10 ways to ensure that your Halloween is as safe as it is spooky

Published: Monday, October 10, 2016 @ 5:03 PM
Updated: Sunday, October 01, 2017 @ 2:08 PM

The stores are full of candy and the pumpkins are fat and orange – it’s Halloween season! Here are 10 tips to help you and your trick-or-treater reach maximum candy intake.

Keep costumes safe

To quote Edna Mole in The Incredibles, “No capes!” Capes, sashes and other low-swinging, easily untied costume pieces can increase the chance of tripping and falling. Costumes and accessories should be flame-resistant and kept away from candles.

Makeup over masks

While many of the comic-book superheroes wear masks, take a cue from their cinematic counterparts and go for makeup instead. Masks can make it hard to see. Choose FDA-approved makeup and test it on a small area first to avoid serious reactions. Make sure to take it off before going to bed.

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The priority is the accessory

While your trick-or-treater will do their best to bring home a double-fisted haul of treats, it’s much safer to have one hand free for protection and balance. If they have an accessory that’s an important part of the costume, make sure it’s easy to carry and doesn’t have any sharp points.

Don’t keep the ingredients to yourself

If you’re the parent at home handing out homemade treats, make sure you tell visitors what is in them. An allergic reaction and trip to the hospital is definitely not how a parent wants to end Halloween night.

Individually wrap your candy and include a note with your name and address. In the event that the candy ends up being contaminated, your candy can be easily separated from the others.

Check out your haul before digging in

To be on the safe side, make sure your trick-or-treaters eat only factory-wrapped treats, and only after you’ve checked them for tampering. Throw away unwrapped treats and homemade treats made by people you don’t know.

Drive carefully

Trick-or-treaters can range all over streets and roads in their search for the elusive candy trove. If you’re driving in a trick-or-treating area, reduce speed and watch for rampaging hordes of candy seekers.

Walk carefully

To help out those driving around during trick-or-treating time, put reflective tape on costumes, bags, strollers, wagons, wings, landspeeders, rocket boots and any other form of pedestrian-fueled transportation you might be using. Carry a flashlight to increase visibility and reduce the risk of tripping over curbs.

Don’t go it alone

While it might be tempting for a trick-or-treater to hoard all that candy for themselves – in their Gordon Gekko costume – young candy-hunters need adult supervision. Older kids can go out in groups in well-lit, known areas, but they should check in regularly and never go door-to-door by themselves. Make sure children know your cellphone number, their home telephone number and address in case you get separated.

Lights on

While a spooky, dark house might be the best fit for a Halloween theme on the block, chances are if there are people in there, they just want to be left alone. Make sure you only knock on doors of houses with lights on, and don’t let children enter a home unless you are with them.

Don’t feed treats to the pets

All forms of chocolate — especially baking or dark chocolate — can be dangerous, even lethal, for dogs and cats. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning can include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rat, and seizures. Halloween candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also be poisonous to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, a subsequent loss of coordination and seizures.

Christmas 2017: Top ugly holiday sweater ideas

Published: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 @ 9:55 AM

A Celebration of Ugly Holiday Sweaters

In recent years, the combination of Christmas and tacky sweaters has taken on a life of its own. Festive people aspire to wear the ugliest holiday sweater possible. Whether it’s including as many adornments as possible, breaking out a ratty and worn polyester pullover or sporting animals in full holiday cheer, here’s a roundup of ugly Christmas sweater ideas to inspire you.
 
Shiny wreath
What’s says Christmas more than a wreath with a little shine? Take your Christmas tackiness to a new level with a shiny wreath pinned to your red or green sweater. For a little extra bling, string some lights to the wreath and load with a battery pack to keep it shining.
 
The fireplace
If the coziness of sitting by a blazing fire in the winter tickles your fancy, you’ll love this ugly Christmas sweater idea. This sweater can be pre-purchased with a trimmed fireplace and a pocket in the middle of sweater for your phone. Download an app on your phone to provide virtual flames.
 
Trim the tree
Get your craftiness ready to whirl with this shiny and embellished sweater. You’ll need shiny garland, small ornaments and lots of glue, but the end result is a tree to inspire even the grinchiest with a smidge of Christmas spirit. By the way: Don’t forget the ornament to top the tree.

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Stuffed stocking
Need some wine or sweet treats to keep you going through the holiday season? This stocking stuffer sweater is just what you need.
 
