Holiday Small Talk Tips That Don’t Involve Work, Babies, or Politics

There is nothing I loathe more than small talk, and the holidays are just about the worst. Probably like many of you, I find myself attending a lot of holiday functions. I’ll go several holiday gatherings for various magazines I write for. I’ll attend my husband’s company party. I’ll drop in on a few open houses for area businesses. And ultimately, I’ll find myself running out of things to talk about at every single one of these functions. Like we need more stress this time of year, am I right?

The reality is, I like to talk to people. I’m naturally curious, and I enjoy asking questions. However, oftentimes I ask the wrong questions. You know the ones: those conversation enders instead of conversation starters. There’s the usual, “What do you do? What part of town do you live in? And do you have kids?” And for me, that last one is the ultimate doozy because I, in fact, do not have kids. So ends that conversation. Oops.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I not only hate asking those typical questions but answering them too. It’s difficult to describe my non-traditional career; it’s hurtful to explain why I’m not going home for the holidays, and it’s boring to talk about the same things over and over again. Who’s with me?!

This holiday season, I’m saying enough is enough when it comes to dreaded holiday small talk. Instead of avoiding it, I’m going to embrace it, thanks to the guidance of Erika Preval. Erika is an Atlanta-based etiquette expert who also owns a modern day charm school. After years working on Wall Street, writing for the likes of Southern Living, and being a personal shopper at Tiffany’s (hello dream job!), Erika knows her stuff when it comes to all things etiquette.

Start with a compliment.

Who doesn’t love hearing something positive about themselves? Preval explained that a tried-and-true way to start a conversation and get someone talking is to say something nice about them. “Compliments are great conversation starters, and with everyone dressed in their finest, you’ll likely have many occasions during the holidays to create an instant connection with the recipient when giving them,” she said. She emphasized that it’s important to think beyond the weather and focus instead on things people like talking about. “Chatting about upcoming travel plans, new restaurants, or even favorite (non-controversial) podcasts are also ways to keep the conversation going,” Preval added.

Recently, a hostess friend of mine said one of her favorite ways to start a conversation is to ask what someone did that day. I love that! Think of all of the answers that will come up in that response. Preval also said to be ready for what’s next. “Be armed with leading follow-up questions,” she explained. “‘Tell me more…’  expresses interest in what you’ve just heard and is a simple way to keep the conversation going.”


Know how to dip out graciously.

As a conversation starts to dwindle, it can become clear it’s time to move on. However, doing so without being awkward is, well, awkward. “When the conversation starts to wane and you’re beginning to feel like the rhythm has been lost, it’s time to move on,” Preval said. “You can graciously exit the conversation with, ‘I’ve really enjoyed catching up with you. Please excuse me…’ or by introducing them to another person who might be a better fit.”

Leaving a conversation to start a new one can also be a bit tricky, but Preval explained there are ways to do so with confidence. “If the group is open, enter with a simple greeting and introduce yourself,” she noted. “If you’ve overheard the subject matter of their current conversation, add to the discussion with your experiences or inquiries. ‘Did I hear you talking about ____? I’ve always wanted to go there. What is the one thing I shouldn’t miss when I visit?’”


Be confident around your coworkers (and don’t rely on liquid courage).

It can be tempting to head to the bar as soon as you get to a party, especially to calm your nerves. Avoid the temptation by giving yourself a little confidence–boosting pep-talk. “Often, when you’re employed in an office where co-workers are known to socialize, your interview was likely looking for a fit for both hard and social skills. Find confidence in that and be yourself,” Preval said. Of course, holiday parties are a time for revelry, so imbibing is often expected and anticipated, and that’s OK! However, keep it light, but professional. “If alcohol is present at an event with co-workers, it is OK to join them,” Preval explained. “Know your tolerance and take care to consume beverages that you’re familiar with to avoid unintentionally being over-served.” Another tip? Don’t feel pressured to drink. “A soda with lime, tonic with citrus, or holding the same glass of wine throughout your time together is perfectly fine,” Preval noted.

Ultimately, have fun! Whether you’re slowly sipping on jingle juice or confidently rocking around the Christmas tree, enjoy yourself. Erika’s final piece of advice? “Please don’t enter the event in search of the WiFi password. Unless you’re expecting a call, your phone should be put away at social events. Connect with the people your feet are facing instead those you interact with virtually.” Cheers to a successful holiday party season!


