Category: Seasonal

How To Celebrate The Holidays Away From Home

A popular Christmas song attests “there’s no place like home for the holidays.” For many people, a truer statement couldn’t be uttered. But sometimes life gets in the way of an old-fashioned holiday spent at home.

There are a number of reasons why individuals may not be able to spend the holidays at home. Active military service people may not be able to leave their posts to travel home. Some students studying abroad or even far away domestically may find getting back to their homes can be time- and cost-prohibitive. Some people may not be home for the holidays because work obligations keep them out of town, or because they have planned vacations to serve as nontraditional holiday celebrations.

Being away from some familiar sights and sounds of the holidays doesn’t mean celebrations should be any less special. Here are tips for celebrating away from home.

Find People In Similar Situations

Chances are you will not be the only person away from home, particularly if you are a student or someone on a business venture. Connect with others who are away from their families and do something together for the holidays.

Partake Of Local Traditional Activities

You may be used to baking sugar cookies for the holidays, but in a foreign country, the locals may make another type of dessert. Figure out how the locals celebrate the holidays and then take part in any way you can.

Volunteer Your Time

If you will be away or alone for the holidays, volunteer your time to help the less fortunate. Deliver meals to those who are not able to leave home, like seniors, or volunteer at a soup kitchen. Visit a children’s hospital and deliver small gifts.

Engage In Virtual Fun

Connect with people at home through the power of digital technology. Video conferencing services connect people who can’t be together in person. Utilize these apps and services to remote into a holiday dinner or when loved ones open gifts.

Cook Up Your Favorites

Evoke traditional holiday celebrations by cooking the foods you would normally enjoy at home. Those tastes and smells can transport you back to grandma’s kitchen or dad’s living room.

Stay Off Of Social Media

Being away from home during the holidays can be challenging, and that challenge can be even greater if you see photo after photo on social media of people you know spending time with their friends and loved ones. Tune out of your social feeds for a few days.

Invite Others To You

Maybe you don’t have the means of getting home, but you can bring those at home to you. Find out if anyone can plan a road trip, train ride or flight to where you are and then enjoy the holidays together.

Being away from home during the holidays may not be ideal. However, there are plenty of ways to maintain your holiday spirit when celebrating in unfamiliar surroundings.

14 Facts About The Winter Solstice

The winter solstice occurs each year during the month of December in the northern hemisphere. In 2022, the winter solstice will take place on December 21 at 4:48 p.m. EST.

Solstices are significant events that occur twice per year. One occurs in the winter and one in the summer. The winter solstice also is known as the first day of winter and occurs when the Earth’s pole reaches its maximum tilt away from the sun. During the winter solstice, people will experience the shortest period of daylight and the longest period of nighttime of the year. Here are 14 fascinating facts about the winter solstice.

1. Depending on the hemisphere, the north or south pole will experience continuous darkness or twilight around its winter solstice.

2. The winter solstice sometimes is referred to by the term midwinter.

3. Even though the solstice is marked by a whole day on the calendar, it actually is just the brief moment of time when the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

4. The word “solstice” can be translated from Latin and means “sun stand still.”

5. The Tropic of Capricorn is located at 23.5 degrees south of the equator.

6. Tourists flock to Stonehenge to track the movement of the sun. The stones will frame the sunset on the winter solstice and the sunrise on the summer solstice.

7. Ancient cultures viewed the winter solstice as a time of death and rebirth.

8. Important events in history have taken place on winter solstices. The Apollo 8 spacecraft launched on the solstice in 1968. Pilgrims also arrived at Plymouth on the winter solstice in 1620.

9. Each planet in the Earth’s solar system has its own solstices and equinoxes.

10. The southern hemisphere experiences the winter solstice in June each year.

11. A full moon on a solstice is even more rare than a blue moon. The last full moon to occur on the winter solstice was in 2010 and the next one won’t happen until 2094.

12. Earth is closer to the sun around the winter solstice in December. However, the northern hemisphere receives less sunlight and has cooler temperatures because it is tilted away from the sun during winter.

13. Even though the winter solstice features the shortest amount of daylight of any day during the year, it does not have the earliest sunset. That takes place roughly two weeks prior. In 2021 in New York, the winter solstice took place on December 21, but the earliest sunset occurred on December 7 at 4:28 p.m.

14. Meteorological winter begins on December 1 rather than December 21.

Craft An Entire Day Around Tree Shopping

Though retailers may begin playing holiday tunes shortly after Halloween, for many people, no date on the calendar marks the beginning of the holiday season better than the day they pick up their Christmas tree.

