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Christmas Shopping Guide

Gift Ideas. Entertainment. Holiday Cooking. Holiday Decorating. Specials from Local Merchants.






Holiday help: Suggestions for successful season By CHARLYN FARGO Want to avoid gaining a few extra pounds this holiday season? Be mindful of what you’re bringing to a party and what you’re eating. This time of year offers almost daily temptation to add extra calories, as parties become numerous along with platters of rich and delicious seasonal foods. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers a few tips to keep from added pounds. If you are hosting a gathering this holiday season and want to lighten up your offerings without sacrificing taste, try swapping out a few ingredients in your favorite recipes: ■■ Use two egg whites in place of one egg to reduce dietary cholesterol and produce the same tasty result. ■■ Try low-sodium vegetable broth in your mashed potatoes to add flavor and cut back on added butter or margarine. ■■ Substitute applesauce for oil, margarine or butter in muffins and quick breads such as banana bread. Try substituting a small amount at first, as the more you substitute the more the texture of the finished product changes. ■■ For dips, sauces and pie toppings, use fat-free yogurt, sour cream and whipped topping. ■■ Sliced almonds make a delicious crunchy topping in place of fried onion rings. ■■ Choose reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses for salads and casseroles. Pack your shopping cart with plenty of fresh vegetables including sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, carrots and green beans. Apples, cranberries and pears combine easily for a tasty salad, fruit crisp or topping for the turkey. If you are a guest at a dinner party or other gathering, consider these tips to keep your night healthy, happy and safe: ■■ Start your day with a small meal that includes whole grains, fruit, vegetables and protein. ■■ Don’t starve yourself beforehand. Rather, eat a small meal or snack so you aren’t tempted to overeat. ■■ Don’t rush to eat. Socialize and settle into the festivities before you eat. ■■ Savor foods you truly enjoy and pass up on those that don’t really interest you. ■■ Move your socializing away from the buffet or appetizer trays. This will minimize the subconscious nibbling. When it comes to drinking alcohol, satisfy your thirst before having an alcoholic drink by starting with water. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Keep in mind that even a single drink will affect your reflexes for several hours. If you plan to drink, keep your holidays merry for everyone by designating a driver who won’t be drinking. The holidays are a great time for gathering with friends and family over food and drinks. With just a little preparation, you can enjoy celebratory foods mindfully and still experience all that

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are used in accordance with FDA regulations. However, synthetic dyes do not provide any nutritional benefits, and preliminary research has linked them with potential risks related to cancer, birth defects, allergic reactions and problems in children, including hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability and aggressiveness. Additional research is needed to confirm the side effects of food dyes. Due to health concerns surrounding artificial dyes, and an increased customer desire for “natural” foods without synthetic ingredients, many companies have started using natural colors obtained from plants and spices. Examples include beta-carotene, paprika, beet juice, algae and turmeric. Although these may be better options and are generally considered safe, natural dyes also may cause allergic reactions in certain individuals. It is important to remember that replacing artificial colors with natural ones doesn’t necessarily make the food a healthier choice. Often, foods containing dyes tend to be heavily processed and high in fat, sugar and sodium.


Substituting two egg whites for one egg will yield Yuletide yummies that curb the cholesterol. the season has to offer — without gaining an extra pound. Q: Are artificial food dyes dangerous?

A: Companies add food dyes to products to make them look tasty and appealing to consumers. Although some synthetic food dyes

have been banned from use in the U.S., nine remain on the FDA’s approved list. The FDA states that color additives are safe when they

Information courtesy of Environmental Nutrition Newsletter.

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Stop holiday whining and start the wine-ing By ROBERT WHITLEY Gathering around the Christmas table is a moment I cherish each year. It is an opportunity for me to rummage through the cellar for special bottles of wine I’ve been saving for the right occasion. Unlike many other collectors, I don’t keep a running inventory of what’s in the cellar. I often come across gems from long ago that I’d forgotten I had. Sometimes it’s a vintage port from the ’60s, or maybe it’s a Bordeaux from the ’70s, though that wasn’t an especially great decade for Bordeaux. California cabernet sauvignon from the ’80s is showing very well these days, and Italian wines from the ’90s, when the renaissance of Italian wine was in full swing, are at peak maturity. After 40 years of collecting great and some not-so-great vintages, they’re all there gathering dust, just waiting for the right moment. But that’s my collection. Not everyone has the luxury of simply descending a few stairs to lay their hands on a mature red wine from an exceptional vintage long ago. If that’s your situation, I have a solution. If you can’t go old in your wine selection for the Christmas table, think big. Go for greatness. Reach for that stunning bottle of wine that will fit the occasion even though it’s young. I’m often asked what my favorite wine is. There’s no right answer to that question — too many amazing wines to pick just one. So what I say is this: If you were to put me on a raft and push me out to sea and say I could only have one wine to take with me, it would be something — anything — that had the name Gaja on the label. I say that because I know there is not a more meticulous winemaker in the world than Angelo Gaja, the genius of Italy’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. I know that if I tell you to pick up any bottle of Gaja, you will be impressed. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over 40 years as a wine collector and more than 25 years as a wine journalist, there are certain producers I can always count on. They make brilliant wines because they stick to their principles and refuse to accept anything less than perfection. France has its own producers of that ilk. For example, you can trust the name Chapoutier. Michel Chapoutier makes impeccable wines in the northern Rhone Valley and the Languedoc. Jean-Luc Colombo, the famous winemaker of the Cornas region,

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is another whose wines never fail to impress. The Champagne producer Bruno Paillard is another. Italy’s two finest sparkling wine producers, Ca’ del Bosco and Ferrari, would give just about any Champagne you could name a run for the money. And California is no slouch when it comes to bubbly. You would be hard-pressed to be disappointed in a bottle from Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros or Roederer Estate. California is also home to my go-to producers for cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and merlot. If a cabernet would suit your needs for the Christmas table, you can’t miss with a bottle from Spottswoode, Nickel & Nickel, Far Niente or Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The wines from these producers are brilliant, and they are brilliant every vintage. What’s more, they are the wines collectors covet, so rest assured they will impress your dinner guests. My merlot goto is Duckhorn for the very same reason. Pinot noir, which used to be a tough sell, is a hot commodity today. There is no shortage of exceptional pinot noir, but my old standbys for pure decadence and reliability are Merry Edwards and Dutton Goldfield. I will say the same for the Merry Edwards and Dutton Goldfield chardonnays. Add to that exceptionally high bar Merry Edwards’ sauvignon blanc and Dutton Goldfield’s

T he Ivy I vy Ma n or

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gewurztraminer — each the finest wine of its type made in America — and you get the idea that anything you purchase from either producer is going to be top-shelf. I might say the same of Spottswoode, whose sauvignon blanc

rivals that of Merry Edwards. In the world of sauvignon blanc, those two are at the absolute top of the heap. My point in all this is that you don’t have to have an overflowing wine cellar to make your wine

selection for Christmas dinner fit the occasion. Visit your favorite wine merchant and make a beeline for the top names. Go for greatness. You will pay a little more, but it’s Christmas. Have a merry merry!

