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Safely Shop for Groceries While Social Distancing

As recently as a few months ago, grocery shopping was an uneventful chore that few people were likely to remember after returning home. But in the wake of efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, grocery shopping changed in ways that few people will ever forget.

Social distancing guidelines and recommendations urged consumers to stay in their homes as much as possible, but grocery shopping requires people to spend time outside their homes. A few simple strategies can help shoppers stay safe as they shop for groceries.

• Wear a mask. Safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are evolving as scientists learn more about COVID-19. One of the more significant changes the CDC made to its initial guidelines was to recommend people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. As communities begin to reopen, certain restrictions may be relaxed, but the CDC continues to advise people to wear masks while out in public, including when shopping for groceries. The CDC notes that wearing masks may slow the spread of the virus by preventing people who have it but are asymptomatic from transmitting it to others.

• Shop during off-peak hours. Traditionally “off-peak” hours may no longer apply at many grocery stores, the majority of which have changed their store hours so staff can thoroughly clean and disinfect stores each night. But even if stores are not open as late as they used to be, there’s still times of day when fewer customers will likely be in the store. Early mornings may be designated for shoppers in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. However, many stores remain less crowded in the mornings than they are during the rest of the day. Avoid shopping on weekends if you want to steer clear of crowds, as these are the only times when people who are still working can find time to shop. Weekday mornings or late afternoons may be ideal times to shop for shoppers who want to avoid crowds.

• Wash hands before and after going to the store. The CDC continues to tout the importance of washing hands as a means to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Scientists are still unsure about how easily the virus can spread from contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, but washing hands before and after shopping is a simple safety measure that prevents the spread of germs and potentially harmful viruses like COVID-19.

• Avoid touching your face. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology note that respiratory infections can be caused by an assortment of bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing germs. Scientists believe COVID-19 is spread through the respiratory droplets of infected persons. These droplets are essentially invisible, but when people come into contact with them and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, viruses can spread. So people should avoid touching their face with potentially dirty hands.

Grocery shopping has changed as the world reacts to the COVID-19 virus. As communities begin to reopen, it’s important that people remain diligent when shopping for groceries, taking every step necessary to protect themselves and others from contracting this potentially deadly virus.

The History of America’s Independence Day

Few summertime holidays elicit as much excitement as the Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day in the United States. Each year, family, friends and revelers anticipate the arrival of the holiday so they can host barbecues, enjoy the sun, listen to their favorite summertime tunes, and commemorate the freedoms afforded by the monumental events that led to the holiday’s establishment.

Independence Day became a federal holiday in 1941, but July 4th has stood as the birth of American independence for much longer. July 4th marks a pivotal moment in the American Revolution. According to PBS, the colonies were forced to pay taxes to England’s King George III despite having no representation in the British Parliament. “Taxation without representation” became a battle cry and was one of several grievances colonists had with Great Britain.

Conflict between the colonies had been going on for at least a year before the colonies convened a Continental Congress in Philadelphia in June of 1776, says Military.com. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from England. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence is a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was considered the strongest and most eloquent writer of the declaration writing committee charged with putting the colonies’ sentiments into words. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia was one of the first people to present a resolution for American independence, and his commentary was the impetus for the formal Declaration of Independence. A total of 86 changes were made to Jefferson’s original draft until the final version was adopted. The signing of the document helped to solidify independence, and eventually lead to the formation of the United States of America.

A total of 56 delegates signed the document. Although John Hancock’s signature is the largest, it did not hold more weight than the other signatures. Rather, rumor has it, Hancock signed it so large so that the “fat, old King could read it without his spectacles.” However, the National Archives says it was also customary that, since Hancock was the president of the Continental Congress, he be the first person to sign the document centered below the text.

The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence on July 6, 1776. The first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square on July 8, 1776.

How to be Safe in the Sun

A relaxing day outdoors soaking up some of the sun’s rays is how many people prefer to spend their free time when the weather allows. While the very vision of a warm summer afternoon spent outdoors can invoke positive feelings, it’s important that people take protective measures before going outside and continue to do so while they’re out there. According to the American Cancer Society, most skin cancers are the result of exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight. UV rays are a type of radiation that do not have enough energy to penetrate deeply into the body. As a result, they primarily affect the skin. Overexposure to these rays can lead to skin cancer.

Protection from UV Rays

The ACS notes that there are no safe UV rays, so it’s imperative that people take UV protection seriously. The following are some of the many ways to protect yourself while still enjoying sunny days outdoors.

• Go out at the right times of day. The ACS notes that UV rays are at their strongest in the middle of the day between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so staying inside during these hours can protect your skin. This is especially important in the spring and summer, as the ACS says UV rays are stronger during these seasons than other times of year.

