Merry Christmas to You. And now some Christmas Awe.

By Jennifer Vishnevsky for Redbook©

Although the winter season gets a bad rap for correlating with flu season and dark, gray skies, there’s also something beautiful happening around the world, all the way from Wyoming to Switzerland. These photos may even inspire you to start planning a winter getaway when it’s safe to do so. If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, the bitter cold temperatures of winter might just be your best shot at catching a glimpse. So grab the hot chocolate, sit back and enjoy a virtual tour to these inspiring winter wonderlands.

(Here is just a tease for those still in their jammies):

Slide 6 of 30: A church and castle on a rock above Lake Bled in Slovenia.

© MistikaS – Getty Images

Slovenia

A church and castle on a rock above Lake Bled in Slovenia.

Slide 5 of 30: A polar bear in Kaktovik, a part of northern Alaska.

 © Michael J. Cohen, Photographer – Getty Images

Alaska

A polar bear in Kaktovik, a part of northern Alaska

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Slide 7 of 30: A group of horses running in the snow-covered hills of Shell, Wyoming.

© Betty Wiley – Getty Images

Wyoming

A group of horses running in the snow-covered hills of Shell, Wyoming.

Slide 10 of 30: A rare snowstorm covers Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.

© Barcroft Media – Getty Images

Japan

A rare snowstorm covers Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.

Slide 12 of 30: An empty Red Square in Moscow, with St. Basil's Cathedral in the background.

© Elena Liseykina – Getty Images

Russia

An empty Red Square in Moscow, with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background.

Slide 14 of 30: St. Stephen's Basilica and Zrinyi Street at dusk in Budapest.

 © _ultraforma_ – Getty Images

Hungary

St. Stephen’s Basilica and Zrinyi Street at dusk in Budapest.

Slide 16 of 30: Spirit Island, a landmark in Jasper National Park. With a view of the Canadian Rockies, this island is only accessible by boat.

© TONNAJA – Getty Images

Canada

Spirit Island, a landmark in Jasper National Park. With a view of the Canadian Rockies, this island is only accessible by boat.

Slide 17 of 30: The Northern Lights on display at Kirkjufell mountain.

© FEBRUARY – Getty Images

Iceland

The Northern Lights on display at Kirkjufell mountain

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Slide 20 of 30: A snowy owl perched in the sand at Jones Beach in Long Island.

 © Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography – Getty Images

New York

A snowy owl perched in the sand at Jones Beach in Long Island.

Slide 27 of 30: A fresh coating of ice at Yosemite National Park.

© Provided by jp2pix.com – Getty Images

California

A fresh coating of ice at Yosemite National Park.

Slide 30 of 30: Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected in Lake Matheson at sunset.

 © primeimages – Getty Images

New Zealand

Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected in Lake Matheson at sunset.

Source: Awe-Inspiring Winter Scenes From Around the World (msn.com)

Holiday foods you shouldn’t feed your cats and dogs

By Dana McMahan for Today©

There’s plenty to occupy our minds during the holidays this year — that is if we’re having anything approaching a “normal” family gathering. But somehow, even on top of the 2020 concerns like spreading a deadly virus to family members, we can’t overlook the usual safety issues. I’m talking about keeping your furry family from getting sick.

a dog sitting on a chair

© Provided by TODAY

Yes, while you’re eating your feelings this holiday you may want to share the bounty with your dogs and cats, but you could unwittingly be putting them in harm’s way. You may already know that dogs shouldn’t have cooked bones that can puncture or damage their digestive tract, but holiday tables can carry many other potential risks for your pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association shares some guidance on keeping pets safe and healthy this holiday season. It will take cooperation from everyone in the family, so be sure your relatives agree to the house rules when it comes to feeding your pets. (That means no slipping the pup a turkey leg under the table, dad!)

1. Skip the turkey and trimmings

To start, it may be tempting to share some of that platter of leftover turkey, but save it for the turkey salad unless you can pick out a small piece of light meat with no skin. The skin contains spices and butter, said Jerry Klein, DMV, American Kennel Club’s chief veterinary officer. He’s seen a number of patients over the years after a dog snatched turkey off the table or out of the trash can. Fatty foods like poultry skin can cause pancreatitis in pets, he says, a condition that can be life threatening. At minimum, he asks, do you want to spend Thanksgiving cleaning up vomit or diarrhea, or at the emergency vet?

But what about topping their kibble with gravy as a holiday treat? That’s a no from Klein as well. The flour, fat, salt and spices in gravy are problematic. Likewise say no to stuffing, which can have onions, garlic and spices, all dangerous to your pet.

