Jonna Gallo

Dorm Shopping Pointers from Moms Who’ve Done It

Written on July 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm , by

With my oldest son just turning 10, I have a while to contemplate the college launch (gasp!) and furnishing a postage-stamp-sized dorm room. But my sister-in-law is in the thick of it now, since my niece graduated from high school in June and is heading to a state university next month. I know the two of them are trying to figure out what’s truly necessary and what isn’t, given the lack of space. Top Twelve Dorm Shopping Mistakes, written by the two smart moms behind the parenting blog Grown and Flown, has what sounds to me like a lot of sensible advice. My top two takeaways: Make triple-sure your kid knows how to appropriately dose herself with OTC remedies like Advil, and if you’re driving, consider packing in garbage bags so there’s no luggage to store, hogging valuable real estate. Even without college looming imminently for my kid, I found this worthwhile. And in my heart of hearts, given how the past decade has flown, I feel like I’ll need this info sooner rather than later. The impact of that knowledge on my heart is a subject for another day.

For more info on navigating the high-school-to-college transition, my colleague Suzanne Rust has a terrific feature in the August issue of Family Circle, “The ABCs of College.” Read it here.

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How I Finally Learned to Stop the Roller Coaster Dieting

Written on June 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm , by

Family Circle editor Jonna Gallo Weppler shares how a memorable experience at the Biggest Loser Resort in Chicago helped her get off the weight-loss roller coaster for good. 

 

Let’s just say that if I had a dollar for every pound I’ve lost and regained over my adult life, I’d have plenty of cash for the proverbial rainy day. But after two decades on the roller coaster, I was weary of the ride. My always-messy closet, stuffed with clothes to fit my body anywhere along a 30-pound spectrum, was bumming me out. And more important, as a mom wading into my 40s, not facing the potential health implications of being overweight felt increasingly irresponsible. Anxiety about high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart disease gnawed at my brain. My son and daughter—9 and 6— are my world, and I want to be around for them for as long as possible. Bottom line: It was time to break the cycle. So this is the story of how I finally learned to stop dieting.

In February 2013 I loaded up a suitcase with T-shirts, sweats, socks, sneakers and every sports bra I owned, bound for the Biggest Loser Resort Niagara. My hope was that a week at a hard- core fitness camp would jump-start some weight loss and put the brakes on two decades of yo-yo dieting. (Click here for that story.) It was the first time I’d been away from my kids (then 8 and 5) for more than 24 hours, and initially I was distracted, worried, like a fish out of water.

Soon though, that anxiety gave way to what can only be described as euphoria, courtesy of mega endorphins from the workouts and the fact that I was relieved of all household to-do’s—no cooking, cleaning, homework-checking. It was awesome. But in hindsight, I was living a little too much in the moment and not focusing on how I would lose weight and live healthfully at home. The trainers talked about it—a lot—but instead of truly listening, I was reveling in my freedom from everyday responsibilities. Yes, even exercising 5 hours a day, it felt like a luxury vacation. Despite arriving home optimistic, after a month or two, I was back to my old eating habits. As for exercise, it was sporadic. At best.

In the end, I was disappointed that I didn’t make more of that stay. So when I was unexpectedly offered a chance to check out the newest Biggest Loser Resort, in Chicago, I went for it—vowing that instead of letting history repeat itself, I’d come away with doable long- term strategies.

Going in with that mind-set made all the difference. Thanks to the guidance from BLR Chicago’s first-rate trainers and staff, I’ve made more than a few changes in my day-to-day. Some are surprisingly easy and cheap. Others require more commitment and cash. Combined, they’ve helped me take off 10 pounds and counting at press time, and keep to a reasonably consistent exercise schedule. If you too have had it up to here with dieting, by all means benefit from my hard-won experience.

Little Changes, Big Result

Wake up, drink up. I’d heard downing lots of H20 is a must for weight loss a million times. Unfortunately, I don’t like water, so this advice went in one ear and out the other. A trainer suggested I drink a big glassful before doing anything else in the morning. This single new habit has upped my overall consumption considerably and makes me feel like I’m starting the day on a positive note. And since I’m not fully awake, I find the water less objectionable. I still enjoy an a.m. java, but not first thing. New ritual: Stumble out of bed, plug in coffee, drink a glass of water, then carry on as usual.

