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WHICH CHRISTMAS TREE IS RIGHT FOR YOU? Tips to Help Shoppers Select the Perfect Tree for Their Lifestyle

 

Since President Franklin Pierce had the first White House Christmas Tree in the 1850’s American families have faced the task of choosing a tree that fits their lifestyle, demonstrates their passion for Christmas and is practical and economical.

 Everyone has an opinion about the family Christmas tree–must it be live, cut or artificial? And what size–is bigger always better?

What about the shape, the color, the needle length, the branch strength and spacing, the needle-holding ability–and even the fragrance? We can always cut our own trees, but most of us purchase them from the nearest local seller.

Dawn Bryan, author of the best-selling “The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving,” and founder of Qualipedia (www.thequalipedia.com), a consumer information and lifestyle website, offers the following tips to help shoppers choose the tree that is right for them.

Before making any decision, keep in mind where your tree will be displayed and know the measurements of the area before you purchase.

Trying to balance our love of tradition with practicality and current lifestyle, we can easily make the wrong decision. Ask yourself:

Are you the traditionalist who loves to make the season come alive while stringing lights and breathing in the fresh fragrance of your pine?  Do you not have the space to store an artificial tree during the year? 

If so, select a cut tree with good green color, needle resiliency, and pleasing fragrance.

How to Select a Live or Cut Tree:

  • Check condition of the needles by bending the needle gently between your thumb and forefinger. The fresh needle should bend easily, not break
  • Pull your hand toward you along the branch. Needles should adhere to the branch and not fall off in your hand.
  • If a cut tree, lift the tree a few inches off the ground, then drop it on stump end. If outside needles fall off in abundance, it is probably not fresh. If old needles, which have been lodged among the branches from prior shedding fallout, this is not a sign of a dry tree. 

How to Care For:

  • Living Trees: Store before decorating in unheated, sheltered area out of sun and wind; While inside, keep soil damp; limit inside stay to 7 to 10 days; when moving to the outdoors, do not immediately change temperatures from warm house to freezing cold; when planting, mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent freezing and water only when needed.

 

  • Cut Trees: Cut a half-inch off the base of the trunk before immediately placing it into water; do not whittle down the sides of the trunk, as the tree drinks mostly from the edges of its trunk base; trees may drink as much as a gallon of water in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter; keep tree away from sun, fireplace and other heat sources; and unplug lights at night unless you are expecting Santa. To recycle, check the recycling link on your community’s website.
  • Real Christmas trees are a renewable, recyclable resource, often grown on soil that doesn’t support other crops.

Are you time-compromised, afraid to climb ladders, not interested in needle clean-up and tree maintenance, or evergreen allergic? 

If so, select an artificial tree that imitates your favorite variety or is in your favorite color. Many are pre-lit and some come with ornaments, berries, pine cones, flocking, frosting and fiber optics already in place.

How to Select an Artificial Tree:

  • If you are looking for the most realistic looking artificial tree, purchase one with PE needles (rather than PVC), a center pole, and individual stick branch attachments.
  • If your primary concern is buying tree that is easy to assemble, choose one with PE needles, a center pole, hinged branch attachments and pre-strung lights.
  • Artificial trees come in a myriad of varieties, heights and shapes to fit into your space and decorating style. 
  • “Tip count” can be used as an advertising ploy, and usually makes little difference to the overall appearance, mattering much less than needle quality.
  • For quality, look at the branch ends: well-crafted trees use heavier gauge metal and have sculpted, not snipped-off, ends.
  • Lights: Look for three-year or 3,000 hour warranty,  80-100 lights per square foot,  twist-proof sockets, the ability for the entire string to stay lit, even if a single bulb burns out, is broken or removed; and have 8-10 inches between lights.

How to Care For an Artificial Tree:

  • With proper care, an artificial tree will last 6-7 years, making it an economical choice.
  • Wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when putting up your tree.
  • Store the tree in a carrying case, NOT a cardboard box. The latter will get damp and/or disintegrate and cause dust to inundate your tree, and critters like to chew through boxes to makes warm homes in artificial trees.
  • Concerns:
  • Artificial trees off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs,) as they are made of PVC and/or PE and many contain lead, which makes the PVC more malleable. These trees are known to shed lead-laced dust.
  • Artificial trees often are treated with a fire retardant which off-gasses.
  • Artificial trees cannot be recycled. It is possible to donate a gently used tree to a local thrift store. If the tree is unfit for use, it must be taken to a landfill.

