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Top Five Safety Gift Picks for 2013

December 19, 2013 8:24 pm

As time runs out for buying this year's presents, remember a gift that could save a life is always in style. That is exactly what you can do by purchasing electrical safety devices. To help you in your last-minute shopping, Safe Electricity has picked their top five gift ideas to help keep your holiday season merry, bright, and safe!

"The holidays are a time to let people know how much you care about them," says Molly Hall, executive director of the Energy Education Council and its Safe Electricity program. "A practical gift that helps keep loved ones safe continues to say 'I care about you' long after the holidays."

Safe Electricity's top five safety gift picks for 2013 are:

• Appliance Timer with a Safety Turn-off: Is there someone on your list who is repeatedly forgetting to turn off a curling iron or other small appliance? An appliance timer with a safety turn-off can be found for around $8 and provides an added layer of protection when a small appliance, such as an iron or space heater, accidentally gets left on. It has an auto shut-off timer that helps protect homes from fire or burn hazards.

• Portable/Extension Cord GFCI: Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) detect and prevent shocks. You may have noticed them in many bathrooms, kitchens, and other places where water and electricity may meet. They are the outlets with red and black buttons. If you know someone who works outside often, a portable GFCI is a perfect gift. A portable GFCI offers protection from shock regardless of the electronic or tool that's plugged into it, helping keep your loved ones safe wherever they work. A GFCI extension cord starts at around $25.

• Tamper Resistant Outlets or Outlet Plugs: Young children may put fingers or other small objects in outlets without understanding the dangers of electricity. It is up to you to understand the dangers of electricity and prevent accidents. Tamper Resistant Outlets (TROs) provide a permanent solution. TROs have shutters that stay closed unless a plug with two prongs is plugged in. If you do not have a thorough understanding of electricity, TROs should be installed by a professional. Another option is simple outlet plugs. A TRO costs less than $2. Packs of multiple outlet plugs start at around $3.

• Non-contact Voltage Tester: This gift is for the do-it-yourselfer. This is an inexpensive tool that detects the presence of voltage without touching a bare wire. The tester uses non-contact voltage detection technology to identify voltage in cables, cords, wires, circuit breakers, lighting fixtures, switches, and outlets. Prices start around $12.

• Power Strips and Smart Strips: Many people will get new electronics for the holidays. Help your friends power electronics safely with a new power strip. Choose a power strip that comes with a circuit breaker that will trip if the power strip becomes overloaded. Overloaded power strips are dangerous and can cause shocks and fires. Power strip prices start at around $7. Smart power strips are another option that add energy savings. Electronics that are turned off sometimes still draw power. So a control unit, such as a television or computer, is plugged into one outlet. The smart strip detects when the control unit is off and shuts off power to peripherals, like DVD players and printers. Smart strips can be found for as low as $22.

During the busy holidays Safe Electricity encourages you to take time to keep all of your celebrations safe. For more information, visit

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Four Quick Steps to a Guest-Friendly Home

December 18, 2013 8:24 pm

Having extra bodies in your home overnight can be stressful at any time, but house guests for the holidays – when you are already deep into shopping and preparing – can seem like more than you want to take on.

The home and style editors from Better Homes and Gardens offer four do-ahead suggestions that should help to make your guests feel welcomed and comfortable and calm your last-minute jitters about hosting:

Clear the clutter – Keep an eye out for any knick-knacks or furniture you can store in the garage or closet in order to provide extra space for your guests’ luggage and belongings.

Prep the sleeping space – Whether it is a guest bedroom or a pull-out sofa in the den, place a basket nearby with extra linens, a few magazines or books, and a small alarm clock. If your guests will be spending some time on their own, include a map and/or guidebook for the local area. Try to make sure there is adequate reading light, and – somewhere on a small table or dresser top, place a small plant or a vase of fresh flowers with a welcome note propped up against it.

