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Top 10 Elf on the Shelf ideas

A holiday tradition sparked by “The Elf on the Shelf,” the children's book published in 2005, has since taken on a life of its own. The idea is to have fun placing an elf in random areas around the house performing various activities, to distract the little ones from the note-taking elf is doing for Santa for his naughty or nice lists. Here’s a rundown of the most popular Elf on the Shelf ideas, based on parent blogs. Gone fishing Let the elf go fishing with no body of water required. Position your elf on the rim of a toilet. Give him a toothbrush for a fishing rod and string floss through the teeth for the line. Toss the end of the line in the toilet water and your elf is occupied for hours or more. Sack raceRe-imagine the good old days of field day during the school years with creating a challenge for the elf. Roll down small paper sacks and stuff the elf inside. Pair some friends, Barbies, stuffed animals, action figures, to make the sack race a competition.

>> Read more trending news Shaving What’s a day of pampering if it doesn’t include shaving? Set up your elf for some quality time solo right by the sink with all he needs to get his shave on: shaving cream, a razor, skin moisturizer. Dab some shaving cream on his face to get him started. Clever disguiseHidden in plain sight is the name of the game for this elf on the shelf idea. Take the ingenious approach to hiding your elf within the Christmas tree to do his pertinent work scouting out to report back to Santa. Paint his face with paint to take it a step further and complete the disguise. Date nightEveryone needs some romance in their life and your elf isn’t in the least exempt. Set up a romantic date with Barbie to keep your elf occupied. Maybe while he’s schmoozing with Barbie he can take his focus off who belongs on the nice or naughty list. At least one can hope that is what happens. Photoshoot Strike a pose and get elf ready for his close-up. Build a DIY photo booth with wrapping paper, a camera and a few friends to join in on the fun. Add in paper mustaches and Barbie dolls to make photo-taking a blast. Lego worldNot much pre-planning required for this elf idea. Gather a bucket of Legos into any shape, form or fashion and put your elf in the midst of it. Build a fort, house or container for the elf to get comfy in or hide to take his notes. Breakfast time Elves get hungry, too, especially one who is as hard at work as these elves on the shelves. Behind this top idea is making bite-sized eats the elf can enjoy. You can choose breakfast and make dime-sized pancakes or easy translate the idea to other meals: small sandwiches for lunchtime, itty bitty desserts. Emails from Santa Let your elf make good use of technology and the spare desktop computer, laptops or tablets for his leisure activity. Prop him up near any one of these and pen a letter the elf is writing to Santa to technologically update him on how the children are behaving. After all, Santa must know if your children are being naughty or nice. Bedtime After a full day of exploring the world, or rather house, around him to make sure the children are behaving, your elf will most likely need a nap. Retire him to dreamland on a Kleenex box. Folded tissues make a nice and compact pillow and of course, the single sheets of tissue snug covers to tuck your elf in for a satisfying nap or good night of rest.

Nintendo Switch: What holiday shoppers need to know

The Nintendo Switch, the latest addition to Nintendo’s popular lineup of gaming consoles, was released earlier in 2017 and has made its way onto many Christmas lists this year.  If you’re thinking about buying one, you may not want to wait, since stores can have spotty inventory as they sell out and wait for another shipment to arrive.

