How to stay in for New Year’s Eve

Let’s face it: Once you get to a certain age, going out on New Year’s Eve whooping it up loses its appeal. Either that or Father Time is catching up with you and well, you can’t handle a night of carrying on the way you used to when you were younger. It’s OK. It happens to us all. Here are some suggestions on how you can stay in for New Year’s Eve and still manage to have a little party of your own with families and friends.

New Year’s Eve is actually a great night to go out to dinner. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have reservations, but more often than not, it’s a slow night for restaurants—especially if you get there early in the evening. If you’re more of the let’s-eat-in type, having a few friends over for dinner and drinks is a terrific way to ring in the New Year. Of course, sleepovers are mandatory if guests become intoxicated.

Settling in and watching the boob tube is another New Year’s Eve tradition that will keep you off the streets. Many stations offer movie or television marathons. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a Marx Brothers or Thin Man marathon to ring in the New Year. Or if you want to control the programming, make sure you have set aside a DVD of your favorite television show and get to it. Popcorn and soft drinks are recommended, although it’s totally cool if you break out the alcohol. As long as you stay on the couch, right?!

If your New Year’s Eve is more of a family affair, playing games is always a fun way to ring in the New Year. Especially if you’re playing some epic games of Scrabble or Scattergories. Or you can fire up your video game console on your television and have a great time as a gamer.

With the Internet, Skype, FaceTime and all the other ways we can stay in touch, you might want to stay close to your computer or mobile device and celebrate New Year’s Eve using a little bit of newfangled technology.

Best romantic songs for New Year’s Eve kiss

Auld Lang Syne. Really? Aren’t there other songs that are just as appropriate to smooch your sweetheart to as you ring in the New Year?! Absolutely there are. Here are our picks for some really romantic songs that sound especially great on New Year’s Eve and will get your year started off on the right foot.

If you’re going old school

Fans of the Fab Four may enjoy, “In My Life,” an achingly beautiful ballad that is perfect for a slow dance when the clock strikes midnight. Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” a love song to Macca’s late wife Linda, is a really touching love song is sure to get the job done as well. And for the really romantic, try John Lennon’s “Oh My Love,” which is sparsely arranged and is an eloquent ode to love.

Johnny Mathis’ “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is a time-honored classic that still sounds sublime after all these years. Want to kick it old-school with your longtime love? Why not give Frank Sinatra’s “You Brought a New Love to Me” a spin and you’re guaranteed to get at least a New Year’s smooch in return. Anita Day’s “I Love You” and Glenn Miller’s classic “Moonlight Serenade” are also stellar choices of songs to pucker up to on New Year’s Eve.

Fans of R&B and soul have several great choices for music that will ring in the New Year with a peck on the cheek. Sam Cooke’s rendition of “What a Wonderful Life” is a romantic and nostalgic number that almost everyone knows by heart. Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is probably one for lovers-only and well, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” is about as romantic as things can get musically.

Don’t forget Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” which is a recognizable song that is sure to be a hit when celebrating New Year’s Eve. If you grew up listening to music in the ‘70s, Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” may make your partner swoon and if you’re a produce of the ‘80s and new wave, Modern English can help you celebrate the New Year with a kiss with their hit, “Melt With You.” (Hairspray not included.)

How to care for your Christmas tree

Unless you’re a seasoned Christmas tree owner, chances are you may not be aware of how to care for your freshly-cut tree properly. With a little love and some TLC, you can greatly extend the life of your tree and keep all the annoying needle droppings down to a minimum.

Put your tree in water ASAP –  Once you’ve got your tree home, place it’s trunk in water as soon as possible. Trees can usually still take up water six to eight hours after cutting, but you’ll want to get your tree in water sooner than that.

Putting your tree temporarily into cool storage – Christmas trees can be stored for a few days as long as it’s in a cool environment—as long as the trunk is kept in a bucket of water.

Get expert advice – Where possible, get your Christmas tree from a local farm that can help you determine the correct size stand you should use to display your tree. It’ll help extend the life of the tree plus you’ll be supporting your local business.