Get serious about exercise. My fitness plan hinged on working out at night, “right after everything at home is squared away.” Despite good intentions, it rarely happened. The earliest I ever achieved “squared away” status was around 9 p.m. Exercise, after a nonstop 14-hour day? Yeah, right. At Biggest Loser Chicago, there’s a mandatory cardio class at 6 every morning. Sounds tough, and it was initially. But then it dawned on me—the beauty of that hour is that nothing is likely to get in the way. Result: Twice-weekly 6 a.m. workouts. In my wildest dreams I would not have imagined forcing myself out of bed at that hour for a sweat session. Which is not to say it’s easy—truth be told, some days I have to drag myself out from under the covers. And by 9 that night, I’m totally beat. Even so, the major mental lift I get from crossing exercise off my list first thing is worth the effort.

Crunch the numbers. Math is not my strong suit, but sustainable weight loss requires reading food labels and doing basic calculations. The Biggest Loser healthy eating prescription calls for a 30/30/40 split of daily calories among protein, fat and carbs. It also suggests 25 grams of fiber per day for women, less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium and water, water, water throughout the day—though not so much during meals, because it can interfere with digestive enzymes doing their thing. Realistically, aim for a 90/10 split—meaning 90% of the time you’re eating nutritionally sound, balanced meals. The remaining 10% is flexible, for special occasions and indulging cravings to prevent feelings of deprivation.

Hit the hay sooner, not later. As a working mom, it’s hard to resist the lure of staying up till the wee hours in order to get stuff done. The house is quiet, and there’s always a floor to sweep, laundry to fold, papers to sort. In a session at BLRC, I experienced this aha moment: The later I putter, the likelier I am to end up in the pantry, foraging for sweets. Not out of hunger, but from a mix of boredom and a sense of entitlement. After all, if I’m up this late, surely I deserve a treat. My nights now consist of a few reasonably quick tasks, then retreating to bed (far from the kitchen) with a book or magazine until lights-out.

Train for less. Nobody will kick your butt better than a personal trainer, but the cost can be tough to stomach. Make it more affordable by recruiting a couple of like-minded friends, then finding a fitness pro willing to train you together. This suggestion has been a boon for me and two buddies—we do new moves each week under trainer John Barry’s watchful eye, but at a third of the price of a session. And by agreeing to pay our share regardless, we hold one another accountable to show up.

Short-Circuit a sugar rush. Cake, cookies, candy, ice cream. Yes, please! My brain and sweet tooth duke it out often, and usually my sweet tooth wins. Unfortunately, a few bites of something sugary can often snowball into blowing off an entire day of otherwise healthy eating. BLRC nutritionist Jennifer Vimbor’s suggested fix is a protein-and-carb combo. Three easy options: 1 to 2 ounces of turkey breast on a slice of whole-grain bread, plain Greek yogurt with a serving of fruit or 1/3 to 1/2 cup of high-fiber cereal, or tuna with a few whole-grain crackers. These easy-do pairings quickly stabilize blood sugar and provide that little pause you need to take a breath, refocus and get back on track (see more Biggest Loser recipes).

Look past the scale. When the number isn’t moving downward quickly enough, it’s all too tempting to throw in the towel—or munch miserably through half a box of doughnuts. At BLRC, it was ingrained in my brain to make a conscious effort to seek other tangible signs of progress. Clothes getting noticeably looser, for instance, or being able to do more reps of a challenging exercise can speak just as loudly as the number on the scale. I just have to listen.

Wear a tracker. Even as activity monitors became increasingly popular, I resisted. (In retrospect, I’m sure I just didn’t want inarguable proof of how little I was moving some days.) BLRC trainers are big advocates of the information and accountability these devices provide, and I finally caved. On nights that my number of steps taken is pathetic (like, sub-4,000), I grab my iPod and go for a walk after my husband gets home. There are tons of options on the market. Personally, I like the sleek look and functionality of the waterproof Misfit Wearables Shine (misfitwearables.com, $120). The leather band is an awesome upgrade, and they make socks, a necklace and a T-shirt that house the device as an alternative to wearing it on your wrist. (See how we rated a variety of fitness trackers at familycircle.com/fittrack.)