2. Sweet treats should be kept out of reach

Desserts are also off the table (and should literally be off any table or counter where a curious dog can sniff them out unless you’ve done a stellar job of training them!). Chocolate items can pack a one-two punch, said Klein. While they can recover from the chocolate toxicity itself in 12 to 24 hours, the butter and fat in milk chocolate “can cause them to get sick several days afterwards with vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatitis.” Oatmeal raisin cookies are also a no-go thanks to the raisins, which — along with grapes — are poisonous to dogs. And while canned pumpkin can be a nice treat for pups, pumpkin pie filling can contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that can be deadly to cats and dogs.

3. Keep the dinner rolls at bay

Pass the bread? No rolls for your pup. Yeast dough can cause painful gas for them, and can even cause the dangerous condition known as bloat (such as in a case Klein saw one holiday when a Great Dane puppy got into a plate of rising croissant dough).

4. Close up garbage cans, purses and luggage

Perils don’t end at the table. Unless your dog is one hundred percent trustworthy when it comes to staying out of the garbage, take great care to be sure they can’t go nosing through the trash, said Klein. And if you do have family visiting this year, be aware of open purses or luggage in pets’ reach. Anything from birth control pills to marijuana edibles to xylitol-containing gum can be consumed in a heartbeat.

5. Keep flowers and centerpieces out of reach

Be sure to avoid centerpieces or flower arrangements with items that can be dangerous to cats and dogs as well. Among those are amaryllis, Baby’s Breath, Sweet William, some ferns, hydrangeas and lilies. If you think your pet has been exposed to anything dangerous call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435.

Can they have any food fun this holiday season? We want to show our love through food, but “you can kill them with kindness,” said Klein, when you consider that “obesity is one of the largest problems in canine health.”

If you really have to give them something, stick with plain, skinless, white meat turkey, just a little bit, he said, or maybe a few unseasoned green beans. Better still, keep them away from temptation in a place where they’re safe and happy, like a crate or their favorite bed with a toy they love. It can be harder to train relatives than the dog, after all!

Holiday foods you shouldn’t feed your cats and dogs (msn.com)

18 ‘American’ Christmas Traditions We Stole From Other Countries

By Sarah Crow  for BestLife

Whether it’s setting out milk and cookies for Santa or hanging stockings above the fireplace, there are countless Christmas traditions that are integral to the celebrations of families across the United States. However, while some of these traditions may seem as American as apple pie, their origin stories are anything but. From Druid fertility practices to Roman rituals, keep reading to find out which countries are responsible for your favorite Christmas traditions.

Slide 2 of 19: According to History.com, the legend is that the Norse god Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, who kids would leave treats for in hopes that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The tradition gained popularity in America during the Great Depression, when parents tried to make children understand the importance of being grateful for anything they might receive on Christmas. If you're looking to take your tree to the next level, check out 20 Genius Christmas Tree Decorating Tips, According to Experts.

© Provided by Best Life

1. Leaving milk and cookies for Santa is rooted in Norse mythology.

According to History.com, the legend is that the Norse god Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, who kids would leave treats for in hopes that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The tradition gained popularity in America during the Great Depression, when parents tried to make children understand the importance of being grateful for anything they might receive on Christmas.

2. The first Christmas card was sent in England by the founder of a British museum.

While holiday greetings have been around since time immemorial, the first Christmas card was British in origin. According to the Victoria & Albert Museum, the institution’s founding director, Henry Cole, sent the first known Christmas card, which included a drawing of a family gathering and the words “a merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you” in 1843.

3. Putting up and decorating Christmas trees started in Germany in the 16th century.

While using trees in holiday celebrations is believed to originally be a pagan tradition, more recognizable iterations of the Christmas tree hail from Germany, and date as far back as the 16th century. The modern Christmas tree, however, was popularized in the UK in the 1840s, when German-born Prince Albert displayed the first known British Christmas tree in Windsor Castle.

4. Christmas tree lights are a tradition from Germany that dates back to the 17th century.

While Thomas Edison‘s colleague Edward Hibberd Johnson is credited as the inventor of Christmas lights connected on strands, the tradition of illuminating Christmas trees comes from Germany, where it was being practiced as early as the 17th century, according to the Library of Congress. However, the lights back then were a lot less safe than the LED ones we string today—at the time, celebrants would simply attach candles to their trees and light them.

