th-1The Academy Awards are approaching. How many of the likely-to-be-nominated flicks have you seen?

It’s a little scary how expensive a movie ticket has gotten, yet for some films there’s just nothing like the big screen. This week’s giveaway will give you a head start.

If you win, you’ll get your choice of either a $10 Fandango gift card or a $10 AMC Theatres gift card. That should cover (or nearly cover) the cost of a nighttime screening. Skip the popcorn and go to a matinee or a second-run house and the scrip could pay for two films.

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th-1Our unnaturally warm weather (mid- to high 30s) has finally gone away. Temperatures have been near or below zero for the past few days, which means we’re about as cold right now as Chicago and St. Paul.

(But nowhere near as chilly as Fairbanks, where the daytime highs have been in the minus-20 range – and that’s nowhere near as nippy as it often gets there.)

The cold, clear days have brought two bonuses:

The chance to send the bedclothes outside. DF and I like putting the comforter, blanket, top sheet and pillowcases on the clothesline a few times per week, but only if we can be sure they won’t be targeted by sleet or freezing rain. Sleeping in an air-freshened bed is one of life’s simple joys.

The reappearance of the aurora. Activity has been high for the past few days.

An “interactive aurora borealis video” has been galloping around the Internetz lately. I couldn’t get the film to post here, but you can click the above link to see it. (Note: Turn off the auto-rotation if it makes you dizzy.)

Even here in the light-polluted city I’ve been able to spy the aurora several times each night. In part that’s because I keep checking, hoping for a glimps. But it’s also because the cold, dry weather makes me extremely thirsty – and if you drink water all evening, it’s likely you’ll get up at least a couple of times per night.

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thRecently someone contacted Stacy Johnson of Money Talks News to ask for articles on non-costly ways to give back to the community. That assignment wound up in my lap, resulting in “You don’t need to be rich to lend a helping hand: 42 free or cheap ways to give.”

Researching it was fairly simple, because I do a lot of this stuff myself and also take inspiration from readers’ examples. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that giving is the perfect antidote to the midwinter blahs.

Here’s why.

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thAccording to Time magazine, “lose weight and get fit” is the most commonly busted New Year’s resolution. Shocking, huh?

But if 2015 is the year you absolutely, positively, seriously mean to get in shape, this week’s giveaway can help.

The 2015 Fitness Boost package contains a handful of items to support your goals. You still have to do the work, of course, but at least this will start you off with new stuff.

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thThey say that the way you start the year is the way you’ll live it. If that’s true, then DF and I are up for plenty of luck, love and frugality in 2015.

Plenty of sleep, too: The only way we knew it was midnight was that some of our neighbors started setting off illegal fireworks.

Here’s how those four things shook down:

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thThis is an unsolicited, unreimbursed testimonial for the robotic vacuum cleaner known as the iRobot Roomba. When I first heard the words “robotic vacuum” years ago I made a rude noise with my lips. It sounded like a pricey toy more than a useful appliance.

But DF, that most frugal and practical of men, has owned one model or another for years. When I moved in with him I decided to learn how to use it.

And then I fell in love with a little self-propelled disc.

Roomba delights me when she’s not scaring me with just how much dust and crud she’s picked up on what looked like clean-enough floors. (Yes, our Roomba is female. She makes us think of the robot maid from “The Jetsons.”)

Given that I have asthma, it’s smart to keep the environment as dust-free as possible. But vacuuming frequently hasn’t generally been high on my to-do list, even though I knew it should have been.

Recently I realized my asthma attacks have all but disappeared since I came to live with DF. Initially I thought it was because I was so much happier. Now I think it’s mostly Roomba’s doing.

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thDespite the no-kissing rule I imposed last week, DF has come down with the same crud I’ve still got. Maybe it was inevitable, which makes me grumpy when I think about all the kisses I skipped.

He went to work for a couple of hours the day after Christmas, saying he planned to wash the sheets when he got back. Sort of like locking the barn after the horses were gone, really, but he thought a good dose of Clorox might help get rid of some of the cooties.

Feeling generous, I put the sheets in myself after he left – including the pillowcases even though they aren’t white. In fact, they’re five different colors. Suddenly I realized that this would never have happened when I was a kid or a young married woman. Sheets and pillowcases had to match.

Guess what? I no longer care. How about you?

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happiness of pursuitAs others have pointed out, the Declaration of Independence doesn’t guarantee us happiness – merely its pursuit. Entrepreneur and author Chris Gillebeau has written a book that uses numerous (and varied!) bliss treks to illustrate how we might seek our own personal definitions of fulfillment.

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life” is based on the author’s own personal challenge (to visit all the countries of the world before age 35) and also on the fascinating endgames sought by others.

These aren’t famous people with deep pockets and a need to tell the universe how great they are. Instead, Guillebeau chose “ordinary people working toward extraordinary goals.”

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Winter salsa.

thYears ago a co-worker of DF’s – and a newcomer to the state – was puzzled by all the references to a “Mexican holiday” in December. Finally she asked him a most Emily Litella-like question: “What’s all this about ‘winter salsa’?”

This so charmed DF that he brought corn chips and salsa to work in honor of the misheard word. He continued to do so annually because who doesn’t need a little bit of spice in the waning days of the year?

On Sunday, winter solstice, the light came back. Or, rather, it stopped going away. We gained five seconds worth of sunshine on Monday and by gum we enjoyed all five.

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thLately it’s been all about holiday shopping, both here and elsewhere. Thank goodness the holidays are almost over.

Here’s my favorite gift suggestion: Breathing room.

Christmas gifts that keep on giving,” my recent post at Get Rich Slowly, suggests presents that can free up money in someone’s budget.

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thIf you’re ordering any holiday gifts from Amazon, this week’s giveaway will boost your budget somewhat.

Specifically: I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card, and doing so earlier than usual to allow for on-time shipping. The drawing will be on Saturday evening instead of Tuesday evening.

Rather than mail the card I’ll simply e-mail the code for the scrip. Those with Amazon Prime memberships could order gifts as late as Monday and have them delivered in time for wrapping on Christmas Eve.

(That is, if the requested items are in stock, you procrastinator.)

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thWise Bread recently posted an article called “What can I do with the gift cards I don’t want?” Sounds like a flawed premise, right? Who wouldn’t want a gift card?

Not so, according to writer Holly Johnson.

“You might end up with a gift card to a store or restaurant you unquestionably dislike,” she says.

“Even worse, you might get an inexpensive gift card to a place where nothing is cheap — like a $10 gift card to a restaurant where entrees start at $19.”

She suggested half a dozen ways to deal. I’ll see her those six, and raise her another seven.

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