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holiday gift guide TIS’ THE SEASON









Publisher Jack Osteen Sales Manager Waverly Williams Layout and Design Cary Johnson Howard


Do’s and Don’ts of...................................4 holiday shopping

Maximize time spent................................4 on holiday shopping


about iris


Tis’ the season for....................................6 Gingerbread cookies

Potted Christmas trees produce................7 holiday cheer all year long

Holly and Mistletoe..................................8 are symbols of Christmas

Manon Zamora-Barwick The Item Osteen Publishing Co. 20 N. Magnolia Street Sumter, SC 29150

Gift ideas for the......................................8 athlete in your life

Finding time............................................9 during the holiday season

Holiday shopping...................................11 on a budget

The basics of.........................................13 poinsettia plant care

Are cash gifts........................................14 tacky or ideal

Stress-free.............................................15 holiday hosting tips

Emphasize safety when ........................16 decorating for the holidays

Christmas tree.......................................17 debate

Putting a stop to the..............................18 battle of the bulge


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Do’s and Don’ts of Maximize time spent

holiday shopping on holiday shopping

Thanks to sales featuring heavily discounted items, millions of people wait to start their holiday shopping until the season hits full swing. But in spite of such bargains, overextending budgets during the holiday season is too tempting for many shoppers to resist. However, shoppers need not risk financial peril if they shop smartly and heed some dos and don’ts of holiday shopping. • Do set a budget. Establish what you can afford to spend on gifts and other seasonal trimmings early on. The National Retail Federation estimates that the average consumer will spend around $700 come the holiday season. But not every person needs to be a big spender. The “buy now, pay later” mentality that credit cards offer lands many shoppers in trouble, a sticky situation many only notice once the first bill comes due. If you cannot afford to pay your entire credit card balance off once the bill arrives, you face steep interest charges that can quickly add up. Instead, pick a set spending limit and keep to it no matter how tempting it may seem to overspend with a credit card. • Don’t be fooled by false sales. Retailers understand that a good advertised deal lures shoppers into their stores. As a result, some retailers mark up the cost of certain items in order to slash the prices for holiday sales. Even if you are saving the assumed 50 to 60 percent, the final cost of the item still may be higher than normal. Comparison shop and do your research so you don’t fall victim to clever pricing. • Do schedule time for shopping. Hectic schedules sometimes result in last-minute shopping that leads to impulse purchases. Schedule some distraction-free time for your holiday shopping so you’re less likely to rush into purchases before thinking them through. • Don’t double buy. Some shoppers use the holidays as an excuse to buy more for themselves than the people on their lists. While it’s tempting to treat yourself come the holiday season, this is a great and quick way to deplete your budget. If you plan on using holiday deals to supplement your own wardrobe or household needs, reduce your spending the rest of the year and save money for year-end purchases. • Do collect coupons and look for purchasing incentives. Comparison shopping not only helps you get the best price, but also it can shed light on coupons, shipping discounts and other incentives that lower the overall cost of products. Search online for Web sites that publish coupons and codes for online discounts, including free shipping. Join a store’s marketing list and receive emails with deals sent directly to your inbox. • Don’t be afraid to delay some purchases if need be. If hosting a post-holiday gathering where gifts will be exchanged, it’s perfectly acceptable to delay buying those gifts until after Christmas or Chanukah, when many items can be found at even lower prices. Many stores reduce prices on merchandise come December 26, so you can wait until after the holidays to shop for items that will be exchanged with distant friends and relatives. This enables you to save more money and use any received gift cards toward shopping. • Do keep a level head. Some people forget the true meaning of the season is spending time with loved ones. Getting swept away by shopping and worrying about deadlines can make the season less enjoyable. Don’t allow the stress of holiday shopping to compromise an otherwise joyous time of year.


The holiday season encompasses several weeks of frenetic activity, as men and women look to juggle abnormally busy social schedules with holiday shopping. While you might not be able to add hours to the day, there are certain measures anyone can take to make the hustle and bustle of the holiday season more efficient. Shopping swallows up a significant amount of time come the holiday season. According to the latest Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll, the average person will spend 15 hours shopping for presents. Women tend to spend twice as long as men in stores and online, with women logging 20 hours of holiday shopping compared to the 10 hours the average male spends shopping for holiday gifts. Making the most of holiday shopping trips can free up moments and reduce overall stress during the holidays. Condense your gift list How much time you spend on holiday shopping depends largely on the number of people on your gift list. Shortening that list can save time and money. This may be the year for adults to collectively decide to forego exchanging gifts in lieu of devoting more funds toward gifts for youngsters. Distant friends may no longer need to feel obligated to buy presents for one another. Opting to do a “Secret Santa” or another grab-bag style gift exchange can reduce the number of gifts you need to buy, saving time along the way. Keep a spreadsheet of your shopping list stored on your computer or smartphone so it can be easily modified year-to-year. Create a shopping strategy Millions of shoppers flock to stores on Black Friday to take advantage of doorbuster deals, and some even get all of their holiday shopping finished on this one afternoon. Others prefer to divide and conquer over a few weeks. Decide how you would like to economize your shopping so you won’t be traveling from store to store wasting precious time. Organize your shopping list into certain categories. Then match up those categories according to the stores that cater to these items. For example, if your list mentions bedding for a new college student’s dorm room, curtains for an aunt and a set of beach towels for a friend who will be doing some postholiday travel, group these purchases together and head to a bed-and-bath store. Such a plan in place can greatly cut down on your time spent shopping. Shop off-hours Consumer Reports says shoppers expect to wait in store check-out lines for an average of 3.5 to 4 hours this holiday season. Avoiding such situations can save you a significant amount of time, so shop during off-peak hours when you won’t be elbow-to-elbow with fellow shoppers. Take advantage of stores’ extended hours and shop later in the evening, when parents and their children will likely be preparing for bed and not waiting in line at the mall. Some retailers entice shoppers with early bird specials and open their doors very early, so shoppers looking to save time can make an effort to be the first person at the door when the store opens. If you must shop during a lunch hour, shop online where crowds are never a concern. Split up the shopping Spouses, family members and even friends can pool their shopping time and help others by tackling some of their purchases. Dividing the work shortens the time spent in stores, and a third party may have a keen eye to a deal or a unique gift when he or she is emotionally removed from the purchase. The average person finds time is of the essence come the holiday season. Prioritizing and economizing shopping is one way to make the season less hectic.