5. Legend says Christmas stockings originated in Turkey sometime in the 4th century.

The legend associated with the Christmas stocking is said to date back to the time of Saint Nicholas during the 3rd and 4th centuries in what is now Turkey. According to Smithsonian magazine, Saint Nicholas heard about the plight of a poor widower and his three daughters and wanted to help. He snuck into the house, saw the girls’ recently laundered stockings drying by the fire, and filled them with gold coins before going silently into the night

For more traditions that we Americans “borrowed” from other countries, click below.

Source: 18 ‘American’ Christmas Traditions We Stole From Other Countries (msn.com)

Best Christmas Brunch Recipes

By Brittany Anas for EatThis,NotThat!

Unwrapping presents may be the main event on Christmas morning. But a delicious brunch—best enjoyed in PJs—also brings merriment to the morning. Whether you like sweet (extra syrup, please!) or savory (ham and cheese are a dream team), here are 17 brunch recipes that feel just right for Christmas morning.

Slide 2 of 18: Your muffin tins are multi-taskers. Not only can they bake your favorite muffins, but they can also make individual quiches to wow your brunch crowd. This recipe is especially great for Christmas morning because you can dice up some leftover ham from a Christmas Eve dinner, then mix in the vegetables. A generous serving of Gouda gives them a creamy, buttery bite.Get our recipe for Muffin Tin Quiches with Smoked Gouda and Ham. RELATED: Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!

© Provided by Eat This, Not That!

1. Muffin Tin Quiches with Smoked Gouda and Ham

Your muffin tins are multi-taskers. Not only can they bake your favorite muffins, but they can also make individual quiches to wow your brunch crowd. This recipe is especially great for Christmas morning because you can dice up some leftover ham from a Christmas Eve dinner, then mix in the vegetables. A generous serving of Gouda gives them a creamy, buttery bite.

Slide 3 of 18: Psst, this bread pudding recipe with chocolate and sweet cherries may look and taste like dessert, but it's just as great as a brunch dish.Get our recipe for Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding with Pistachios. And for more holiday inspiration, check out these 50 Delicious Christmas Eve Dinners So Easy They'll Cook Themselves.

© Waterbury Publications, Inc.

2. Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding with Pistachios

Psst, this bread pudding recipe with chocolate and sweet cherries may look and taste like dessert, but it’s just as great as a brunch dish.

Slide 5 of 18: For a delicious brunch, bake this flavor-packed and filling breakfast casserole that's made with caramelized onions, baby kale, and mushrooms.Get our recipe for Breakfast Casserole. Wondering what your neighbors are eating? Don't miss The Best Christmas Recipe in Every State.

© Beth Lipton/ Eat This, Not That!

4. Breakfast Casserole

For a delicious brunch, bake this flavor-packed and filling breakfast casserole that’s made with caramelized onions, baby kale, and mushrooms.

Slide 8 of 18: Here's a genius idea: Make a charcuterie board for brunch on Christmas morning so that your family can wander in and out of the kitchen, enjoying a completely customizable and leisurely breakfast.Easy-to-assemble, a charcuterie board is a perfect place for your favorite brunch staples. The possibilities are endless, but you can start with cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, waffles, fruit, vegetables, and more.Get the recipe from How Sweet Eats. 

© How Sweet Eats

7. Charcuterie Brunch Boards

Here’s a genius idea: Make a charcuterie board for brunch on Christmas morning so that your family can wander in and out of the kitchen, enjoying a completely customizable and leisurely breakfast.

Easy-to-assemble, a charcuterie board is a perfect place for your favorite brunch staples. The possibilities are endless, but you can start with cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, waffles, fruit, vegetables, and more.

Speaking of more, to see more brunch idea’s, click below:

Source: 17 Best Christmas Brunch Recipes (msn.com)

10 Financial Moves to Make before the End of the Year

By Matt BeckerPosted  October 25, 2019

Note: This article is somewhat dated but still contains worthwhile information for this year end. DH

We’re closing in on the end of the year, which means it’s almost time for family, friends, travel, stress, fun, and everything else that comes with holiday season.

It’s also a great chance to take stock of your financial situation, reflect on what’s gone well this year, what could be improved, and what you need to do to put yourself in the best situation possible going into next year.

But let’s face it: you don’t want to spend the holidays handling your finances. That’s no fun for anyone. So instead of waiting until the last minute, and potentially missing some important deadlines, I’d like to help you get a bit of a head start.

Here are 10 moves you can start making right now to improve your financial situation before the end of the year.

1. Review your goals and set new ones

If you set some financial goals at the beginning of the year, now is a good time to check back in on them and ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s gone well?
  • What hasn’t gone well? Why is that?
  • Are these goals still relevant? Do any of them need to be discarded or updated?
  • Are there any new goals you’d like to be working towards?
  • What are some specific steps you can take to make better progress going forward?