Prep the bathroom – Clean the guest bathroom, or a shared one, thoroughly, and consider replacing a tired-looking shower curtain or towels. Find a spot for a basket containing spare towels and personal items, such as lotion, shampoo, and toothbrush, or other items that might have been forgotten. Plug in a nightlight to help light the way from the sleeping area.

Prep the kitchen – Before your guests arrive, ask them about any food or snack preferences or other items they would like to have on hand. On a tray near the coffeepot, or on a counter, place a selection of coffee, tea and cocoa along with sugar and creamer so your guests don’t need to rummage through the cupboards. You may want to include some cookies or fruit for impromptu snacking anytime the mood strikes.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


31 Percent of Holiday Shoppers Have Yet To Buy a Single Gift

December 18, 2013 8:24 pm

Despite the shorter-than-usual holiday shopping season, 31 percent of Americans who plan on giving gifts haven't even started shopping as of early December, according to a new Consumer Reports poll. Of those who have started shopping, 49 percent were less than half way done.

The Consumer Reports poll also revealed that with regard to their holiday preparations, 64 percent of shoppers felt they have things under control and will be ready. However, 36 percent were feeling at least somewhat stressed – including 6 percent who were so overwhelmed that they're unsure if they'll be ready in time, and 3 percent who said they almost certainly won't be ready for the holidays.

"Even though this year there's less days on the calendar to get their holiday shopping done, there are still quite a bit of procrastinators out there," said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior editor and resident shopping expert. "The 11 percent who told us they've completely finished shopping already have certainly saved themselves the stress of frantically searching for last-minute gifts."

The Consumer Reports poll also revealed which methods of sending holiday greetings are least likely to be well-received. When asked to rate the tastefulness of various ways people may send holiday greetings, 67 percent of Americans said group text messages were in poor taste, 65 percent said the same about all-purpose greetings posted on social media or the like, while 57 percent said  group emails were in poor taste. 

When asked which holiday gift recipient is the hardest to shop for, 30 percent said it was their spouse/partner/significant other, one quarter cited a parent, while 12 percent said it was the kids.

As for whom Americans will be spending the most money on for holiday gifts, the Consumer Reports revealed the following top responses:

Children (39 percent)
Spouse/Partner/Significant Other (29 percent)
Parent (11 percent)
Sibling (5 percent)
Friend ( 3 percent)

Most shoppers seemed to be doing a good job of controlling their holiday gift spending, according to the Consumer Reports poll. But 36 percent indeed were concerned about overspending – including 6 percent who were very concerned.

Other holiday tidbits from the poll included:

-82 percent would rather receive practical gifts vs. luxury gifts (18 percent)
-60 percent would rather receive cash vs. gift cards (40 percent)
-56 percent would rather host out-of-town guests vs. being a guest at someone else's home (44 percent)
-56 percent would rather have a fake Christmas tree vs. a real one (44 percent)

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Prepare Holiday Meals Safely

December 18, 2013 8:24 pm

For many families, preparing a grand meal is a tradition they look forward to during the holidays, but it's no fun if someone gets food poisoning. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million people in the United States get sick each year from eating contaminated foods.

You can avoid foodborne illness by following these tips:

1. When buying food:

-Choose fresh items and check the expiration date for everything you buy.
-Foods that need to be refrigerated, such as meat, eggs and milk, should be the last things you buy at the store.
-Place meats (chicken, fish, pork and beef) in a separate bag. The liquids that spill out of these items can contaminate fruits, vegetables and other food in the refrigerator.
-If you'll be driving for more than an hour after you go to the supermarket, take a cooler to store the items that need refrigeration.

2. When handling food:

-Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling any food.
-Wash fruits and vegetables with a brush to remove any dirt or soil residue.
-Do not wash meats before cooking. This could cause bacteria to contaminate your sink and other kitchen surfaces.
-Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave. Defrosting them at room temperature can cause bacteria to multiply.
-Wash the knife and cutting board that were used to prepare meat before using them on other food items to avoid contamination.

