<![CDATA[NBC New York - holidays]]>Copyright 2016http://www.nbcnewyork.com/feature/holidays http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/4NY_Horizontal.jpg NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.comen-usFri, 30 Sep 2016 20:35:43 -0400Fri, 30 Sep 2016 20:35:43 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Holiday 2015: Gift Guide for Any Budget]]> Tue, 22 Dec 2015 13:15:14 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gift-thumb.jpg
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<![CDATA[NBC 4 New York's Top 10 Facebook Posts of 2015]]> Wed, 30 Dec 2015 10:30:03 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/top+facebook+stories.jpg
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<![CDATA[Your Festive Photos of the 2015 Holiday Season]]> Wed, 23 Dec 2015 13:44:19 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Latasha+Thompson+NEW.jpg These festive photos were submitted to NBC 4 New York by our fans during the 2015 holiday season. Send your photos via Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #NBC4NY. Or submit them via NBCNewYork.com]]> <![CDATA[NBC 4 New York's Top Tweets of 2015]]> Wed, 30 Dec 2015 10:24:43 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/top+tweets.jpg
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<![CDATA[NBC 4 New York's Top Instagram Photos in 2015]]> Wed, 23 Dec 2015 18:00:50 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/199*120/rainbowbuilding.PNG

Photo Credit: @leverageagency
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<![CDATA[Holiday 2015: Gifts for a Fashionista]]> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 11:38:58 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fashionista2.jpg Don't know what to buy for the fashion-forward lady on your list. Click through our ultimate holiday gift guide for some of the most stylish items that will be sure to please even the most devout trendsetters. ]]> <![CDATA[Michelle Obama Joins NORAD's Santa Tracking Effort]]> Fri, 25 Dec 2015 15:26:59 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/michelle-obama-santa-tracker-norad.jpg

Santa Claus made his way around the world and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracked his entire movement. He continued his ride well into Christmas Day, dropping presents off in Hawaii before heading back to the North Pole.

The jolly man in red visited children in countries across the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Kyrgyzstan, India, Afghanistan and Yemen, delivering more than six billion gifts. Santa's last destination was Hawaii after visiting mainland United States. He delivered a total of 7,281,439,471 gifts, NORAD said.

First Lady Michelle Obama volunteered with the tracking effort Thursday night, calling children across the country to see if they wanted to know how far along Santa was and asking if they were excited to see what presents he'd bring them.

"I’m probably going to ask my mom if I can take a pill that will help me sleep, because otherwise I’m going to stay up all night," said a boy named Peyton when Obama asked if he would stay up late, according to a White House press release.

But not every child she talked to was keeping up with the sleigh. Obama spoke with a boy named Anthony who told her he was watching television.

"You’re just watching TV?  But it’s Christmas Eve!" Obama said. "Aren’t you excited that Santa is going to be coming in the morning?"

Anthony replied: "Yeah, but I just -- I get to watch TV."

This Christmas Eve was the 60th year that NORAD, which monitors the skies and seas for threats to the U.S., tracked Santa Claus’ journey. The tradition started in 1955 when Colonel Harry Shoup received a phone call from a child expecting to reach Santa Claus.

The misdirected call was the result of the child reversing two numbers of a Santa Line phone number printed in a Sears advertisement, according to the National Archives.

Sixty years later, there are now 1,250 volunteers manning phone lines to answer questions about the trip. NORAD also has a website where people were able to track the trek. The volunteers are a mix of Canadian and American military personnel and Department of Defense civilians.

The Santa Tracker hotline could be reached at 877-446-6723 starting at 5 a.m. EST on December 24th and continuing through 5 a.m. ET on December 25th.

Official NORAD Tracks Santa apps are available in the Windows, Apple and Google Play stores. Tracking opportunities are also offered on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. Santa followers just need to type “@noradsanta” into each search engine to get started.

Google joined in on the trailing fun with its own tracker

NBC's Asher Klein contributed to this report. 



Photo Credit: White House
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<![CDATA[Gift Guide: 12 Hot Holiday Toys]]> Fri, 11 Dec 2015 09:00:43 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/toys-split.jpg

Lightsabers, talking plush toys and robots make up this year's lineup of hot toys every kid would love to get for the holidays. 

Hundreds of products, from puzzles to action figures based on "Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, which is being released Dec. 18, will dominate store shelves and kids' wish lists alike.  

"'Star Wars' is a good monster for the industry," said Richard Gottlieb, principal and founder of Global Toy Group, a consultancy and resource for the industry. "That, of course, will bring an enormous number of shoppers."

Remote controlled cars, droids controlled by smartphones and robotic creatures with voice recognition features are also popular. 

Take a look at 12 hot toys this holiday season:

Star Wars Episode 7 BB-8 App-Enabled Droid

Kids can link this toy and then control it through their iPhone or iPad. The toy reacts to voice command and can patrol autonomously. Also, it can create holographic like recordings. "BB-8 has something unlike any other robot--an adaptive personality that changes as you play," according to the product's description." Based on your interactions, BB-8 will show a range of expressions and even perk up when you give voice commands."

Star Wars Bladebuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber

It's not just another "Star Wars" toy. It is an essential item to have for the series' enthusiasts. It lights up and creates sounds from the movie to simulate the thrill of sword-dueling between Jedi masters and Sith overlords.

Glider Board or 'Hoverboard'

The Glider Board allows you to travel over six miles an hour. It's controlled with your feet as you move around and can climb up 30-degree slopes. The "hoverboard" can go up to 12 miles in distance after every full charge. For security, an anti-theft key lock is included so it cannot be driven without your permission. If you live in New York City, you may have to limit your use of the "hoverboard" to indoor spaces. The NYC police department confirmed that it is illegal to use the 'hoverboards' in public areas because they are considered motor vehicles that cannot be registered with the department of motor vehicles. In California, legislation passed in Oct. allowing the boards to be used in the same places as bikes. Local California municipalities have the ability to ban their use.

Despicable Me 2 Jumbo Talking Minion - Dave

The Minions, both lovable and memorable, are exactly the kind of toy you want for your child. At 16" tall, Jumbo Talking Minion - Dave is a plush toy that with a squeeze on his tummy can say up to 15 sayings in the original voice from the movie. His eyes can also "pop-out" and light up with a press. This plush toy is not only the prefect gift for children, but also for adults who enjoyed the movie.

UDI RC U818A Quadcopter with HD Camera

You can record high definition video from your drone and perform 360-degree tricks at the touch of a button. It has a built-in fast and slow speed function along with a low-voltage alarm on the transmitter to optimize your experience. The manufacturer recommends that this toy be used by people ages 14 and up. It's also important to follow safety guidelines while flying your drone.

Disney "Descendants"

Your child's favorite Disney characters have families in the feature film "Descendants." Toys from the movie feature Maleficent's daughter, Mal and Evie who is the daughter of the Evil Queen from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Carlos, son of Cruella de Vil is another character that you can buy. The figures can be stylized with two outfits, two pairs of shoes and three accessories.

NERF Rebelle Secrets & Spies Arrow Revolution Bow Blaster

This bow and arrow set will unleash your child's inner Katniss Everdeen. The character has spurred an interest in the bow and with the release of the final "Hunger Games" movie, this set will be a hot purchase. Using this bow, an arrow can be shot up to 90 feet away.

Zoomer Dino Jurassic World Indominus Rex Robot

The blockbuster hit "Jurassic World" rocked theaters this summer and toys from the movie will be heavily sought this holiday season. The Indominus Rex, the bio-engineered dinosaur from the movie, can respond to movement, make recorded sounds from the film and change eye color.

Peanuts Happy Dance Snoopy

The Snoopy plush toy is a great gift for fans of the new "Peanuts" movie, featuring Charlie Brown. This plush version of Snoopy dances to a popular tune from the "Peanuts" series and reacts to being kissed on the nose.

