Category: Holidays

Throw a Hauntingly Good Halloween Party

Halloween is a special day that delights children of all ages and helps adults feel like kids at heart. Few people want the fun to end once trick-or-treating is over. By throwing a Halloween party, revelers can continue celebrating well into the evening.

When hosting a Halloween party, it helps to determine who will be in attendance before making any plans. Parties that include children should be PG in nature, and hosts should find the right balance between scary and fun. While you want to have a certain measure of the macabre, make sure you don’t send young guests home with nightmares. Reserve gruesome decorations and details for adult-only parties.

Halloween parties do not necessarily need to be ghoulish to be fun. Try a glittery gala masquerade party or decorate exclusively in orange and black. Classically eerie parties may feature ravens and crows, or they can be subtly spooky with red candles and heavy curtains.

Many people can’t wait to dress up for a Halloween party, even picking out their costumes months in advance. Still, not everyone feels comfortable donning a costume. To welcome all guests, don’t make costumes mandatory. One way around this is to set up a Halloween Disguise Table full of accessories that anyone can borrow and use to alter their appearance. Goofy glasses, strange hats, adhesive mustaches, or masks can be fun. If someone didn’t feel comfortable dressing in full costume, he or she may be more apt to pop in a set of plastic fangs or put on a spinning bow tie.

Food is an integral part of any party and can enhance Halloween soirées. Candy is a pivotal component of Halloween and you can play off that theme at your party. Set up a candy bar full of appropriately hued candies of all shapes and sizes. Put them on display in clear glass or plastic canisters so they add to your Halloween décor.

Some people like to get creative with Halloween cuisine, crafting foods into items that may look like parts of the body or other symbols of the holiday. Cookie cutters can turn sandwiches, desserts, biscuits, and many other foods into different shapes. However, foods also can be made a tad more spooky simply by renaming them or presenting them in interesting containers. Why not serve punch out of a fish aquarium? Other beverages can be housed in jugs or old bottles and labeled “potions.” Use laboratory instruments, such as petri dishes, vials and beakers, to serve snacks.

A Halloween party makes for a fun night, and there is no limit to what hosts can do when planning their scary soirées.

Halloween Pumpkin-Carving Pointers

Transforming pumpkins into cleverly carved creations is a Halloween tradition. Each October, glowing pumpkins take up residence near doorsteps and porches, adding to the magical ambiance of the season. Young and old spend time designing their themes and then taking knife to pumpkin to achieve the desired effects.

Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns can be traced back centuries to Ireland and a story about “Stingy Jack.” The tale involves Jack outwitting the Devil twice, the second time freeing the Devil from a prank in exchange for the promise that he would not claim Jack’s soul should Jack die. When Jack did die, God did not want the unsavory character in heaven, but the Devil could not claim Jack for hell. Therefore, Jack was relegated to roam the planet indefinitely with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put that coal into a carved-out turnip. His ghostly figure was referred to as “Jack of the Lantern.” Later on it was shortened to “Jack O’Lantern.” When Irish immigrants arrived in North America, turnips weren’t plentiful, so jack-o’-lanterns were instead carved into pumpkins.

Today, many people carve jack-o’-lanterns, with some featuring just smiling or grimacing faces while others are far more artistic creations. These tips can help anyone carve a pumpkin.

· Begin with a fresh pumpkin. Look for a pumpkin with a green stem. If the pumpkin has been sitting around for too long or has been handled too much, the stem can get brittle and/or fall off. A thick, fresh pumpkin is best for carving.

· Plan your ideas. Draw a plan for your pumpkin before you make your first cut. Then transfer that design to the pumpkin with pen or a thin marker. Pumpkin-carving kits come with designs that can be “traced” by poking small holes to create the outline of the design.

· Don’t cut all the way through. Many professional pumpkin artists do not actually cut clear through the flesh of the pumpkin. They carve and shave off layers of the outer rind until it becomes more translucent. The level of transparency can be adjusted based on how much skin is removed and as a way to add texture and shadowing. The more air that is allowed to penetrate the pumpkin, the faster it will start to degrade.

· Delay carving until the last minute. Wait until the day before Halloween to begin carving. Pumpkins are a perishable item, and they’ll begin to rot as soon as you begin carving. Spritzing them with water can help them stay fresh, but there’s no turning back the clock once the first cut is made.

