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11 ways to simplify the holidays without feeling like The Grinch

Published: Tuesday, December 05, 2017 @ 1:38 PM

How to Keep Your Live Christmas Tree from Catching Fire

Recognize this Christmas scenario from Simply Family Finance blogger Chris Tecmire?

"Think about it," he wrote. "Instead of simply celebrating with our families on December 25th, we have turned Christmas into a month-long whirlwind of work parties, gift exchanges and credit card stuffing trips to the mall. It has become a laundry list of to-dos instead of a time of celebration."

RELATED: Debate settled: This is the right time to put up your Christmas tree

You can get off the not-so-merry-go-round and simplify Christmas with these tips from psychologists and financial planners to mom bloggers.

Here are 11 ways to simplify this holiday, without offending family or friends or sacrificing the joy of traditions:

Forget fears of disapproval. You know you'll feel better with a simpler holiday, but you won't be able to follow through with whatever good intentions you have for simplifying and de-stressing if you don't note what's holding you back, psychologist and family counselor Marie Hartwell-Walker advised on The fear that others in the family or friend circle will disapprove is potent, but you'll have to proceed beyond it, Hartwell-Walker said. Odds are at least some of the family will embrace a simpler holiday. You never know how many of your relatives will think, "Paper plates? What a relief!" said Hartwell-Walker.

A graduate student displays Lisa Frank folders. (Flickr/Connie Ma)

Keep a holiday folder. "It is relatively easy to get rid of clutter and organize your closets or your drawers the way you want in the privacy of your own home," noted the Beliefnet blog. "It is very hard to make changes to traditions that involve your family, friends and even co-workers. My best suggestion to move toward a simpler holiday is this: Take notes about everything that works and doesn't work from year to year and keep them in a holiday folder." At the same time, detail what overwhelms you about the holiday, so you can choose what might be eliminated or altered in the quest for a more spiritual holiday, or a celebration that involves more time with family -- whatever your holiday goals include.

Find your Christmas sweet spot. Start your Christmas simplifying by thinking back on Christmases past and creating a list of your most cherished memories, recommended the Wellness Mama blog. Then create a short list of three to five "must-dos" for this year.

With her father, Chris Patten, watching, Catalina, 19 months old, reaches for a Christmas ornament hanging from the Great Tree at the Domain in 2014. Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman 2014(American-Statesman Staff)

Skip a year instead of eliminating. Especially if you're having a tough year financially, or have a new baby or an ailing parent, forgo a couple of traditions. Live poinsettias, for example, handmade wreaths, attending the town's tree-lighting activity or deep frying your own turkey are all holiday observations that you can pass on for one year. If you miss them, you can always add them back!

Buddy up with another simplifier. Another way to make sure you follow through with your simplifying goals is to tell someone else about your plans. The best pick is someone that's trying to simplify the holidays, too, so you can send a weekly text reminder or whatever else will keep you both on track.

Eliminate one traditional meal. Instead, go for pizza, paper plates and canned drinks or even just share some microwave popcorn and a DVD. It's amazing how much stress goes away when you have even one less night of cooking, cleaning and eating too much food.

Set a budget and number of gifts. This is easy to say and hard to do, noted the Wellness Mama blog, but it's a core part of simplifying the holiday.

Take pics of your purchases. This Wellness Mama tip helps the simplifying effort because you can look back at what you've already bought without ruining any secrets. It makes it easier to stick to the budget, too. She recommended apps like EvernoteRemember the Milk or a Google Keep folder for tracking everything, even small items like stocking stuffers.

Give to the group. "A Blu-ray player or an ice cream maker is a gift that everyone can enjoy together," New York City event planner David Tutera told Real Simple. Or surprise the gang with individually wrapped tickets to a shared activity. Either way, one block of shopping for multiple presents simplifies a few hours you can use to relax.

Spread out the tasks and celebrations. Part of the stress of Christmas is trying to cram so much into just a few weeks. You can do lots of Christmas prep ahead of time, though, and still experience the joy of shopping, crafting or even food prep. With forever stamps and cards on sale from last year, for example, there is no problem getting Christmas cards ready to send during your beach vacation. Handmade presents like mason jars full of chocolate chip cookie mix are still fresh after 6 months or more. (Check the expiration dates on the ingredients to be sure, but plan to prep them in early October.

