We hope our holiday tips help you celebrate within your budget, keep your family safe, protect the environment and more! If you’re celebrating with kids, make sure to check out the holiday tips from Kids.gov.
Make sure that everyone gets to enjoy the holiday season by keeping the four-legged members of your family safe this December. It’s easy to get distracted at this time of year, so if you have pets, try to keep these ideas in mind:
Avoid tinsel and clean up strings and ribbon right away. Swallowed decorations can seriously damage internal organs, leading to a painful and dangerous situation.
Display and dispose of holiday plants safely. Poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses, leading to bad gastrointestinal upset if eaten.
Be careful with pet treats. Your lucky dog probably loves his biscuits, rawhides, or jerky sticks, but if he eats them whole - or too many at once - he may not be able to digest them. Unchewed treats can get stuck in the windpipe or gastrointestinal tract.
Human food. Don’t feed your cat or dog people food. Food with bones (choking), chocolate, or xylitol (both toxic) can hurt your pet right away. Fatty holiday people foods can cause the painful and life-threatening disease pancreatitis in the long term.
The holidays symbolize family, friends, food, festivities, and it is a season of caring and giving. This holiday season, you can give back to yourself, your community, and your environment with one small act – reducing the amount of food you waste.
Wasted food is the number one material that goes into municipal landfills and incinerators. All this wasted food generates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 20 time more potent than carbon dioxide. Much of the “waste” is not waste at all, but is actually safe, wholesome food that could be donated and potentially feed millions of Americans.
And here’s the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie - by reducing the amount of food you waste, you’re ultimately giving a meaningful holiday gift to yourself, your family and your community. With this intangible gift of mindful action, you’ll do far more than simply reduce food waste; you’ll save money, protect the environment, and help neighbors in need. Now that’s a gift that packs a punch.
Take a stand and rethink your food. Take these 10 simple steps to make your holidays happier, your wallet fatter, and your environment cleaner.
Shop your refrigerator first. Take a peek in your fridge and freezer before heading to the store, and plan a meal around what you already have before buying more. Presto- money saved without leaving the house!
Take time to plan your menu before you go shopping. Once in the store, buy only items on your list. If it’s not on the menu, it either won’t get eaten or will replace something that’d been planned- either way will waste food and money. You’ll save money and waste less food by shopping smart.
Buy only what you will realistically use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you can use the food before it spoils. Will you really use that industrial-sized cereal box or gallon jug of soy sauce? If not, return it to the shelf!
Choose produce that may not be cosmetically perfect, but is perfectly edible. Seasoned cooks know that those slightly bruised apples taste just as yummy in that pie, and misshapen potatoes taste smashing when mashed. This sends signals to the grocer that cosmetic flaws are okay and means that blemished produce doesn’t need to get trashed before reaching store shelves.
Know when food really goes bad- you may be surprised. Most food products indicate a “best by” date. This isn’t an expiration date, but a time in which the contents will be best to consume. Ask your grocer or contact the product manufacturer for more details before you toss out those canned goods, cake mixes or bottled condiments.
Act like a top chef and use all the edible parts of the food. Stale bread can be used to make croutons, beet tops can be sautéed for an inventive side dish, and green onion tops make an even more flavorful broth.
Freeze, can or preserve surplus fruits and vegetables. Don’t know what to do with all those apples? Homemade applesauce is a cinch to make. Plus, did you know the secret to freezing most vegetables is simply to blanch them in boiling water first?
Eat or share all your leftovers. Put leftovers in reusable containers, and share with family, friends, neighbors. Everyone knows ham, turkey and cranberry sauce tastes even better the next day!
Donate whole, untouched food from parties to your nearby food bank or homeless shelter. In fact, plan a get together with friends and neighbors for a food packing party the morning after that big event. Uneaten, nourishing food will go to a good cause, and it gives you yet another excuse to gather with friends and family in support of a meaningful cause.
Compost food scraps rather than tossing them in the trash. Your garden will benefit from the added nutrients, and your kids will learn an invaluable lesson in environmental protection. Don’t know where to start? Check out EPA’s composting website for easy, quick tips.
