Black Friday Shopping Tips


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With 147 million people expected to shop on Black Friday and over the weekend, it’s going to be a madhouse out there! Be prepared with a shopping plan (including a budget), a prioritized list of stores and these tips:

Do make a list of the people you’re buying for, the specific items you’re purchasing and your budget.

Do your research ahead of time and comparison shop online before heading out the stores, especially for big ticket items.

Do sign up for email reminders, mobile alerts and sneak peeks on your favorite retailers’ websites and social media channels. More than 80 percent retailers are reaching customers with special deals through these channels.

Do find out what time your targeted stores are opening. Major discount retailers are opening Thursday night; many more open at midnight or in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Don’t buy anything just because “it’s a good deal.” Everything should have a purpose and/or a recipient.

Do wear comfy shoes and take water and snacks with you.

Don’t assume items may be returned. Find out what the store’s return policies are.

Do keep original receipts for all items.

Do set aside space in your home to store gifts, such as a closet or a deep drawer.

Don’t forget to shop online; online retailers are also running Black Friday specials, many of which include free shipping.

Do shop for you! These may be some of the best prices of the year, so if there’s something you’ve been needing for your own home or closet, now might be the perfect time to make that purchase.

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Organizing the Christmas Chaos

Sad to say, but it’s time to start thinking about taking down the Christmas decorations. It seems like you just put them up, right? Here are some tips to make the deconstruction of Christmas a little easier this year. As an added bonus, taking the time to organize the “tear down” will make decorating the house that much easier next year.

Step 1: Schedule a “changeover day.”

There really is no hard-and-fast rule to take down Christmas; some people leave up the decorations through Valentine’s Day. Purists pack everything away by Epiphany on January 6, but for most of us it’s a matter of having the time to do it. So that’s the first step: setting a day, a series of evenings, or a weekend to put Christmas away and return the house to normal (more about that in a moment).

Step 2: Revisit the past.

Before you take one ornament off the tree or remove one light from the roofline, take some time to go through what you didn’t put up this year. Why didn’t you use those items? Are they broken? Worn out? Has your taste changed? Did you inherit it from a relative, and it’s just not “you”? Perhaps it is time to donate those items to charity or sell them on eBay and bless someone else’s home next year.

Step 3: Evaluate your storage options.

If your holiday decorations are stored in cardboard boxes, consider gradually replacing them with clear plastic bins as your budget allows. Most stores will put them on sale this time of year, so watch the Sunday paper for good deals. The bins are easy to carry, see-through and last much longer than cardboard, which can harbor little creepy-crawlies. There are bins with little compartments for ornaments, and durable nylon bags for wreaths and even trees; find out what works best for your situation.

Step 4: Collect and sort.

One of the guiding principles of organization is keeping like things together.

Everything for the living room Christmas tree is in one place.

With this in mind, collect all the decorative items you placed around your house and corral them in one location such as the dining room table. Natural groupings should emerge. For example, put all the kitchen items in one corner, keep all the nutcrackers together, etc. Pack these items together. For example, all of my clear and silver accessories are in one bin, all the bathroom décor items are in another. For the ornaments, remove them from the tree and pack directly into bins or boxes. Remember to collect all the ornament hooks into a zipper bag and pack with the ornaments.

Step 5: Pack and track.

Pack away items in appropriate containers and store them in the appropriate locations. For example, you may not want to keep Grandma’s porcelain angel in a garage or attic that has extreme temperature swings.

In the garage, easy to see.

Try to find a place in an interior closet for such delicate items. Remember to wash any holiday linens and towels before storing them. Space-saving, airtight plastic bags (such as Space Bags) are perfect for condensing these items for storage. While you’re packing, make an index card for each bin or box and detail the contents; mark the box or bin with a corresponding letter or number. Keep the index cards in a desk drawer or in a section of your recipe file box – wherever it makes sense for you.Finally, if you purchased new Christmas items this year, make sure you have room to store them. If space is at a premium, use the “one in, one out” rule: for every new item you bring in, one has to go out. If you don’t have space for it, be strong and don’t buy it!