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Tis’ the Season for

Gingerbread Cookies

The holiday season is dominated by tradition. Families typically have their own unique traditions, but certain practices are so widely popular that they have become synonymous with the holiday season. Such is the case with certain foods, including gingerbread cookies. Gingerbread cookies can be enjoyed year-round, but many people only enjoy this tasty treat during the holiday season. For those who can’t wait to indulge in gingerbread cookies this year, consider this recipe for “Soft Glazed Gingerbread” from Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s “Tartine” (Chronicle Books).

Soft Glazed Gingerbread Yields 12 to 20 cookies

Dough 3¾ 1 4 1½ 2 ½ 1 1¼

cups all-purpose flour tablespoon cocoa powder teaspoons ground ginger teaspoons ground cloves teaspoons ground cinnamon teaspoon baking soda teaspoon salt teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 large egg ½ cup blackstrap or other dark molasses 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Glaze 1 2

cup confectioners’ sugar tablespoons water

To make the dough, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Set aside. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed until the mixture is completely smooth and soft. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and mix well. Add the molasses and corn syrup and beat until incorporated. Stop the mixer again and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and all the ingredients are well incorporated. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten it on a large piece of plastic wrap into a rectangle about 1 inch thick, cover the dough with the plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper on a nonstick liner. Unwrap the dough and place on a floured work surface. If using a plaque with a design, roll out the dough 1⁄3-inch thick, lightly dust the top with flour, press your cookie molds over the dough, and then cut out the shapes with a small knife and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Alternatively, using the mold as a guide, cut around it with a small knife, flip the mold over so the design is facing you, and place the dough over it, pressing

it into the design. Unmold the shapes onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them. If using a patterned rolling pin, lightly dust the lined baking sheet with flour and transfer the dough to the pan. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and roll it into a rectangle about 1⁄3-inch thick with a plain pin. Then, using the patterned pin, roll over the dough with enough pressure to ensure a clear impression of the design. Trim the sides with a small knife. It is not necessary to cut into smaller sizes before baking. Bake the cookies until lightly golden along the sides but still soft to the touch in the centers, 7 to 15 minutes. The timing will depend on the size of the individual cookies, or if you have made a single large patterned piece that will be cut after baking. While the cookies are baking, prepare the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and water until smooth. When the cookies are ready, remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then, while the cookies are still warm, using even strokes, brush a light coat of glaze on the top of each cookie, evenly covering it. Let the cookies cool completely. When the glaze dries, it should leave a shiny, opaque finish. If you have used a patterned pin to make a single large plaque, cut into the desired sizes with a small, very sharp knife. The cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for about 2 weeks. They do not freeze well, however, as the glaze becomes watery when they are thawed.

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Potted Christmas trees produce holiday cheer