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Christmas music sets joyous mood By JULIA PRICE When the holidays come around, there are a number of very important decisions to make, such as what family you’re going to see, what food you’ll eat and, perhaps most importantly, what music you’re going to listen to. Holiday music can open our hearts and connect us to the warmth that this celebratory season nurtures, and it can also become a soundtrack on repeat that we can’t wait to turn off. There are some classic songs that never get old, such as “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” — originally sung by Vaughn Monroe — Bing Crosby’s “Silver Bells” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra. When we put on these iconic tunes, they bring us back to that core remembrance of why we are celebrating in the first place. Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” is the best-selling single of all time. Among the less valiant attempts at capturing the spirit and essence of these holy days are Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” and ‘N Sync’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.” Though all songs carry with them messages for the people, these pop culture crossovers didn’t quite hit the mark. The Temptations’ version of “Silent Night” and Mariah Carey’s classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You” have stood the test of time as songs that fill our hearts with love as we sip eggnog and go back for seconds. Although, some people might include “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on their “no-play” list; we all find a balance of old and new for ourselves that hits the spot just right. Some songs are so epic that they get covered by thousands of people. According to a December 2017 press release from Music Reports, there are 137,315 recorded versions of “Silent Night,” while “White Christmas” has been recorded 128,276 times. “Jingle Bells” is third, with 89,681 versions. Many of these songs are now in the public domain, which means that people are free to make their own versions. That may be part of the reason so many people choose to cover them.

Christmas music usually dominates the airwaves during December, but one song has solidified itself as the go-to Jewish tune. That song is, of course, Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” which humorously reminds the world about how many famous Jews there are. The classic Jewish dance song “Hava Nagila” has been known to be put on repeat in many households to keep the vibration high. Secular songs that cross the barrier include “Deck the Halls,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as well as “Here We Come A-Caroling” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Everyone, regardless of one’s religion, wants to experience good music, and these are just some of the amazing options for people looking to remain neutral in their celebration of faith. It’s interesting to think about why we wait until the holidays to play such spirited and loving music. It’s almost become a cycle that we only play these tracks during certain months, and then the rest of the year we go back to turning on the radio and not caring so much about the message of the music we listen to. There is one song that gets played as much as, if not more than, any other song during parties and gatherings, and that is “Feliz Navidad,” by Jose Feliciano. That song — a unifying anthem of celebration and joy -- could be played on repeat for years. A good mariachi band’s playing “Feliz Navidad” can make an event worth remembering. An interesting fact about “Jingle Bells” is that its writer, James Lord Pierpont, originally penned the score to celebrate Thanksgiving, but it ended up fitting better into the Christmas carol playlist. Whatever you choose to listen to around your loved ones, make sure that everyone gets to hear his or her favorite song so that you can hear all of the classics and avoid getting in a rut of playing the same song over and over again. When it comes to music filled with love and joy, you really can’t go wrong. Fill your cups this holiday season and let the music open your heart and remind you of how powerful love really is.

Warm up those pipes and sing in the holidays. KAREN ARNOLD CREATORS.COM


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Derail dietary disputes with dairy-free recipes By MAXINE MULVEY The winter holidays are peak dessert season. But the rich, creamy desserts that often decorate December dinners make scrooges of those whose diets are nondairy. These dairy-free recipes update traditional holiday desserts and are sure to delight everyone around the table: Dairy-Free Sticky Toffee Pudding Serves: 8 Inspired by a Gordon Ramsay recipe, amateur chef Paula Potts created a dairy-free sticky toffee pudding. Potts suggests substituting cashew milk for double cream. This recipe comes from her blog, “I See Hungry People.” For the pudding: 1 cup medjool dates, pitted and chopped 3⁄4 cup packed dark brown sugar 1 cup water 1⁄2 cup coconut oil, softened 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 tablespoon espresso, cooled 3 large eggs 11⁄4 cup plain flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt For the toffee sauce: 1 cup cashew milk 1⁄2 cup dark brown sugar 1⁄3 cup coconut oil 1⁄4 teaspoon salt Heat oven to 375 F. Grease spongecake mold with oil or lard. Line with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper, ensuring the sides are properly covered. Make espresso. Place dates, sugar and water in a saucepan. Simmer gently for 10 minutes or until sugar has dissolved and dates are soft. Let cool. Blend dates in a food processor until smooth. In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate large bowl, whisk together dates, oil, vanilla and espresso. Add eggs and whisk again until well blended. In two batches, fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture with a spatula until just combined. Pour into the prepared baking dish of choice and bake for 25 to 30. For the toffee sauce: Place sauce ingredients into saucepan and simmer, stirring frequently, until oil and sugar have dissolved and sauce is smooth. Reduce sauce until thickened, taking about 10 minutes. Keep warm until served. Pour warm toffee sauce over puddings and serve immediately. Vegan Buche de Noel Serves: 10 to 12 This recipe from Bon Appetit magazine re-envisions the classic yule log. On top of being dairyfree, Bon Appetit’s recipe is vegan, satisfying even stricter dietary restrictions. For the chocolate spongecake: Vegan butter (for greasing) 2 cups self-rising flour (Suggested: 85 percent whole-wheat) 1⁄4 cup cocoa powder 3 teaspoons baking powder 11⁄3 cups vanilla sugar 9 tablespoons sunflower oil 11⁄2 cups water For the gluten-free vegan chocolate mousse: 5 packages Mori-Nu extra firm silken tofu 1⁄4 cup canola oil 3 teaspoons vanilla extract 2 cups Sucanat (dehydrated sugar cane juice) 1⁄2 teaspoon plus 1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt 4 cups vegan, kosher non-dairy chocolate chips

For the ganache: 1 cup unsweetened plain soy milk 21⁄2 cups dark dairy-free chocolate chips 1 tablespoon coconut oil Heat oven to 325 F. Grease halfsheet pan (lined with wax paper) for the log. Sift flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl. Add sugar, oil and water. Mix to batterlike consistency. Pour mixture into prepared sheet pan. Bake for about 40 minutes, until cakes spring back to a light touch in the center. Turn cake out onto a wire rack, strip off wax paper and cool completely. To begin making the mousse, place silken tofu, Sucanat, vanilla extract and salt in a food processor and blitz until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Place chocolate chips and canola oil in double boiler and melt the ingredients slowly so the chocolate doesn’t burn or get bitter. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until chocolate is smooth and silky. Add melted chocolate mix to the food processor with all the ingredients. Process for about 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the vessel. Allow mousse base to set in the refrigerator for about 4 to 5 hours. Plate and top with fresh raspberries or cocoa nibs. For a special occasion, top with edible gold leaf. For the ganache, in a small saucepan over low heat, combine the soy milk and chocolate chips. Stirring frequently, cook until the mixture is well combined and the chocolate has a glossy finish. Remove ganache from heat, add coconut oil and continue to whisk. This ganache may be used warm or cooled. To begin assembling the log, flip the spongecake out of the

Serving nondairy desserts this holiday season will excite your guests with restricted diets. CREATORS.COM

pan onto some parchment paper. Spread a thin, evenly applied layer of mousse onto the sponge. Using

the parchment paper as a guide, roll up coated spongecake. To finish, give it a final roll and squeeze,

making it as compact and secure as possible. Frost with your favorite vegan frosting and enjoy.

