Fun Fall Facts

Autumn is a season of many changes, with some of the most notable including the dramatic multicolored displays that occur just prior to trees shedding their leaves. It’s also a time of year when many people feel reenergized by cooler temperatures and spend many hours outdoors enjoying all that fall has to offer.

Whether one is collecting leaves, picking apples, exploring corn mazes, or driving the countryside enjoying the foliage, autumn is full of fun facts that can make the season that much more enjoyable.

1. Autumn begins on the autumnal equinox, which occurs on or near September 22 in the northern hemisphere. This year, September 22 is the day when the sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward. When the equinox occurs, there are an equal number of daylight and nighttime hours.

2. Since ancient times, autumn has been an important time of year for many civilizations. Autumn is a main harvesting time in many areas, and a successful harvest was once necessary for survival. Many steps are, and have long been, taken to ensure a bountiful autumn harvest.

3. Fall is a time when trees and other plants prepare for dormancy during winter. As autumn progresses and the hours of daylight gradually decrease, trees begin to close down their food production systems and reduce the amount of chlorophyll in leaves. Chlorophyll is the chemical that makes tree leaves green, and as it declines, other chemicals become more prominent and shine through in the leaves. That is why leaves change color.

4. Some scientists believe that global climate change can impact autumn colors, such as delaying the change in trees. Also, red pigments may start to decline as trees use sugary fuel to grow new twigs rather than to cause red leaf displays.

5. Americans more readily refer to this time of year as “fall,” while the British use “autumn.” Both terms date back to around the 16th century. Prior to this period, autumn was known as “harvest.”

6. Much of the United States bids farewell to monarch butterflies in the fall. Each autumn, monarch butterflies migrate from the United States to Mexico and some parts of Southern California. They fly at speeds ranging between 12 and 25 miles per hour.

7. A study of U.S. centenarians born between 1880 to 1895 published in the Journal of Aging Research, found that babies born during autumn months are more likely to live to age 100 than those born during the rest of the year. Thirty percent of the centenarians followed were born during the fall.

8. Squash, pumpkins and other gourds are prominent in the fall. The largest squash grown on record belonged to Joel Jarvis of Ontario, and his huge winner weighed in at 1,486.6 pounds in 2011.

9. The many-colored leaves are not the only display one might see during the fall. The autumn equinox signals the aurora borealis, also called the Northern Lights. Besides the lengthening of nights and cool evening weather, which are great for stargazers, autumn is “aurora season,” according to NASA. That’s because, during the fall, geomagnetic storms are about twice as frequent as the annual average.

10. Full moons are named for the month or season in which they rise. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

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Are meal delivery services right for your family?

Are meal delivery services right for your family?

Working parents are busy with commitments to work, family and their children’s school and extracurricular activities. As a result of such commitments, families may find they have little time to devote to cooking, let alone shopping for food.
As an alternative to dining out, which can be expensive, many families are exploring home-delivery meal kits. For those who value convenience and fresh foods, meal delivery services could be the way to go. Consumer research firm Pentallect predicts the meal-kit business will grow by as much as 30 percent over the next five years. Here is a look at the advantages and disadvantages to them.

Pros
Meal delivery kits’ biggest selling points are convenience and ease of preparation. Such kits may it possible for even novice home cooks to prepare restaurant-quality meals in their own kitchens. The boxes are filled with a week’s worth of ingredients for various recipes. The recipes spell out, step-by-step, how to create delicious meals.
Meal kits can provide a great way to try new foods, enticing eaters to try different recipes. They’re also a good idea for families or singletons who may be bored preparing their typical staples.
Another advantage to meal kits is the portions of the meals are already determined, helping people better control how much they eat. Meal kit users also are unlikely to waste food, which might be common for those accustomed to preparing large meals they rarely finish.

Cons
Cost is usually the biggest detriment to meal kits. Even though meal kits may cost less per person than dining out, they’re still on the expensive side. Meal kit devotees pay for the convenience of having someone plan, package and ship high-quality meals to their doorsteps. Meals may cost anywhere from $50 to $200 per week, with the average at about $10 per meal, per person, says Pentallect. People who can get great deals at grocery stores may feel meal kits are not worth the cost.
Another potential problem with meal kits is that consumers may be at the mercy of the company in terms of the variety of foods available to them. Picky eaters may find the kits include items they will not eat, which can make kits a waste of money and food. Also, it may take some research to find companies that offer foods that fit with dietary preferences, such as those that cater to food allergies or vegan diets or companies that provide organically sourced ingredients.
Environmentalists may frown upon the excess packaging and cooling packs used in some meal kits. Consumers must be committed to recycling or reusing packaging to make meal kits more eco-friendly.
Families who want to give meal kits a try are urged to read reviews on services and check out available menus to ensure the investment is worth it. If convenience is key, meal kits may be the ideal fit.  

Guide to End-of-Summer Sales

 

The end of summer is marked by mixed feelings. Come the end of summer, vacations may be coming to an end as children ready themselves for a new school year. But shoppers know the end of summer is an ideal time to find great deals on an array of items. 
Although back-to-school sales flood the marketplace this time of year, plenty of other sales take place in the final weeks of summer — and consumers can save substantial amounts of money if they know where to look. 

Outdoor furniture
As stores clear out their seasonal items, shoppers can score big deals on patio sets and other outdoor furniture. Retailers need to make room for snowblowers, rakes, shovels, and holiday merchandise, so shoppers are bound to find discounted tables, chairs, fire pits, umbrellas, and chaise lounges. Individuals can use this opportunity to update worn-out patio furniture and other seasonal items they can store over the winter.