Use a traditional reservoir stand – Traditional reservoir stands are the best way to help trees stay fresh and keep needles dropping on your floor to a minimum.

The size of the stand matters – Don’t whittle down the base of the tree just to fit it into a stand. The outside layers of the tree soak up the most water. Stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter.

Water temperature – Your Christmas tree doesn’t care if you use cold, warm or hot water.

Check water level daily – The water level should never go below the base of the tree. Christmas tree water monitors can help you ensure you’ve got the right level of water for your tree.

Keep heat sources to a minimum – Christmas trees begin drying out once they’re cut. You can slow down this process by minimizing the tree’s exposure to heat (e.g., fireplace, heating vents, etc.). Low-power lights don’t create too much heat and are the best bet for your tree.

Minimize fire hazards – Keep your tree away from the fireplace. If decorating with lights, check the light string to ensure there are no frayed cords and that bulbs aren’t excessively hot.

Replace batteries in smoke detector – Put fresh batteries in your smoke detector. If you don’t have a smoke detector nearby the tree, consider getting an extra detector. That small investment could help save lives in the case of fire.

Source: christmastree.org

What days the holidays fall on in 2012

Here’s a handy list of the major holidays and what days they fall on in the year 2012.

  • New Year’s Day: Sunday, January 1
  • Martin Luther King Day: Monday, January 16
  • Groundhog Day: Thursday, February 2
  • Valentine’s Day: Tuesday, February 14
  • Mardi Gras: Tuesday, February 21
  • St. Patrick’s Day: Saturday, March 17
  • April Fool’s Day: Sunday, April 1
  • Good Friday: Friday, April 6
  • Easter: Sunday, April 8
  • Earth Day: Sunday, April 22
  • Cinco De Mayo: Saturday, May 5
  • Mother’s Day: Sunday, May 13
  • Memorial Day: Monday, May 28
  • Father’s Day: Sunday, June 17
  • Summer Solstice: Thursday, June 21
  • Independence Day: Wednesday, July 4
  • Labor Day: Monday, September 3
  • Patriot Day: Tuesday, September 11
  • Rosh Hashanah: Sunday, September 16
  • Yom Kippur: Tuesday, September 25 – Wednesday, September 26
  • Columbus Day: Monday, October 8
  • Halloween: Wednesday, October 31
  • Veterans Day: Sunday, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day: Thursday, November 22
  • Black Friday: Friday, November 23
  • Cyber Monday: Monday, November 26
  • Christmas: Tuesday, December 25
  • Hanukkah: Saturday, December 8 – Sunday, December 16
  • Winter Solstice: Friday, December 21
  • Kwanzaa: Wednesday, December 26 – Tuesday, January 1, 2013
  • New Year’s Eve: Monday, December 31

Christmas with the Beatles

The Beatles’ Christmas records might be some of the least known Fab Four recordings, to the general public anyway. Starting in 1963 and running through 1969, the Beatles sent a flexi-disc recording with a Christmas message out to its fan club members in the U.K. and the U.S. When the Beatles broke up in 1970, the seven recordings were compiled onto a full-length album.

Aside from a version of “Christmas Time is Here Again” that was commercially released in the mid-1990s as part of the “Anthology” collection, the Beatles’ Christmas fan club records have never been officially reissued. Maybe one Christmas Beatles fans will finally get a special gift from the Fab Four. Until then, you can find the Beatles’ Christmas Records on YouTube. We’ve collected them here for your listening pleasure.

The Beatles’ Christmas Record (1963) – The lads ad-lib their way through this one with a few renditions of “Good King Wenceslas” and close out with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo.” Yup, that’s right, Ringo.

Another Beatles Christmas Record (1964) – Beatlemania was in full swing when this Christmas recording was released. Notable for the inclusion of “Jingle Bells” and for the Fab Four letting their guard down in the studio and having some fun while addressing their fans.