Resist “Magic Monday” syndrome. How tempting it is to say, “I’ll start over on Monday.” It’s the first day of the work week—seems ideal,  right? Wrong. Any day is good to start (or recommit to) eating well and exercising. Don’t let one junk-food-laden party or skipped workout derail you for days. Think of it this way: If your car suddenly started skidding, you wouldn’t wait until Monday to do something—you’d take corrective action right away. Apply that principle here. As soon as you perceive a skid, grasp your mental steering wheel firmly with both hands and turn decisively in the direction you want to go.

 

Chicago is the latest addition to the roster of Biggest Loser Resorts around the US. The boot-camp-style program runs within the Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort, which boasts indoor and outdoor pools, a gorgeous golf course, a luxury spa and more. For details and rates, go to biggestloserresort.com/chicago

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At Last! 7 Must-See Summer Blockbusters for the Family

Written on May 21, 2014 at 2:59 pm , by

At last! After a long, dreary winter—during which it felt like at least one member of my family was sick on any given day—it’s almost Memorial Day. Traditionally, the long weekend kicks off three months of major movie releases, and this year is no exception. First up on May 23: Wolverine travels back in time to prevent an event that spells d-o-o-m for humans and mutants in X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’m sure my husband and son will be clamoring to be among the first to see it, but I’ll likely pass—just not my thing. Here’s a list of movies that are on my radar for the next few months.

5/30 Maleficent

The title character—ripped from Sleeping Beauty and played in grand fashion by Angelia Jolie—is a sinister Disney villain who curses the infant princess Aurora to die before her 16th birthday.

6/6 The Fault in Our Stars

Based on a quirky, touching, wildly popular YA novel about love between two teenagers battling cancer. I loved the book and will definitely get a sitter and do a date night with my husband for this one.

 

6/13 How to Train Your Dragon 2

My kids loved the first film, and I anticipate lots of “Mom-can-we-go-see-that-please” requests when the TV ads for this sequel start. The short of it: Once again, Hiccup and Toothless must work together to unite feuding factions and keep the peace.

 

6/27 Transformers: Age of Extinction

The fourth installment in this sci-fi series—executive produced by movie master Steven Spielberg—stars hunky Mark Wahlberg and picks up five years after the last one left off. Watch for the cinematic debut of the Dinobots. And of course, Optimus Prime is back.

 

7/18 Planes: Fire and Rescue

The sequel to last summer’s Planes (a spin-off from the Disney Cars franchise) finds air racer Dusty with a badly damaged engine and becoming part of a team battling a massive wildfire. He ends up learning a thing or two about being a hero.


8/8 Deepsea Challenge 3D

From Titanic talent James Cameron comes a mesmerizing journey into the deepest recesses of the ocean. A slam-dunk to get kids excited about science.

 

8/8 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Four brothers rise from the NYC sewers and discover their destiny as teenage ninja turtles. Teaming up with an ambitious reporter and her cameraman, they vow to save the city from Shredder’s evil plan.

 

What movies are on your summer must-see list? Tell me in the comments.

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Q&A with the Author of “Year of No Sugar”

Written on May 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm , by

Listening to NPR, I heard about a new memoir called Year of No Sugar. The author, writer Eve Schaub, is a married mom of two school-aged girls who got her family to agree to avoid all foods with any added sugar for an entire year. As a mom with a wicked (and too-often-indulged) sweet tooth, I was fascinated by this. The book was an enjoyable read (gotta love chapters called “Out of the Opium Den,” “Waitresses Hate Us” and “Poop Doesn’t Lie”) and offered plenty of food for thought about the amount of sugar in a typical family’s day-to-day diet and the Herculean effort required to circumvent it. Last week I had a chance to speak to Eve. This is an edited, condensed version of our lively conversation. To learn more about her, go to eveschaub.com.

