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Shop Safely this Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is a lucrative day for retailers. According to Adobe Analytics, which measured transactions from a majority of popular online retailers in the United States, consumers spent an average of $11 million per minute between 11 p.m. EST and midnight EST on Cyber Monday in 2019. And it wasn’t just the final hour of Cyber Monday that proved popular, as total sales in 2019 increased by roughly 19 percent compared to Cyber Monday a year prior.

The internet has made holiday shopping easier than ever, and retailers capitalize on that convenience every year on Cyber Monday. Savvy consumers recognize there’s great deals to be had on Cyber Monday, but the popular shopping holiday also marks a great time for cyber criminals to target unsuspecting online shoppers. Holiday shoppers spend more time and money buying gifts online every year, so before the buying season begins it’s wise for shoppers to consider a few strategies for shopping safely this Cyber Monday.

Beware of malvertising. In recent years, cyber criminals have employed malvertising to trick online shoppers into taking them to websites that look reputable. But looks can be deceiving. Malvertising injects malicious code into legitimate online advertising networks. If consumers accidentally click a malicious ad, the malvertising can trigger a code that installs malware or adware on their computers, redirect users to a malicious website instead of the one the ad suggests or redirect users to a website that looks just like a legitimate retailer’s site, even though it’s not. Update antivirus and ad blockers prior to Cyber Monday. In addition, update browsers and plugins, which can often prevent malvertising attacks.

Update your software. Skipping or delaying software updates on a computer, tablet or smartphone can make online shoppers vulnerable to hackers and other cyber criminals. Install new operating systems on your devices when such updates become available, and check to see if any new updates can be installed before shopping on Cyber Monday.

Avoid searching through search engines. When shopping, resist the temptation to look for deals through search engines. Cyber criminals can insert malicious links into search results, directing unsuspecting to consumers to malicious websites designed to target their personal information. When looking for deals, visit the websites of established retailers instead of conducting searches through browsers like Google or Firefox.

Read a URL before buying anything. One old yet still effective trick cyber criminals employ is creating websites that look identical to those of trusted retailers. These copycat sites may only be one letter different from legitimate sites. By reading URLs closely prior to entering any personal information, such as their credit card numbers, consumers can protect themselves from copycat websites.

Cyber Monday is a popular shopping holiday. Cyber Monday shoppers should be as cautious about cyber criminals as they are excited about finding great gifts for their loved ones.

The Fabric of Plaid Friday

The holiday season sometimes arrives with a frenetic pace. At the dawn of the holiday season, there seems to be so much to fit into a relatively short period of time, including planning celebrations and shopping. The rush often begins the Friday after American Thanksgiving on a day called Black Friday. Plaid Friday was born out of a recognition that the frenzied nature of Black Friday may not be for everyone. The event was created in Oakland, Calif., to transform holiday shopping for family and friends into a more connected, pleasurable activity than Black Friday. Plaid Friday promotes the diversity and creativity of local and independent businesses. On Plaid Friday, customers are urged to shop locally and enjoy choosing gifts in a more leisurely fashion.

According to event organizers, the name “Plaid Friday” was chosen from the idea of weaving individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates independent businesses. While Plaid Friday may have originated in California, it has now spread to local towns across the country. Plaid Friday precedes Small Business Saturday, meaning holiday shoppers can turn their two-day, post-Thanksgiving shopping excursions into 48 hours of opportunities to support small businesses. Shoppers have many different ways to support the Plaid Friday movement.

• Look for signage or social media advertising regarding Plaid Friday. Many establishments may advertise Plaid Friday sales. Keep an eye out for signs or hashtags on social media, such as #plaidfriday, #shoplocal and #dinelocal.

• Let others know you’re supporting local businesses. Spread the word about Plaid Friday to others who may not be aware of the movement.

• Wear plaid clothing on Plaid Friday to show local business solidarity.

• Search community blotters and other local websites to find out more about Plaid Friday efforts in your community.

• Certain shops may have scaled-back sales due to COVID-19 restrictions. Continue to support these businesses as much as possible, taking advantage of curbside pickup or delivery options that can further streamline holiday shopping.

• Explore new offerings. Some businesses you frequently shop with may have altered their services and products to fit the changing times. As a result, you may be able to purchase a greater variety of items all in one store.

