Category: Holidays

How to Plan a Safe New Year’s Eve Night Out

New Year’s Eve is a popular night to paint the town red. That popularity could skyrocket even further as the world says goodbye to 2021 and ushers in 2022.

Many cities and millions of individuals toned down their New Year’s Eve shenanigans a year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic made it hard to celebrate safely. But the rollout of three effective vaccines has beckoned revelers out of their homes, and that could make for an especially rowdy New Year’s Eve.

Fun might be the top priority on New Year’s Eve, but safety must be in the mix as well. As individuals make plans for a night out this New Year’s Eve, it can help to keep these safety tips in mind.

Utilize a car service

Whether it’s a ridesharing service like Uber, a taxi cab or even a private limousine for large parties, leave the New Year’s Eve driving to the professionals. This ensures that no one will drive after having too much to drink. Even revelers who can control their alcohol consumption should avoid driving if they plan to drink. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a person need not be legally impaired to experience impairment. Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 are considered to be legally impaired. But the NHTSA reports that a BAC of .05 can reduce coordination, lead to a reduced ability to track moving objects, make it difficult to steer, and produce a slower-than-normal response to emergency driving situations.

Go out for dinner first

Experts at the University of Notre Dame’s McDonald Center for Student Well-Being note that having food, especially foods that are high in protein, in your stomach prior to consuming alcohol will help slow the processing of that alcohol. Someone who has not eaten will typically hit a peak BAC between 30 minutes and two hours of drinking. But someone who has eaten will typically peak between one and six hours of drinking depending on the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Make a plan

Overconsumption of alcohol is not the only potential danger lurking on New Year’s Eve. Large crowds can make it easier for friends to become separated, especially if they plan to visit more than one establishment before or after the clock strikes 12. When going out with a group on New Year’s Eve, create an itinerary, complete with meet-up spots, for the entire night. This ensures anyone who gets lost can easily find his or her way back to the group. Individuals who are wandering alone on New Year’s Eve may be vulnerable to criminals who are looking to prey on people whose inhibitions have been lowered by alcohol and/or the festive atmosphere of the night.

A rowdy New Year’s Eve may be on tap as the world ushers in 2022. That likelihood only underscores the importance of emphasizing safety when going out this December 31.

Last-minute Holiday Shopping Tips

Some people thrive by doing all of their tasks early. Others seem to do their best work when faced with a time crunch. The methods individuals use to manage their time at work and play may extend to the ways they approach holiday shopping as well.

There’s no right or wrong way to handle holiday shopping tasks, though Christmas Eve crowds at malls and throughout shopping districts suggest that there’s more late comers than there are early birds. The following tips can help those who typically wait until the last minute to check names off their lists.

Utilize free shipping services

Shoppers who shop for gifts online at the last minute run the risk of gifts not arriving on time. Many online retailers charge a premium for expedited shipping. Try to stick to shopping at online retailers that offer free shipping even in the eleventh hour.

Create a budget

When rushing around from store to store, it may be easy to spend more than you want to. Make a list of how much you want to spend on each person, and stick to that limit for each person. Move on to the next store if you didn’t find what you need in your price range.

Establish a time limit

Stores have strategies in place to keep shoppers in their establishments longer, hoping you’ll make impulse buys. These tricks include scenting the air with inviting aromas, putting necessities at the rear of the store, failing to display the time, and putting discounted items by the registers or door to attract shoppers. Set an alarm on your watch or phone for each store so you get what you need and get out on time.

Subdivide bulk gifts

Think about purchasing bulk gifts like gift baskets from wholesale clubs and then breaking them down into individual gifts. This way you can gift several people on one purchase and save time in the process.

Choose one-size-fits-all gifts

Think about a gift that can be purchased for multiple people so you can save time shopping for individualized gifts for everyone. For example, print a personalized photo calendar for several members of your family. You also can purchase multiple subscriptions or memberships to zoos or magazines for people on your list. Streamlining gifting in this way may save money as well as time.

Choose in-store pickup

Rather than scouring various aisles, you can shop a retailer’s website and then pick up items in the store. You’ll save on potential shipping fees but still benefit by avoiding crowds.

Some people wait until the last minute to do their holiday shopping. A few tricks of the procrastinator’s trade can make last-minute shopping go smoothly.

