a human being. He was so frail and so scared. We laughed and cried for 45 minutes and talked about the things that worried him.

Billy was afraid that his little brother might get lost coming home from kindergarten next year, without Billy to show him the way. He worried that his dog wouldn't get another bone because Billy had hidden the bones in the house before going back to the hospital and now he couldn't remember where he put them.

These are problems to a little boy who knows he isn't going home.

On my way out of the room, with tear-streaked makeup running down my neck, I gave Mom and Dad my real name and phone number (another automatic dismissal for Ronald McDonald, but I figured that I was gone and had nothing to lose), and said if there was anything the McDonald's Corporation or I could do, to give me a call and consider it done.

Less than 48 hours later, I received a phone call form Billy's mom. She informed me that Billy had passed away. She and her husband simply wanted to thank me for making a difference in their little boy's life.

Billy's mom told me that shortly after I left the room, Billy looked at her and said, "Momma, I don't care anymore if I see Santa this year because I was held by Ronald McDonald."

Sometimes we must do what is right for the moment, regardless of the perceived risk. Only experiences have value, and the one biggest reasons people limit their experiences is because of the risk involved.

For the record, McDonald's did find out about Billy and me, but given the circumstances, permitted me to retain my job. I continued as Ronald for another year before leaving the corporation to share the story of Billy and how important it is to take risks.

~ By Jeff McMullen from
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Your Dreams

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s You Can!


At 50 cents a roll — instead of the regular retail price of $4 — buying wrapping paper after New Year's is an easy way to save. The same holds true for buying half-price inflatable pool loungers and patio furniture after Labor Day weekend. In fact, bargain lovers know that there's a smart time to buy just about anything. For example, those looking for a great deal on a car should shop on weekday mornings in September. Shrubs and trees are cheapest on in the Fall. We talked to the experts, and found the best time to buy everything from airline tickets to televisions.

Airplane Tickets
When to buy: On a Wednesday morning, 21 days (or a couple of days earlier) before your flight.
Why — Airlines make major pricing changes (and run fare sales) every week, typically on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings. About 21 days out from your flight, you'll see plenty of deals out there as airlines scramble to fill seats, says Anne Banas, executive editor of, a consumer travel advice Web site. Don't wait much longer, she cautions; prices jump significantly from 14 to seven days ahead of departure.

When to buy: During a holiday weekend.
Why —You'll find sales on select models all year long, but retailers bring out the big guns for holiday weekends, says Carolyn Forte, homecare director for the Good Housekeeping Institute. But don't worry about spending your Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends shopping for a new fridge — smaller holidays like Columbus Day and President's Day have their share of sales, too.

When to Buy: Thursday
Why — Price compare between major chains Borders and Barnes & Noble. The former releases its weekly sales and coupons on every Thursday; the latter, every Tuesday.

Broadway Tickets
When to buy: Hours before the curtain rises.
Why — How does a $25 front-row seat to for a smash hit musical sound? Several musicals offer same-day ticket lotteries that offer up orchestra seats at inexpensive prices. If you'd rather not gamble on getting a seat, wait in line at the famous TKTS Booth in Times Square. There, you can get tickets for hit musicals for up to 50% off. On a recent night, prime seats were available for "Hairspray," "Rent," "Sweeney Todd" and "Beauty & the Beast." (For the right times to drop by TKTS, and other ways to save, see our column A Midsummer Night's Dream.)

When to buy: Weekday mornings in September.
Why — By September, all the next year's models have arrived at the lot, and dealers are desperate to get rid of the current year's leftovers, says Phil Reed, consumer advice editor for It's the prime time of year for incentives and sales, not to mention bargaining. "Any car that's been on the lot for a long time loses its value in the eyes of the car salesman," he says. Heading to the dealership on a weekday morning also helps because there's low foot traffic, meaning you'll have ample time to negotiate and fewer people trying to buy the same car. The more demand, the less willing a salesman is to go down on price, says Reed. (For more, see our column Summer Car Savings.)

When to buy: Thursday evenings.
Why — That's the day when stores stock their shelves for the weekend, and when many retailers start their weekend promotions, says Kathryn Finney, author of "How to Be a Budget Fashionista: The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less" You'll find great prices and the best selection. "It's an effort to get people to shop in the middle of the week," she says. After an item lingers in stores a month or more, retailers start dropping its price to get it out the door, adds Kathryn. These season-end clearances tend to be the same month that designers host fashion weeks (February and September) to preview the next fall or spring collections. So smart buyers can check the catwalk to see if any of this season's trends — say, leggings or military-style jackets — will still be hot next year, and then scoop them up on clearance. Hitting the mall on a weekday ensures you'll get a good selection. "On the weekend, you'll only get picked-over stuff because the stores don't have time to restock," she says. By Thursday, most of the weekend sales have begun, but everything available is on the floor.

