We have July 4th; Australians have January 26th. Happy Australia Day!

Learn lots more about this festive national celebration.


In the Chinese calendar, today (Jan. 26) begins the Year of the Ox, also known by its formal name, Ji Chou. 己丑

The Chinese calendar has been in continuous use since about 2600 BC, predating the Western Calendar in present use by more than 2,000 years. The Chinese calendar, begun by Emperor Huang Ti, is also a yearly one, with the start of the year based on the cycles of the moon. As a result, the beginning of the year can fluctuate from late January to mid-February. A complete cycle takes 60 years, made up of five cycles of 12 years.

The Chinese calendar names each of the 12 years after an animal. According to legend, Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him just before he transitioned out of his earthly life. Only 12 actually showed up to bid him farewell, and as a reward, he named a year after each of them, in the order they arrived to send him off. According to Chinese tradition, the animal that rules the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on their personality.

Ox Years


The Sign of the Ox

The Ox is the sign of prosperity that comes through fortitude and hard work. Being born under this sign indicates a born leader who is quite dependable and possesses an innate ability to achieve great things. These people tend to be dependable, calm, and modest. Like their animal namesake, those born under the Ox are unswervingly patient, tireless in their work, and capable of enduring almost any amount of hardship without complaint.

Ox people need peace and quiet to work through their ideas, but they can be stubborn, so when they’ve set their minds on something, it can be very difficult to convince them otherwise. An Ox person has a very logical mind and a systematic approach to whatever they do, though they have tremendous imagination and an unique appreciation for beauty. These people tend to be extremely intelligent, but they speak little. When necessary, however, their words are eloquent.

People born under the influence of the Ox are kind, caring souls, logical, positive, filled with common sense and with their feet firmly planted on the ground. Security is their main preoccupation in life, and they are prepared to toil long and hard in order to provide a warm, comfortable, stable home for themselves and their families. Strong-minded, stubborn, individualistic, the majority are highly intelligent individuals who know their minds and don’t appreciate being told what to do.

The Ox works hard, patiently, methodically, reflectively, and intelligently. Tenacious and self-sacrificing, these people enjoy helping others, but also have very active minds.

Rarely driven by the prospect of financial gain, the Ox is not extravagant and the thought of something like piling up credit card debt makes them quite nervous. The possibility of taking a serious risk could cause the Ox sleepless nights.

Those born under the Ox tend to be truthful and sincere, so they find the idea of wheeling and dealing in a competitive world distasteful. They are welcome almost everywhere because of their honesty and patience, and are reported to have the most beautiful of faces in the zodiac. They have many friends, but are wary of new trends, even though they can, every now and again, be encouraged to try something new. People born in the year of the Ox make wonderful parents and teachers.

It is important to remember that the Ox people are sociable and relaxed when they feel secure, but occasionally a dark cloud looms over such people and they engage all the trials of the whole world and seek solutions for them.

Interesting Side Note

Barack Obama was born August 4, 1961, making him both a Leo and an Ox.

Gifts for People Born in the Year of the Ox

Because people born under the Ox tend to love stability and tradition, they are most comfortable, at peace, and happiest at home. They tend to prefer the color violet. Appealing gems and stones are jade, emerald, moss-agate, and lapis-lazuli.

Great gift ideas include kitchen accessories, gardening books, cookbooks, and bonsai trees.

Hobbies they tend to enjoy include bodybuilding, baking, gardening, music, and sewing.

Anything that enhances their home environment will likely be appreciated by people born under the Ox. If they venture away from home for a vacation, though, it’s generally to do some hiking or rock climbing.

I’ve mentioned before that as a marketer, I have no general opposition to sales and entrepreneurship. Making things and selling things – it’s a large part of what makes the world go around. Michelle Obama’s anger irritation with the Ty toy company, though, is understandable – even warranted – in my opinion. I went back and reread the story, and Michelle’s own word for Ty’s actions was “inappropriate.”

Those who claim that Michelle and Barack used their daughters as part of their political campaign are misguided. How soon they forget Barack’s anger when the cameras followed him and Sasha through their Chicago neighborhood on Halloween. The girls are smart and beautiful – and a cherished part of what makes the Obama family so special. The two times we’ve seen them boldly and publicly were Election Night and at the Inauguration, as we should have.

