Category: Holidays

Enjoy a Safe and Happy Independence Day

Independence Day is a celebration of the United States of America. The holiday is marked by fanfare and large parties, complete with barbecues, fireworks and parades.

As fun as July 4th festivities typically are, injuries, particularly those involving fireworks, are a concern that celebrants should not take lightly. An estimated 11,000 people visited the emergency room for fireworks-related injuries in 2016, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. However, fireworks aren’t the only danger this time of year. In order to remain safe, individuals can heed these tips.

• Do not drink and drive. Alcohol consumption may accompany Independence Day festivities. For those planning on using a car to get to and from parties, it is essential to designate a driver who will not imbibe. Otherwise, utilize any number of ridesharing services or available taxis.

• Swim smartly. Always swim with a buddy, and consider hiring a lifeguard if you’ll be hosting a pool party and cannot keep a watchful eye on guests in the pool. Adults also should not swim intoxicated, as it can impede the ability to stay afloat and may lead to risky behaviors.

• Leave fireworks to the professionals. Watch a public fireworks display instead of lighting fireworks on the street or in the backyard.

• Exercise caution with sparklers. Kids running around with sparklers in hand could be a recipe for disaster, as sparklers burn extremely hot. Make sure children do not wave them around or others can get burned. Keep a bucket of water handy to properly extinguish the sparklers.

• Review safe boating practices. If July 4th festivities find you out on the water, be sure that life jackets are worn and set boating and water safety rules for the family.

• Check in with a vet. The Fourth of July can be traumatic for pets not accustomed to fireworks and other loud noises or crowds. Behavior therapy, medication and ensuring that pets do not run away from home and get lost may be necessary.

• Watch food temperatures. Do not leave food out in the hot sun for too long; otherwise, harmful bacteria can grow and potentially cause foodborne illnesses. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service says to never leave food out of refrigeration for more than two hours. If the temperature is above 90 F, food should not be left out for more than one hour.

These are some of the safety strategies that can keep Independence Day celebrations both safe and enjoyable.

Interesting Facts About Memorial Day

Each year on the last Monday of May, Americans celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a federal holiday that honors and mourns American military personnel who died while performing their duties in service to the United States Armed Forces. Memorial Day has a rich history and one that’s worth revisiting as the nation prepares to honor the sacrifices made by its military personnel over the centuries.

• Freed slaves played a role in the establishment of Memorial Day. The American Civil War is the deadliest military conflict in American history, as the Union and the Confederacy each suffered more than 800,000 casualties by the time the war ended in 1865. According to History.com, as the war drew to a close, hundreds of Union soldiers who were being held as prisoners of war died and were buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp in South Carolina. After the Confederate surrender, more than 1,000 now-freed slaves honored those recently deceased Union soldiers during a ceremony in which they sang hymns and distributed flowers. The ceremony was dedicated to the fallen soldiers and served as a precursor to what is now celebrated as Memorial Day.

• Confederate soldiers were honored, too. Confederate losses during the Civil War outnumbered Union losses, and those losses were not forgotten by southerners who survived the war. History.com notes that, in 1866, the Georgia-based Ladies Memorial Association, one of many similar organizations to arise in the aftermath of the war, pushed for a day to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. In fact, these efforts are believed to have influenced General John A. Logan. In 1868, General Logan, a Civil War veteran who was then serving as commander-in-chief of a group of Union veterans, ordered the decoration of Union graves with flowers on May 30. The day would ultimately be known as “Memorial Day.”

• It took a long time for Memorial Day to become a federal holiday. Despite tracing its origins to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Memorial Day did not become an official federal holiday until 1971, more than a century after the war ended. This is the same year the holiday was officially designated as taking place on the last Monday in May. The designation has periodically drawn the ire of veterans and military supporters who suggest it is now more widely seen as the unofficial beginning to summer and not a day in which the sacrifices of fallen U.S. soldiers are honored to the extent that they should be.

• Debate exists about which town has the longest history of celebrating Memorial Day. A handful of towns claim to be the first celebrants of Memorial Day. That debate figures to continue in perpetuity, but History.com notes that Waterloo, New York, was officially recognized by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966. Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Rochester, Wisconsin are some other towns that claim to have celebrated Memorial Day since the mid-1860s.

Memorial Day has a rich history that highlights the importance of honoring the men and women who have given their lives while in service of the United States military.