Camping/hiking equipment
Only the most devoted campers camp out when the temperatures begin to dip, so consumers can use this opportunity to grab camping equipment before it’s gone for another season. Tents, flashlights, cooking gear, backpacks, outdoor recreational items, such as kayaks or fishing tackle, water bladders, and heaters may be available at steep discounts.

Grills
Backyard barbecues are a staple of summer. If your barbecue or outdoor cooking equipment experienced heavy use throughout the summer, now is a great time to shop sales on grills and outdoor cooking gear. 

Travel
Consumer Reports says that prices tend to drop on airfare, hotels and theme parks after Labor Day. Deals on luggage also can be had once summer travel season ends. Tuesdays are a great day to book airline tickets because they tend to be cheaper on Tuesday than other days of the week. Travelers can use this information to their advantage, booking trips to destinations that have super weather throughout the fall, such as Hawaii or the Mediterranean. Caribbean destinations also are good choices, though travelers should consider travel insurance to protect against hurricane-related cancellations. 

Vehicles
Many dealerships tend to begin discounting cars when new models begin to debut in August and September. The longer a dealership holds on to a vehicle, the more money it tends to lose. Prospective car buyers may be able to negotiate a good deal this time of year, ultimately walking away with a brand new vehicle with a solid warranty. It’s not unheard of to receive a discount of 15 percent or more on previous year models.

Spa treatments
Many spas have begun discounting massages and facials at the end of summer, according to the International Spa Association. Shoppers can use this opportunity to try out new spas and save some money in the process.
In addition to these discounts, bathing suits, summer clothing, lawn and garden equipment, and pool/spa items may be discounted come the fall.  

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Beat the heat with this refreshing berry cocktail

 

Perhaps nothing is more relaxing on a warm summer night than sipping a cocktail as the sun sets. Some cocktails, such as the following recipe for “Blueberry Crush” from Susan Elia MacNeal’s “Infused: 100+ Recipes for Infused Liqueurs and Cocktails” (Chronicle Books), even evoke the twilight hours of summertime with their unique look.

Blueberry Crush
Serves 1

4    or 5 ice cubes
2    blackberries
2    blueberries
2    raspberries
3    ounces Blueberry Vodka (see below)
    Dash of lime juice
1    cup cracked ice
1⁄2    cup sparkling water or club soda (optional)

Place the ice cubes in a chilled old-fashioned glass. Place the berries in a small bowl and crush with a fork. Add to a shaker with the vodka, lime juice and cracked ice. Shake for 10 to 15 seconds, then strain over the ice cubes. For a lighter version of the drink, add the sparkling water.

Blueberry Vodka

1    750-ml. bottle of vodka
1    quart fresh blueberries
1⁄4    to 1 cup Sugar Syrup (optional; see below)

Decant the vodka into a clean 2-quart glass container with a tight-fitting lid. Soak the original bottle to remove the label. Let dry.
If using frozen berries, allow them to thaw. Place the fresh or thawed frozen berries in a bowl, crush with a fork and add to the vodka. Allow the vodka to infuse away from direct sunlight and intense heat for 3 months. Shake the container a few times each week.
When you’re satisfied with the intensity of flavor, strain the liqueur through a metal sieve into a bowl. Discard the berries. Add the sugar syrup to taste, if desired. 
Using a funnel, pour the liqueur into the original bottle (or another container). Label with the name of liqueur and the date. Age for 1 month away from light and heat.

Sugar Syrup

1    cup water
2    cups granulated sugar

Put the water in a small saucepan. Add the sugar. Bring the water to a boil while stirring. Reduce the heat and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature. Select a clean container that will hold at least 11⁄2 cups. Using a funnel, pour the sugar syrup into the container, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.  

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7 Reasons to Shop at Farmer's Markets

 

A farmers’ market is likely coming to a field or open parking lot near you — if there isn’t already one operating nearby. The United States Department of Agriculture says that, between the years of 2008 and 2013, the number of farmers’ markets doubled across the country. 
Farmers’ markets will continue to thrive and expand as people increasingly realize the benefits of supporting local food providers. Buyers who are not yet familiar with farmer’s markets can examine the following seven reasons to break the ice.

1. Enjoy fresh, seasonal foods.
Foods at farmers’ markets tend to be limited to in-season offerings. Some nutritionists suggest eating seasonally available foods is better for your body, because humans ate seasonal produce for thousands of years before shipping and refrigeration changed how people received the majority of their foods. In addition, many people feel that fresh, seasonal foods taste better than the
alternatives.

2. Discover new foods.
There’s always something new at a farmers’ market, and this can entice shoppers to expand their flavor palates. Explore interesting, locally grown items. Even children may fall in love with colorful fruits or vegetables and their refreshing tastes.

3. Embrace organic and non-GMO offerings.
Many farmers’ markets offer foods that are organically grown and are produced without GMOs. Farmers’ market retailers also tend to give firsthand accounts of where their foods come from and how they are grown or raised.

4. Indulge in nutritious foods.
The vivid colors and smells emanating from farmers’ markets indicate just how fresh and nutritious the offerings tend to be. Farmers who peddle their wares at farmers’ markets adhere to careful farming methods to ensure their foods are as nutritious as possible.