If you want to talk about displaying kids for political gain, you need look back no further than Sarah Palin dragging her infant son around till all hours, only to have her youngest daughter care for him. And the pregnant daughter and fiance-by-force. And the son in the military. Give me a break, you folks who can’t/don’t/won’t see reality for what it is.

One question in the midst of the commentary was how the Obama girls are being harmed by these dolls. The mere fact that their father is now the most scrutinized man on the planet will affect these girls’ lives in ways unimagined, and in ways far more sustained than having toy likenesses made of them. But that doesn’t make Ty’s position right. It’s hard to argue that this is anything other than profiteering by Ty.

Not sure whether it warrants a full-fledged boycott, but I know I won’t knowingly be buying or recommending Ty toys as stocking stuffers anytime soon.

Just my two cents, for what their worth.

UPDATE, 25 Jan. 3:06 p.m.

Not being the denizen of the Internet (or the blogging world) that I am, my sister hadn’t heard or seen any of the bruhaha surrounding the Obama girls dolls. Her opinion, succinct and common-sense as ever: Michelle and the Obama family have much bigger/more important things to worry about. These dolls are the least of their concerns, and she would have been much better off just letting this go without any public comment. My sister may have a point…

the-five-sensesThe dictionary defines “sense”  as any of the faculties (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) by which the mind receives and perceives information about the external world or the state of the body. Each of us tends to favor one sense over the others when it comes to calming effects, stimulating creativity, and simply enhancing the enjoyment of life.

Here are some ideas for creating a stocking that appeals to all five senses.

One is this great book called Crave the Feast of the Five Senses by Ludo Lefebvre.


iPod touch – Millions of songs. Thousands of movies. Hundreds of games.

Digital camera with YouTube capture mode allows you to shoot video for easy online sharing

Kaleidoscope – All these kaleidoscopes are hand-crafted in the U.S.


Noise-canceling headphones

Nature sounds – Create your own CDs or MP3 playlists with royalty-free music and sound-effects from this site

Wind chimes


Scented candles

Fragrance diffusers

Rain-forest friendly coffee beans – appeal to both taste and smell

Incense and essential oils


Personalized M&M candies

Flavored popcorn

Royal Riviera Pears

Jelly-Belly jelly beans


Miniature Zen rock garden

The traditional scarf/mittens combo

Even more traditional slippers

Massage items

Soaps and scrubs

Hand-held showerhead

Plush toys

Ask anyone who sews how much fabric they have, and you’ll hear variations on the same answer:

“Piles and piles!”
“Too much to sort through!”
“Enough to open my own store!”

Now, ask them how the store their fabric, and you’ll get almost as many different answers as people you ask.

I may have mentioned that my very first paying job when I was 16 was at House of Fabrics at Park Central Mall in Phoenix. It’s long-closed, but the fabric from my time there lives on – that red courderoy fleur-de-lis stocking is made from baby cord I once upon a time intended to use for a jumper! Today, the majority of my fabric is intended for Christmas stockings … but there’s still a lot of it, much of which has followed me from Phoenix to Tucson to New Jersey and back to Phoenix.

How you store your fabric has a lot to do with two things:

  1. what kind of fabric it is
  2. how often you use it

General Tips for Storing and Caring for Your Fabric

  • Should go without saying, but your fabric must be clean when you store it. Regardless of how carefully you pack and store a piece of fabric, dirt or residue will ultimately damage the fabric, and the longer a stain sits on a piece of fabric, the more difficult it is to remove.
  • You might want to think about preshrinking your fabric before you store it. That way the it will be ready to use when you need it.
  • If the fabric was hanging, as opposed to rolled on a bolt, when you bought it, you will want to store it the same way. Certain fabrics, like velvet, can become permanently damaged if they are folded. Even the crease created by folding them over a hanger may crush the texture or nap. Use safety pins or trouser hangers to avoid this.
  • Remember, your fabric is not a houseplant: it doesn’t like direct sunlight. Sunlight can damage the fabric fibers, causing colors to fade and whites to yellow. Storing your fabric in a dark, dry area will increase its longevity.
  • Temperature and humidity also are important considerations for the long-term care and storage of your fabric. This is less important if you are constantly using it, but for fabric that gets put away in a garage, attic, or basement, you must take note of the environmental factors. Humidity can be particularly damaging, if the water vapor in the air invites mold to grow or fabric dyes to break down. Extremely dry air has its own issues, though, in that it can cause fabric fibers to become brittle and even break.
  • While the garage, basement, or attic certainly are less-than-ideal locations for storing fabric, sometimes you just have to make due. Be aware of things like dust and dirt that can lodge within the fabric fibers and cause damage. These pollutants can also attract bugs and insects … so make sure your storage area is cleaned regularly.
  • Plastic containers are ill-advised for the long-term storage of fabric, because fabric needs to breathe! The air within a plastic container can become trapped and stale, potentially leading to increased temperature and humidity which is a wonderful breading ground for mold and mildew.
  • Acid free containers are important for long-term fabric storage, as acid can cause staining and a general distortion of the fabric.
  • Keep your hands from becoming culprits by making sure they are oil- and lotion-free when you’re handling your fabric.
  • Store wool in a sealed container with cedar, eucalyptus, or tea tree oil on a paper towel in a ziplock baggie … to keep the moths away.
  • Keep track of the length of the fabric piece, when and where you acquired it, the and projects in which you’ve already used it on a 3×5 index card that you pin to the fabric. Depending on how much fabric you have and how organized you are, this may or may not be a realistic idea!

