Holiday Movies to Binge with Your Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

The New York Times recently published an article titled How Many Christmas Movies Is Too Many Christmas Movies? There are nearly 100 new releases in 2019 alone the Hallmark Channel has added to their annual Christmas movie roster by 20% over the last two years. That’s nothing compared to Lifetime that has more than quadrupled its output and Netflix has doubled its number over that same time period.

Whether or not you think we’ve jumped the shark with holiday titles like Santa’s Little Helper featuring WWE superstars The Miz and Paige or the straight-to-DVD A Christmas Story 2, the good news is there are thousands of great holiday movies to binge with your kids when the weather outside is frightful.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure isn’t a full-length movie but a short featuring everyone’s new favorite snowman – sorry Frosty – Olaf, from Disney’s Frozen. When Anna and Elsa discover they don’t have Christmas traditions, Olaf takes it upon himself to find the best traditions and save this first Christmas for his friends.

Author Ezra Jack Keats’ charming picture book The Snowy Day comes to life in this animated holiday special. Young Peter goes on a magical, snowy walk to his Nana’s house to bring home their Christmas Eve dinner. Along the way, he meets his friend Layla and chats with friends and shopkeepers in his neighborhood.

There are three options for the Grinch, and really, you can’t go wrong with any of them. The original animated version from 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is, of course, a classic, narrated by none other than Boris Karloff. Jim Carrey’s wacky How the Grinch Stole Christmas from 2000 has become a modern classic, and 2018’s Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch helmed by Benedict Cumberbatch has already become a family favorite.

Arthur Christmas, Santa’s well-intentioned but ridiculously clumsy son, sets out on a mission with his grandfather to get a present they misplaced to a young girl in less than two hours. It’s got an all-star cast of some of your favorite UK actors and both you and your kids will love its madcap humor.

Based on Chris van Allsburg’s book of the same name, The Polar Express follows the story of Hero Boy who sets out on a magical adventure to the North Pole on Christmas Eve via the Polar Express, and along the way learns about friendship, bravery, and the true spirit of Christmas.

There’s Old School Will Ferrell, but there’s also Elf Will Ferrell. Thank goodness for that, because Elf is certainly one of the funniest holiday movies that both you and your kids can enjoy. When he suddenly discovers he’s human, not an elf as he grew up believing, Buddy the Elf decides to leave the North Pole and travel to New York City in search of his real father.

No holiday list is complete without Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and just like with the Grinch movies, you have options. The Muppet Christmas Carol featuring Michael Caine as Mr. Scrooge is a staple at my house. Jim Carrey’s version uses motion capture technology, and of course, you can introduce your children to the old black and white version with Alastair Sim, though some of those ghosts may be frightening to small children.

A Christmas Story is one of those movies that not only sparks nostalgia but is highly quotable. From “You, ’ll shoot your eye out” to “I TRIPLE-dog-dare ya!” there are countless moments in the movie that will have the whole family laughing.

If you’re a fan of Halloween and Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the holiday movie for you. When Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, discovers Christmas Town, his attempts to bring Christmas to his home causes confusion among his friends and neighbors.

I have a soft spot in my heart for all things Jim Henson, and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is among my favorites. With a “Gift of the Magi” vibe, Muppets – including Kermit as narrator, and singing woodland creatures, it doesn’t get much sweeter or more nostalgic than this.

Well, that is unless you’re talking a Charlie Brown’s Christmas or one of Rankin/Bass stop-motion holiday specials. In fact, did you know that 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the longest-running special on television? Well, it is! This is the year to introduce your kids to your friends Frosty, The Little Drummer Boy, Jack Frost, and Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Beware “Amazon’s Choice” Products

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you’ve no doubt seen some products marketed as “Amazon’s Choice” a designation intended to convince customers to buy what Amazon is saying is “highly-rated, well-priced products.” It’s an effective strategy – according to a 2018 study. these items see a threefold increase in sales.

But are they really the “highly-rated, well-priced products” they’re promoted to be? Good question – and the answer is “No.” Some of the listings have inflated ratings and those glowing reviews have been written by customers who were promised compensation in the form of gift cards or free products by sellers in exchange for those five-star ratings.

