Category: Holidays

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.

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.

Tips for Buying Jewelry This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is rife with tradition. Couples may have their own unique traditions, but others, like Valentine’s Day date nights, are widely popular.

One Valentine’s Day tradition many couples embrace is the exchange of gifts. Shoppers might not need much advice when purchasing heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or flowers for their sweethearts. However, when shopping for jewelry, Valentine’s Day celebrants may feel as though they’re in over their heads. The following tips, courtesy of the Better Business Bureau®, can help shoppers as they navigate the potentially confusing process of buying jewelry.

Diamonds

The BBB notes that diamonds’ value is based on color, cut, clarity, and carat. Often referred to as the “4 Cs,” this criteria refers to the grade of the color (color), the way the diamond is finished (cut), how flawless the diamond is (clarity), and its weight (carat). When shopping for diamonds, the BBB advises asking jewelers if they have the most up-to-date testing equipment, which makes it easier for them to distinguish between diamonds and lab-created gemstones. That’s important, as lab-created gemstones resemble diamonds and may not be detectable if jewelers are using testing equipment designed to identify cubic zirconia.

Colored gemstones

Colored gemstones are very popular, and the BBB notes that various new stone treatments have been developed to improve their appearance and durability. However, the BBB also notes that such treatments may adversely affect the value of the gem and necessitate special care in order to maintain the gem’s appearance. When shopping for colored gemstones, ask the jeweler if an item has been treated and if there’s any special maintenance required. Imitation or assembled stones may look like natural stones, so shoppers should ask if a stone is natural, synthetic or imitation before purchasing anything.

Gold

When used alone, the word gold implies an item is all gold or 24 karat gold. But the BBB notes that gold is naturally soft and, as a result, is typically mixed with other metals to improve its hardness and durability. The karat-quality marking indicates what proportion of gold is mixed with other metals. For example, the most common mark for gold jewelry is 18K of 750, which signifies an item is 75 percent gold. Lower-karat gold jewelry may include copper, silver, zinc, or other metals. Consumers should ask about these alloys and determine if the item’s ultimate recipient is allergic to certain metals or if he or she has a high acid content in their bodies. People with high acid content in their bodies may have their jewelry turn black as a result.

Buying jewelry can be intimidating. However, jewelry buyers can work with their jewelers to find a beautiful piece their sweethearts will be proud to wear this Valentine’s Day.

More information on buying jewelry can be found at www.bbb.org.

Top Gifts for Your Valentine

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show the ones you love just how much you care about them. This is achieved through various gestures, including giving heartfelt gifts. Research from Business Insider found that 51 percent of Americans now celebrate Valentine’s Day. While a recent poll from Insights West found that although many Canadians view Valentine’s Day as overly commercial, 75 percent still plan on celebrating it. People are still spending big bucks on making Valentine’s Day special. The National Retail Federation indicates Americans spent more than $20.7 billion on the holiday in 2019 and forecasters predict similar spending in 2020.

Every Valentine’s Day, certain gifts emerge as the most popular. While certain gifts are common, there are ways to make them seem fresh and exciting. Here are some ideas for Valentine’s Day gifting.

Flowers

The National Retail Federation estimates that people spend around $2 billion on flowers for gifts. While roses are much sought after, thinking outside the bouquet can produce unique results. Choose different blooms, perhaps a loved one’s favorite flower or something regional. Potted plants also will last longer than cut flowers, giving them more staying power. Skip bouquets in favor of table centerpieces, which can be eye-catching.

Jewelry

Gifting jewelry can be tricky because it is such a personal gift that must tie into a sweetheart’s style. It may be tempting to go with something large and flashy or full of diamonds, but a better option is to take inventory of what your loved one wears on a daily basis and try to mimic the size and scope in your gift. Other thoughtful jewelry gifts include understated pendant necklaces or bracelets engraved with key dates or the names of their children. Colored gemstones in lieu of diamonds also may be a striking choice.