all year long

Christmas trees are the quintessential decoration of the holiday season, often erected in front windows gleaming with decorations, trinkets and lights. Much thought goes into selecting a tree and turning it into the centerpiece of a celebration. Holiday celebrants with no personal preference may struggle with the decision to buy an artificial or real tree. Those who opt for a real tree may think their only options are the cut trees available at local tree lots. But those interested in a tree that will last far beyond the holiday season can select a potted Christmas tree, all the while adding an eco-conscious element to their holiday celebrations. Selecting a live tree is an environmentally sound choice. Trees that have their roots intact can be transplanted outdoors after Christmas. This reduces the waste associated with tree disposal and provides various benefits to the environment, as the trees act as a natural air filter while providing shade and wind barriers. An evergreen tree, which remains lush and green all year long, is also an ideal habitat for backyard creatures. Trees help control excessive moisture issues in the soil by drawing up water for survival, and can help prevent erosion of soil in more arid climates. Caring for a potted tree takes a bit more effort than a standard cut tree. There are a few steps that need to be taken to ensure its post-Christmas survival. You can purchase the tree several weeks in advance of the holidays, provided you water the tree frequently and keep it outdoors in the cool weather in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Select a tree variety that is hardy to the specific zone in which you live and will acclimate to the climate and soil conditions. A local nursery should be able to guide you to the right evergreen. Because you intend to plant this tree after the holidays, it is a good idea to choose the location where the tree will eventually grow and dig the hole as early as possible before the ground freezes and becomes difficult to excavate. Consider digging the hole in the autumn and then filling it with leaves or a tarp until the time comes to plant the tree. Roughly two weeks before Christmas, you will need to transition the tree for indoor use. Neglecting this step may result in shock to the tree, which can cause it to wilt or die. Place the tree inside of a garage or a shed where it is generally warmer than outside but not yet room temperature. After this two-week period, move the tree inside where it will have a place of honor for festivities. Do not leave the tree inside the house for more than 10 days. It will need to be moved back into the garage and then outside before planting. Many evergreens are durable, and the majority of the decorations you use on the tree should not harm it. But be careful not to tug or break branches. Use small lights that do not generate much heat; otherwise, you risk damaging the boughs with burns. When the tree is indoors, it’s also essential to keep it in an area that gets filtered sunlight and is away from heating vents that may dry it out. A spot in front of the front window may be the best location. Potted Christmas trees make an eco-friendly addition to holiday traditions. They can be planted year after year, adding some aesthetic appeal to the backyard while benefitting the environment.





Holly and Mistletoe

are symbols of Christmas

“Oh, by gosh, by golly it’s time for mistletoe and holly. Tasty pheasants, Christmas presents, countrysides covered in snow.” As exemplified by this holiday hit by Henry Sanicola, Frank Sinatra and Dok Stanford, holly and mistletoe are an integral part of holiday imagery and tradition. Holly is used to adorn a home in green and red finery alongside evergreen boughs and wreaths. In addition, it has become customary to hang a bouquet of mistletoe under which people are encouraged to share a holiday kiss. While these elements of celebrations are now incorporated into many of the secular and religious components of Christmas, they have very different origins.


Holly has been used since the days of the early Pagans as a decoration for midwinter festivities, when it was brought into homes to keep evil spirits away. The ancient Romans also believed that holly prickles drove away evil spirits, and it held a place of honor at December festivals dedicated to the god Saturn. To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan Saturnalia festival, early Christians would participate in the tradition of hanging evil-repelling holly on their homes to appear like the masses. Eventually as the number of Christians grew, the tradition became less of a pagan one and more associated with Christians and Christmas. Some people have inferred that holly and its prickly edges is symbolic of the crown of thorns Jesus wore at his

GiftforIdeas the

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crucifixion, with the red berries representing blood.


Mistletoe was once held sacred by the Norse, Celtic Druids and North American Indians. It is actually a parasitic plant that grows on a wide range of host trees. Heavy infestation can dwarf the growth and kill these trees. In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality). The plant also was thought to be a symbol of peace, and anyone standing below it should receive tokens of affection. When enemies met beneath mistletoe, they had to lay down their weapons and observe a truce until the next day. This is how the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe likely began, and why a ball of mistletoe is now hung in homes during Christmas, a season of peace and affection. Homeowners who hang mistletoe and holly around their homes during the holiday season should be mindful of pets and youngsters around the plants. Mistletoe and holly are considered to be moderately to severely toxic, and ingesting the leaves could be dangerous. Therefore, keep these plants away from curious hands. Mistletoe is commonly hung up high, which should make it less problematic, but holly should be hung high as well. Now largely associated with Christmas celebrations, holly and mistletoe were once part of pagan rituals and ancient superstitions.

The quest for the perfect gift is a familiar journey for many holiday shoppers. As any veteran shopper knows, some people are easy to shop for, while others baffle even the savviest of shoppers. But recognizing loved ones’ passions and finding gifts that suit those interests can make shoppers’ quests for the perfect gifts that much easier. Every person is unique, and the things that drive one person may be foreign to another. But nearly every family or group of friends has an athlete in their midst, and gifting the family athlete can be both fun and easy. The following are a few gift ideas, broken down by sport, for shoppers looking to please their favorite athletes this holiday season. The Weightlifter Weightlifting is now embraced by people of all shapes and sizes. This activity is often recommended as an integral part of a successful exercise regimen, so shoppers can help their favorite fitness fanatics make the most of their weightlifting routines with a few gifts designed to do just that. Weightlifting belts can help prevent injury by supporting lifters’ backs as they workout. For lifters who don’t tip the scales, a dip belt makes an ideal gift. Such belts allow men and women to add weight to their body when performing exercises like dips, pull-ups and chin-ups. That extra weight helps athletes challenge themselves and build strength and muscle. Workout gloves also make great gifts for weightlifters, helping to protect their hands from developing potentially painful and unsightly calluses that often result from weightlifting. A new gym bag is another potential gift for the family weightlifter. Such bags make it more convenient for athletes to carry their accessories, such as belts, gloves, athletic shoes, or even tablets to use while on the treadmill or elliptical machines. The Ballplayer Whether shoppers’ favorite ballplayers