The Beatles’ Third Christmas Record (1965) – The third time is the charm, right? The Beatles serve up some off-the-cuff renditions of “Yesterday” and a poem entitled, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.”

The Beatles’ Fourth Christmas Record (1966) – This might be one of The Beatles’ most quirky Christmas recordings. It’s a mixture of imaginative skits and song. There’s no way this would have ever made its way onto a Beatles studio album, but it seems just right for a fan-club recording.

Christmas Time is Here Again (1967) – This imaginative Christmas recording pits several fictitious bands against one another as they audition for a BBC radio show. (The Beatles, by that time, had enjoyed numerous radio specials of their own.)

The Beatles’ 1968 Christmas Record (1968) – The Fab Four was heavily into experimentation with aural collages (see “Revolution #9” from The White Album) and this Christmas recording is a pastiche of weird sounds and musical snippets, with messages from the Beatles interspersed throughout.

The Beatles’ Seventh Christmas Record (1969) – The final Beatles Christmas record focuses mostly on John and Yoko, with a visit to their home. Ringo and George are heard only briefly, while Paul croons a short song, “This is to Wish You a Merry, Merry Christmas,” which seems to be made up on the spot.

Bonus Track: All I Want For Christmas BBC Medley – Here is the Fab Four having a lot of fun in the BBC studios and celebrating Christmas with their fans listening in on BBC Radio.

Celebrating Christmas with Sesame Street

Here are some family-friendly Christmas videos from the Sesame Street crew that you and your children can enjoy watching together this holiday season.

Oscar Hates Christmas – Even though this video stars Oscar the Grouch, you may notice appearances by Bob McGrath and Mr. Hooper.

Elmo’s Christmas Wish – Elmo is staying cool this Christmas, while a little elf that sounds a lot like Ben Stiller is panicking.

I Want a Snuffy for Christmas – Hopefully a Snuffleupagus isn’t on your child’s wish list Christmas. But if it is, you may as well embrace and enjoy this duet between Big Bird and Anne Hathaway who both want a Snuffy!

Elmo Saves Christmas – Elmo is just so wonderful, isn’t he? Of course he will save Christmas as well. Here are four clips from Elmo’s Christmas special.

Bert and Ernie’s Gift of the Magi – Here’s a classic clip with Bert and Ernie celebrating Christmas and getting to learn the true meaning of Christmas. Featuring Mr. Hooper.

Celebrating Christmas Yo Gabba Gabba! Style

If there’s one thing that the kids are all in agreement about, it’s that Yo Gabba Gabba! is the coolest show ever. It has enough hipster references and swagger to it that parents can enjoy as well. And like any good children’s show, Yo Gabba Gabba! loves Christmas!

Now this looks like awesome fun. A bouncy seat, a bouncy toy and lots of green stripes. This makes you want to be a kid at Christmas all over again.

Yeah, this one is pretty much for the adults, but on some level, doesn’t everything about Yo Gabba Gabba! seem designed with adults in mind first?

What is better than getting a musical instrument for Christmas? Every kid should get a Muno guitar this holiday season and start their own band!

Mom and daughter share a dancing moment on Christmas morning. Yo Gabba Gabba! style of course.

It’s unclear if this qualifies as “dirty dancing” or not. It probably does. Except it’s two dancing toys. And it’s Christmas time. So why not?!

How to roast a turkey safely

Turkey is the meal of choice on Thanksgiving. And while you can find a turkey at nearly every grocery store in the country, that doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to roast a turkey—and do it safely—once they have that big bird home. Here are several tips to remember on Thanksgiving day when it’s time to talk (and eat) turkey!

If you’re buying a fresh turkey, it’s important to take extra precautions handling and preparing the turkey to minimize the risk of harmful bacteria. In fact, the USDA recommends avoiding pre-stuffed fresh turkeys for that very reason. Don’t buy the fresh turkey any more than 48 hours before you intend to cook it.