The Best Places to Travel for Christmas

Tempted to skip town for the holidays? Here are a few places Town & Country  Magazine recommends:

From Christmas to Chanukah to Kwanza, the month of December is a jumble of holidays. Pair that with the kids being off from school, and many will be looking—and planning now—to get out of town to celebrate Christmas. But where to go? London for the Winter wonderland in Hyde Park? Washington, Connecticut for the chance of a white Christmas? A week relaxing on a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii? Or perhaps the newest ski-in and ski-out hotel in Aspen? We’ve got lots of ideas, including where to stay, to make this time of year what it should be: festive and fun for Christmas 2019.

1 London, England

courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

London gets a lot of things right, including the holidays. With special markets, lights galore, and hearty English fare—think warm scones—and world-class shopping, the city screams really festive. To soak it all in, stay at the newly reopened Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in the posh Knightsbridge area—it’s the only hotel to actually sit on Hyde Park—that has floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the park and is a stone’s throw from Harvey Nichols and Harrods, arguably some of the best shopping in the world. Added bonus of being across the street from Hyde Park is that it turns into a winter wonderland with ice skating, performances, and rides and games—all just outside your door.

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London


2 Carmel by the Sea, California
Carmel Valley Ranch

Doug Steakley

A temperate California climate, vineyards, hiking galore, top-notch spa treatments. and a world class golf course, Carmel Valley Ranch, located in the chic Monterey area (this is where Big Little Lies is filmed) is a great destination for a not-so-freezing holiday jaunt. Carmel Valley Ranch, a sprawling resort, puts on a Hanukkah party, nightly menorah lighting, a holiday Nutcracker tea, Christmas caroling, and a family friendly New Years Eve party. And if you want a break from all the holiday cheer, Carmel Valley Ranch has a beekeeping program, chicken coop, goat barn, hatchet throwing, and cheese making class at the property’s recently opened creamery.

Carmel Valley Ranch

3 The Maldives
courtesy of Vakkaru Maldives

For a destination that can take well over 12 hours to get to, a long holiday break is the perfect time to go to the Maldives. So head for Vakkaru Island, located within the Unesco Biosphere Reserve of Baa Atoll, lies a reef island composed entirely of sediment produced on the surrounding coral reefs. In addition to all the aquatic activities—snorkeling, diving, whale watching—Vakkaru Island offers a Christmas Market with a multitude of stalls selling boutique items spa, products, and food and beverage. On New Years Eve the hotel puts on a beach carnival with live acts, music, a gourmet menu, cocktails, and fireworks.

Vaakaru Island


4 Aspen, Colorado

World-class skiing, cuisine, retail, and a great nightlife scene—Aspen hits all the right notes for a holiday getaway, whether you want to relax by the fire or go out every evening. The only hitch may be finding a place to stay during this busy time of year. Problem solved. The W Aspen, which opened in August, is the first new luxury hotel opening in Aspen in 25 years and is located on the creme da la creme real-estate at the base of Aspen Mountain. W Aspen will have ski-in/ski-out access to some of the world’s most coveted slopes. Whether you stay there or not, the hotel’s WET Deck, Aspen’s only year-round, all weather public rooftop bar, is poised to become this 2019’s apres ski hot spot.

W Aspen

5 Washington, Connecticut
Rich Pomerantz

This tony corner of northwest Connecticut in Litchfield County is where many of New York City’s see and be seen crowd retreats for the holidays. If you don’t have your own estate, head to the Mayflower Inn, which was recently taken over by Auberge resorts, and has all the trappings for a perfect long weekend—or week—stay over the holidays. The now kid and pet friendly property hosts a Christmas Eve and cocktail party and dinner in their parlor followed by eggnog made by Arethusa Farms (which is owned by Manolo Blahnik owners). There’s also acres and acres to explore on snow shoes or cross country skis, not to mention one of the area’s best spas.