are still taking cuts at fastballs or have moved on to slow-pitch softball, these players will appreciate gifts they can put to good use on the diamond. Softball bats can be quite expensive, but the right bat can make a big difference in the batters’ box. Additional equipment shoppers can consider is a new mitt, a sleek pair of sunglasses to make watching for flyballs that much easier or batting gloves to lessen the bit of chilly air many hitters are aware of come early spring when the last of the winter weather just won’t go away. The Martial Artist Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Thanks in large part to its increasingly strong presence on television, mixed martial arts has inspired athletes across the globe to embrace various forms of martial arts training, and gift options abound for such athletes. Belts, mats and striking pads can help athletes hone their skills both in the gym and at home, while instructional DVDs can help novice martial arts enthusiasts practice before finding martial arts facilities in their neighborhoods. The Yogi Though its status as a sport is open to debate, yoga can be just as strenuous and physically demanding as more traditional physical activities. Yoga serves many purposes, and more and more athletes have begun to embrace yoga to improve their flexibility, balance and strength. While yoga does not require much in the way of supplies, yoga enthusiasts do need yoga mats and clothing that allows them to perform the various poses a typical yoga session demands. Holiday shoppers may even want to buy the athletes on their lists a few sessions at their nearby yoga studios in an effort to supplement their existing workouts. Many who try yoga often find it has a positive effect on their normal workout routines, so even if your favorite athlete has never tried yoga, he or she might find it’s just the thing to take his or her workout to the next level.

Finding Time during the

Perhaps no time of year is as busy as the holiday season, when social engagements and holiday shopping combine to dominate so much of what is normally our free time. Additionally, holiday travel and late nights spent at work to make up for lost time also cut into our free time, leaving many people in search of ways to add more hours to the day. Though there’s no way to make a day last longer, there are ways to save some time this holiday season. • Go it alone. Holiday shopping can be very time consuming, but shoppers who decide to shop alone may find themselves more productive and focused on the task at hand. Rather than going from store to store and checking items off multiple shopping lists, shoppers who shop singularly can devote all of their attention to their own lists. • Shop online. Another way to save time when shopping for the holidays is to shop online. This saves you the time it takes to drive to and from the mall and walk around multiple stores, all the while saving you from the often frustrating and time-consuming experience of finding a parking space. In addition, you can shop online at any time of day. So rather than just eating lunch at your desk on your lunch hour or spending the last hour before you go to bed for the night idling away on the couch, you can make more efficient use of that time by doing some holiday shopping. • Plan ahead. Whether shopping for holiday gifts, taking the family to buy a Christmas tree or organizing a holiday dinner with friends, the more you can plan ahead of the holiday season the less time you will waste once the season hits full swing. For example, when choosing a weekend to go Christmas tree shopping, inform others a few weeks in advance and let

Holiday Season

them know you want to go early to avoid crowds. This saves you time and might just help you land one of the best trees on the lot. The same principle of planning can be applied to other aspects of the holiday season as well. Planning a meal early allows you to gradually stock up on menu items, saving you the hassle of rushing to the store at the last minute or planning a menu in the days before the party when you will already have enough on your plate. • Don’t shy away from shortcuts when hosting holiday dinners. Hosting a holiday dinner is a big undertaking, one that often finds hosts spending a significant amount of time in the kitchen. But hosts can save time by taking some shortcuts regarding the menu. For instance, when hosting an especially large meal, don’t be afraid to buy some premade side dishes from a local grocery store or buy a bakery cake rather than whipping up your own homemade dessert. Guests will understand if you cut some corners in an effort to save some time, and the food will likely be just as delicious. • Stay home. Travel is a big commitment come the holiday season, but what about staying home this season? If the time commitment of traveling is something you truly want to avoid this year, invite some friends and family over to your home instead. You might be more busy on the day of the holiday, but you will save yourself the travel days you usually build into the holiday season. Parents of young children might prefer to stay home so they can create their own unique holiday memories, while those without children might just appreciate some peace and quiet during this hectic time of year.