Computers and electronics
When to buy: Just after a new model is launched.
Why — When the latest and greatest of a product is released, you'll often see prices drop on what had previously been the best thing out there, says Tom Merritt, executive editor for, an electronics review web site. Case in point: When Apple released the Nano prices for the now-discontinued Mini dropped 12%, from $199 for a 4GB to about $175. So keep your eyes open for announcements from major manufacturers. Want a little less work? Time your purchases for after big annual technology show like MacWorld and the International Consumer Electronics Show (next held Jan. 7-10, 2008 in Las Vegas).

Department Store Wares
When to Buy: Saturday evening
Why — Department stores have a lot to mark down for their Sunday circulars, so they frequently start the process on Saturday evenings before store closing, says Kathryn Finney.

Dinner Out
When to Buy: Tuesday
Why — Most restaurants do not receive food deliveries over the weekend. "Sunday is the garbage-can day of the week," says Kate Krader, senior editor at Food & Wine Magazine. "No doubt, they're cleaning out their fridges. Tuesdays, they're starting fresh." Dining out on that day offers the best odds you'll get a meal worth paying for, no matter your price point, she says.

When to Buy: Wednesday
Why — Many movie theaters, amusement parks and museums offer discounts to consumers who visit midweek. Six Flags theme parks offer a $12 discount to AAA members — three times its usual discount of $4. AMC Theatres offers members in its free AMC Movie Watcher reward program a free small popcorn on Wednesdays.

When to buy: Thursday morning
Why — The price of oil isn't the only factor influencing costs at your local pump. Consumer usage plays a role, too — and weekend demand is high, says Jason Toews, co-founder of, a price-monitoring site. Prices usually swing upward on Thursdays as travelers fuel up to head out the following day. By hitting the pump before 10 AM you'll beat the rush and the price jump. (For more ways to save, see our column Save on Gas.)

When to buy: Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Why — Experts say that since the sales are set on Wednesdays, buyers can sometimes get overlapping savings Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Grocery stores also are usually less crowded then and the produce isn't too picked-over. Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game, a consumer savings program, adds that heading to the store close to closing time means you'll also have access to sales on fresh items that must be sold by the end of the day, such as meats and baked goods.

Hotel Rooms
When to Buy: Sunday
Why — There are two kinds of hotel managers, and the kind who won't give you a discount on your room rate has Sundays off, says says travel expert Peter Greenberg, aka The Travel Detective. Call the hotel directly, and ask to speak with the manager on duty or the director of sales. These employees are open to negotiation, he says. They'd rather have a booked room at a discounted rate than an empty room.

Shrubs, Trees and Other Plants
When to buy: Fall
Why — Take a break from raking up leaves to purchase trees, shrubs and other perennials for your yard. Prices nosedive after midsummer, as garden supply stores and nurseries try to clear out their stock. You can also get great deals on bulbs during the fall. Just store them according to the package instructions for best planting results next spring. For more, see our column Cheap Landscaping Tricks.)

When to buy: Six to 12 months after a particular model is launched.
Why — A new TV drops in price after a few months on the market, says CNET's Merritt. Although there will be newer models out there, it's unlikely they'll offer any significant improvements to justify that brand new price. "The technology is proceeding at such a pace that the models out there are not going to be obsolete anytime soon," he says. (For more, see our column The World Is Flat.)

~By Kelli B. Grant

Far Horizons


Mt. Teide on Teneirife
Mount Teide Above the Clouds on Teneirife

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The Canary archipelago (Islas Canarias) is located off the northwest African coast, just west of the Sahara Desert; the islands are cooled by ocean currents and by the trade winds, creating a perpetual springtime. While best known for their pristine beaches, the seven islands (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera and Hierro), all of volcanic origin, offer strikingly diverse landscapes: subtropical rainforests, arid plains, pine woods, sand dunes, mountain peaks and remarkable flora. The local people take great pride in their folklore traditions and the carnival festivities are famous throughout Spain.

The little yellow songbirds that we call canaries have little green ancestors who once lived on what are now Spain's Canary Islands. You might think that the islands are named after the birds, but "Canary" derives rather from the Latin word canis, "dog", and the name Canaria was given to one of these islands because of its population of fearsomely huge canines. Both the dogs and the birds were brought back to the Continent, but while the latter prospered, the former have since become extinct. The name Canaria, however, stuck to both the islands and the birds.