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Last Minute Christmas Centerpieces

If you’ve been busy shopping for gifts and food, wrapping gifts, sending cards and planning a holiday meal menu, maybe you haven’t stopped to think about how to dress your holiday table this year. No worries! Here are four easy centerpiece ideas that you can pull together with items in your home or the grocery store.

Christmas floral – With a low vessel, such as a classic silverplate bowl, and a piece of floral oasis foam, you can create a beautiful, modern centerpiece from a mixed floral bouquet from the grocery store. Soak the foam as directed on the package, then separate the bouquet into groups by color and type of flower. Starting with the largest flower, cut the stem long enough to fit in the floral foam, but short enough to keep the flower head at a low profile. Then add the next largest flowers, distributing them around the arrangement. Fill in with smaller flowers, then greenery and berries, and finally a bit of sparkle. Perhaps the arrangement came with a few sparkly twigs, or you can add a few pieces of wire star garland for a festive touch.

Candle snowscape – Fill the bottom of a large glass sphere or fish bowl with a thick layer of kosher salt for a snow effect. Add a jar candle in the center of the snow and fill in with snips from a pine tree, cranberries, pine cones or even small glass ball ornaments. (Note: Be sure that the pine cuttings are well away from the candle flame. Do not leave burning candles unattended.)

Ornament centerpiece – This one is so easy and so colorful. Place a variety of glass ornaments, mixing their color and size, in a pedestal bowl or glass vase. Lay real or faux pine garlands down the center of the table and add in a few ornaments down the length of the table.

Figurines – Place a runner down the center of the table, or create a runner effect by running two or three parallel lengths of Christmas ribbon (plaid, organza, etc.) down the table with a 5 or 6 inch gap between them. In this gap, place Christmas themed figurines from a favorite collection, such as Santas, winter birds or nutcrackers all along the center of the table. In between the figurines, add votive candles, small potted poinsettias, or small evergreen cuttings.

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How to Trim the Tree

Of all the symbols of Christmas – the Nativity, Santa Claus, the Star of Bethlehem, stockings and a dozen more – the Christmas tree has arguably become the most universal, and one of the oldest traditions we still carry on in modern times.

The first record of a decorated tree used in a Christmastime ceremony dates back to 1510. In Riga, Latvia, a group of men from a merchant’s guild decorated an evergreen with paper roses (symbolic of the Virgin Mary) and placed it in the town square. They danced around it and then set it on fire (go figure). A plaque now marks the spot where the tree stood.Whether you prefer your tree to be fresh or artificial, there are a few tried-and-true rules for decorating the tree that are sure to deliver beautiful results.

1. Lights: Everyone seems to have their own method, either in spirals from top to bottom or branch by branch. Whatever your style, make sure the lights are working before you put them on the tree!

2. Garland: If you’re using garland, that comes next. Consider trading in the metallic variety for a pretty paper or organza ribbon to coordinate with your color scheme. Or, instead of placing garland in a horizontal pattern, how about changing it up and running it from the top of the tree to the bottom?

3. Solid balls: The #1 secret of decorators is to fill in the tree with inexpensive glass balls, placing them towards the inside of the tree. They add color, shine and volume to your ornament collection.

4. Ornaments: On the outer branches, place the ornaments you’ve collected over the years. Put your sentimental favorites front and center. It’s hard for me to get through decorating the tree without a few tears; so many ornaments hold memories passed down through the years. I still have a paper ornament of St. Nick’s face from the late 1890s that belonged to my great grandparents. It’s always the last ornament on the tree.

5. Fill in: Try this decorator’s trick. Think about what could add some whimsy to your tree. Fill in blank spots on the tree by tucking in dried florals, fresh pine boughs, sprays of metallic stars, or even feathers!The last thing to think about when putting up your tree is taking it down. If it’s a fresh tree, find out where you can recycle it. For an artificial tree, consider storing it in a large duffel-type bag made just for trees.

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The Gift of Memory

The greatest gift is one that need not cost a cent.

It is the gift of memory.