5. Learn secrets and recipes.
In addition to fresh produce, farmers’ markets may offer baked and other prepared goods. Shopkeepers often mingle with their customers, offering trade secrets and recipe ideas. Additionally, local farm families supported by farmers’ markets generally offer supreme customer service to keep shoppers coming back week after week.

6. Turn the trip into a social excursion.
A farmers’ market can be an exciting and flavorful social gathering place for families and groups of friends, as well as a great place to meet other members of the community. Sometimes farmers also mingle with local artisans, so the market can be a one-stop-shopping locale for locally produced food and art.

7. Save money.
Farmers’ markets may sell organic produce at a cost comparable or even lower than other retailers. That’s because local farmers don’t have to transport their items as far as retailers whose foods were shipped from far away places. 
Any time of the year is perfect for grabbing a tote bag and browsing the wares at a nearby farmers’ market, where shoppers are bound to find something fresh, unique and delicious.

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Summer Fair and Festival Planning Guide

Plan your summer festival and fair schedule now

Festival and fair season heats up when the temperatures rise. Come summertime, communities across the country play host to cultural, film, music, craft, hobby, or food festivals. 
With so many entertaining options on the horizon, families and individuals with hectic schedules need to start scoping out their summer festival options early. Here’s how to navigate the bevy of offerings and get ready for several months of fun.
• Explore your options. Consult local news sources for upcoming weekend activities. Fairs and festivals are often advertised in neighborhoods on signs and billboards, but they also may be mentioned in calendar-of-events pages in local newspapers. Visit the website of your local chamber of commerce or tourism board to see if they have listings of upcoming local events.
• Choose your preferences. Make fair and festival planning a family affair. Look for events that appeal to all members of the household, or allow each member of the family a weekend afternoon to find events that cater to their interests. Take out the calendar and mark must-see festivals out as early as possible.
• Sign up for updates. Many fairs and festivals are annual events. Visit their websites and sign up for an email mailing list so you can receive updates on events. Joining mailing lists may even make you eligible for coupons or entrance fee discounts on certain days.
• Secure accommodations. Increase the enjoyment factor of the fair or festival by not being pressed for time. Book a room in a nearby hotel or motel and turn a weekend festival excursion into a mini-vacation. 
• Dress the part. Festivals and fairs typically take place outdoors. Dress according to the morning forecast. Layer clothing so that everyone can take off or add items to feel comfortable. Wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses may provide relief from overhead sun. Plus, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, as festival goers tend to walk a lot. Apply and reapply sunblock throughout the day as necessary.
• Plan your transportation. Typically fairs and festivals can get crowded quickly, with ingress and egress roads being blocked by traffic. Also, parking lots may fill up fast. Plan to leave early for the fair, and consider public transportation, shuttle buses or a rideshare service to make the day more carefree.
• Identify a meeting spot. In the event that a child or adult separates from the group, find a meeting spot where the family can gather. Children can also carry a note listing an adult’s mobile phone number for emergencies.
Fairs and festivals are an annual ritual for many people. Now is the time to plan for these fun-filled excursions.

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Tips for a great Memorial Day BBQ

Memorial Day BBQ tips 

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. For many, Memorial Day weekend also signifies their first chance to invite friends and family over for a backyard barbecue. While some never put their grills away for the winter, braving the cold so they can keep grilling year-round, many may need a refresher to ensure their Memorial Day BBQ starts summer off on the right foot.
• Stock up on supplies. Before hosting your first backyard barbecue, take inventory of your supplies, making sure you have a spatula, tongs, oven mitts, a sturdy grill brush, and other accessories you may need during grilling season. Check each item to make sure it’s not worse for wear and do the same with the grill as well. Replace supplies that have too much wear and tear in advance of Memorial Day weekend so you have one less item on your to-do list come the day of the barbecue.
• Designate some time to do some cleaning. Even if you cleaned the grill and patio furniture before putting the items in storage for the winter, they likely will need to be cleaned again before you host your first soiree of the season. Remove any dust and check for spider webs or signs of other critters that might have made your furniture home over the cold winter. Droppings from rodents can be dangerous, and spiders can bite unsuspecting grillmasters. Clean patio furniture before putting it out as well.
• Find some new recipes. Hot dogs and hamburgers are perfectly acceptable backyard barbecue fare, but hosts who want to treat their guests to something new this summer can find a host of recipes online. Consider recipes for grilled vegetables so vegetarian guests can enjoy freshly grilled foods alongside your other guests. Just be sure to separate veggies from meat on the grill so vegetarian guests are not hesitant to eat. And while grilled meat tends to be popular at backyard barbecues, don’t overlook recipes for grilled fish that can be both nutritious and delicious. 
• Get guests home safe. Memorial Day gatherings tend to be festive, but keep an eye on guests to ensure that no one consumes an excessive amount of alcohol. Keep a list of local cab companies on hand or download a car service app to your smartphone so safe means of transportation are always within reach.  

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3 Tips for your Memorial Day Road Trip

Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. In 2017, the automotive group AAA estimated that 40 million Americans would travel 50 miles or more on Memorial Day weekend. Those estimates also projected that 34.6 million vehicles would be used to make those trips.
Often referred to as “the unofficial beginning of summer,” Memorial Day and the weekend that precedes it has become synonymous with beach trips and backyard barbecues. Travelers who want to avoid traffic jams and ensure their weekends get off on the right foot can benefit from employing these three travel-savvy strategies.