Entertainment

Dinner and a movie is a classic date night, but on Valentine’s Day restaurants and theaters may be overcrowded and only offer limited menus. An alternative can be to arrange for a gourmet meal to be delivered and wrap up a new streaming movie/TV device already primed with a subscription to his or her favorite streaming service. Then all you need to do is snuggle on the sofa for a romantic night in.

Chocolates and candy

Roughly $1.8 billion is spent on candy each Valentine’s Day, says the National Retail Federation. A box of chocolates certainly can fit the bill, but other options abound. Perhaps a sweetheart has a favorite candy that recalls his or her childhood or prefers a chocolate maker from his or her hometown. Purchase those items to add a bit of nostalgia. Make the holiday magical by setting up a candy bar right at home, where your sweetheart can pick and choose from candies displayed in eye-catching bowls and canisters. Another novel idea is to use candy molds to make your own sweet treats.

Thoughtful Valentine’s Day gifts can make the day even more special for sweethearts.

3 Strategies That Can Help You Achieve Your Goals in the Year Ahead

When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, many people are living it up and toasting the dawn of a new year. Come the afternoon of January 1, those same people might have shifted their focus to the year ahead.

January is a great time to set professional and personal goals. Setting goals can have a greater impact than people may know. Studies examining the importance of setting goals are few and far between, and some have even been revealed as fallacies after being accepted as authentic for years. But a 1979 study that asked newly minted Harvard MBA graduates about setting goals found that 13 percent had set goals. When interviewers followed up with survey participants a decade later, they found that the 13 percent who had set goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent of participants who had set no specific goals at all.

While there’s no universal formula for success, successful people often cite the importance of setting goals and how doing so was integral to their success. The following are some strategies that may help people achieve their goals in the years ahead.

1. Make it a group effort.

A 2013 study from a University of Connecticut researcher found that there is a high level of correlation between users’ exercise activities and their participation in these digital health communities. Such communities served as motivating factors for people aiming to live healthier lives. Relying on others for support, insight and motivation can be a great way to achieve your goals, no matter what those goals are.

2. Set goals big and small.

No goal is too small, and no big goal should be considered beyond reach. In fact, achieving small goals can provide motivation and inspiration along the way to realizing your larger goals. Devise a one-month plan, a six-month plan and a 12-month plan for the year ahead. The one-year plan can serve as your big goal, while the one- and six-month plans can serve as small motivators and great ways to track your progress en route to achieving your larger goal.

3. Write down why you’re setting goals.

People set goals for various reasons, and writing down the reasons they’re pursuing their goals can serve as inspiration when challenges arise. For example, if you aspire to change careers to spend more time with your family, writing that down can provide motivation to keep looking for opportunities when a job search stalls or feels fruitless.

A new year is a great time to set goals. A handful of strategies can help people set their goals and keep them on track toward achieving them.

Celebrate Safely This New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is a time to celebrate. But for hundreds of people each year, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day proves fatal. According to fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over the last five years an average of 300 people died in drunk driving fatalities between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Holiday celebrations, and New Year’s Eve festivities in particular, tend to include alcohol, raising the stakes during this festive yet too often fatal time of year.

The sobering statistics provided by the NHTSA don’t have to prevent people from toasting a new year. In fact, there are many ways to have fun this New Year’s Eve without putting yourself in harm’s way.

• Don’t overindulge in alcohol. For many people, overindulging in alcohol is part and parcel during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Such behavior puts everyone at risk, even people who don’t drive. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, conservative estimates suggest that roughly one-half of sexual assaults on American women involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim or both. While alcohol and its relationship to traffic fatalities draw the bulk of the attention on New Year’s Eve, even people who don’t intend to drive should recognize the dangers of overindulging in alcohol and drink responsibly.

• Arrange for transportation. If you need a car to get around on New Year’s Eve and plan to drink alcohol, arrange for someone else to do your driving for you. Groups of friends should choose someone to be their designated driver or pool their money and hire a taxi or bus service for the night so no one who’s been drinking gets behind the wheel. The NHTSA even offers a free app called SaferRide that is compatible with Apple and Android devices and enables users to call a taxi or a friend to be picked up.