A beer lover’s Christmas
Yet another DIY ugly Christmas sweater idea, this one entails the usage of hundreds of bottle tops to make a Christmas tree. Take a red or green sweater and gather all your bottle tops. Arrange them on the sweater and glue them into the shape of a tree. Top off the tree with a metallic bow for a touch of glitz.
 
Snow globe
Bring the wishes of a White Christmas to life with this ugly Christmas sweater in the fashion of a snow globe. Take a plastic tablecloth and fold in half, being careful to stuff it with the insides with a pillow to look like artificial snow.
 
An ugly tie tree 
For this creation, all of the old ugly ties of Christmases pasts can be put to good use. Gather your ugly Christmas ties and arrange them in a tree pattern on an old sweater. Easy peasy Christmas sweater to don at all your holiday parties in the season.
 
Matching couple sweaters 
Want to look tacky as a pair? Wear the ugliest Christmas sweater connected to one other person to have double the fun and double the tackiness.
 
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Pay homage to Santa’s favorite reindeer and favorite helper of them all with this Christmas sweater. Start with a black sweater vest and decorate with big eyes and a red nose. Layer a brown long-sleeved shirt underneath the sweater vest, attaching stems to look like antlers on your sleeves.

The 12 best US small towns to revel in all things holidays

Published: Wednesday, November 01, 2017 @ 11:45 AM

Here’s our favorite dozen, in alphabetical order Asheville, North Carolina Greenville, South Carolina Helen, Georgia Laguna Beach, California Natchitoches, Louisiana Ogunquit, Maine St. Augustine, Florida Taos, N.M. Williamsburg, Va

From quaint town squares aglow in twinkling lights in New England to carriage rides alongside Louisiana lakes, small towns near and far really capture the magic of Christmas.

RELATED: The least and most affordable places to spend your holiday vacation

As you’re planning your winter wonderland adventures, you may be looking for a short drive (or a long one) to towns that have the most holiday spirit. 

If that’s your goal, there is an endless number of towns that go all out for the holidays.

Here’s our favorite dozen, in alphabetical order:

Asheville, North Carolina. For formal events, the Biltmore Estate is dressed up in ribbons, lights and other finery for an annual Christmas celebration from Nov. 3 to Jan. 7. For a more outdoorsy tradition, the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum features nearly 500,000 LED lights placed throughout gardens and holiday-inspired cocoa, cider and beers.

Cambridge, Ohio. From November through mid-January, the downtown of this Ohio city in the Appalachian Plateau turns itself into the Dickens Victorian Village. The walking tour features 92 scenes of life in 1850s England. The modern era comes to life every evening, with an 8- to 12-minute light show, synchronized to holiday music, which bathes the town's historic (1881) courthouse in 30,000 lights.

Greenville, South Carolina. Just up Interstate 85 is a Christmas-light strewn downtown that includes pop-up retail shops, the St. Francis Foundation Festival of Trees and open-air skating at Ice on Main. Opening Thanksgiving night and running through Dec. 30, the Roper Mountain Holiday Lights also offers a walking tour, Santa Claus and a 1.5-mile drive with 72 glittering displays.

Enjoy a traditional German Christmas in Helen.(Courtesy of Cedar Creek Cabin Rentals)

Helen, Georgia. Come November, this re-created Alpine village sheds the lederhosen (leather pants for men) and readies the lebkuchen (essentially German gingerbread) and other holiday treats. The holidays start with Festival of Trees, which takes the highest bid on decorated trees and wreaths between Nov. 19 and Dec. 9. The Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German market featuring gifts and food, runs Dec. 2-3 and Dec. 9-10.

RELATED: Ideas for visiting Dollywood and other Tennessee stops during the holidays

Laguna Beach, California. Palm trees can be just as festive as snowy firs given the way this Southern California beach city does Christmas. Think spotting migrating whales instead of scanning the skies for reindeer. Or embrace the arts scene here with the annual Sawdust Winter Fantasy, which features thousands of holiday decorations and hand-crafted jewelry, ceramics and other artwork in addition to outdoor cafes, a petting zoo and, of course, Santa.

Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Natchitoches Christmas lights up the city of 18,000 people with more than 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces downtown and along the Cane River Lake. The aptly named Festival of Lights opens Nov. 18 with free admission to all events and fireworks show that night. Other events during the festival, which runs through Jan. 6, 2018, includes a parade on Dec. 2, arts and crafts that celebrate the town's Creole heritage, carriage rides and historic home tours.