>> Read more trending news  Here’s what you’ll need to know if you’re thinking about treating yourself or someone else to a Nintendo Switch this holiday season. Nintendo Switch featuresThe most interesting feature about the Switch is what gives this gaming system its name. You can use it on your TV, on a tabletop and as a handheld device, and it’s quick and simple to switch from one mode to another. When you buy a Nintendo Switch, you’ll have everything you need – including adapters and cables – to get set up. Along with the console, the Switch comes with a dock, a left and right Joy-Con controller, two wrist strap accessories, a grip accessory, an AC adapter and an HDMI cable.  The Joy-Con controllers are adaptable in several different ways and can be used while attached to the grip, or you can remove them from it. You can use one controller a time, or one in each hand. The Joy-Cons come equipped with a camera and motion detection, and one has an infrared motion camera that can detect distance and simple hand gestures. One also has a button that allows you to share screenshots. When the Switch is in handheld mode, it has a multi-touch screen that’s a lot like the Nintendo DS.  You’ll be able to play compatible games online with other players for free (at least temporarily) through your Nintendo account. When the paid online service launches in 2018, you can pay by the month or year. If you own games for another Nintendo system, you won’t be able to play them on the Switch. Where to buy Nintendo Switch and how much you’ll payThe Switch can be found in brick-and-mortar stores and online at places like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, GameStop and Amazon. At times, they’ll sell out, so you may have to check more than one retailer or be willing to keep checking back to see if they’ve gotten another shipment in.  Some stores, such as Best Buy, let customers buy just one during each visit to help extend availability. The price is quite consistent, with most retailers charging approximately $299.  Games vary in price from about $14.99 to $59.99. Some are available for purchase and download online, while other are available as physical copies. How to get a Nintendo Switch dealDeals are tough to find, since the Switch is still quite new and in demand. You can buy bundles that offer the gaming system along with a particular game, such as Super Mario Odyssey or Sonic Forces, but they usually don’t offer much by way of savings. If you do happen to see a discount at a store that’s not convenient to you, try to price match at a local store that has this policy, like Target or Best Buy.

7 tips to keep your pets safe during winter weather

Winter storms are common this time of year, and while we bundle up our human members of the family to stay safe and warm, you have to also remember the four-footed fur babies.

>> Read more trending stories  

The ASPCA has released tips for keeping your pets safe during the winter months.

1.Keep your home humidified and dry your pet with a towel as soon as he comes in from the cold. Make sure the animal's feet are free of snow. Wash your pet's feet and stomach after a walk to remove ice, salt and chemicals.

2. Fully bathe your pets as little as possible during cold weather. Too many baths can get rid of essential oils. If you must give your pet a bath, use a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse. 

3. Don't shave your dog in the winter. A longer coat will give your dogs more insulation. If your dog is a short-haired pup, consider a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck. Also make sure it covers from the base of the tail to the belly.

4. Use petroleum jelly or other paw protectants on paws before going out. You can go as far as putting on booties to keep sand and salt away from their pads. When possible, use pet-friendly ice melts on your sidewalks.

5. Feed your pet a little more during winter months and make sure he has enough to drink. Pets burn extra energy trying to stay warm. The extra water can keep him hydrated and his skin less dry.

6. Make sure your pet has a warm place to sleep, off of the floor and away from drafts. The ASPCA says a pet bed with a blanket or pillow will work.

7. If it's too cold for you outside, it's too cold for your pet. Pets left outside can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or even killed. And don't let them in a car. Cars can act as refrigerators, according to the ASPCA. They can hold the cold in and cause animals to freeze to death.

Starbucks touts Christmas drink for a limited time

Starbucks is getting into the Christmas spirit with a festive drink just in time for the holidays.

>> Read more trending news

The chain is offering Christmas Tree Frappuccinos while supplies last, Travel+Leisure reported.

The sweet, minty drinks resemble a Christmas tree with all the trimmings, with green whipped cream and sugar-laden ornaments. The drink has a peppermint and mocha cream base, while the whipped cream is mixed with matcha powder, Travel+Leisure reported.

The drink also contains a caramel drizzle, candied cranberries that serve as ornaments and a strawberry to “top” the tree.

