Category: Holidays

Countdown to Valentine’s Day with Week-Long Fun

Millions of people eagerly await the arrival of the shortest month of the year for the opportunity to show their spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, companions, and many other special people in their lives how much they are loved.

Even though Valentine’s Day is just one day a year, that doesn’t mean it should be the only time one expresses his or her love for a special someone. With this in mind, individuals can count down the days to Valentine’s Day with these daily events that precede the day of love.

February 7:

Rose Day Celebrate love with a vase filled with roses. Red symbolizes love, and many other colors represent heartfelt emotions. The flowers will add to home decor and ambiance.

February 8: Proposal Day

Couples ready to tie the knot can use this day as an opportunity to propose. Those already engaged or married can spend Proposal Day celebrating the events that led up to their own engagement or betrothal, and toast how their relationships have evolved.

February 9: Chocolate Day

Lavish a loved one with all the decadent treats they enjoy. These can include store-purchased chocolates, chocolate fudge sundaes or warm brownies fresh out of the oven.

February 10: Teddy Day

This day can be interpreted in different ways. Couples adding spice to their relationships can celebrate Teddy Day with the lingerie of the same name. Those looking for a more G-rated experience can gift each other with an adorable stuffed bear. Make-your-own stuffed animal retailers at nearby malls are a place to turn for customizable teddy bears.

February 11: Promise Day

Promise Day provides an opportunity to make promises to each other that are specific to couples’ relationships. These can include being more patient, traveling more or spending more time together.

February 12: Hug Day

On this day the world celebrates the uplifting and comforting power of hugs, which can be powerful expressions of love. February 13: Kiss Day Couples can pucker up and spend a few extra moments showing their affection with some kisses. The lips are quite sensitive to touch, and kissing is one of the more renowned expressions of intimacy.

Show love all week long leading up to Valentine’s Day.

18 Ideas for Making Holiday Memories

Counting down to Christmas Day means many different things to people across the globe. Although families likely have several different traditions they anticipate each year, it can be fun to incorporate some new merrymakers into the festivities.

Here are some festive ideas to include in the days leading up to Christmas — a special family calendar of fun finds.

1. Annual memento

Have the kids or adults make one new handmade ornament each year. This way the tree is always evolving, and everyone can track milestones.

2. Cookie day

Devote one day to making Christmas cookies. Invite friends or family members over. Distribute some cookies to elderly neighbors.

3. Holiday classic

Spend a night in and watch a classic Christmas flick you’ve never seen before. Streaming movie services often put classics and obscure titles into rotation during the holiday season.

4. Christmas concert

Host a gathering of children where they can sing or perform their favorite tunes for an audience. Take it on the road to a nearby nursing home.

5. Dine out

Take a break from cooking, shopping and hosting and stop into a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. Keep it local to support nearby businesses.

6. Adopt a child/family

Volunteer with a charitable organization that provides for less fortunate families. Answer the Christmas desires of a needy child or family by purchasing an item on their wish lists.

7. See the sights

Pack the children into the family car to tour nearby areas and look at Christmas lights displays. Bring along cookies and hot chocolate.

8. Trim a tree

Get together with adult friends at a tree-trimming party. Rotate the hosting house each year.

9. Play dress-up

A gentleman can dress up as the man in red and pop into a friend’s holiday gathering.

10. Wilderness walk

Enjoy the crisp air and snow and see a local park from a winter perspective.

11. Acts of kindness

Choose any act of kindness and make it happen this Christmas. It can include feeding the hungry or helping a disabled person shop for the season.

12. Kids’ Secret Santa

Spread the joy of giving by having the kids choose a sibling or friend’s name from a hat and purchasing or making a gift for that person.

13. Hand out hot chocolate

Make a big thermos of hot chocolate and give it out to shoppers or workers who have been out in the cold.

14. Read religious stories

Understand the true meaning of the season by reading Biblical passages.

15. Camp-in

The first night the tree is decorated, allow the kids to sleep beside it under the glow of Christmas lights.