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Chestnuts: A Sweet And Healthy Holiday Treat

Yes, Virginia, there really is a sweet and healthy holiday treat – the versatile chestnut! An ancient diet food consisting of 50 percent water, less than one percent fat, cholesterol and gluten free, and rich in vitamins C and E, chestnuts are closer to the brown rice family than any other nut or vegetable.For centuries a popular and inexpensive food that fed many, the chestnut has now become more of a seasonal delicacy with the demand outstripping supply. Since the American Chestnut blight killed over 3.5 billion trees over a 50 year period beginning in 1904, the American Chestnut is making a slow comeback with innovative breeding programs. Most chestnuts grown in the U.S. are hybrids of European and Asian species.

Where Can I Find Them?

Chestnuts, unlike other nuts, are very perishable. More like fruit than nuts, they begin to lose their high water content and dry out within a few hours after being picked. Purchasing pre-cooked/pre-peeled nuts simplifies the preparation process.

• Internet/Mail Order: Numerous American farms – many family-owned – and plantations now breed and produce wonderful hybrid chestnuts in several sizes. They ship crops as soon as picked, so get your holiday order in as soon as possible.

• Local: Fresh from local growers or at your grocery, health food, gourmet and specialty stores.

• Imports: Some imported chestnuts are often imported under poorly controlled conditions, but good fresh ones can be found in season in groceries, health food stores, and in gourmet and specialty shops. Canned and jarred varieties may be more tender – and certainly easier to prepare – but they do not compare to the fresh ones.

• Street Vendors: Roasted, especially in large cities where they are often cooked with sand in large woks. The wonderful aroma is very seductive, but the taste is frequently disappointing because these are often hanging out on heavily-trafficked street corners, thus the nuts can absorb gas fumes.

How Do I Select Them?

• Look for rich brown shell. The tan-colored end should be free of mold, the nut should be firm when grasped. If shell moves when you squeeze, it has already started to dry out. Test nuts by putting them into water; the fresh ones should sink. Inside meat should be cream colored/yellow, not dark. Discard nut meats with blue-streaking, black spots or a vinegary smell. If you find grocery store nuts under misters, they may be of poor quality, as they should not be stored in overly moist conditions.

• Packaged: Shelled chestnuts can be purchased jarred, canned, dried, frozen, or vacuum packed in a variety of forms, such as boiled, steamed, roasted, whole in syrup, candied/crystallized. Packaged chestnuts are usually of good quality, having been prepared when fresh.

• Famous luxury item, the French marron glace (candied chestnut) is prepared with a complicated process, which includes 16 different steps.

• Other forms: Chestnuts are made into flour, liquor/beer and the honey produced by bees residing in chestnut groves.

How Do I Store Them?

Fresh nuts should be stored in the refrigerator and used as soon as possible. Steam peeled, flash frozen nuts should be used soon after thawing because the fumigation required during the importation process kills the seed embryo, causing the nut to deteriorate much more quickly.

• Refrigerator: Placed in-shell chestnuts with a damp towel in a ventilated bag in the crisper of your refrigerator, the nuts will keep for a couple of weeks. To keep them for one or two months, store at a cooler temperature.

• Freezer: Cooked chestnuts can be frozen for about a year. Blanch, peel and vacuum pack them whole or prepare by chopping or pureeing first.

Chestnut Tips

• Whatever your method of cooking fresh chestnuts, to prevent the nut from exploding, cut a large “X” on the flat side of the nut with a chestnut knife or a small serrated knife, making sure to cut all the way through the shell – or cut off the tips of the shells.

• Chestnuts rival beans in their ability to produce flatulence (ahem, gas).

• Dried chestnuts are sweeter and less floury in texture than fresh, roasted nuts, albeit not as flavorful.

• Use of a chestnut knife and chestnut roasting pan will greatly expedite your peeling and roasting.

• December is the prime month for fresh chestnuts

TOP TIPS TO HOST A MEMORABLE HOLIDAY PARTY THIS YEAR

 

-Lifestyle Expert and Best-Selling Author Dawn Bryan Offers Ten Tips for Those Hosting Friends and Family This Holiday Season-

NEW YORK, NY, November 28 – Whether the Holiday is Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas Eve, Kwanza, or the New Year, these occasions are meant to be shared with an abundance of good food and drink, good conversation, and good cheer.  And the thoughtful host will know how to provide a welcoming atmosphere of warmth and conviviality.

