Category: Advice

Simple Tricks To Disentangle Holiday Lights

The joyous holiday season is enhanced by the beautiful and festive decorations that adorn homes and businesses during this special time of year. Twinkling lights are part of the holiday decorating equation. However, tangled lights in storage bins and boxes can sap anyone’s holiday spirit.

Christmas lights can turn into a tangled mess no matter how hard people work to avoid such an outcome. Christmas lights get tangled partly because of their design. There is a metal wire inside the cord to help with the packaging of the lights, which gives the cord a natural curve. Furthermore, most light cords are made from twisted or braided wires that have spaces throughout. The lights themselves can get snagged in these pockets between the wires.

Although it can be frustrating to deal with tangled lights that look like balls of yarn in a knitting basket, there are ways to disentangle them with relative ease – and then pack them in a way that can reduce further tangles.

Begin by plugging all lights into the outlet to see if they work. If most of the bulbs are burnt out or the lights do not go on at all, discard the strand. There’s no point untangling lights only to learn they don’t work.

Start slowly, beginning on the plug end, when untangling the lights. Keep the strand you’re working on separate from the other lights so they do not inadvertently become entangled. Tackle this job in a space with a lot of room. Lay the lights out on a large table or sit on the floor to do the untangling.

Utilize a pen or pencil to fish out more stubborn snags. This can help you loosen any knots and make it easier to pull snags through.

Lay the untangled strands out in a safe area away from your working space as you work through each strand.

One of the ways to avoid the hassle of tangled lights is to remember to store the lights in ways that will reduce their propensity for tangling in the first place.

· Rather than wrap lights around your hand or arm to condense the strand, use something else. A piece of cardboard, a hanger and some PVC tubing can keep lights from becoming tangled.

· Store lights in a zip-top bag to keep them from tangling with other strands stored together.

· Save the original boxes and return the lights to them after each use.

· Icicle lights have hanging strands of lights on longer strands, which can compound tangling issues. Use a rubber band to gather the hanging “icicles” together, or use some plastic wrap for the same purpose.

· Invest in a cord reel, similar to what you might use for a garden hose. Longer light strands or wires are stored on such reels, and they can be used with Christmas lights.

Patience and care can prevent holiday lights from becoming tangled.

How To Master Shopping Early For The Holidays

“The early bird gets the worm” is a well-known English proverb that historians trace all the way back to the 1600s. Though the words might first have been popularized hundreds of years ago, they remain as true today as they were then, particularly in regard to holiday shopping.

Savvy shoppers have long touted the importance of starting early when looking for holiday gifts for loved ones. Seasoned procrastinators may never embrace early shopping, but others who want to a less hectic holiday shopping season can consider these tips.

Begin With A Plan

Holiday shopping excursions, whether they take place in town, at the mall or online, can take longer than expected when shoppers have no idea what they’re looking for. Prior to your first holiday shopping trip, jot down gift ideas for each person on your list. Then scour stores or websites for those items. Starting early affords shoppers time to bargain hunt and ensures supply shortages or other issues won’t get in the way of a happy loved one come the holiday season.

Recognize The Notion Of “Early” Has Changed

Early holiday shopping used to be synonymous with the retail holiday Black Friday, which occurs the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. However, many holiday shoppers now begin buying gifts long before they’ve purchased a Thanksgiving turkey. In its 2022 Consumer Pulse Survey, McKinsey & Company found that 56 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping in October. A host of variables may have influenced that shift, but supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic have lingered, which undoubtedly compelled consumers to get an especially early start on holiday shopping. Shoppers who want to ensure everything arrives on time for the holiday season must recognize that “early” shopping now involves beginning around Halloween, if not earlier.

Take The (Local) Road Less Traveled

Shopping local merchants in person is a strategy savvy shoppers have long since embraced, but it’s one that’s especially beneficial in an era marked by supply chain issues and inflation. Local merchants don’t have the overhead or sizable staffs of big box or chain stores, which enables them to keep costs low. And since local merchants produce many of their own products, it’s likely there’s something in store that shoppers will love and less likely that they will have issues filling orders. A late fall afternoon in a local shopping district can yield an array of treasures and help holiday shoppers find the right gift for many a person on their list.

When In Doubt, Go Gift Card

If the right gift is proving elusive even when shopping early, shoppers should not hesitate to go the gift card route. Shoppers need not feel as though a gift card is a nonstarter, as a 2022 survey from the National Retail Federation found that 54 percent of survey respondents indicated gift cards were the most desirable gift of the holiday season.

Shopping early is a great way to enjoy a less hectic holiday season.