16. Scavenger hunt

Plan holiday-themed trivia questions and hide small trinkets for children to find.

17. Surprise box

Put a gender and age nonspecific gift into a box. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the person who finds a hidden gift tag under their chair at dinner gets to open the box.

18. Family portrait

Wear your holiday finery and pose for a portrait that actually will be printed and framed.

Get Gifts There On Time!

Thanks to families being more spread out than ever before, today’s holiday shoppers must figure out ways to get holiday gifts to their destination on time. The holiday season tends to be the busiest time of year for many delivery services. The following tips should help shoppers ensure their loved ones’ gifts arrive on time.

• Ship directly. Adobe Analytics reported that online shopping hit a record high of $108.2 billion in the 2017 holiday shopping season, and all indicators suggest online shopping will only increase in the years to come. Holiday shoppers who want to ensure their loved ones will receive their gifts on time can rely on online shopping. When checking out, have gifts shipped directly to loved ones’ homes. Many online retailers will even wrap gifts for a nominal fee.

• Research shipping options. In 2018, Christmas falls on a Tuesday. Shoppers who plan to rely on two-day or overnight shipping should keep that in mind. Some delivery services may be open throughout the weekend before Christmas, while others may only be open on Saturday. Last-minute shoppers, whether they’re shopping online or in-person, should confirm their shipping options well in advance of Christmas. Because Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, getting gifts to their destination on time may require shoppers to purchase and ship them earlier than they otherwise might.

• Purchase package insurance. Consumer Reports notes that UPS and FedEx shipments automatically come with declared-value coverage of up to $100. (Note: Declared value is the carrier’s maximum liability.) Purchasing additional insurance can ease shoppers’ concerns about lost or stolen packages. Just be sure to keep all invoices and receipts in case claims must be filed. Shoppers also should ask for tracking numbers on all packages so they can confirm when packages are delivered.

• Properly secure the package. Many delivery services now have off-site drop-off boxes that can make it easy to send gifts. This is a convenient service, but shoppers who use them won’t be able to have a company employee provide in-person confirmation that their packages are secured to company standards. Poorly packaged items may never be shipped. Visit the shipping company’s website for packaging guidelines, and include a business card and duplicate label inside the package just in case it is damaged after being dropped off.

Tips for Hosting a Fun 4th of July Party

The Fourth of July is a day to celebrate in the United States. Much about July makes the fourth day of the month the ideal time to celebrate. School is out, the weather is warm and the generally relaxed attitude of summer has typically set in by the first week of July. People tasked with hosting Fourth of July festivities may not feel the same pressure when hosting such gatherings that they would when hosting more formal affairs. The relaxed nature of summer often pervades Fourth of July festivities, but hosts can still take a crash course in summer hosting to ensure everyone has a good time.

Don’t try to break the mold.

Some hosts may be tempted to think outside the box in regard to the foods and beverages they’ll serve at their Fourth of July parties. While hosts can still experiment and serve new foods and creative cocktails at their parties, many guests will be anticipating some Fourth of July staples, such as grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and cold beer and lemonade. Making sure such foods and beverages are served alongside more experimental fare won’t disappoint traditionalists, and those looking for something beyond the norm won’t be disappointed, either.

Embrace the red, white and blue.

When decorating, opt for red, white and blue decorations. This gives the party a distinctly Fourth of July feel. Red, white and blue napkins and tablecloths are readily available come July, and hosts with a gift for crafts can even create their own decorations to use year after year.

Prepare to entertain.

Unlike holiday season gatherings that typically begin in the evening, Fourth of July parties tend to begin in the afternoon and extend into the night. That means hosts must not just feed their guests, but entertain them as well. Since Fourth of July parties tend to take place outdoors, plan lots of backyard games, such as badminton, bocce, Wiffle ball, horseshoes, and more. Hosts with swimming pools should have pool games readily available as well.

Leave the fireworks to the professionals.