How to Reduce Risk of Home Fires This Holiday Season

Safety might not be the first thing people think of as the holiday season approaches. Faith, celebrations, decorations, and holiday dinners all come to mind when considering the holiday season. But that doesn’t mean safety should be left out of holiday planning.

Fire safety bears special consideration during the holiday season, when the prevalence of fire hazards like Christmas trees, holiday lighting displays and other decorative items increase the risk for home fires. Such tragedies can be averted with a few simple safety measures.

Tend to your tree

Live Christmas trees are awe-inspiring, but they also pose a significant fire risk. The National Fire Protection Association urges celebrants to purchase only healthy trees with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched. Such trees are less likely to dry out, especially when well-watered throughout the season. Dry trees can catch fire more easily than healthy trees if embers from nearby fireplaces or candles drift in their direction.

Recognize that location matters when decorating

The NFPA notes that Christmas trees should always be placed at least three feet away from any heat source, including fireplaces, space heaters, heat vents, candles, and even overhead lights. If decorating with candles, never place them on the tree or on tables where other flammable decorations have already been placed. Chanukah menorahs should never be placed near curtains or other decorations.

Turn off all lights and extinguish all lit decorative items when leaving the home or going to bed

Lit candles and menorahs should never be left unattended. The NFPA recommends turning tree lights and exterior decorative lights off when leaving the home or going to bed.

Utilize a fire screen on fireplaces

Embers can catch on trees, decorations or anything else that’s flammable if they escape the fireplace. Fire screens prevent that from happening by ensuring embers from burning logs stay in the fireplace. Like candles and menorahs, fires burning in a fireplace should never be left unattended. Make sure all embers have been extinguished before leaving the home or going to bed.

Keep discarded trees away from your home

A 2014 analysis from the NFPA found that none of the ten days with the largest share of Christmas tree fires were before Christmas. Dried out trees still pose a fire risk even after they’ve been removed from a home. When discarding a tree at the end of the holiday season, place it at the curb or keep it a safe distance away from your home and garage until you can.

Fire safety measures are an important component of the holiday season that can prevent this joyous time of year from turning tragic.

Tips For Traveling With Gifts in Tow

“There’s no place like home for the holidays.” The popular Christmas tune says it best, and millions of people support that notion every year by heading back to their hometowns to spend the holidays with friends and family.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics points out that the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods are some of the busiest times for long-distance travel. Around Thanksgiving, the number of trips to and from a destination 50 miles or more away increases by 54 percent. During the December holiday period, the number rises by 23 percent.

When traveling for the holidays, suitcases and other baggage tends to be filled with gifts, decorations and other items like food. Packing for travel can become a little more complicated during this time of year. But these suggestions can help ensure holiday items make it there and back relatively easily.

Wrap them there

One way to preserve the integrity of holiday gifts and ensure they look attractive rather than crushed or ripped is to wrap items when you arrive. Build extra time into holiday travel so that you arrive a day or two early. Seek out a quiet spot and get your wrapping done.

Ship there or back

Depending on your mode of travel, there may be limited cargo space in the trunk or back of the SUV. Also, if you’re taking a long road trip that involves rest stops or even staying over at a hotel, gifts left in a vehicle may attract the attention of thieves. Lugging them into the hotel may not be practical, either. In addition, many airlines charge fees for extra baggage, which can quickly add up with bulky holiday gifts. Instead, ship gifts to their destination, trying to plan accordingly so that someone will be there to receive them when they arrive. Pick a shipping rate that fits your budget.

Make a “small gift” pact

Speak with family members and agree to a set gift size (and/or dollar value). A theme, such as limiting gifts to gift cards, perfume/cologne or food, can make this more manageable. Try to avoid delicate items which can break during transit. Small gifts are easily stashed in luggage or boxes to bring home, saving everyone a little stress.

Remove packaging and wrapping

While they may not look as pristine as carefully wrapped boxes, wrap soft clothing items right in wrapping paper or tissue paper to save on space so gifts will take up less space. On the return trip home, break down clothing boxes and remove toys from their cardboard and plastic packaging to make them easier to transport.

Bring along an empty piece of luggage

Much like on vacation, you’ll probably return home with a few more items than you arrived with during the holidays. Plan ahead with an empty piece of luggage for stowing the new gifts. Nest soft or foldable items into other gifts to save on space. Shirts rolled into shoes can save significant space.

Millions of people travel for the holidays. A plan to get gifts to and fro can make trips go smoothly.