This holiday season, and throughout the year, rethink your food and Feed Families, Not Landfills.
How to Mail a Message of Condolence to Newtown, CT
The U.S. Postal Service has established a unique Post Office Box to which the public may send condolences to those affected by the December 14, 2012 tragedy in Newtown, CT.
Those who wish to send expressions of comfort should address them to:
Messages of Condolence for Newtown PO Box 3700 Newtown CT 06470
“We understand that there is an outpouring of support for everyone in the Newtown area, and we hope to make it easier for those who wish to send encouragement and messages of compassion to those affected,” said Kimberly J. Peters, Connecticut Valley District Manager for the U.S. Postal Service. She added, “Through letters and cards, families will be able to hold that friendship in their hands and to read those kind words at a time and place that supports their pace of healing.”
By Maribel Alonso, Technical Information Specialist, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
These days, it seems everyone knows (or is) a foodie, a self-proclaimed guru of all things edible. To add to the myriad of “foodie gift guides” shopping sites have created this month, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline has put together a list of inexpensive kitchen essentials, most of which are small enough to fit inside a stocking or gourmet gift basket. The best part: these gadgets ensure the giftee will return the gesture with perfectly and safely roasted (or braised, smoked, flambéed…) treats this holiday season and year-round.
Here is our “top 5” foodie gift list:
Food Thermometer(s). There is a food thermometer to fit every budget, preferred cooking method, and technological aptitude, and every foodie should have at least one. A food thermometer is the only implement that can tell if food is cooked to a safe temperature to destroy illness-causing bacteria, which is a guest your holiday gathering can certainly do without. Thermometers can be purchased at the grocery, the hardware store or specialty cooking stores; this Kitchen Thermometers fact sheet can help you choose the right one.
A Timer. Time and temperature are a dynamic duo when it comes to controlling bacteria for safe and successful meals. Besides letting the chef know when to check for doneness with their new food thermometer, a kitchen timer or a watch also can keep track of how long perishables have been left at room temperature. Bacteria grow fast between 40˚F and 140˚F (known as the “Danger Zone”), and perishable items should be refrigerated, reheated or thrown out within two hours of being held in this temperature range. Do you know How Temperatures Affect Food?
Cutting Boards. These might not fit into a stocking unless they’re the flexible kind, but colorful cutting boards can be practical and spice up the kitchen decor. To avoid cross- contamination, we recommend using one cutting board for preparing raw meat, poultry and seafood, and a separate board for chopping salad ingredients or other ready-to-eat food. Using cutting boards in different colors can help chefs remember which board goes with each item. Read more: Cutting Boards and Food Safety.
Appliance thermometers. Oven, refrigerator and freezer settings may vary, and age can take its toll on their heating and cooling components. Appliance thermometers will indicate whether the oven is heating at the proper temperature, and if the refrigerator and freezer are maintaining safe temperatures at or below 40˚F and 0˚F, respectively. This is crucial for getting the most out of holiday leftovers!
Freebies! The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline and USA.gov have partnered to offer a “Safe Cooking Tips for the Holidays” collection of publications that you can order online through Jan. 2, 2013. If your gift swap is too soon for the publications to arrive by mail, they’re also available as PDF’s to download and print.
The English and Spanish-speaking experts at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888- MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854) are available weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET to help with holiday food safety questions. USDA’s virtual food safety expert, Ask Karen, is available 24/ 7 at AskKaren.gov or m.AskKaren.gov on your smartphone. The app is also available from the iTunes and Android app stores.
By Una Song, program manager for the ENERGY STAR program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Electronics are a popular gift for the holidays, and now you can give a great gift that also gives back in many ways. ENERGY STAR certified electronics – home entertainment and office products – not only make great gifts; they also save energy, money and help protect the climate.
ENERGY STAR Home Entertainment
You can find the ENERGY STAR label on nearly all entertainment products from TVs and Blu-ray disc players to soundbars and MP3 docking stations. ENERGY STAR certified products provide the same functionality but use less energy because they are more efficient in all usage modes: sleep, idle, and on. And if someone on your list is looking for a TV that is really cutting edge when it comes to technology or protecting the environment, look for models that have been awarded this year’s prestigious ENERGY STAR Most Efficient recognition, representing the best of the best in terms of energy efficiency.