Hosts should not succumb to pressure, real or perceived, to supply fireworks at their Fourth of July parties. Fireworks can lead to injuries and accidents and are best left to the professionals who put on community fireworks shows. Discourage guests from bringing their own fireworks by making it known they will be asked to leave the party if they do.

Arrange transportation home for guests.

To make sure everyone gets home safe and sound, arrange in advance for some guests to serve as designated drivers. Hosts also should abstain from consuming alcohol during the party so they can get people home safe if necessary. Keep a list of local taxi company phone numbers on hand and encourage guests who plan to consume alcohol to use ride-sharing apps to get to and from the party.

Fourth of July festivities typically are less formal than other celebrations, but hosts still must plan their parties to ensure everyone has a fun, safe Independence Day.

Unique Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, and many more remarkable women often work tirelessly and without fanfare to provide for their families. Even though they may deserve to be recognized throughout the year, moms enjoy a special day nestled within the month of May when children, spouses and others celebrate Mother’s Day.

Many people give heartfelt gifts on Mother’s Day to express their love for the mothers in their lives. The perfect gift may focus on Mom’s interests and the things that make her truly happy. With that in mind, the following shopping tips can help anyone find the perfect Mother’s Day gift.

Explore spa packages.

What mother won’t benefit from some rest and relaxation with a little pampering thrown in? Salons and massage therapists typically put together Mother’s Day packages that cater to mothers. Packages may include massages, facials, hair treatments, manicures, and pedicures. Gift-givers can customize the services depending on their budgets.

Dining out can be a treat.

A meal at a favorite restaurant can be a welcome change from kitchen duty. Mother’s Day is a busy day for restaurants, many of which have limited menus to better handle the crowds. As a result, if dining out on Mother’s Day, Mom may not get the full menu she desires. To ensure mothers have full menus at their disposal, gift givers can cook a meal at home on Mother’s Day and then choose another day of the week to enjoy a meal in an upscale restaurant.

 Schedule a paint and sip.

A paint and sip session is a unique gift. A session is typically two hours and includes step-by-step instructions. Patrons are encouraged to bring snacks and their favorite beverages. With the right planning, well-intentioned children can turn the evening into a “ladies night out” and encourage other moms to join in the fun. Or the entire family can paint masterpieces together.

Give tickets to a show or sporting event.

Whether Mom is a sports fan or she prefers the theater or live music, event tickets can make a wonderful gift. Unique gift ideas include tickets to Cirque du Soleil, Shen Yun or a Broadway play.

Give the gift of wine tasting.

Wineries can be found across the country and frequently open their doors to wine tastings and wine pairing events. A Mother’s Day wine tasting can be special for the entire family and support local businesses. Check the vineyard’s rules on guests. Many times those under 21 can attend but will not be permitted to consume wine, though other refreshments may be available.

Mother’s Day offers the perfect opportunity to lavish attention on special women. Gifts that cater to Mom’s interests will make the biggest splash.

Strategies to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Staying fit during the holiday season can be quite challenging, even for the most ardent fitness enthusiasts and disciplined calorie-counters.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, many people are offered a wide assortment of foods, beverages and other indulgences — typically in mass quantities. According to researchers at Stanford University, although the average person only gains around one pound during the holiday season, quite frequently that pound sticks around, and those extra pounds add up year after year. As a result, it doesn’t take too many years of holiday bundt cakes to gain a considerable amount of weight.

Holiday season weight gain is not unique to the United States and Canada. Investigators at Tampere University of Technology in Finland tracked weight gained in the United States, Germany and Japan during those countries’ festive times and found that each country’s participants gained weight, particularly during the holiday season. Annual holiday weight gain can contribute to weight-based problems such as obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The holiday season might not be the best time to start a diet, but holiday eating does not have to derail healthy lifestyles. The following are ways to avoid holiday weight gain and still enjoy all of the parties, adventures and time spent with friends and family.

Focus on festivity instead of food. When hosting holiday festivities, make the bulk of the celebration about an activity rather than food. If guests are focused on fun, such as a sing-a-long, dancing or tree-trimming, they may be less likely to overeat.