Our belongings may be lost, stolen or destroyed, but the memories remain. If you’ve ever loved a person who is losing their memory, whether through illness or accident, you know how frustrating it can be—you’ve seen the pain and desperation on your loved one’s face when they can’t remember something. I’ve often thought of what I’d grab if I had only minutes to vacate my home. It’s not the jewelry or the china or my clothes – I think what I would grab would be photo albums that help trigger memories of family and friends and times spent together.

One of the best ways to create memories at the holidays is of course through shared experiences—celebrating together, going sledding, attending events, baking together, keeping traditions alive and making new ones.

Another way is give the gift of memory is to take something from your recipient’s past and bring it forward to the present. For example, a woman I know told me that her husband is planning to take recordings of his mother’s music concerts from the 1960s that are stored on reel-to-reel tapes and have them converted to CDs. I’m sure his mother will be thrilled to receive the gift of the memory of her music. In my garage I have 8mm films from the only wilderness fishing trip that my dad took both of my brothers on—I’ve been planning for years to have them converted to DVDs for my brothers, and I think now is a good time.

Do you have any memories stored on hard-to-playback media? Now is an ideal time to have them converted to something that will last a bit longer. Check online or in your phone book under “Media conversion” for a source near you. College libraries are a good source as well.

Here are some other ideas to give the gift of memory:

• Frame photos of you and your recipient over the years in a multi-opening frame.

• Better yet, make a frame by embellishing a store bought frame with a few simple craft supplies. (Get instructions to make the frame shown.)

• Have copies of vintage family photos made and framed to share with your siblings and cousins.

• Create shadow box collages with photos, ticket stubs, playbills, and other memorabilia that remind your recipient of a specific event or part of their life.Have other ideas?

Please share them with me! I’d love to hear what you’re doing to give the gift of memory this year.

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10 Quick Ways to Get in the Holiday Spirit

Let’s face it, bad news abounds: natural disasters, economic woes and the latest political or religious scandal. So this time of year can be the perfect balm for the bad news blues as we remember everything we have to be grateful for, we remember others, and we remember we can be more than we were yesterday.

But if you need a help getting into the spirit of the season, there are easy, inexpensive ways to bring some reminders into your home and life. Try one or two these today, and see if they help banish the “bah-humbug” in you.

1. When you just can’t wait to put a touch of jolly outside, add your Christmas wreath to the front door or pick up a fresh wreath at the home improvement store or nursery.

2. The poinsettia is to Christmas as the pumpkin is to Halloween, so pick up a potted poinsettia at the grocery store or home center while running errands.

3. If the thought of unpacking all the decorations seems daunting and you just need a quick fix of holiday bling, pick up an inexpensive box of solid-colored glass ball ornaments. Display them in a clear glass bowl and voila! Instant holiday sparkle!

4. Change our your everyday photos with holiday photos.

5. Set a button on your car radio to the all Christmas station. Every town has a radio station that plays only Christmas music this time of year. Whenever you need a dose of Christmas cheer (like sitting in traffic or circling the mall parking lot looking for a parking space), tune in and see if your mood doesn’t change.

6. Gather pine cones from your yard (or a craft store) and pile them in a wire basket, a clear bowl or a vase and add a few glass ball ornaments for shine.

7. Place two or three pillar candles on a pretty plate or tray and scatter fresh cranberries around them.

8. Play the scent soundtrack of the season by simmering a few whole allspice, a few cloves, a pod or two of cardamom, a cinnamon stick and a strip of orange peel in a small pan of water on the stovetop. It fills your home with Christmas-y aromas without the expense of scented candles.

9. Place a jar candle in a large, clear vase. Add a layer of kosher salt (for “snow”), and a few pine sprigs, cranberries and pine cones. (Make sure no flammable elements are near the flame; never leave a burning candle unattended.)

10. Relax with a Christmas flick. No matter long your to-do list may be, no matter how many gifts are left to wrap, sitting down with a bowl of popcorn and your loved ones to watch a Christmas movie helps to remember what the season is all about.

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