Easy Animation Studio

Crayola's animation studio pack allows all future animators and artists to digitally create scenes with characters included with the purchase. After downloading an application for iOS or Android devices, young animators will be able to create scenes with an included poseable mannequin. Position the mannequin into different poses to create a short stop-motion video.

Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit

The equipment for the four super smart girls from the "Project Mc2,"a children's web show, is available for home or on-the-go use. The kit comes with a working 4x microscope and all the equipment needed to conduct a science experiment with a petri dish, safety goggles, pipette dropper and 15 pH strips.

"Lego Dimensions"

"Lego Dimensions," a video game that can be played across most gaming platforms except PC, is the latest in the toy company's reach for the digital age. Figurines such as Lego Batman, Gandalf and Lucy from "The Lego Movie" are available to use in the game. To play the game, figurines are placed on a pad connected to the system and are then represented in the virtual world. More figurines can be bought to expand the character selection.



Photo Credit: NBC Universal]]>
<![CDATA[Can You Find the Panda Among the Snowmen?]]> Wed, 23 Dec 2015 15:12:47 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/PandaSnoman.jpg

What do pandas and snowmen have in common? Both thrive in cold weather.

A drawing of a single panda interspersed among a sea of snowmen has gone viral.

Hungarian comic artist Gergely Dudas, better known as the Dudolf, drew the "Where's Waldo?"-style photo puzzle. With more than 100,000 shares on Facebook, the puzzle shows no signs of slowing down. 

Can you find the panda in the drawing?


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<![CDATA[Special Christmas Gift: Va. Girls Help Build New Hand for Teen]]> Wed, 23 Dec 2015 09:23:23 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000013064962_1200x675_590387267949.jpg A Virginia mother's Christmas gift to her two young daughters means the gift of a helping hand to a deserving teen. ]]> <![CDATA[700K Bulbs Light up Dela. Home]]> Thu, 24 Dec 2015 10:20:33 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/The+Smiths+Wilmington+Lights+Tom+Smith.jpg

Whether you’re speeding down I-95, flying thousands of feet in the sky or just walking down Prior Road in Wilmington, Delaware, you can’t miss The Smiths' home this time of year.

“We just started putting lights up, the more I put up, the better it looked,” said Tom Smith.

Tom, with the help of his wife, kids and brother-in-law, Ralph, strings nearly 700,000 Christmas lights in all directions over his two acre property: across the roof of his rancher, through the trees and all over the lawn. Some burn white and most twinkle. There are tall candy canes, light-up nutcrackers and inflatable Christmas bears and all bring joy to scores of people every holiday season.

Visitors who stop by to take in the spectacle — which takes two months to build and comes with a $4,000 electric bill — have the chance to take a stroll to the North Pole and meet ol’ Saint Nick (played by Ralph). It’s so popular Delaware State Police have to direct traffic around the neighborhood.

“This time of year with everything I think sometimes we forget, we're so used to giving big presents that we forget about other people's feelings and with all the stuff going on in the world I think this is just beautiful," said Denise Buemi. She insisted her family stop, while on their way home from a wake, for a little cheer.

Tom, 54, started building the display 33 years ago after losing both his parents within months of each other. He wanted to put up lights so bright, his parents could see them from up above.

“That’s my boy. That’s what I think, that’s what they say,” Tom said.

The Smiths welcome visitors every night, for free, until around 11 p.m. The address is 1902 Prior Road, Wilmington, Delaware.



Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[Mystery Santa Gift Helps Family]]> Wed, 23 Dec 2015 06:40:22 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/arlington+pd+surprise.jpg

A mystery Santa is spreading Christmas cheer in Arlington, Texas, surprising a police officer with an unexpected gift. Now that officer is paying it forward and helping a family in need.

Lt. Chris Cook was patrolling the parking lots at the Arlington Highlands shopping center Sunday, when a woman walked up to his car.

“She said 'I hope I’m not startling you,'” said Cook. “I hear her out of the blue and I turn around and look – and the object comes flying in my car.”

That object was a $100 bill she slipped through the window.

“And she says 'Merry Christmas!'” said Cook. “'We pray for you daily.'”

Before Cook could react, the woman got into an SUV and drove away.

“You know, I’ve been in law enforcement for 20 years and never experienced anything like that,” said Cook.

Arlington police policy bars officers from accepting cash or other monetary gifts. But when situations like this arise, officers are allowed to donate that money to someone else.

Fortunately for Cook, he quickly found the perfect candidate. A family left a post on the department’s Facebook page saying they’d recently been robbed and lost all the money they’d saved up for Christmas.

“[The money] is going to go to good use,” said Cook. “We’re going to give it to a family in need.”

As for the mystery Santa, Cook has no clue who or where she is.

“There’s people out there that just genuinely care,” said Cook.

But if he ever does run into her again, he says the first thing he’ll do is give her a big hug.

“That’s what I would tell her – thank you so much,” said Cook. “You didn’t just impact my life.”



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[LAPD Surprises Vet With Xmas Tree]]> Wed, 23 Dec 2015 02:05:07 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/197*120/12-22-2015-herman-perry-christmas-tree-lapd-2.jpg

Two Los Angeles Police Department officers spread some holiday cheer by surprising a 94-year-old veteran with a Christmas tree.

Officers Natalie Nunez and Abel Torres were dispatched last Friday to the home of Herman Perry in Venice to conduct a wellness check.

They found the man to be OK but later realized Perry, a veteran who lives alone, did not have a Christmas tree.

To Perry's surprise, the officers returned with a decorated tree, which he awoke to find in the living room of his apartment.

"I was surprised when I seen it the next day. Beautiful. Thank you," Perry said.

Perry lives alone without any family members nearby.

A local Christmas tree lot donated the tree and lights free of charge.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Homeless Men's Choir Goes From Streets of Atlanta to WH]]> Tue, 22 Dec 2015 13:49:05 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Screen-Shot-2015-12-22-at-12.43.52-PM.jpg

This choir made up of homeless men went from performing locally in Atlanta, Georgia, to a coveted choral performance at the White House this year.

The White House invited the choir to sing for the holiday visitors, according to NBC News. 

"It was everything I hoped for, it was everything I dreamed off," one of the men said of performing at the White House. 



Photo Credit: NBC News
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<![CDATA[Santa Gets Ready for the Big Night]]> Tue, 22 Dec 2015 23:27:33 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Reindeer-SantaNorthPole.jpg Santa Claus is making his final preparations ahead of the big night, preparing with his reindeer in the North Pole. ]]> <![CDATA['Sucks the Joy Out of Everything': Teacher Laments Classroom Christmas Tree Removal]]> Tue, 22 Dec 2015 11:14:06 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/184*120/xmas+tree+new.jpg

A Maine schoolteacher said she was forced to remove a pink "Hello Kitty" Christmas tree from her classroom, a move that she argued shows society has reached a troubling "turning point."

According to Catherine Gordon's Facebook post, the school's principal told her she was no longer allowed to put up the tree. It was the first time in 30 years that she was told the holiday display had to go, she wrote. 

Gordon explained "the tree had no religious symbols on it whatsoever. No crosses or angels - just pink Hello Kitties and my students really enjoyed it and it cheered me up during the day."

Gordon was not told that there had been a change in the policy regarding classroom decorations, the Bangor Daily News reported. The paper was not successful at reaching the school's principal for comment.

Necn left a message for Principal Butler in response to the decision to remove the tree as well.

Gordon put the tree up on Wednesday and was told to take it down Friday, prompting questions from her students.

She explained that the students were just as disappointed as she was.

"It just sucks the joy out of everything," she wrote.

Gordon's Facebook post has gained widespread attention on social media.

Maine Congressman Bruce Poliquin posted on his Facebook page as well to criticize the decision.

"Displaying a Christmas tree is a longstanding tradition in our country. It should not be condemned, especially in our classrooms," he wrote. 