3. When cooking food:

-Cook meats after defrosting them. Don't leave them out of the refrigerator for too long.
-Make sure the meats are cooked well inside and out. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature.
-Don't put freshly cooked items next to raw foods.
-When cooking meat, do so all at once. Avoid partially cooking meat and refrigerating it with the intention of completing the cooking process later.

4. When storing food:

-Once you've cooked your food, make sure to store it promptly in the refrigerator.
-Remember to eat leftovers like meats, eggs and pastas within the expiration date, which can generally vary between one and five days.
-Check the food storage guide for extra precautions.

Get additional health tips and other relevant information at and

Published with permission from RISMedia.


From Wallflower to Social Butterfly: Five Tips to Shine at Holiday Parties

December 17, 2013 8:21 pm

When Dickens wrote that "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times," he must have been talking about forced-festive holiday company parties. For many of us, and our spouses, "holiday mixers" and company parties have to be jammed into a busy holiday work week. Most of us probably were lucky enough to have escaped them the last few years, when they went the way of budget cuts. This year, holiday parties have come back in force, causing those attending these mandatory events the added stress of plucking themselves out of their vase on the wall in order to make a winning impression. As partygoers we have to be polite, sharp, remember everyone's name, not delve into subjects that are even remotely controversial, and do it sober!

Read an article, book or see an Oscar-nominated movie that you can talk about.
A little pop culture can go a long ways towards breaking the ice. Spend a few minutes reading an article that will give you something to talk about with new acquaintances. Alternatively, if you've read a book that is popular you could bring it up.

Not everyone spends a lot of time reading magazines or books, but pretty much everyone watches movies. With the Oscars coming up soon many people are abuzz with the "must see nominations." Check one out! Even if your new acquaintance hasn't seen any, you can still give your recommendation. As a fallback, you can bring up your favorite classic comedy that you think everyone has probably seen.

Keep your eyes open for someone with an unusual accessory.
When you see someone who is wearing an interesting piece of jewelry or article of clothing and ask him/her where they got it. Topics like that usually spark a conversation and get the other person to ask you about something you might be wearing.

Ask questions.
People like to talk about themselves, so ask about them. How's the job going? Where are your kids going to school? How do you know the host? Did you see the game? Questions are the best way to get others talking and for helping the conversation flow along nicely.

Bring your camera.
Let's face it, even when you're prepared with all of the above, some of us are just too shy to start conversations with strangers. A camera can give you a ruse to approach people. And, if you've decided the recently photographed are just not doing it for you, you have a perfect excuse to move on to the next victim!

Mor Nahum, PhD, is a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, a Senior Social Cognition Researcher at BPI, and the design consultant for Posit Science's People Skills in San Francisco.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Enjoy a Guilt-Free Holiday Season

December 17, 2013 8:21 pm

Between holiday parties with overflowing buffets and the tempting treats abounding in office kitchens, it is no surprise that the season can take a toll on anyone's diet. But, indulging your sweet tooth does not have to come with a high-calorie price tag!  This holiday season, America's iconic zero-calorie pink sweetener, Sweet'N Low, has paired up with Emmy-award winning Dr. Luis Pacheco to give you some tips on how to cut some calories and stay healthy while partaking in the season's festivities.

Don't Go To The Party Hungry – Is your holiday party late at night? Don't wait until the party to eat. Have a small snack a few hours before the event to tide you over.  Choose a lower calorie version of your usual go-to snacks, like a delicious Strawberry Almond Smoothie or a quick and hearty Oatmeal Raisin Bar, instead of binging on unhealthy event food because you are famished.

Think Of New Recipes for Old Favorites – When baking your favorite sweet treats for the holidays, try new recipes that reduce sugar and calories so that you can indulge in the season's treats without the caloric guilt. Sweet'N Low's recipes for Holiday Cookies and Festive Fruitcake deliver the same delicious taste with less sugar and calories – it's a win-win!