1. Start the weekend early. 
In its “State of American Vacation 2017” survey, Project: Time Off found that 662 million vacation days were unused in 2016. People traveling for Memorial Day who typically leave some vacation days on the table can start their weekends early this year. Many offices close early the Friday before Memorial Day, and workers who aren’t so lucky may just leave work early, meaning Friday afternoon traffic figures to be heavy. By leaving Thursday afternoon or evening, travelers  can avoid the Friday rush to the beach. 

2. Take public transportation. 
Travelers who can’t take an extra day off or leave work early the Friday before Memorial Day may want to consider taking public transportation to their beach destinations instead of driving themselves. In 2016, the U.S.-based data firm Inrix noted that a traffic-free Friday jaunt from New York City to Long Island’s East end would take 90 minutes, while the same trip would take three hours and 40 minutes on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Travelers who can’t leave early can save themselves from the stress of holiday traffic jams by letting someone else do the navigating.

3. Be patient and depart on Saturday morning.
Travelers who can be patient may find that waiting to depart for their destinations until Saturday can save them from dealing with much of the stress of traveling on Memorial Day weekend. The benefits of being patient may depend on where travelers live, as the Inrix study noted that Friday was the busiest day to leave Los Angeles on Memorial Day weekend, while San Diego residents tended to deal with the most traffic on Saturday. An added benefit of waiting until Saturday is the likelihood that such travelers will not return home until Tuesday, avoiding traffic on Monday, which tends to be the busiest return travel day of the weekend.
Memorial Day weekend travel tends to be hectic. But savvy travelers with some flexibility can take steps to make their trips less stressful.

 

Unique Mother's Day Gifts

Mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, and many more remarkable women often work tirelessly and without fanfare to provide for their families. Even though they may deserve to be recognized throughout the year, moms enjoy a special day nestled within the month of May when children, spouses and others celebrate Mother’s Day.
Many people give heartfelt gifts on Mother’s Day to express their love for the mothers in their lives. The perfect gift may focus on Mom’s interests and the things that make her truly happy. With that in mind, the following shopping tips can help anyone find the perfect Mother’s Day gift.
• Explore spa packages. What mother won’t benefit from some rest and relaxation with a little pampering thrown in? Salons and massage therapists typically put together Mother’s Day packages that cater to mothers. Packages may include massages, facials, hair treatments, manicures, and pedicures. Gift-givers can customize the services depending on their budgets. 
• Dining out can be a treat. A meal at a favorite restaurant can be a welcome change from kitchen duty. Mother’s Day is a busy day for restaurants, many of which have limited menus to better handle the crowds. As a result, if dining out on Mother’s Day, Mom may not get the full menu she desires. To ensure mothers have full menus at their disposal, gift givers can cook a meal at home on Mother’s Day and then choose another day of the week to enjoy a meal in an upscale restaurant.
• Schedule a paint and sip. A paint and sip session is a unique gift. A session is typically two hours and includes step-by-step instructions. Patrons are encouraged to bring snacks and their favorite beverages. With the right planning, well-intentioned children can turn the evening into a “ladies night out” and encourage other moms to join in the fun. Or the entire family can paint masterpieces together.
• Give tickets to a show or sporting event. Whether Mom is a sports fan or she prefers the theater or live music, event tickets can make a wonderful gift. Unique gift ideas include tickets to Cirque du Soleil, Shen Yun or a Broadway play.
• Give the gift of wine tasting. Wineries can be found across the country and frequently open their doors to wine tastings and wine pairing events. A Mother’s Day wine tasting can be special for the entire family and support local businesses. Check the vineyard’s rules on guests. Many times those under 21 can attend but will not be permitted to consume wine, though other refreshments may be available.
Mother’s Day offers the perfect opportunity to lavish attention on special women. Gifts that cater to Mom’s interests will make the biggest splash.

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Facts about February

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Despite being the shortest month of the calendar year, February has an interesting history. Early calendars marked the start of the new year in March, but when the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, rose to the throne in 713 BC, he synchronized the calendar to the lunar year. That required the addition of January and February.

• February was named after an end-of-year celebration called “Februa,” also known as “Februalia” or “Februatio.” Februa was a Roman festival of ritual purification and washing — a spring cleaning of sorts. This festival was later incorporated into Lupercalia, another Roman celebration that has ties to Groundhog Day. January was actually added after February and was named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings.

• Both January and February originally had 28 days. However, at the time, even numbers were considered to bring bad luck, so Pompilius added another day to January. However, February was left with 28 days and had long been considered an unlucky month.

• February was the last month of the year for around 200 years, until the Gregorian calendar designated January the start of the new year.

• Julius Caesar is responsible for adjusting the calendar and the length of February’s length. In the Julian calendar, 10 days were added to the calendar year in various months, and February was increased every four years (leap year) to 29 days to coordinate the calendar year to the solar cycle of roughly 365.2425 days.

• During common years, February can pass by without a single full moon.

• British mathematician John Conway determined that some dates inevitably share the same weekday within any given year. The last day of February will be on the same weekday as March 7, April 4, May 9, June 6, July 11, August 8, September 5, October 10, November 7, and December 12.

• In the northern hemisphere, February is the equivalent to the third month of winter. In the southern hemisphere, it is the third month of summer.

• In Finnish, February is called “helmikuu,” meaning “month of the pearl,” which refers to the snow melting on tree branches. • During leap years, February will end on the same day that it begins.