Essential Gear For First-Time Thanksgiving Hosts

Hosting Thanksgiving is a large undertaking that can put some hosts under pressure. Unlike some other holidays that are less food-focused, Thanksgiving is largely about the meal. Turkey is the centerpiece of the celebration, and any guests who come over are going to expect turkey and a number of side dishes. Leaving hungry is never an option on Thanksgiving.

Individuals who are new to Thanksgiving hosting may be at a loss as to where to start with their preparation. There are certain must-haves hosts should familiarize themselves with. Many of these essentials revolve around tools for cooking in the kitchen and serving guests.

· Large Roasting Pan: You’ll need somewhere to oven-roast the turkey. While it’s perfectly acceptable to purchase a disposable aluminum pan for this purpose, if you plan to host Thanksgiving year after year, investing in a quality roasting pan will help deliver even cooking temperatures to the food and also can be used for roasting other meats.

· Wire Rack: The turkey is placed upon a rack inside of the roasting pan so that it will not swim in the juices and cause a soggy bottom during cooking. Many roasting pans and racks are sold as sets, but others can be purchased separately. The rack can be used for other purposes as well, including cooling baked cookies or even drying out fresh herbs.

· Food Thermometer: Ensuring the turkey and other foods are cooked to the correct internal temperature is essential. You do not want to send guests home with foodborne illnesses. Food thermometers run the gamut from very basic to those that can be programmed to alert cooks through an app on a smartphone. Turkey is done when the temperature reads 170 F in the breast and 180 F in the thigh. If stuffed, the stuffing should register 165 F, according to Butterball.

· Coordinated Casserole Dishes: Casserole dishes can hold all of the sides served with the turkey, including stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, and more. A set of matching dishes will help the tablescape look more coordinated.

· Service For Eight or More: Thanksgiving draws a crowd, so take inventory of silverware, dishes, wine glasses, and any other table needs to ensure that you can accommodate all of the guests. Purchase new items if you cannot set the table completely with what you have, as mixed and matched may be okay for informal events but may not set the tone hosts are aiming for on Thanksgiving.

· Table and Chairs: Determine if you have enough table space to seat all of your guests. Some dining tables come with an extension leaf, but you still may need to supplement with a folding table. You may need more seating. Chairs can be rented or you can utilize some folding chairs.

· Turkey Serving Platter: When the turkey is ready, it can be placed on an attractive serving platter for your photos, after which you slice and then return the sliced poultry to the serving platter for dining.

Thanksgiving requires a number of essentials that hosts will need to have on hand to make the holiday complete.

How To Prepare A Fireplace For The Winter

As hours of daylight shorten and fall gives way to winter, thoughts shift from fall foliage to spending time cuddling under warm blankets and being cozy indoors. A fireplace can improve the ambiance of any room and help to create a warm and welcoming gathering spot.

Home fireplaces typically are wood-burning or gas. Though maintenance for these fireplaces differs, certain preparatory steps must be taken to prepare a fireplace for winter.

Clear The Clutter

Items can accumulate in areas that are not in use, and a fireplace is no exception. Take a few hours to remove any belongings from in front of the fireplace and clean the mantle thoroughly.

Have The Chimney Cleaned

Hire a professional chimney cleaning company to inspect the chimney and clean it thoroughly before winter. According to, a chimney should be cleaned once a year, or after about every 80 fires. The National Fire Protection Association says failure to properly clean chimneys is one of the leading contributors to home fires. That’s due to creosote, a highly flammable residue that builds up in the flue that lines the chimney.

Inspect The Interior

The interior of a wood-burning fireplace is likely lined with fire bricks. Check for cracks and loose joints. Hire a professional mason to make any repairs, as special materials are needed to withstand the heat of fires.

Install A Chimney Cap and Screen

According to Family Handyman, a chimney cap is a protective covering that goes over the top of the chimney. It is made of steel or copper mesh with a cap on top. This protects the chimney from rain and downdrafts and keeps animals and debris from getting into the chimney.

Prune Overhanging Branches

If there are trees close to the home and the chimney, cut them back, as they can be a fire hazard. Branches and leaves also can restrict the proper draft of the chimney.

Assess The Outdoor Vent

Gas fireplaces typically emit exhaust through a vent in the home. Remove any blockages from the vent, including leaves, cobwebs and debris.

Check Glass or Other Coverings

The glass or face of the fireplace helps regulate carbon monoxide exposure and protects people from the flames. Be sure the glass covering is intact.

Clean Ceramic Logs

Gas fireplaces use ceramic logs, rocks or beads that can become dusty. Clean them prior to use. Dirty ceramic logs can be a fire hazard and produce an unpleasant burning smell.