You will increase the life of your fabric by taking the time to properly store it, ensuring that it’s in an optimal environment.

Specific Suggestions for Fabric Storage

  1. Metal Grid Cubes
    These can be configured to virtually any shape or size you need. You can put them together to go up against a wall and and over a desk, stack them on top of a long table, set them on the ground like shelves, or even hang them on the wall. Some cubes come with pre-made “drawers,” or you can buy square plastic dishpans at the dollar or discount store. This is a great way to store sewing and crafting supplies, as well as patterns and notions.
  2. Wire or Wood Shelves
    Hang coated wire or wood shelves covered with contact paper on your walls and stack folded fabric on these shelves. This is a great option if you are one of the many who have NO floor space but do have a bit of wall space. Use a piece of fabric that’s the same color as your wall to hang in front of this shelf as a curtain. The  shelf will blend in with your wall so you’ll hardly see it, and it will keep your fabric from becoming dusty!
  3. Rectangular Plastic Bins
    Stack these on end with the lids on or off – it’s up to you. Fold the fabric into thin pieces and lay them in the bis so that you can see the print on each piece. As mentioned earlier, use care with storing your fabric in plastic bins – air them out once in a while and NEVER put pricey fabric in plastic containers!
  4. Fabric Bench
    For those projects in process, a fabric bench that you use as a seat for your sewing machine is a handy idea.
  5. Sweater Bags
    For everyday fabric you access regularly, you can purchase inexpensive sweater bags or under-the-bed storage bags. They are clear, allowing you to easily see material.

Web Resources for Fabric Storage Solutions

Wire Storage Cubes



The Fabric Organizer

Complete Organizing Solutions

Once upon a tiwoodsmanme, a lovely maiden had an extra basket lying around the house, just collecting dust from sitting on her dirt floor. She also happened to have a stockpile of extra spices, fruit, dried venison, and other sundries. “What can I do with all these excess foodstuffs?” she wondered to herself. “And what about this basket that keeps tripping me up every day as I head out to milk the goats?”

One day, a handsome, strapping stranger came to town and proceeded to build a home just o’er the hill and across the stream. “I must welcome the  virile newcomer to town before witchy Esmerelda gets her claws on him,” the maiden thought aloud. “I wonder what I can take over to him as a welcome gift, as my baking is atrocious – not even the goats will eat my biscuits,” she muttered as she again tripped over that blasted basket. Ahhh…the basket!

And that is how gift baskets were born.

No – not really. Well, maybe!? In my thorough 5-minute search, I unearthed absolutely no information on the history of gift baskets … so voila … I fabricated a plausible explanation of my very own.

Gift baskets have come a long way since our merry maiden’s time. Gift basket services litter the Web now, and you can spend into the hundreds of dollars on a single basket.

One innovative holiday spin on the gift basket idea is creating themes for your Christmas stockings! Rather than fill your loved ones’ stockings with random goodies, you can single in on a particular passion, and fill the stocking with items that all relate to that pursuit.