Amazon’s official position on fake reviews or “incentified reviews” – those reviews posted for compensation without being identified as such – is against the site’s policy. Sellers who are caught violating Amazon’s rules have their accounts suspended or banned. “When a product we identify as Amazon’s Choice does not continue to meet our high bar, we immediately remove the badge.” 

Unfortunately, the policy doesn’t seem to stop third-party sellers because many know exactly how to evade the website’s moderators. Some listings with reviews explicitly mentioning free products frequently slip past filters despite the fact it’s a clear violation of Amazon’s policies regarding customer reviews. 

To be clear, incentivized reviews are nothing new.  Buzzfeed News exposed Amazon’s Fake Review Economy in a story they broke last year. The problem that there’s a difference between incentivized and fake. When customers buy an item or service listed as Amazon’s Choice, there’s an assumption that the service is peer-reviewed and has earned its positive reviews via customer satisfaction. The truth is, the selection is determined bu an algorithm. Buzzfeed’s story led to Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal raising concerns over Amazon’s Choice products through a letter to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.

In response to their letter, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, admitted that Amazon employees “do not manually review” Amazon’s Choice products, but instead, they’re chosen by an algorithm that takes into account multiple factors, such as inventory, pricing, and return rates, in addition to reviews. 

He further states that products have to have a four-star or above-average rating to qualify for the label. According to Huseman, that translates to more than 2 million products automatically earning the designation every month. Huseman added that in their defense, abuse of customer reviews is “an industry-wide problem” but Amazon is the exception to the rule claiming in September that “over 99%” of reviews on the site were authentic.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tips When Gifting Tech

By Tracey Dowdy

No matter how tech-savvy or tech-challenged you are, there are things to consider when gifting technology to someone else. Apple or Android? Google Smart Home devices or Amazon Alexa compatible?

There’s no need to stress, just follow these simple guidelines to avoid giving a gift the recipient can’t or won’t use. 

Find out which operating system they prefer. For example, if they’re Android phone user or PC fan, then Apple products like an Apple watch may not integrate seamlessly. Or, if they’re using a Google Nest Hub, an Amazon Alexa isn’t the best choice. Look for products that work across platforms like a Roku or Fire Stick that work with most TV’s, or select wireless earbuds or smartwatches (just not an Apple Watch) are generally compatible with any type of smartphone. If in doubt, include a gift receipt for easy exchanges. CNET has a great smart home compatibility chart to help you navigate your options. 

Consider hidden costs. Whether you’re giving a laptop or headphones, keep in mind any accessories that the recipient may have to purchase. If you’re unsure, Ask the salesperson if the device is ready to use right out of the box. For example, if you’re gifting headphones, remember many smartphones have eliminated the headphone jack, so consider whether you should include a dongle with your present. Or, if you’re gifting a laptop, should you include a case or allow them to choose their own. If they’re someone who is hard on their devices or works in a rough environment, consider whether an extended warranty or protection plan is necessary.

If you’re gifting a smartphone, it’s important to know which carrier they are or will be using to ensure the phone is compatible with their service. CNET’s Jason Cipriani suggests specifically asking which wireless carrier they use or choose an unlocked phone. These days, most smartphone makers offer an unlocked version that will work on almost all wireless carriers, across platforms, however, not every carrier feature might work, particularly Wi-Fi calling, which is tuned to specific networks.

Consider privacy concerns. With stories in the news of smart home devices being hacked, be mindful that not everyone is comfortable with this type of technology in their home. Even though it appears to be the WiFi network and password that have been hacked in these cases, many people still have reservations and would not appreciate a smart home device. 

