Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
The holiday season is here and, with it, many colorful decorations, delicious treats, and fun events. There also are hidden dangers that can mar this special time of year if we aren’t careful. Follow these twelve tips for a safe holiday celebration:
- To reduce fire risk, do not connect more than three strings of incandescent lights. Follow label guidelines for stringing together LED lights. Check lights for frayed or exposed wires, loose connections, and broken sockets and replace as needed.
- Place candles on stable surfaces away from trees, curtains, and other flammable items and out of reach of children. Never leave burning candles unattended or sleep in a room with a lit candle. Consider using battery-operated candles.
- Use caution when decorating with “angel hair” and artificial snow. Angel hair is made from spun glass and can irritate eyes and skin; always wear gloves when handling or use non-flammable cotton instead. Artificial snow can irritate your lungs if inhaled; follow package directions carefully.
- Keep kids and pets in mind when decorating the tree. Place breakable ornaments or ones with metal hooks near the top out of reach of little hands, playful paws, and wagging tails.
- Use a sturdy step ladder, not chairs or other furniture, to reach high places. Get someone to “spot” you and assist with handing or taking items.
- If you use a fireplace, have your chimney checked and cleaned at least once a year by a certified chimney sweep. Cleaning removes soot and other by-products that can lead to chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion into your living space.
- Use special care when giving toys that use coin lithium batteries to children. Older children’s devices with these batteries can be enticing to young children. Ingestion of button batteries can cause serious injury or death. Lock away spare batteries and closely supervise young children around products with button batteries. In case of ingestion, contact the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline, (800) 498-8666.
- If you want to fry a turkey, consider using an oil-less turkey fryer or purchase a fried turkey from a professional establishment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that since 2002, there have been 168 turkey-related fires, burns, explosions, or carbon monoxide poisoning incidents, 672 injuries, and $8 million in property damage. Don’t add to the statistic count!
- Use a food thermometer to ensure meat reaches a safe internal temperature. Click here for a convenient temperature chart.
- Refrigerate food within two hours. Cut leftover meat in small pieces and store foods in shallow containers so they will chill quickly. Use leftovers within four days or freeze or discard.
- Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil before serving.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water to reduce your risk of illness.
Have a happy, healthy holiday season!
National Safety Council
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Electrical Safety Foundation International
Photo source: Dorothy Lee
Tis the Season Merry and Bright:
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve there are greater incidences of stress and tension related headaches and migraines. Family stresses, long shopping lines, and unrealistic expectations are enough to trigger tension headaches even in people who are not headache prone. To avoid these aches and pains a strategic plan may be necessary.
Planning is crucial not only at the holidays but throughout the year. Having a plan and being organized makes everything easier and more manageable. The key is to start early and don’t wait until December. This is where Christmas in July becomes useful thinking.
The following are some tips to help avoid stress during the holiday season. Make a schedule that includes all tasks you have to complete, how long you think each task will take, and when each task needs to be completed. This is why Santa makes a list and checks it twice.
- Start shopping early to reduce time wasted in long lines with early-bird hour sales
- To avoid long period of times wrapping, shop in stores where gift wrap is free
- Shop on-line while drinking your coffee in your pajamas
- Track your purchases in a notebook or in note section of your cell phone
- Prioritize your social events and don’t spread yourself too thin
- Use your computer for online postal mailing to avoid lines at the post office
- Instead of mailing gifts, order gifts on-line, and have gifts directly sent to gift recipient
- Practice relaxation and stretching to reduce stress
- Establish a spending limit and stick to it
Be realistic about how much you can do as nobody likes a cranky Santa. By following these tips, you will be as jolly as old Saint Nick.
Enjoy the holiday season with family and friends as it is the greatest gift you can give yourself. And remember, laugher is the best medicine for stress!
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… for Criminals, Thieves and Scammers
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
This holiday season scammers and identity thieves are hoping to take advantage of shoppers who may be too preoccupied with travel, gift-buying, and festivities to notice. Therefore, during the holidays, it is even more important to remain vigilant while shopping in stores or online.
More people are turning to online shopping for their holiday gifts. The National Retail Federation forecasts consumers to spend about $721 billion this holiday season. However, this increase in online spending comes with a greater risk for thieves to steal your money or your identity.
Here are some common holiday scams and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim:
Deals That Are Too Good to Be True –while shopping online keep the old adage in mind, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. During the holidays, shoppers are looking for huge deals, and scammers know it. These thieves often set up websites that appear to be legitimate, just to steal your personal information and/or to download a virus onto your computer.
It is important to make sure any site in which you shop contains an HTTPS security designation. Another simple way to know if the website is authentic is to look for the padlock symbol that appears in the address bar of the retailer. Here is an example of an Amazon online address bar.
Holiday Phishing Scams – Around the holidays, beware of emails pretending to be sent from familiar companies like FedEx or UPS. These emails claim to provide links for package tracking information. These links, once clicked on, will either steal your personal information or download a virus onto your computer. Remember, if you receive an email from someone you don’t know or weren’t expecting an email from, you should never click on links. Also, make sure you are using current antivirus software on your computer.
