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A green Christmas: eco-friendly decorating

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Holiday decorations can help make Christmas feel like a magical time of the year. Here are a few ways you can make them more eco-friendly.

Invest in eco-friendly lighting
Brighten up the exterior of your home with LED lights and use a timer, so they don’t stay on all night. Alternatively, you can opt for solar-powered lighting. If you want to set the mood with candles, choose natural soy-based products.

Buy locally made items

It’s best to reuse decorations from one year to the next. However, if you want a change, look for second-hand options at a thrift store or stroll through a Christmas market to find unique ornaments made by local artisans. Alternatively, you can organize a decoration swap among friends and family members.

Make your own decorations
Use natural materials like fallen branches, pine cones, and dried leaves to make your own seasonal decor. If you want to get the kids involved in holiday crafts, sort through your recycling bin for useful supplies like toilet paper rolls, cardboard boxes, and egg cartons.

Finally, be sure to buy your Christmas tree from a local farm that doesn’t use herbicides or pesticides. For an unconventional alternative, build your own by stacking books or using other common household items.

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How to get your finances in order if you’re diagnosed with a long-term illness

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If you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness or disability, money may be the last thing on your mind. However, as soon as you’re able to, you should give some thought to your finances. If you can no longer work as a result of your condition, you’ll probably need to take some steps to ensure your financial situation is stable.

Determine which benefits you’re eligible for
Speak with your employer to find out how much paid sick leave you’re entitled to. If you have some form of disability coverage, also reach out to your insurer. Additionally, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. Contact your state’s unemployment insurance program as soon as possible to apply.

If you’re going to have trouble making your mortgage payments, you should also contact your mortgage company. Some lenders offer foreclosure prevention programs to help homeowners who are dealing with a crisis.

Make a budget and manage your money carefully
Determine how much money you require each month by making a list of living expenses including groceries, rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, car payments, and other recurring fees. Compare this with what you have coming in from various revenue sources. You may need to cut back on certain frills or unnecessary expenses to make ends meet.

To manage your finances more effectively when facing an illness, consider enlisting the help of a financial adviser, debt counselor, or other industry professional.

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Social media: tips to keep your teen safe

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If you have a teenager, they likely spend time on social networking sites like Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. But do they know the risks? While social media networks help kids keep in touch with friends, it can also expose them to people who intend to hurt them.

From cyberbullying to sextortion and data breaches to inappropriate content, there’s a lot to be wary of on the internet. That’s why it’s important to talk to your teen about how to use social media safely and responsibly. Here are a few ground rules you should establish:

• Don’t share personal information like your address, phone number, or date of birth

• Don’t post photos or videos of another person on social media without their consent

• Don’t go alone (or without an adult) to meet someone you meet online

• Don’t send intimate pictures of yourself to anyone, even if you trust the person

Remind your teen that once words and photos are shared online, they may be impossible to delete and easily misused. Even if a post doesn’t seem like a problem now, many employers use social media to screen candidates. Explain to your teen that they could miss out on their future dream job because of an inappropriate comment or video they post today.

Finally, here’s a tip to help reinforce the notion with your teen that anyone can see what they post online. Before they send or share anything on social media, encourage your teen to ask themself this question: “Would I feel comfortable if my teacher or grandmother saw this?”

The website StompOutBullying.org provides resources for how to recognize, prevent, and deal with cyberbullying and other forms of digital abuse.

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Does your dog need winter clothes?

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All dogs need to spend plenty of time outdoors in order to get enough exercise, enjoy the fresh air, stimulate their senses, and do their business. However, when the temperature drops, you may wonder if it’s safe for your pup to be out in the frigid air.

It’s important to note that, like humans, dogs can suffer from hypothermia. In fact, their ears, nose, tail, and foot pads are susceptible to frostbite. Therefore, it’s advisable to keep your pup’s outings brief if the temperature drops well below freezing.

When you do take your dog for a walk in the winter, you must make sure your canine companion is prepared for the weather. There are several factors that influence whether your dog should wear a winter coat and boots. You should consider:

• The temperature (is the cold tolerable or piercing?)

• The duration of the walk (will you be out for five minutes or an hour?)

• The planned activity (are you going for a hike or stroll around the block?)