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Home for the holidays: Handling well-meaning advice By BOB GOLDMAN It’s good to be home for the holidays, but if you’re in your 20s or 30s, it may be far better to be far, far away. Think Tahiti. Think Mozambique. Think St. Paul, Minnesota. Yes, St. Paul, Minnesota. St. Paul is not only an exotic destination, but it is also where Amy Lindgren, the owner of a local career consulting firm, writes the “Working Strategies” column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Millennials, here’s how to handle career advice at holiday dinner” is the title of a timely, recent post, and though you may be decades away from being in that dreaded demographic, Lingren’s advice still holds. As long as you’ve got relatives who are even one day older, they will feel perfectly free to turn a festive holiday dinner into a no-holds barred career coaching session. Am I right, or am I right? Before the cap is twisted off that bottle of Trader Joe’s Spatburgunder or the marshmallows in Granny’s sweet potato souffle are set afire, your relatives will turn into professional life coaches, committed to straightening out your miserable life before the pumpecapple piecake is served. If you expect to find yourself in this uncomfortable position this holiday season, Amy Lingren has some good advice for you. (Not as good as a pumpecapple piecake, but pretty good, all the same.) “Drop any illusions of privacy that you may be holding,” she cautions. “In these days of texting, tweeting, Skyping, Facebooking and LinkedIn connecting ... it’s likely that everyone at the table will already know more about each other’s lives than previous families would have learned in a decade of holiday visits.” Sad, but true. And totally your fault. By constantly using anti-social media to complain about the pathetic state of your working life, you will not be able to rewrite history with a cheery, “Work is going great; thanks for asking!” You know what this means: No more waving away a history of lost jobs by announcing that you have just been accepted for astronaut training. No more derailing extra helpings of unsolicited advice by claiming you are working undercover for the CIA and can say nothing about your prospects until Granny gets her security clearance. “Forget the idea that you can win any dispute” is the next bit of advice. True that. Your elders know what they know and they have zero interest in changing their most deeply held opinions. If it is the wisdom of the dinner table that Kelly Ripa’s new partner, Ryan Seacrest, is a nice enough boy, but he’ll never be another Regis, go with the flow. In this case, they might be right. “Don’t imagine you can avoid the conversational spotlight” are Lingren’s famous last words on the subject. While you’ve been out in the world, hobnobbing with the beautiful people, the family has been stuck at home, picking and nipping on each others’ cases for last 12 months. They’re sick and tired of on trying to change people who are close at hand. You, on the other hand, are what columnist Lingren calls “fresh meat.” And for all you fresh meat, she recommends that before you go home, you do your homework. “Review the lineup of guests,” she advises. Your relatives have

likely been texting and tweeting themselves. Look back through the year of family emails you have ignored. If you can’t find anything warm and wonderful about each guest, maybe you can dredge up some dark and shameful gossip you can launch as a deterrent over the nacho cat cheese balls. “Think about other people’s careers.” If you don’t want to go negative, make positive comments that can shift the focus when the table full of vultures looks ready to strike. “Tell us about the time when you and Samuel Morse invented the telegraph, Uncle Morty,” you might say. “Do you feel that your business got the support it needed from President Lincoln?” Don’t be deterred by the fact that Uncle Morty is in his 40s. Oldtimers love it when you remind them that they’re decrepit and out of touch. “Figure out something positive to say about your work life.” Share your triumphs with all the guests, like all the time you screwed up big time and were sure you were going to be fired, but managed to wriggle out of it by blaming a

Don’t try to avoid your relatives’ work advice around the holidays. Instead, be gracious and grateful. CREATORS.COM

completely innocent co-worker for your blunder, and she got fired,

instead. Life-affirming stories with hap-

py endings perfectly fit the holiday season, don’t you agree?

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Southern twists for holiday dinner By NICOLA BRIDGES Fried chicken, shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy and hush puppies. We all have our favorite foods from the South. But when it comes to the holidays, Southerners sure love their homegrown family recipes, some handed down through generations — and they like a lot of it. When freelance food editor and recipe developer Alison Ashton thinks of holiday dinners from her years living in the South, one word comes to mind: abundance. “In the South, the holidays equal the usual abundance times 10!” Ashton says. “More is definitely more — richer food and more dishes on the table. There is no such thing as too much. And of course, turkey made in the deep fryer. Or a big ol’ glazed ham. Well, probably both a turkey and a ham.” Carla Hall — fan favorite “Top Chef” and TV chef on ABC’s Emmy Award-winning show “The Chew” — hails from Nashville, Tennesee, and when she thinks of holiday food celebrations from her Southern roots, it conjures up flavorful family memories. “It takes me back to family gatherings at my Granny’s house in Lebanon, Tennessee, with the country ham sitting off to the side while the other dishes are prepared — mac and cheese, cornbread dressing, greens, yeast rolls and Granny’s famous five-flavor pound cake.”

Hall’s new cookbook, “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration,” is full of twists on Southern cooking using her favorite Southern ingredients, including sorghum grains, black eyed peas, sweet potatoes, bitter greens, turnips and other root vegetables. According to Ashton, other ingredients to consider for bringing a Southern flavor to your holiday dinner are pecans (“pecan pie is a Southern specialty, for sure”); sweet potatoes, especially sweet potato pie made with molasses or sorghum; oysters, to make a great oyster stuffing; and bourbon-flavored anything. At the holidays, Halls says “cornbread dressing, made with cornbread that is not sweet, is at the center of my plate with gravy, not the turkey. And cranberry sauce — this is the ‘sour’ that I want on my plate to cut through the richness of some of the other dishes. It’s all about balance.” When it comes to greens, Hall favors a blend of collards, mustard, turnips and/or kale — the bitter component on my plate complete with some kind of pickled thing. Chow-chow (a slightly tangy Southern vegetable relish) would work perfectly — and yeast rolls, perfect for sopping up all of those juices, and the leftovers make great sandwiches.” One of Ashton’s favorite Southern dishes she still makes each year is “a big ol’ pot of Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. It’s a lowcountry dish enjoyed throughout the South that includes field peas


Classic cooking creations from the American South warm the hearts — and tummies — of everyone around the table. GABRIELE STABILE CREATORS.COM