Check The Blower and Pilot

If the fireplace has an electric blower, clean and dust it so it doesn’t become clogged. Inspect the pilot light for any wear and tear that includes wiring or structural issues.

It takes several steps to prepare fireplaces for cold weather seasons when they’re most likely to be used with frequency.

What To Know About Breast Lumps

Breast cancer is a cause for concern for millions of women. Each year about 264,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Canadian Cancer Society indicates around 28,600 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Globally, data from the World Health Organization indicates roughly 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020.

One of the more notable symptoms of breast cancer is the presence of a lump in the breast. Though not all lumps are malignant, it’s important that women learn about breast anatomy and lumps as part of their preventive health care routines.

Mount Sinai says that breast lumps can occur at any age in both men and women. Hormonal changes can cause breast enlargement and lumps during puberty, and boys and girls may even be born with lumps from the estrogen received from their mothers.

It is important to note that the vast majority of breast lumps are benign. The National Institutes of Health says 60 to 80 percent of all breast lumps are non-cancerous. The most common causes of breast lumps are fibroadenomas and fibrocystic changes. Fibroademomas are small, smooth, moveable, painless round lumps that usually affect women who are at an age to have children, indicates the Merck Manual. They are non-cancerous and feel rubbery.

Fibrocystic changes are painful, lumpy breasts. This benign condition does not increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Symptoms often are worse right before one’s menstrual period, and then improve after the period begins.

Additional factors can contribute to the formation of lumps. Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs that likely go away on their own or may be aspirated to relieve pain. Complex cysts may need to be removed surgically. Sometimes cysts also may form in milk ducts throughout the breasts.

Lumps also may be the result of injury. Blood can collect under the skin and form a type of lump called a hematoma. Other lumps may be traced to lipomas, which is a collection of fatty tissue or breast abscesses, which typically occur if a person is breastfeeding or has recently given birth.

Additional causes of lumps can be discussed with a doctor. Though the majority of lumps are not a cause for concern, it is important for people to regularly feel their breasts to check for abnormalities. Doctors may recommend annual mammograms to women age 40 and older. In its earliest stages, breast cancer may produce little to no visible symptoms, but a mammogram may be able to catch something early on.

Revitalize Your Landscape On A Budget

Many homeowners think they have to spend tons of green to get green in their landscape, but that isn’t necessarily so. Homeowners can improve their landscapes without digging themselves into financial holes. These strategies can help anyone save some cash and still end up with attractive gardens and more.

Use Stones or Gravel For A Walkway

If commercially installed pavers or cement walkways are not within your budget, there are some affordable alternatives. Flagstone or individually purchased and spaced pavers and pea gravel can be used to create pathways. Some construction sites even offer free stones when asked. Soften the look with moss or other plants on the perimeter.

Remove Some Lawn

Lawns can require hours of upkeep that may involve the application of expensive fertilizers and weed-killing products that are not always so eco-friendly. Reduce the size of a lawn by putting in a mixed planting bed of perennials or ornamental grasses, or use landscape fabric and mulch.

Look For Free Mulch

Municipal recycling centers may offer residents access to free mulch made from grinding up leaves, branches and other plant debris collected throughout the town. Simply bring a few containers to the recycling center and spread the mulch for an ornamental look or to insulate landscapes over winter and protect against weeds.

Repurpose Old Items Into Planters

Old wheelbarrows, barrels, watering cans, and other items can be repurposed into container gardening vessels. Figure out if items marked for the garbage bin can be incorporated into garden features instead.

Invest In Plants That Are Easy To Propagate

Perennials are the gardener’s friend when it comes to saving money. These plants sprout anew each year, and many, such as sedum, catmint, ferns, hostas, and black-eyed Susans, can propagate by division. Figure out the best times of year to divide the plants and start growing them in individual containers before planting the sturdy new shoots in the ground. A single variety of plants grouped together in mass plantings is affordable and easy.

Shop End-Of Season Sales

Garden centers may begin to make room for holiday items come the fall. Take advantage of reduced costs on remaining plants and landscape accessories during this time of year. Plants can be covered or allowed to thrive indoors until they can be planted in the spring.

Pool Your Resource

Homeowners planning on a big landscaping or revitalization project may want to speak with neighbors to see if they’re interested in doing the same. Contractors guaranteed business from a few homes in the same neighborhood may be willing to negotiate lower prices for the volume of work on things like driveway repaving, deck- or fence-building, or installation of paver patios.

Some handy ideas can help homeowners transform landscapes without spending too much.