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Holiday Shopping on a


The economic downturn that began in late 2008 forced many holiday shoppers to curb their spending on gifts for friends and family. But even though the economy has since recovered, savvy holiday shoppers are still taking a conservative approach to their shopping, and saving lots of money along the way. Shoppers often struggle with how much to spend on gifts for their loved ones come the holiday season. The quest for the perfect gift leads many to overspend, but there are ways holiday shoppers can give great gifts without breaking the bank. • Leave credit cards at home. Stretching a budget when holiday shopping can be tempting, especially when shoppers come across “can’t miss” gifts they know their loved ones will treasure. Succumbing to such temptation typically finds holiday shoppers using their credit cards to make purchases they otherwise cannot afford, and that only lands shoppers in post-holiday debt that can be difficult to pay off. Leaving credit cards at home when shopping for the holidays significantly reduces the likelihood that shoppers will overspend, and it guarantees they won’t be mired in debt come January. • Whittle down your shopping list. Many holiday shoppers find themselves in financial hot water come the end of the holiday season thanks in large part to seemingly endless holiday shopping lists. Lists may include coworkers, distant cousins, neighbors, and a host of other acquaintances. Whittling down holiday shopping lists can save shoppers money. Contact loose acquaintances and distant relatives to suggest you stop exchanging gifts come the holidays, saving both parties time and money. • Make a list of gifts. Blindly shopping for holiday gifts can prove disastrous to your finances. Before heading out on a holiday shopping trip, make a list of gifts you intend to buy for each person on your list. This can help you focus your search and reduce the likelihood that you will make potentially costly impulse purchases as you wander around the mall for hours on end. • Avoid last-minute shopping. Last-minute shopping may unearth some great deals, but it’s far more likely to back shoppers into corners as they race against time to complete their holiday shopping. When shopping is put off until the last minute, shoppers don’t have time to comparison shop and find better deals, and that can quickly turn a holiday budget upside down. Begin your holiday shopping as early as possible, and take advantage of holiday sales. • Spread out your shopping. Holiday shoppers with especially long shopping lists can spread out their shopping over several months to reduce the likelihood that they will accumulate credit card debt or run out of cash during the holiday season. Begin shopping in late summer or early fall, periodically buying gifts for loved ones when you have the cash to do so. This has the added benefit of freeing up time during the often hectic holiday season, and it greatly reduces the risk of compiling postholiday debt. Many people stretch their budgets during the holiday season. But savvy holiday shoppers can employ several strategies to keep themselves out of debt this holiday season.

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The basics of

poinsettia plant care

Although poinsettias are most often associated with the holiday season, they are actually tropical plants. In spite of their origins, poinsettias can thrive during the holiday season and even last long after the holidays have come and gone. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America. Aztecs called the plant cuetlaxochitl. The flowering plant was first introduced to the United States by Joel Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and was subsequently renamed the poinsettia. The flowers of the poinsettia are actually the yellow blooms at the middle of the bright red or white bracts that form on the plant. Perhaps due to the bright red of the bracts, the plant quickly became a popular Christmas plant. It’s important to note that poinsettias grow in a warm climate and therefore must be kept in tropical conditions to ensure the

plant’s health. Furthermore, poinsettias bloom in response to shortening daylight hours. That means they will need ample darkness each night in order to simulate the dark nights of short, winter days. To achieve this, you may need to put the plant into a dark closet for 12 to 14 hours each night. During the day, the plant should be in a sunny window where it will have access to bright light. The more light the better. Keep the soil evenly moist. Misting the plant will help it to retain some humidity. Also, fill the overflow saucer on your flower pot with gravel to allow water seeping through the pot to evaporate from the gravel. Hot temperatures indoors combined with high humidity will help the plant to thrive. Even one day without adequate moisture can cause the leaves to drop. Furthermore, decreasing temperatures can cause leaves to fall off. The goal is to keep the indoor temperature consistent. While many poinsettia plants are discarded after the holiday season, these plants can actually be cut back and saved for next season. Trimming back any remaining leaves and continuing to care for the plant by keeping it moist can help. To force the blooms next season, start reducing the plant’s exposure to sunlight in mid-September to October. Again, this will mean removing the plant to an area that is shrouded in complete darkness. Even streetlights or indoor lighting can affect blooming. If the plant does not begin to turn color before the holiday season, you may need to purchase a new plant and try again next year.

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Are cash gifts When faced with a gift list a mile long and no idea what to get certain individuals on that list, many holiday shoppers opt to give cash as a present. Cash gifts are easy, one-size-fits all and no one will request a receipt to return a cash gift. Still, some people are not quite sure if it is socially acceptable to give a gift of cash. There are many pros and cons to giving cash as a gift. Once a person weighs the advantages and the disadvantages to giving cold hard cash as a gift, then he or she can decide if cash is an ideal present or one that’s best avoided. Advantages One of the advantages to giving cash is it eliminates waste. Unlike gifts that will never be used and simply take up space, cash will be used sooner or later. How often have you received a sweater you won’t wear or a trinket you won’t use? Sometimes people return these gifts, but very often they get relegated to a pile of belongings that will end up in the garbage or stashed in the back of a closet. Cash eliminates this waste by giving a person the opportunity to buy exactly what he or she wants. Cash gifts may be ideal for older people to give because they have limited mobility and cannot get out to the store to shop for presents. And grandparents unaware of the latest trends can give cash in a card and instruct grandchildren to purchase something they like. Some people overextend themselves during the holiday season, and a cash gift can soften the blow of holiday spending. Cash is very portable, which can make it easier for those who travel for the holidays to avoid shipping costs or extra baggage fees to take gifts on airlines. People are inundated with a lot of stuff already, and a cash gift might be just what the doctor ordered.

boxes and bags simply is not there. Some people find it awkward to receive cash because the value of the gift is right there in black and white. It puts both people on the spot and may create some uncomfortable moments if the value of a cash gift does not match up to what the cash recipient spent on the cash giver. When gifting standard gifts, many people are unaware of what the other spent and if the item was purchased on a discount. If you gift with cash, there is no hiding the value. Another disadvantage is if a person gives cash and receives cash in return. Do the two gifts cancel each other out? What if the amounts are different? Dealing in cash alone can be awkward. There are ways to make giving cash a little more acceptable. If you get creative when handing over the money, this may take away from the fact that cash does not make a very dramatic gift.