Local shopping is at the heart of Plaid Friday. Shoppers who want to avoid the typical rush of Black Friday shopping can visit small local businesses.

Safe Entertaining Options

Entertaining has changed quite a bit in 2020. Government-issued restrictions dictated how many people you could invite into your home or even your backyard. Large family gatherings, such as weddings or birthday parties, were put on hold. Many people are still cautious about crowds and maintaining their distance, even from close friends and family and even as safety protocols have been loosened.

Those who are eagerly awaiting hosting dinner parties or backyard gatherings can take various steps to ensure the health and safety of their guests. These guidelines can help make entertaining that much safer.

Keep the guest list small

While you may want to invite as many people as possible, keeping the guest list small can help you keep better track of contact tracing should anyone develop symptoms or feel ill. It also limits the number of people with whom you come in contact. If you plan on entertaining routinely, stick to the same guest list over and over rather than inviting new people.

Maintain social distancing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to urge people to remain at least six feet apart from one another. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets also can be inhaled into the lungs. The CDC and other health organizations maintain that keeping at least a six feet from others reduces the likelihood that respiratory droplets will land on another person. More distance is always better. Leave room between seats around the dining table, and discourage crowding around entertaining areas.

Wear masks

Masks can be worn when maintaining distance is not possible. Although masks may not always be comfortable or fashionable, there are ways to incorporate them into the theme of your gathering. Ask everyone to wear a specific color or style of mask. Purchase extra masks for guests if you suspect someone may not own one.

Offer individual portions

Self-service buffets and drink bars may be risky. Instead, you can don proper safety gear and serve food to your guests to minimize the amount of people touching food or beverages. Have individual drinks Canned soft drinks, beers or small bottles of wine may also help limit the spread of the virus by providing individually portioned beverages rather than having people pour or ladle drinks out of communal offerings.

Provide hand-cleaning options

Encourage guests to wash their hands frequently and make sure there’s plenty of soap in the bathroom. Individual paper towels, while not as eco-friendly as reusable cloth towels, also can improve bathroom hygiene. Keep containers of hand sanitizer in high-traffic spots around the entertaining area as well.

Check for symptoms

No one wants to play bouncer at their own dinner party, but checking to make sure guests are well or experiencing symptoms can minimize risk. The CDC urges anyone who is feeling unwell to avoid gatherings.

Hosting a gathering in the era of COVID-19 can be challenging. However, it’s possible to do so safely if hosts and their guests adhere to safety precautions set forth by local governments and the CDC.

How to Prepare Youngsters for Their First Hunting Trip

A young person’s first hunting trip can be an incredible experience, sparking a lifelong love and appreciation for nature and wildlife. Parents who grew up hunting likely remember their first hunting trip and want to recreate that experience for their own children. As memorable as a first hunting trip can be, parents of current youngsters might not recall all the pre-trip preparation their own folks did to make that first hunting experience so memorable. Such preparation can ensure today’s youngsters enjoy the same magical experience their parents did when going hunting for the first time.

Make sure kids are ready. Kids’ maturity levels merit consideration before taking them hunting for the first time. Children may experience a range of emotions on their first hunting trips. Such emotions can include excitement, nervousness, sadness, and/or guilt. Parents should assess their children’s maturity levels prior to announcing a trip to make sure they’re ready for that emotional roller coaster. Kids mature at their own pace, so assess each child individually, resisting the temptation to assume one child is ready at a given age because an older sibling was ready at the same age. The American Forest Foundation recommends parents first take their youngsters along as hunting apprentices, which allows them to participate in the rituals of the hunt while their parents can gauge how mature they are to handle the hunt itself.

Make sure kids can handle their guns. Wide Open Spaces, a website devoted to providing up-to-date information for hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts, notes the importance of kids knowing how to use their guns before they go hunting for the first time. Kids should know how to load and unload, check the chamber and turn the safety on and off. Kids should be confident with their guns, feeling comfortable enough to pull their firearms to their shoulders, get the gun’s sights on the animal and pull the trigger.

Temper youngsters’ expectations. Hunting is a rewarding hobby, but also one that requires a lot of work. Weather also can be unpleasant during hunting season, and that can quickly spoil youngsters’ impressions of hunting. Temper kids’ expectations in advance of a hunting trip so they know it won’t necessarily be all fun. In addition, let children know many hunting trips end without a kill.