• February’s birthstone is the amethyst, which symbolizes piety, sincerity and spiritual wisdom.

• Residents of St. Lucia celebrate their independence on February 22.

• Despite being the shortest month of the year, February is packed with events. In addition to Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, World Marriage Day, and Presidents’ Day, February is when Flag Day is celebrated in both Canada and Mexico. February also serves as Black History Month.

February is notable for many reasons and packs quite a number of activities into its few weeks.

The origins of Groundhog Day

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Every year on February 2nd, people anxiously await the appearance of a medium-sized furry mammal who they believe can predict if winter weather will rage on or if spring will arrive sooner than later. Although it’s a rather strange means of prognostication, millions of people celebrate Groundhog Day, a tradition that is older than many people may know.

The first official Groundhog Day took place on February 2, 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. In the ensuing 130 years, individuals have gathered in Pennsylvania and other areas around the United States to find out if the groundhog will see his shadow. If the groundhog sees his shadow, winter will continue for six more weeks. If the groundhog does not see his shadow, then spring will arrive early.

Although the Groundhog Day of today is relatively new, the concept is actually quite old and dates back to the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas. Candlemas is a Christian holiday commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Candlemas falls on the 40th day of the Christmas/Epiphany period and is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian Church, celebrated since the 4th century in Jerusalem. Around the 14th century in Europe, Candlemas began to overshine Pagan holidays like Lupercalia (Romans) and Imbolc (Celts). Rather than torches and blessings from goddesses, on Candlemas custom called for members of the clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people to symbolize that Christ was the light of the world. Weather played a role in the celebration of Candlemas. Rainy, wet weather was preferable because it suggested spring’s arrival was on the horizon.

Candlemas was celebrated in many parts of Europe and eventually spread to Germany, where animals were involved in the ceremony. Hedgehogs were plentiful in the area, and celebrants believed if they cast a shadow during fair weather on Candlemas, more bad weather was in store. Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were German, and these immigrants brought their Candlemas traditions with them. But hedgehogs were not common in Pennsylvania, so settlers used groundhogs instead. Thus, the groundhog was seen as a wise and suitable substitute for prognostication.

Today’s celebrations include tens of thousands of visitors from all around the world who travel to Pennsylvania to see Punxsutawney Phil in person. Phil has become a celebrity of sorts and has appeared on various television shows, on a jumbo screen in Times Square and as the star of the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day.” (Although the real Phil was not allowed to be in the movie because it was filmed in Illinois instead of Pennsylvania, and the Groundhog Day organizers were notably upset.) Boasting a deeper history than many people may know, Groundhog Day will continue to delight revelers for years to come. 

Flu-fighting tips to keep you and others healthy

Sniffles, sore throat, fever, and aches and pains may accompany a number of illnesses, but during the wintertime such symptoms are typically indicative of influenza.

Throughout much of North America, flu season peaks between December and February. But flu season can occur anywhere from October to March, advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu is contagious and can sideline people for extended periods of time. The CDC says that each year one in five Americans gets the flu. Taking steps to fend off the flu can help men and women and the people they routinely come in contact with.

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Foods

Food can be used to fend of the flu. Common foods that many people already have in their pantries can be powerful flu-fighters. Garlic, for example, contains compounds that have direct antiviral effects and may help destroy the flu before it affects the body. Raw garlic is best. In addition to garlic, citrus fruits, ginger, yogurt, and dark leafy greens can boost immunity and fight the flu, according to Mother Nature’s Network. The British Journal of Nutrition notes that dark chocolate  supports T-helper cells, which increase the immune system’s ability to defend against infection. A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that carnosine, a compound found in chicken soup, can help strengthen the body’s immune system and help fight off the flu in its early stages.

Flu shot and medications

Annual flu shots administered in advance of flu season can help protect people and their families from getting the flu. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that, in select situations, antiviral medications — which are usually prescribed to treat the flu and lessen symptoms — can reduce the chance of illness in people exposed to influenza. Many over-the-counter medicines can alleviate symptoms of the flu, but cannot fend it off.

Stop germ proliferation

Germs can be spread easily between persons through direct contact and indirect contact with surfaces sick individuals have touched. Doctors recommend staying home for at least 24 hours after a flu-induced fever has dissipated. Well individuals should avoid contact with sick people. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water can stop germs from spreading. When soap and water is not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help. People also should avoid touching their eyes, noses and mouths after being in public places or around someone who is ill.

Rest and restore

Those who feel symptoms coming on should begin drinking more liquids to keep the respiratory system hydrated and make mucus less viscous. Remember to get adequate sleep, as a tired body cannot effectively fight the flu virus. People of all ages should take steps to protect themselves from the flu.

Black Friday safety tips

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The unofficial beginning to the holiday shopping season, Black Friday compels many people to get out of bed in the middle of the night in the hopes of landing great deals on gifts for their loved ones. The competition to find deals on Black Friday can sometimes get heated. As a result, some shoppers have found themselves in unsafe situations in the past.

Many retailers have taken steps to make the atmosphere in their stores on Black Friday less hectic and more consumer-friendly. Shoppers can follow suit and take the following precautions to ensure this Black Friday is as safe as possible.

• Recognize you might not get everything on your list. Inventory may be limited in regard to sale items on Black Friday. Make a list of the items you hope to buy and where you hope to buy them, ranking each item in terms of importance. Then calmly move from store to store, recognizing that you may not end up with every item on your list. Accepting this ahead of time can make the day seem less hectic and more safe.