The Mayflower Inn, Auberge Resorts Collection


6 Jerusalem, Israel
Adi Gilad

A holy city for Jews, Muslims, and Christians Jerusalem will promise an enriching and historical holiday break–from exploring the Western Wall, Holy Sepulcher, Tower of David, Bethlehem (look for a Christmas Eve tour), and the Mount of Olives. But Jerusalem has also become home to a cluster of swanky, five-star hotels, including the Mamilla Hotel Jerusalem. A short distance from Old City Jerusalem and the Jaffa Gate, the property offers luxurious accommodations in the heart of Jerusalem. With minimal design by Italian born Piero Lissoni, travelers can enjoy the old and preserved by day and return to new and sophisticated rooms by night. Other ways to indulge between the sightseeing: there’s a rooftop lounge restaurant and much buzzed about spa.

Mamilla Hotel Jerusalem

7 Donegal, Ireland
courtesy of Lough Eske Castle

In Northwest Ireland on the wild, ragged coastline sits Donegal, Ireland, filled with rolling hills and seaside views. This is definitely an off-the-beaten path holiday destination, but well worth it for Lough Eske Castle—the only five-star hotel in the area. The sprawling property is nestled at the base of Bluestack Mountain, where you can go hike off all those mince pies. For the holidays, the castle is decorated in lights and holly and offers a Christmas Eve buffet and baking activities for kids. And if you’re lucky, you might catch some rainbows, since the hotel is nestled in the perfect vantage spot—over the mountains—for spotting them.

Lough Eske Castle


8 The Big Island, Hawaii
courtesy of The Four Seasons

There is really no bad time of year to go to Hawaii, but for a 12-hour flight from the East Coast it makes sense to go over a long holiday break. The Big Island, with its rustic, untamed feel, and amazing marine life is a truly unique place to spend the holidays. The Four Season Resort Hualalai, one of the best hotels in Hawaii, pulls out all the stops for the festive season. They do a New Years Eve gala dinner with a different theme every year, provide eight hours of kid programming every day, and offer a special spa and wellness experiences. Then there are the private helicopter tours over volcanoes, snorkeling with sea turtles, and one of a kind sea to dining—think: catching your own dinner—experiences the hotel offers.

The Four Season Resort Hualalai

9 Lapland, Finland
lapland finland

Getty Images

Is there anything more authentic than spending Christmas in the Article Circle? Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland in Northern Scandinavia, is known as the “Official Hometown of Santa Claus”—and it looks exactly like the Santa Claus’ village you grew up fantasizing about. Kids will encounter elves, play with Rudolf and his reindeer, and decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus; for adults, there’s snowmobile safaris, husky rides, and Northern Light hunting.


10 Nantucket, Mass.
courtesy of Jared Coffin House

While you may think of Nantucket, the small island off of Massachusetts, as a winter ghost town, think again. The annual Christmas Stroll, which this year will take place from December 6th to 8th, is an event that rivals just about anything in the high season. The streets are straight out of a holiday story book and the whole town turns into a block party. You’ll feel like you are stepping into Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Imagine carolers wandering through cobblestone streets, 80 uniquely decorated trees, and shop windows that give New York City department stores a run for their money. Stay in the center of the action at the Jared Coffin House, where Santa holds court, and you are just steps away from all the festive fun.

The Jared Coffin House

Article and opinions by:

How To Grow California Poppy

growing california poppies

by Matt Gibson

The golden poppy became known as the California poppy when the state of California adopted the flower as their state flower in 1903. The lovely golden orange perennial is one of the first wildflowers to be cultivated in gardens. Also known as Flame Flower, la amapola, and Copa de Oro (cup of gold), flanders poppy, corn poppy, Iceland poppy, oriental poppy, and golden poppy, the bright orange flower sets the California hills ablaze from early spring to late fall.

Poppy Day is celebrated on April 6th each year, and May 13th through May 18th is Poppy Week. Though most commonly seen in golden orange, the California poppy can also be found in shades of bronze, scarlet, terra-cotta, white, and rose. The bright blooms of the poppy are perched atop foot high silvery-green foliage. The plant is a slight bit wider than it is tall, with flowers that stretch one to two inches wide, each consisting of four fan-shaped petals and a group of stamens. The foliage is divided into narrow segments on long stalks with three to four inch fern-like leaves. California poppy grows naturally in open areas, grassy, and sandy slopes.