Christmas 2017: How to score airfare deals

Only Santa can take reindeer-powered flights at Christmas; everyone else taking to the skies must rely on plane travel. Whether you're flying home for the holidays or heading on a holiday getaway, Christmas airfare deals are probably high on your wish list.To find Christmas airfare deals, refer to KAYAK's 2017 Holiday Hacker Guide and take advice from travel experts. Here are the top 6 ways to get the best holiday airfare deals. Fly on Christmas Eve. If you wait until Christmas Eve to depart, KAYAK data shows you can score some of the best deals. It's sort of surprising, but Kayak also shows really good deals for those who agree to fly on the big day itself, whether arriving or departing.This year's Guide's "When to Book" section showed median airfares to expect based on anticipated arrival and departure dates for the Christmas holiday. The prices are based on last year’s data. A few of the best median airfares are as follows: $351 departing Dec. 20 and returning Dec. 25$354 departing Dec. 21 and returning Dec. 25$358 departing Dec. 23 and returning Dec. 25$346 departing Dec. 24 and returning Dec. 25$359 departing Dec. 24 and returning Dec. 26$234 departing Dec. 25 and returning Dec. 25$338 departing Dec. 25 and returning Dec. 27$352 departing Dec. 25 and returning Dec. 28 Book your flights before expected price increases. You’ve probably found that airfares fluctuate on different dates each time you fly. A general rule of thumb for Christmas airfare deals is to expect fares to increase 21, 14 and again seven days before departure, according to Google Flights.  

Score a great airfare deal to Nordic countries. KAYAK's list of Wallet-Friendly International Flights had Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen and Reykjavík at the top. If the cold is cool with you, those great flight prices apply to Christmas airfare deals, too. Plus, late December is a great time to catch holiday festivities in Stockholm or view the northern lights in Oslo. Pick a wallet-friendly North American destination. If you aren't gathering with family for the holidays (intentionally or unintentionally), save some money with one of KAYAK's Top 10 Wallet Friendly North American Flights to a Christmas vacation: Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Calgary or Seattle. Choose a spot that's not trending to spend Christmas or New Year's. Google Flights compared 2016 and 2017 flight searches between June 6 and Sept. 20 and came up with these North American destinations as the top trending for Christmas 2017: Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Lisbon, Bogota, Bangkok, Buenos Aires and Brussels. It may seem counterintuitive, but avoiding those destinations for the Christmas holidays may mean cheaper airfare to the places you do select. If you're flexible with holiday getaway plans, consult the Google Flights Explore Map to find airfare and vacation bargains. Don't save money at the expense of your happy holiday. Some other tactics may be easier on your flight bill, but will put you at higher risk of ruining your holiday, noted the Air Fare Watchdog blog. The travel expert said you could save money on peak holiday travel by taking connecting flights rather than nonstop, "but since winter weather can foul up connections, you're better off splurging for the nonstop."While it's tempting to grab the last seat on an inconvenient flight time closer to the holidays, Air Fare Watchdog also recommended booking early for anyone who won't enjoy the flight at all without their preferred seating. "This is especially true if there are several of you flying together and you don't want to all end up sitting far apart from each other," noted the blog.

Eating healthy diet also good for environment, study finds

Eating healthy is not only beneficial to your body -- it benefits the environment, too, according to a recent report.

>> Read more trending news

Researchers from universities in the Netherlands recently conducted an experiment, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to determine how dietary choices impact the environment.

To do so, they used Exiobase, an input-output database that represents the world’s economy. The platform allows users to track the environmental costs of growing a variety of foods and the machinery needed to produce and distribute it to supermarkets. The site is also able to adjusts its figures based on a different countries’ production efficiency.

Scientists gathered information on the average diets of citizens living in 39 countries as well as its nationally recommended diets. They then entered the data into Exiobase to examine how it would affect greenhouse gas emissions, land use and eutrofication, which is the addition of nutrients to water sources that can lead to toxicities and lack of oxygen in water.

After analyzing the results, they found that if people in 28 high-income nations, including the United States, Germany and Japan, followed the dietary recommendations set by its respective governments, greenhouse gases related to the production of the food would drop by 13 to 25 percent. 

Additionally, the amount of land needed to grow the food would decrease by 17 percent.