• Employ the shadow test when going outside. It may not seem especially scientific, but the shadow test is a simple way for anyone to gauge how strong UV rays from the sun are at any given moment. According to the ACS, if your shadow is shorter than you, that means the sun’s rays are at their strongest. This simple test can help people immediately determine how strong the sun’s rays are, compelling them to be extra cautious if necessary.

• Apply sunscreen early and reapply often. The ACS recommends using sunscreens with broad spectrum protection that protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays, and applying them before leaving the house and reapplying often while outdoors. When choosing a sunscreen, choose one with a minimum sun protection factor, or SPF, of 30. Understanding SPF can help people recognize the importance of reapplication. When an SPF 30 product is applied correctly, a person gets the equivalent of one minute of UVB ray exposure for each 30 minutes he or she spends in the sun. So one hour in the sun wearing SPF 30 sunscreen is the same as spending two minutes totally unprotected. Reapplying SPF 30 sunscreen often can ensure you are protected at all times.

• Wear a hat. Hats with a brim that is at least two to three inches all around protects vulnerable areas such as the eyes, forehead, nose, ears, and scalp. Choose a hat with a dark, non-reflective underside, as such a hat can lower the amount of UV rays that reach the face from reflective surfaces such as water.

Sun protection is important year-round, and especially so during spring and summer.

Tips to Prepare for Your Next Big Home Project

The planning process is one of the most exciting parts of a home renovation project, and with social distancing keeping us indoors, now is the time to dream big and get ready. Whether it’s a basement makeover, a pool addition or even building a new house from scratch, here are some tips to get started:

1. Factor in your lifestyle. Think about your priorities and lifestyle – do you work from home without a proper home office? Do you enjoy cooking and entertaining? Is your backyard living up to its potential as an extension of your home? Asking these kinds of questions can help you determine the most beneficial focus for your next project.

2. Educate yourself. Take advantage of this extra time you have to learn about materials, processes and new innovations. You can make smarter purchasing decisions by finding out the answers to key questions, such as: Is this material mold-resistant? How long will it last? Is this a passing fad or will it stand the test of time?

3. Consider sustainability. Products and materials that reduce your carbon footprint don’t just help the planet —they’re often better for your wallet, too. When doing your research, look for energy-efficient appliances, windows, walls and more to build a greener home that will last longer and save you money in the long run.

4. Disaster-proof your design. The pandemic has taught us that sometimes the worst can happen. From natural disasters to fires and flooding, we need our homes to offer as much protection as possible. Whether you’re planning an extension to your home, pools and spas for your backyard or a custom-built home, insulated concrete forms from Nudura are a smart investment. An eco-friendly alternative to traditional materials like wood, ICFs are disaster resilient, designed to withstand wind, fire, tornados, and more.

5. Budget for smart splurges and savings. Budgeting is one of the most important parts of the planning process because you want to spend your hard-earned money wisely. You’ll want to splurge on items that will boost your property value, like energy-efficient features, creating more living space and a solid foundation. Upcycling and repurposing furniture, DIY-ing simpler projects like painting, and spending more on nicer hardware but less on cabinets are clever ways to save.

Improve Comfort When Dining Outdoors

Warm weather entices people to enjoy long hours outside basking in the sun or relaxing on balmy evenings. Many of the activities people once reserved for indoors when temperatures were chilly, including dining, are moved outside as the weather warms. Even though outdoor dining can be quite enjoyable, certain factors need to be considered to ensure that each experience is as pleasurable as possible. This means focusing on comfort whenever meals are taken out-of-doors.

Address Insects

Insects are equal opportunity invaders. Once they smell sweet or savory food items, they quickly descend for an easy bite. This means extra steps are necessary to dissuade insects from coming by. Invest in citronella candles, which can be placed around the patio to repel flying bugs. Clean up crumbs and spills promptly. Bees and wasps can be lured away with sweet traps placed around the perimeter of the property.

Offer Shade

Too much sun can make outdoor meals less enjoyable. A patio umbrella, pergola or canopy can cut down on glare and make the dining area more comfortable. Check to see that the shade source can be adjusted to guard against the sun as it moves across the sky.

Dress Up Seating

Just because furniture is made for outside doesn’t mean it has to be uncomfortable. Many companies now produce very durable and attractive outdoor furniture. Weather-resistant fabrics mean rain or sunlight will not age items too quickly.

Reusable Place Settings

If you frequently dine outdoors, you may want to dine in style. Instead of disposable paper or plastic place settings, invest in colorful, durable, reusable plastic dishes, glasses and flatware, which will not break if dropped and can hold up to a dishwasher when it is time to clean up.

Create the Right Ambiance

Invest in outdoor lighting, candles and hidden speakers to pipe in music and create ambiance. Install privacy screens and foliage to establish a nice nook for outdoor dining.