Look at software support. Some smart devices, like phones and laptops, require the user to regularly update their software. It’s not difficult, but may be intimidating to some users. Other smart devices like speakers, Alexa, and Chromecast run their updates in the background making them a good choice for less tech savvy gift recipients. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Friday, December 20: Saluting Our Military Families

SALUTING OUR MILITARY FAMILIES

 

When: Friday, December 20, 2019
3:00 – 4:00 pm ET
12:00 – 1:00 pm PT

Join host Pam Rossi (@Always5Star) and the #VerizonSalutes team at 3 pm ET (12 pm PT) on Friday, December 20 as we salute our military families and discuss some of the resources available to help them.
Technology is a big part of everyone’s life but in the military it goes beyond sending a few texts and checking in on social media. Sometimes it’s a vital lifeline to keep in touch with a deployed spouse, friends and family back home, or other loved ones who must often seem a world away.
Join us as we explore the technology and other resources that are available to support our troops, including apps, discounts, and special programs just for military personnel and their families!
RSVP and attend the chat for a chance to win a Google Nest Hub or a Flip 5 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VerizonSalutes) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: https://bit.ly/34C7RJi 
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VerizonSalutes) on Friday, December 20 between 3:00 – 4:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!
Gift

Holiday Shipping Guide

By Tracey Dowdy

There’s nothing like making a list and checking it twice only to discover you should have checked it sooner. Making things even trickier, Thanksgiving was late this year – almost a week later than last year – so the holiday shopping season got even tighter. Despite the crunch, according to Adobe Analytics data, “U.S. online sales will increase 14.1 percent, totaling $143.7 billion, while total retail spending – both online and offline – is expected to increase 4.0 percent.” 

Whether it’s because you see last minute shopping as a personal challenge, a competitive sport, or because you suddenly have to ship a gift to an out of town in law, a snowbound sibling, or someone you won’t see til January, you have more options than simply emailing a gift card. Although, if your imagination can’t think of anything more creative than socks, Amazon has a ton of gift cards that include a digital code the recipient can print out and there’s no worry about will it/won’t it make it in time. 

The good news is that because the holiday shopping season is abbreviated, many retailers have extended their Black Friday and Cyber Monday prices and deals. 

These are the three major carriers’ recommended send-by dates for expected delivery by December 25:

U.S. Postal Service

Dec. 14: USPS Retail Ground shipments

Dec. 18: Alaska to mainland First-Class Mail

Dec. 19: Hawaii to mainland Priority Mail and First-Class Mail

Dec. 20: First Class

Dec. 21: Priority Mail; Also deadline for Alaska and Hawaii to the mainland through Priority Mail Express

Dec. 23: Priority Mail Express

International shipping and military mail deadlines are earlier. Learn more at www.usps.com.

 

FedEx

Dec. 9: SmartPost

Dec. 16: Ground and home delivery

Dec. 19: Express Saver

Dec. 20: Two-day options

Dec. 23: Overnight options

Dec. 25: FedEx SameDay, FedEx SameDay City Direct and City Priority

Find rates and transit times at www.fedex.com.

 

United Parcel Service/UPS

Dec. 13: Last day to ship some UPS Ground packages

Dec. 19: UPS 3 Day Select

Dec. 20: 2nd Day Air

Dec. 23: Next Day Air 

Learn more at www.ups.com

Retailers like Walmart, Target and Kohl’s all have similar though in some cases longer, shipping windows, depending on the items you’ve ordered. 

This year, Best Buy has promised overnight delivery for 99% of customers, however be aware that if the item you want or the ZIP code you’re shipping to doesn’t allow for it, overnight delivery isn’t guaranteed. 

Amazon has announced the dates for Prime members and all customers to place orders for delivery by Dec. 25. However, buyer beware as dates can vary by item and delivery speed. Not all items are sold by Amazon, some are through third-party sellers and not eligible for Prime delivery. 

Dec. 14: Last day to order and get free delivery on orders over $25, free for all customers

Dec. 18: Last day to order items eligible for standard shipping, free for Prime members

Dec. 22: Last day for free delivery on tens of millions of items for Prime members

Dec. 23: Last day for free one-day delivery on more than 10 million items for Prime members

Dec. 24: Last day to order millions of items eligible for Same-Day Delivery (free for Prime members in eligible areas on orders over $35, order by 9:30 a.m. local time). Also free two-hour grocery delivery, reserved exclusively for Prime members in select cities.

Learn more at www.amazon.com/holidaydelivery.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Free Movie Streaming Services of 2019

By Tracey Dowdy

Once upon a time, if you wanted to stream a movie or TV show, you turned to Netflix. Over time, their model spawned more and more similar platforms, leaving viewers with a virtual smorgasbord of streaming services. 