Block some time off in your calendar to review those goals, update them as needed, and set new goals for the coming year. Your life and your circumstances have almost certainly changed over the past 12 months, and your goals should reflect those changes.

In the end, your financial plan can only be as good as the goals you set. Make this review a priority, block the time off in your calendar, and set yourself up for success in the coming year.

2. Maximize your retirement/financial independence savings

The easiest way to reach financial independence as soon as possible is to save more money. Nothing else you do will have as big an impact.

So it makes sense to take stock of how much you’ve already saved this year and whether you should be making any special moves to maximize your contributions to accounts like your 401(k), IRA, and HSA.

There are some limits and deadlines to consider here, so let’s walk through them quickly.

3. Plan next year’s savings

With both your goals and your savings still top-of-mind, you’re in prime position to make a least a rough savings plan for next year.

Here’s a little cheat sheet you can use to set up automatic contributions that max out each of your tax-advantaged investment accounts:

401(k)

  • 2020 annual max: $19,500
  • Monthly: $1,625
  • Per paycheck (26 paychecks): $750
  • Per paycheck (24 paychecks): $812.50

Traditional or Roth IRA

  • 2020 annual max: $6,000
  • Monthly: $500
  • Per paycheck (26 paychecks): $230.77
  • Per paycheck (24 paychecks): $250

Health Savings Account

  • 2020 annual max: $3,550 individual / $7,100 family
  • Monthly: $295.83 / $591.67
  • Per paycheck (26 paychecks): $136.54 / $273.08
  • Per paycheck (24 paychecks): $147.92 / $295.83

But of course financial independence shouldn’t be your only goal. Back in Step 1 you might have set goals like buying a house, traveling, building an emergency fund, switching to a single income, or starting a business.

Those shorter-term goals are just as important as the long term ones, so make sure to set aside some regular savings for those as well.

4. Optimize your employee benefits

The end of the year is open enrollment season, which means your employer will probably be sending you a big packet of information about your 2019 employee benefit options. That might sound pretty boring, and it kind of is, but it’s also a big opportunity to make sure you grab every last financial incentive available to you.

Here are a few of the things you might be able to take advantage of:

  • Retirement plans – Have there been any new plans introduced? Are there any changes to the old plan? Are you taking full advantage of your employer match?
  • Health insurance – Check both your options and (if applicable) your spouse’s options to make sure you’re getting the right coverage for your family’s needs. You may even be able to choose a plan that qualifies you for a health savings account!
  • Dental and vision insurance – This can be valuable coverage, especially if you know you’ll need care in the coming year.
  • Medical FSA – Money contributed to this account is tax-deductible and can then be used tax-free for medical expenses. Just be cautious because this money is, in many cases at least, use it or lose it. The maximum annual contribution for 2020 is $2,750.
  • Dependent care FSA – Money contributed to this account is tax-deductible and can then be used tax-free for childcare expenses. Hey, at least there’s SOME relief from this enormous cost! Though again, this money is use it or lose it so plan carefully. The maximum annual contribution for 2020 is $5,000.
  • Life and disability insurance – There are pros and cons to getting this coverage through work, but at the very least it’s good to know what’s available to you so you can make an informed decision.
  • Legal services – You may be able to take advantage of heavily discounted legal services, which can range from estate planning, to immigration assistance, to family law.
  • Other perks – There’s a whole range of other perks your employer might offer, such as gym membership, transportation reimbursement, education assistance, and many others. Make sure to look through all your options so you can take full advantage of everything that’s available to you.

5. Use any remaining FSA money

One of the tricky parts of a medical FSA is that the money is often use it or lose it. That is, any money that’s still in your account at the end of the year is gone forever.

So, while there’s still time left, check your FSA account balance and think about how you might be able to use it before the end of the year.

Do you need new glasses? Do you have any medical care you’ve been putting off? Maybe your child could use a trip to the dentist?

See if you can find a use for this money before the end of the year so that it doesn’t go to waste.

Quick note: Not all FSA plans are 100% use it or lose it. Some offer a grace period where you’re allowed to use the money for a certain period of time after year end. Others will let you keep up to $500 for next year. Check your specific plan details to see what leeway you’re allowed here.

6. Plan for the holidays

The holidays can be a lot of fun. Time off from work. Time with family. Maybe even some traveling.

They can also be a HUGE money drain. Between gifts, food, plane tickets, hotels, and all the rest, the money you spend during the holidays can throw you way off your other goals, and potentially even leave you with a new pile of debt to handle.

The best way to avoid all of that is to plan ahead.