We specifically owe the name to King Juba II of Mauretania, a friend of Caesar Augustus. Juba sent out expeditions to explore the African coast and its proximate islands, and it was one of these expeditions that happened upon the Canary Islands, which were supposed, at the time, to be the legendary "Fortunate Isles". The Greeks believed that the gods sent virtuous souls and particularly blessed mortals to these isles as a sort of super retirement home. The Canaries were referenced in a number of classical sources from the Romans, Phoenicians and the Greeks, who located the Garden of Hesperides here.

When Europeans began to explore the islands, they encountered several indigenous populations living at a Neolithic level of technology. Although the history of the settlement is still unclear, linguistic and genetic analyses seem to indicate that at least some of these inhabitants shared a common origin with the Berbers of northern Africa. The pre-colonial inhabitants came to be known collectively as the Guanches.

The history of the Canary Islands is quite different from that of the rest of Spain and Europe, due to the fact that they were not conquered until the 15th century. Nevertheless, the most avant-garde European schools of thought and creativity have always found an excellent reception here. The early years of Spanish colonial rule brought prosperity, with the development of sugar plantations. In 1492 Columbus passed through the Canaries en route to the Americas, stopping at La Gomera. While there, he is reported to have seen a major eruption of Mount Teide (photo above). The burgeoning trade with the Americas saw a large port spring up as Sant Cruz de Tenerife to became one of the main mercantile hubs of the Spanish Empire.

Before the Conquest, the desire to travel, discover new lands, and acquire riches characterized both the Atlantic and Mediterranean regions of Europe, and can be seen by the countless expeditions that landed in the Islands. Mallorca, Catalonia, Andalucía, the Basque Country, Portugal, all sent expeditions and almost all of them left their mark on the Islands. The active participation of Canary Islanders in founding other nations and cities, (Montevideo, Buenos Aires and San Antonio, Texas for instance) and trade based on their agricultural wealth attracted a cosmopolitan mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English who brought their own customs and traditions, which influenced the present identity of the Islands.

The result is a rich and complex Canary Island culture that has emerged from diverse influences of history, and been molded by geography with clear mainland influences, as well as inspiration from South America which is firmly rooted in its indigenous past. Each of the Canary islands has its own personality. The most visited islands, Gran Canaria and Tenerife, have well developed tourist facilities along the coasts. Growing in popularity is the dramatic island of Lanzarote, covered with volcanic boulders and ash — still so hot beneath the surface that a well-known restaurant there grills over natural heat emanating from the earth. In this volcanic soil, vineyards grow and produce Malvasia wine, praised by Shakespeare centuries ago.

Maspalomas Sand Dunes
Maspalomas Sand Dunes on Gran Canaria

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Uplifting News Stories

Sammy, a rescued pupper who came from the Dorchester County Humane Society
Kayne, Sammy and Major doing cart work at a store

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — Strapped for cash and looking for a way to keep open her fledgling dog-training academy, Mary Stadelbacher hit upon a bizarre fundraising scheme. If she could teach abandoned and abused dogs to become service animals for the disabled — holding open doors and even removing socks for people in wheelchairs — why couldn't she teach them to hold a paintbrush and swab a piece of art? Two years later, the owner of Shore Service Dogs has a collection of abstract paintings daubed by her three service dogs in training: Sammy, Major and Kayne. The creations are rudimentary, to be sure, but the pictures of bright strokes across white canvases are winning fans because of their tail-wagging creators. The doggie DA Vincis also have a line of Pawtographed Notecards that has sold out as word spreads about these unusual works of art. "Go paint, Sammy!" Mary orders at a recent demonstration at a packed gallery, where about three dozen people strained to see the large mixed-breed terrier chomp a red rubber bone with a hole drilled in the middle to hold a paintbrush. Mary has dipped the brush in blue acrylic paint. After a little coaxing, Sammy takes the bone/brush and heads for a white canvas taped to an easel in the corner. As directed, Sammy swipes the brush across the canvas and then looks to Mary for more instructions, tail wagging. His trainer repeats her "Go paint!" command a few times and then calls Sammy over for a treat, while Mary changes the brush for a new color. Within about 20 minutes, the canvas is covered in swabs of blue, red, yellow and aqua. Mary dabs Sammy's paw in black paint for the "signature." For patrons who don't see the canine artists work live, a DVD accompanies each painting, showing the canine creating the "masterpiece."
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Mary and Sammy at June 12th Art Demo
The inspiration for the birth of Shore Service Dogs came from a wonderful stray named Major

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