Tag: christmas

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 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.

Safety Tips When Giving Kids Electric Toys

Youngsters’ eyes light up each holiday season at the sight of toys. Gift-giving during the holiday season is practiced by people of various faiths and backgrounds, and the joy of giving is only increased when witnessing the excited children unwrap gifts. Though no gift giver wants to imagine children being hurt while playing with their toys, it’s important that adults recognize the dangers posed by certain toys. Regulations mandating the safe production of electric toys have been in place for decades, but the risk of injury remains. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recognizes that threat and offers the following tips to consumers who intend to give children electric toys this holiday season.

• Heed the age recommendations. The CPSC notes that children should never be given toys, including electric toys, that are made for older kids. The idea that kids “will grow into it” may entice some consumers to ignore age recommendations, but that only puts youngsters at risk. Age recommendations are the minimum age children should be before they play with a toy.

• Consider kids’ maturity levels. Children mature at different paces, so even kids who meet or exceed the minimum age listed on the package may not necessarily be capable of safely playing with the electric toy. To determine if a child is mature enough for a given toy, consumers can consult with the child’s parents or, if buying for their own children, pay particular attention to how the child plays with age-appropriate toys he or she already has. If the child tends to gravitate toward toys designed for younger children, he or she might not yet be ready for electric toys designed for his or her age.

• Carefully and clearly explain the toy to children. Before allowing a child to play with a new electric toy, parents should carefully read the instructions and then read them aloud to their children. Play with the child when he or she uses the toy until you are confident the youngster understands the toy and how to operate it safely. The CPSC recommends parents always supervise children when they’re using electric toys and make sure that toys that must be plugged into the wall fit snugly into the outlets. Prevent electrical shock by ensuring prongs are never exposed.

• Store toys safely. Safe storage also is vital to prevent electric toy-related injuries. Store electric toys in dry areas that are not accessible to children.

• Inspect toys regularly. Routine inspections of electric toys can alert parents to broken parts, frayed cords and/or damage to enclosures of wiring and other protected components. If parts like batteries or bulbs need to be replaced, make sure children know that only adults are allowed to replace them.

Electric toys can be hazardous to children. But parents and gift givers can take various steps to ensure kids stay safe when playing with electric toys.

Tips for Baking Better Christmas Cookies

Cookies and other baked treats are everywhere come the holiday season. It’s not uncommon to give cookies as gifts or arrive at holiday gatherings with cakes and other decadent desserts. Cookies are a classic holiday treat, and some families even build entire traditions around baking Christmas cookies.

Novice bakers making cookies for the first time may be a little overwhelmed when perusing recipes. Baking is a science, and sometimes it takes practice to get the results just right. However, there are some tips that can help yield better, buttery bounties.

Handle butter with care

Butter can make or break a cookie recipe, as butter is often the glue that holds the cookie together. Therefore, it is key to follow the directions carefully regarding how to handle butter. Smithsonian.com says to leave butter at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes to properly soften it. This takes patience, but fiddling with butter too much can damage its delectable integrity. While purists may say butter is best, margarine may be acceptable if it has a high fat content; otherwise, cookies may spread out and flatten. When it comes time to cream the butter with sugar, be sure to do so thoroughly to incorporate air into the butter and remove the grainy texture of the sugar.

Measure flour properly

Measuring flour the right way can ensure cookies come out right. The Cooking Channel says to spoon the flour lightly into a dry measuring cup, then level it off with a knife. Do not dip the measuring cup into the flour or tap the knife against the cup. This will pack too much flour into the measuring cup and result in dry, tough cookies.

Slow down the eggs

Add eggs one at a time to make sure each will emulsify properly with the fat in the butter. Adding eggs en masse may cause the emulsification to fail.

Chill out

Follow recipes that call for chilling cookie dough carefully. This process is important for making sliced and shaped cookies. By chilling, the dough becomes more malleable for rolling and even slicing.

Use a bottom rack

Too much heat may compromise cookie integrity. The food experts at Delish say to try moving cookies onto a lower rack in the oven if they aren’t retaining their shape when baked. Put an empty cookie sheet on the top rack. That will block the cookies from the most intense heat that rises to the top of the oven.

Mastering cookies takes a little patience and some trial and error. Once bakers get their feet wet, Christmas-cookie-baking becomes even more special.

5 Tips for a Merry Holiday Home

A merry holiday season starts at home. Here are some nice ways to add cheer to the rooms and spaces where people gather.

Light a Fire: It may be the most primitive technology in existence but lighting a fire is still one of the best ways to create a rich holiday atmosphere. Bonus: use aromatic firewood such as pine, fir or cedar.

Project a Movie: Decorating for the holiday season can be as easy as setting up a projector and playing seasonal movies on a loop. From classics like “Miracle on 34th Street” to contemporary favorites like “Elf,” these films provide the perfect backdrop to the holiday season. With the ability to run all day, the LampFree Projectors in Casio’s Slim Series are ideal for this purpose.

Bake Cookies: Make the whole house smell amazing (and become everyone’s favorite person) by popping cookies and other desserts in the oven that include spices evocative of the season, like nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla. For a lighter option, you can get the same effect by brewing tea with these same ingredients.

