Happy Holiday Hints from Uncle Sam

Happy Holiday Hints from Uncle Sam

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The federal government in the past was often portrayed by a grim-faced man in a top hat pointing and saying, “Uncle Sam wants you!”

In this new century, Uncle Sam has become a softie. He even has a usa.gov page that gives safe holiday advice. And, while I’m not entirely convinced he’s as warm and fuzzy as he appears to be, at least he’s more interesting than the grim-faced tyrant of old. (In fact, I’m kind of surprised he isn’t wearing a Santa suit, LOL!)

First on this list is getting through airport security (anyone but me find that kind of ominous?), an ordeal that will be improved by traveling with unwrapped packages and non-clothing items, or at least visible through clear zip-lock plastic bags.

This also includes what Uncle calls a 3-1-1 rule; that is, if you are traveling to relative’s or friend’s houses for dinner with gravy and cranberry sauce in your luggage (do people really do that?), you have to transport these foods in 3.4-ounce containers sealed inside a single, one-quart plastic bag. Travelers can only have one of these bags, and so must stuff as many 3.4-ounce containers as they can get into it.

Why do I think it might be easier to make the gravy on-site? Even more alarming, when I clicked the link for an explanation to the 3-1-1 rule, I ended up on the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, which was inactive. I don’t think those guys and gals are much fun, given recent media reports about no-fly’s and pat-downs.

Next, Uncle reminds that leaving food out in the heated atmosphere of a house can lead to foodborne illnesses. These, which are the cause of about 48 million bouts of tummy trouble and 3,000 deaths per year in the United States, are largely bacterial or viral in origin, though some may result from ingesting parasites (ewww!) or toxic chemicals.

The most familiar bacterial food agents are the result of not keeping cold food cold enough, or hot food hot enough. If you have a consistently late dinner guest, consider starting without him or her, or rolling the dinner hour forward 30 minutes and not telling the tardy tormenter. Whatever you do, make sure this isn’t the holiday season that will go down in memory as the one that poisoned Grandma!

Our Uncle also wants us to reduce holiday waste, in tune with the modern Three R mantra which suggests that we should reduce, reuse and recycle. In my father’s day, this was expressed as, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” So what’s the difference? About eight words and a generation that took the extra time to make “spin” appealing.

In spite of that, the sentiment is worthwhile, and Uncle’s hint – that it’s still cheaper to buy dear and get an item that lasts than it is to buy cheap and keep replacing – goes right to my frugal and practical heart. The suggestion about sending electronic Christmas cards provokes mixed feelings, the nostalgia that misses the tactile pleasure of a beautifully drawn and colored card, and the practicality that sees a tree cut down for paper. When archeologists from the future dig up remnants of our civilization, they may confuse the concept of paper with the concept of money. I admit I’m sometimes confused myself. Last I heard the dollar was worth about three cents, which is just about the cost of the paper it’s printed on.

But Uncle Sam’s feminine side really comes out with tip number 9. This season, which is joyful for many of us, is very sad for others who have lost their families and loved ones through misfortune. Some of the megrims may be due to SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder – as a result of less sunlight – and can be treated with bright lighting. The sorrow of better Christmases past can only be addressed by keeping a positive frame of mind, getting out more, starting a hobby, adopting a pet from an animal shelter, exercising to sweat out those blue demons, even shopping if you must, but always with the understanding that new shoes are not love.

One of Uncle’s best tips is giving the gift of service. Your aging Mom may not want or even have a use for another purse, but try offering her one hour a week to do anything she wants, with you as chauffeur and sugar daddy, and watch her face light up. The best gift you can give is still yourself.

More next week on Uncle Sam’s holiday tips. In the meantime, if you think of something practical, unique or uber-cool, let us know. Knowledge is only power when it’s shared.

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