• Protect and conceal your purchases. Shoppers might not be as sharp when shopping Black Friday sales in the wee hours of the morning. That could make them more vulnerable to thieves. Protect and conceal purchases at all times. If necessary, bring items to the car after each purchase, making sure to place them in a concealed vehicle trunk where they are not visible to prospective thieves.

• Leave small children at home. While horror stories of Black Friday holiday shoppers stampeding through stores are few and far between, malls may not be the safest places for small children to spend the day after Thanksgiving. Overstressed shoppers running on fumes and long lines at the checkout counters can make things unsafe for small kids and try their patience. Shoppers who plan to shop on Black Friday should leave their small children home with a spouse or relative to avoid accident or injury.

• Park in well-lit areas. Parking can be hard to find on Black Friday. But shoppers should not give in and park far away from stores in poorly lit areas of parking lots. Doing so makes shoppers vulnerable to theft or attack.

• Be attentive in the parking lot. In addition to keeping an eye out for prospective thieves or attackers, Black Friday shoppers should be mindful of motorists in the parking lots. Tired shoppers may be focused on getting home and speed through parking lots. Stay alert to avoid exhausted drivers.

Finding deals might be the ultimate goal of Black Friday, but shoppers also must be mindful of safety when shopping during the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season.

Easy 'green' Thanksgiving ideas

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Thanksgiving is a holiday to give thanks and share special moments with family and friends. While the original Thanksgiving might have taken place during a time when food was sparse, nowadays Thanksgiving often involves excessive amounts of food, with more food ending up in the garbage than in celebrants’ bellies.

The United States Department of Agriculture projects that Americans will throw away more than 200 million pounds of edible turkey meat this Thanksgiving holiday. And Thanksgiving typically ushers in a period of wastefulness, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says American households produce roughly 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than during the rest of the year.

Reducing waste is a worthy goal year-round, but especially so during the holiday season. And accomplishing that goal can be done without sacrificing holiday traditions.

• Use fine china when serving meals. Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to serve meals on fine china and use the silverware that has gone unused instead of disposable plates and utensils. In addition to adding a touch of elegance to meals, reusable china and silverware is less wasteful than paper plates and plastic utensils. Cloth napkins and other table linens are also more eco-friendly than paper napkins.

• Decorate using natural items. Scour the great outdoors for all-natural centerpiece materials or other items that can be turned into wreaths and garlands. Vases filled with pine cones and acorns make for beautiful, inexpensive and festive decorations.

• Shop locally and organically. When shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, choose local produce, poultry and grains whenever possible. Resist the urge to buy more than you need as well. Skip some of the less-popular dishes that are used only to make the table seem full. Buy a small turkey or think about only serving turkey breasts, which tend to be the most popular cuts of the bird. Use reusable shopping bags to carry items home and reduce waste even further.

• Light candles and reduce energy consumption. During the meal, eat by candlelight and turn off lights in other areas of the home that are not in use. Rather than turning on the television, take the party outdoors and play a game of football on the front lawn. • Have a local Thanksgiving. Start a new tradition and invite nearby friends and family over for the holiday instead of traveling long distances. According to Use Less Stuff, a resource for eco-conscious men and women, if each family reduced gasoline consumption by one gallon (roughly 20 miles), they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one million tons.

• Send home the leftovers. Send each guest home with some leftovers if you have any. This way the refrigerator isn’t left full of items that will end up uneaten. Otherwise, donate uncooked food to a local food bank. Use any scraps of vegetables in a compost pile.

• Don’t let recycling fall by the wayside. Remember to recycle all applicable items. Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean recycling habits should be forgotten. Encourage guests to pitch in by clearly marking recycling bins.

Thanksgiving can be less wasteful  without detracting from the enjoyment and true meaning of the holiday.

10 fun facts in time for fall

Autumn is a season of many changes, with some of the most notable including the dramatic multicolored displays that occur just prior to trees shedding their leaves. It’s also a time of year when many people feel reenergized by cooler temperatures and spend many hours outdoors enjoying all that fall has to offer.

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Whether one is collecting leaves, picking apples, exploring corn mazes, or driving the countryside enjoying the foliage, autumn is full of fun facts that can make the season that much more enjoyable.

1. Autumn begins on the autumnal equinox, which occurs on or near September 22 in the northern hemisphere. This year, September 22 is the day when the sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward. When the equinox occurs, there are an equal number of daylight and nighttime hours.

2. Since ancient times, autumn has been an important time of year for many civilizations. Autumn is a main harvesting time in many areas, and a successful harvest was once necessary for survival. Many steps are, and have long been, taken to ensure a bountiful autumn harvest.

3. Fall is a time when trees and other plants prepare for dormancy during winter. As autumn progresses and the hours of daylight gradually decrease, trees begin to close down their food production systems and reduce the amount of chlorophyll in leaves. Chlorophyll is the chemical that makes tree leaves green, and as it declines, other chemicals become more prominent and shine through in the leaves. That is why leaves change color.

4. Some scientists believe that global climate change can impact autumn colors, such as delaying the change in trees. Also, red pigments may start to decline as trees use sugary fuel to grow new twigs rather than to cause red leaf displays.

5. Americans more readily refer to this time of year as “fall,” while the British use “autumn.” Both terms date back to around the 16th century. Prior to this period, autumn was known as “harvest.”