Ogunquit, Maine. The annual Christmas by the Sea festival features bonfires on the beach, hayrides, caroling and a living manger, in addition to traditional caroling and arts and crafts. The brave can also attempt a Polar Bear plunge into the Atlantic Ocean if they dare.

St. Augustine, Florida. Some three million lights adorn every corner of the nation's oldest city during Nights of Lights. Based on the Spanish tradition of lighting a single candle in a window of every home, the lights illuminate the cobblestone streets and iconic Bridge of Lions, in addition to shops and restaurants. Aside from self-guided walking tours, visitors can explore by bicycle, in horse-and-carriage and the city's Old Town Trolley.

SANTA CLAUS, IND.: Another statue of Santa Claus stands in front of the town hall. The town of Santa Claus is located in southern Indiana on interstate 64 between Evansville, Ind., and Louisville, Ky.(Melissa Miller, Spencer County Visitors Bureau)

Santa Claus, Ind. Living up to its name, this tiny town of 2,500 people celebrates Christmas all year long, so when the holiday season finally rolls around, it is strapped for its all-out extravaganza between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Among the Santa Claus events: a chance to roast chestnuts on an open fire, a 5K race, dinner with Santa and a drive-thru LED light adventure that tells the shining story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Taos, N.M. Yuletide in Taos may sound like the traditional tree lighting and craft fairs, and this high desert town delivers that. However, at sunset on Christmas Eve, the Native American settlement Taos Pueblo leads the Procession of the Virgin, with bonfires and rifle salutes from the top of 1,000-year-old adobe buildings. On Christmas Day, the Matachinas Dance features an ancient Native American ceremonial dance that can only be seen in person, captured on video or film.

Woodstock, Vt. The charming colonial architecture and a historic village green draw tourists year-round to this picturesque small town. But the Wassail Weekend, Dec. 8-10, is the iconic sound and sight of winter New England: sleigh bells and the clip-clop of horses signal the holiday parade, while carolers traipse through town as visitors stroll between historic homes and a craft fair or line up for wagon and sleigh rides.

Williamsburg, Va. Visitors to Williamsburg can taste the holidays the colonial settler way, with roasted turkeys, ham and biscuits and sweet and savory puddings. More modern day festivities, such as a light show and Santa sightings, are also on hand in the historic town and surrounding area.

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Don't get scammed over the holidays

Published: Monday, December 11, 2017 @ 4:11 PM

The following jobs may start you off as a volunteer or part-time, but with potential for advancement Package handler for UPS Bell ringers for Salvation Army Retail cashiers or warehouse work Santa's helpers for photography companies Gift wrapper at department stores Shelter servers in your community Delivery drivers for Lyft or Uber

Millions are planning to take a vacation this holiday season, and that means hotel bookings are being made in high volumes.

But are they all legit?

With reports that 55 million bookings were affected by hotel-related scams, costing consumers nearly $4 billion, hotel booking scams are more common than travelers may realize.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has provided several tips on what travelers should watch for and how they can prevent getting scammed themselves.

>> Where is everyone headed for the holidays?

— Make sure you have a confirmation email. AHLA says scammers don’t like to leave a paper trail.

"After taking a customer’s money, it is unlikely the operator of a scam will send a confirmation email because they don’t want customers to have verification that they sold something that doesn’t exist," noted the organization.

— Travelers should also watch out for advance charges.

Have you been charged in full? The AHLA says that this is a red flag.

“When you book directly, the majority of hotels do not charge you in advance — they charge you upon check-in or checkout. If anything, they will put a hold on your account for a portion of the reservation cost,” the organization notes.

— Checking your credit card statement to make sure that the records match is also a good idea.

>> Feeling crafty this holiday season? 5 artsy ideas that can bring in cash

“If the charge appears to be coming from another entity, there is definitely reason to be alarmed. Your next step should be to call the hotel to verify they actually have a reservation for you,” says the organization.

— If you are concerned, Google the hotel name and address from the confirmation notice to find out if the property is legit.

“There have been cases when scammers have provided 'reservations' to hotels that don’t exist or are not, in fact, a hotel — many times this applies to condo buildings in resort areas,” says the AHLA. "The best way to ensure your reservation exists and is what you think you have booked is to call the hotel directly."