8 Tips for Dyeing Easter Eggs

Coloring eggs is a beloved Easter tradition. Eggs long have been symbols of fertility and rebirth, making them fitting icons for spring. One story links eggs to Easter as well. According to some religious scholars, Mary Magdalene, the woman who was the first person to see Jesus Christ after His resurrection, was holding a plain egg in her hand while waiting for the emperor to share the good news. The emperor then told her that Jesus’ resurrection was as improbable as that egg suddenly blushing. The egg then turned red.

Dyeing eggs is an entertaining activity, but one that also may have some religious significance. Many families will color eggs this Easter, and these guidelines can make the process go smoothly.

• Wait until just before coloring to hard-boil eggs. Good Housekeeping recommends boiling eggs for 11 minutes for a hard boil. Do not chill the eggs afterward; warm eggs absorb color more effectively for more vivid results.

• Egg dye can stain furniture, clothing or tablecloths. Therefore, dress in clothing that you’re not worried about staining. Also, cover work surfaces with an old tablecloth and newspapers to soak up any spills.

• Make a drying rack to ensure that eggs will dry evenly. This can be a rimmed cookie sheet lined with layers of paper towels to absorb any excess dye that runs off the eggs. Or push pins into thick foam board and place the eggs on top to allow air to circulate.

• Consider using glass bowls or ceramic mugs to house the colored dye solutions. These vessels are more sturdy than plastic cups, and less likely to be overturned by eager young hands.

• Scissor-style tongs are ideal tools for retrieving eggs from the dye. Eggs tend to slide off of the spoons or wire rings provided in kits, leading to splashing and kids dunking their fingers in to grab eggs.

• Stir dyeing cups often to guarantee consistent color.

• Use electrical tape to make patterns on Easter eggs. Dip the eggs and let dry. Afterwards, remove the tape to reveal the designs.

• If food coloring-based dyes seem too messy, use watercolor paint sets and allow everyone to get creative.

While some people may want to use Easter eggs for recipes later on, it may be safer to boil up a fresh batch of eggs for that purpose, even if it seems wasteful. According to Emily Rubin, RD, LDN of the Thomas Jefferson University Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, “hard-boiled eggs should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking and discarded if left out for more than two hours at room temperature.” Chances are it may take two hours or more for children to find hard-boiled eggs hidden by the Easter bunny.

The Benefits of Making New Year’s Resolutions

The end of December is a busy time of year. Families are shopping for gifts for loved ones and friends, holiday celebrations are in full swing and thoughts begin to turn to the new year ahead.

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, it is customary to sip a glass of champagne and toast to the new year. Many people use the dawn of a new year as a time to create a list of resolutions that reflect positive changes they hope to make in the year ahead. Between 40 and 45 percent of American adults make resolutions each year, according to the health and wellness group Proactive Mindfulness. According to John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo and Matthew D. Blagys, coauthors of the study “Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers,” within six months of starting a resolution 46 percent of people are still maintaining their resolutions. Resolutions may seem silly to some, but there are several positive reasons to make them.

• Resolutions provide practice setting goals. Goal-setting is an important component of life. Goals are key because they provide general direction in life. A goal is a map that can give you an idea of where you are heading and what path you need to take to get there, according to the self-improvement guide Success Consciousness. Resolutions can be fun, low-pressure goals. Think of them as dress rehearsals for bigger life changes.

• Resolutions offer time for reflection. Too often people are rushing through daily life without stopping or slowing down to truly assess the impact of their actions. Resolutions help you reflect on the past, present and future, figuring out what has been working and what may need to be changed to provide a boost, according to the wellness resource Alternative Daily.

• Resolutions can serve as a catalyst for positive change. When something isn’t working with your routine, personal health or relationships, resolutions can serve as the catalyst that ultimately rights the ship.

• Resolutions can promote self-esteem and empowerment. Making resolutions and keeping them can provide a sense of accomplishment that comes with goal-setting and following through. Resolving to lose five pounds and then seeing the proof on a scale can be a powerful motivator that compels you to make other self-improvements. Accomplishing small goals also can boost self-esteem.

Resolutions are often made at the dawn of a new year. These efforts can provide the motivation and direction people need to make positive changes in their lives.

Must-Haves to Achieve a Holiday Wonderland

The end of the year marks a period of heightened festivity. Come the holiday season, homes and businesses are decorated and everyone seems to have an extra spring in their step.