Focus on the fun factor. The AFF notes that surveys indicate that young hunters are more excited to have fun and enjoy quality outdoor time than they are by the prospect of bagging and taking home a trophy animal. Parents should focus on the fun and the beauty of nature when taking youngsters hunting to ensure kids have as good a time as possible.

Some pre-trip preparation on the part of moms and dads can make youngsters’ first hunting trips successful.

Social Distancing and Halloween

Halloween is a unique day each year when people gather together for parties, parades and of course, trick-or-treating. October 31 is a day that most children eagerly await each year because it means an opportunity to don a costume and come home with bags full of sweet treats.

This year Halloween figures to look different than it has in years past. Homes may have carved pumpkins on the doorstep and paper ghosts blowing on tree branches. And horror movies will no doubt dominate streaming service top 10 lists. But thanks to the COVID-19 virus, certain Halloween traditions may not be possible. Depending on regulations in your city or town, parties, trick-or-treating and school functions (if school is in session) may be canceled or significantly modified. Since COVID-19 is so easily spread, health officials have long touted the need for social distancing. And while masks in public have long since become the norm, Halloween masks may not be sufficient.

The coronavirus already has scared off some Halloween attractions. Universal Orlando, Disney World and Disneyland have canceled mainstream Halloween events for this year. Plus, a recent Harris poll on Halloween found that, of the 1,970 adults polled, nearly three out of four people have no plans to take their children trick-or-treating. So what is the public to do in the wake of the risks of going out for Halloween?

• Maintain social distancing if trick-or-treating is allowed. This could mean staggering times to go on the search for candy and avoiding homes where trick-or-treaters have already lined up.

• Consider small gatherings that enable youngsters to exchange candy with a limited group of friends or neighbors. • Head to the mall or nearby stores in costume and get candy from retailers where it may be easier to maintain distance.

• Wear your mask or special face coverings when trick-or-treating. Consider building a costume around the masks so it fits with the Halloween theme.

• Wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer when water and soap is unavailable. Limit the number of houses you visit to reduce your risk of infection.

• Ask family or friends to send digital treats, such as gift cards or certificates. Many restaurants may offer voucher programs for coupons for free ice creams at their locations, and while these may not be traditional Halloween goodies, ice cream is still sure to please youngsters.

• Consider car parades instead of traditional trick-or-treating.

Despite the COVID-19 virus, Halloween enthusiasts can find ways to be safe and have fun this year.

How to Support Local Agriculture this Fall

The global pandemic that has upended daily life has exacted a toll on many industries. Businesses have been asked to close or temporarily scale back operations, while organizers of recreational gatherings have been tasked with reevaluating the practicality and safety of annual events.

Throughout the United States and Canada, autumn fairs, exhibitions and activities provide revenue for many people. But due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, many of these annual events have been postponed, adversely affecting local agricultural industries as a result. Governments in certain places have responded to the cancellations and offered assistance to local farmers and agricultural industries. For example, the Province of Ontario is providing nearly $1 million to assist organizations that had to cancel fall events due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to supporting such efforts, the general public can pitch in to help offset some of the financial losses accrued by local farms.

Check for virtual events. Some fall fairs or livestock events have been moved to the digital realm. That means competitors who were entering livestock or even home crafts into competitions can still participate. Organizers may ask for videos or photos of entries and then a committee will vote on the winners. This is one way to keep entry fees and even cash prizes moving along.

Support local farms or orchards. Fall is harvest season in many areas, making this a popular time of year to visit nearby farms and to purchase fruits and vegetables directly from the source. Many farms have implemented safety protocols that align with COVID-19 health recommendations to safely welcome visitors. Things may look a little differently at orchards and farms, but smaller crowds and wearing masks should not compromise the fun of picking your own foods.

Explore farm-to-table. Private individuals as well as restaurant owners can develop relationships with area agriculture producers to increase the availability of farm-to-table offerings. Restaurants can revamp menus to include a greater share of items sourced from nearby farms. Individuals also can rely on produce stands and farmers’ markets to stock their pantries. Some farms may offer delivery and mail-order as well.