“The study shows that choosing to follow an NRD over the average national diet would have the biggest environmental savings in the United States, Australia, Brazil and Canada. Most of these savings are due to the reduction of meat in the diet. There are reductions also in most EU nations, with Greece, Ireland, and the Netherlands saving the most,” the authors wrote in a statement

As for lower-income nations, researchers discovered following a NRD over the average national diet would result in higher environmental impacts, because these areas rely on higher consumption of animal product to combat low levels of protein. 

But they say the overall benefits would still be positive. 

“Although I think we could do even better, the message is a positive one, overall, especially if middle- and high-income countries modify their diets to align with nationally recommended diets,” they wrote. “This will generally mean eating more plant products such as legumes and vegetables, and fewer animal products. If you know your diet isn't healthy, you have one more reason to change, for our environment too. It might just be possible to have your cake and eat it!”

U.S. Navy sailor sketched Pearl Harbor attack before he was killed in action

Leonard Franklin Tomlinson lived and served in an age before social media, and the image he left behind is less ephemeral and certainly more meaningful than the slew of selfies we all serve up today.

>> PHOTOS: 'December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy'

>> Click here or scroll down to read more

Melania Trump, Karen Pence stop at Whataburger, treat press to french fries

First lady Melania Trump, along with second lady Karen Pence, traveled to Texas on Wednesday to visit with first responders and check on Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. And if there’s anything politicians (or in this case, politicians’ spouses) love to do when they’re on a visit, it’s make a stop at a purveyor of local cuisine. Trump and Pence flew through Corpus Christi, which means Whataburger.

>> Read more trending news

According to social media reports (including tweets from reporters along for the trip, as well as a White House official), the first and second lady stopped by the venerable Texas burger chain and walked out with at least some of those famous fries. The rest of their order is unknown (so far), but the tweets about the pit stop are quite a journey.

Reporters in the press pool said the first and second lady treated them to fries.

Officials in Texas approved. The orange and the white, as ever, proved to be a unifying force.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, Trump and Pence stopped at the Whataburger at 602 Padre Island Drive. 

Expecting mom says pregnancy photos show late husband's spirit

An expecting mom is honoring her late husband in a touching photo shoot.

Kelly Luethe’s husband, Jarrett, was killed in a car crash in August by a man who police say admitted to driving after drinking, the Star Tribune reports.

>> On HotTopics.TV: Military mom spreads smiles with creative holiday card

The couple from New Prague, Minnesota, had two children and another on the way in January.

Kelly recently had a maternity photo shoot ahead of the baby’s arrival. Photographer Jessica Brandau shared the stunning images to her Facebook page last week.

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

Many of the photos captured rainbows and lens flares, which Brandau calls “orbs.”

“As we were doing the shoot, I noticed that a rainbow had popped up in a few of the photos,” Brandau wrote on Facebook. “Kelly and I talked about how neat/cool/weird it was, and I literally had goosebumps/was on the verge of tears for most of her session.”

>> See one of the photos here

According to the Epoch Times, orbs are usually caused by light reflecting off dust in photographs, but some believe they represent the supernatural – like spirits or ghosts.

“Imagine how insane it was when I opened up the files on my computer and realized that the rainbows and orbs (yes I totally believe in orbs. Read up on them if you haven’t heard of them!) show up in almost all of the photos that we took that day,” Brandau wrote. 

>> Read more trending news 

Kelly shared her story with news personality Frank Sommerville on Facebook. Kelly said she believed her husband was watching over her that day.

She wrote: "There is a rainbow on my belly in almost every picture and we had a miscarriage earlier this year and so our little man (who will be named after his Daddy) is our rainbow baby. And the orbs that are shown are of my favorite color green and from doing some research on what the color of an orb means, green is from a happy spirit visiting, sending healing energy. I truly believe my husband was there and is watching over the kids and I."

>> See more photos here

Real vs. artificial Christmas trees: Which should you get?