Dawn Bryan, author of the best selling “The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving,” Celebrity protocol and etiquette expert and founder of Qualipedia, a consumer information and lifestyle website, offers the following tips will help you to put that personal signature on your own entertaining :

1. Plan with Personal Style: Plan a party that you would enjoy attending yourself and once it starts make sure to be a guest at your own party!

2. Don’t Over Extend Yourself: Make sure you do not over-stretch, over-reach, or under-estimate the time and resources required, especially at holiday time when both are at a minimum. Make lists and notes, which will compel you to be realistic about your time and money.

3. Be Creative: If you don’t have the space or facilities to prepare and serve an entire meal, be creative with a dessert party, an after-the-caroling reception, or a honey, salt or wine tasting.  Then make it your signature annual event!

4. A Versatile Menu: If you have little help with serving, select a versatile menu that can be served either hot or cold, minimizing your need to run back and forth to the kitchen.

5. You Don’t Need to be a Great Cook to Give a Great Party.  Choose your menu from take-out foods, platters or casseroles from local restaurants, prepared food from your grocery store, food specialty store, deli, catalog or on-line. Or combine packaged and prepared foods with fresh fruits or vegetables. Your finishing touches will make it your creation, for example, placing the food into hollowed-out breads or vegetables; arranging onto antique serving platters or trays; setting the bowl in middle of a holiday wreath; garnishing dishes with foliage from your yard.

6. Organize Food and Drink Stations: Place food and drink (except maybe for nuts and nibbles) in separate locations. This helps with “crowd control” and diminishes the likelihood of spilling drinks and dropping plates. 

7. Expecting Children? Prepare for them with their own play and eating area, activities, and easy-to-eat foods and contained drinks.

8. Greet Your Guests: Your or another family member should make every effort to make guests feel welcome as soon as they arrive. For a guest to find no one at the door, then have to figure out where to put coats and boots, then finally wander into the kitchen to discover that the host’s head is in the oven  is not very welcoming.

9. Don’t Micro-Manage. Relax. After guests arrive, allow things to flow. But do be sure that arrivals who may not know your other guests are properly introduced. Prior to their arrival, you can ask a friend to “look out” for them.

10. Select Music: to complement, not dominate, the party. It should be compatible with your guests” tastes, non-repetitious, and should be louder at the beginning of the party when there are fewer guests and you want people to converse, than later on when people may be forced to raise their voices to be heard in conversation.

Dawn’s bonus tip is to always send guests home with a small goody bag: Christmas stocking, bagels or donuts for breakfast, a magazine, a holiday poem, a 2012 calendar, small bags of your special fudge or macaroons, a tree ornament.

Host a Memorable Autumn Tea Party

Fall is officially here with its crisp air reminding us to pull out the warm woolies, and sip a piping hot cup of tea. Dawn Bryan, founder of The Qualipedia, shares some fantastic tips to help welcome in this chilly time of year with an unforgettable tea party.

TEA PARTY THEMES:

There are a variety of ways to throw a tea party. You could go the classic English tea party route, or you could throw all the rules out the window and host a memorable tea party, which does not have to adhere to any of the traditional rules and leaves a lasting impression on your guests. Non-traditional tea soirées can be anything you choose: formal, informal, for a few guests or a hundred. Consider a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with hat decorating elements, or a fall hat exchange, or chill out with guests and have a yoga instruction followed by a traditional Zen tea ceremony.

TEA BITES:

Most tea foods are bite-size fingers foods. However, you can update the three course tradition with your favorite mini foods. Consider a gorgeous spread of nuts and dried fruits, kabobs, cheese plates, filo puffs or yummy Spanish tapas instead of the traditional small sandwiches and scones.

TEA TIPS:

  • Choose from many different teas including white, green, herbal, Darjeeling, and oolong among them
  • Check instructions for selected tea, as teas vary in their brewing time
  • Start all teas with cold fresh water
  • Place 2 or 3 tea bags into pot of hot water to steep
  • Cover the pot or cup while tea is steeping
  • Remove loose leaf tea leaves immediately after steeping or if using tea bags squeezing the tea bag after putting it directly into a cup is a no-no, allow it to drip briefly into cup while removing

 

CONDIMENTS:

Many tea drinkers prefer their tea served plain; however, you should have sugar and other sweeteners, various milks and lemons available for your guests. Tip: Milk goes best with black teas and traditional English teas, and lemon with Chinese.

 

So gather your friends and host what is sure to be one of the enjoyable parties of the season!