Frozen turkeys are the most convenient to prepare. They can be kept frozen indefinitely (think of it as suspended animation if you will). Once it comes to thawing your frozen turkey, you’ve got three options: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

In the fridge, allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds to thaw. Thawing in cold water is a much quicker process; allow roughly 30 minutes per pound of turkey. If using cold water, you’ll need to change the water every 30 minutes and make sure the turkey is well wrapped so no water gets through to the bird. In the fridge, keep a pan beneath the turkey to catch any juices that may leak! If you’re nuking your bird this Thanksgiving, your best bet is to consult your microwave oven owner’s manual, which you probably tossed a long time ago. Once it’s thawed, you’ll want to cook it immediately.

So what does one do with those giblets? Remove them from the turkey cavity and cook them separately. That’s what!

The timetables for roasting a turkey can vary whether you’re cooking an unstuffed or stuffed turkey and of course, depending on the weight of the bird. You’re definitely going to need a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and the stuffing. Check out the USDA’s guidelines on recommended cooking times to make sure you don’t ruin the turkey.

It is safe to cook a turkey from a frozen state, but it’ll take you 50% longer, which may be fine by you, especially if you prefer to skip the thawing phase. Definitely, most definitely, wash your hands, the utensils you’re using and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and raw turkey juices. Are you sufficiently frightened by the thought of bacteria ruining your Thanksgiving meal? Don’t worry about it as long as you’re following all the rules.

Source: USDA

Thanksgiving and football: Two holiday traditions

One of the great all-time Thanksgiving traditions is, without a doubt, football. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the Detroit Lions or the Dallas Cowboys playing. If you’re not a football fan, the appeal of the pigskin on turkey day may be lost on you. But if you’re a diehard football fanatic, Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated days of the season.

Once upon a time, football on Thanksgiving used to be popular at the high school and college level. And since 1920, professional football matchups have taken place. While there are still high school and college games throughout Thanksgiving weekend, the NFL has become synonymous with Thanksgiving and ranks right up there with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie.

Two teams you can always count on playing on Thanksgiving are the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. The Lions Thanksgiving tradition dates back to 1934 when the team took on the Chicago Bears with 26,000 in attendance. The Lions have played every Thanksgiving since then, except for 1939 through 1944.

The Cowboys (also known as “The team you love to hate”) began their Thanksgiving stint in 1966. With the exception of missing two years in 1975 and 1977, they have played year in, year out on the holiday.

Because two football games weren’t enough on Thanksgiving, the NFL added a third game in 2006, with a rotating team getting the honors to play. Here are the NFL matchups for 2011 on Thanksgiving:

The Green Bay Packers take on the Detroit Lions at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time on Fox. Then at 4:15, it’s the Dallas Cowboys’ turn as they play host to the Miami Dolphins. That game airs on CBS. And the final Thanksgiving football battle is between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. Game time is at 8:20 p.m. and airs exclusively on the NFL Network.

Thanksgiving by the numbers

By now you’ve probably asked yourself, “How many millions of turkeys will be eaten in the U.S. this Thanksgiving?” It’s not exactly the type of thing you’d probably Google. Unless you’re a numbers or stats freak. In that case, read on. And even if you’re not, here are some facts and figures about Thanksgiving, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.

If the number 248 million doesn’t mean anything to you this Thanksgiving season, it should. That’s how many turkeys are expected to be raised in 2011. Put all these turkeys in one room and we might have a problem on our hands.

It’s not clear if questions about cranberries and cranberry sauce were on the most recent U.S. Census form, but somehow those clever folks figured out that in 2011, America will produce 750 million pounds of cranberries. No word on how many Craisins will be made.

If you love sweet potatoes, then 2011 is your year. That’s because the U.S. will churn out a whopping 2.4 billion pounds of sweet potatoes. No wonder many places serve sweet potato fries these days. Now if we could only invent a lighter sweet potato we could save on shipping costs.