Be Cognizant Of Liquid Calories – While the idea of "saving your calories for drinks" is a noble one, it may not be the best choice from a health perspective.  Your body needs substantial food to help absorb alcohol, so monitor what you eat and drink if celebrating this holiday season with spirits.  Drink in moderation, of course, and try lower calorie versions of your favorite classics that are just as delicious, such as Calorie-Trimmed Eggnog or a Skinny Cosmopolitan, so that you can celebrate the season while watching your waistline.

Remember, although many holiday activities are focused around food, by watching what you consume, you can enjoy the holiday season without worrying about extra calories! Focus on spending time with loved-ones and making memories instead of fretting over what's being served next. When you're able to make healthy swaps, you can enjoy what you're eating without any guilt.

Source: Sweet’N Low

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Spice Up Your Space

December 17, 2013 8:21 pm

What do you see when you walk in the door of your home? A space that's uplifting, or one that is dull and unexciting?

Your home should make you feel calm, creative, cozy or refreshed; however, many people feel stressed by the clutter that has accumulated or are simply bored with their décor. Decor&You encourages people to find inspiration in their home design, and ultimately make their living space feel like a retreat from the stressors of everyday life.

"Many people believe that changing the look and feel of a home is a difficult and expensive task," said Karen Powell, founder and CEO of Decor&You. "However, there are simple ways to spice up the atmosphere of your home drastically, without breaking the bank."

Powell shares the following tips on how to refresh your home:

Color Splash: Paint is one of the most inexpensive and drastic ways to alter the mood of a room. Pick a color that you are drawn to, one that you would love to see every single day. If applying that color to an entire room makes you nervous, apply the paint to one accent wall instead. Hint: blue pigment can make you feel more relaxed and green colors invoke creativity.

Organize Beautifully: Over time, belongings can start to clog up the house and make a space look smaller and disorganized. One way to beat the clutter, while adding style, is to find storage containers that are unique and stylish. Using wicker baskets on top of, or below, existing furniture is a perfect storage solution for achieving a fresh look while still hiding items.

Bring a Room to Life: Not only are plants a beautiful and easy way to make a room look fresh and vibrant, they also have health benefits. Studies have shown that house plants can make you feel happier. Use this mood-boosting excuse as a reason to treat yourself to fresh flowers every once in a while, too.

Mirror, Mirror: Small space got you down? Tearing out an entire wall in order to make a room look bigger can be expensive, but adding mirrors is a quick and easy fix. There are thousands of different styles of mirrors, many with beautiful ornate detail. All of the options are cheaper than re-constructing the shape of a house, so splurge on one that you really love.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


7 Food Myths That May Surprise You

December 16, 2013 8:21 pm

We all enter adulthood with few nutritional guidelines drummed into us since we were kids: whole grain breads are better than white…fat-laden chips should be avoided…and many of them are pretty much true.

But as registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty told Good Housekeeping recently, there are at least seven food fallacies we need to recognize as false:

Fresh is better than frozen – Only sometimes. Flash-frozen foods retain more nutritional value than “fresh” foods that have traveled a long distance or have been on the shelf for days.

Sea salt has less sodium – Not true. Gram for gram, sea salt contains as much sodium as table salt. (However, because of its larger crystals, you may be inclined to use less of it.)

Red wine is good for you – Most doctors agree that a glass of red wine can be beneficial. But the recommendation is “one glass.” More each day can be harmful.

Brown sugar is healthier than white - Brown sugar is simply white sugar that has had molasses reintroduced to it. Because of its molasses content, it does contain minerals – but only in small amounts, so the health difference is miniscule.

100 percent fruit juice is best for you – It’s better than ‘juice blends’ that contain added water and sugar. But better yet, opt for whole fruit over a glass of juice, which has more calories than a piece of fruit and lacks the fill-you-up fiber.

Organic foods are healthier - Organic foods are grown without synthetic flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives, and pesticides – and have not been genetically modified. Are they better for the environment? Yes. Are they more nutritious? Not necessarily. The USDA makes no claims that organic foods are healthier.