ENERGY STAR Office Products
Shoppers can also find the ENERGY STAR label on office products such as computers, monitors, notebooks, multifunction printers and more. By choosing ENERGY STAR certified products for your home office and enabling power management, you can save up to $390 over the life of the products. ENERGY STAR computers and monitors have a power management sleep mode to ensure you are saving energy (and money on utility bills) when the products are not in use.
Recent changes to the screening process at airports across the country will help millions of travelers board their planes quicker and easier during the busy traveling season and allow officers to focus on passengers who might represent a bigger risk.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has recently updated its screening process to help children, seniors, and trusted travelers move faster through airport checkpoints while ensuring the security of all travelers. Below you find some of the latest changes.
New Screening Process for Children
Children, 12 or younger, can now go through airport security without taking off their shoes. To minimize the need for pat-downs, children are now allowed to go through metal detectors and body scanners several times to clear any alarms.
It’s also worth remembering some of the existing processes for screening children at the airport:
Officers will never separate children from their parents or guardian
All children’s luggage will go through the x-ray machine
Travelers with small children are able to take more than 3.4 ounces of liquid, such as breast milk, juice, and medicines
New Screening Process for the Elderly
Screening changes for passengers who are 75 years or older are similar to the screening process for children. That is, elderly people will also be able to go through airport security without removing their shoes. They can also go through a security checkpoint without removing a light jacket.
To minimize pat-downs, the elderly will be able to go through the metal detector and body scanners several times to clear any alarms. The TSA has a hotline to answer questions about the security process for passengers with disabilities and medical issues. The toll-free number is 1 (855) 787-2227. Be sure to call 72 hours before traveling so you have enough time to make any changes before going through security.
New Program for Frequent Travelers
The TSA also has a new program to help frequent travelers move through security checkpoints faster. The program is called “TSA Pre✓” and is available in more than 30 U.S. airports to frequent passengers of a limited number of airlines, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.
Travelers who enroll in the program:
Do not need to take off their shoes and belts while going through security
Can keep their computers inside their bags
Can go through security without taking off a light jacket
On December 15, 1791, the United States adopted the Bill of Rights, ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution written to guarantee essential rights and liberties omitted in the crafting of the original document. December 15th is Bill of Rights Day, an opportunity to reflect on these freedoms and the people who have struggled throughout our history to make them possible.
Read the Bill of Rights and download high-resolution images of an original copy.
The holidays aren’t joyous for everyone. This time of year can bring stress and feelings of loneliness. Exercise, focusing on positive relationships, and doing things that you find rewarding can help with depression. Get tips on what to do if you feel depressed.
Keep in mind that winter depression could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which may be caused by the lack of sunlight. Treatment for SAD is much like other forms of depression, but also involves light therapy.
Gaining one or two pounds during the holidays doesn’t seem like a lot, but these gains can add up over the years. Although the holidays may not be the ideal time to try to lose weight, you can take steps to maintain your weight.
Whether you plan to do all your holiday shopping online or you’re going brave the crowds at the malls, the Federal Trade Commission offers shopping tips to protect you from fraud, over-paying at the cash register and more.
This Holiday Season, Plan Ahead to Avoid Impaired Driving
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, more than 10,000 Americans died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes - one death every 48 minutes. That’s nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. Meanwhile, 17 percent of traffic deaths among children involved an alcohol-impaired driver. In half of those crashes, the young victim was riding in the vehicle with the alcohol-impaired driver. Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18 percent of motor vehicle driver deaths.
Scheduled to coincide with the holiday season, December 2012 is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. Whenever your social schedule involves alcohol, make plans so that you don’t have to drive after drinking. For example:
Prior to any drinking, designate a non-drinking driver when with a group.
Don’t let your friends drive impaired. Take their keys away.
If you have been drinking, get a ride home or call a taxi.