6. Much of the United States bids farewell to monarch butterflies in the fall. Each autumn, monarch butterflies migrate from the United States to Mexico and some parts of Southern California. They fly at speeds ranging between 12 and 25 miles per hour.

7. A study of U.S. centenarians born between 1880 to 1895 published in the Journal of Aging Research, found that babies born during autumn months are more likely to live to age 100 than those born during the rest of the year. Thirty percent of the centenarians followed were born during the fall.

8. Squash, pumpkins and other gourds are prominent in the fall. The largest squash grown on record belonged to Joel Jarvis of Ontario, and his huge winner weighed in at 1,486.6 pounds in 2011.

9. The many-colored leaves are not the only display one might see during the fall. The autumn equinox signals the aurora borealis, also called the Northern Lights. Besides the lengthening of nights and cool evening weather, which are great for stargazers, autumn is “aurora season,” according to NASA. That’s because, during the fall, geomagnetic storms are about twice as frequent as the annual average.

10. Full moons are named for the month or season in which they rise. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. 

The benefits to shopping on Black Friday

Black Friday is a holiday season phenomenon that entices shoppers out of their homes, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. Many stores begin their Black Friday promotions on Thanksgiving night, while others may wait until midnight to open their doors to deal-hungry holiday shoppers.

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Thanks to the crowds, some shoppers may be intimidated by Black Friday and opt to avoid stores entirely on the day after Thanksgiving. But there are a host of benefits to shopping on Black Friday that can compel hesitant shoppers to join the festive fray.

• Deals: Black Friday is a consumer-friendly day on which savvy shoppers can find great deals on big-ticket items. Big-ticket items like electronics, including televisions, smartphones and tablets, are often heavily discounted on Black Friday. Such deals may only be for a certain period of time or until a predetermined amount of inventory has been sold, so shoppers should do their research and prioritize which items are most important to them in advance of Black Friday. While Black Friday occurs during the holiday season when many people are busy looking for gifts for their loved ones, shoppers who need new big-ticket items can save money by shopping for themselves as well as their friends and family members in the initial hours after Thanksgiving.

• Shopping done early: Shoppers who tend to procrastinate during the holiday shopping season may find that shopping on Black Friday increases the chance they’ll get their shopping done early. Getting shopping done early leaves more time to celebrate with family and friends throughout December.

• Giveaways: Many stores offer giveaways to Black Friday shoppers. Such giveaways may include gift cards, free entries into raffles or totes bags full of goodies. Such giveaways make great stocking stuffers, enabling Black Friday shoppers to get some shopping done without spending a dime.

• Budget-friendly: Budget-conscious holiday shoppers may find that Black Friday allows them to give great gifts without compromising their personal finances. In its second annual holiday debt survey, MagnifyMoney found that consumers who took on debt during the 2016 holiday season were poised to begin the new year with an average of $1,003 worth of new debt. Shopping on Black Friday might help many shoppers reduce the amount of debt they take on during the holiday season.

Shoppers hesitant to join the Black Friday fray might want to consider the many benefits to shopping on one of the busiest shopping days of the year before making their final decision.

The growing problem of pet obesity

Many pet owners would never  intentionally harm their companion animals. In fact, pet owners often go above and beyond to ensure their animals are well cared for and content. However, many well-meaning people may be inadvertently harming their pets with something they provide each and every day: food.

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Obesity is on the rise among pets. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says that 54 percent of dogs and 59 percent of cats in the United States were categorized as overweight or obese in 2016. That marks an increase from 52.5 percent and 58.3 percent, respectively, from four years ago. The majority of veterinarians think that pet obesity is a significant problem and nearly half of pet owners admit that their vets have discussed a pet’s ideal weight with them during pet health visits.

Pet weight and appearance

Body weights for pets are based on breed ideals and may not necessarily apply to dogs and cats of mixed breeds. For example, a golden retriever should weigh between 65 and 75 pounds. A domestic cat should weigh between eight and 10 pounds. But vets will consider a host of variables to determine if a given pet is a healthy weight. Vets advise that dog owners should be able to easily feel and count dogs’ ribs when they run their fingers across the side of the animal. Pets viewed from above should display an hourglass figure that includes an indentation near the midsection. The absence of this “waist” may indicate a problem. When observing a pet from the side while he or she is standing, a slight upward slope of the stomach should be visible. A low-hanging abdomen means abdominal fat may be present.

Health problems related to weight

The Purina Pet Care Center found that overweight pets may live two years less than ideal weight pets. Reduced life span is not the only problem, as carrying extra pounds can contribute to various maladies. These include osteoarthritis and poor joint health, type 2 diabetes, ligament injuries, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, and cancer.

Exercise and Food

Just like humans, pets need a combination of physical activity and caloric moderation to maintain healthy weights. Daily caloric needs for indoor cats range from 180 to 200 calories per day. The larger a dog is, the more calories it needs. Pet owners should work with their veterinarians to map out a diet and exercise regimen that can help their overweight pets shed pounds. Vets also can help determine if weight gain is due to illness or food habits. Pets need to maintain healthy diets and engage in exercise to maintain ideal body weights that will keep them healthy for years to come. 

How to help veterans in need

Millions of men and women serve in the military and make the sacrifices that such service requires. Risking their lives to serve their countries, veterans sometimes endure mental and physical trauma, returning home to face uphill battles as they deal with their injuries.

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Many veterans in need are not just in need of medical attention. Learning that their efforts and sacrifices are recognized and appreciated by the ordinary citizens they protect can make a world of difference to veterans as they recover from their injuries. Men, women and children who want to help veterans in need can do so in various ways.

