Scenes From a Holiday
Times are Tough
Only Two Days Left
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Every family has its holiday rituals, which, for better of worse, define the pace of activities through the holidays. Some are cherished, and some are tolerated, but the best evolve to fit changing families and changing times. Here, for better or worse, are a few of the traditions that my wife and I have perpetuated and/or evolved through 28 years of marriage.
The first is the decorating of the Christmas tree. When my wife was a girl, the tree remained undecorated through Christmas Eve, and the children awoke on Christmas Day to find not only presents but also a fully decorated tree . . . and very tired parents. We've never done that. We traditionally decorate the tree more than a week in advance, and thus gain both the enjoyment of a decorated tree for far longer as well as a decent sleep before Christmas Day.
Every year my wife buys a new ornament for each of our three children with a theme appropriate for them. I hide each one on the tree on Christmas Eve (with a name tag), and on Christmas Day, they have to find it. It's a great way for them to accumulate ornaments they will someday take to their own homes, and as they do I suppose the tradition will end for us.
Many of our traditions revolve around food. On Christmas Eve, my wife makes sticky buns that are stored in a cool place overnight and then popped into the oven on Christmas morning. Supplemented by an enormous fruit salad, they provide sustenance during the early hours of present opening.
The mid-day Christmas dinner has long featured sirloin steaks, which I cook outside on the grill, regardless of the weather, and which have traditionally been accompanied by B&M baked beans and mounds of English muffins that have been split, buttered and broiled. On the muffins go miscellaneous jams, jellies and other preserves. This year, however, my wife chose not to buy B&M baked beans. We had recently enjoyed an excellent navy bean dish made by friends, so she prepared that instead, and we all loved it.
And then there are the sweets, which tempt us throughout the holidays. This year these included my wife's sugar cookies (decorated by children large and small), my elder daughter's chocolate-dipped ginger cookies, my Maine sister-in-law's lebkuchen (made according to a recipe brought from Germany by her uncle), brownies made by my mother-in-law, chocolate bread and peanut butter blossoms made by my older sister, chocolate peanut brittle made by a friend, a chocolate torte made by my son's girlfriend and a jar of honey (award-winning) produced by the bees of my cousin's husband. And then there were the butter mints, which proved especially useful as ammunition for the wooden catapult that was assembled on Christmas afternoon.
Seating is sometimes a challenge, and this year, as the count for the steak dinner hit 21, I had to go down to the basement to get the piece of plywood that extends the dining room table beyond its normal length. The two kids at the far end were sitting in the hallway ... and loving it.
Another tradition, supported above all by my 83-year old father-in-law, is the poker game. We use chips, not cash, and we rarely play Texas Hold-Em. Mostly we play five card draw, seven-card stud, low hole card, baseball, and high-low pass-the-trash. One brother-in-law took the first five hands, and most of his winning hands were four-of-a kind. I was out first. On the flip side, one of the kids had received a game called Bananagrams, which is a fast-paced game requiring all players to simultaneously construct a grid of words connected in Scrabble-like fashion. We played it several times and in that, I was unbeatable. We also played Pit and checkers.
One of the highlights for me was delivering jars of my wife's "Homemade Super Chocolate Sauce" to the houses of a handful of friends in town on Christmas Eve. Giving truly is better than receiving. But one gift I delight in receiving every year is the fruitcake made by a friend. By tradition, I will eat it slowly, sharing it with no one, and remembering the value of friendship at every occasion. I'll finish it sometime in the summer.
One tradition my wife has been working hard to establish is the viewing of a movie on Christmas afternoon, and this is clearly a bid to buy some well-earned rest time for herself. This year the movie was "Mama Mia," which she had seen previously. It was my first viewing, and required so little attention that I was able to complete The New York Times crossword and a difficult Sudoku before it was over.
Late Christmas afternoon traditionally brings the Yankee Swap, which shifts the focus from her family to mine. This year it was at my 85-year-old uncle's place. Nearly 40 relatives showed up, bringing a wrapped gift valued at $10 or less. This year the items in high demand were a big bottle of olive oil, a book written by my brother and a black imitation leather jacket/gray hoodie combo. There's no way the jacket cost $10, but no one was complaining. I did a private swap after the main event, getting rid of a leather-bound photo album and snaring a 542-piece jigsaw puzzle.