· Cut a hole in the back. According to Brooklyn-based Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, cutting off the top of the pumpkin can affect its structural integrity and cause it to rot faster. Instead, cut a hole in the back of the pumpkin and use an electric light to illuminate it. LEDs are advisable because they don’t generate much heat, which can cook and rot the pumpkin from the inside out.

With some creativity and a little know-how, anyone can create an eye-catching jack-o’-lantern.
 
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How Being An Early Bird Can Benefit Holiday Shoppers

Come the end of the often hectic holiday shopping season, many people resolve to begin shopping earlier in the following year. While such resolutions can be hard to keep, shoppers would be wise to consider the myriad ways they can benefit by starting their holiday shopping earlier than they’re typically accustomed to doing.

Deals

The more time shoppers give themselves to find gifts for their loved ones, the more time they have to comparison shop and find the best deals. Retailers often offer steep discounts during the holiday season, but such deals may pale in comparison to those that can be had throughout the rest of the year. Holiday shoppers who begin shopping early can always skip buying in late summer or autumn if they think better deals can be had once the holiday season begins.

Shipping

By shopping early, shoppers can choose the least expensive shipping option offered by online retailers, potentially saving substantial amounts of money as a result. In addition, shoppers who start early won’t have to worry about items failing to arrive on time, a common source of stress for last-minute holiday shoppers.

Credit score

Another advantage to shopping early for holiday gifts is it allows consumers to protect their credit scores by spreading their spending out over several months instead of doing so in the handful of weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In a survey examining debt associated with the holiday season, MagnifyMoney found that the average holiday debt in 2016 was slightly more than $1,000. Credit card debt can negatively affect consumers’ credit scores, especially if balances are not paid in full when bills are due. Shoppers can avoid such situations entirely by shopping early using only disposable income to make purchases instead of credit cards. Such financial flexibility may not be possible for shoppers who wait until the holiday season has begun to start shopping.

Time

Shoppers can save more than money by starting their holiday shopping in advance of the holiday season. In spite of the popularity of online shopping, many people still visit traditional brick and mortar retailers to do their present buying. Such stores can be overwhelmed with shoppers between Thanksgiving and Christmas, leading to long lines and lengthy searches for parking. Shoppers are far less likely to encounter big crowds and crowded parking lots if they get their shopping done before the dawn of the holiday season, saving themselves substantial amounts of time as a result.

Shoppers who commit to getting their holiday shopping done early can save money and time and protect their financial reputations as well.

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Preserve Carved Pumpkins in Various Ways

Jack-o’-lanterns and other carved pumpkin designs are frequently the centerpieces of Halloween festivities. The twinkling lights and orange glow of jack-o’-lanterns can add ambiance to any autumn event. The trouble with carving pumpkins is that most people want to do it right away, only to discover their pumpkins wilt and decay long before Halloween.

Nothing ruins Halloween more than visiting a home to trick-or-treat and not getting candy. Equally disappointing is a sad pumpkin display withering away on a front porch. Even though all pumpkins will eventually rot, certain tips can keep carvings from collapsing too soon.

· Choose a sturdy pumpkin. Inspect the pumpkin of your choosing carefully, looking for gouges, spots and holes. Even a small blemish can quickly expand into a mushy mess. Select pumpkins with even color and firm flesh, and make sure that the pumpkin doesn’t feel tender when you push on the skin.

· Visit local pumpkin stands. Pumpkins that have been shipped miles and miles in hot cargo trucks may be overly ripened or battered. Pumpkins that were grown nearby may be fresher. Plus, buying pumpkins locally supports local farmers.

· Scrape the insides of the pumpkin thoroughly. Any moist bits inside the pumpkin will mold quickly. The pumpkin carving experts at Pumpkin Masters recommend scraping as much of the “guts” out as possible, leaving about a one-inch thickness of the wall of the pumpkin.

· Coat the pumpkin. Preservation methods may aim to keep the pumpkin hydrated and inhibit mold and other microbial growth. Commercially sold pumpkin preservation products, such as Pumpkin Fresh®, hold up well. Soaking and spraying carved pumpkins with a bleach-and-water solution also seems to preserve designs.

· Keep it out of the elements. Store carved pumpkins in a cool, dry place. This will help slow down the rotting process for pumpkins exposed to outdoor fungi, other microbes and warm sunlight.

· Use an artificial light source. Reduce the heat inside of the pumpkin and encourage hydration by selecting a battery-powered light instead of a lit candle to illuminate the carving.