The flower is not exclusive to California, however, but can be found from southern California to southern Washington, and as far east as Texas. Native Americans from California loved the Golden poppy, and used it as a source of food and extracted oil from the plant for medicinal purposes.

It is important to address the distinction between the California poppy and Papaver somniferum. The milky sap of Papaver somniferum’s unripened seed pods is the primary source of opiate drugs, such as morphine, opium, codeine, and heroin. Though the two species are cousins, the sap of the California poppy is non-narcotic. It does have mild sedative properties, but not nearly as powerful as its illegal-to-grow cousin.

Poppy seeds, also called maw seeds are used for flavoring in baking, ground for flour, and are commonly found in birdseed. Poppy oil, which is derived from Golden poppy seeds, is used in cooking, and as an additive in paints, varnishes, and soaps.

The Poppy symbolizes peace, death and sleep, and is one of the most important flowers in mythology. The poppy also symbolizes rest and recovery, consolation for loss and death, remembrance of fallen soldiers, peace in death, imagination, messages gleaned from dreaming, resurrection and immortality, beauty, success, extravagance, wealth, and luxury.

Varieties of California Poppy

There are many different types of poppy flowers, but only three types of Golden Poppy. California Golden is the classic bright orange poppy seen all across the hills of California, especially in the southern regions. Mission Bells poppy is available in a wide range of sherbet shades like pink, salmon, and cream, and some hybrids even have semi-double blooms. Golden West poppy is a hybrid of the classic orange flower that is known as California Golden, and is only available in orange, set apart from the original only by its darker center.

Growing Conditions for California Poppy

As with many native wildflowers, California poppies are easy to care for and maintain when grown in their native regions, or when provided with a habitat that mimics their native environment. For the California poppy, the old adage, “less is more,” is truly applicable, as it is more important to focus on what you don’t give the poppy more than what you do provide it. California poppies need less water, less warmth, and less soil nutrition. The less they are given, the more they will become self-reliant, and will even begin to self-sow around the garden in places you wouldn’t expect to see them.

A full six hours of unfiltered sunlight is essential and more is even better, so pick a bright sunny location for your poppies. Though some California poppies may survive in shady locations, they will look tarnished and leggy, and will be more prone to developing fungal diseases than their sunbathing brethren. Golden poppies prefer poor soil conditions to rich soil, but will survive in any soil type except for heavy clay soils, as their tap roots require good drainage. If you have a clay-rich soil, try your poppies out in raised beds with altered soil or containers.

If temperatures are mild, or between 50 and 75 degrees F, California poppies will continue to grow and bloom each spring. In areas with hot summer climates, they will become dormant during the summer instead of continuing to bloom through the season. When cool temperatures return, so will your poppies, regrowing and re-blooming from their tap roots.

Care of California Poppy

California poppies don’t need very much water to thrive, and are practically drought-tolerant. Spring rainfall is usually enough to irrigate the plants sufficiently. In areas with hot summers, the plants will go dormant and will need no additional water during the summer months. Only water California poppies during droughts or extremely dry periods.

No fertilizer is needed for California poppies, even in poor soil conditions. Adding fertilizer to your soil will cause additional foliage growth and less focus on blooms.

How To Grow California Poppy In Containers

When growing California poppies in containers, start from seed. Golden Poppies have long tap roots and hate to be transplanted. Treat container poppies like you would any hardy annual, pulling them up when they’re done blooming, as they will most likely die over winter in a container. If you want to try to keep them alive, bring them indoors during the winter and let them go dormant and gradually reintroduce them to the outdoors the following spring.

How To Plant California Poppy

Plant poppy seeds directly into the ground in a bright sunny location after the last threat of frost has passed. Press the seeds into the soil gently with your fingers and water gently to keep from dislodging the tiny seeds. The warming of the soil in spring and light spring rains will help to trigger germination, which should occur in about two weeks. You can tell the poppies from weeds by noticing the bluish-green tint of poppy foliage, so pull the weeds up and thin poppy seedlings to about eight inches apart.