There are many different ways to acquire a Christmas tree. Some people prefer artificial Christmas trees that can be stored and taken out each year. Others make a yearly expedition to a tree lot or a Christmas tree farm to find the perfect fir or spruce. Historians believe a man named W.V. McGallard planted 25,000 Norway spruce seedlings at his Mercer County, New Jersey farm in 1901, essentially establishing the first commercial Christmas tree farm. By 1908, customers could visit the farm and choose trees for $1 each. McGallard helped create an entirely new industry that now accounts for 350 million trees being grown and sold in the United States every year.

Selecting a Christmas tree may not take more than an hour or two, but there are ways for families and other tree shoppers to maximize their time spent looking for a tree.

Bring Refreshments

Couple Christmas tree shopping with picnicking if the weather is amenable. Pack some foldable chairs into the vehicle (sitting on the ground on a blanket may be too cold) and bring along thermoses of coffee or hot cocoa. Snacks like granola bars, Christmas cookies or other filling treats can keep everyone satisfied and energized while they shop for a tree.

Pair Tree Shopping With A Trip To See Lighting Displays

Find the tree lot or tree farm and then scope out potentially scenic spots to view holiday lighting displays nearby. Neighborhood Facebook or other social media groups often tout homes that put up eye-catching displays. Ask around for addresses and plan your own tours.

Plan A Night Out

Everyone may be tired and hungry after a long day of Christmas tree hunting. Plus, it’s typically a good idea to wait some time for boughs to open before decorating. Use this opportunity to dine out and return home ready to decorate. Make it a regular occurrence that Christmas tree shopping is followed by a family meal at a favorite restaurant.

Watch A Classic Film

Many different holiday movies are broadcast this time of year and each enhances the Christmas spirit. While putting up the tree, play a favorite film in the background. What better way to enjoy decorating your own tree than by watching Charlie Brown adorn his meager evergreen at the same time?

Make a day of selecting and putting up the Christmas tree each year. Doing so can enhance the holidays and make for an entertaining way to spend time together as a couple or family.

5 Reasons To Shop Small Versus Big Box

The importance of small businesses to the economy cannot be overstated. Though national chains often garner publicity, local businesses are equally, if not exceedingly, worthy of attention.

What defines a small business as “small” varies significantly, but these businesses are generally privately owned and generate far less revenue than big corporations. General consensus also defines small businesses as companies with fewer than 500 paid employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Here’s a deep look at why small businesses are so vital, and why consumers should direct more of their purchasing power to smaller companies rather than the big box retailers and other national chains.

1. Autonomy And Diversity

The layout and offerings at national chains will be identical whether you live in the mountains or at the beach. Big box stores follow a consistent marketing strategy and look the same regardless of where they are located. That familiarity can come at the cost of variety. On the other hand, an independent business offers the products and services that are reflective of the customers and the community they serve.

2. Local Hiring Strategy

Certain big box retailers will hire local residents, but hiring policies may push for promoting from within the organization. This could mean relocating an employee rather than bringing in someone from the community who may be more in tune with local sensibilities. Small businesses may be more inclined to hire residents they know and keep hiring centralized to the local area – something that keeps more resources and money in the community.

3. Adaptability And Change

Local businesses can move more quickly to respond to economic factors that require change. Since they are focused more on the needs of their customers rather than stockholders, changes can be implemented rapidly without having to go through red tape, meetings and updates to corporate policies. Changes also can be customized to the local community at large.

4. Investing In The Town

According to the financial resource Financial Slot, shopping at locally owned businesses rather than big box retailers keeps more money in the community. Local property taxes and other taxes paid by the businesses go right back into the community. This helps raise overall value for homeowners and can even reduce their taxes. The funding helps keep police, fire and school departments functioning properly.

5. Turnover Is Greater

While no one wants to see a small business fail, that fate is sometimes unavoidable. However, that turnover helps teach communities what was done poorly and helps others learn from those mistakes. It also means fresh businesses will come in and replace the old, driving new growth, opportunity and competition that keeps prices competitive.

The benefits of a thriving small business sector are numerous. Consumers can do their part by patronizing these firms more frequently.

A Look At The Oldest Halloween Traditions

As with many celebrations, Halloween is steeped in traditions – many of which can be traced back quite some time. Since Halloween is believed to have originated from Celtic pagan, ancient Roman and early Christian events, its traditions are varied. The following is a deep look at some old traditions associated with Halloween.