(usually black-eyed peas), rice, bacon and sometimes a ham hock or sausage, too, and typically served with collard greens.” And many consider it to be a lucky dish. “There are lots of variations,” Ashton explains, “but it almost always includes those ingredients to ensure luck and prosperity in the New Year. Peas represent coins, greens equate to money and pork represents progress — because pigs move forward as they forage. It’s hearty and delicious, and with the peas and greens, a reasonably healthy start to the new year.” Some Southerners even bury coins in the dish and those who get them in their serving will enjoy extra luck in the New Year. Ashton also loves dishes from the holiday Revellion dinners in New Orleans. The word “revellion” is derived from the French word for “awakening,” and a Rev-



ellion dinner was one typically made by the entire community and served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. “I like the riffs on Creole specialties like etouffee (a spicy Cajun stew made with seafood and vegetables), oyster bisque, bread pudding with whiskey sauce and of course, pecan pie. Very indulgent and festive with unique Creole flavors and style.” If you’re new to Southern cooking, Hall suggests the following holiday menu, either in its entirety or introducing a few of the dishes to give your traditional dinner a Southern flair: ■■ Clove and cider glazed holiday ham. ■■ Spoonbread dressing. ■■ Green bean salad with pickled red onions (served warm). ■■ Sweet potato pudding with clementines.

■■ Cranberry sauce made with apples, orange zest, cinnamon and ginger. As for any specific tips when it comes to cooking southern: “I think the secret is the depth of flavor that is achieved when allowing food to brown or to cook a little longer than you think,” says Hall. “For instance, making pot likker (a hearty vitamin-rich broth made with the left over boiling water from cooking greens, often flavored with smoked ham or turkey): Let the onions and garlic soften and develop flavor before adding the next ingredient. Add the spices and then the liquid. Simmer. Don’t rush the development of flavor. Let your taste buds decide, not the time on the recipe. Every oven, stove, pot and pan is different.”



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Anxiety and the holidays By DOUG and EMMA MAYBERRY Q: I am shy and probably always will be, but my husband is always the life of the party. We have already been invited to four mandatory business holiday parties, and I have no excuse not to attend. How can I manage these parties without blowing his career? A: You were aware of his popularity and that he would expect you to interact with others before you got married. It is time for you to change your attitude and accept the responsibility of becoming a team player. If you are happily married and want a healthy relationship, ask yourself why you have a negative social attitude and aren’t comfortable joining in. Is it because of your family background, a past social error that you cannot overcome, the feeling you don’t fit in with others, or perhaps a health issue? There are many reasons we feel shy. Until you determine your reasons and commit to changing your attitude, you’ll continue to feel insecure. Consider seeing a professional counselor if you feel paralyzed by your social anxiety. Address your insecurities head-on and try to improve your self-image. This can take many forms, such as exercise, financial management or the pursuit of knowledge. Depending on your husband in social situations also puts pressure on him, which would hurt any relationship. Go to the upcoming parties with a positive attitude, and emphasize your positive traits. There are reasons your husband married you; remember them! — Doug Q: Recently, I’ve been coming across a lot of very angry and upset people, which affects my own mood adversely. It seems as if I’m in a sea of negativity and I can’t get out! My own view of others around me, even my loved ones, has been getting worse as a result. What can I do to change my outlook? A: When you focus on how others alter your mood, you’re viewing this issue from an external perspective. Recognizing your frustration with external forces can be cathartic and even righteous, but it won’t help you attain a more positive outlook. Unfortunately, we cannot force others to behave in a certain way. Instead, look internally. If you wait for the world to change, you will become even more distraught when it fails to do so. Focus on improving your reactions and you will feel empowered and more resistant to outside influences. Be conscious of the blessings you have in your life, both big and small. Consider your health, finances, loved ones and education and the positive influences around you. When you’re frustrated, remind yourself to be patient with others and consider the commonalities you share. If you lash out at others, they will become entrenched in their negativity. On the other hand, you can change your dynamics with people close to you and prompt a different set of behaviors. Patience and kindness go a long way. Break the negative feedback system you share and you will be happier with your surroundings. — Emma, Doug’s granddaughter


Get jump start — make food ahead of time By DIANNE CROWN Creating the perfect party for a houseful of guests is challenging enough, but being rested and relaxed enough to enjoy your own party can be even harder. The simple answer: make-ahead dishes that freeze well and taste as good as if they’d just been made a couple of hours before. Pastor Pat McKenna and his wife, Janna, grew up in clerical families who opened their homes to church members for an all-day open house each Christmas. Carrying on the tradition through the years, including now in their own home, the McKennas have found ways to create a warm, festive home setting full of delicious homemade appetizers, yummy fruit punch, hearty soups and irresistible candies and cookies — and they graciously welcome each guest in person. Starting weeks ahead of time and freezing several of the dishes and ingredients is a big part of their success. “I would tell anybody hosting a Christmas party or open house,” Pat says, “’Enjoy the pro-

cess. Don’t get stressed out about it. Plan ahead.’ That’s the great thing about being able to freeze things in advance. You can enjoy your event with the people you enjoy and love.” Some items freeze well, however, and some don’t. With the exception of their cheese balls, the McKennas don’t freeze such dairy-based foods as cream soups. Broth-based soups freeze very well, but don’t include any pastas, Pat says. A couple of days before your party, thaw the soup in the refrigerator as you would a turkey. Bring it to a boil the day of the party, and then add the noodles and cook it until ready to serve. To ensure that Janna’s delicate cookies and candies come out of the freezer intact and without freezer burn, Pat lays them out on a jellyroll pan first and puts them in the freezer overnight so that they are firm. Then he wraps them in plastic wrap and seals them in an airtight container. This way, “they aren’t damaged by packing and stacking and the chocolate doesn’t crack.” Peter Glatz recently retired from a 40-year health care career

and is now devoting his professional career to making nutritious foods delicious and educating people to eat healthfully. “It’s wellness with a new direction,” he says. A mainstay of Glatz’s holiday tables are vegetables he harvests in season and freezes for winter. Sweet corn, green beans and lima beans are favorites among family and friends. He also makes a delicious ratatouille. It includes bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, and it “freezes beautifully. Just thaw it and warm it up. There’s no lastminute preparation.” He adds, “That’s a nice thing about vegetable dishes. They are just as enjoyable at room temperature as hot and don’t have to be timed carefully.” Glatz also always has a freezerful of homemade chicken stock on hand. On a brisk fall day, he heats up the flavorful stock, adds tortellini, puts it in a big pot outside and serves it in mugs. Whether you’re cooking for a planned party or you’re preparing for the unexpected overnight guest, these tips and recipes will

bring hospitality to your holidays year after year. Here is one of the McKennas’ popular open house recipes. For more ideas, do an internet search for “holiday foods that freeze well.” You’ll find ideas from Southern Living, The Spruce Eats and many more. Pat And Janna’s Secret Cheese Ball The McKennas derived this “secret” recipe from a popular item served and sold by a women’s group that never gave out the recipe. Years later, that same group lost the original recipe and asked Pat and Janna for the “secret” to theirs! They graciously shared the recipe and enjoy the story to this day. 3 ounces cream cheese 1⁄3 cup finely shredded mild cheddar 1 tablespoon blue cheese dressing 1⁄8 teaspoon garlic salt 1⁄8 teaspoon lemon juice Mix items in a mixer until blended well. Shape and then wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze. To serve, defrost in refrigerator overnight.