The congressman released a statement encouraging the Bangor School Department to reconsider their decision to remove the tree.

Gordon wrote that she used to be able to throw holiday parties for her students right before break but that is no longer allowed as well.

She added, “I feel that this is definitely a turning point in our society - when everything offends everyone all the time.”



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[USPS Priority Mail Holiday Deadline]]> Mon, 21 Dec 2015 11:51:33 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/usps+crop.jpg

If you want your gifts to arrive in time for Christmas, you'll have to act fast!

Monday is the last day customers will be able to ship Priority Mail via U.S. Postal Service in order to ensure their gifts arrive in time for the holiday. The deadline for Priority Mail Express is Wednesday.

Both Priority and Priority Express will come at a price, so customers should come prepared to wait in line and pay a fee for either service.

Once shipped, customers can receive real-time delivery notifications by signing up online.

The USPS anticipates Monday will be the busiest day of the year for deliveries, with an estimated 30 million packages shipped.

The postal service has hired 30,000 employees to make sure gifts arrive in time for the holidays.

For more information, visit USPS online.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Facebook Is Most Popular App of 2015]]> Tue, 29 Dec 2015 13:46:43 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/facebooklogo1.jpg

Once again, Facebook was the most popular app of the year with nearly 127 million users logging on each month, NBC News reported.

The social network handily beat YouTube, which came in second on Nielsen's "Top Smartphone Apps of 2015" list with 97.6 million users.

Facebook saw an 8 percent increase from 2014, when it topped the list with more than 118 million users. Another one of the company's apps, Facebook Messenger, jumped to the third spot in 2015 with more than 96 million users, up from around 53 million last year.

Google owned the middle of the list with Google Search, Google Play, Google Maps and Gmail each seeing modest gains in users from last year.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Steve Carell Talks to Ellen About 'The Big Short', Holiday Traditions]]> Mon, 21 Dec 2015 12:27:42 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/V29A5131r_CarellInterview.jpg Steve Carell talks with Ellen on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” about his holiday family traditions that include donuts and hot chocolate. Steve also shares with Ellen his recent weight gain for his role in his new film “The Big Short.” ]]> <![CDATA[Steve Carell and Ellen DeGeneres Make Gingerbread Houses]]> Mon, 21 Dec 2015 09:48:38 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/V29A5287-CarellGamesm.jpg Steve Carell and Ellen have fun decorating gingerbread houses on his recent appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on December 21.]]> <![CDATA[Parents Protest Canceled Santa Trip]]> Fri, 18 Dec 2015 23:22:12 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/santa-walk-out-th.jpg

About two dozen parents in San Jose pulled their kindergarteners out of school Friday and walked them to a local coffee shop to see Santa after officials canceled an annual field trip to deliver letters to St. Nick.

The parents yanked 20 to 30 children out of Sartorette Elementary School, furious the principal had nixed a decade-old tradition: leaving school to sip hot chocolate and sit on Santa’s lap.

It comes after a Jewish mother, who asked to be identified only as Talia, raised concerns about what she called "best practices," arguing that public school should respect and focus on all religions during the holiday season.

Parent Vanessa Howe defended the field trip and led the "walkout" to Big E Cafe. How argued that parents who don't want their children to see Santa should keep them at home until after the field trip is over.

"(They) should just not go for that one hour," Howe argued. 

She also asked rhetorically if it would be appropriate for her child to make a fuss on the day students learned about Hanukkah in class.

But Talia saw it differently. She said learning about another person's religion is one thing, but having a child sit on Santa's lap, when it is not her custom, is another. Talia said she would never dream of having a non-Jewish child say the blessings over a menorah, which she equated to participating in Christmas activities.

"They need to redesign the curriculum so that children don't have to opt out," she explained.

In November, Talia began telling the school she didn’t want her daughter to spend two days writing letters to Santa, dressing up as a reindeer and capping the week with a trip sit on St. Nick’s lap.

Christmas brings up painful memories for Talia, whose grandparents were beaten in Poland because of their religious beliefs. In addition, Talia, a certified teacher, said public schools that teach about one religion should teach about all religions in order to be inclusive.

Talia compromised with the superintendent, agreeing that the field trip to the cafe would still happen but without Santa there. Cafe owner Ernesto May, however, said in an interview this week he couldn't disinvite Santa because the event was open to the community. Last year, 160 children showed up.

The principal canceled the event altogether. Cambrian School District Supt. Carrie Andrews acknowledged there was a breakdown in communication and vowed to work with parents to find a better solution for next year.

Talia has now been the target of verbal attacks by a group of parents, one of whom accused her of "waging a war on Christmas," she recalled.

And while some parents were livid, others had a change of heart about the tradition after seeing a different point of view.

Elizabeth Snowden, who is Christian, said she never realized the Santa tradition might cause people of other faiths to feel left out. Snowden said she actually felt jealous of the multicultural party held Thursday in Talia's daughter's class — after Talia suggested a more inclusive holiday party for the kids — where parents of eight cultures described their customs.

And Bao Nguyen, who also celebrates Christmas, said Talia was "brave to stand up" for what she felt was right.

"I’m not mad about the field trip being canceled because there was a very good intent behind this," she said. "Just because we’ve doing this for 10 years, doesn’t make it right."



Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area
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<![CDATA[Santa Meets Baby Born With Partial Skull]]> Fri, 18 Dec 2015 20:07:20 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/buell-family-jaxon-santa.jpg

A miracle baby born with a partial skull has met Santa Claus for the first time. The photo of Santa kissing Jaxon Buell's cheeks at an Orlando mall has traveled across social media.

"I'm happy to report that what we're witnessing is one of the best moments that Jaxon has had, and we're just hoping and praying that that continues," Brandon Buell told TODAY.

At just 15-months-old, Jaxon Buell has a Facebook following of 323,000 people. The followers tune into daily posts on his Facebook page by his parents Brittany and Brandon Buell. They show a child who was not expected to live. Jaxon has with microhydranencephaly, an extreme brain malformation that has left him with a partial skull.

Jaxon's followers keep up with his progress by using #JaxonStrong on social media. His father says Jaxon shows great eye contact and head control and says "mama," "dada" and sometimes exclaims "hey, hey" when he wants to be picked up.



Photo Credit: Courtesy Buell Family]]>
<![CDATA[Laid-Off Woman's Facebook Plea Brings Help for Christmas ]]> Fri, 18 Dec 2015 17:53:47 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Elizabeth-Garcia-AP_669245141572.jpg

When Elizabeth Garcia looked at the bare area under her Christmas tree and considered the bills that had been mounting since her last job layoff, she knew she had to do something to give her family a merry holiday. She turned to social media.

Garcia, 33, one of thousands of North Dakotans to lose their jobs during oil's current downturn, went public with her plight on Facebook. She offered to sell a camper she had bought earlier this year for $500 so that she could give a real Christmas to her son, 8, and daughter, 5.

Although she got no offers for the camper, the replies brought her to tears. A store offered to let her pick out presents for her kids. People donated toys, store gift cards and grocery store cards.

"If you saw my Christmas tree right now, it is absolutely ridiculous how many presents are under there," she said. "If I wouldn't have put the (Facebook) post up, I probably wouldn't have been able to get my kids any presents at all."

Garcia, a single divorced mother who moved to Watford City in the western North Dakota oil patch from Colorado in 2012 to start a new life, was laid off last summer from her job with a company building a natural gas plant. She later was laid off from welding and carpentry jobs.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council estimates as many as 20,000 workers have lost their jobs in the current oil downturn.

"There's a new norm," Louis "Mac" McLeod, executive director of the Minot Area Homeless Coalition, said of people struggling and agencies like his working overtime to help them. "And we don't like the new norm. But it is what it is."