Identity Theft and ATM Skimmers –
In Store Shopping:
- Being vigilant is key to protecting yourself during the holiday season. Thieves target shoppers who are either struggling with packages and bags or those who are unaware of their surroundings. Thieves see this as an opportunity to steal your wallet or credit card numbers.
- When using an ATM or other key pads, make sure to check for skimming devices that thieves install on ATMs and other card readers. These skimmers are placed over the existing key pad in order to access your account. It is also advised to cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM
- After each purchase, take time to put your credit card back into your wallet. Also, it may be worthwhile to purchase an RFID-blocking wallet. These wallets are designed to shield your credit card information from RFID readers and skimmers..
- When shopping online, experts advise consumers to use credit cards instead of debit cards. In case of fraud, both payments types can be disputed, however debit card payments are automatically deducted from your bank account. Therefore, it may take longer to get your money back.
Gift Cards– Gift cards are a great idea for people on our shopping list. However, a record number of retail stores are closing their doors, so you should consider the retailer’s financial situation before buying a gift card. If the retailer closes or declares bankruptcy, the recipient may not be able to use the gift card.
Package Delivery Theft- Having packages delivered to our homes makes us a target for thieves who case neighborhoods and even follow delivery trucks looking for packages sitting on porches. There are ways to prevent this from happening to you. You can have your packages delivered to their office, a local pick-up area, like a UPS Store or try to schedule delivery times when someone will be home, if possible. Online shoppers can also set up tracking notifications, to know when an item is delivered.
Charitable Giving Tips – Give to charities wisely. At this time of year, we all want to give to charities that pull on our heart strings. But beware of giving money to charities that are fake or irresponsible. Do your research to make sure to support the many legitimate and deserving charities that can use our help during the holidays.
The 2018 Consumer Protection Guide – This guide provides more information about protecting yourself as a consumer, including online identity theft, charity scams, item recalls and more.
The holiday season brings out the best and worst in people. Therefore, you should be vigilant because the holidays are a lucrative time of year for thieves and scammers who are trying their hardest to get into your bank account.
For more tips on how to keep your identity safe and avoid holiday scams, contact Laurie Osgood, UF/IFAS Extension, Gadsden County at Osgoodlb@ufl.edu or call (850) 875-7255.
Creating a holiday spending plan and sticking to it can help decrease stress and reduce debt in the new year. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)
The holidays are once again upon us. For many people, it can be a time of stress, frustration, and financial uncertainty as they drive themselves past their limits to try to make everyone happy and everything perfect.
One of the biggest seasonal stressors is spending too much on gifts, food, and home décor. While it may seem worth it at the time, buyer’s remorse may quickly set in after the New Year when the bills start rolling in.
The most important thing that can be done to help curb holiday spending is to set a budget.
Maybe going all out for Christmas is a family tradition. Great! If it is, however, the best thing to do is to make a plan to save the money over the preceding months so it will be available to spend when the time comes. Spending money that is not in the budget or overusing credit are surefire ways to increase debt and cause strife later.
The holidays should be about family, friends, and the joy of giving. It should not be a competition to see who can have the biggest, brightest, most fabulous home, gifts, etc.
Retailers and the media work hard to send the message to consumers that the latest this or the greatest that are needed to get the full holiday experience. However, it is important to resist their messaging and stick to the determined budget.
Including children in any discussions about holiday spending is important. Let them know that there is only a certain amount of money available to spend on gifts and help them understand the importance of sticking to the budget. While parents may feel pressured to get everything on their child’s wish list, focusing on a few special items will help families stay on financial track.
Cash and debit cards are the best ways to pay. If the money is coming directly out of pocket, consumers are more likely to be more cautious before spending. Use credit cards wisely. Choosing to purchase with credit in order to receive airline miles or rewards points is fine, but keep close track of all purchases and only charge as much as can comfortably be paid off in its entirety when the bill comes due. Avoid the pitfall of still paying off this year’s holiday spending next Christmas.
Some of the most meaningful and treasured gifts are those that come from the heart. Custom, handmade gifts really show a person they are valued.
One large gift for an entire family that everyone can enjoy can also save money over buying something for each individual. Many people also appreciate a donation in their name to a charity or cause that is near and dear to their hearts.
The holidays do not need to be stressful or break the bank. By adopting a few smart spending practices, you can enjoy the holidays without the added worry.
For more information on holiday spending and strategies for creating a smart holiday spending plan, please call Samantha Kennedy at (850) 926-3931.
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FCS Dine In Day December 3
Is your busy, busy life making it difficult to spend time eating a meal at home with your family? Research tells us families are healthier in so many ways when they eat at home together. Maybe these favorite family meals from some of our readers will give you some inspiration.
My mother’s chicken cacciatore. She’s Italian and a great cook. She makes it with boneless chicken breasts, rice, sliced peppers, onions, tomatoes, and of course, garlic. It is so good and probably healthy. But maybe not, since I eat way too much of it. Friends and family come together on “Italian Night” to enjoy this and other Italian specialties. Molto delicioso. Rick W.