· Skip the carving. Once pumpkin skin is compromised, microbes can enter. In lieu of carving, paint or decorate pumpkins in other ways if you want them to stay fresh for a long time. Glow in the dark paint can help pumpkins stand out at night.

Carved pumpkins may last a week or two, while uncut pumpkins can last for a month or more. Keeping pumpkins hydrated and mold-free will prolong your designs.

Satisfy With A Simple, Spicy Appetizer

Hosting often involves serving food, and the following recipe for “Spicy Cheese Balls” from A.J. Rathbun’s “Party Snacks!” (Harvard Common Press) is sure to please hosts who want to serve their guests an hors d’oeuvre that’s simple but spicy.

Spicy Cheese Balls (Makes 35 to 40 bite-size balls)

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1. Put the cream cheese, cheddar, garlic, parsley, cayenne, black pepper, and salt in a food processor. Process for 5 to 10 seconds, until well blended. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. Spread the chopped walnuts on a plate. Shape the cheese mixture into 35 to 40 small cheese balls, each about the size of a large marble. Roll each cheese ball in the walnuts, coating the outside (you may to press a little to ensure sticking).

3. Serve the cheese balls on a large platter. You can put a toothpick in each ball, but you could also surround them with crackers and let guests use their hands. It all depends on what kind of party you’re having.

Set and Stick to Your Holiday Budget

The chance to give gifts and spend time with loved ones makes the holiday season a special time of year. But for many people, the holiday season often leads to overspending.

A 2016 survey from the American Research Group found that American shoppers anticipated spending an average of $930 on gifts that holiday season. Data from T. Rowe Price confirms that parents are spending between $400 and $500 per child each year. In 2015, CPA Canada conducted a random phone survey of 1,004 adult Canadians and found the average adult planned to spend $766 on holiday gifts.

Although these numbers can reflect an overwhelming sense of generosity, many times excessive spending is based on a desire to outdo gifting from the year prior – sometimes at the risk of personal finances. Some people are taking drastic measures to make holidays over-the-top, with some delving into emergency savings while others withdraw prematurely from retirement accounts. Budgeting for the holiday season can help shoppers keep their finances in check.

Determine spending patterns

An examination of receipts and spending habits from previous holiday seasons can help individuals establish budgets for the current year. Make a list of all expenses – even the ones that extend beyond holiday giving. These may include expenses such as gym service fees, homeowner’s insurance, traveling expenses, gift exchanges at work, and more. Extra costs can add up and should be factored into holiday budgets.

Try to recall if your spending last year felt comfortable or if you were paying off credit cards long after the holiday season had ended. If it’s the latter, resolve to make adjustments.

Establish a budget that fits

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all budget. Figure out if there is extra money this season or if times are tight. This will help you plan accordingly and avoid overspending. Shifting priorities can help free up some cash. If children are interested in this year’s hot (and likely expensive) gift, cut back on holiday travel or entertaining. Instead of buying gifts for coworkers, buy a drink during a night out.

Use the holidays as an opportunity to sell

Collectibles, gently used toys, video games, action figures – all of these items may be collecting dust at your home, but they might be coveted by other shoppers. Rely on the season for spending to make some extra income that can be cashed in for your own holiday purchases.

Set up an account and track spending

Establish a separate account strictly for holiday spending. This can include a credit card only used for gifts and entertaining or a savings account at a bank or credit union. You won’t know what is going out of your account unless you keep careful tabs on it. Tracking spending is the biggest key to sticking with a budget, according to the financial advice group The Balance.

Holiday budgeting can be challenging. But with some effort, it is possible to avoid debt and still enjoy a happy holiday season.

6 Great Gifts for Home Cooks

Many people enjoy preparing homecooked meals for their loved ones. Whether it’s a large family gathering during the holiday season or a weeknight meal for their immediate families, men, women and even children who like to cook enjoy the satisfied looks on their loved ones’ faces after sharing a delicious meal.

Come the holiday season, gift givers can put the same satisfied look on the faces of the home cooks in their lives by offering a variety of gifts that can make mealtime easier and/or more enjoyable.

1. Electric corkscrew: Nothing complements a good meal quite like an appropriately paired bottle of wine. Cooks who are too busy in the kitchen to utilize traditional corkscrews, which can be time-consuming and messy, might enjoy an electric corkscrew. Such corkscrews quickly remove corks from wine bottles, requiring little effort on the part of already busy cooks.