Garcia was hired by a local laundry, and she's also selling homemade food to get by until she can find another oil field job. She hopes to make North Dakota her permanent home; she likes the schools and her kids are happy, she said.

And that was before the outpouring of support from her Facebook post. She has lived in many states, she said, and "I don't think this would have happened anywhere else."

"There are more warm people here than anywhere else I've ever lived," Garcia said.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Amazon Gives Toys to Military Kids]]> Fri, 18 Dec 2015 15:28:28 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Amazon-Military-Kids-Gifts.jpg

Nearly 200 San Diego children, many with parents deployed overseas, got a holiday surprise Thursday when Amazon delivered gifts during a festive gathering for military families.

Military families got together at the Chula Vista Elks Lodge for a special holiday event hosted by Amazon and Operation Homefront. The event was meant to recognize the sacrifices military families make, especially during the holiday season when not everyone can be home to celebrate together.

"We know that sometimes when your service member is deployed, that’s hard on you, at home, alone with your families, to take care of the kids," an event organizer said at the party, speaking to the military spouses in the room.

Amazon surprised the families by donating carefully wrapped toys. Children grinned from ear to ear as they tore off the wrapping paper.

"The families left at home sometimes don’t get recognized. It’s you, the people that stay behind, who take care of the kids and make sure everything is running, (who) really enables your service member to move forward and defend our country," the event organizer said.

Marci Duke, whose husband deployed in October, said the holiday event was a blessing for her family — including kids ages 1 and 3 — during an otherwise tough time of the year.

"It brings a lot of joy for us, especially the kids, this time of year, when there isn’t really that much to be found with our dad and husband gone," Duke told NBC 7.

Duke, currently pregnant with her third child, said her husband will still be deployed when she gives birth in March.

"He will not be here for the birth, so that’s going to be different for us — the first one that he’s missed," she said.

Samantha Raadgep, whose husband is deployed on the USS Sampson, echoed those sentiments. She said Thursday’s festivities put a big smile on the faces of her children, who were pleasantly surprised by the gifts they received from Amazon.

"It’s a relief to have a Christmas and bring more joy to our family and home," said Raadgep.

Amazon spokesperson Ashley Robinson said the event brings the company — and its staffers — tremendous joy as well.

"This is such a fun, emotional event. These are parents who spend a lot of time watching their children on their own while their service member is deployed overseas. It is so exciting to be part of that family and support them, and provide them just a little more cheer this season," said Robinson.

"We are so proud and honored to have that moment with them, and to be able to provide that," she continued. "It’s a tough time. Everyone wants to spend the holidays with their loved ones."



Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[PHOTOS: 2015 Top Pop Culture Moments]]> Tue, 29 Dec 2015 12:43:22 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_911730164619.jpg From breakups to shakeups and blockbusters that kept us captivated. Here's a look at some of the most memorable pop culture moments from 2015.

Photo Credit: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Rent a Real-Life 'Elf on the Shelf' for $100/Hour]]> Fri, 18 Dec 2015 15:16:32 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/elf7.jpg

Want to make an impression at your holiday party this year?

A Boston area man is offering to "come to your holiday party dressed as the Elf on the Shelf and sit in any location you assign me while I stare emptily at your guests" for the low, low price of $100 an hour.

"I specialize in holiday themed events, either yours or an un-expecting friend's, but I also offer contracted private investigating and babysitting services," the oddly-worded post on Boston Craigslist said.

Rates are negotiable, according to Elf on the Shelf Guy, so if you're short on cash, don't be scared away by the $100 price tag.



Photo Credit: Amazon]]>
<![CDATA['Walkout' After Santa Trip Nixed]]> Fri, 18 Dec 2015 12:05:37 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/1217-2015-SartoretteSchool.jpg

Parents in San Jose, California, plan to pull their kindergarteners out of school Friday after the principal canceled a decade-old tradition of writing letters to Santa and delivering them on a field trip to a local coffee shop.

Parent Vanessa Howe will carry on the tradition by staging a walkout at 10 a.m. Friday, the day the field trip was scheduled to take place. She is urging anyone who wants to join to meet at the corner of Woodford Drive and Hallmark Lane. Parents will bring their children to Big E's coffee shop to visit Santa.

"We had a person come in last week to my son's class to speak about Hanukkah, and it would be like saying, 'I don't want you coming into the classroom because I don't want my son around that, or learning about that,'" Howe said.

It comes after the Jewish mother of a child at Sartorette Elementary School sent a four-page letter to the school district asking for the event to be canceled. She brought up "best practices" concerns  and told administrators she is not anti-Christmas, but feels it's inappropriate that only one religion be represented in school.

The parent, who wants to be identified only as Talia, had the support of the superintendent and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute in Washington, D.C., which said the field trip to see Santa during public school hours was inappropriate and ill advised.

In a letter to the school board, Talia said the "Dear Santa" letters and field trip are not "inclusive of all students."

Talia went to see Supt. Carrie Andrews, and worked out a compromise: To attend the field trip and drink hot chocolate without Santa. Parents could take their kids to see Santa on their own time. She also advocated for a more multi-cultural holiday approach, which her own kindergarten teacher readily adopted. Parents from eight cultures came to class on Thursday to teach about customs across the globe.

But the principal canceled the trip, which is upsetting other parents. Many said the biggest issue is that they were not consulted by the school board.

As Andrews pointed out to NBC Bay Area, however, the decision wasn't the school board's to make. Andrews acknowledged a "communication breakdown on a personnel level" was at the root of it.

"(School officials) preemptively made a decision without getting further input beyond one person it appears, so I'm here to hear what they have to say for themselves," parent Mitch Williams said late Thursday.

Still, other parents ended up siding with Talia.

Elizabeth Snowden, who is Christian, never realized the tradition might cause people of other faiths to feel left out.  Snowden said she actually felt jealous of the multicultural party held in Talia's daughter's class, and was thinking of bringing her own 5-year-old to that. "I think kids in her class are getting a much better holiday party," she said. 

 NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Jetpacks, Virtual Reality: Tech to Watch for in 2016]]> Thu, 17 Dec 2015 16:37:03 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Martin-Jetpack-GettyImages-500287988.jpg

The world of technology is rife with opportunity, but which good ideas will become great devices in 2016? Here’s a look at the gadgets that could shape our lives in the months ahead.

JETPACKS

You may have seen footage recently of a man with a jetpack soaring around the Statue of Liberty. And although you can't get one — yet — that could change in the coming year, thanks to rival companies that hope to put personal jetpacks on the market.

Martin Jetpack, born in 1998 from the dream of a New Zealand college student, plans to make jetpacks available to first responders in 2016. Funded mostly by private investors, the company developed a prototype cleared for manned test flights in 2013 by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.

Describing its brainchild as "the world's first practical jetpack," Martin Jetpack envisions "potential usage spanning search and rescue, military, recreation and commercial applications, both manned and unmanned," according to its website.

The company's customizable First Responder Jetpack will be available in the second half of 2016 for $200,000. According to Martin Jetpack, the device is meant to help with firefighting, rescue missions, border patrol, disaster relief, pipeline inspections and other emergency services.

Martin Jetpack agreed in November to provide Dubai Civil Defense with 20 jetpacks and two simulators.

Also debuting in 2016 is the Martin Jetpack Experience, a simulation conducted in a "closely controlled flight environment" with help from an instructor on the ground. The simulator is meant to mimic the experience of flying a jetpack and is intended for the "hospitality and tourism sector," according to the company's website.

Personal jetpacks won't be far behind. Martin Jetpack plans to roll out a recreational device by 2017 but emphasizes that "the aircraft will only be produced when internal and external safety and reliability standards are met."

Safety features will include a ballistic parachute system, along with a pilot module and landing gear to protect the operator. The device, made mostly of carbon fiber, epoxy, foam and aluminum, has a specially designed aircraft engine and two duct fans that provide lift. It can cover about 30 miles and sustain a flight time of 30 minutes, according to the company. Maximum speed is roughly 45 mph, with a cruising speed of 35 mph and a recommended altitude of 500 feet.