Dark breads are better for you – Dark breads may simply contain caramel coloring and may be no healthier than white bread. Look for the words "whole grain" or "100 percent whole wheat" on the package, and make sure the first ingredient listed is: whole wheat, oats, whole rye, whole-grain corn, barley, buckwheat, or brown rice.

Brown eggs are more nutritious - The only thing the color of an eggshell indicates is the color of the bird it came from. White hens lay white eggs, and red hens lay brown eggs. Their nutritional value is pretty much the same.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Gluten and Food Labeling: FDA's New Regulation

December 16, 2013 8:21 pm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a regulation that defines the term "gluten-free" for food labeling. This new standard, which is voluntary for use by food manufacturers, provides consumers the assurance that "gluten-free" claims on food products are reliable and consistent across the food industry.

For those consumers seeking a gluten-free diet, the new regulation also eliminates uncertainty by providing a standardized tool for managing their health and dietary intake.

"Gluten-Free" Labeling is Critical for Some Consumers
What is Gluten? Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains. Foods that typically contain gluten include breads, cakes, cereals, and pastas. Gluten is the ingredient that gives breads and other grain products their shape, strength, and texture. But for someone suffering from celiac disease, consuming gluten can have serious health consequences.

Celiac Disease is a Chronic Illness: As many as three million Americans may have celiac disease – an inherited, chronic, inflammatory auto-immune digestive disorder. It is often silent, latent or misdiagnosed. When someone afflicted with celiac disease consumes gluten, his/her body's natural defense system triggers the production of antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine. This damage limits the ability to absorb nutrients and can lead to other very serious health problems.

Definition of "Gluten-Free": FDA has set a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label "gluten-free." This level is the lowest that can be reliably detected in foods, and most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten. The new regulation also applies to foods labeled with the terms "no gluten," "free of gluten," and "without gluten."

Many foods that were labeled as "gluten-free" prior to the new regulation may already meet the federal definition. For those that do not yet comply, manufacturers have until August of 2014 to make whatever changes are needed in the formulation or labeling of the foods bearing a gluten-free claim in order to legally market them in the United States.

Source: US FDA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Consumers to Increase Their Holiday Shopping at Convenience Stores

December 13, 2013 8:21 pm

Harried consumers seeking to complete their holiday shopping say that they will rely more on convenience stores this year for quick snacks, stocking stuffers, party items and cash from ATMs, according to a consumer survey released by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

One in three consumers say that they plan to buy snacks and other food items from convenience stores more often (32 percent) and that they plan to buy coffee and other beverages from convenience stores more often (31 percent) while shopping this holiday season.

Younger consumers, those 18 to 34, are most likely to grab a quick snack or beverage at convenience stores, with a majority expecting to buy snacks (52 percent) or drinks (51 percent) more often at convenience stores while shopping this holiday season.

In addition to purchasing quick snacks and drinks as part of their holiday shopping excursions, consumers say that they will be increasingly using convenience stores to purchase holiday gifts or related items. More than one in five consumers say that when it comes to making purchases at convenience stores, they will be buying more gift cards more often (23 percent), small presents or stocking stuffers more often (21 percent), and more small items like tape and batteries more often (22 percent). Younger consumers are most likely to purchase these items at convenience stores: more than one in three of those 18 to 34 say that they will be buying gifts cards (38 percent), small presents (38 percent) and small items like tape and batteries (37 percent) at convenience stores more often this holiday season.

"Lottery tickets are always a popular stocking stuffer or office gift, and with the current Mega Millions jackpot now at $400 million we are definitely seeing an increase in sales for what could potentially be an amazing holiday gift," said Lenard.

Convenience stores also will be a popular destination for those planning holiday parties. One in five consumers (21 percent) say that they will be shopping more often at convenience stores to pick up items like wine, beer and snacks that they need for parties that they are attending or hosting. More than one in three consumers age 18 to 34 say that they will be buying more items from convenience stores for parties this holiday season, with 39 percent stocking up for parties that they are hosting and 37 percent buying items for parties that they are attending.

Source: National Association of Convenience Stores

Published with permission from RISMedia.