Make a plan for how much you want to spend. Set a gift budget, a food budget, and a travel budget. Save ahead for the things you know are coming.

I’m all for traveling to see family and spending on things that matter. And the holidays are a great opportunity to do just that.

With a little bit of planning, you can do it in a way that keeps your other goals on track.

7. Rebalance your investments

I like to be pretty hands off with my investments.

As long as you pick a good enough investment strategy, minimize your costs, and automate your savings, you should stop worrying about it and get back to the rest of your life.

But there IS a small amount of regular maintenance that helps keep things on track, and rebalancing your investments is one of those pieces.

Rebalancing is essentially this:

You chose to invest in a particular way with a particular mix of investments. This much money in stocks, that much in bonds, etc.

But over time the markets will move and that mix will naturally change. When the stock market is up, that part of your investment account will increase in value and you’ll have a bigger percentage of your money in stocks than you originally planned. The opposite is true when the stock market is down.

Rebalancing is how you bring everything back in line with your personal goals. It’s simply the process of resetting your investments back to your original plan.

Of course, there are also a number of investment options that automate the process of rebalancing so that you don’t have to worry about it. 

8. Double-check your insurance and estate plan

Life moves fast, and as your circumstances change you may find yourself with new things to protect, or maybe even things that no longer need protection.

Which means it’s a good idea to review your insurance and estate plan from time to time to make sure it’s still covering what you need it to cover, and nothing more.

Here are three things in particular you’ll want to review:

  • Life insurance – A change in circumstances, such as a new child, a new house, a windfall, a marriage, or a divorce can significantly change your need for life insurance. If you’ve been through any big changes, you can use this tool to re-evaluate your need for coverage.
  • Disability insurance – If you’ve changed jobs or had a significant change in income, you may need to update your coverage to make sure you’re fully protected.
  • Estate plan – The same changes that would trigger a review of life insurance should trigger a review of your will and other estate planning documents. This is simply to make sure that your family will always be cared for in the way you want.

9. Review the past year’s income and expenses

If you’ve been tracking your spending for the past year, now is a good time to look at the full year’s worth of information and ask yourself some questions:

  • Do any of the numbers surprise you?
  • Were there any irregular expenses you hadn’t planned for?
  • Did you save for the things you wanted to save for?
  • Are there any expenses that would be easy to cut?
  • Do you see any opportunities to increase your income?
  • Do you have room to put more money towards more enjoyable activities?

There’s nothing like looking at the cold, hard numbers to get a real sense of where your money is going, what you’re prioritizing, and what you’d like to change.

10. Record your net worth

Your net worth is your single most important financial number for the simple reason that just about every good financial move you make serves to either increase it or protect it.

And that means that tracking your net worth over time will help you gauge whether the financial moves you’re making are actually working. If your net worth is increasing, you’re making progress. If not, it might be time to re-evaluate the decisions you’re making.

So no matter what, recording your net worth now is a good idea. And if you can, compare it to your net worth at the same time last year to see how it’s changed, think about what worked and what didn’t, and use that information to influence your plans for the coming year.

What will you do to improve your financial situation?

You certainly don’t have to hit all 10 of these by the end of the year (though it would be great if you did!). That’s a lot to take on.

But as you look at this list, try to find at least 2-3 things that you can commit to handling before December 31, and maybe another 2-3 that you can commit to at the start of next year.

This isn’t about getting EVERYTHING right. It’s about making consistent forward progress one step at a time.

What next step will you take?

Source: 10 Financial Moves to Make before the End of the Year – Mom and Dad Money

The 10 Worst Movies of 2020

By Richard Evans  for BestLife

As we near the end of the year and look back on the last 12 months in film, it becomes clear that calling 2020 a weird time for movies is something of an understatement. Theaters have been closed in parts of the country for most of the year, leading to a resurgence of drive-in movies and sending major studio releases to streaming services. No matter how you managed to watch them, there have been some real standout films this year—and, of course, some total turkeys. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the 10 worst movies of 2020.

So here are the 10 worst of the worst movies of 2020. Seen them?

10. Artemis Fowl

Metascore: 31

9. Half Brothers

Metascore: 30

8. Brahms: The Boy II

Metascore: 29

7. Force of Nature

Metascore: 29

6. Jiu Jitsu

Metascore: 28

5. Songbird

Metascore: 27

4. Dolittle

Metascore: 26

3. The Tax Collector

Metascore: 22

2. Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island

Metascore: 22

1. The Last Days of American Crime

Metascore: 15

Source: The Worst Movie of 2020, According to Critics (msn.com)