Disadvantages Cash gifts may be considered impersonal and lacking in creativity. It does not take much effort to stash a dollar amount inside of an envelope and present it, so gift recipients may question their relationships with gift givers who give cash. For many people, the excitement of the holidays has a lot to do with seeing a giant pile of gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Gifting cash removes that excitement of presents under the tree. Although items can be purchased later on, the immediate gratification of tearing through

Most popular

Christmas Songs

•T  ry pairing the cash with a wallet or purse to make the presentation a little more interesting. • S end the recipient on a scavenger hunt for the money, writing clues and hiding them around the house. •C  reate a money tree or wreath that displays the cash in an interesting way. •F  old bills into bows or tape together to make wrapping paper for a small token gift. • For children, roll up bills and put it into a crayon box or pencil case. •F  ill up a large box with a lot of filler and hide the cash inside of a smaller box tucked inside.

“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

José Feliciano

Mel Tormé, Robert Wells

Fred Coots,Haven Gillespie

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin

“Winter Wonderland”

Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith

“White Christmas” Irving Berlin

“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” Johnny Marks

“Jingle Bell Rock” Decorations and shopping are integral parts of the holiday season, but very often it is the music being played over the airwaves that sets the tone for the festivities to come. Christmas music has been enjoyed for decades and certain compositions are widely loved and played year after year. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, who compiles lists of the most popular songs, lists “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Winter Wonderland,” both of which were written in 1934, as the oldest and most popular tunes. The newest popular song is “Wonderful Christmastime,” composed in 1979. Though personal preference often determines a holiday playlist, the following tunes are of the more popular Christmas songs:

Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram

“Little Drummer Boy” K atherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati, Harry Simeone “Sleigh Ride” Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Edward Pola, George Wyle

“Silver Bells”

Jay Livingston, Ray Evans


Johnny Marks

“Feliz Navidad” “Blue Christmas”

Billy Hayes, Jay W. Johnson

“Frosty the Snowman” Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins

“A Holly Jolly Christmas” Johnny Marks

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” Tommie Connor

“Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” Meredith Willson

“(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” Bob Allen, Al Stillman

“Carol of the Bells”

Peter J. Wilhousky, Mykola Leontovich

“Santa Baby”

Joan Ellen Javits, Philip Springer, Tony Springer

“Wonderful Christmastime” Paul McCartney


holiday hosting tips

Gatherings with friends and family are a big part of the holiday season. Many people travel during the holidays to spend time with distant relatives, but those same people often want to gather with those loved ones who live nearby as well. Thus an abundance of gatherings comes in December, when office parties, dinners with family and festivities with friends have a way of dominating the last five weeks of the year. All of those gatherings translate to a lot of holiday hosting, and hosts can easily feel overwhelmed as they try to juggle hosting duties with everything else that comes along during this time of year. The following are a few steps holiday hosts can take to make hosting a lot less hectic and a lot more fun. • Enlist help. Just because a holiday party is at your home does not mean others can’t pitch in or will be unwilling to help. If you plan to decorate for the party, invite a friend over to assist. When hosting a holiday dinner party, ask guests to bring certain items to save you some work. Ask one guest to bring some dessert, saving you the time it takes to visit the local bakery or bake your own desserts, and ask others to provide side dishes. This drastically reduces the time it will take you to shop for groceries and cook the meal, leaving you more time to spend with friends and family, both during the party and in the days leading up to the festivities. • Plan well in advance. The earlier you begin planning the party, the less stress you’re likely to feel as a host. Certain items for the party, like decorations and certain snacks and beverages, have no expiration dates, so buy such items well in advance of the party. This leads to one less task to tackle in the weeks and days leading up to the party. Planning early also affords you ample time coordinate with guests and decide who will be responsible for certain party tasks. Planning a party at the last minute can be stressful, so if you know you will be handling hosting duties this holiday season, start preparing for the party as soon as possible. • Hire a cleaning service. One of the more difficult parts of holiday hosting is

cleaning the house before guests arrive. A thorough house cleaning can take up a substantial amount of time, which tends to be hard to come by during the holiday season. To avoid a late night cleaning session or the need to spend a valuable weekend afternoon hard at work around the house, hire a cleaning service to come and clean your house in the days before the party. Such services can clean your home in a fraction of the time it might take you to do so on your own, and this removes one of the more time-consuming and arduous tasks from your to-do list. • Have a theme for the party. Holiday hosts may worry about how to entertain their guests throughout the party. A theme party makes it easier to entertain guests, who can show up decked out in holiday pajamas or sweaters or bring along a favorite unique compilation of holiday songs for a singalong. Such themes set a tone for the party right away and often make it easier for guests to unwind immediately. Seek suggestions for a theme from your guests to make the party even more fun. • Pass the buck. Hosting a holiday dinner party? Consider passing the hosting duties on to a local restaurant, especially if your friends and family members are on board with the idea. If your schedule is especially hectic this holiday season, then move the party from your home to a local restaurant, where the staff can worry about accommodating your guests and you can simply relax and have a good time with your loved ones. When choosing a restaurant, look for one with a menu that features something for everyone. Entrée selections should include a pasta dish, a beef dish, a seafood dish, a poultry dish, and vegetarian fare. Holiday hosting is meant to be fun, but hosts often find themselves scrambling to prepare for the party as it draws closer. Planning early, seeking help and input from your guests and delegating certain tasks can help ensure hosts have as festive a time as their friends and family members.