When it comes to holiday decorating, one big question that arises each year is whether real or artificial Christmas trees are the better choice.There are pros and cons to both kinds of Christmas trees, and which is best for you is a personal decision. Here are some factors to consider when deciding between a real or artificial Christmas tree.For better health, real tree: Birgitta Gatersleben, an environmental psychologist at the University of Surrey, told The Telegraph that households benefit from exposure to natural environments and there was “plenty of evidence” that real Christmas trees helped people recover more quickly from stress and mental fatigue.“Evergreen plants seem alive when everything else appears dead," she noted. "It is the depth of color of real trees and the smell that really appeals to people, as well as the notion that something alive is coming indoors.”For minimal mess, artificial tree: “No matter what you do, there’s going to be needles falling off a real tree,” Chal Landgren, a professor in the department of horticulture at Oregon State University, told Consumer Reports. Overwatering can also damage floors or carpets, or at least require frequent mopping or steam cleaning.Of course, artificial trees also eventually require cleaning, according to SFGate, including some sponging down and vigorous shaking at the beginning of the season. The only time it might be more difficult to clean up after an artificial tree than a natural version: when the fake tree comes pre-wired with lights that are almost impossible to clean around, since you shouldn't get them wet.For decreased risk of home fire, artificial tree: The National Fire Protection Association determined that the risk of a fire is three times greater with natural trees than artificial ones, reported CR, adding that total number of Christmas-tree-related fires is small and burning candles are the far more common culprit.If you want to buy American, real tree: Using 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture stats, CR reported that U.S. farmers harvested 17.3 million Christmas trees for $305 million in sales, while U.S. Census Bureau stats indicated 97 percent of artificial trees that same year were imported from China.For improved outdoor air quality, real tree: All trees, even those planted solely to cut for Christmas a few years later, are beneficial to the environment, according to Clean Air Gardening. "Trees are like the lungs of the planet," it said. "They breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Additionally, they provide habitat for birds and other wildlife."Trees also help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas, cut runoff and erosion by storing water and breaking the force of rain as it falls, and absorb sound and reduce noise pollution.For decorations lasting more than a few weeks, artificial tree: According to Today's Home Owner, a cut tree will last just a month before you need to take it down. Even a month may be a stretch--that figure only applies to a freshly cut tree, kept well supplied with water. "If you’re buying a pre-cut tree, be sure to ask when it was harvested," noted THO. All natural Christmas trees start losing needles as they dry, though fir, spruce, and cypress generally typically keep their needles longer than pines.For those who aren't so great with upkeep, artificial tree: A real tree can drink a gallon or more of water per day to start, according to THO, so to maintain one you'll need to be prepared to check the reservoir several times over the first few days and at least once a day after that, never letting the reservoir dry out.If you value reusing, recycling or repurposing, real tree: If you're responsible and maybe a little creative, a live tree will never need to take up space in a landfill, according to Lowe's, which recommended looking for local recycling centers that will chip and shred trees for use as mulch or part of erosion barriers for lake and river shoreline management.Note, though, if you're not going to recycle your tree, the fact that it could be recycled doesn't count as a plus. Instead, it will just go to the landfill once a year, versus the artificial tree, which should last many years before you have to toss and replace it.Lowe's also suggested repurposing live trees after you take them down, using thin slices of the trunk as canvases for next year's ornaments or coasters, for example, or sinking the whole tree into a backyard pond as a refuge and feeding area for fish. You can also stand the tree or a few of its larger branches in the yard as an organic feeder and sanctuary for birds.For allergy relief, it's a draw. If you have sneezing fits around Christmas trees, the cause is less likely to be the tree and more likely to be mold spores on the tree, according to CR. A fake Christmas tree that's been stored in the attic or basement can collect dust or mold, too.After reviewing all the evidence, if you're still undecided or drawn to the same decision you've made in years past, don't fret, advised CR. "It really comes down to your holiday traditions and what works best for your family," it said. "And no one said you couldn’t purchase more than one!”

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