The sight of snowflakes, candy canes, evergreen wreaths, and Christmas trees can elicit nostalgia for happy holidays of the past, as well as excitement for what is yet to come. When it comes to decorating for the holidays, there are certain items that set the scene.

• Christmas trees: Germany is credited with starting the modern Christmas tree tradition. It dates back to the 16th century when devout Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them. German settlers brought Christmas tree traditions to America upon their arrival in Pennsylvania in the 19th century.

• Mistletoe: Mistletoe is known as the “kissing plant” and it is customary for couples to kiss while standing beneath the plant, typically hung in doorways and arches. Mistletoe was once hung to drive off evil spirts and ensure fertility. Kissing under the mistletoe was first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites.

• Lights: Lights are commonly seen during the holiday season. The custom of having holiday lights dates back to when Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which symbolized Christ being the light of the world. These traditions evolved from pagan rituals that would celebrate the return of light of the sun as the days grow longer after the winter solstice.

• Yule log: Many families burn a yule log in the fireplace and watch it burn while listening to Christmas carols. The familiar custom of burning the log dates back to solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The Christmas tradition called for burning a portion of the log each evening until Twelfth Night, also known as the Epiphany, which takes place on January 6.

• Poinsettias: Poinsettias are a tropical plant that originated in Mexico. Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first Ambassador from the United States to Mexico. He became enamored with the plants, and brought them back to his native South Carolina. An old Mexican legend suggests a poor girl had nothing to offer baby Jesus at Christmas Eve services, so she picked a handful of weeds and put them at the bottom of the nativity scene. These weeds burst into bright red flowers and became known as “Flores de Noche Buena,” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.”

Holiday decorations borrow traditions from all over the world to help establish a festive wonderland.

6 Ways to Stick to a Holiday Budget

The holidays are an exciting, fun and joyful time of year. And for many people, the holidays also are expensive. According to the Motley Fool Company, a financial wellness resource, the average American spent $882.45 on Christmas gifts, food, decorations, travel, and other holiday-related expenses in 2019. Around 56 percent of gift shoppers set a budget for holiday spending, but only 64 percent stuck to it. In addition, 21.5 percent of respondents went into debt due to holiday shopping.

Who doesn’t want to have a super holiday with delicious foods on the table and lots of presents to share with family and friends? While that’s tempting, such a bounty should never result in financial peril. These six strategies can make it easy to establish and stick to a budget this holiday season.

1. Budget for everything. When working out holiday spending plans, factor in all of the expenses associated with the holidays — not just the most obvious, like gifts. Costs for gas, parking lot fees, greeting cards, postage, travel expenses, and much more should be included in your final number.

2. Determine how much you can spend. Money for gifts and other holiday expenses should ideally come from your disposable income. Look at your finances in advance of the holiday season and figure out how much extra cash you have for the holidays, and use that figure to determine how much you should spend. Find ways to make up any deficit by curtailing expenses like dining out or entertainment extras. Many people plan to use credit cards to pay now and worry about the aftermath later. Only use credit cards if you have the money in the bank and can pay off the entire bill when the balance due is in January.

3. Set a spending limit for individuals. Based on your numbers and how much you plan to spend overall, start allocating money to categories, including gift recipients. Come up with a spending range for each person and stick to it.

4. Pay in cash as much as possible. It’s easy to know what you’re spending when using cash as opposed to credit. There is some risk with carrying around cash, but that risk may be offset by the benefit of spending only what you can afford to spend.

5. Track all purchases. Save the receipts and keep a running total of expenditures so you can see how you’re spending is measuring up to your budget. If necessary, scale back on one category if you’ve tipped the scales in spending on another.

6. Shop sales and deals. High-end stores may have the impressive tag, but their prices can set you back. Instead, look for comparable gifts at discount stores and other retailers. Also, if you must use a credit card, use one that earns you a cash-back bonus for added savings.

A holiday budget is a must to avoid overspending and finding yourself in debt early next year.

How to Support Small Businesses This Holiday Season

The holiday season is an important one for small businesses every year, and it figures to take on heightened importance in 2020. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in late 2019 and early 2020 hit small businesses especially hard, with many being forced to close their facilities to customers in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading. Estimates regarding the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on small businesses varied, but many small business owners were forced to let go employees as they confronted steep declines in revenue. A ZenBusiness survey of more than 1,000 small business founders, senior managers and decision makers found that 37 percent of small businesses that employ between 11 and 25 people were considering laying off more than one-fifth of their workforce.