Outdoor dining areas can be improved with some easy modifications to existing spaces.

Tips for Family Camping Trips

For nature lovers, perhaps nothing is more enjoyable than packing up the camping gear, traveling to a favorite campsite and getting away from it all while sleeping under the stars. Such an experience can be transformative, turning first-time campers into lifelong enthusiasts.

The opportunity to turn youngsters into nature enthusiasts who can’t wait to spend time outside may be one reason why so many families go camping. A 2018 report Kampgrounds of America found that 52 percent of campers have children, making camping among the most popular and family-friendly ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Camping with youngsters can help families make lasting memories. Parents who have never before taken their children camping may benefit from employing a few strategies to make the trip as fun as possible.

• Make a trial run in the backyard. A night camping in the backyard won’t be exactly the same as a night in the woods, where wildlife, and particularly insects, may be less welcoming hosts. But a backyard camping night can acclimate children to their sleeping bags and their tents. A fun night sleeping under the stars in the backyard also may make kids more enthusiastic about an upcoming camping trip in the woods.

• Go over safety early and often. Use every opportunity to explain camping safety measures to youngsters in advance of your trip. Emphasize the importance of staying together in the woods, and teach youngsters how to identify potentially harmful plants like poison ivy, making sure they know to avoid coming into contact with these and other poisonous plants. Contact your local parks department, or the campground where you will be staying, for some additional advice on camping safety.

• Let kids help when choosing camping equipment. Youngsters may be more excited about camping if they’re allowed to choose certain equipment, including their sleeping bags and tents. Before visiting your nearby camping retailer, explain to kids that tents come in various styles because they’re designed to protect campers from certain elements that may be more common in certain areas than others. Such an explanation can make it easy to explain to youngsters why you’re purchasing certain items, even if those items weren’t kids’ top choices.

• Plan the family menu in advance. Plan the menu in advance so you can ensure everyone will continue to eat healthy. But make sure to include a few kid-friendly camping classics, like s’mores, in the meal plan as well.

• Prepare a camping-friendly first-aid kit. Bandages and topical antibiotic creams are part and parcel of any first-aid kit, regardless of where you’re going. But the elements pose a different set of challenges that require a more extensive first-aid kit. When designing a first-aid kit for your camping trip, be sure to include all the usual items but also over-the-counter medications that can treat pain, allergies, constipation, and diarrhea. An extra gallon or two of water also makes for a wise addition to campers’ first-aid kits.

Family camping trips can instill a lifelong love of the great outdoors in youngsters. A few simple strategies can help parents make such trips safe and memorable.

Kid-Friendly Staycation Ideas

Adults may see staycations as great opportunities to catch up on summer reading and finish projects around the house. Children, however, may not always approach time off at home with that same enthusiasm.

Parents confronted with the challenge of keeping kids happy and engaged during staycations can try these kid-friendly ideas to ensure everyone enjoys their time off, even if the bulk of it is spent at home.

• Find a place to swim. Whether it’s a nearby lake or a day at the ocean, a weekday afternoon spent swimming is a great way to remind the family that a staycation is still a vacation. If swimming in a lake or in the ocean is not possible and you don’t have the luxury of a backyard pool, purchase an inflatable pool (or two) that the whole family can enjoy.

• Embrace your inner artists. Parents can visit a local arts and crafts store and spend a day painting or making projects with their children. Choose a theme, like making jewelry or painting a family portrait, and then exchange your masterpieces or create a family art exhibit when the session is over.

• Go fishing. Fishing can be a fun activity for the whole family and a great way to get out of the house without breaking the bank. Create a competition to see who can catch the most and/or the biggest fish. If you catch fish that you’re allowed to take home, involve the whole family in making a delicious fish dinner that night.

Staycations can be fun for the whole family, especially when parents take time to organize a host of kid-friendly activities.

Gift Ideas for High School Grads

High school graduation is a significant milestone in the lives of teenagers. The moment a teenager receives a high school diploma marks the culmination of years of hard work, and many parents and extended family members reward that hard work with gifts.

The transition from high school student to college student or working professional is significant, and various items can help make that transition go as smoothly as possible.

Travel gear: Whether it’s utilized during road trips with roommates or on those handful of occasions when students come home on holiday breaks, travel gear can make for a useful gift for new high school graduates. A sturdy backpack/duffel bag combo can be ideal. It’s great for college students who might not be ready for more expensive luggage, and it can be ideal for high school students taking gap years to do some overseas traveling before enrolling in college.

Coffee machine: A pot of fresh coffee can make late-night cram sessions or hours spent typing research papers into the wee hours of the morning more manageable. For students who will be living in crowded dorm rooms, opt for small coffee machines that don’t take up much space, such as those that are traditionally found inside hotel rooms.