Garden Pests and Diseases of California Poppy

California poppies can contract several diseases, especially in a location that endures heavy, or excessive rain or overwatering. Mold, stem rot, and mildew can all affect poppy plants grown in wet habitats. Antifungal applications can help subdue some of the issues that come with overwatering, but the best defense against these diseases is planting your poppies in locations that receive full sunlight exposure and maintaining a well-draining soil to help keep your poppies as dry as possible. There are no known pest issues that affect the California poppy.

PTSD and Sleep: Rest Easier with Treatment

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Many who are diagnosed with PTSD also have sleep problems. And when sleep problems last, they can have a negative impact on many parts of your life. The good news is, treatment can help!

Recognize Sleep Concerns

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I had difficulty sleeping (getting to sleep, staying asleep, waking up too early) several nights a week for several months?
  • Do I feel sluggish or have low energy?
  • Have I noticed changes in my concentration or mood?
  • Do I dread the idea of trying to sleep, instead of looking forward to it?
  • Have I woken up gasping for air?

If you answered yes to any of the questions, then talk with your provider about getting a sleep assessment and discuss sleep treatment options.

Seek Treatment

If you have PTSD and sleep problems, ask your provider about evidence-based treatment options. Treating your PTSD can help improve your sleep problems. If your sleep problems continue after you complete a front-line treatment for PTSD, talk to your provider about options for sleep-related treatments.

If you have been diagnosed with insomnia, consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I is a talk therapy that is the most effective treatment for insomnia. CBT-I does not require medication either. For people who are doing CBT-I, the National Center for PTSD has a free treatment companion mobile CBT-I Coach. Also, VA has a free Veteran online training called Path to Better Sleep to help address insomnia symptoms.

Manage Sleep Difficulties

Treatment is the best option if you have lasting sleep problems. But these tips can also help temporarily:

  • Have a 30-minute wind down time before bed.
  • Go to bed when sleepy.
  • Get out of bed if you find yourself “trying” to sleep. Engage in a relaxation activity until you feel sleepy and then go back into bed.
  • Have a consistent wake time.
  • Make your bed and sleeping environment comfortable.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs before bed.
  • Limit your caffeine use.

Visit the National Center for PTSD’s website to learn more about the relationship between PTSD and sleep problems.


Doris “Dorie” Miller: The Hero of Pearl Harbor


Remembering Pearl Harbor– December 7, 1941  “A day that will live in infamy”

Doris “Dorie” Miller, an African American sailor, was one of the most unsung American heroes of World War II. His actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor helped save many lives and served as an inspiration to countless others.

Miller was born on October 12, 1919, in Waco, Texas. He worked on the family farm with his three brothers until September 16, 1939, when Miller enlisted in the Navy to earn extra money for his family. Miller completed training at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was promoted to Mess Attendant Third Class. This was one of the only positions available to African-Americans at the time, due to Navy segregation.

Following his promotion, Miller was assigned to the USS Pyro, where he served as a mess attendant before being transferred in 1940 to the USS West Virginia. It was there that Miller became the ship’s heavy-weight boxing champion, earning the respect of his compatriots.

On December 7, 1941, Miller woke up early to begin his workday. As he began collecting the ship’s laundry, an alarm from General Quarters sounded. Miller raced for his battle station, the anti-aircraft battery magazine amidships. But when he got to his position, he found it destroyed by torpedo. Miller returned to deck, and because of his physical prowess, was assigned to help carry his fellow wounded sailors to safety. He carried several men to safe quarters, then retrieved the ship’s injured captain, Mervyn Bennion.

Then, without rest, and before being ordered to abandon ship, Miller fired an unmanned .50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until it ran out of ammunition. When asked how he managed to fire with such prowess, Miller said, “It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

The USS West Virginia sank to the bottom of the harbor. Of the ship’s 1,541 men, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. For his actions, Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, 1942. On May 27, 1942, he was awarded the Navy Cross by the Pacific Fleet’s Commander in Chief, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

On November 24, 1943, a Japanese torpedo struck the USS Liscome Bay off the coast of Buritaritari Island. Two-thirds of the crew died or went missing—including Miller.

Doris Miller’s legacy paved the way for other African-American service members to serve in combat roles. And his likeness was used in Navy recruitment drives, including an iconic World War II enlistment poster featuring the words, “Above and beyond the call of duty.”