Tips to Keep Your Tree Fresh This Holiday Season

Christmas trees are often the pièce de résistance of holiday decor. Few things draw the attention of holiday guests quite like an awe-inspiring Christmas tree, especially when that tree maintains its fresh, healthy sheen throughout December.

Many families purchase fresh trees over Thanksgiving weekend or during the first weekend of December. Though the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day may seem like a long time to keep a tree looking great, there are a handful of ways for holiday celebrants to help their trees maintain that undeniable appeal for the long haul.

Pick the right tree

Choosing the right tree is one of the simplest ways to keep a tree looking good throughout the holiday season. A freshly cut tree that buyers choose and cut down themselves or have cut down can reassure them that the tree is likely to stay strong throughout December. Trees purchased from a tree lot may have been cut down long before they made it to the lot, which can make it harder to keep them looking good until Christmas Day.

Cut an inch off the base of any tree that is not freshly cut

MSU Extension at Michigan State University notes that all Christmas trees are conifers, which means they have resin canals in their trunks. Once a tree is cut, the resin can block the pores and make it harder for the tree to take in water. Cutting an inch off the base of a tree that was not freshly cut just before putting it in the stand can help ensure it gets the water it needs to stay healthy and firm. MSU Extension notes that this approach should be taken with any tree that was not cut within six to eight hours of being put in a stand.

Replenish the water supply every day

Fresh tree veterans recognize that Christmas trees can be very thirsty, especially within the first week or so of being cut and brought home. Fill the stand with water each morning and, if necessary, refill it each night before going to bed. The more water a tree gets and drinks, the more likely it is that the tree will look healthy all the way to Christmas Day. MSU Extension notes that many decorative or antique tree stands do not hold much water, so anyone with such a stand may need to replenish the water supply more than once or twice per day.

Keep the tree away from a heat source

For safety’s sake, trees should be kept away from heating vents, fireplaces and space heaters. But keeping trees away from such heat sources, and ensuring they are not spending the daytime in direct sunlight, also decreases the chances they will dry out before Christmas Day.

A handful of simple strategies can help holiday celebrants keep their Christmas trees looking good throughout the month of December.

What to Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers

Holiday hosts toil for hours to create lavish meals everyone will enjoy. It’s not uncommon for Thanksgiving tables to be covered with more food than guests can conceivably (and comfortably) consume. Leftovers are the norm, but without a plan for what to do with leftovers, food can spoil or end up in the trash.

Here are some delicious and waste-conscious ways to put Thanksgiving or other holiday meal leftovers to use.

Wrap it up promptly

Even though you may want to sit around and chat with guests when the meal is finished, leaving food out at room temperature for too long can create a breeding ground for microbes that may lead to food spoilage and sickness. With a few helping hands, all foods can be packaged away in no time, ensuring that drumsticks or stuffing can safely be served another day.

Collect containers

Be sure to have reusable food storage containers, zip-top bags, foil, and plastic wrap at the ready. Before all of the food is put away, encourage guests to make their own doggie bags.

Plan with other meals in mind

Shop for and prepare holiday fare with a nod toward what can be used in subsequent meals. Turkey is a versatile ingredient that can be made into everything from breakfast burritos to casseroles. Turn potatoes and sausage stuffing into latke patties that can be whipped up for breakfast or lunch. Sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin can be mashed and reworked into batters for quick breads, pancakes and even doughnuts. Spoon leftover cranberry sauce over hot oatmeal in the morning or use it as a substitute for grape jelly in PB&J sandwiches. Try grinding up stale biscuits to make a breading for turkey slices and turn them into fried cutlets.

Take care of the needy

Find out which organizations accept food donations. Even if you cannot donate previously prepared foods, if you have surplus packaged, boxed or canned items, you can bring them to food pantries and soup kitchens to help others.

Organize a post-holiday pot luck

Turn leftovers into an opportunity to fraternize with friends or relatives who couldn’t make it to Thanksgiving dinner. Pool your leftover resources and enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor. A pot luck can be a great place to gather after shopping Plaid Friday sales in the community.

Thanksgiving leftovers can provide a few extra delicious meals when hosts plan ahead.

Tips to Simplify Thanksgiving Entertaining

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner for a houseful of close friends and relatives can be a tad overwhelming. Thanksgiving is a food- and tradition-centric holiday, and all eyes will are typically on the dinner table. Pulling off a feast of this magnitude Ñ multiple courses, side dishes and desserts takes considerable effort. These tips, tricks and timesavers can be a Thanksgiving host’s saving grace.