2. Cookbook: People who understand the joy of cooking often love to experiment in the kitchen. Cookbooks can be an ideal gift for such cooks. Choose a book that provides recipes from their favorite styles of cuisine, such as Italian or Indian food. Or find a book that offers an array of recipes that allows them to explore various types of cuisine.

3. Cookware: Even the best cookware can only take so much usage, and chances are home cooks’ pantries can afford an upgrade or two. Gift givers should keep in mind that many home cooks have strong preferences regarding their cookware, so it might be wise to give a gift card or ask a loved one which type of cookware he or she prefers. Of course, a covert inspection of a loved one’s pantry might provide the insight gift givers need as well.

4. Rolling pin: For the person who loves to bake, a rolling pin might make a better gift than noncooks may appreciate. Rolling pins are necessary to prepare many baked goods, and a customizable rolling pin can flatten dough to the exact millimeter, helping bake-happy home cooks prepare the perfect plate of cookies.

5. Cooking class: Cooking classes can make the ideal gift for novice home cooks who are just beginning to explore their love of cooking. But advanced classes can help more seasoned cooks perfect their craft as they learn to prepare more complex dishes.

6. Wine aerator: Much like electric corkscrews can make opening bottles of wine much easier, wine aerators can help aerate red wine more quickly than decanters, which can take up to two hours to fully aerate wine. Aerators oxidate red wine, softening its flavors and bringing out the aromas that can make a great bottle of wine that much more enjoyable.

Home cooks often enjoy preparing fresh meals for their loved ones. The holiday season presents a perfect opportunity to find gifts that make cooking that much more enjoyable for loved ones who can’t wait to whip up the next homecooked meal for family and friends.

Fourth of July Barbecue Essentials

The 4th of July is fast approaching and revelers across the nation are preparing to toast their independence with family and friends. For many Americans, backyard barbecues are synonymous with the Fourth of July, a day that, in the United States of America, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Precious few Americans can say they have not been present at a 4th of July barbecue or witnessed a fireworks display honoring America’s official declaration of independence from Great Britain. Hosting a July 4th barbecue for the first time may have some hosts anxious about throwing a summer soirée to remember, but fun is sure to be had if hosts remember to include the following backyard barbecue essentials this Independence Day.

Food

No Fourth of July barbecue is complete without food, so hosts should be sure to stock up on popular barbecue fare like hot dogs and hamburgers. Though such foods likely won’t be mistaken for gourmet fare anytime soon, Fourth of July revelers often embrace the tradition of grilling up some hot dogs and hamburgers even if they tend to avoid such foods throughout the rest of the year. Hosts should not feel pressured to provide gourmet fare on July 4th, but it is a thoughtful gesture to ask guests in advance if they have any food allergies or need to avoid certain foods for other reasons.

Beverages

It goes without saying that guests will need refreshing beverages at parties held in early July, but be sure to stock up on a variety of beverages so guests are not forced to consume drinks they don’t want. Be sure to have plenty of water available to guests, and provide sodas, iced tea and lemonade as well. Offer alcoholic beverages to adult guests, but don’t go overboard stocking up on alcohol, as that might encourage guests to overindulge.

Games

Backyard barbecues are most fun when guests are entertained, so plan to have some games available for guests of all ages. Encourage guests to bring a change of clothes or swimsuits if games will involve water or something that might soil their clothing. If you have a pool, purchase some pool games so swimmers can do more than just wade in the water or take a few laps. Plan a Wiffle® ball game for kids and dig some horseshoe pits or buy a ring toss set so adults can engage in some friendly competition as well.

Safety

Though no one wants to think of a 4th of July celebration taking a turn for the worst, hosts must prepare for emergencies. Restock the first-aid kit if necessary and keep a constant eye on guests, especially children, to ensure everyone is having a safe and happy time. Program a list of local taxi companies into your phone so you can easily call for transportation should any guests have too much to drink during the festivities. Hosts should abstain from alcohol so they can serve as designated driver should the need arise at the end of the night.

Backyard barbecues are a staple of July 4th, and there’s no reason your summer soirée can’t be one to remember for years to come.

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A Perfect Mother’s Day in Three Simple Steps

It’s the things that she seems to do so effortlessly that make a Mom special: the encouraging words at the perfect time, the small affectionate gesture when you need it most, the thoughtful advice that only she could provide.

This Mother’s Day, follow these three simple steps to show Mom how much you love her and appreciate all that she does.