That’s nothing compared to green beans. Sure, they’re a magical fruit and all that jazz, but check this out: America will produce 656,340 tons of green beans this year. So when your Thanksgiving green bean casserole turns out to weigh half a ton, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

And did you know there are 116.7 million homes in America? That’s a lot of potential Thanksgiving gathering places. And as for those poor turkeys? They don’t stand a chance. The average U.S. citizen will consume 13.3 pounds of turkey in one year.

Well, anyway you slice and dice these numbers; at least that one lucky turkey that gets pardoned by the President can breathe a little easier—for this year anyway.

Keeping your kids busy on Thanksgiving

Ah, it’s Thanksgiving, you’re celebrating with a family get together and uh-oh, how are you going to keep the kids out of your hair while you prepare the big meal? Here are some ways to keep the young ones distracted, if not entertained while you prepare all the Thanksgiving trimmings.

Take them to the Thanksgiving parade – Chances are there’s a local Thanksgiving parade near you. If so, taking the kids and letting them get their energy out may pay off later in the afternoon when they’re tuckered out.

Send the kids outside to play in the leaves – If you’re thinking ahead, you will have raked (or blown) all the leaves into a big pile. Point at the pile of leaves, tell the kids they can’t jump in it no matter what, and then walk away. Leaf play will ensue.

Stick them in front of the TV – This is really an easy way out, but sometimes firing up a DVD or Nickelodeon and letting the kids veg out in front of the boob tube is the only way to get stuff done on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving skit – Task the wee ones with putting on a Thanksgiving “play” in which they explain pilgrims, Indians and the meaning of Thanksgiving. Encourage the kids to dress up as Thanksgiving characters.

Write down what you’re thankful for – Ask the kids (and adults too) to write down what they’re thankful for. After dinner, read the notes and try to match up the note with the family member. If the kids are really creative, ask them to draw the things they are thankful for and then have your own Thanksgiving art show.

Make decorations – For the creative types, some construction paper, scissors, glue and crayons may be all that is needed to fire up some homemade Thanksgiving decorations that can be stored away and brought out every Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving word games – See how many words the kids can make out of the word “Thanksgiving.” Also, spell out Thanksgiving and underneath each letter, have the kids try to name as many things as they’re thankful for that start with each letter.

Create an indoor scavenger hunt – This can be a really fun game for kids, plus you can suggest to them that they’ll find most of what they’re looking for away from the kitchen so you can keep them out of your hair and your eye on the turkey or ham.

Jobs in the kitchen – If they’re ready for the responsibility, give the little ones some jobs to do in the kitchen. Just make sure it’s not something they can easily make a mess of, because, well, you know how kids are …

Let them help set table – If you haven’t already set your Thanksgiving dinner table, it might be a good job for the kids. Just don’t be surprised if they get the forks, knives and spoons mixed and they end up on the wrong side of the table setting!

Thanksgiving Parades: National and regional

Americans love parades, especially on Thanksgiving. What better way to give thanks than with a community celebration that has become a holiday tradition?

There are at least four major Thanksgiving parades in the U.S.: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (New York), 6abc  Dunkin’ Donuts  Thanksgiving Day Parade (Philadelphia), America’s Thanksgiving Parade (Detroit) and McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade (Chicago).

Philadelphia is home to the oldest Thanksgiving parade in America, the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade. Its origins go back to 1920, when Ellis Gimbel, one of the founders of Gimbels Department Stores, wanted to attract holiday shoppers to spend their hard-earned dollars at his stores. Gimbels employees dressed in costumes and participated in the parade themselves.  The parade has grown in size and stature since then and is enjoyed by kids and adults alike with the official arrival of Santa Claus. This Thanksgiving parade became the model for many other Thanksgiving parades throughout the country.

One of the most popular parades is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which is held in New York and televised nationally. The parade began in 1924 as many Macy’s employees were immigrants who wanted to celebrate their new heritage. The tradition continues to this day, with floats, bands and of course, those wonderfully amazing animal-shaped balloons. In 2011, the newest balloon character will be unveiled: Tim Burton’s reimagining of Sonic the Hedgehog.