While the swap was going on, many of my wife's family opted instead for the traditional Christmas supper at her mother's house--salad, ham and scalloped potatoes.
The next day, I cleared the dining room table, and set to work on the jigsaw puzzle, which proved to be easier than expected, despite the fact that the edges were not straight. Children joined in, and the puzzle was finished just seven hours later.
Through it all, of course, the food, the presents, the games and the cleaning up, we talked, sharing challenges, triumphs and opinions and strengthening the ties that bind us. Eventually, all the guests departed, and we were happy that the festivities were over. But we were even happier that we had once again used the opportunity of the holiday to spend time with family and friends who are irreplaceable treasures.
Perhaps the highlight of the holidays was provided by little three-year-old Peter, one of my nephews. At one point, he walked up to my wife, clutching a brownie with both hands and trailed by my rather large, but gentle dog, who is fed on a strict schedule and thus is alert to any food that drops on the floor, and announced, "Your dog is hungry."
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As my two daughters came home and reconnected with old friends and classmates, it slowly became clear to me that many of these young people, mainly college-educated, are unemployed, and about this I have a few thoughts.
One, times are tough. Companies are thinking more about laying off than hiring.
Two, many of these young adults have skills that are rather loosely defined. When the economy was booming, their liberal arts degrees might have been the ticket to employment as real estate agents or car salesmen or even bond traders, but now their prospects are bleak.
Three, people will now keep their jobs longer. In the recent boom years, job-hopping became fashionable. Now, just as the trading-up of houses is history, so is job-hopping.
Four, vocational training is on the upswing, as people young and old looking to improve their employment prospects take classes to learn marketable skills. These include nursing, health care administration, criminal justice, computer technology, human services and much more.
Now, a student can learn these skills at thousands of public or private colleges, but one of the most cost-effective ways is at a for-profit college. There are 23 public companies in the industry, and many of them have stocks that have been under accumulation in recent weeks, as professional investors note the trend toward increased training and retraining.
Back on December 5, I wrote here about Apollo Group (APOL), the leader in the industry. At the time, it was trading at 76, and it's still at the same level; the stock has been building a base for the past month while its moving averages catch up.
Since then, the stock has earned an appearance in Cabot Top Ten Report (December 15), and here's what editor Mike Cintolo wrote:
"Apollo is strong because the economy is weak. Unemployed adults are taking courses that can help them get employed; adults with jobs are bettering themselves so they can stay employed; and the sky-high tuitions at non-profit schools are causing more and more students to take a look at the more affordable tuition structures of Apollo. The group runs University of Phoenix, the Institute for Professional Development, the College for Financial Planning, Western International University, Meritus University, Insight Schools and Apollo Global. It has a physical presence in 40 states, but many students complete their entire education online! Thanks to the education calendar, revenues are somewhat seasonal. Earnings for the fiscal first quarter, ended November 30, will be reported after the market close on January 9, and we have no doubt they'll be great. In fact, analysts' earnings estimates have recently been increased."
I look at the stock today and I see that short-term downside potential is the 50-day moving average at 70, while long-term upside potential is enormous. Just consider what might happen if hundreds of small colleges close, starved by the drying up of easy credit to students. Just imagine what might happen if parents become increasingly conscious of the return on their investment, and find that career-oriented for-profit-colleges are a better value than big name schools with football teams, luxurious cafeterias and ivy-covered buildings. This is a trend that could run a long way and Apollo is ideally positioned to benefit from it.
Yours in pursuit of wisdom and wealth,
Cabot Wealth Advisory
Editor's Note: Cabot Top Ten Report uses Cabot's proprietary screening software to ferret out the 10 strongest stocks each week, no matter what's happening in the market. Even during this year's bear market, Cabot Top Ten Report has found winners in stocks like Cleveland-Cliffs, which doubled in four months, Continental Resources, which rose 160% from its recommendation to its peak, and Walter Industries, which rocketed from 42 in January to 112 in early July. Cabot Top Ten Report finds the top stocks of each bull market early in their uptrends and right now, editor Michael Cintolo is busy discovering the market's next leaders. Click the link below to get started today.