Offer financial services. Financial advisors can help farmers who are struggling with finances work through their options. Institutions may be able to extend the terms of loan repayments, refinance loans, restructure debt, or get credit extensions. Lower interest rates have created some new opportunities farmers may not be aware of. Financial advisors can help farmers navigate an uncertain financial time.

Farmers and agricultural organizations are facing greater challenges as fall fairs and other events are being canceled. The public can support agriculture in different ways to offset the financial losses stemming from the pandemic.

Apple Picking Pointers

Apple picking is a beloved autumn tradition. While many traditions had to be put on the back burner as the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, apple picking seems like one activity that can endure in a world dominated by social distancing. Apple picking season tends to begin in mid- to late-September and ends sometime in early October. That makes apple picking a perfect social distancing activity, as it’s both outdoors and at a time of year when the weather is generally pleasant no matter where you live.

Individuals interested in apple picking this fall can take heed of these tips to ensure their trip is fun, safe and successful:

Contact the farm in advance. Apple picking is a wildly popular activity, so expect a crowd to be there on a typical autumn weekend. That can be tricky to navigate while social distancing, so call ahead to learn about new protocols and if the operating hours are the same. If the farm is open several days per week, ask which days are the least busy and schedule your trip when foot traffic figures to be minimal.

Choose firm apples without bruises. According to Pickyourown.org, apples should be crisp and firm. Don’t worry about the color of the apple, as color is not an indicator of ripeness. Instead, Pickyourown.org advises people to ask the farmers which apples are ripe, which is determined by how long it’s been since the trees flowered.

Gently place picked apples into your basket. Pickyourown.org recommends gently placing apples into your basket after picking them. Tossing them into the basket may cause bruising, which can lead to the apples spoiling prematurely. While it depends on the variety, many apples that are not bruised tend to last a long time, especially when stored in a cool place. So taking care of them when picking them can mean you get to enjoy apples for several weeks.

Clean apples before eating them. The Food and Drug Administration notes that produce can be contaminated even after it’s been picked and brought home. The FDA advises consumers to wash their hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce. Produce should be rinsed before it’s peeled so any lingering dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable. If bruising has occurred, cut away the damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating it.

Apple picking is a beloved autumn tradition that can be even more fun when employing a few strategies designed to make it more safe and fruitful.

How Small Businesses Can Prepare for a Unique Holiday Season

When the famous ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve and 2020 officially began, few people might have anticipated what awaited the world in the months ahead. By the end of March, a global pandemic had changed the way people across the globe lived their lives as governments scrambled to prevent a potentially deadly virus from spreading. No aspect of life has been left untouched by the COVID-19 outbreak, including how people shop. Stay-at-home measures and government-mandated closures proved a formidable challenge for small business owners. Another challenge awaits such businesses this holiday season, when consumers are expected to do much of their shopping online.

Many small businesses thrive on welcoming customers into their facilities. While no one can predict how long social distancing measures will remain in place, it’s reasonable to assume that consumers may be hesitant to visit stores en masse this holiday season. But the spirit of the holiday season will return, and that spirit will still compel consumers to look for gifts for their loved ones. Small business owners looking to capitalize on the holiday shopping season can try these strategies as they prepare for what promises to be a unique final month of 2020.

• Start early. Holiday promotions typically feature discounted items, and small business owners can hit the ground running by announcing sales well in advance of the holiday season. Consumers have adapted to lengthy delivery times during the outbreak, and retail analysts predict many will begin shopping earlier than ever before to account for potential delivery problems. By discounting items early, small business owners can put themselves in position to capitalize on early bird shoppers.

• Keep sales going. The Bureau of Economic Analysis noted that economic growth in the United States declined by 5 percent in the first quarter of 2020, and in June the Congressional Budget Office predicted that growth would ultimately decline by 38 percent. Such figures suggest that money will be tight this holiday season, and small business owners can expect to compete for every dollar. By starting sales early and keeping those sales going throughout the holiday season, small business owners can put themselves in the best position possible to capitalize on consumer spending, however limited that spending may be.

• Apply past experiences. Small businesses have had more than a few litmus tests to gauge consumer behavior during the outbreak. Easter marked the first major holiday to occur while stay-at-home restrictions were in place, and since then retail holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have come and gone. Small business owners can examine consumer behavior during past retail holidays to inform their approaches to the coming holiday season. If consumers expressed a desire for gift packages that reduced their need to make multiple shopping trips, small business owners can design and promote gift baskets filled with an assortment of products available in their stores. Creativity figures to be a necessity to attract customers this holiday season, and past retail holidays can inspire a new approach.