In addition to the Navy Cross, Doris Miller received the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal – Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. In 1973, the Knox-class frigate USS Miller was named in his honor.

We honor his service.

More about Miller’s service is at


How One Click Can Keep Your Information Safe on Public Wi-Fi

Doing so much online banking, shopping, etc. opens us up to potential attacks—including theft and the abuse of personal information. That’s where a Virtual Private Network (VPN) comes in.

woman using computer

Photo by Readers Digest

What is a VPN?

“A VPN is an online service that allows consumers to encrypt all their web traffic as it comes and goes from their devices,” says Ray Walsh, a technology expert at ProPrivacy. “This secures the data in an impenetrable tunnel that stops anybody from being able to analyze or steal their data and web-browsing habits.” In short, it’s the key to maintaining your privacy and safety.
Invisible surfing
According to Amy Smith, a senior technology analyst at Fit Small Business, a VPN is a bit like a personal cloaking device. “When you use a VPN, it encrypts your data, so it’s like you’re surfing the web invisibly,” she explains. “Your IP address is masked, too. So if there are any local network attacks with the purpose of stealing data, you’re much more protected.”

Who should get a VPN?

There are three main reasons a person might want to consider getting a VPN, according to Austin Norby, director of cyber initiatives at Blue Star Software.

  1. For connecting geographically distributed networks into a virtual/private network.
  2. For those who don’t want their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to be able to see their Internet traffic. “This does not prevent someone from eventually seeing your traffic, only those in between the two VPN endpoints,” says Norby. “This may or may not be a legal use of a VPN, depending on where you are in the world.”
  3. For those whose ISP prevents access to certain sites or content but allows for VPN traffic. “This can be used to fake a geographic presence somewhere else in the world,” he notes, adding that this may be another gray legal area in some locations.

Because the last two possible uses are potentially illegal, depending on where you live, Norby says of both points: “This is not legal advice or permission. Please consult with a lawyer in your area before attempting this kind of usage.”

What can a VPN protect users from?

“A VPN can protect people against badly implemented public Wi-Fi hotspots and purposefully set up ‘evil twin’ hotspots designed to help steal people’s data,” Walsh explains. “A VPN also stops local network administrators that are hosting Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, hotels, airports, or elsewhere from invading your privacy by monitoring the websites that you visit.”

And you’re not just being paranoid if you want that extra privacy protection while surfing on public networks. “It is possible for Wi-Fi-hosting venues to collect data about consumers, which is later sold in bulk to third parties such as data brokers,” says Walsh. “This means that any data amassed about consumers while they use public Wi-Fi could potentially be sold on for profit and end up in a database.” A VPN can prevent that.

Additional protection

Some VPNs can provide a little extra protection, if you know what you’re looking for. “Some VPNs might provide a service that scans for known malware or exploitation attempts in the traffic and removes that code or content and blocks those connections,” says Norby. But you can’t expect that from every VPN. “This is not inherent in VPN technology and requires that the VPN service provider is scanning your unencrypted traffic, which does tend to violate the principles some users are looking for when using a VPN—namely privacy,” he explains.

How expensive is a VPN?

“While there are free VPN offerings, many are capturing all your information and are barely more than thinly veiled malware,” says Dave Hatter, a software engineer and cybersecurity consultant who currently works for intrustIT. If you want a VPN that will truly protect you, he says it’s best to stick with software from well-known, reputable vendors such as Symantec and Nord. “You can get solid, quality VPN offerings very inexpensively, and it’s much less expensive than the cost of identity theft or having your bank account drained,” he adds. Currently, Nord has a VPN deal for $3.49 per month for three years.

VPN limitations

“There has been a lot of hype recently about VPN services and exactly what they can or cannot do,” Norby says. And that’s why he thinks you need to know about the following claims and limitations:

  • Traffic is only encrypted from VPN-endpoint to VPN-endpoint. This means that if you use servers to create the VPN tunnel and you must direct traffic through the VPN server in order to travel the tunnel, all traffic between your computer and the VPN server is visible. All traffic after the VPN destination server and the actual destination is visible (unless other precautions are taken).
  • When using a VPN service, the VPN service provider has the technical ability to read every single packet that traverses their network and log it for later consumption or distribution to ad services and/or local law enforcement. Whether or not this will happen is usually stated in their legal documents…which few people read. If privacy is of high importance to you, make sure to read those documents and understand exactly how your data will be used as it traverses the VPN service provider network. And remember that even if they say they won’t use your information, they have the ability to do so. Factor such possibilities into your risk calculation.
  • Antivirus or anti-malware services offered by the VPN service provider require them to scan your traffic. They can remove the malicious content from your traffic and that’s great. However, if they can remove content from your traffic, they can also add it back in, including malicious content, custom ads, custom tracking, and so on. Again, include that in your risk calculations.