Many of these services are fee-based, so if you’re tired of spending more and more of your budget to access content, these platforms may be an option. You won’t be able to choose from the latest Hollywood blockbusters, but their libraries are extensive, and best of all – they’re free. 

Crackle is an ad-supported streaming service offering both movies and TV shows as well as original content. It’s available across a number of devices without a subscription plan or the need to set up an account. However, if you want to create a list of your favorite movies and TV shows, get recommendations, or resume playback if you switch between devices, you’ll need to create one. 

IMDb  – yes, that IMDb – has its own streaming service – IMDb TV.  The streaming site formerly known as FreeDrive was purchased by Amazon back in 1998, the site offers free, ad-supported streaming for movies and TV shows (U.S. only). It has a standalone channel on Fire devices like Fire Stick, Fire TV Cube, and Fire tablets, stream from your laptop directly from the IMDb site. 

I’ve mentioned Hoopla in “Best of” lists before and here we are again. Hoopla is a digital media service offered through local public libraries. It allows users to borrow movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and TV shows to enjoy on your computer, tablet, or phone or smart TV – all you need is a library card. Content can be watched immediately or downloaded and watched within the next 72 hours. It’s up to your local library how many titles you can borrow each month. 

Tubi TV has a monster-sized library but you need to remember some monsters are like Godzilla while some are more like this guy. In other words, some of the content on Tubi is great like both Kill Bill movies, Meatballs, Monster, and Dial M for Murder, while some of it is, well, less blockbuster and more feel-good cult-classics like Teen Wolf, Kentucky Fried Movie, and Good Burger. 

Pluto TV is owned by CBS giving it access to a vast library of content. It offers both live-streaming and on-demand movies — including old James Bond titles, comedy classics like So I Married an Axe Murderer and Meatballs, and a variety of titles from the Discovery Channel.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tech Gifts for Busy Moms 

The words “mom” and “busy” are synonymous, and that’s never more true than around the holidays. School programs, holiday parties, decorating – don’t get me started on shopping. Not all heroes wear capes – some wear yoga pants. So what’s the perfect gift for the woman who does it all, then does it all again? 

These gift suggestions should help you find the perfect present for the wonder woman in your life. 

Phone accessories – Whether she’s a Pop Socket, a wallet case, or the reason we can’t have nice things, there’s a phone accessory for that. If you’re looking for a bigger splurge, Everpurse (iPhone only) is a self-charging handbag specifically designed for the woman on the go. Users simply slide their iPhone into the charging pocket and le voila – your phone begins charging immediately. The bag itself recharges on its own customized mat in 6-8 hours or overnight. 

Tile Bluetooth Tracker – Are you even a mom if you don’t lose track of your phone or keys at least once a day? Simply attach a Tile to whatever you tend to lose often and its Bluetooth-enabled tracker and companion app will allow you to quickly locate the item. Even if your phone is on silent, your Tile will make the phone ring. One of its more popular features is its massive “lost and found” network. When a user loses an item and it’s not where the Tile app last saw it, you can ask the Tile community for help. Tile uses a “passive network”, so any phone running the Tile app is anonymously looking for other “lost” Tiles all the time. So, if you happen to leave your keys with an attached Tile at a restaurant and another Tile user walks by within the next hour, they can notify you through a passive text message. Then, once youʼre back within Bluetooth range, that user can “ring” the object through the app to locate it by sound.

35mm Film Scanner – Many moms have heaps of albums or shoeboxes tucked up on a shelf filled with photos, slides, and even old negatives. Help her digitize her it all with a film scanner that makes it easy to bring those old 35mm images into the digital age. Simply by using her phone’s camera and an app, she can capture the images stored on negatives and slides and get them onto her phone as normal digital images. At the higher end is the Plustek OpticFilm 8100 or go for a simpler, less expensive version in the Kodak Mobile Film Scanner

Not every mom or grandma on your list has a smartphone and not everyone is tech-savvy, so sometimes keeping in touch can be a challenge. Say hello to the answer to the “I don’t know how to FaceTime/Skype/WhatsApp/Messenger problem. The Amazon Echo Show 5 smart display offers a video calling function, making it easy to video chat with nana.