You can take the concept even further by considering moving part of your celebration to another, calmer time of year. Turn your traditional gathering with neighborhood kids into a late January "hibernation" sleepover, for example, or ask your workmates if your holiday lunch could be an early thing -- right after Thanksgiving, for example, or even far, far away from the rest of the hustle and bustle, like a Christmas-in-July lunch.

Start talking about new traditions in January of the year before. Start looking for allies shortly after New Year's when credit card bills are rolling in, Hartwell-Walker advised. You'll meet with more success if you offer alternatives while there is still plenty of time to talk about them.

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'Beware the Ides of March' -- What does that mean?

Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM

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Today marks the Ides of March, which may vaguely remind you of a high school English class. Here are some things to know about the 15th day of the month.

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Day marks the assassination of Julius Caesar

Most famously on this date, some 2,060 years ago, Roman dictator Julius Caesar died in an assassination by senators at the Curia of Pompey.

Tensions had been simmering between senators and Caesar before his death, fueled by Caesar's continued consolidation of power. However, Caesar considered the senators his allies. Just a few years before his death, Caesar was named “dictator in perpetuity,” a move that further strained relations.

According to historians, sixty senators planned and participated in the conspiracy to kill Caesar in 44 B.C.

Death marked a turning point in Roman history

Caesar was popular with the lower class people of Rome, who saw his death as an unwelcome decision made by the aristocratic class. With Caesar no longer leading, potential leaders waged war to fill the power vacuum.

The civil wars eventually culminated in the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Roman Empire.

'Beware the Ides of March' made famous by Shakespeare

In case you really did forget your high school English class, it's worth noting the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” was immortalized by William Shakespeare in his tragic masterpiece “Julius Caesar.”

In the play, a soothsayer warns Caesar to be careful on March 15, although the ruler ignores the mystic with tragic consequences.

Famous line based on historical events

It may come as a surprise to know the well-known phrase was actually inspired by real events.

According to Greek historian Plutarch, a seer really did warn Caesar that he would be at the very least injured by the Ides of March.

Caesar did not heed the warning.

On the day of his death, he saw the oracle and joked that he had made it to the Ides of March, to which the seer responded the day had not yet ended.

So why is it called the "Ides of March?"

The Romans kept track of days on its calendar by dividing each month up into three separate points marking the beginning, middle and end of the month. You may have guessed it but the Ides fall in the middle of the month, on the 15th of March, May, July and October and the 13th for the rest of the year.

The Ides were sacred and marked a monthly sacrifice to the Roman god Jupiter. Various other religious observances also took place on the Ides of March.

Other famous events on this day

Today isn't the anniversary of Caesar's death. Here are a few other famous events that have happened today in history:
  • 1972: Forty-four years ago (yes, that number is right) Francis Ford Coppola's three-hour crime epic "The Godfather" first played in theaters. Before "Jaws" came along in 1976, the film was the highest-grossing film ever made. It went on to win three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.

  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II was forced by the revolting Russian people to abdicate the throne after ruling the country for more than 20 years. The February Revolution -- so named because Russia used the Julian calendar at the time -- broke out just four days before the czar abdicated his throne.

  • 1767: Our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, was born on this day somewhere between the Carolinas near the end of the colonial era. His exact place of birth is disputed.

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Valentine's Day 2018: 6 ways to eat for free or cheap

Published: Monday, February 12, 2018 @ 8:18 AM

Valentine’s Day Deals 2018

From flowers to a gift to dinner out, Valentine's Day can be an expensive holiday.

>> White Castle will offer romantic Valentine’s Day package, reservations again

To help you save some money, these restaurants are offering some cheap or free Valentine's Day meals.


If you're without a significant other this Valentine's Day – or even if you've found a new sweetie and want to score some free wings – participating Hooters locations will help you shred your ex. Shred online and print a coupon to take to the restaurant or bring in a photo of your former love and let Hooters shred it. In return, you can buy 10 boneless wings and get 10 free – and maybe a bit of catharsis. Learn more at

Fogo de Chão

If you make a reservation and dine at a participating Fogo's location anytime from Feb. 10 through Feb. 17, you'll be able to save on a return visit. You'll receive a complimentary churrasco dining card that you can use next time you're in the restaurant. (As is usually the case, "certain restrictions apply.") Learn more at 

Qdoba Mexican Eats

Take advantage of the restaurant's "Qdoba for a Kiss" promotion, and you'll be able to buy one entrée and get one free at participating restaurants on Feb. 14. Bring your significant other to kiss, smooch a photo of your favorite celebrity on your cellphone or even pucker up to a burrito – anything goes! 