The jetpack's "target price" will be under $150,000 and requires a $5,000 deposit, which puts interested buyers on a waiting list.

Martin Jetpack's device is rivaled by that of California-based Jetpack Aviation, the company behind the Statue of Liberty flight that garnered national attention in November.

The model being tested, the JB-9, "is small enough to sit in the back seat of a car but powerful enough to fly thousands of feet high," according to the company, which boasts "the world's only true jetpack" powered by twin jet engines.

Although it's unclear when a model could be commercially available, Jetpack Aviation says on its website "the whole team is dedicated to bringing a real JetPack to market." The company aims to showcase the JB-9 at flight shows internationally and is developing a next-generation model designed to climb 10,000 feet and travel 100 mph. Flight time will be limited to about 10 minutes, according the company's website.

Jetpack Aviation says it's also "in discussions with several parties about developing a JetPack racing series" — think NASCAR for jetpacks.

VIRTUAL REALITY

As virtual reality comes to the forefront, technology expert Lon Seidman wonders, "What’s the experience going to be like?"

Industry frontrunner Oculus VR — bought by Facebook this year for $2 billion — plans to launch its Windows-compatible virtual reality system in the first quarter of 2016, the company has announced. When hooked up to a Windows 10 PC, Oculus Rift will allow users to stream Xbox One games in virtual reality, according to CNET. An Xbox controller and camera will track body movements, and users will don a headset that could cost $1,500.

While Oculus may have the name recognition, Seidman said industry experts are more impressed with competitor HTC, which will launch its Vive headset in 2016. The technology, designed for computer games, will give users a 360-degree virtual experience. Sensors tracking head rotation and body location will allow gamers to walk around inside their virtual worlds, according to HTC.

Also in the mix is PlayStation VR, developed by Sony and formerly known as Project Morpheus. The virtual reality headset will work in conjunction with PlayStation 4 and is set to launch in the first half of 2016. According to PlayStation, head movements and controller location will be "reflected in the game's images in real time." It will retail for about $500 and is expected to sell two million units in its first year, Fortune reports.

Technology research group TrendForce predicts 14 million virtual reality devices will be sold in 2016. While virtual reality will find a niche in the gaming industry, it could ultimately become a "legitimate entertainment option" stretching to the silver screen, according to CNET.

DRONES

Drones have dropped bombs, scouted fires and rescued puppies. They've also become wildly popular among hobbyists, topping gift lists during the 2015 holiday season. Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration said they expect "hundreds of thousands" of drones will be gifted this month.

Also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, drones are operated by remote control or onboard computers and often equipped with cameras, making them appealing to filmmakers, realtors and journalists seeking aerial footage. The NFL is also experimenting with drones and obtained permission from the FAA in September to film practices.

Seidman said he expects drones to continue gaining traction in 2016.

"I think we are going to see a lot of consumer and industrial applications, more autonomy and falling prices," Seidman said. "It's amazing how far they've come in a short period of time."

As drone popularity surges, new regulations are in place. The FAA announced Dec. 14 that all recreational drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds must be registered for a $5 fee, to be waived through Jan. 20, 2016.

Hobbyists who acquire drones before Dec. 21 will need to register them by Feb. 19, 2016. Drones obtained after Dec. 21 must be registered before flying outdoors for the first time, according to the new FAA guidelines. Registration is valid for three years and applies to all drones in a hobbyist’s fleet.

Dozens of consumer models are on the market already, including several by industry leader DJI. GoPro will enter the market in 2016 with the launch of its highly anticipated Karma drone. Although 3D Robotics' Solo drone features wireless GoPro streaming, Karma will be the first UAV produced directly by GoPro. The company says it will give away 100 drones at launch.

Online drone delivery options are also in the works. Google hopes to debut its Project Wing service in 2017, and Amazon has explored the idea of 30-minute drone deliveries for Prime subscribers. Wal-Mart, too, has expressed interest in using drones to deliver orders and asked U.S. regulators in October for permission to begin testing the technology.

HOVERBOARDS

Otherwise known as self-balancing electric scooters, the device made famous by "Back to the Future" went from concept to reality in 2015.

While self propelled, hoverboards aren't actually airborne. They balance on two wheels and respond to foot pressure, changing speed as you lean back and forth. Hoverboards range in price from $300 to $1,500, and in this case, you might get what you pay for.

While sought-after, the devices have been cause for concern amid reports of self-combustion.

Federal authorities are investigating a string of recent hoverboard fires — about a dozen in as many states. Most ignited while the devices were plugged in and charging, likely the result of overheated lithium-ion batteries.

"They are very power dense and thus can be dangerous if the electronics and engineering controlling charging are not well implemented," Seidman explained. "As these cheap knockoffs are cutting corners to hit a price point, this is what can happen."

A class-action lawsuit filed days before Christmas singles out popular hoverboard brand Swagway, which did not immediately comment but said previously it met all the safety criteria of Amazon, which yanked several brands — including Swagway — from its online marketplace.

Overstock.com halted the sale of hoverboards entirely and offered refunds to customers who purchased them. Major airlines have prohibited hoverboards, and some 15,000 devices have been seized at the U.K. border.

Amid the fallout, the Consumer Technology Association announced a ban on hoverboards at the January 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the largest event of its kind in the U.S., CNBC reports.

Seidman called the self-combusting hoverboards "a great example of the commoditized nature of tech these days" and said it could be a challenge to regulate the burgeoning market.

"There are so many knock-offs that were rushed to market with cheap components that cause the issues we're seeing out there," he explained. "With Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, etc. all making it very easy for Chinese electronics factories to sell goods direct to U.S. consumers for low prices, I think we'll see a lot more of this kind of thing in the future, unfortunately."

While Fortune predicted in November hoverboards would "go mainstream" in 2016, Seidman said safety concerns could deal a blow to the industry.

"I am sure this will impact sales," he said the day the lawsuit was filed, "especially for the legit brands that are now paying the price for their cheap competitors who knocked off their designs."

APPLE PRODUCTS

A dominant force in the industry, Apple continues to push the creative envelope.

The company's quest to build a slimmer iPhone could soon make your earbuds obsolete. According to a report cited by USA Today, the iPhone 7 could be too thin to support a traditional headphone jack, requiring users to enlist the help of Bluetooth or buy a Lightning port adapter.

Eliminating the jack — and the motherboard components that go along with it — would cut costs and allow for a bigger battery, according to Seidman, who said he "wouldn’t be surprised if they did that" in 2016.

That aside, Seidman said he doesn't expect any major iPhone upgrades in 2016, since even a trailblazer like Apple is "limited by the technology" that's available. Because the company has been releasing phones on an annual basis, Seidman said to expect the iPhone 7 in September.

The technology to watch, he said, is Apple TV and competitors such as Amazon Prime Video, which allow subscribers to stream movies and TV shows from the Internet.

"You might see them pushing the cable industry harder," he explained. "I think you’re going to see companies like Apple act more like cable companies, where you can a-la-carte choose which channels you want to watch."

A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment on what's in the works.

SELF-DRIVING CARS

Driverless technology is ever-developing. Seidman said Tesla, which has less to lose than higher-profile manufacturers, will likely "push the hardest" in terms of putting that technology into practice.

Tesla’s autopilot feature allows cars to park, steer, change lanes and avoid collisions on their own. According to the Chicago Tribune, the technology works in concert with advanced cruise control, which allows cars to maintain a certain distance from other vehicles by automatically speeding up and slowing down in traffic.

Google has also been an industry leader, with its self-driving model in the works since 2009. The prototype is equipped with a series of sensors that can detect surrounding objects — from cars and pedestrians to road debris and animals — at a distance of up to two football fields.