Bonfires

Historians trace many traditions of Halloween to a Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in parts of what is now Northern France, Great Britain and Ireland.

During Samhain, people believed that the door between the worlds of the living and the dead was blurred. On Samhain, Celts believed the ghosts of the dead returned. Also, Druids made predictions about the future at this time of year. It was customary to build large, sacred bonfires and burn crops and other sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

While large bonfires are not typically part of Halloween celebrations today, revelers can light fire pits in their yards that are reminiscent of ancient celebrations.

Trick-or-Treating

Christianity spread throughout Celtic regions and blended with other rituals. Pope Gregory III expanded on a holiday Pope Boniface IV established to honor Christian martyrs to include all saints and martyrs. All Saints Day on November 1 commemorates the venerable saints, and All Souls Day on November 2 celebrates loved ones who went on to eternal rest. All-Hallows Eve (Halloween) was a time to pay homage to the dead. Poor children would go door to door in more affluent neighborhoods offering to say prayers for residents’ deceased loved ones in exchange for some food or money. This was known as “souling,” which became the basis for trick-or-treating. Later the tradition became known as “guising” in areas of Scotland, where children would go around in costumes.

Witches

Images of witches riding broomsticks are everywhere come Halloween, and witch costumes remain a standard. Almanac.com indicates that, during the Middle Ages, women who practiced divination were dubbed “witches,” from the Anglo-Saxon word “wicce,” or “wise one.” It was believed the witches could go into a trancelike state, and would do so in front of their fireplaces. Superstitious people believed the witches could fly out of their chimneys on broomsticks and terrorize others with magical deeds.

Bobbing For Apples

Bobbing for apples is not quite as popular as it once was, as more people have become concerned about spreading germs. During the Roman festival for Pomona, which occurred around November 1, Pomona, the goddess of fruit and orchards, was celebrated. Romans believed the first person to catch a bobbing apple with his or her teeth would be the first to marry. It also was believed apple peels contained the secrets to true love.

Carving Pumpkins

Removing the insides of pumpkins and carving them into funny or fearsome faces may be messy work, but it’s tradition on Halloween. Turnips were the material of choice in ancient Ireland, but were replaced by pumpkins when immigrants came to America. The “lanterns” were made with scary faces and lit to frighten away spirits.

Halloween is full of traditions, many of which have lengthy histories.

8 Sights To See At Fall Harvest Festivals

Just as summertime is synonymous with concerts and carnivals, fall is a prime time for its own opportunities for seasonal entertainment, such as harvest festivals. Certain features overlap between summer carnivals and fall festivals, but the latter offers some unique offerings as well. The following are some things to expect when fall festival season hits full swing.

1. Seasonal fare

Many fall harvest festivals are built on the foods harvested in the fall for that region. In Wisconsin, that may be cranberries, while in Massachusetts it could be oysters. Apples also turn up in many areas starting in September. For those who can’t wait to bite into food picked at the peak of its season, a fall harvest festival can’t be beat.

2. Wagon rides

Farms and the tools of the farming trade are part of harvest festivals. Wagons transporting crops are a classic sight, even if they’re no longer heavily relied upon on the farm. Rather than a cargo bed full of corn or apples, harvest festivals tote families around on wagon rides or on hay bale beds towed by tractors.

3. Apples galore

Candied and caramel apples and many other apple products feature prominently at many harvest festivals. Apple fritters, apple turnovers, apple pies, fried apples, and others are bound to be sold by vendors, along with traditional fair foods, like funnel cakes.

4. Cider stations

Lemonade stands that are staples of summer give way to hot or cold cider offerings come the fall. Cold ciders are perfect for an unseasonably warm fall day while warm varieties are tailor-made for days when there’s a chill in the air.

5. Pumpkin patches

Fall harvest organizers pick and display pumpkins in fields to make it easier for youngsters to find the perfect pumpkin for Halloween carvings. It’s a sea of orange this time of year, and things may get more colorful with non-edible gourds in shades of white or yellow.

6. Leaf-peeping opportunities

Some festivals are geared around chances to view the fall foliage that abounds in primarily rural areas. A mountain or forest backdrop adds vibrant color to any event. Coastal areas may set up fall foliage cruises that let guests see the leaves from a new perspective.

7. Corn mazes

Fall festivals set up adjacent to or on farms may have corn mazes for the kids. These mazes may be kept up throughout October and repurposed into haunted mazes for older kids looking to get a scare for Halloween.