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New traditions deliver Christmas spirit By JEANELLE D. HORCASITAS

Christmas caroling If you want to be more vocal about your love of the holidays, try out the Christmas caroling tradition with some friends and family. This is a fun activity that calls for more engagement with strangers who might need a little Christmas cheer in their lives. According to Time, the act of singing and visiting different homes first came about in Victorian England and became popularized by the printing of songs such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “The First Noel” and “Joy to the World.” Although going door to door isn’t so common as it used to be, you can still find these carolers frequenting shopping malls and churches. So if you want to get a little more involved and brighten someone’s day, consider adding this to your Christmas traditions.

As our days become chillier, we start to look forward to the festivities that the holidays bring — not only cheerful spirits and time with family but also our most treasured holiday traditions. Whether you have a holiday tradition or not, here are some of the most loved ones, to give you a bit of inspiration. Nativity scene This is a classic Christmas tradition for many families. It represents the scene of Jesus Christ’s birth. There are life-size Nativity scenes at various religious institutions, some of which feature real people, and miniature ones in families’ homes. The Smithsonian reports that the first Nativity scene was created in 1223, making it one of the longest-standing traditions in history. So if you’re looking for something traditional, this is definitely a great option. Advent calendar Who doesn’t love a countdown to get excited about Christmas? If this appeals to you, then an Advent calendar will do the trick. Even better, the Advent calendars with chocolate are a great sweet treat to give you a taste of all the goodies that the holidays bring. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to Nov. 30 (the feast day of St. Andrew) and ends on Christmas Eve. This year, Advent starts Dec. 2. Let the countdown begin! Elf on the Shelf If you’re looking for a little fun and mischief this holiday season, The Elf on the Shelf can give a hand. According to its website, this joyful elf is Santa’s helper and keeps his eyes and ears open for naughty and nice children around the world. Parents, keep


The Elf on the Shelf is a relatively new holiday tradition. Be sure to move him every night. in mind that the elf reports back to Santa every night after the kids go to bed, so making sure that he shows up in a new place in the morning is very important. This is a fun tradition to share with your little ones — and one that ensures they stay on their best behavior! Baking cookies One reason the holidays are

Flavors, scents of season make great hostess gifts By LISA MESSINGER What if your indoor holiday tree, instead of the scent of inedible pine, had the aroma of delicious rosemary? In fact, rosemary, sage and thyme — let alone a multitude of other flavorful sensations — could be filling your holiday home and those of your friends and family if you give innovative produce gifts instead of run-of-the-mill offerings. Talk about a tasty hostess gift to bring to holiday gatherings or brighten up your own home décor. The approximate 1-foot plants, which are cut and formed into the shape of pine trees, and often decorated with tiny ornaments and flanked by a recipe card, are sold by a number of florist websites. Some supermarket chains also sell them in their produce or floral departments and even have a tube of rosemary-scented body lotion attached. The innovative healthy hostess holiday gift ideas don’t stop there. If you think in terms of bouquets from your supermarket produce aisles, your creative gift options grow. Some even sell attractive ribbon-wrapped bouquets for gift giving that are not only pretty but also specifically for cooking. They are often called “turkey blend” and made from sage, rosemary and thyme. Here are a few other recent produce department finds: ■■ A premium fruit brand sells


Rosemary, sage and thyme could be filling the homes of your friends and family. gift bags of its apples decorated with bows and accompanied by recipes for special holiday side dishes, such as a quinoa medley that you could emulate with your favorite grain recipe using milk, cinnamon, pecans and honey. ■■ Companies that sell containers of cute little cherry tomatoes have “constellation” collections with red, yellow, green and orange cherry tomatoes in pretty containers for the holidays. ■■ Cocktail tomatoes are sold on the vine, decoratively cut and wrapped as a fun, fresh gift your hosts can use in their libations. ■■ You can let your imagination go wild creating your own healthful hostess gift produce baskets, such as bunches of cute little green Brussels sprouts flanked by mini red bell peppers and recipes for dishes including those ingredients.

wonderful is that there are so many delicious baked goods. Even though it may be cold outside, you can stay warm and cozy with a cup of hot cocoa and a cookie. But did you know that this Christmas tradition dates all the way back to medieval times? According to History’s website, more exotic fruits and spices

became available in the Middle Ages, but back then, it wasn’t until the holidays that families could afford to bake treats with them. Cookies were the popular choice because they were the easiest to share with friends and neighbors. So if you want to follow another historical tradition, get your oven mitts ready!

Christmas trees Another favorite Christmas tradition is loading up the family in the car and heading out to find the perfect tree. In fact, Better Homes & Gardens reports that between 25 million and 30 million Christmas trees are sold each year. Even after smelling the bristles of the noble and Douglas firs, assessing the height of these lush green trees, and finally mounting one onto the car, the fun is just beginning! Once you get home, the decorating begins. Play some Christmas classics on the stereo, and start adorning your tree with beautiful lights, shiny silver or gold garland, and treasured ornaments. This is a great tradition to get the whole family involved. Now, those are just some of the most notable Christmas traditions; there are many others out there to explore. You can even mix up some of these traditions to make a unique one. The possibilities are endless. Just remember to enjoy yourself !



Don’t hesitate to keep magic of Santa alive By KRISTEN CASTILLO Approximately 85 percent of 5-year-old children believe in Santa Claus. That’s according to researcher Jacqueline Woolley, whose research was published in The Journal of Cognition and Development. But that belief in the jolly old man in the red suit doesn’t last long. While there’s no specific age when kids stop believing, a 2011 Associated Press survey of 1,000 American adults showed the majority of those adults — 18 percent — reported they stopping believing at age 8; 12 percent at age 9 and 16 percent at age 10. The mean age when kids stopped believing was 8.8. However, the magic of Santa doesn’t necessarily have to end. Parents can help their children hold on during the Christmas season and beyond. Getting kids to believe in Santa Claus is easy. Children love stories and dreaming, and they’re used to fantasy and play. Whether they’re watching cartoons, reading about unicorns or playing make believe, children are experts at using their imaginations to unlock worlds of fun and learning. Parents can help kids harness those same play and storytelling skills to understand Santa’s story of kindness and giving. Santa is the epitome of the Christmas season: He encourages selflessness and joyful gift-giving. In an article for Psychology Today, registered nurse Lynne Reeves Griffin, who has a master’s degree in education, writes: “I think there’s a strong case for keeping a child’s belief in Mr. Claus alive. Santa is more of an asset than a liability for parents who want to keep the focus of Christmas on teaching values. It’s all in how you incorporate this celebrated gift-giver into your holiday rituals.” Griffin suggests parents share with their kids the amazing things Santa represents including joy — savoring the delight of the season; generosity — taking pleasure in giving gifts and not just receiving them; a sense of wonder — pondering about Santa’s journey around the world makes kids think critically; faith — learning