Host a Sing-a-Long: Securing yourself a digital piano with an authentic concert grand sound may just be the best gift you give your family this holiday season. The Casio GP-500 reproduces the three-dimensional sound field generated by an acoustic grand to fill a room with rich, complex sound, making it a great place to gather for holiday sing-a-longs. The piano itself can also be a decoration destination — think garlands and candles. Be sure to set out sheet music and other instruments like tambourines or bells so that guests can join in the fun.

Add Flora: Spruce up your living spaces – literally. Holly, Christmas cactus, poinsettias and spruce add color and vibrancy to mantels, staircases, coffee tables and other nooks and crannies. What’s more, many of these plants will continue to thrive long after the lights and tinsel come down.

The holidays come but once a year. Make the most of the season by turning your home into a winter wonderland.

Last-Minute Holiday Shopping Tips

Holiday shopping season typically begins the day after Thanksgiving and extends all the way to Christmas Eve. While that’s a considerable amount of time for shoppers to find gifts for everyone on their shopping list, many people will still find themselves putting holiday shopping off until the last minute. In certain ways, last-minute holiday shopping is easier than ever.

Thanks to online retailers who can ship products overnight, men and women who delay their holiday shopping have more options at their disposal than they did before the arrival of the Internet. And unlike the days of yore when the best deals were largely exclusive to Black Friday, some shoppers find that competition between online retailers and traditional brick-and-mortar stores is so great that deals can be found regardless of when they begin shopping.

But while waiting until the last minute to begin holiday shopping may not be as risky as it used to be, shoppers may still benefit by sticking to certain strategies so they can find the perfect gifts without breaking the bank.

Stay within your budget.

Even last-minute shoppers have holiday shopping budgets. But it can be harder for last-minute shoppers to stick to their budgets because they have less time to comparison shop and hunt for deals. As the holiday shopping season winds down, resist the temptation to go over budget. If a gift you had in mind is available but more than you can spend, look for something else. Overspending on holiday shopping in December is a recipe for debt in January, and no shopper wants to begin the new year weighed down by consumer debt.

Shop local

National chains and big box retailers are renowned for rolling out great deals during the holiday season, but such stores may have very limited or unimpressive inventory left by the time last-minute shoppers begin shopping. Local retailers are often incapable of slashing prices as significantly as their larger competitors, and that may mean they have more extensive inventories available throughout the holiday shopping season. In addition, shoppers who stick with local retailers won’t have to pay shipping costs to ensure items arrive on time.

Shop during off-peak hours

Shopping during off-peak hours can help last-minute shoppers make efficient use of the limited time they have to buy gifts for their loved ones. Visit stores early in the morning or late at night, or schedule a midweek afternoon shopping trip so you aren’t spending what little time you have left waiting on lines or hunting for parking.

Give something less traditional

Holiday gifts need not come from stores. Rather than spending their time shopping for gifts for loved ones who seemingly have it all, last-minute shoppers can give the gift of a donation in their loved one’s name.

Last-minute shoppers who want to give something more tangible can create a homemade gift that’s both unique and heartfelt. If your DIY skills are lacking, give a loved one the gift of a night out on the town at your expense.

Shoppers who wait until the end of the holiday shopping season to begin their searches for holiday gifts can still find great gifts without going broke.

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.

Gifts for Avid Hunters, Anglers and Outdoorsmen

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services’ 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation unveiled that more than 90 million United States residents aged 16 or older participated in some sort of wildlife-related activity that year — the most recent year on record. Wildlife recreationists spend nearly $150 billion per year on their activities.

With this in mind, those who have hunters, anglers or outdoorsmen on their holiday shopping lists may find that gifts facilitating these specific pursuits can be the ideal fit this holiday season. Rather than scouring the mall for hours, a visit to the nearest sports outfitter can yield a bevy of appropriate gift ideas.

For some inspiration, consider these gifts for the outdoor enthusiast.

• Binoculars:

Scoping out territory and looking for game is often part of the hunt. A set of durable new binoculars can give hunters an edge.

• Heated shoe insoles:

Hunting and fishing often require long wait periods — sometimes in chilly weather. Heated shoe insoles and hand warmers can keep outdoorsmen warm.

• GPS/digital watch:

Although many smartphones tell time and offer GPS services, lightweight watches may be more convenient than phones. For example, the Garmin Fenex Watch is waterproof and offers such functions as GPS, an altimeter, barometer and a digital compass.

• All-season tent:

Camping out is not just a summer activity. A tent that is rated to withstand various temperatures and conditions can be an asset.

• Waders:

Anglers sometimes need to get up close and personal with their prey. A sturdy pair of breathable waders is ideal for those who venture out of the boat or off of the coast.

• Wool socks:

They may be a basic item, but hikers, hunters and other sports people can’t stock up enough on warm, sweat-wicking wool socks that will keep their feet comfortable and dry on all excursions.

• Folding knife:

Knives are ideal for cutting fishing line, twigs for a campfire and much more. A sturdy, quality knife that fits easily in a pocket or backpack is a must-have for hunters, campers and anglers.

• Water-resistant pouch:

A day on the boat or near the water requires gear that can get wet without soiling items stored inside. Choose a pouch that can fit a camera, keys, phone, and other necessities.

• Climbing stand:

Hunters frequently spend time up in the trees to get a better view of oncoming game. Stationary tree stands may remain for the season, but lightweight offerings fold and can be transported from area to area.

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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