On top of that sweet deal, from Feb. 6-28, if you share a kissing photo on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #QdobaForAKiss, Qdoba will donate $1 to No Kid HungryFor more information, visit

Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse offers a Valentine's Day meal for two at participating restaurants from Feb. 12-16. For a special price (which varies by location), a couple can share a Bloomin' Onion, choose two entrees (center cut sirloin, grilled salmon or Alice Springs chicken), two sides, two salads and cheesecake for dessert. Learn more at

California Pizza Kitchen

Enjoy a "Sweet Deal for Two" at participating California Pizza Kitchen locations from Feb. 14 to 18, and you'll get an appetizer, two entrees and a dessert from their special menu for $35. Choose from among three appetizers, 10 entrees or four desserts. As a further incentive, if you tag your sweetie or best friend in California Pizza Kitchen's Facebook post with the hashtag #CPKgiveaway, you'll be entered to win a $100 gift card. Learn more at

Waffle House 

Waffle House probably isn't the restaurant you think of when you're picturing a candlelit dinner with cloth napkins and tablecloths, but that's just what they're doing on Valentine's Day. You can enjoy alcohol-free champagne as the lights are dimmed, and choose from breakfast favorites or special offerings like ribeye and eggs. Many locations are participating, so check for your location's phone number and contact person for reservationsLearn more at

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List ranks best U.S. cities to get married

Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 @ 5:16 PM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 7:21 AM

A couple exchanges rings as they are wed during a group Valentine's day wedding at the National Croquet Center on February 14, 2014 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A couple exchanges rings as they are wed during a group Valentine's day wedding at the National Croquet Center on February 14, 2014 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Looking for a place to get married? A new study claims that there is a premiere wedding destination in our own backyard.

According to WalletHub, Orlando ranks as the top city for weddings in the United States, and Atlanta is right behind at third. The study looked at factors such as the average cost of a wedding, the number of wedding chapels, churches and bridal shops in an area and the area with the most attractions.

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WalletHub said its methodology involved comparing 15 U.S. cities in cost, activities and attractions and facilities and services.

Las Vegas lost its top spot in 2018, with Orlando now number one, and Sin City coming in at number 2.

Take a look at the rankings:

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Atlanta
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Miami
  6. San Diego
  7. San Francisco
  8. Chicago
  9. New York
  10. Portland, Oregon

Austin, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Knoxville, Tennessee and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, made the list at 11th, 19th, 23rd and 28th, respectively.

Other cities on the list include Spokane, Washington, 54th; Pittsburgh 35th, Seattle 12th, Tulsa, Oklahoma, No. 46th, and Memphis, Tennessee, 51st.

The full list ranking 182 cities can be found at WalletHub.

Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this story.

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Valentine’s Day takes on special meaning for parents of hospitalized babies

Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 10:31 AM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 7:02 AM

NICU Babies Warming Hearts For Valentine’s Day

Hospitalized babies can pull at the heart strings of even the most courageous among us.

When babies are sick or born prematurely, the families of these children are under enormous emotional and, often, financial pressure.

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Some 380,000 babies, or one in every 10, are born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, in the United States every year, the March of Dimes estimated. Most end up in the hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, the March of Dimes said.

In Kansas City, Missouri the March of Dimes NICU Family Support Program at Saint Luke’s Hospital is aware of the hardships parents face when their babies are hospitalized. That’s why they planned a special Valentine’s Day celebration in recent years.

Related: Valentine's Day: List ranks some of the nation's best places to celebrate

The staff and volunteers, calling it a “special celebration of love,” assembled tiny knit caps with hearts that each baby in their care will wear for a special Valentine’s Day photo shoot. They’re also making baby footprint valentines for the parents.

“Every day a child is in the NICU can be frightening and uncertain, but holidays are especially tough, as families miss the normal joys of celebrations at home,” March of Dimes NICU Family Support coordinator, Rebecca Keunen said in a press release.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  

The nonprofit developed the NICU Family Support program to help families while their babies are in the intensive care unit, but even when these babies leave the hospital, they often face serious health challenges. The March of Dimes said these children are at higher risks for lifelong disabilities, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays.

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that focuses on pregnancy, baby health and conducts research into premature births.

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