Here’s my tiny stab at the no-doubt endless ideas for stocking themes:

  • gardening
  • wine
  • movies
  • foodies/gourmet cooks
  • handyman
  • high-tech
  • swimming
  • golf
  • baseball
  • tennis
  • sports fans
  • college alumni
  • metaphysical
  • religious/spiritual
  • music
  • dogs/cats/horses/animals
  • travel
  • letter writing
  • journaling
  • teaching
  • nature
  • bird watching
  • exercise
  • patriotic
  • ethnic
  • political

In case you’re still not convinced a themed stocking is a good idea, here are a few reasons to consider it:

  1. A themed stocking will save you time, because you can probably find all the “stuffers” in a single location, preventing the need to drive from store to store.
  2. Themed stockings can be made in a variety of sizes and price ranges, so they flex to fit your budget.
  3. A themed stocking will demonstrate to your loved one how much you care, because you personalized their gift.
  4. A themed stocking makes a great present for that difficult-to-buy-for person who has everything.
  5. You don’t have to wait till Christmas to give one – a themed stocking works for any occasion, year-round.
  6. Let’s face it – they’re fun to make!


Typical traits …

Friendly and humanitarian
Honest and loyal
Original and inventive
Independent and intellectual

On the dark side …

Intractable and contrary
Perverse and unpredictable
Unemotional and detached

Aquarius is a fixed air sign. Gifts that correspond with “fixed air” will do the job if you want to seduce, attract, or show your Aquarius how much you value him/her.

The generally individualistic Aquarius is associated with all things future-oriented, including science, technology, and radical political change. (Hmmmm … I wonder if they’re throwing a collective party right now?) They often pursue an eclectic mix of quirky hobbies and interests, both physical and intellectual.

Aquarius Hobbies

  • Activism
  • Anthropology
  • Astronomy
  • Collecting unusual things
  • Computer programming
  • Coffee shop conversations
  • Gadgets
  • Humanitarian or volunteer work
  • Intellectual and political debates
  • Inventing (new ways of doing) thingsaquarius
  • Paranormal/occult studies
  • Reading
  • Sci-fi/fantasy movies
  • Science
  • Skiing and other snow sports
  • Socializing
  • Surfing the Web
  • Traveling
  • Video games

Aquarius Colors, Patterns, and Designs

Aquarius is generally associated with vibrant colors, like purple and electric blue,as well as shades of neon green and blue; it is also linked with geometric patterns and designs.

Although Uranus, Aquarius’ ruling planet, is associated with bright, splashy colors and patterns, Aquarians often prefer monochromatic clothing, usually basic shades of green, blue, or purple, though some eccentric Aquarians dress a bit oddly and may adopt very nontraditional style. Aquarians prefer themes that include space (e.g., planets, galaxies, stars) or suggest science, technology, and the future.

Aquarius Gemstones

Gemstones associated with Aquarius include aquamarine, garnet (January), and amethyst (February).

Aquarius Trees, Plants, Flowers, and Foods

Typical  Aquarius trees include pine, rowan, and ash. Plants and flowers include hemp, sorrel, moss, and pansies. Aquarius-associated foods include spinach, sorrel, and parsnip.

Aquarius Gifts

Because your Aquarian is likely to love hi-tech/electronic products, futuristic and innovative gadgets always make wonderful Aquarius gifts. Things like:

  • high-tech toys
  • high-tech watches and clocks
  • security systems
  • computerized/electronic home products
  • nifty outdoor gadgets
  • original and unexpected gifts

Even something as ordinary a mug for the car will be greatly appreciated if accompanied by a thoughtful little poem.

Gifts for the Aquarius Man

  • Glass items
  • Unusual figurines
  • Cool, trendy gadgets like iPods, iPhones, or Webcams
  • Robotic items
  • Shower radios
  • Sports watches
  • Digital cameras
  • Mini-table tennis set
  • Desk darts
  • Ice crushers
  • Puzzles and brain teasers
  • Trendy cuff links
  • Elegant clothing

Just keep in mind that it’s not the packaging that matters to an Aquarius man, but rather the time and effort you spend selecting a unique, innovative gift you know he will love.

Gifts for the Aquarius Woman

Female Aquarians love jewelery. With amethyst as their birthstone, you have an extensive variety of items  from which to choose, like pendants, rings, and earrings. Other ideas include:

  • The latest handbag and accessory fashions
  • Stylish shoes
  • Cosmetics and perfumes
  • Bath and spa products
  • Trendy tops and leather jackets
  • Greeting cards with witty notes

If you still haven’t seen the gifts that will please your Aquarian, click here for more ideas …