Happy autumn from The Qualipedia.

Dawn Bryan Featured on Big Blend Radio on Fine Dining Etiquette

Thursday, February 21st, Dawn is featured on Big Blend Radio on Fine Dining Etiquette.

International Business Protocol

By Dawn Bryan, best-selling author of “The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving” and “Elite Etiquette”, and founder of Qualipedia ™

It is very easy to unwittingly offend your international business prospects. Many global marketing efforts and contract negotiations have been destroyed by the unintentional blunder.

Being too late or too early for an appointment, using the wrong form of address, improperly receiving a  business card, shaking hands, bringing wine to a home dinner, insulting with your choice of business gift, using a “hard sell”,  or even eating everything on your plate could ruin your negotiation…and reputation. Americans most often make mistakes with meeting/greeting rituals; eating/dining; giving/receiving;   and not recognizing significant taboos. And, when setting up or responding to a meeting request, remember that many Europeans and South Americans write the day first, then the month, then the year when using numbers.

Meeting/Greeting Rituals
Although handshakes are standard greeting gestures among Europeans, the gesture is generally more formal and more firm—except for the lighter touch of the French. Usually those of higher rank and women are expected to extend their hand first. Asians will often greet you with a gentle handshake; however, the bow is more traditional and more respected. Learning how to bow, including depth, eye contact, etc. is very important. Some South Americans can be effusive and take a long time to greet, believing that this conveys respect for the other person.  In many cultures, it is good manners to shake hands with everyone in a group/room upon arrival as well as departure.  Many European and South American women kiss each other on alternating cheeks. In Brazil, a third kiss between women bestows “good luck” in finding a spouse!

Be sure to use the proper form of address when meeting—or greeting: there are many different customs. For example, Europeans rarely use first names until they know the person well; unlike the United States, titles, especially academic titles, are always used.  Asian names are usually listed in a different order from Western names. In Japan, use last names plus San meaning “Ms.” or “Mr.” The Chinese are very sensitive regarding status and always use official titles, such as “Committee Member”. Titles are also important in some Central/South American countries: in Panama the title Licenciado is used for anyone with a bachelor’s degree. In Norway, lawyers and clergymen do not use titles, although government officials do.

Learn the business card protocol for each culture. Your card should have the other person’s language printed on the back and that side should be presented to her/him. The presentation itself is important, particularly in Asian cultures where it is given with a proper bow. Do not just quickly stuff someone’s card into your pocket or bag. Always treat another’s card with respect, taking the time to read and appreciate it. When you meet with several people, be sure to give your card to each person lest you slight someone.

Eating/Dining
Whether you are a host or a guest, you should be familiar with the local food, drink, punctuality expectations (local time), when and how to conduct business, and appropriate seating. In some cultures, guests are expected to arrive late—don’t be offended at your Spanish associate’s late arrival. In others (Japan, The Netherlands, Sweden), tardiness is considered very rude. In Italy, the more important the person, the later he/she may arrive to a business meeting. Europeans are generally not fond of business breakfasts.

Learn when and how to correctly order and eat difficult or new foods. If possible, practice eating in the style of the other person—European, American, chopsticks.

Giving/Receiving
In some countries, such as Norway, gift-giving is simply not a part of doing business, whereas in many other cultures (Japan) it is an integral part of the process of learning about the other person. In China a banquet is an acceptable business gift.

Some business gifts are not presented until negotiations have been completed (Latin America), others at the beginning (Korea).Some countries (Australia) have very strict quarantine laws regarding even wood products and many foods.

To avoid looking cheap, do not give logo gifts unless they are of excellent quality and the logo is subtle.

If bringing flowers to someone’s home, be certain that the color, number, or actual type of flower is not offensive: in many countries certain flowers and colors signify death.

Taboos
Do not be impatient when dealing with cultures such as Saudi and Russia. Russians prize patience as a virtue and some regard compromise as a sign of weakness.

It is usually inappropriate for a foreign business woman to invite her male counterpart to a business dinner unless other associates or spouses attend.

Do not dress casually for a business meeting, and, if a woman, probably best to wear a skirt.

Never say “no” to the Japanese and understand their aversion to the word. (This maintains harmony and saves face.)

Arab World – Do not give or present anything with your left hand; give an alcoholic beverage or bar gift; or show the sole of your shoe.

If you would like to hear more about international business protocol, please tune in to Success Express at Big Blend Radio and my recent interview:  http://www.bigblendradio.com/April-18-2014.html

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