Pick the menu early

Don’t leave menu planning and shopping to the last minute. Decide what you’ll be cooking in addition to turkey several weeks before the big day. Select two or three side dishes, preferably items that can be prepared in advance and then reheated on Thanksgiving. These can include a baked macaroni-and-cheese casserole, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and a cornbread stuffing.

Brine your bird

Turkey is the centerpiece of the feast, so give it every opportunity to shine. No one wants a dry turkey, but unfortunately this lean poultry can dry out easily. Meats typically lose about 30 percent of their weight during cooking. However, by soaking the turkey in a brine prior to cooking it, you can reduce this moisture loss to as little as 15 percent, according to Dr. Estes Reynolds, a brining expert at the University of Georgia. Brining the fowl for a day or more can infuse flavor and moisture. Food Network personality Alton Brown has a fan-favorite roast turkey recipe with an aromatic brine that has garnered five stars and was featured on his show “Good Eats” (www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe-1950271). A simple salted water soak also can work.

Start prep work a few days before Thanksgiving

Take some stress out of Thanksgiving by cutting all vegetables and/or preparing some dishes a few days early. Label and organize prepared ingredients by recipe and store in the refrigerator. Make extra room in the fridge by removing nonessential items and placing them in a cooler with ice and cleaning out any old food or condiments. Plan your table settings and label which bowls and other serving dishes will be used for which items. This will make it much easier to set the table on Thanksgiving.

Serve batched cocktails

It can be challenging and expensive to have a full bar for guests. Mulled wine, hot cider and punches are ideal ways to service a crowd looking for delicious spirited drinks.

Create simple centerpieces

Use seasonal sights for your centerpieces or place settings. These can include small squashes, gourds, citrus fruits, nuts, or acorns. A hollowed-out pumpkin filled with fresh flowers also can be eye-catching.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate bounty. Treat guests to a great experience by learning some hosting tips to make the holiday easier to manage.

10 Gifts for Automotive Enthusiasts

The roar of the engine and the feeling of the wind in your hair is part of the magic of taking to the open road behind the wheel of a beloved vehicle. Whether a person is the ultimate gear head who needs to have the latest aftermarket accessory or someone who simply appreciates a pristine ride, auto enthusiasts come in all shapes and sizes. Luckily, there are all types of automotive gifts that can make it easy to impress car guys and gals this holiday season.

1. Dashboard cell phone holder: Using a mobile phone while driving is not a good idea. However, many people use their phones as GPS devices. Holding a phone while navigating is dangerous, but a phone mount near the dash can keep the phone visible without compromising the safety of drivers and their passengers.

2. Customized floor mats: Know an auto fanatic who’s also a sports fan? Offer a gift that mixes the two passions, such as floor mats featuring a favorite sports team’s logo.

3. Cleansing wipes: When drivers are short on time, a full car wash and wax may not be possible. Drop Wipes are a product made from a neutralizing acid that destabilizes stains or bird droppings for an easy cleaning.

4. Magazine subscription: A wide selection of publications are geared to auto enthusiasts. They provide plenty of pertinent information, and some car lovers like to collect and display certain issues. Yearly subscriptions are affordable and can make ideal stocking stuffers.

5. Racing experience gift certificate: Research racing car schools and experiences where you live. Chances are you can find an opportunity for an automotive enthusiast to get behind the wheel of a race car with professional drivers offering tips for navigating the course at high speeds.

6. Car cleaning kit: Taking care of a ride means making sure it is clean inside and out. A quality car cleaning kit can ensure the job is done effectively and the car or truck always looks its best.

7. Personalized leather keychain: Ensure that a person can drive and keep their keys handy in style with leather keychains engraved with a driver’s name or initials.

8. Racing video games: A love for the open road may not end when cars pull into the driveway. Modern racing games and consoles produce incredibly realistic graphics and action that mimics real life.

9. Automotive cufflinks: As a nod to a love of driving, find quirky cufflinks that are shaped like everything from gear shifters to speedometers to steering wheels.

10. Roof or car racks: When a love of driving merges with the call of the great outdoors, drivers may need something to help haul their stuff. Various racks have been designed for toting around bicycles, kayaks, luggage, and more.

When gifting automotive enthusiasts, look no further than their favorite hobby for inspiration.