Google’s modified Lexus SUVs and specially designed self-driving models are being tested in California and Texas, where they’ve already clocked more than a million miles. Google hopes to expand to other areas of the country and run pilot programs to see how ordinary people would take advantage of driverless cars.

Another tech company, Comet Robotics, aims to bring self-driving cars to 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2016, according to a report published by the New York Observer. Based in Michigan, the company envisions driverless buses that can carry up to 70 people. Public transit trials are planned at the University of Southern Florida in Tampa, as well as two other Florida cities, Seattle, and Greenville, South Carolina.

Comet Robotics is also working with the U.S. Army on a pilot program to bring "ground mobile robots" to military bases, according the company's website. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point may be among the first to test the technology.

Commercially, however, Seidman said most automakers are likely to pace themselves in the coming year.

"You might see updates to the software to give (cars) more functionality," Seidman said. "If they have the ability to do it, they’ll slowly upgrade the cars to do more."

He said most vehicles "can do a lot more" than what's on the market, but legal and ethical questions have slowed the application of driverless features. A self-driving car might, for instance, have to choose between protecting a passenger and avoiding a pedestrian.

"If a baby carriage is in front of the car, do you take out the baby carriage or do you drive off a cliff?" he wondered. "Those are real questions and we have to answer those."

There's also concern over whether automated features will actually work the way they're supposed to. California has drafted rules requiring drivers to stay behind the wheel until testing confirms driverless vehicles are safe and reliable.

AFFORDABLE DEVICES

Less discussed but perhaps wider reaching is the rapid declining cost of technology, according to Seidman, who said you can now purchase a "workable PC" for $99 or a Google Chromebook for $150. Chromebooks listed in Google's online store range from $149 to upwards of $999, with most models priced between $249 and $300.

"Families that couldn’t afford any computer at all can now get one for $99 that’s something usable," Seidman explained. "You’ve got something very interesting, especially for families that are trying to reduce the digital divide in their own homes."

He said lower prices are putting better technology in the hands of more people, including students, who often have to shell out hundreds of dollars for a single textbook.

Seidman said the challenge will be "convincing people that $99 computers really are useful" when they’re accustomed to spending hundreds, if not thousands, for a quality machine.

"The cost is going to go across every sector — education, consumers, business — that, I think, is the biggest thing that no one’s really talking about," he said. 



Photo Credit: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Santa Photo Failures]]> Thu, 24 Dec 2015 12:06:39 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*160/2fc56add4d584287bfec10f2c17c144d.JPG.jpg Remember sitting on Santa's lap while your mom or dad wielded a camera and waited for your big Christmastime grin -- only to see you burst into tears and ruin it all? These user-submitted pictures are the results of those times.

Photo Credit: Katje Davis]]>
<![CDATA[Researchers Find Where Christmas Lights Up the Brain]]> Wed, 16 Dec 2015 22:22:28 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/christmas-spirit-brain-fmri-research.jpg

Wondering where to find the Christmas spirit this holiday season? No need to act like Ebenezer Scrooge – now you know exactly where to look.

Danish researchers say they've found the precise parts of the brain that lit up a brain scan when volunteers who reported feeling Christmas cheer were shown Christmas-time images like holiday street lights, NBC News reported.

Five parts of the brain showed higher activity among that group than the other half, which had more of a "bah, humbug" syndrome, wrote the researchers from the Danish Headache Center and Department of Neurology at the University of Copenhagen in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal.

"No eggnog or gingerbread was consumed before the scans," Anders Hougaard and colleagues wrote.



Photo Credit: The BMJ]]>
<![CDATA[San Jose Mom Accused of Waging 'War on Christmas']]> Wed, 16 Dec 2015 23:40:00 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/santa_722x406_2168833182.jpg

A San Jose kindergarten class’s field trip to visit Santa was abruptly canceled this week, launching a Christmas controversy that has left a slew of hurt feelings and a planned protest in which parents will take their children to visit St. Nick anyway.

Sartorette Elementary School students were slated to walk to a nearby coffee shop on Friday morning to sip hot chocolate and sit on Santa’s lap, as they have for the past 10 years. But that tradition is over – at least for this year – after a Jewish mother said she didn’t want her 5-year-old daughter to participate.

Now, plenty of parents are mad at the woman, calling her out and unfriending her on Facebook. She says one parent volunteer shouted at her on Wednesday morning: "You’re the one who started the war on Christmas."

Talia, a certified California teacher herself who requested her last name not be used, says she didn’t like the fact that one religion, Christianity, was the focus of most of the December teachings in school. Specifically, she didn’t like her daughter writing letters to the North Pole for two days in a row, dressing up as reindeer, and a big annual field trip to the local coffee shop where the kids sit on Santa’s lap and ask for presents.

After she wrote letters, voiced her concern at a Dec. 1 school board meeting and met with the school superintendent, it was decided, out of fairness, the field trip to Big E Café on Branham Lane would be canceled.

Both sides say the other is fostering a culture of intolerance.

"This is not a Jewish issue for me," Talia said on Wednesday. "It’s an inclusion issue. We can’t spend five days on just one culture. That’s fostering intolerance. When Christmas is given the same time, or less time, than American holidays, like Veterans Day, then kids don’t feel as American."

Talia says her daughter is the only Jewish student in the class, which also comprises a half-dozen other cultures, which Talia said also aren’t fairly represented during the winter holiday time. In Talia’s family, her grandparents told stories at Christmastime of getting beaten for being Jewish in Poland prior to the Holocaust.

But Joanne Tashiro represents many other parents who are upset with "one parent, who along with a rash board decision, ripped apart the community by forcing the school to remove a much-revered field trip by fighting religious imbalance in the curriculum."

Tashiro said that Talia is trying to "scrub down our school and devoid it of any cultural teaching or tolerance." She added: "In striving for tolerance, this person is stripping our school of any exposure to culture."

Tashiro and other parents said they plan to keep their children out of school on Friday and visit Santa at the Big E Café despite the field trip’s cancellation.

Before the field trip was officially canceled, Talia had worked out a compromise with the school to write "thank you" letters to the coffee shop owner, instead of writing Santa, and walking to the café to drink hot chocolate, as long as Santa showed up after school hours for parents to visit on their own. She signed a permission slip for her daughter to attend.

But Big E Café owner Ernesto May said he opens his shop to many schools in the neighborhood, and couldn’t alter Santa’s hours to accommodate Sartorette students.

"I can’t get rid of Santa," he said. "It’s an unfortunate situation. Last year, we had 160 children come by to decorate the place, drop letters off to Santa and families donated toys."

May said he thinks the children, whether they celebrate Christmas or not, should be able to sit on Santa’s lap. "What are they going to cancel next?" he asked. "I know she means well, but we can’t shield our children from everything. When is it going to stop?"

Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute in Washington, D.C., said he feels that stopping the Santa visit was the right thing to do. Talia used Haynes’ supporting material to present to the school board this month.

"This assignment is inappropriate in a public school," he said. "What is legal is not always right. At the very least, this is ill advised. You shouldn’t have a holiday experience that privileges just one particular religion."

And it was with that spirit that Cambrian School Superintendent Carrie Andrews said she stands by this year’s decision to cancel the Santa field trip.

"Our biggest commitment is inclusion," she said. "This isn’t about Santa. Santa is everywhere, he’s all around town. But during school, we have to represent and reflect our community to make sure we’re inclusive of all beliefs."

California Department of Education guidelines, Andrews pointed out, are supposed to focus on more than one religious belief.

Andrews is rounding up a group of parents and community leaders to see if and how they can make changes for next year.

"This is an opportunity to have a discussion," she said. And as for the school walkout, she added: "I truly hope that doesn’t occur."