My favorite meal was always when my mom made homemade spaghetti sauce for pasta. Wow, that’s good stuff. When I brought my girlfriend home, it became one of her favorite meals too. Thanks mom! Alex H.
Father and son set the dinner table. Photo Source: Wendy Meredith
Home Away from Home Meal
My favorite family meal was pork chops, broccoli, mashed potatoes, rolls and sweet tea, because my son, (my first born), cooked his first meal in his first home away from home at the age of 21 and invited our family to dinner. He was always the one out of five children who liked to have everyone in the family sit at the dining room table together and enjoy a meal as often as possible. Our lives consisted of football, cheerleading, church events, ballet, gymnastics, soccer, school events, jobs, etc. Our family of seven was a very busy family and always running here and there, but somehow due to the persistency of our son, we managed to have one or two meals a week together as a family. I was a very happy and proud mom when I received the invite to have dinner that night. The food was delicious, but the fellowship during “My Favorite Family Meal” was something I will remember and cherish forever. Wendy M.
Let Them Eat Cake or Bread
Celebrations were very special in my family. Every year on my birthday, my grandmother would always cook my favorite food and bake my favorite cake (Red Velvet – Yum). When I was young I always thought it was about the food. But it was about so much more; we learned about manners and etiquette, and family coming together to share old traditions and make new ones. Whenever I see a red velvet cake or smell one baking, it brings back happy memories. I’m transformed back to when I was a 10 year old girl. Dorothy L.
Growing up on a farm in Michigan, I’ve got a lot of good memories involving food! From making butter in a churn, to picking blackberries in the woods for Mom to make pie, to getting ripe tomatoes from the garden for a tasty bacon and tomato sandwich and many more. I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up knowing exactly where our food comes from!
A favorite and happy memory is Mom making bread on cold days, letting the loaves rise by the heat registers, then baking it in the oven. The whole house smelled like delicious bread. Once it was done, Mom would cut it while it was still warm and give us thick slices with warm, melting butter on it! Cheryl V.
December 3rd is Dine In Day. It’s a chance to make a commitment to have a meal at home with family. So, make the decision to eat with your family at home this December 3rd.
FCS Dine In Day
FCS Dine In Day December 3
What’s your favorite family meal? Is it an event like a picnic or Super Bowl Party? Is it reoccurring like Wednesday night church dinner? Maybe it’s an annual meal like Thanksgiving. Check out some of these special Thanksgiving meals, then think about a favorite meal for your family to share on Dine In Day.
What about Sweet Potatoes?
I think my favorite holiday meal story is from about 10 years ago when our oldest daughter was away at college. She asked me what we were going to have for Thanksgiving Dinner and as I went through the list she said, “what about sweet potatoes?” to which I answered “but you don’t like sweet potatoes”. Then she said, “No, I don’t, but I they’re supposed to be on the table at Thanksgiving”!
It’s such a tiny thing, but it touched my heart because it meant she had fond memories and that our family holiday dinners meant something to her! PS – now she loves sweet potatoes and serves them to her family all the time! Susan H.
My “Found” Family
Favorite Fall Things
Photo Source:: Angela Hinkle
My favorite family meal of the year is on Thanksgiving, with my “found” family in Bradenton. Especially now that I live in Tallahassee, taking the trip down there to spend a few days with my best friend and her crazy family is definitely a highlight. It’s even more special now since I don’t get to see her every day anymore. Plus? Turkey and deviled eggs! Yummy. Sam K.
Memory We Will Always Cherish
My favorite meal happened 6 years ago during Thanksgiving. It was the first year that I hosted my own Thanksgiving dinner and my husband and I invited everyone we knew- family, friends, coworkers. We had 30 people share their holiday with us and we had so much fun. It was a lot of work and a lot of cooking, but it was so special to us. That day we were able to honor the ones we loved by hosting them and sharing that experience. One day, we will do that again. But for now, it’s a great memory that we will always cherish. Christina W.
Imagining Warm and Cozy
One of my most memorable meals was Thanksgiving when I was in the 11th grade. My family decided to go camping in our pop-up camper for the weekend at a nice campground in central Florida. In keeping with the season, a cold front passed through that weekend, dropping the temperature significantly. Our little camper did not have a heater, so we shivered in our bunks and scurried to the central bathhouse, passing motor homes and travel trailers with condensation on the windows, imagining how warm and cozy their occupants must be. Despite the frigid temperatures, we enjoyed a campground-wide Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings in the community room. We made fond memories of the weekend, which we still laugh about, and are thankful for a warm house and the comforts and conveniences of home to enjoy the holiday and everyday meals with family and friends. Judy C.
FCS Dine In Day
December 3rd is Dine In Day. It’s a chance to make a commitment to have a meal at home with family. Research tells us families are healthier in so many ways when they eat at home together. So, make the decision to eat with your family at home this December 3rd. Maybe you can tell us about your favorite family meal or be inspired to make new ones – for Thanksgiving or any time of year.