At any age, kids and adults can enjoy the magic of Santa and delight in his sense of spirit, wonder and generosity. to trust in what you can’t see; and hope — a belief that good things will happen. Tips to help kids transition Breaking the news about Santa can be challenging, but when the time is right, parents need to help kids understand what it all means. According to The Learning Community, a nonprofit free parenting resource, children often get the news about St. Nick from other kids at school. They recommend comforting a child who hears the sad news, as it can be quite disconcerting to find out. The child will get over it eventually, but initially the news can be shocking or upsetting. TLC says with youngsters, you can often change the subject. But for older children, it’s time to get more serious. Griffin recommends only telling the truth if the child really wants to know. Don’t rush. Just because kids ask questions, says Griffin, it doesn’t mean they’re ready. Stall to buy time. Still, she does not advise lying

to your child just to keep the myth going, And try not to focus on Christmas gift lists. When you have the talk with your child, Griffin suggests discussing how he or she can be generous in spirit like Santa. It’s also a good time to talk about

the family’s religious or spiritual beliefs and traditions. Kids may ask why you and others lied to them about Santa Claus. There’s no one answer for that question, but often parents explain how the idea of Kriss Kringle, the embodiment of

Christmas joy and magic, is fun for both kids and adults. And it’s not meant to be deceitful. Again, reiterate the message that every one can personify Santa’s messages of being good, giving to others and sharing in wonder, faith, hope and joy.

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No stove required for sweet treats By KRISTEN CASTILLO The winter holidays are filled with big meals prepared in the oven and on the stove. Why spend even more time preparing baked desserts when you could be enjoying time with loved ones or playing outside in the snow? Save yourself time and dirtying so many pots and pans by whipping up these easy and delicious nobake holiday treats. Healthy Choco Bars Food blogger Barbara Whitney of Kitchen Byte loves bringing families together with delicious food, especially chocolate. Her healthy choco bars — featuring cranberries, pistachios, ginger and, yes, pepper -- are her go-to dessert and a sure crowd-pleaser. 8.8 ounces high-cocoa chocolate 1.76 ounces pistachio, peeled 1.76 ounces cranberries 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper 1⁄2 teaspoon ginger Melt the chocolate in the microwave or on the stove. Add the ginger and pepper and mix well. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet evenly. Cut the pistachios and sprinkle them evenly on top, followed by the cranberries. Make sure everything is mixed well. Refrigerate for two hours. Break the bar into smaller parts; if you want to be precise, use a mold or knife. Serve and enjoy. These bars are a quick and easy treat for a lazy winter afternoon. Chocolate Coconut Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies Healthy food blogger Renata Trebing of Nourish With Renata, whose passion is “eating good food, that happens to be good for you,” loves these sugar-free and gluten-free chocolate coconut peanut butter no-bake cookies. They’re simple to make. Plus, they’re packed with healthy fats, protein and fiber. “It’s the perfect holiday cookie when you don’t want to crank up the oven or dirty more than one bowl,” she says. Prep time: 10 minutes Servings: 6 1 tablespoon stevia 2 tablespoon coconut oil 2⁄3 cup natural peanut butter 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 tablespoon raw cacao powder 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes 1 cup almond slivers In a large bowl, add coconut oil; if it’s solid, heat it up in the microwave in 20-second increments until it melts. Add the stevia and stir well. Add the peanut butter, vanilla extract, cacao powder, coconut and almonds. Fold all the ingredients together well to create a really thick batter. It should be so thick that it stays clumped together. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a small ice cream scoop or two spoons, take scoops of the batter and place them onto the cookie sheet. Slightly flatten the tops of the scoops. Place the tray in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow the cookies to firm up. Store them in the fridge for up to one week. They are simple yet satisfying and will be a nice reprieve from sugary holiday treats. Bee-Licious Bliss Balls Sweeten up your holiday with the bee-licious bliss balls recipe from Capilano Honey dietitian Kate Save. These gluten-free treats boast fiber, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. Prepare them in just 10 minutes.

1 cup almonds, dry-roasted, unsalted 1⁄2 cup dates, pitted 1⁄2 cup dried apple 1 tablespoon chia seeds 1 tablespoon Capilano honey (or other honey available) 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1⁄3 cup shredded coconut Combine all ingredients except the coconut in a blender and pulse until the texture is like a fine crumb. Shape into balls and roll in the coconut. Refrigerate for one hour and then serve. They can be stored for up to three weeks in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer. Gluten-Free Cookie Dough Bites This recipe by Lahana Vigliano, holistic clinical nutritionist and CEO of Thrival Nutrition, can be made in minutes by throwing everything in a bowl. “Everyone loves cookie dough and these are healthy too,” she says. 6 tablespoons grass-fed butter, melted

Healthy Choco Bars are sweet and easy to make. KITCHEN BYTE CREATORS.COM 11⁄2 cups almond flour 1⁄3 cup coconut sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Chocolate chips Melt the butter. Pour all of the ingredients into a bowl, except the chocolate chips. Make sure they are mixed together well.

Once they become a dough, add in as many or as few chocolate chips as you want. Mix to evenly distribute them. One by one, take a little bit of the dough into your hand, and roll it into ball. They can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Enjoy this healthy

quick fix to satisfy your sweet tooth. These recipes are perfect for a gift wrapping day, snacks on the go, family gatherings or parties. Give yourself the gift of less dirty dishes and more free time this holiday season.

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History of Santa, reindeer stretches around world By SIMONE SLYKHOUS We know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. We also know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. And most of us can recall Rudolph, too. But do we know why these reindeer are so wellknown or how they came to be? Before we can get to know his reindeer, we first need to appreciate the history of Santa Claus. According to Deborah Whipp from, “the origin of Santa Claus, one of the most beloved figures of childhood, begins in the fourth century with Saint Nicholas.” St. Nicholas was recognized for his noble deeds and commitment to the welfare of children as the bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. He used his own wealth to secretly give gifts to the needy. Six-hundred years after his death, St. Nicholas’ remains were moved to Italy, and his “reputation for kindness and philanthropy, as well as claims of miracles he had performed, served to increase devotion to him and his popularity spread throughout Europe,” says Whipp. The feast of St. Nicholas was Dec. 6, and it was celebrated by sharing gifts and doing acts of charity. Though his popularity waned in some European countries over the centuries, Santa (or “Sinterklaas”) remained a holiday staple in Holland. In the 17th century, Dutch immigrants brought Sinterklaas, and his tradition of traveling the country on horseback and rewarding good little girls and boys with treats, to America, specifically New


Many children are fascinated by the idea of meeting a real reindeer. Amsterdam. As the area became increasing Anglicized, New Amsterdam became New York, and Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. The first appearance of Santa’s sleigh being pulled by a reindeer, as well as the first mention of the reindeer was in an anonymous poem published in New York in 1821 called “Old Santeclaus With Much Delight.” Written in a 16-

Advent calendar gives assist with countdown By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN Dustin Thomas says his two young children look forward to Thanksgiving each year, not so much for the turkey and stuffing, but rather because that’s when his mother hands out their Advent calendars. “Since Thanksgiving is so close to Advent, she gives one calendar to every grandchild that day, but always reminds them to wait until Dec. 1 to open the first door — and to open just one a day,” he says. “That’s because one year, when we weren’t paying attention, our two kids randomly opened several of the doors and ate a bunch of the chocolate. So, of course, that defeated the purpose.”