No matter how the reservation was made, the property should be able to verify that the reservation exists.

One of the best ways to ensure your hotel bookings are on the up and up is to book directly with the hotel itself.

5 ways to merrily avoid mall parking mayhem this holiday season

Published: Monday, December 11, 2017 @ 10:41 AM

Target To Battle ‘Christmas Creep’

While hilarious television host Ellen might be able to make the perils of holiday mall parking funny ("New Year's Eve, you finally get that space"), the rest of us find little humor in the waiting and anxiety involved in parking at the mall to shop for presents.

RELATED: Christmas 2017: Best Christmas gifts for kids in 2017

Ellen can make the executive decision to skip ever purchasing her mom items from the mall’s Victoria’s Secret, again, but ordinary shoppers need to wade into the fray for gifts−from visits to big department store holiday sales or “buy local" boutiques located at the mall −to shop for the "missed the shipping deadline for guaranteed Christmas delivery" items you could have bought online.

With the National Retail Federation expecting holiday shopping to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent this year for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion and consumers saying they'll spend an average $967.13 each, the malls are going to be packed, along with the parking lots.
But before you let mall parking lot mania take the ho-ho-ho out of your holiday, consider these tips for avoiding (most of) the mall parking lot mayhem:

(Contributed by YouTube/For the AJC)


Park before the mall opens: The early bird gets the worm and the best parking spots. And no one is saying you have to stay at the mall after you park early. Have a friend swing by to get you for breakfast or early shopping at an all-night grocery store while you wait for the mall to open. She drops you off, you do your shopping and lookie here, your parking spot awaits you at the end. If you don't have a buddy who wants to do this, see if an Uber or Lyft driver can accommodate you.

RELATED: 11 ways to simplify the holidays without feeling like The Grinch

Consider valet. Dianne Williamson, a columnist for the Telegraph and Gazette in Worcester, Massachusetts, summed up a tip sheet from parking operator AmeriPark this way: "Life is short. Just use a valet, already." Indeed, many malls and the restaurants therein do offer valet parking and the price may be well worth it for the harried Christmas shopper, especially if stores and restaurants at the mall offer valet parking promotions. 
Another AmeriPark tips worth heeding: Remember that many current valet programs are ticketless, so charge up your phone before leaving the house, because your phone number is your ticket. You'll also save time by using your phone to pay and tip electronically and call for your car ahead of time."

Valet parking will be available 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 in the Waddell Street parking deck in Marietta. AJC file photo(For the AJC)

Time your entrance for when other people are leaving. Of course, lunch hour, weekends and after work are always going to be the times when the holiday mall parking is the busiest. But if you can't avoid those times entirely, try to hit the mall parking lot about a half hour after other events or popular venues are letting out. 
If your mall includes a theater showing of the latest “Star Wars” movie, for example, you may want to time your parking lot debut for a few minutes after the showing lets out and people are surrendering parking spots in droves. Same for the conclusion of the city's tree lighting ceremony, or the end time of Olive Garden's all you can eat soup and salad lunch price special. You'll just need to do a bit of research. 

Park far from the popular stores of the hour. Get a mall map and plan to park in an area far from the stores that are popular at a particular time of day or evening. Head for the lot that isn't near Starbucks or Cinnabon in the morning, for example, or the one farthest from Build-a-Bear Workshop on school holiday afternoons.

Roll on. Borrow from business travelers and school children and bring luggage on wheels or a rolling backpack on your journey. That way it won't matter nearly as much if you're able to park near your favorite store: you can just roll along with your purchases and through the parking lot to the space you could find. The rolling carrier idea also cuts down on repeat visits to stash purchases in your car (and reduces the number of times you delude aspiring parkers into thinking you're leaving and freeing up a space.)


And if you somehow still end up circling the mall parking lot or inching down an icy lot following a family of 19 to the spot you hope they're vacating, make one last attempt to hold on to your holiday spirit. Remind yourself that you are not alone in this pit of capitalism gone mad by listening to “Funny Christmas Song! Parking Around the Shopping Mall”, sung to the tune of “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree”. This 2010 Barry Mitchell song accompanied by accordion, perfectly sums up the mall at Christmas parking scene. If you replay it six or seven times, you may have that parking space before you're done!

RELATED: 10 most depressing Christmas songs of all time