Family Circle: Okay, first things first. I was sort of obsessed with your book and mentioned it to a bunch of my work buddies and friends. Every one of them asked me the same question: Did she lose a bunch of weight?

Eve Schaub: (Laughs.) Everyone asks that. Everyone asks two questions, actually: The first one is, Did you lose weight? And the second one is, Were the kids so much calmer without the sugar? I hate to disappoint people, but the answers are no and no. That said, weight wasn’t an issue for me before the Year of No Sugar, and losing weight was not my goal. As for my girls, they were never what I would call hyper, so that wasn’t a problem I was looking to solve. In other words, cutting out sugar wasn’t about either of those issues. In my mind, the whole thing was really about sugar as a long-term toxin, as something that could make us sick in the long term if we kept eating so much of it.

FC: How receptive were your husband and daughters to this concept?

ES: I would say they were pretty open. The girls cried at first, but we talked it through quite a bit. They were willing to give it a go as a family. But let’s also just say that I’m aware I’ve likely used up my allotment of crazy-things-mom-gets-us-to-do ideas for a while.

FC: In terms of eliminating sugar, how did that play out? Did you do a hard cutover or a gradual phase-in?

ES: We went cold turkey. Some people might prefer to do more of a phaseout, and of course, that’s fine too. For us, though, at a certain point it was “Let’s just start.”

FC: How did you feel as the sugar left your system—any different?

ES:  Well, I don’t have that usual midafternoon slump anymore; my energy is very consistent throughout the day. There’s no more roller-coaster effect from sugar surges and then crashes.

FC: Did you all crave sweets?

ES: Actually, I was pretty astounded at how dramatically our taste buds changed. Craving sweets wasn’t a big deal. Figuring out the logistics of how to shop for groceries, navigate social events like parties and order in restaurants, those things were huge. Huge.

FC: How did you manage?

ES: Definitely one day at a time. If I thought about the big picture, it was way too overwhelming. The first few times we ate out at restaurants were extraordinarily challenging. Grocery shopping literally took hours, because I had to scour all the tiny print on all the labels, looking for any of the many different names of sugar. Parties were hard. Like, can you really celebrate someone’s birthday but refuse a piece of their cake? And to be honest, for a while I was worried it was just going to keep getting harder. But over time, I learned a lot. We found our strategies. After about six months, we really just knew what to do, and it wasn’t a big deal anymore.

FC: So now that the Year of No Sugar project is officially over, what’s your status sugar-wise?

ES: We aren’t as totally fanatical as we had to be during the Year of No Sugar, but I would definitely classify us as high-level sugar avoiders. We still read food labels closely and don’t buy anything that has sugar as an added ingredient. It’s just not necessary. Also, we never drink sugared beverages. But we do enjoy treats now and then, at parties and on special occasions.

FC: In the end, was the Year of No Sugar harder, easier or about what you expected?

ES: At points throughout, I would say it was all of those things.

 

Are you concerned about your family’s day-to-day sugar consumption? Would you consider taking action? Tell me in the comments.

A Breakfast Option the Family Agrees On…Yes, Even the Kids

Written on May 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm , by

I grew up hating yogurt—both the taste and the consistency—but always wished otherwise because it’s such an easy, healthy, affordable grab-and-go food. Everything changed for me a few years ago when the Greek yogurt craze was in full swing. A friend suggested trying it and I said, “Nah, I’m just not a yogurt person.” Then she uttered these magic words: “But Greek yogurt is better. It’s like sour cream.” I’ve been hooked ever since. Eager to get my kids (9 and 6) on board for a quick breakfast option, I offered numerous brands and flavors for taste tests. Nothing hit the mark, though. For them the yogurt seemed too thick and, I think, too tart. Imagine my joy at learning Dannon has just come out with Danimals SuperStars Greek Lowfat Yogurt. From the first bite, my kids loved the fruity flavors, including Strawberry Banana Sprint and Cherry Rush, and the lighter, more mousse-like consistency. (I’m sure the colorful packaging appealed too. Hey, whatever works, right?) I’m psyched because each container packs 10 grams of protein. There’s also calcium and vitamin D, sugar is a reasonable 14 grams, and there are no artificial colors or flavors. Sold! Since we’re going through four-packs like nobody’s business, I’m hoping these turn up in 12-packs soon at my local BJ’s. (Hint, hint, lest anyone at Dannon is listening.) For more info, visit Danimals.com.