Photo Credit: NBCPhiladelphia.com]]>
<![CDATA[How to Make a Gift Bag From Wrapping Paper]]> Wed, 16 Dec 2015 16:52:46 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/How-to-Make-a-Gift-Bag-from-Wrapping-Paper_1200x675_587010115724.jpg Learn how to make a gift bag from holiday wrapping paper with blogger Ana Cristina Enríquez (blog Mami Glammy), from Miami, Florida.]]> <![CDATA[Small Farmers Take Root In Competitive NYC Xmas Tree Market ]]> Tue, 15 Dec 2015 14:47:56 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/XMAS-DSC_0341.jpg

Charles Hurd runs a small farm just an hour and 30 minute drive upstate from New York City that sells choose-and-cut Christmas trees. Among the farm's tactics to get people to drive out to the family-owned operation is having Santa Claus skydive onto the farm on Black Friday.

Despite being close to the largest metropolis in the United States, Hurd, 31, has never been able to sell his trees in the Big Apple. Until this year. 

“We haven’t gone down because we heard that it was very difficult selling trees in [New York City] and how that works with permitting and that sort of thing,” Hurd said. 

New York City's Christmas tree industry is a curious ecosystem, challenging for newcomers to break into. It functions like a “cartel," according to one retailer speaking somewhat facetiously. The industry is dominated by plants from elsewhere, typically high quality Canadian trees, popular North Carolina Fraser Firs — one grower called them the “Cadillac” of Christmas trees — and the Douglas Fir from Oregon.

The market is particularly challenging for small farmers in New York state. The complicated logistics of selling in the city, costly prices of farmland, and notoriously strong competition makes it difficult for farms from New York to find their niche in the market.

Hurd has been able to sell his trees in the city for the first time thanks to recent initiatives begun by the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York (CTFANY) in partnership with Grow NYC and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

While local tree farmers have little chance of taking back the city, the locovore-like initiative hopes to facilitate selling, raise awareness, and promote local trees so that farmers can better take advantage of the lucrative market that's practically in their backyard.

Sourcing Trees Locally

On Saturdays this December, Hurd and his mother Susan have staked out tents at Greenmarkets in Brooklyn Borough Hall and Fort Greene — hauling about a hundred freshly cut Douglas Firs, Concolor Firs, Canaan Firs, Balsams, and Blue Spruces down from their farm in Modena, New York, to split between both locations.

The Greenmarkets, which typically sell locally grown produce and other products from their member farmers, opened their markets in partnership with CTFANY this year to Hurd and another seller, Bob Schoch, who owns Primrose Hill Farm in Staatsburg, New York.

This pilot program offers them a four-week time slot in the market to sell their trees and includes paid help from the Youthmarkets program, as well as tents and tables to ease the logistics.

For the Hurd family, this Greenmarket opportunity was the only way to bring their trees down to the city. According to Susan Hurd, it has “tripled” their business. Charles says his mother is an “optimist.”

They sell their trees for the same amount that they would on their choose-and-cut farm upstate, about $50 to $60 each. Prices at other stands vary around the city depending on the seller and neighborhood.

"Fresh and fragrant is what we’re emphasizing," Susan Hurd said about how they market their trees. They cut the trees the night before coming to market. Trees shipped in from other states take longer to arrive after they are cut.

The effort to bring more New York grown trees into the city isn’t limited to the Greenmarkets.

There is also a push for tree sellers who line so many sidewalks across the city for the holiday season to include New York state-grown trees.

Last year, the state’s “Pride of NY” program began supporting wholesale tree farmers to connect them with NYC vendors and help with promotional materials. According to a release, 2,000 trees labeled as originating in New York were brought into the market.

Greg’s Trees, which sells in locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens, is a prominent retailer of New York state grown trees. This year, their stands had sold out of their New York stock by Dec. 9.

George Nash, who has been selling trees in New York state since the 1970s, said there was an “concerted” push to purchase from New York state growers this year. Vendors personally reached out to him, as did the CTFANY.

Nash, who typically buys trees grown in Canada or North Carolina, is considering adding New York trees to the selection in his 17 stands around the city next year.

“Maybe we’ll do some trees [from New York] and make everybody happy,” Nash said.

United Against Fake Trees

Some customers at Hurd’s Greenmarket stand admit that the idea of cutting down a living thing for just a few months seems to be contrary to environmentalism.

“Last year for the first time we considered ‘Should we be doing this? Is there something we can do with the tree afterwards?’” said Stephen Hoogerwerf, 40, a nearby resident, who purchased a Douglas Fir with Chaneve Jaeanniton, 37. “When you start to think about it, it's kind of like, why?”

Frank Banisi, 35, who travelled from Bushwick with Claire Moyle, 29, initially questioned the sustainability of cutting trees down. The pair traveled out of their way for a locally grown tree after receiving an email from a food radio network that talked about the environmental benefits of real, local trees.

Hurd is armed with arguments that his trees are beneficial for the environment. He runs his own composting program for unsold trees and from other agricultural waste around the area. Each of his trees at the Greenmarket bear a tag advertising "Treecycle," part of MulchFest 2016, a NYC Parks initiative to turn Christmas trees to wood chips.

Younger trees create more oxygen than older trees, he also said. 

“Older trees are just like people in life, they’re a little more sedentary, they don’t respire quite as much, so its good to keep moving them out," he said.

Despite the apparent rivalries within New York City, the other farmers are quick to note that the real enemy in the competitive market is not each other — but artificial Christmas trees.

According to market research by the National Christmas Tree Association, 13.9 million artificial Christmas trees were purchased in the United States, compared to 26.3 million real trees, in 2014. The numbers have hovered at about the same averages for the past six years.

Amber Cline, whose family owns one of the large wholesale farms in North Carolina, said the real versus fake competition is the prime concern for the industry.

"Ultimately our goal as an industry is to make sure that homes have real Christmas trees," Cline said. "So if they come from the retail lot on the corner that got their trees from North Carolina wholesaler or from the choose-and-cutter outside of town, either one to use is wonderful. We just want them to have a real Christmas tree."

Taking Advantage of the Market

New York state is the 8th largest Christmas producing state, cutting about 270,000 trees in 2012, according to the U.S. Agriculture Census. But that’s far behind the giants of Oregon and North Carolina — numbers one and two — which produce over six million and four million, respectively. Trees from these mass-producing states dominate other markets across the country.

According to Dave Morin from the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association, “all of the retail lots in Massachusetts have trees shipped in from from out of state.” He estimates that most trees come to the state from Canada, the neighboring states of New Hampshire or Vermont, or shipped up from North Carolina.

In California, according to Sam Minturn, executive director of the California Christmas Tree Association, 90 percent of trees in the state come from elsewhere. Growing in California is difficult for similar reasons as New York -- high land prices and the fact that most farms are small choose-and-cut operations. Trees come mostly from Oregon, which is the largest producer of Christmas trees in the country.

Based on these industry trends, Dave Weill, one of the few New York state farmers who grows tree wholesale, says the tree stock in New York state realistically wouldn't be enough to sustain the New York City market anyway.

"I’m one of the largest growers in the state and I’m only supplying seven vendors in the city. That’s a teeny-tiny amount," Weill said.

As the major New York City retailers mainly deal with wholesalers and large quantities of trees, small farms like Hurd's are less than ideal to purchase from. Nash, for example, deals with roughly 15,000 trees a season, which is more than the entire stock of most tree farms in New York state.

For a retailer like Nash, the decision to buy trees is based on long-term relationships, prices, consistent quality, and changing trends. That's why he typically deals with trees from Canada or North Carolina, even though New York farms also grow some of the same varieties of trees.

"The problem is that nobody has a Fraser Fir like the North Carolina people do," Nash said.

The New York state farmers admittedly have a different perspective. Weill attributes the Fraser's popularity to an "aggressive PR campaign," and Mary Jeanne Packer calls the buyers' bypassing of small farms a "misconception."