Small businesses can confront the challenge of the coming holiday season by embracing a handful of strategies to attract consumers during what promises to be a season unlike any other in recent memory.

How to Prepare for a Unique Election Day

Like many days that came before it in 2020, Election Day figures to be unique this year. The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of life as people know it, and it figures to change how they vote this fall as well.

The right to vote and participate in a representative government should never be taken for granted. Many people across the globe have no such right, so citizens of the United States should be grateful they can vote and express that gratitude by doing their part and voting each year on Election Day.

State and local governments may be approaching Election Day differently as they try to juggle their responsibilities to make voting accessible to all while simultaneously keeping voters safe during the pandemic. Voters can do their part by taking the following steps prior to Election Day, which is November 3, 2020.

• Confirm you are registered to vote. Voter registration deadlines differ by state. According to Vote.org, some states, including Colorado and Connecticut, allow eligible voters to register on Election Day and cast their ballots that very same day. But many states, such as Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana, require voters to be registered 30 days prior to Election Day. A list of state-by-state voter registration requirements can be found at www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/.

• Learn the mail-in ballot policy in your state. Many voters may not vote via mail-in ballots on a typical Election Day, but 2020 is not a typical year. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. notes that all states offer some form of mail-in ballots. Many states are asking voters to vote via mail-in ballots in 2020 in an effort to reduce voters’ risk of getting and spreading the COVID-19 virus. Confirm the mail-in ballot policy and procedure in your state as early as possible to make sure your vote is counted.

• Return your completed mail-in ballot as soon as possible. Many states are urging voters who plan to vote using mail-in ballots to return their ballots as early as possible. In a mailer sent to all registered voters, the Superintendent of Elections and the Board of Elections in New Jersey noted it is critical that voters return their mail-in ballots early in the upcoming election season. Mail-in ballots can be returned via the United States Postal Service (all ballots include postage paid return envelopes), and voters also may be able to return their ballots in person at their designated polling locations or by placing the ballots in secure ballot drop boxes. Confirm your mail-in ballot return options with your local County Clerk of Elections well before Election Day.

Election Day 2020 will be unique. Voters should not hesitate to take all necessary steps in advance of November 3 to ensure their votes are counted this fall.

3 Ways to Get Fit as a Family this Fall

One of the keys to encouraging children to develop the healthy habit of regular exercise is to make fitness a priority in the home. With cooler weather and changing scenery to enjoy, autumn can be an ideal time to try new outdoor activities.

The great news is that there are many ways to lead an active lifestyle suitable for family members of all ages. Let these three ideas help you turn each day into an opportunity to get fit and have fun together.

1. Go for a walk: Over the spring and summer, families across the nation returned to a simpler form of exercise while connecting with loved ones: walking. Walking offers various physical and mental health benefits while helping you reach your fitness goals. You can enjoy a stroll almost anywhere while maintaining social distancing best practices. The pace can be as challenging or leisurely as you desire, and everyone in the entire family can participate.

2. Play catch: While you may not be scheduling a flag football game with the neighbors and extended family this holiday season, football provides plenty of opportunities for your household to be active together. Teaching your children how to throw and catch a football can give you time to bond over the sport while providing them with added confidence. A game of catch can easily turn into a hobby that continues as they get older.

3. Embrace your inner child: Get creative and consider activities you enjoyed as a child. Grab some chalk and play a game of hopscotch, dig in the closet to uncover your long-lost pair of roller skates, or get your balance back by honing your skills on a skateboard on a flat patch of pavement in the neighborhood or at the local park.

As with any workout, it’s essential to have the proper gear, starting with footwear. According to Laryssa Grant, children’s buyer for national footwear retailer, Rack Room Shoes, staying on-trend and comfortable while moving with the family is as easy as ever. Name brands such as Nike, adidas and Vans offer style, comfort and durability in adult and children’s sizing, ensuring athletic footwear options for the entire family. Visit rackroomshoes.com to enjoy online shopping or curbside pickup options for all your family’s athletic footwear needs.

With new gear, a great attitude and some creativity, getting fit as a family can be a fun way to make memories this fall.