For the Thomas family and countless others since its origins in the fourth century, Advent is observed as the four Sundays preceding Christmas. It begins on the Sunday closest to the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle — which is Nov. 30 — and continues for the next three Sundays, ending on Christmas Eve. The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Although Advent has long been known as a time for conversion, today the season is commonly associated with the anticipation of celebrating the anniversary of Christ’s birth. See ADVENT on Page 18

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page booklet titled “A New Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III: The Children’s Friend,” the beginning stanza reads: “Old Santeclaus with much delight/ His reindeer drives this frosty night/ O’r chimney tops, and tracts of snow/

To bring his yearly gifts to you.” A few years later, this idea of magical reindeer propelling Santa Claus through the sky was magnified eightfold. In 1823, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was published — again, in New York. The poem, more commonly known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” is of uncertain authorship, though Clement Clarke Moore and Henry

Livingston Jr. are the top two contenders. The poem describes “a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,” as well as St. Nick’s “little round belly, that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.” This was the origin of the jolly Santa, eyes twinkling and nose red, that we know and love today. Another red-nosed character had his first appearance about a century later. Rudolph the rednosed reindeer made his debut in 1939 in a children’s book of the same name by Robert Lewis May. Within a year, 2.4 million copies of the story had been distributed. Rudolph’s fame only rose with the 1949 song by Gene Autry and the stop-motion animation from 1964. And aside from the introduction of Rudolph, not much else has changed in our cultural understanding of Santa and his reindeer — except some linguistics. According to Chris Baker at, “the names of most of the reindeer have remained unchanged from the original 1823 poem, with the exception of those last two: Dunder and Blixem.” “Dunder” and “Blixem” are the Dutch words for thunder and lightning. Modern-day recitations commonly call them “Donner” and “Blitzen” after various translations — from Dutch to German to English and back again — changed the spelling. Now that we’ve explored the history of these magical reindeer, be sure to leave some carrots out on Christmas Eve, and to borrow a phrase from “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”



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Give thoughtful gifts without breaking bank By TERESA CURTO Each year when Christmas time rolls around, we all feel the pressure that comes along with finding the perfect gift for the special people in our lives. Hundreds of dollars are typically spent to show our loved ones that they are important to us. Sometimes, we even decide to pay for these things with credit, making the cost of such gifts even more expensive over the time that we’re paying for them. If you’re looking for a way to be frugal this Christmas season and share the love without emptying your bank account, then you’re in luck. There are a number of inexpensive gift ideas that you may not have yet considered. If you come from a large family, purchasing a gift for every sibling, nephew or cousin may not be an option. Group gifts are a great way to showcase your thoughtfulness to everyone in the family. There are many affordable and creative gift options for groups. Board games are a great gift idea, as they can create hours of fun and usually don’t cost much. For

the older couples in your family, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, consider a classic game such as Scrabble. For larger families or those with young kids, games such as Hasbro’s Pie Face! is sure to be a hit. If you have movie lovers in your family, consider a moviethemed group gift. First, fill a classic popcorn bucket with movie theatre snacks. You can choose any popular movie snack, ranging from microwave popcorn to premium flavored popcorn, depending on your budget. Throw in a gift card to a movie rental service, such as Redbox, and you’ve gifted your loved ones a wonderful night with just one simple gift. Homemade gifts are extra special to most people during Christmastime. If you’re particularly creative, you can choose a unique gift for each recipient on your Christmas list. If making things is not something you normally do, you may want to consider making several of one or two gifts to give away. For example, for the women in your family, you can make scented candles or soap. For the men, a barbecue rub or a small


When it comes to making people feel loved, homemade gifts are infinitely better than anything bought in a store. jar of shave “butter” would be a both practical and thoughtful gift to give. By making the same gift for several recipients, not only will you spend less money on different supplies, you’ll also spend less time learning and perfecting your craft. Another great homemade gift idea to consider is baking your own homemade desserts. Every-

one loves and appreciates a sweet treat come Christmastime. And in a day and age when many people have too excess possessions, an edible gift may be just what they want. In a few hours, you can create a mound of desserts to give out. Baked goods’ affordable cost makes them a wonderful gift idea for all of those people in your life who may not be close family

or friends but are special to you nonetheless. You can make your co-workers, neighbors and those involved in special groups such as churches or book clubs feel special this year with a little bit of elbow grease and flour. Purchase decorative boxes made especially for desserts at affordable prices at a dollar store near you. If you’re feeling really frugal, you can also wrap stacks of goodies in parchment paper and use baker’s twine to seal a gift that is both festive and delicious. Gift cards are a great way to purchase gifts for those on your shopping list. There are several ways that you can begin your Christmas gift card stockpile throughout the year. If you find yourself watching TV most nights, why not take advantage of your downtime and earn some money while you’re at it? There are many websites, Swagbucks. com being one of the more popular ones, that you can use to earn gift cards. Simply do surveys and rack up points that you can cash out for gift cards. You can also earn gift cards whenever you make a return to a store.

Advent (Concluded from Page 16) Like many other aspects of our modern Christmas celebrations, the Advent calendar is of German origin, says historian and blogger Alex Wakelam. Modern Advent calendars often include paper doors that open to reveal a Bible verse, an image or a piece of chocolate. That tradition dates to the mid-19th century, when German Protestants made chalk marks on doors or lit candles to count down to Christmas. Later, following the newer tradition of adding new devotionals with each day, the firstknown handmade wooden Advent calendar was produced in 1851, says Wakelam. The first printed Advent calendars were introduced in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, Gerhard Lang — known as the father of the modern Advent calendar — modified his calendar to include the tiny doors that we see today. Unfortunately, Lang’s business was closed when cardboard rationing took place in the 1930s. At the end of World War II, Richard Sellmer began printing them again. Calendars with chocolate, like those that the Thomas family uses, began to appear in the late 1950s, says Wakelam, and they soon gained popularity around the world. They usually display a colorful Nativity or holiday scene with numbered windows scattered about. However, not all Advent calendars are premade. For example, some religion and Sunday school teachers urge children to make their own calendar from cardboard or paper chains. When making the Advent “calendars” made of paper links, youngsters think of a good deed to write on each link. Then, as each day in December passes, they remove a link and perform that act of charity or forgiveness. The Thomas family prefers to use the chocolate calendars and keeps one in each child’s room. “Now when we use the Advent calendars, the kids understand that every day they open a door, that means we are one day closer to the celebration of Christmas,” Thomas says. “I think it is a fun tradition they will always remember when they are older.”