"We have some growers who would be glad to sell all their trees at one time to one buyer," Packer said. "The buyer doesn’t want to make that commitment."

As a small farmer making his own way into New York, Hurd has faced his own difficulties in taking advantage of the market. He and his mother like meeting customers and being part of the community, but with a 3 a.m. wake up call, fuel costs from hours of driving, and $120 in tolls, he's questioning whether the trek is worth it.

"I'm not sure we're going to do it again next year," Hurd said. "It's a lot of work for what it is."

When asked if they would come back next year, his mother Susan, however, answered a resounding "yes."



Photo Credit: NBC/Nicole Puglise
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<![CDATA[NORAD Santa Tracker Celebrates 60 Years]]> Tue, 15 Dec 2015 10:16:18 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/norad-santa.jpg

Sixty years ago, a misprinted phone number directed Santa-seeking children to dial an Air Force base in Colorado. Now, decades later, what was once a mistake has become a tradition.

The Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, now the North American Aerospace Defense Command, launched its beloved Santa Tracker in 1955 when a newspaper advertisement accidentally listed the crew commander's number as Santa's direct line.

Inundated with phone calls from inquisitive kids, the commander on duty played the part — checking the radar for signs of Santa — and the NORAD Santa Tracker was born.

This year's website launched Dec. 1 and is available in eight languages. The tracker itself will go live at 2:01 a.m. EST on Christmas Eve, according to NORAD.

"Santa Cams" will stream videos as Saint Nick begins his route, and starting at 6:01 a.m., trackers can call 1-877-HI-NORAD or email noradtrackssanta@outlook.com and ask an operator for Santa's exact location.

The Santa Tracker has also forayed into the realm of social media and smartphones, with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+ and apps available through Apple, Windows and Google Play.

Cortana, the voice-activated personal assistant for Windows 10, will keep tabs on Santa this year, as will General Motor's in-vehicle OnStar service, according to NORAD.



Photo Credit: NORAD
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<![CDATA['Dial-a-Carol' Hotline]]> Mon, 14 Dec 2015 18:52:56 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Holiday-Lights-GettyImages-562864327.jpg

If you call up the "Dial-a-Carol" hotline any time of day or night, someone will pick up and spread holiday cheer by singing you a carol.

Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have manned the phones every holiday season for 56 years, according to the school's website.

Those who want to get into the holiday spirit can call 217-332-1882. Students will ask what you would like to hear and serenade you.

On the third day of the program, which runs this year from 12:01 a.m. Dec. 10 through 11:59 p.m. Dec. 16, the students had sung 7,000 carols to callers in 50 states.

The group is tallying calls on its Facebook page and said it has already broken last year's record.

NBC4 called and can confirm — the students know all the words to "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Fotosearch RF]]>
<![CDATA[Real-Life Gingerbread House]]> Mon, 14 Dec 2015 20:00:28 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/200*120/christinegingerbread23456.jpg

Many children join their parents in the building of a gingerbread house as Christmas draws near. The gumdrops have to be placed along the cookie roof, the icing has to mimic snow along the front path, and the little picket fence, the one made out of wee candy canes, has to surround the whole edible enterprise.

Fewer children, however, create a gingerbread house out of their parents' real, physical, live-in home, no baking or flour required. Artist Christine H. McConnell recently did, and the results are straight out of a brightly illustrated storybook.

"I knew I wanted to do something really fun for Christmas," says Ms. McConnell, who turned to the candy-packed, bread-crumb-y tale of "Hansel & Gretel" for inspiration. This isn't the first time the popular photographer has employed her parents' historic Highland house as a very large canvas; she gave the front entry some impressive teeth during the recent Halloween season.

Calling the tale of two adventuresome kids and one very eatable abode "a lifelong favorite," Ms. McConnell spent "seven full 15 hour days working in total" on the toothsome transformation. As for the final photo? That's the artist at the center, and her nieces, too.

Let us also note, with admiration, that Grimm-tastic garb seen on the models was also handmade by Ms. McConnell.

Stripey front pillars and frolicsome gingerbread people and a trim that looks like it came straight from a tube of thick white frosting give the home, which the artist calls "versatile," its fanciful fairy tale wear.

Best not to walk up to the house, though, and try to sneak a lick or bite in -- that's paint and Insulfoam you're looking at, and not chocolate or peppermint.

What will Ms. McConnell see next in the front of her mom and dad's place? Her Instagram followers, who number into the two hundred thousands, know she has a stylish penchant for arch symbolism and surreal details and retro chic and cheeky satire. 

Could the Easter Bunny's whimsical warren be next for a certain Southern California home? Stay tuned, lovers of domestic daft-a-tude and seasonal flights of fancy. 



Photo Credit: Christine H. McConnell]]>
<![CDATA[Layaway Bills Paid Off for Families]]> Sat, 12 Dec 2015 14:12:59 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/layaway+angels+1200.jpg

The rouse started with a call to customers on Friday.

“'Just a layaway event' that’s how we phrased it,” Burlington Coat Factory Operations and Customer Service Manager PJ Seguljic said.

Customers who lined up at the East Hartford store Saturday morning, eager to take home merchandise they've been paying off in installments, arrived to much more than a "layaway event."

“Your layaways have been paid away,” Seguljic announced to the group.

Virginia Green, of Bristol, was reduced to tears. After paying for her granddaughter’s college, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get her layaway paid off in time for Christmas.

“I’ve just been praying all week like God I gotta get this layaway out. I don’t know how I’m gonna do this,” said Green.

The good cheer was donated by the non-profit organization, Pay Away the Layaway. The national organization choses families who have made regular payments on their layaway accounts. About 90 percent of the gifts on a customer's list must be for children.

In total, $1,100 in layaway items were paid off for 17 families at the East Hartford store on Saturday. The average bill per family was $100.

“You don’t expect something like that. My God, it’s a blessing,” said Gloria Bautista of Columbia, Connecticut.

“Nothing really ever happens for me,” said Jannea Stone, of East Hartford.

Stone’s cart was full of clothes for her eight year old daughter — more of a need than a want.

“It actually helps so that way I can just get her the other things I wanted to get her, but I was like oh well I don’t think I’ll be able to get them this time because I still have that layaway to pay off,” Stone said.

The "layaway angels" gave hugs to families in disbelief as they watched their wish lists rung up for free.

“It’s great to see the families have some of that stress taken away so that they can really enjoy their holidays,” volunteer Angelina Dabrowski said.

Click here for more information about Pay Away the Layaway.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Reindeer Sprinkles on Live TV]]> Fri, 11 Dec 2015 17:39:15 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/reindeer-pees-on-live-tv-blurb2.jpg

Oh, deer.

When a reindeer visited NBC 7 News Midday Friday, he surprised the station's anchors on live television as only an animal can.

As soon as Megan Tevrizian and Jason Austell introduced Rudy and his animal ambassador Jen Miller, Rudy decided it was time to relieve himself in the San Diego studio.

Miller didn't miss a beat saying, "Right on cue. All this wonderful food that he's eating."

She then moved the conversation along to talk about SeaWorld's Christmas celebration being open until Jan. 3. 

As for Rudy, he didn't seem fazed at all.

See the video embedded with this article. Mobile users can click here.

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<![CDATA[Holiday 2015: Tech & Gadget Gifts Under $100]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2015 18:25:43 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Tech+Gifts+2015.jpg Shopping for a gadget-obsessed friend or family member? Discover the coolest gadgets and tech gifts in our 2015 holiday guide. ]]> <![CDATA[How to Make Mexican Hot Chocolate for the Holidays]]> Fri, 11 Dec 2015 13:00:11 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/MexicanHotChocolate.jpg Learn how to prepare champurrado, a chocolate-based drink that is popular during the Christmas season. The recipe comes from Enriqueta Lemoine, a food blogger in Miami.

Photo Credit: Telemundo]]>