• Host responsibly. Even people who don’t intend to leave their homes can take steps to make New Year’s Eve safer for everyone. If you’re hosting a party at home, do so responsibly, making sure none of your guests overindulge and making the party less about drinking and more about having fun. Shift the focus from toasting drinks to games and activities that don’t include alcohol. Make sure to have plenty of food and nonalcoholic beverages on hand and encourage people who are drinking to eat full meals and drink water throughout the night. People who fill up on food and water during the party may feel full, which may discourage them from having extra drinks. While many people will expect to drink alcohol on New Year’s Eve, don’t stock up on too much alcohol, the availability of which may encourage guests to overindulge. Hosts also should keep the phone numbers of local taxi services handy just in case some guests cannot drive themselves home safely.

New Year’s Eve should be as festive as possible. Celebrating responsibly can ensure everyone has a fun and safe time.

Holiday Hosting in Small Spaces

Gatherings of family and friends are a big part of the holiday season. Hosting such gatherings can be a great way to show loved ones how much you appreciate them, and hosting also saves hosts the trouble of traveling during one of the most hectic travel seasons of the year.

When hosting a large crowd at home, space can be a difficult hurdle to clear. However, a few helpful strategies can help space-starved hosts pull off a holiday soiree where everyone is comfortable.

Pare down the menu. Holiday feasts don’t have to resemble medieval banquets with excessive amounts of food and drink. Hosts with small kitchens and tiny dining quarters can pare down the menu, limiting offerings to just a single entree and a few simple side dishes, so everyone feels comfortable at the table and has ample room to eat. A small menu also gives hosts more time to spend with their loved ones during the festivities.

Don’t overdo it on drinks, either. When planning the drinks menu, avoid offering cocktails, which take time to prepare and often require guests to visit the kitchen for refrigerated ingredients. Limit drinks to wine, beer, water, and soft drinks, storing cold beverages in a cooler kept outside on a front or back porch or in an area outside the kitchen so cooks can work without interruption.

Move some furniture. If your main living space is small, consider moving some bulky furniture into a bedroom or office where guests won’t be spending time. Then make better use of the open living space by placing folding chairs or other accommodations to ensure there’s ample seating for everyone. A single recliner can only be enjoyed by one person, but removing it from a room may create enough space for as many as three folding chairs.

Go small on decorations. If you know you’ll be hosting in advance of the holiday season, decorate with guests in mind. That might mean skipping a six-foot Christmas tree in favor of one that takes up less space. Avoid leaving any fragile decorations out, as adults or overexcited kids may knock them over as they try to navigate a cramped space.

Holiday hosting can be fun, even in small spaces. A few simple tricks can make even the smallest spaces accommodating.

Thanksgiving Quiche Puts Sweet Potatoes Front and Center

Sweet potatoes are a favorite side dish at Thanksgiving dinner tables. Packed with vitamins, nutrients, fiber, and delectable flavor, sweet potatoes have earned their place on holiday dinner tables. While many holiday hosts bake, fry or mash their sweet potatoes, these beloved tubers can be prepared in other ways as well.

If you want to put a new twist on this Thanksgiving staple, whip up this recipe for “Sweet Potato Quiche,” courtesy of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. Submitted to the NC State Fair Tailgate Recipe Contest by Kristen Frybort, this recipe marries sweet tubers with decadent cheese, rich cream and savory spices.

 
 

Sweet Potato Quiche

Makes 8 servings

2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes

3⁄4 cup yellow onion, diced

21⁄2 tablespoons olive oil

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

Egg mixture:

4 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1⁄2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

1⁄2 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

11⁄2 teaspoons salt

1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

3 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded

Pre-baked deep dish pie crust

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix together the first five ingredients and place on baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. While sweet potatoes and onions are roasting, shred cheese and set aside. Whisk the egg mixture and set aside. Once potatoes and onions have finished roasting, spoon them into the pre-baked pie shell. Next, layer the shredded cheese on top of the sweet potatoes. Reduce oven to 375 F. Pour egg mixture over the cheese and potatoes. Place quiche in the oven on a center rack. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until eggs are set.