How many times in the run of a day do you think the average mom re-heats her morning coffee? Never mind – it’s a lot, trust me. Enter the Ember mug. This pretty as well as functional ceramic mug syncs with its app to show how much you’ve drink drank drunk from the mug, plus it also allows you to set your preferred temperature. It comes with a coaster that can reheat your drink and then keep it at your optimal temperature. 

Apple’s AirPods get all the hype, but they don’t even make TechRadar’s list of the Best Wireless Earbuds. Though wireless earbuds are battery-powered and not physically connected to your phone, they still have a cord connecting both buds – and sometimes a band around the neck too. True wireless earbuds have no cord whatsoever. You can spend a lot or a little, put up with a cord or get rid of it altogether, but wherever you land, there’s definitely a quality option in your price range.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 17: The Future Is Here

THE FUTURE IS HERE!

When: Tuesday, December 17, 2019
8:00 – 9:00 pm ET
5:00 – 6:00 pm PT
Join host Marv Dorner (@bebizzy) and the #5GBuiltRight team at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT) on Tuesday, December 17 as we celebrate the arrival of 5G!
For years we have been eagerly anticipating the emergence of the next ground-breaking technology that will once again transform our lives. Thanks to Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, the future is finally here!
Join host Marv Dorner and the team as we take a look at this exciting next-generation technology and explore how it will impact the way we live, work and play!
RSVP and attend the chat for a chance to win a Wireless Bluetooth Speaker or one of TWO Wireless Smartphone Chargers!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: 5GBuiltRight) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: https://bit.ly/36g7UM6
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#5GBuiltRight) on Tuesday, December 17 between 8:00 – 9:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced 

Stress Free Holiday Shopping

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – unless you’re Secret Santa for someone you don’t know well, you’re buying for your mother in law who already has everything and asks for nothing or a child whose list is longer than a Harry Potter book.

According to research by Chase Card Services, 80% of Americans say the holidays stressed them out and nearly a third admit shopping for gifts is the primary reason. In a survey conducted by VitalSmarts, 47% said shopping for gifts stressed them out, and 50% said financial pressures we’re at the top of their Christmas list. And a third survey, this one by McKinsey & Company, reported that not knowing what to buy is the number one worry for shoppers entering the holiday season. 

If you nodded your head to any or all of those statistics, these tips and tricks can help put the happy back in your Hannukah, the merry back in your Christmas, and bring light, happiness, and peace back to your Kwanza. 

Make your list and check it twice. And three times. Maybe four…you get the picture. Unless your list is really short, don’t try to keep track of gifts in your head. Make a note on your phone, in an old school marble notebook, or use an app like Santa’s Bag, an app that allows you to organize your shopping and spending for each gift recipient. It’s password-protected so neither your partner nor your kids can sneak a peek. 

If you’re struggling with gift ideas, do a little social media stalking – the good kind, like Santa does, not the kind that will get you arrested. A quick scroll through someone’s Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter may inspire you as you can easily see their hobbies, interests, and what they like to do for fun. Instead of a physical present, give an experience like museum or concert tickets, or donate to a charity they support in their name. 

Be strategic. The key to surviving holiday shopping is to have a plan. Kevin Gallegos, Senior Vice President of Client Enrollment at Freedom Debt Relief says, “Map out what stores you plan to visit, what you plan on purchasing at each store, and in what order you plan to stop at each location.” Avoid marketing traps like grabbing the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Those are designed to catch your eye, cause impulse shopping, and make sure the retailer gets the better end of whatever deal they’re advertising. 

The old adage, “You have to spend money to make money,” wasn’t meant for Christmas shopping, but it kind of works in this situation. install browser extensions like Honey and RetailMeNot Genie before you even start shopping. Both automatically apply any applicable coupons and discounts at checkout, no more scouring the internet for coupon codes and deals. 

If Amazon Prime has spoiled you and the thought of paying for shipping makes you cringe, hang on to your cart until December 14th for Free Shipping Day. Both big-box stores and smaller retailers will offer free shipping and guarantee your gifts will arrive by Christmas Eve. So, if you can wait, sit tight.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.