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Best-by buys: Understanding food product dating By SIMONE SLYKHOUS Bungee jumping. Cliff-diving. Bull riding. Using expired milk in your cereal. Each of these requires a fearlessness few possess. As Jerry Seinfeld said: “You ever have milk the day after the day? Scares the hell out of you, doesn’t it?” According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, 54 percent of consumers believe that eating food after its stamped date is a health risk. But just how stringent are these timestamps? And what’s the difference between “sell-by,” “best-by” and “use-by” dates? With the holidays approaching rapidly, this information might be handy as you stare into your cupboard at those old cans of pumpkin and condensed milk you bought two (or was it four?) years ago. The Food and Drug Administration only requires dates and codes for infant formula and baby food; however, most food manufacturers voluntarily follow suit, and 20 states require some foods to be dated. And generally, most food processors follow the FDA’s suggested guidelines. In almost all cases, food dating is for quality rather than safety. So it’s time to stop thinking, “When in doubt, throw it out.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 20 percent of landfill space is filled with wasted food, and that rotting food gives off methane gas — a greenhouse gas. If the environmental impact wasn’t enough, consider your wallet. A survey by the American Chemistry Council found that households throw out more than $640 worth of food each year. Other studies, such as an ABC News report from 2013, cite numbers as high as $2,200! That’s a lot of dough you could save by learning which foods are safe to eat after these dates. Phrases such as “best by” or “better if used by” are usually found on foods like snacks, cereals, cookies and some canned goods, and they signify that the product will likely diminish in quality after this date, though the product is still safe to consume. These demarcations are the most arbitrary, and it’s usually worth the gamble. Trust your nose and your taste buds. For canned goods, the acidity of the product impacts longevity. Low-acid foods such as pumpkin, beans and vegetables will keep for up to five years. And high-acid foods such as tomatoes, cranberries and other fruits start to lose their quality after 12 to 18 months. “Sell-by” dates are typically found on meat, milk and breads, and this date code is helpful for grocery stores to know when to take these highly perishable foods off their shelves. However, the products will be fine to eat after this date. The Institute for Food Safety and Health at Illinois Institute of Technology says, “One-third of a product’s shelf life remains after the sell-by date.” Milk should last for another week, though some meat products should be either eaten or frozen within a day or so. Enter the refrigerated aisle, and you’ll see the phrases “use by,” “use before” or “expires by.” This date denotes peak quality, and it is more stringent as it’s typically on eggs, yogurt and creams. If you are waffling on using a refrigerated product after this date, toss it, especially if you’re using the product for holiday meals. No one wants a holiday pumpkin pie remembered for anything other than being delicious. Sometimes it’s unclear wheth-

er you’re looking at an expiration date, a packing code or a secret encryption out of a Dan Brown novel. These codes allow manufacturers to track goods across state lines. They’re also used to track products that need recalling. For best results, buy smaller amounts of fresh produce and foods. And take some time to explore the food label for the marked date. In most grocery stores, the freshest products will be stocked underneath foods that expire earlier or at the back of the shelf. And with these tips alleviating your food fears, you’ll have more time for base-jumping — or asking your in-laws to clean up after Christmas dinner.


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Planning can make Christmas birthdays special By CHELLE CORDERO Around the holidays, Burl Ives wishes us a “holly, jolly Christmas” and says it’s the best time of the year — but is it really the best time to celebrate a birthday? If your child’s or loved one’s birthday falls near the holidays, a common worry is that friends and family members are making a list and checking it twice but forgetting their special day. But by doing a little thoughtful planning, paying attention to decorative details and enrolling others in your ideas, you can make both celebrations special. Parents have long sought ways for their Christmastime-born offspring not to miss out on their day, and one simple solution is to create a designated separate celebration day. For her daughter’s December birthday, Carrie Horn, a contributor to the popular website, says: “This year I pretended her special day fell another time of year. I bought all the Scooby-Doo themed cups and plates and snuck in a birthday party among Christmas shopping and festivities. But if I feel like I’m just not pulling it off, I can always fall back on making a big deal out of her half birthday in June and throw a pool party.” One advantage is that the weather is usually warmer in summer, and many fun outdoor activities are possible. Other parents put off the birthday celebration for just a few days or weeks. With this plan, school-age children are more likely to have classmates who are able to attend the celebration. And post-holiday sales result in everything from decorations to gifts being available at reduced prices. If your extended family members are otherwise scattered across the country, sometimes the convenience of them coming in for the holiday does make it an ideal time to celebrate a Christmas birthday. Give your child a few hours away from the Christmas tree and other decorations to celebrate with the other youngsters he might not normally get to spend time with. In fact, if your

child’s birthday is a few days after Christmas, feel free to remove all the tree ornaments and replace them with gift bows and balloons. Make sure that at least one of the presents is not wrapped in Christmas paper but in birthday wrap. If money is tight, wrap your child’s biggest gift in birthday wrap and leave the rest under the tree. And be sure to let your relatives know your plans and ask for their cooperation in making the day special just for your child. The slight that some children feel about sharing their day with this major event often changes as they reach adulthood. Gloria, who was born on Dec. 24, says, “The thing that used to bother me about a Christmas Eve birthday was when I was elementary school age, I could never have a birthday party on my actual birthday.” Nowadays she enjoys spending her birthday at her church, where many of her fellow congregants remember to shower her with birthday greetings. Marnie’s birthday is Dec. 25. She admits to feeling bad for others whose birthdays are just a few days off from the holiday, since there is usually a huge rush to get everything Christmasy right, and everyone is busy with shopping, cleaning and cooking. But she’s found a silver lining for her birthday: “The good part is I’ve never had to work on my birthday. When I have to give people my birthday I usually get a happy response so that’s always pleasant.” Though your child won’t comprehend it at the time, it’s nice to know that childhood birthday sorrows can actually become positive opportunities later on. Adults also have a greater power to take back their holiday birthday for themselves. One very big advantage is they probably won’t get stuck with the cooking or heavy lifting of preparing the Christmas feast. They can hang a birthday banner or a birthday ornament on the tree. They can claim a mealtime in honor of their birthday and designate food and a birthday cake that is served separate from the Christmas feast. If someone asks if they would mind a dual gift that covers both their

birthday and Christmas, they can — and should — be thoughtful about the cost involved but also be honest if they would prefer that their birthday gift be something

special and just have a token gift for Christmas. At the end of the day, the gift wrap and the cake aren’t what make a birthday special; it’s a lov-

ing family who makes the birthday boy or girl feel valued and cared for. So put your heads together and make this year one to remember.

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2018 Christmas Shopping Guide  
2018 Christmas Shopping Guide