Don’t show up starving. Eat a light, healthy snack before participating in any holiday revelry. Hunger pangs may drive one straight to the buffet table.

Survey your options prior to eating. Guests should scope out the food choices and then make the smartest selections possible. Avoid creamy sauces, greasy foods and those that are heavy on cheese. Fill up on vegetables and then you won’t feel bad about splurging on a dessert.

Go sparingly on alcohol. People seldom realize how quickly calories from beverages can add up. A 12-ounce glass of beer has about 150 calories, a five ounce glass of red wine has about 125 calories and a 1.5-ounce shot of gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, or tequila has about 100 calories, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Furthermore, alcohol lowers inhibitions, so you may be more likely to overindulge in more spirits or extra food when intoxicated.

You can’t buy back calories with exercise. Putting in a marathon exercise session the next day probably will not undo the damage done from overeating the night before. Maintain a consistent workout schedule all through the holidays.

Holiday weight gain is not inevitable for those who take control and exercise discipline.

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Christmas Music Origins

Scores of artists have released Christmas albums or holiday-infused singles during their careers. Christmas music can be broken down into two distinct categories: traditional hymns and carols and popular secular songs.

Some believe that the religious standards have been passed down since the earliest days of Christianity. However, that is not so. Before the 12th century, music wasn’t typically included in religious services, and even then music was included only sporadically. In present day, religious tunes identified as Christmas music typically are not sung until Christmas Eve and thereafter until the Epiphany.

Many of the oldest Christmas songs are not old at all. Many popular carols sung today are less than 200 years old. The world’s most popular Christmas carol was originally a poem penned in 1816 by Austrian Catholic priest Josef Mohr. Two years later, Mohr asked Franz Xaver Gruber, an organist and local schoolteacher, to put his words to music. The resulting song, “Silent Night,” was not translated into English for 40 years.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” also originated from a poem and had the original opening line of, “Hark how all the welkin rings.” The subsequent version was more catchy, and the faster-paced accompaniment was courtesy of Felix Mendelssohn, added 100 years after the poem was written.

“Jingle Bells,” a nonreligious tune that has become synonymous with Christmas, was not originally written as a Christmas tune. In fact, the song was intended to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Christmas music is diverse, with lively tunes, modern interpretations and religious classics enjoyed through the years.

Be Prepared for Unexpected Company

The latter part of the year is full of social engagements with family and friends. Pew Research Center says 92 percent of all Americans plan to celebrate Christmas as a holiday, with 69 percent using it as an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.

While many social occasions surrounding Christmas are anticipated for months in advance, unexpected pop-ins are also the norm this time of year. Rather than being caught off guard, individuals can take steps to prepare for unexpected guests.

· Have food available. Even if guests pop in for a little while, it’s nice to be able to offer them something to eat. Keep cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, pretzels, and other snacks on hand. Make-ahead, crowd-friendly foods can be prepared and frozen. Casseroles, pasta dishes and stews are hearty and can serve in a pinch when unexpected visitors arrive. Simply take out to defrost and heat up. Keep cookies in air-tight tins and purchase a premade frozen pie to serve, if necessary. In a pinch, you can always order out, but over time the cost of having food delivered can add up.

· Keep the bar stocked. Toasting to a happy holiday season is the norm during this time of year. Toasting requires hosts have some spirits on hand. Stock the bar with a few staples, such as red and white wine, vodka, rum, whiskey, and mixers. Also, you may just want to create a signature or seasonal cocktail that can be served when guests arrive, such as a spiced punch or a holiday eggnog.

· Cue the playlist. Put together a playlist of favorite holiday music that will provide the ideal ambiance should guests ring your doorbell. Thanks to services like Spotify, Amazon Music and Pandora, holiday music that fills a home with the sweet sounds of the season is now always accessible.

· Keep things neat. Set aside a closet or space that can serve as a catch-all where errant items can quickly be stored should guests arrive. Gather loose toys, books or stray papers in a basket and then stash the basket in the closet until guests depart. Routinely empty the dishwasher so dirty dishes left in the sink can be quickly loaded before guests arrive.