Simple Safety Protocols That Can Protect Hunters

Hunting is big business in North America. In 2017, more than 15 million people hunted in the United States. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reports that sportsmen and women contribute nearly $9.4 million to the economy every day.

Millions of hunters take to forests and fields every year. Seasoned hunters and novices alike can benefit from revisiting some safety procedures before their first outing this season.


Weather should be a consideration whenever people spend a significant amount of time outdoors. Hunters typically leave before dawn and arrive home after dusk. Hypothermia is a very real risk for hunters who may be out in snow or wet conditions. It’s possible to get hypothermia by overdressing as well. Sweating and then being exposed to dropping temperatures puts people at risk for hypothermia. Hunters should dress in layers with moisture-wicking materials and a water-repellant outer layer. In addition, check the weather forecast before heading out as a last second precautionary measure.

Firearm Safety

Firearm safety is a critical component of safe hunting. Hunters use rifles, shotguns and other firearms. Each gun is different, so hunters need to familiarize themselves with new firearms before using them. The following are some additional firearm safety tips, courtesy of State Farm Insurance and Southern Land Exchange.

· Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded.

· Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

· Only point at what you plan to shoot.

· Clearly identify your target and what is beyond it.

· Fire within the zone-of-fire, which is the 45-degree area directly in front of each hunter.

· Firearm chambers should be emptied when guns are not in use.

· Use appropriate ammunition.

· Never modify or alter the gun.

· Never cross a fence, jump a ditch or climb a tree with a loaded gun.

· Never rely on a gun’s safety.

Additional Safety Tips

Hunters should always let others know where they will be when leaving in the morning. If something should happen, people back home can alert authorities if something goes awry. Always check equipment and maintain it properly. Equipment should include gear colored in hunter’s orange. That extends to dogs if they are accompanying hunters on a trip. This makes hunters more visible to other hunters. Also, carry a first aid kit, a charged mobile phone or a satellite phone to maintain contact with others in case of emergencies.

These are just some of the safety protocols that should be followed when hunting. Non-hunters should exercise caution during hunting seasons, particularly when entering forests and areas that hunters frequent.

Road Trip Planning Pointers

Travelers take to the open road for any number of reasons. When traveling on a summer vacation, families may find it’s more affordable to travel by car than to pay for airline tickets for parents and kids. Others take driving vacations because they afford more freedom to move at one’s own pace than air or train travel. Whatever it is that motivates drivers to hit the open road, there’s no denying such trips are more enjoyable when drivers make an effort to plan ahead. With that in mind, travelers can keep these road trip planning pointers in mind.

Choose A Nearby Destination

Driving to a faraway place may conjure romanticized visions of scenic roadways and heartwarming roadside cafés, but that may only appeal to drivers like retirees who have all the time in the world to get from point A to point B. Family travel is often dictated by how long parents can get away from the office, and in such instances shorter tips make more sense than spending days in the car. In addition, driving tends to be the more economical option when travelers are only going short distances. Parents may think driving to a destination that’s a couple of days away from home by car is more economical than flying, but it’s best to crunch the numbers first. The cost of hotels, meals and gas to get there and back may negate the cost savings of driving over flying.

Develop An Itinerary

A trip itinerary does not have to be strictly followed, but it can provide some structure and help ensure drivers get to spend as much time at their desired destination as possible. Identify sights to see and restaurants to visit along the way, which can provide a welcome respite from sitting in the car. Do your best to stick to an itinerary that keeps the car moving toward your ultimate destination.

Read The Room

Who’s going to be in the car also merits ample consideration when planning a road trip. Parents know that young children will need to be accommodated with some in-trip entertainment to make any lengthy road trip more enjoyable for all. But adults also may require some extra creature comforts and accommodations. For example, seniors about to embark on a road trip can identify pitstops along the way where they can use the restroom and even stretch their legs. And if the family pet is coming along, periodic pitstops for Fido to stretch his legs and burn off some energy will be necessary as well.

Ensure You Have Support

Many automotive insurance providers offer roadside assistance to policy holders. Such plans are generally affordable and can provide a safety net for drivers taking road trips. They can be especially helpful when visiting remote locales. If an insurance provider does not offer a desirable roadside assistance plan, consider a membership in an automotive club like AAA.

Planning is a vital component of a successful and memorable road trip, which is something travelers can keep in mind regardless of where they’re going.

Tips to Throw A Memorable End-of-Summer Soirée

One last bash as summer winds down is a great way to send off a season that’s synonymous with recreation and leisure. And end-of-summer soirée also provides an opportunity to get together with friends and family before a new school year begins and families’ schedules fill up.