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Holidays Decking the halls for the holidays is a beloved tradition for many families. A home’s exterior festooned with lights help create a festive holiday mood, while stockings hung by the chimney and a Christmas tree in the living room bring that holiday cheer inside. Though the holiday season is a festive time of year, it can quickly turn tragic if revelers do not emphasize safety when decorating their homes. When decorating this holiday season, be sure to employ the following precautions so your holiday season is festive, decorative and safe. • Exercise extreme caution with holiday lights. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, 150 home fires per year begin with holiday lights and other decorative lighting. Such fires may start because of frayed or bare wires, broken or cracked sockets or even loose connections. It’s important that men and women be especially careful when decorating their homes with holiday lights, inspecting each set of lights for damage and discarding any damaged sets. When choosing lights, use only lights that have been certified for outdoor use on your home’s exterior, and never use outdoor lights inside. • Purchase the right Christmas tree. The Consumer Product Safety Commission notes that Christmas trees are involved in hundreds of fires causing an average of 15 deaths each year. In addition, such fires cause an average of $13 million in property damage annually. Though it can be tempting

The etiquette of exchanging gifts



to purchase the most eye-catching Christmas tree you find, avoid acting rashly until you have learned a little about the tree. Artificial trees should be labeled as “Fire Resistant.” Such trees can still catch fire, but they are more resistant to fire than trees without such labels. When buying a live tree, make sure the tree is fresh. The tree should be green, and its needles should be difficult to pull off of branches, which should not be easily breakable. Tap the tree on the ground before purchasing it. If the tree loses a lot of needles upon tapping the ground, it isn’t fresh. Trees that aren’t fresh are more susceptible to going up in flames. • Keep the tree away from heat sources. Though it might seem more idyllic to place your Christmas tree next to the fireplace, it’s a lot more dangerous as well. When choosing a spot for your tree, find a place that is away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators and vents. But homeowners also should know that even trees placed away from heat sources can still dry out, creating a fire hazard even if the tree was fresh and healthy when purchased. That’s because Christmas trees can quickly dry out in heated rooms. Monitor the tree’s water levels every day, checking those levels in both the morning and at night before going to bed. This prevents the tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard, and it also helps the tree maintain its aesthetic appeal through the holiday season. • Limit use of candles. Like Christmas trees, candles are a popular yet potentially hazardous decorative item during the holiday season. When decorating with candles, be sure that all candles are extinguished before leaving a room and never leave them burning when you go to bed. Candles should be kept away from any decorative items, including Christmas trees, that can catch fire. Never place candles near curtains, furniture or presents. Holiday enthusiasts with little children or pets at home might want to decorate with fake LED-light candles instead of traditional candles. Curious kids or excitable pets may not recognize the potential dangers of lit candles and, as a result, might burn themselves or tips candles over. The holiday season is upon us, and that means scores of celebrants will be decking their halls. Though festive decorations are a part of the season, safety should always come first.

Many offices host a gift exchange during the holiday season. Professionalism should always be a top priority when gifting coworkers, and some men and women may want to brush up on gift-giving etiquette before exchanging gifts with fellow employees. Long before any gifts are exchanged, research your firm’s policies on giftgiving. An employee handbook or a visit to the human resources department is a good place to start. When in doubt, inquire among more seasoned workers. Many companies put dollar limits on gift values, while others have strict policies forbidding such exchanges, as it’s easy for gifts to create discomfort around the office or give the impression of favoritism. Gift exchanges also depend on the relationship between employees and their supervisors. Close, friendly relationships may warrant gift exchanges, especially if everyone else is on board with the idea. Gifting a boss is not necessary, but employees who have a close working relationship with their supervisors may want to purchase a professional gift to indicate their appreciation of a supervisor’s support. These can include picture frames, gloves, scarves, books, and personal interest items. Steer clear of personal gifts or ones that can be taken the wrong way. Inappropriate gifts should always be avoided. Decorative gifts that do

not focus on any particular religion or holiday, inspirational books, calendars, plants, and publications that cater to a particular interest likely won’t raise anyone’s ire. However, self-help gifts, perfumes, lotions, or overly personal gifts may give recipients the wrong impression. While homemade foods were once popular gifts, many companies now discourage such gifts because they may trigger various food allergies. Gift cards tend to be universally acceptable, but only when they do not exceed the agreed-upon spending limit. Grocery store gift cards can help employees offset some of the costs of entertaining, and gift cards to popular department stores may help offset holiday spending. Whenever any giving between coworkers takes place, care should be given to ensure all the gift values are equivalent. Coworkers who are especially close and want to give a more meaningful gift should exchange those gifts on their own time and not during office hours. Tenure can also dictate gift-giving. Employees who have been with their companies longer than their coworkers may receive a more personalized gift. Employees who receive gifts from their bosses should not feel obligated to reciprocate. Employees should also keep in mind that personal thank-you notes are courteous, professional and appreciated.