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High School Basketball Team Shows Touching Display of Sportsmanship

Written on March 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm , by

Here’s something to start your week right. Watch this display of admirable sportsmanship by the basketball team at Desert Chapel High School in Palm Springs, California. We tip our hats to these generous athletes and their terrific coach. #ftw

 

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SAT Test Prep? Yes, Please!

Written on March 6, 2014 at 10:45 am , by

 

Big news about the SAT was revealed today. Even though my oldest kid is just 9, quite a few years away from applying to college, I took note. According to the  College Board, the company that administers the SAT, the exam is being majorly revamped for spring 2016. More specifics and extensive sample items for each section will be released on April 16 of this year, two years before students take the “new” test. Some highlights:

• The essay portion will be optional.
• The math section will focus on three essential areas: problem solving and data analysis, algebra and passport to advanced math.
• Students in need will receive four fee waivers to apply to college, eliminating a cost barrier faced by lower-income students.
• Print and digital versions will be offered. (At present, the test is given only on paper.)

But perhaps most newsworthy to bottom-line-oriented parents is that the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, a well-respected education nonprofit, to provide free (yes, free!) test prep materials for the redesigned SAT. (Critics have long insisted that students whose parents were able to pay for pricey test prep had a large and unfair advantage over poorer kids.) And we’re not talking workbooks here—the College Board and Khan promise sophisticated interactive software for extensive practice, plus how-to videos. This coproduced material is scheduled for release in spring 2015.

Seems to me these new test prep materials—provided they live up to the hype—could really help level the playing field for kids in lower-income families. What do you think?

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We Really Need to Just Stop Throwing Around the R-Word

Written on March 5, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

One of my college sorority sisters has a 12-year-old son named Jack with autism. (She also has two younger sons, ages 9 and 7.) In the years following Jack’s diagnosis, Shannon has become an incredible advocate for special-needs families, from appealing to her Connecticut lawmakers to spearhead insurance reform to guarantee coverage for therapies to cofounding a tennis camp where special-needs kids can learn the sport in a social setting and develop confidence. She is terrific and tireless, and I am proud to know her.

Recently, she posted on Facebook that March is the official month of a campaign called R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word. Clicking on a link to the sponsoring organization, I learned that this important initiative was founded in 2009 by college students aiming to educate society about how hurtful and dehumanizing it is to casually refer to people with intellectual disabilities as “retarded.” Now, to those of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, that word can be more or less a synonym for “stupid” and isn’t meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’ve certainly used it that way unthinkingly over the years. I know better now, and I’ve pledged not to do it anymore. Interested in helping to spread the word to end the word in your community? Visit the website to learn more about why the r-word demeans and to take this online pledge:

“I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

Bottom line: Language affects our attitudes, and attitudes impact our actions. Be part of the solution. I just joined over 420,000 in taking this pledge online. Will you?

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Must-Watch Videos for “Frozen”-Obsessed Kids

Written on February 24, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Disney’s Frozen—a haunting but happily-ending tale of sisters Elsa and Anna, one of whom possesses icy powers that have seemingly condemned the city of Arandel to a Forever Winter— has been the Big Thing in my house since the weekend it opened. We’ve seen it in 2D, 3D and, most recently, the Singalong version. (As if this were somehow inadequate, my kids, 9 and 6, ask regularly about getting the DVD, which isn’t even out until March 18.)

To get her daily Frozen fix, my daughter is loving Alex Boye’s tribal-inspired cover starring 11-year-old Lexi Walker, who seems poised to become a huge star. Her other current fave is ThePianoGuys’ amazing mash-up of music from Frozen with Vivaldi’s “Winter.“ Their obvious passion and the spectacularly icy setting make this a slam dunk. Watch and enjoy.