5 Ways to Support Small Businesses This Holiday Season

Small businesses long have been the heart and soul of local communities. There is something to be said about being on a first-name basis with a local restaurateur or another small business owner, as such familiarity often translates into exemplary service.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 99.9 percent of companies in the country, due in large part to the broad definition of small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees). However, the vast majority of businesses in the United States have a staff that’s smaller than 20 workers, according to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. These firms employ nearly 60 million workers, says the SBA.

Despite the prevalence of small businesses, fewer than 80 percent of entrepreneurial small business ventures make it beyond their first year, and only around half make it beyond five years.

Consumers who want to help their favorite small businesses survive can use the holiday season and beyond to set the course for success. Consumers can make a concerted effort to fuel this important cog in their local economic engines.

Shop local. The concept is simple but effective. Opting to shop in local stores over larger conglomerates and franchises can help small businesses take root. Before making holiday shopping lists, visit local stores and base gift ideas on items they have in stock. Chances are those gifts will be one-of-a-kind.

Purchase gift cards/certificates. All businesses have slow periods, and post-holidays is often a time when sales stagnate. Gift cards may bring new customers into local businesses who might otherwise not have patronized them, potentially creating new repeat customers.

Cater holiday meals and gatherings. The holiday season is chock-full of entertainment opportunities. Individuals can rely on nearby restaurants and other food and beverage businesses to cater holiday parties. Some businesses also may be willing to discount or donate food for nonprofit group activities, such as church holiday bazaars, school holiday concerts or fundraising fairs.

Mention small businesses on social media. The holiday season breeds excitement. Therefore, when shoppers are in local stores, they can snap pictures of products and overflowing shopping bags and post them online while praising local businesses.

Think about subscription gifts. Enrollment in a health club or a massage therapy service are gifts that keep on giving for the recipient, but also help ensure consistent incoming cash for the business providing the service.

When shopping this holiday season, consumers can look to the small, local businesses in their communities that help make towns and cities unique.

Post-Pandemic Gifts for Friends and Loved Ones

Families, businesses, schools, and just about everyone had to modify daily life in dramatic ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most significant effects of COVID-19, beyond the health implications, have been the changes in outings and gatherings and the ways holidays were celebrated.

The 2021 holiday season figures to be especially jovial as the world continues to emerge from the pandemic. As shoppers hit the holiday shopping trail once more, they can look to the pandemic for gift-buying inspiration.

Travel-related gifts

Travel restrictions greatly limited where people could go, so millions embraced staycations as a means to taking breaks from school and work. Travel restrictions have now been lifted in many parts of the world, and vaccinated individuals may feel more comfortable traveling again. Consider gifts that include travel essentials, such as luggage, plane tickets, toiletries, hotel vouchers, and even gift cards to use on vacation purchases.

Preparatory gifts

People are much more germ-conscious as a result of the pandemic. Cases of COVID-19 are on the decline, but it still pays to be cautious and sanitary. Gifts that promote cleanliness may continue to be appreciated and also prepare a person should another pandemic occur in the future. Stylish reusable face masks; special sanitary keys that limit contact with things like ATMs, doors and elevator buttons; ultraviolet disinfecting lamps; and even purses and bags that can be cleaned without damage are all gift ideas that make cleanliness more convenient.

Home improvement supplies

In the wake of canceled vacation plans, homeowners channeled their vacation dollars into home improvements. Those who still have plans to redo and renovate will appreciate gifts that may include gift cards to popular home improvement and design retailers. In addition, as certain home improvement materials like lumber have gotten more expensive, a cash gift to offset the cost of materials can help people see projects through to completion.

Dining out vouchers

Even though many restaurants pivoted to takeout service or established outdoor seating to meet safety requirements, dining establishments still felt the pain of the pandemic. More people have now returned to traditional dining, and restrictions on indoor dining have gradually been loosened. Therefore, gifts that focus on dining out, such as certificates for favorite restaurants or wine bottle caddies for BYOB establishments, can make for great gifts.

Support new hobbies

Many people took on new hobbies and explored new activities to pass the time during the pandemic. Encourage these hobbies by gifting tools and supplies. If a person adopted a new pet, try pet-toy subscriptions or even purchase pet health insurance.

Though the pandemic is something many people would love to forget, holiday shoppers can look to it for inspiration when buying gifts for loved ones this year.