Christmas Tree


People have firm beliefs on what’s better for the holidays: a natural tree from the nearby tree farm or an artificial tree purchased at the store. Proponents for both side haves their share of opinions regarding which is more environmentally friendly or fiscally responsible. Christmas celebrants who want to veer away from the argument completely can select a live tree (with roots intact) for their tree of choice this year. Christmas trees that can be planted afterward are easily found at lawn and garden retailers or from the very same tree farms from which trees can be hewn. Chances are the tree is already packaged in a large pot, to make transport a little easier. A homeowner who is considering a live tree will have to decide where the tree will be planted afterward and plan for that location as soon as possible. That’s because it can be particularly difficult to dig a large hole in which to plant a tree when the ground is thoroughly frozen. Laying the groundwork for the hole in advance will make post-Christmas planting possible. Tree experts say that a live tree should not exceed 5 feet in height. Larger, more mature trees can have difficulty acclimating to transplanting and may go into shock. Try to keep the tree outdoors as much as possible and only have it indoors to decorate for a maximum of 2 weeks, otherwise the warm, indoor temperatures may mimic spring and bring the tree out of dormancy. When getting ready to transplant the tree outside, transition it back to the cold by keeping it in the garage for a few days before moving outside.

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Putting a stop to the battle of the

holiday bulge T

he holiday season is dominated by parties, family gatherings and festive foods. Overindulgence in rich foods and drink during the holiday season, compounded by cold weather that can make it difficult to exercise, often leads to weight gain by the end of the holiday season. But focusing on diet and exercise during the holiday season can help you avoid unwanted weight gain and provide more energy as the season progresses. The following are some effective ways to sail through the season without gaining weight. • Don’t scrimp and sacrifice all of the time. The body is a powerful machine, but it does not always work the way that we want it to. According to nutritional experts, rather than metabolizing food on a daily basis, the body is geared to work over longer periods of time. That means you can balance out a high-calorie day by eating less food and/or lighter fare on the days before and after those days when you anticipate overeating. •  Fill up before you go out. If you are worried about high-calorie foods and drinks that are often served at parties or holiday gatherings, eat before going to the event. Hunger may cause you to overeat and fill up on the wrong kinds of foods. Instead, eat a low-calorie snack that’s high in protein and high in fiber before leaving the house. Eating beforehand may help you avoid the chips and dips. • Get plenty of sunshine when possible. Lack of sunlight can attribute to winter blues, which may lead some people to rely on comfort foods. Such foods are typically rich in carbohydrates, fats and sugars. Spending time outdoors in the sun each day can improve your mood and get you off of the couch. • Fill up your plate with the right mix of foods. Don’t deny yourself when faced with a big holiday dinner. Rather, fill the plate with a good mix of foods. Devote more space to lean proteins, such as roasted turkey or chicken. Even lean ham is good. Devote much of the rest of your plate to roasted vegetables and whole grains. Take only small portions of high-fat foods like candied yams or bread stuffings. You will still satisfy your craving, but you won’t be overdoing it. • Skip the spirits for the most part. Alcoholic beverages are loaded with empty calories. Many people would rather reserve bonus calories for a piece of pie or a rich brownie. Limit yourself to one drink per day. • Exercise every day. It can be easy to push exercise aside when you’re busy with holiday tasks. But soon your metabolism may slow down in response to your body’s suddenly more sedentary lifestyle, leading to weight gain. Aim for some sort of daily exercise, whether you decide park further away from stores at the mall or take the stairs instead of the escalator. Don’t relegate exercise to a New Year’s resolution. Inactivity will only mean you have to work harder in the future to shed those unwanted pounds you packed on during the holiday season. Weight gain may be another part of the holiday season for many men and women. But individuals concerned about adding extra pounds can stop the pattern of gaining weight during the holiday season by making smart choices throughout the season.

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Dreaming of a white Christmas? Many people look forward to newfallen snow to add to the picture of the holiday season. How many, though, give thought to how snow actually forms? Snowflakes are ice crystals that form in the clouds. Water vapor freezes and clings to the dust particles in the air. As the crystals group together, they form snowflakes. Snowflakes are hexagonal crystals, meaning they always have six sides. Snowflakes can grow in different forms, including columns, needles, plates, dendrites, columns with plates, and irregular shapes. Complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperatures and humidity levels. When snowflakes melt and refreeze they may come down from the sky in the form of a ball instead of a flake. These are known as graupel. Snowflakes are unique in that no two are the same. Because they are ice crystals, they are also clear in color. However, when gathered on the surface of roadways or other items, they collectively reflect the light and give off that white hue. A snowflake is often the universal symbol for winter or wintertime conditions. In Russia, people have long made paper snowflakes during the Christmas season and hung them in the windows. A snowflake also was the symbol of the winter olympics in 2002. Although snowflakes are cold, snow can actually act as an insulator. The intricate shapes of snowflakes trap air in between the flakes as they pile up. These tiny pockets of air prevent air from circulating, thus preventing heat from being transferred by convection.

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Iris giftguide 2013