As August inches closer to September, hosts can consider these tips as they plan a memorable sendoff to summer.

Avoid Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer in many places, but hosts may want to avoid choosing this popular three-day weekend for their end-of-summer soirée. A survey from the travel experts at The Vacationer found that roughly 137 million people had travel plans over Labor Day weekend in 2022. Travel is undeniably popular on Labor Day weekend, and hosts likely won’t want to contend with guests’ travel plans. The weekend before Labor Day may produce a greater turnout, which undoubtedly makes for a more enjoyable affair.

Pick A Summer Theme

An end-of-summer party should have a theme that evokes the season’s special vibe. A beach theme with some sand in the backyard, some specialty cocktails served with mini beach umbrellas and, of course, some water play for adults and kids can help to establish a vibe that’s synonymous with summer.

Serve Traditional Fare

Though hosts who already hosted a handful of backyard barbecues this summer might have had their fill of hamburgers and hot dogs, an end-of-summer party is the last time many people will eat such foods until next spring. So while it’s alright to offer some alternatives, such as meat cooked on a smoker or grilled fish, be sure to offer the standard hamburgers and hot dogs as well.

Invite The Neighbors

It’s tempting to throw a season-ending bash that lasts into the wee hours, but that can be problematic for hosts whose neighbors are within arm’s length. That potentially sticky situation can be remedied by inviting the neighbors to the party. Neighbors won’t be upset by a little extra nighttime noise if they’re living it up as well. If that’s not an option, hosts can just remember to turn the volume down a notch once the sun sets.

Create A Contingency Plan

August can be a bit on the rainy side in many areas, particularly those where hurricane season hits full swing as summer winds down. Though summer storms tend to come and go in the blink of an eye, it’s best to have a contingency plan in place. If possible, ensure outdoor entertaining areas can provide some respite from the elements if need be. A well-placed pergola can keep guests and food safe from the rain and a retractable patio awning can provide an extra layer of protection. Hosts also can clear out part of their home interior and have some backup games at the ready to accommodate guests if the party has to move inside for a little while.

An end-of-summer soirée can be the perfect way to say so long to a beloved time of year.

Factors To Consider Before Leasing A Car

No two drivers are the same, and that reality is evident when motorists look for a new vehicle. Some drivers may want a flashy sports car, while others hope to get a great deal on a spacious minivan. Drivers also may be looking for different types of deals when visiting a dealership.

Leasing was once a gateway to a new car for millions of drivers. However, the automotive experts at Edmunds note that leases made up 18 percent of transactions involving new vehicles in the middle of 2022. That figure represented a 27 percent decline from a year earlier. That decline could be a byproduct of several variables, including the value of trade-ins. Edmunds notes that the average trade-in value of cars leased in 2020 is 19 percent higher than the predetermined residual value, which means it makes sense for some motorists to purchase their vehicles at the end of a lease rather than turn it in.

Despite the decline in leases, the option to lease can still make sense for some drivers. With that in mind, individuals who are considering leasing can consider these factors to ensure they make the best decision possible.

· Trade-in value: As noted above, the value of trade-ins is very high. However, that value could be vulnerable to considerable fluctuations. The spike in average trade-in values was related to supply-and-demand issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those issues have lingered, which means the supply of new vehicles is still lagging with some manufacturers. With fewer new vehicles to sell, the value of vehicles coming off a lease could be much higher than the predetermined price lessees would pay to purchase the vehicle outright when their lease expires. Drivers may still prefer leasing to purchasing, but in the current economic climate, it makes sense to determine the market value of a trade-in when their lease is set to expire.

· Budget: Millions of motorists prefer leasing because monthly lease payments on new vehicles tend to be significantly less than it would cost them to purchase the vehicle and finance it through a bank or credit union. And that still holds true, as data from Experian indicates the average monthly payment for a financed vehicle is $667, which is $127 more than the average monthly cost of leasing a car or truck. That’s a considerable cost benefit of leasing, particularly at a time when high inflation has forced millions of households to cut back.

· Maintenance: Another factor to consider before leasing a vehicle is maintenance. Lessees are responsible for maintaining the vehicle during the lease terms, but new vehicles do not typically require the level of upkeep that older vehicles need. Drivers who are considering purchasing a leased vehicle when the lease expires should factor in the costs to maintain the vehicle in the years ahead, particularly if the manufacturer’s warranty is due to expire soon. Substantial maintenance costs could compromise drivers’ budgets, and that’s unlikely to happen if drivers turn in a leased car and begin a new lease.

Auto leases have declined by a considerable margin in recent years. However, such arrangements may still make sense for some drivers.