Television: Parents want to imagine their college-bound teenagers spending hours holed up in the library. But college kids watch plenty of television, too, so a new television can make for a great gift that figures to get ample use.

Academic planner: College course loads tend to be considerably more demanding than high school coursework. An academic planner can help new college students manage the rigors of their coursework by encouraging them to plan their days and weeks, ensuring no classes are missed and no assignments go unfinished.

Cash: Cash can make a great gift whether a grad is heading off to college or entering the workforce. Cash can help college students pay for their books and help those entering the workforce purchase a reliable car that will help them get around.

Gifts for newly minted high school graduates can help them transition to the next phase of their lives, whether that will begin on a college campus or in the workforce.

How to Incorporate More Heart-Healthy Foods into Your Diet

Diet and heart health go hand in hand. The American Heart Association notes that a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons to fight cardiovascular diseases, which the World Health Organization says kill more people across the globe each year than any other disease.

Men and women do not need degrees in nutrition science to create heart-healthy diets for themselves and their families. In fact, the familiar calls to “eat your fruits and vegetables” many adults recall from childhood lessons or nights around the family dinner table still bear weight today. A diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is a hallmark of a healthy lifestyle. And supplementing such a diet with other heart-healthy foods is a great way to reduce one’s risk for cardiovascular disease.

Fruits and Vegetables

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that fruits and vegetables are healthy whether they’re fresh, frozen, canned, and/or dried. The AHA advises eating fruits and vegetables with every meal and snack, and that may require a little creativity as you sneak them into favorite dishes. For example, the AHA suggests replacing half the ground meat in recipes for burgers, meatloaf or meatballs with cooked chopped mushrooms. The mushrooms can be finely chopped with a knife or food processor, and then sautéed in some olive oil until they’re soft. They can then be mixed in with the lean meat, and the meal can be cooked as it normally would. At the breakfast table, add fruit to a bowl of cereal to make for a more flavorful morning meal.

Dairy Products

When purchasing dairy products, the DHHS recommends sticking to fat-free or low-fat options. Replace whole milk with fat-free or 1 percent milk and buy only fat-free or low-fat cheese. When snacking, reach for fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt or cottage cheese. You can even add fruit or vegetables to such snacks to make snack time even more heart-healthy.

Proteins

Healthy proteins are another way people can promote heart health with their daily diets. When choosing proteins at the grocery store, the AHA recommends choosing chicken and fish over red meats. That’s because red meats, which include beef and lamb, have more saturated fat than chicken and fish. Saturated fats increase blood cholesterol levels and can worsen heart disease, while the unsaturated fats in fish like salmon can actually reduce the risk for cardiovascular issues like heart failure and ischemic stroke. When preparing poultry, remove the skin, as most of the saturated fat in poultry is found just beneath the skin.

Grains

When buying grains, the DHHS recommends reading the ingredients list on the package before purchasing. Make sure whole wheat or another whole grain is the first item listed in the ingredients list, and choose only those products that say 100 percent whole grain. Instead of preparing white rice as a side dish, serve brown or wild rice, quinoa or oats.

A heart-healthy diet is easy to design and just as flavorful as less healthy alternatives.

The Potential Medical Benefits of Meditation

Meditation has long been part of Eastern practices and recommended by alternative health practitioners. With the widespread adoption of yoga, breathing exercises and general mindfulness, meditation has become much more mainstream and something many traditional physicians now recommend to their patients.

According to the yoga equipment supply company Gaiam, meditation is an approach to training the mind that is similar to the way athletes train their bodies. Many meditation techniques exist, and the term meditation refers to an overall discipline rather than one specific activity. People who have been meditating for some time may be able to rest their brains for extended periods of time. Some may need to work up to it. Others practice focus-specific meditation, which makes them focus on a sensation or a particular object to tune out other distractions. Another option is open-monitoring meditation, which involves paying attention to all of one’s surroundings. Instead of reacting, you just notice things as they are.

The brand-building company Buffer says that meditation produces measurable changes in the brain. Modern technology like MRI scans show a decrease in beta waves during meditation. Those waves normally indicate that the brain is processing information. Meditation helps to slow or stop that processing. Meditation has been long studied as a way to induce relaxation and help alleviate stress. In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, MD, a researcher at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term “relaxation response.” In Benson’s words, this is “an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.” Meditation helps achieve that.

Meditation may produce many different health results. Some are immediate, and others are cumulative. Here are some changes a person may see:

• better focus while not meditating

• reduced anxiety

• lower blood pressure

• lower blood cortisol levels

• greater feelings of well-being

• reduced feelings of stress

• ability to cope better with challenging situations

• potential benefits on immune system function

Meditation is a skill someone learns with practice. It’s never too early or too late to learn how to meditate. Online courses and neighborhood studios can help people get on the road to wellness through meditation.