· Create an aromatic atmosphere. Scented candles that evoke the aromas of the season can refresh stale indoor air. Butter cookie-, apple pie- and cinnamon-scented candles can make it seem like you just finished some holiday baking.

Guests tend to drop by on a moment’s notice come the holidays. Preparing for the unexpected can make such visits more enjoyable.

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Holiday Gift-Wrapping Tips and Tricks

After all the holiday presents have been purchased, the task of wrapping can begin. Although some people find wrapping is relaxing and provides a chance to embrace one’s artistic flair, many others find wrapping gift after gift becomes tedious quite fast.

While there are no statistics on just how many gifts the average person purchases over the course of the holiday season, the National Retail Federation says the average consumer will spend around $800 on all things holiday. That means there will be a lot of gifts to wrap before the big exchange. Those who want to make gift-wrapping less tedious this holiday season can consider these ideas to streamline the process.

Gather all supplies

When the time comes to wrap gifts, there’s nothing more frustrating than hunting for wrapping supplies. Have paper, bows, bags, tissue, pens, tape (double-sided tape streamlines the process), scissors, ribbon, and any other wrapping accoutrements at the ready. Set up a folding snack table near your wrapping area to hold the supplies so they don’t get in the way.

Choose the right location

Always wrap on a large, flat and sturdy surface. Avoid wrapping on a carpet, which will give gift wrap a wrinkled look and increase the amount of time needed to wrap.

Square it up

If you are a master at wrapping rectangular or square gifts but fail when presents are oddly shaped, place misshapen gifts into boxes and then wrap the boxes. Gift bags also can be used for such gifts, but wrapped boxes may look more appealing under the tree.

Fabric over paper

If you think gift wrap is wasteful, think about repurposing fabric into beautiful wrapping for presents. A square of leftover fabric, a piece of a t-shirt or even a portion of a sweater that has seen better days can be transformed into an innovative package for gift-giving. Tie the gathered ends into a bow and skip the tape as well. Dress up with ribbon and a tag for extra flair. Fabric bends and moves, making it more forgiving for oddly shaped gifts as well.

Stock up on paper shopping bags

On your next trip to Trader Joes or Whole Foods, bring home more than organic produce. Walk away with paper bags and free gift wrap. Craft a DIY stamp roller or handmade stamps to dress up plain brown bags. Or wrap the gift in twine and add a sprig of evergreen for a rustic look. Children can even use markers or crayons to create their own designs on gifts, personalizing even further.

Diversify gifts

Identify each recipient’s gifts by wrapping in a different color or style. Just jot down the key to decoding the wrapping, and you’ll save time on individual gift tags.

Wrapping presents doesn’t have to be a chore. With some time-saving tips and tricks, the work can be a breeze.

A Quick and Delicious Holiday Dessert

The holiday season is synonymous with many things, including delicious foods. While Thanksgiving turkeys or Christmas geese will be found on many a table this holiday season, baked goods and desserts are what many people look forward to this time of year.

Holiday hosts with a lot on their plates might not have the time to prepare homemade baked goods for their guests. Thankfully, the following recipe for “Chocolate-Strawberry Pie” from Addie Gundry’s “No-Bake Desserts” (St. Martin’s Press) can be prepared in just 15 minutes, all without turning on the oven.

Chocolate-Strawberry Pie

Yields 1 pie

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved
1 store-bought (or homemade) chocolate cookie pie crust
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
6 large egg yolks
21/2 cups half-and-half
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tablespoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional strawberries for garnish (optional)

1. Place the strawberry halves in a single layer in the bottom of the pie crust.
2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, ginger, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat.
3. Whisk in the egg yolks to create a thick paste. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
4. Add the chocolate and whisk until combined. Add the rum and vanilla extracts. Cool the mixture for 4 minutes.
5. Pour the filling over the strawberries and up to the top of the crust. Chill the pie for 2 hours or until set.
6. Garnish with additional strawberries, if desired.