How can the average person find the right VPN?

“The best way to get a VPN is to visit a legitimate privacy advocacy website that reviews and tests VPNs like,” says Walsh. “Here, consumers can access honest information and guides designed to help them find a VPN provider that is suited to their needs and get it up and running problem-free.” Of course, if you’ve got children, you’ll want to take additional steps to keep your kids safe online.

Going international

While there are several VPN providers with servers in the United States, if you’re worried about the U.S. government’s prying eyes, you can choose a VPN with servers located in other countries, says Smith. “NordVPN is in Panama, CyberGhost VPN offers servers in 112 different locations, and VyprVPN Services has jurisdiction in Switzerland,” she notes. “For the best security of your data, do a bit of research into the location to ensure that your data is locked down thanks to specific privacy laws.”

A few final notes

“VPNs are popular all over the world because their advantages are universal to all people,” Walsh explains. “Online freedom and privacy are considered two of the most fundamental human rights in modern society, because the ability to access news and educational materials—as well as the ability to communicate freely both locally and globally—are vital to maintaining autonomy and self-determination both politically and within civil society.”

Plus, he adds, “VPNs are one of the few online services that allow consumers to escape tyranny, political oppression, and unfair corporate surveillance by actively protecting their data and therefore their digital footprint from unwanted surveillance. For this reason, privacy advocates consider VPNs one of the primary tools for gaining and maintaining a healthy online presence.”

Article by Leah Campbell and The Readers Digest

Holiday Blooms: Create a Living Centerpiece


In our November/December issue, Leaf and Petal owner Lydia Pursell invites us into her family’s home, dressed for Yuletide with botanical selections from her popular chain of garden shops.

Holiday Blooms: Create a Living Centerpiece

During the holidays, the former magazine stylist brings beauty and fragrance into her interiors with fresh-cut garlands and wreaths. But along with these temporary additions, Lydia advises creating arrangements that can last through the winter and beyond.

Holiday Blooms: Create a Living Centerpiece

Here’s Lydia’s step-by-step instructions for creating this magnificent focal point, above.

Prepare a container. This vintage brass treasure, perfectly sized for a buffet or a dining table, was purchased for $20 at a church tag sale. Lining the bottom with floral wrap protects the patina from potential water damage. This waxed tissue paper can also be tucked between plants as a stabilizer, but Lydia suggests using torn-up grocery sacks as an economical substitute.

Holiday Blooms: Create a Living Centerpiece
Design for maximum interest. “The composition for most arrangements comes from the old cliché, ‘thrill, fill, and spill,’” Lydia shares. Florists recommend combining eye-catching favorites with varieties that lend height, and others that extend over the edge of the vessel. These hydrangeas and ferns, available year-round, will find an ideal holiday complement in softly tinted poinsettias.

Holiday Blooms: Create a Living Centerpiece

Develop an artful presentation. This process comes naturally to Lydia. “I usually play with the placement until it feels right,” she explains. The pots growers use are not very pliable, so transferring seedlings and their soil into plastic bags allows more flexibility and increased water retention. Larger shrubs, such as hydrangeas, are better left in their original containers. Consider where the centerpiece will be displayed to determine whether you need to address only the front and sides or plan for a 360° view.

Holiday Blooms: Create a Living Centerpiece
Extend the enjoyment. “The arrangements we do at Leaf and Petal can last for months,” Lydia says. “One or two plants may not have the longevity of the others, but those you refresh.” Realizing that varieties require differing amounts of water, she recommends testing their moisture levels every few days by sticking a finger in the soil. As some flowers begin to fade, they can be replaced with new seasonal offerings.