If you’re hosting a party where alcohol will be served, remind your guests to plan ahead and designate their sober driver; offer alcohol-free beverages; and make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
Electricity bills can grow during the holidays if you decorate with strings of lights. Consider switching to LED (light-emitting diode) holiday lights to save energy and money. In addition to the energy and cost savings, LED lights are much cooler than incandescent bulbs, reducing the risk of fires.
Every holiday season, fires claim lives and cost millions in damage. To prevent holiday fires in your home, use nonflammable decorations; do not overload electrical sockets; regularly water Christmas trees; and avoid the use of lit candles. As you should do year-round, ensure that your smoke alarms are working.
By Felicia Chou, Program Analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery at the Environmental Protection Agency.
I can see it now: Wrapping paper flying everywhere, brilliantly-colored, shredded tissue paper and tinsel floating through the air. Yes, it’s that time of the year again when everything we have dreamed of is presented to us under layers of ribbons, bows, and wrapping paper. This year, give the gift of environmentalism while enjoying the most wonderful time of the year.
In the spirit of green giving, I’ve always been a fan of re- gifting (Shhhh… Don’t tell anyone), because there’s only that many awkward gifts you can fit in storage. But if you really want to be spreading holiday cheer instead of holiday leer, start by choosing a “green” gift for your loved ones. Many brand new, unopened items make their way to reuse centers and thrift stores, and you never know if there’s a perfect something just waiting to be wrapped and gifted.
Items made of recycled-content that are durable enough to last years of wear and tear will help keep resources out of landfills. For greener gadgets and appliances, check out EPEAT-registered items and those that are Energy Star certified.
Instead of buying DVDs or CDs, why not give gift cards so your friends and family can just download the content? This also conserves the energy and resources required to manufacture the DVD or CD, and reduce packaging waste.
Instead of wrapping your gift, consider placing the gift in a reusable bag as part of the gift. Otherwise, use recycled paper or add an artistic flair by using old newspapers, magazines, or decorated paper. Reuse wrapping tissue paper and basket paper shreds; I go digging around the office’s paper shredder for crinkled, shredded paper to cushion my items destined for re-gifting. Dive into your creative side by making your own holiday cards, or repurpose old holiday cards by cutting out designs and making a holiday collage.
When all the wrapping paper has been pulverized, boxes and bags tossed aside, and opened holiday cards trampled underfoot in the excitement, be sure to salvage any leftover packaging you can use for next holiday season, recycling the rest.
What to do with unwanted gifts? Besides re-gifting, the Salvation Army, Good Will, and other donation and reuse centers will be glad to take them off your hands. Not only will you be helping those in need, someone in the spirit of green giving might give it to someone who will really love it.
Image description: Japanese torpedo planes attack “Battleship Row.”
Today marks the 71st anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack in Hawaii launched the United States into World War II, and is known as one of the greatest military surprises in warfare history. More than 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded, devastating the Pacific fleet.
The following day, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress, speaking the now famous words, marking December 7th as “a day which will live in infamy.” The United States officially entered World War II, joining allies Britain and France in the fight against Germany and their ally Japan.
On National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives or were wounded during the deadly attack. It is a day of remembrance to honor our military, both past and present.
The estimator gives you an idea of what your monthly Social Security benefits would be, based on your current record of Social Security earnings. Your actual benefit amount cannot be determined until you apply for benefits.
As you plan for your retirement, keep in mind that you’ll need about 70 percent of your pre-retirement earnings to maintain your standard of living. Social Security benefits will only make up a part of this percentage and should be supplemented by a pension, savings, and/or investments. Check out 10 Ways to Prepare for Retirement.
The holidays can be expensive, but you don’t have to break the bank to celebrate. Take a few minutes to decide how much you can afford to spend on gifts, travel, parties, decorations, and other holiday expenses. Once you’ve created a spending plan, keep track of your purchases.
Shopping online can help you stick to a budget as you’ll avoid the temptation of store displays and may be able to use coupons and promotion codes. Before you buy, look for free shipping offers; check ordering deadlines to ensure that your gifts will arrive on time; and read the return policy.