1. Share A Kind Word.

She is the one who always reminded you to say “thank you” – this Mother’s Day, show her you were listening and put pen to paper and capture a few words from the heart. Whether it’s a beautiful card or a simple heartfelt letter, your mother will treasure the personalized sentiment.

2. Find a Gift as Meaningful as it is Beautiful.

Jewelry is a popular way to express love and admiration – making it an ideal Mother’s Day gift. If you’re not sure where to start, a trusted jeweler can help you find something Mom is sure to treasure. For example, at Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, experts take the time to work with each customer to select the right piece for every occasion and recipient.

This Mother’s Day you can celebrate the most important milestones of the past year with a piece of jewelry, such as one from the Brilliant Moments collection featuring hand-selected diamonds; show your appreciation for her impeccable style with a gift from the popular Le Vian collection, which features rare and exotic diamonds and gems from around the world; or, for an even more personalized gift, check out the Pandora collection where you can create a unique piece or gift set.

“It was such a pleasant surprise, and caught me completely off guard in the best way possible. It made Mother’s Day truly unforgettable,” said Daisy Teh of “The It Mom” after receiving a diamond necklace from Jared’s Brilliant Moments collection, “Having this necklace, with all that it means in our lives, is something that will always remind me of all the love that surrounds us.”

For some additional gifting inspiration, visit the Jared, Mother’s Day gift guide.

3. Remember the Little Things.

Treat mom to a day of relaxation – whether that means cooking her favorite meal or checking a few chores off her to-do list yourself. Mom is always there to do the little things for us, so on her day, do those little things for her.

With a few words from the heart, a meaningful gift and a small gesture of kindness and appreciation you can give her the Mother’s Day she deserves.

(StatePoint)

10 Romantic Films for Valentine’s Day

Many people feel the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is to enjoy an evening at home with the one they love. A quiet dinner followed by a romantic movie can make for a relaxing, memorable Valentine’s Day.
Romantic films pluck at the heartstrings and leave few dry eyes in the house. This genre has produced many unforgettable moments in film. While many people have their go-to romantic films, it can be fun to rethink those preferences and watch something new. The following are just some of the films dubbed “the most romantic movies” by sources such as AMC, TimeOut magazine, Rotten Tomatoes, and Flavorwire.

• Beauty and the Beast (1991): This animated classic tells the tale of a prince who is disfigured into a beast to outwardly represent his internal ugliness. Only true love can break the spell, which seems unlikely until the lovely Belle comes into the Beast’s life. Fans of the animated film will have another opportunity to fall in love again with the live-action retelling of the story set for release in March 2017.

• Once (2007): A modern-day busker in Dublin has a chance meeting with a Czech immigrant. The two begin to collaborate musically and a romance blossoms. The film features musician Glen Hansard and his Irish band “The Frames.”

• Say Anything (1989): In a tale of first love, Lloyd seeks to capture the heart of Diane, who is an unattainable high school beauty. The movie includes a now-famous pivotal scene when Lloyd holds up a boombox playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”

• The Notebook (2004): Based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name, this modern cult classic is set in 1940s South Carolina. The movie is the tale of a poor man who falls in love with a rich young woman, only to be separated by their social differences. However, true love ultimately prevails in the end.

• When Harry Met Sally (1989): Close friends Harry and Sally have known each other for years and ponder if engaging in an intimate relationship would ruin the friendship.

• Gone With the Wind (1939): This sweeping epic is set in the antebellum south during the American Civil War. The story of Scarlett O’Hara’s tangled love affairs has been popular with film fans for nearly 80 years.

• Sense and Sensibility (1995): This film is a dramatic interpretation of Jane Austen’s novel published in 1811. Sudden financial struggles force the Dashwood sisters to move to a distant cottage. Locals develop romantic feelings for the ladies in this story that is considered an early example of the romantic novels of today.

• Roman Holiday (1953): A European princess is disillusioned with her life and needs an escape. She takes off for a night in Rome and meets an American reporter, who first thinks he can get the exclusive scoop on the runaway princess. However, romance soon gets in the way of that plan.

• The Princess Bride (1987): Wesley and Buttercup begin with a tumultuous servant-master relationship. But their love blooms only to have Wesley be called away, leaving Buttercup to believe he has died. The two ultimately reunite in this classic and often hilarious tale of romance.

• Casablanca (1943): A nightclub owner in Casablanca is reunited with his old flame, only to discover she is traveling with her husband. During World War II, Ilsa wants her rebel husband to escape to America, but her renewed feelings for Rick leave her struggling with what to do.

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