8. Wine tastings

Many grape varieties are harvested in the fall, so fall harvest festivals may capitalize on that and invite local vineyards to set up tables providing tastings of their vintages. Vineyards also may host their own fall festivals, featuring sips and snacks with live music.

Fall offers a host of entertaining festivals geared around the harvest season. These festivals are ideal ways for people to see the sights and nibble on seasonal delights along the way.

Steps Anyone Can Take to Protect Local Wildlife

The opportunity to experience local wildlife is one of the many alluring features of spending time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, wildlife is being threatened in many parts of the world as the human population increases and spreads to regions that historically have not been home to large numbers of human beings.

Numerous local, national and international environmental organizations are dedicated to protecting local wildlife. But such organizations can always use a helping hand, and the following are some simple steps anyone can take to protect local wildlife.

Sign up for local trash pick-ups

The organization Environment America reports that scientists have found fragments of plastic in hundreds of species. For example, researchers found such fragments in 44 percent of all seabird species. Local park and beach cleanups can help reduce that figure and make these beloved spaces look even better. Signing up for park or beach clean-ups also provides a great reason to get outdoors.

Make an effort to cut back on your energy consumption

This effective approach can benefit local wildlife and animal lovers’ bottom lines. The Animal Welfare Institute notes that many power plants rely on fossil fuels, the extraction of which can be harmful to local habitats. That ultimately and adversely affects local wildlife. Reducing energy consumption can cut back on the need to extract fossil fuels, and it also can lead to lower energy bills for consumers.

Support eco-friendly legislation

Legislators fighting to protect local wildlife need all the help they can get. Individuals can lend a hand by supporting legislators who are working to maintain local habitats so wildlife can continue to thrive. Share information about political issues related to local wildlife via social media and volunteer to help local politicians and nonprofit organizations spread the word about the importance of protecting the species who call your region home.

Do not get too close to wildlife

The beauty of wildlife can be hard to resist, but the AWI urges animal lovers to keep their distance from animals they see in the wild. Do not handle young animals found in the wild, no matter how vulnerable they appear to be, as the AWI notes that it’s not uncommon for mothers to leave their young alone for long periods of time while they forage for food.

Wildlife faces an uncertain future in many parts of the world. Individuals can do their part to protect wildlife and ensure their long-term survival.

How to Protect Nature When Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Few getaways can reinvigorate the mind and body like a day spent in the great outdoors. The rewards of a day spent outside aren’t just figments of the imagination. The online medical resource WebMD notes that exposure to the great outdoors can improve sleep cycles, boost self-esteem, reduce anxiety, help people focus, and bolster the immune system, among other benefits.

The relationship between people and nature is not a one-way street. Just as nature takes care of people, people must do their part to protect nature. Whether nature lovers are hiking, relaxing at the beach or engaging in another outdoor activity, the following tips can help people protect the serene settings and landscapes they love so much.

Leave nothing behind

Anti-littering campaigns have been prevalent for decades. Despite that, litter remains a significant problem. A 2020 study from Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing litter, found that there are nearly 50 billion pieces of litter along roadways and waterways across the United States. Each piece of litter that finds its way into nature can be prevented. When spending time in nature, individuals can commit to brining out whatever they bring in. Leaving nothing behind reduces the issues associated with litter, including the negative effects it has on wildlife and marine life, and helps to maintain the idyllic look of natural settings like forests and beaches.

Reduce reliance on plastics and recycle the plastics you do use

Plastics adversely affect the health of the planet in various ways. But a staggering percentage of the plastics humans use are never recycled. A 2108 study published in the journal Science Advances found that, of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics that have been produced since 1950, only around 9 percent has been recycled. Plastics take roughly 400 years to degrade, so much of the plastics that have not been recycled are ending up in the world’s oceans. In fact, projections from environmentalists suggest that oceans will contain more plastics than fish by the middle of this century. By reducing reliance on plastics and recycling the plastics they do use, nature lovers can do their part to combat this significant threat and protect the natural settings they enjoy so much.

Plant trees

Planting trees could help combat the issue of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. According to Greenpop, an organization devoted to urban greening and forest restoration projects, trees absorb CO2, removing it from the air and storing it as they release oxygen. A day outdoors planting trees is a fun activity for people of all ages, and it’s also a highly effective way to help the planet.

The great outdoors is a respite for millions of people across the globe. Taking steps to protect nature is a great way to ensure it’s accessible and there to enjoy for generations to come.