In Detroit, America’s Thanksgiving Parade is an annual holiday tradition, which also began in 1924 and is tied with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as the second-oldest Thanksgiving parade in the U.S. The parade features the usual variety of floats and bands, but is unique for its use of custom-made papier-mâché heads that were popular in early European holiday celebrations in the 1920s.

Chicago is home to the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade, an annual event that began in 1934 as an attempt to lift the mood of a city in the grips of the Great Depression. The parade is broadcast on WGN 9 in Chicago and WGN America, which is available to many cable subscribers nationwide.

Many local towns also hold their own Thanksgiving parades. Check your local newspaper or community news source for a Thanksgiving parade near you. Or, ask a neighbor where the nearest Thanksgiving parade is. And while you’re at it, take time to share with them what you’re most thankful for this holiday season.

Celebrating Kwanzaa with Sesame Street

Leave it to the folks at Sesame Street to put together content that eloquently conveys the meaning of Kwanzaa at a level that the youngest of children can understand. Here are some video clips of what celebrating Kwanzaa means to the little generation.

The Seven Night of Kwanzaa – As seen through the eyes of a young child. “Every night we talk about one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. They are principles of how to lead a good life.”

Kwanzaa Dancing with Elmo – Who knew Elmo was such a good dancer? He makes his Kwanzaa dance look effortless. And it seems like he’s having a wonderful time as well. This is kind of silly, but it is guaranteed to capture the attention of young viewers.

Kids Talk about the Holidays – Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, all young children seem to be drawn to celebrating the holidays with their family.

A Celebration of Kwanzaa – Older children who might have grown out of Sesame Street’s demographic may benefit from watching this PBS-affiliated Kwanzaa short that explains the significance of the seven days of Kwanzaa and how faith and community play a role in the holiday celebration.

Watch A Celebration of Kwanzaa on PBS. See more from BLACK ISSUES FORUM.

Christmas traditions

Christmas is a time to reflect, reconnect with friends and family and celebrate all the wonderful things in our lives. Here are some of the many ways families in America celebrate the holiday by way of Christmas traditions.

Decorating house with lights – High electric bills be damned! Putting up the Christmas lights usually starts happening right after Thanksgiving. Taking them down afterwards is a different story.

Leaving milk/cookies for Santa – This might be the quintessential Christmas tradition. The kids love it (and presumably the parents, er, Santa, enjoys it as well).

Volunteering – Many people feel Christmas is a time to give back to their community and will volunteer serving meals and helping those in need.

Christmas caroling – If you don’t mind a roaming pack of singers showing up on your doorstep and belting out a song, you will love it. If you’re in a cranky mood and carolers start knocking on the door, you may not answer, you Scrooge.

Cookie swap – Christmas cookies are in abundance during the holiday season, which is why co-workers and friends often participate in cookie swaps. What’s not to love?!

Christmas cards – A tradition that predates e-mail is sending out Christmas cards along with a letter inside that recaps what the family has been up to the past year.

The Nutcracker – Going to the local theater (or dressing up and trekking into the big city) to go see The Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition for those with young kids. It’s unclear why we make kids sit through The Nutcracker, but so be it.

Opening one gift on Christmas Eve – Only because the kids bug parents incessantly do the little ones get to open one of their presents on Christmas Eve. Can’t they just wait? (No, they can’t!)

Going to pick out a Christmas tree – This is one tradition that seems like a good idea. But once you’re at the tree farm and you’ve somehow got to strap a 15-foot tree to the roof of your car, you will ask yourself why you didn’t stick with an artificial tree.

Collecting ornaments – Decorating the Christmas tree is a tradition in and of itself. So is buying a new ornament every year and adding it to the collection. At some point your basement becomes cluttered with these things, but that is what green and red storage bins are for.

Other Christmas traditions in America include watching football, going to the local Christmas parade, setting up nativity scenes in the front yard, driving around looking at lights on houses, reading Christmas stories before bed on Christmas Eve, attending midnight mass and of course, wishing for a White Christmas.