• Your dog’s breed (short-haired and short-legged dogs tend to get colder faster)

• Your pet’s age (puppies and older dogs are more vulnerable to cold weather)

• Your dog’s health (sick, injured, or recovering pets should stay inside to keep warm)

If your dog needs to be bundled up for winter walks, visit a local pet shop to find boots and a quality coat that will keep them warm all season.

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4 tips to help kids be kind online

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It’s all too easy to write hurtful comments when you’re looking at a screen rather than a human face. That’s why it’s important to teach your kids how to be kind online. Here are four tips to get you started.

1. Set a good example
Children learn through observation, so show them when you post uplifting comments on social media or reach out to a struggling friend in a private message.

2. Implement the IRL test

Remind your kids that what they post on the internet affects people in real life. If they wouldn’t say the words to someone’s face, they shouldn’t be writing them online.

3. Write reviews together
If you have a good experience at a local shop or restaurant, sit down as a family to write a positive review. This will help your kids practice posting kind messages online.

4. Emphasize empathy
In addition to calling out cyberbullying behavior, encourage your kids to send positive messages to friends or classmates they notice are being bullied online.

If you’re looking for a fun way to teach your kids more about internet kindness and safety, play the action-packed game Interland at beinternetawesome.withgoogle.com.

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Get familiar with your home insurance

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If you took a set-it-and-forget-it approach to your homeowner’s insurance, consider getting reacquainted.

In addition to replacement and repairs, you need to think about what you own inside that dwelling, about liability if someone is injured on your property, and how you’d pay for things like hotels and restaurants if you need to stay elsewhere for a while.

And of course, every insurance has its exclusions. Do you know what’s NOT covered in your policy?

Here are some things you should review, whether on an existing or new policy:

*Replacement coverage. Stay updated on how much it would cost to rebuild–an independent insurance agent can help. Renovations can affect the value, and you need to be aware of building code requirements that might not apply to your existing place. Ask about guaranteed replacement coverage, which covers the cost regardless of spikes in labor or materials.

*Personal property coverage. Personal property includes everything from clothing and furniture to electronics and even the food in your fridge and freezer. Take an inventory of everything you own, including photos of pricier items in particular. Check whether your policy covers the cost to buy new items or whether you’d receive the actual cash value, which would take depreciation into consideration. You might also need an additional policy for expensive items like furs or jewelry.

*Liability insurance. Most policies have a minimum coverage of $100,000 but you probably want three to five times that. Forbes recommends having enough to cover all of your assets, i.e. the house plus car and money in the bank, etc.

* Additional Living Expenses (ALE) or Loss of Use coverage. Covers the cost of hotels and restaurants if you can’t live at home. Policy exclusions usually include things like floods, earthquakes, windstorms, nuclear hazards, etc. You’ll need separate coverage for those. Also consider home business coverage and identity theft coverage, among others.

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4 fun winter activities you probably haven’t tried

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Snowy weather lends itself well to a variety of energizing outdoor activities. If you want to try something new this year, here are four fun, but somewhat unusual, suggestions.

1. Snowkiting
Also known as kite skiing, this extreme sport is similar to kite surfing. It involves using a large kite to propel yourself across snowy terrain while strapped to skis or a snowboard. You can glide uphill, downhill, or along a flat surface, and in the right wind conditions, you might catch some serious air. Be sure to sign up for lessons to safely learn the proper techniques.

2. Winter kayaking

If you enjoy exploring local lakes and rivers in summer, there’s no need to put your kayak away when the weather gets cold. Just make sure you wear the right gear to keep you warm on the water and stave off hypothermia in case your boat capsizes. It’s also highly recommended that you take lessons beforehand and head out with others to ensure a safe and fun paddle.

3. Ski shoeing
This hybrid activity combines the mobility of skiing with the potential for exploration that snowshoeing provides. Since ski shoes are much shorter and wider than traditional skis, they offer more traction on snowy ascents and make it easier to move through forested areas. However, they also allow you to travel faster than you would with snowshoes since you can glide along flat terrain and down slopes.

4. Skijoring
Named after a Norwegian word meaning “ski driving,” this thrilling activity consists of being pulled by a team of dogs or horses while on skis. Although you can set the pace based on your experience, you’ll need good balance and core strength to remain upright. Skijoring is also a great spectator sport as competitions spring up across North America, complete with jumps, slalom gates, and speed races.

If you want to try these winter activities, sign up for lessons in your area and find out if you can rent or purchase second-hand equipment from a local sporting goods store.

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