As small businesses face difficult challenges, it’s no surprise that many consumers want to support locally owned small businesses this holiday season. Such support not only can help small businesses, but also can help to revitalize local communities.

Shop online. Online shopping has traditionally been dominated by big box retailers. However, many small businesses increased their e-commerce capabilities to generate revenue. Shoppers concerned about shopping in person this holiday season should explore the delivery and curbside pickup options available at locally owned small businesses. Even businesses that have not traditionally been allowed to deliver, such as breweries and wineries, have been able to do so during the outbreak, giving consumers unlimited online shopping options.

Purchase gift cards. Gift cards take the guesswork out of holiday shopping, and such cards are easily shipped or even emailed to loved ones. That’s a significant benefit during the 2020 holiday season, when delivery times are expected to be lengthy. Gift cards to local businesses simplify holiday shopping, support small businesses and help shoppers avoid potential delivery delays.

Share your experience. Word-of-mouth is vital to small businesses at any time, and can be especially valuable as these companies try to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. Holiday shoppers can share their experiences with local businesses via social media. Share information about the lengths local small businesses have gone to in regard to safety measures, order fulfillment and their delivery and pickup efforts. Such sharing may compel neighbors and friends to follow your lead and provide vital support to local businesses in need this holiday season.

Small businesses are the backbone of many communities, and the holiday season provides a great opportunity to support such firms as they look to recover from a difficult year.

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.

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.

Grilling Secrets for Your Labor Day Weekend

You’ve been grilling all summer long, which means you may be in need of some new ideas this Labor Day Weekend. Experts say, no matter what equipment you’re using, the secret to making a big impact on the flavor of your food is BBQ pellets.

“With the amazing wood smoke flavors that cooking with wood pellets offer, it’s truly a game changer for any backyard barbecue,” says Ben Madden, product manager at Bear Mountain BBQ Woods, crafter of gourmet, hardwood pellets. Bear Mountain BBQ pellets are made from 100% premium all-natural hardwoods, with no flavorings, fillers, or additives, which create amazing wood-smoke flavor.

Pellet grills have soared in popularity over the past few years and show no signs of slowing down, mostly due to the flavor, versatility and convenience they provide over other types of grills. Using a pellet grill along with hardwood pellets creates wood-fired flavor that truly elevates the overall grilling experience.

No pellet grill? No problem. Here are some alternate ways to use pellets on any type of grill or smoker.

• Fill a pellet smoking tube as directed by the manufacturer and light the pellets using a torch. When the flame goes out, the pellets will smolder and smoke. This method is great for smoking food on gas and charcoal grills.

• Fold a large handful of pellets in foil and crimp the edges. Poke a few small holes in the pouch and place it on top of the burner or coals. This works great to reverse-sear food — smoking first, then finishing over higher heat.

Just keep in mind, different pellet blends create different flavors. The team at Bear Mountain has dialed in the right combinations of hardwoods to craft the best flavor for different types of grilled meats and vegetables. A rule of thumb is stronger hardwoods add richness to beef, medium to mild woods pair perfectly with chicken, pork and vegetables, and lighter fruitwoods complement the delicious flavors of seafood. Having a variety of pellet types handy can help you become a more versatile grill master.

So what should you serve this Labor Day Weekend? For a dish that’s both down home and a cut above, try this Reverse Sear Tri-Tip recipe. Tri-tip is a perfect cut of meat to reverse sear and lock in that juicy, smoke flavor with a high-temperature finish. Straight from Bear Mountain’s recipe collection, you can use a pellet grill or a gas or electric grill with the folded foil method.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 1-2 hours, depending on size

Ingredients:

• 2-3 pounds tri-tip trimmed

• 3 tablespoons Coffee Spice BBQ Rub (recipe on bearmountainbbq.com)

• Olive oil

Preparation:

1. Lightly coat the meat with olive oil, then Coffee Spice Rub to completely cover the meat.

2. Set grill to 225 F. When up to temperature, place meat on the center of the grill and close the lid.

3. Slow cook to approximately. 120 F, then increase the temperature to high to sear the outside.

4. Continue to cook until reaching an internal temperature of 130 F (for medium-rare).

5. Remove from the grill, tent with foil and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove foil, slice and serve.

For more recipes, tips and information about Bear Mountain pellets, visit bearmountainbbq.com.

With a few new grill techniques, you can make this Labor Day Weekend all about incredible flavor.