Tell me in the comments if your kid loves these as much as mine!

 

Top 10 States for Telecommuting Jobs (Is Yours on the List?)

Written on February 14, 2014 at 10:43 am , by

Last August I wrote a feature about the best work-at-home jobs, because we know that interest in those types of opportunities continues to trend high. (The number of U.S. employees who telecommute multiple days per week grew 80% from 2005 to 2012, according to workplace strategy firm Global Workplace Analytics.) A good work-at-home gig can feel heaven-sent for a parent, who can contribute to the family financially but also be around to run a kid to sports practice or the dentist after school. Through my research and reporting I became acquainted with Sara Sutton Fell, the founder of job postings site FlexJobs, a terrific employment resource specializing in telecommuting, freelance and part-time positions. This week, FlexJobs released a list of the top 10 states for telecommuting jobs. Did yours make the cut? Drumroll, please…

FlexJobs.com

1. California
2. Texas
3. New York
4. Florida
5. Illinois
6. Georgia
7. Pennsylvania
8. Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Ohio

 

 

“Job seekers in these states interested in working from home have a bigger pool of jobs to choose from,” says Sara. “But it’s important to note that telecommuting jobs absolutely are available in all states.” For more info on the top states, companies and positions, visit the FlexJobs website.

Okay, let’s work it: Do you have a job that permits telecommuting? If not, do you wish you did? Would you consider switching jobs to be able to work from home at least some of the time? Tell me in the comments.

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Feel Guilty Leaving Your Kids? Maybe, Maybe Not

Written on January 15, 2014 at 10:07 am , by

Monday afternoon, in a wild swirl of hugs and kisses, I said goodbye to my kids for six days and nights to go on assignment in Chicago. I have to say, the emotions associated with work trips never fail to blindside me. On the one hand, frankly, it’s awesome to have a break from the day-to-day. Mine is a two-full-time-working-parents household, with a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old. My husband and I are both Scout troop leaders. The kids take gymnastics classes. If it’s not one thing going wrong in terms of maintaining our ’50s-era house, it’s another. Add in a nightly homework load that I personally find ridiculous, and most nights by 9:30 I’m wiped. Done. Finished.

So, comparatively speaking, a work trip should be a welcome break. Even something to look forward to. But somehow it never seems to play out that way for me. I can’t wait to get away. And then I feel guilty for feeling that way.

I think part of the issue may be that my trips are rare, maybe once or twice a year. Perhaps if I left a little more often we’d all get better accustomed to it. When my son’s eyes fill with tears, I get a lump in my throat I can’t swallow. I remind him that as an owner of an iPhone (his begged-for and gleefully received Christmas gift) he can text me as often as he wants, and we’ll catch up on FaceTime in the evenings. He’s still bummed and, therefore, so am I.

Do you take trips without your kids? If so, do you feel guilty? If not, for whatever reason, do you wish you could? Tell me in the comments.

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The Case for Snail Mail Holiday Cards

Written on January 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm , by

Like many, I spent a good part of last weekend de-Christmas-ing my house. One task was to take down all the holiday cards that arrived throughout December, which I tape around the “window” in the wall between my kitchen and living room. I know some people say cards aren’t necessary in this day and age—”That’s what Facebook is for!”—but I definitely beg to differ. A snapshot on my Facebook newsfeed is here and gone in an instant. A paper card lasts the whole season and becomes part of our holiday decor. My kids (9 and 6) get excited when the envelopes start to arrive, and it quickly becomes a nightly ritual to ooh and aah over the photos. As for our own family card, we spent more than an hour looking at options on Tinyprints and Shutterfly, my hands-down favorite sites for high-quality cards and invites. (Tinyprints had the winner this year, but it was a tough call!) According to Hallmark, 85% of consumers surveyed said they send Christmas cards, letters or photos. I hope that number continues to hold up in our increasingly digitized world. To me, it’s a tradition worth preserving.

Do you send holiday cards in December, or is it not worth the effort or expense? Do you enjoy receiving them? Tell us in the comments.