• Visit a veterans hospital. Contact a local veterans’ hospital to inquire about their volunteer programs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notes that each year more than 75,000 volunteers spend more than 11 million hours in service to America’s veterans. Visiting veterans at the hospital to hear their stories can lift their spirits and aid in their recoveries. In addition, veterans’ hospitals may have volunteer opportunities that make it easier for hospitals to operate at optimal capacity.

• Help a neighbor. Unfortunately, many veterans return home with injuries that affect their ability to make it through a typical day without assistance. Disabled veterans may be unable to do their own grocery shopping or maintain their homes. If a neighbor or nearby veteran is facing such hurdles, offer to do his or her shopping or mow his or her lawn. Such tasks won’t take much time but can make a world of difference to veterans.

• Offer professional services free of charge. Professionals who want to help veterans can offer their services free of charge. Accountants can offer to prepare veterans’ tax returns for free, while attorneys can provide legal advice to veterans who need it. Contractors can help disabled veterans by offering to make alterations to their homes for free or at cost.

• Employ social media to help local veterans. Many people who want to help local veterans might not be able to do so more than one day per week. But some veterans may require daily assistance. Men and women can start a locally-based Facebook group for fellow members of their community who want to pitch in to help local veterans. Such a group can make it easier to share information and arrange help for veterans in need. Many veterans return home from serving overseas in need of help. Offering such help can improve veterans’ lives while letting them know their efforts and sacrifices are appreciated. 

Coping With Fewer Hours of Daylight

Daylight saving time comes to an end each fall, at a time when the hours of available sunlight already are beginning to decline.  

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Some people are more accustomed to darkness than others. Norwegians, Swedes and people living in Alaska and the upper reaches of Canada near or above the Arctic Circle may go through a period when winters can be especially dark. Fairbanks, Alaska, gets just three hours and 42 minutes of sunlight on the winter solstice. Those in Barrow, Alaska, will endure a period of 67 days of darkness, according to Alaska.org. Residents of Seattle, which is even further north than cities such as Fargo, North Dakota, or Portland, Maine, deal with more darkness than those living outside the city may know.

Although much of the rest of North America doesn’t experience such profound periods of darkness, when the darkness of fall and winter arrives, it can be difficult to maintain a positive outlook. Borrowing some of the coping mechanisms relied on in northern latitudes can help many people to see the dark in a different light.

  • Be aware of SAD. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons, beginning and ending at about the same times each year. Symptoms tend to start in the fall and continue into the winter, sapping energy and making a person feel moody. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to severe problems if left untreated. Light treatment, talk therapy and medication can help people who are susceptible to SAD.
  • Make daylight hours count. Spend time outdoors while the sun is bright in the sky. Make an effort to switch your schedule if work interferes with getting outdoors, even if all that can be managed is an outdoor walk at lunch. Sit by a bright window and soak up rays whenever possible. • Celebrate winter activities. Go skiing, snowboarding, outdoor ice skating, or snowshoeing. Look forward to winter for what can be done, rather than what can’t.
  • Socialize more often. Instead of holing up indoors alone, frequent the places that become indoor gathering spots for locals. These can include coffee houses, breweries, restaurants, or even the local church. Plan more social occasions with friends and families so everyone can collectively shoo away the winter blues.
  • Exercise more. Use the darker hours as an excuse to exercise more, be it at the gym or outside. The Mayo Clinic says that exercise and other types of physical activity can relieve anxiety and depression, lifting an individual’s mood as a result.
  • Light a fire. Set the kindling ablaze in a fire pit, fireplace or wood burning stove, or just light a handful of candles. Flames can be soothing and less harsh on the eyes than artificial light.

Fall and winter darkness does not have to send a person into the doldrums if he or she embraces the right attitude.

Sugar skull tradition and Día de los muertos

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Halloween costumes may go away right after October 31, but the celebration of the macabre and spirits do not get buried so quickly. El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is celebrated in central and southern Mexico during the early days of November. The day coincides with the Catholic All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day and incorporates many different traditions.

One of the more recognizable traditions is the creation of “calaveritas de azúcar,” or “sugar skulls.” These are decorative or edible skulls made from either clay or sugar, which are used in celebrations. The origin of these molded skulls can be traced back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Although the dead were already honored in Mexico, the Spanish brought their own customs, including molded decorations. Because sugar was readily accessible in Mexico and quite affordable, using it to make molds was a natural choice. Sugar skulls are placed on an “ofrenda,” or  “decorated altar,” that features candles, buckets of flowers, feathers, fruits, and much more. The name of someone who has passed away and is to be honored is written across the forehead of the sugar skull. Adherents of this tradition believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of deceased children can reunite and celebrate with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, adult spirits join the festivities.

In many indigenous or rural areas, the Day of the Dead can be quite expensive, with many families spending several month’s income to honor dead relatives. After food and gifts are shared, the celebration is taken to the cemetery, where tombs are cleaned and loved ones are remembered and spoken of. Music and games also may ensue. The size and colors of sugar skulls vary. Small skulls represent those who passed at a young age, while larger ones are for adults. Sugar skulls are vibrantly colored to reflect life, which the Day of the Dead celebrates. Skulls may have glitter and be decorated with hats and bows.

Some sugar skulls are made entirely of edible ingredients, and very few are solely used as decoration rather than something to eat.