Helpful Tips for Picking and Cutting Watermelon

Watermelon is a summertime staple. Each summer, stores, and farm stands have an abundance of watermelons on display, and many people feel no picnic or barbecue is complete without watermelon.

Watermelon is a refreshing option on hot days. It’s ideal sliced and served, or can be included in fruit salads, smoothies or even “spiked” cocktails. The key to a tasty watermelon is knowing how to pick one that is ripe while serving watermelon comes down to understanding some easy-cutting strategies.

Choose a watermelon that has a firm, symmetrical shape

Avoid melons with bumps, dents or cuts.

Watermelons should be relatively heavy

They’re 92 percent water, and that juiciness should be reflected in a substantial weight for the melon’s size.

Watermelon.org advises looking for a creamy yellow spot on the underside of the watermelon

This is called the “ground spot.” It indicates where the melon sat on the ground and ripened in the sun. Once cut from the vine, a watermelon has about three to four weeks to be consumed.

All parts of the watermelon are edible, including the seeds and rind

The rind can be pickled or cut up to use in stir-fry dishes.

When bringing watermelon to an event, it is a courtesy to bring it already sliced or cut up. This ensures the host or hostess does not have to tackle what can sometimes be a chore. Here are three techniques to cut a watermelon easily.

Cubes

1. Cut both ends off of the watermelon.

2. Stand the watermelon on one sliced end. Use the knife to slice down and cut off the rind.

3. After removing the rind from all sides of the melon, cut into discs about 1/2-inch in thickness.

4. Then cut those discs into cubes.

Slices

1. Cut the watermelon in half lengthwise.

2. Take one cut half and place it cut-side down.

3. Cut the watermelon into slices.

4. Repeat for the other cut half.

Strips

1. Cut the watermelon as you would with the slices. Rather than leaving it in large slices, turn the watermelon and cut the same size slices in the opposite direction. This creates strips that are easy for kids to grab and maneuver.

2. Repeat with the other half of the watermelon in the same manner.

How to Cut Costs on Your Summer Road Trip

The most memorable road trips are often the byproduct of ample planning. Careful examinations of maps months before a trip begins can help vacationers find the best sights to see and uncover must-visit restaurants. In fact, many people find pre-trip planning nearly as enjoyable as the trip itself.

Vacationers who planned road trips months ago likely did not think they would be forced to contend with extraordinarily high gas prices, but that’s precisely the position drivers find themselves in this summer. The average gas price in many parts of North America exceeded $5 U.S. dollars per gallon by early June, and economic forecasters predicted prices could climb even higher as June gives way to the summer travel season.

High gas prices likely won’t compel most vacationers to cancel their travel plans this summer. And those who are staying the course can rest easy knowing there are plenty of ways for them to cut costs and still enjoy a memorable summer road trip in the months ahead.

Book a vehicle maintenance appointment

Prior to heading for parts unknown, visit your local auto body shop and have your car or truck serviced. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that regular engine tune-ups to ensure a vehicle is running efficiently increases fuel economy by an average of 4 percent. Schedule an oil change and tune-up shortly before your departure date so your car won’t be forced to work extra hard, and thus consume extra fuel, during your trip.

Reconsider your ride

Vacationers with more than one car to choose from may want to reconsider which car they drive on their road trip this summer. For example, families with one SUV and one sedan may save money by driving the sedan instead of the SUV, which is likely less fuel-efficient than the smaller vehicle. In addition, consider the type of fuel each of your cars requires and let that inform your decision. For instance, certain vehicles require more expensive high-octane fuel. If you own a car that requires the more budget-friendly regular 87 octane fuel, take that one on the road with you this summer.

Look to save on lodging

Roadside motels have undergone something of a rebirth in recent years. Many motels have been given full makeovers but remain budget-friendly lodging options for road trippers. Motels won’t offer all the amenities of five-star hotels, but they’re affordable places for vacationers to lay their heads for a night before traveling on to the next adventure the following morning.

Take your foot off the gas

Another way to conserve fuel during a summer road trip is to resist the temptation to drive too fast. Avoiding excessive speeds isn’t just safer; it’s also more fuel-efficient. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy reports that fuel economy for a light-duty vehicle traveling at 80 miles per hour is about 27 percent lower than when traveling at 60 miles per hour.

Vacationers may be worried that high fuel costs will bust their budgets during road trips this summer. But there are various ways to cut costs and still enjoy memorable trips, even when fuel prices are especially high.