Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday decorations can pose hazards for curious youngsters

Consider putting the lights a little higher on the tree and out of a child's reach. (Thinkstock)
Children love multicolored Christmas lights and candy. To a toddler, they look a lot alike. Just ask someone who's worked in the emergency room at Christmastime. Chances are they know of at least one child who tried to eat something very pretty - but not edible - during the holiday season. From candles that look like cinnamon buns to power cords, small ornaments, ribbons and plastic bags, there are a hundred and one more hazards that little eyes - and hands and mouths - are drawn to at this time of year. Even parents who have thoroughly childproofed their home can sometimes forget that holiday décor poses dangers to little ones.

But don't resign yourself to undecked halls just yet. According to home safety expert Louie Delaware, you don't have to be a décor Scrooge to keep your children safe. You just need to consider a few commonsense guidelines when getting your home ready for Christmas.

"Young children are naturally fascinated by all of the exciting new items in their homes during the holiday season," said Delaware, author of “The Home Safety Guru's Definitive Guide on How to Childproof Your Home: Making Your Home Safe and Secure for Little Ones,” (Blue Indigo Publishing, $9.99, howtochildproofyourhome.com). "And in many cases, their parents have not considered how seasonal décor might translate into accidental injuries. Fortunately a little foresight can make your home a (safe) but still festive place to enjoy the holidays."

Delware offers the following tips for parents planning to deck the halls for Christmas:

1. Secure the Christmas tree. Whether you're putting up a real tree or artificial tree - make sure that it's secure. Delaware said children have been known to push, pull, and even climb trees and recommends that parents consider tethering the tree to a wall or to the ceiling. This is also a good idea for families with pets. I can remember as a little girl watching our cat Tiger creeping up to the tree and then shooting up its trunk like a rocket - in hopes of knocking down a loose ball - which she would proceed to bat around on the floor. Our tree rattled and shook but luckily never tumbled.

2. Trim the tree responsibly. "I recommend limiting the number of light strands and ornaments that you use and putting them only on the upper branches of the tree," said Delaware. "Especially if you have a toddler, I recommend decorating the tree a little higher than you think your child can reach. It's also a good idea to use only flame-resistant, non-breakable ornaments, just in case. And definitely avoid using real food such as popcorn, berries and dried apples in garlands as your child may attempt to eat them." 

3. Be cautious with all electrical cords. Remember all of the junctions in the electrical cord hooked to the tree in "The Christmas Story?" For everyone's sake, don't overload any electrical cords. Also, although necessary for at-home holiday displays, electrical cords present a risk of strangulation and can also be chewed through - by a child or pet. "So, ensure that they are out of sight and out of reach," Delaware said. "Don't forget about lights that allow another strand to be plugged into the first or extension cords with multiple unprotected outlets."

4. Outlets should remain covered. Whether it's the holiday season or the middle of summer - the task of covering wall outlets should already be done. "I recommend installing tamper-resistant outlets or even better sliding safety cover plates, which automatically cover the outlet when a plug is pulled out," Delaware said.

5. Educate little ones on what is hot and off-limits. There is nothing more inviting to an adult or child than a warm fire burning beneath a mantle or in a wood burning stove. But even without directly touching the fire someone can get hurt. "The surfaces around the fire can be in excess of 450 F, making them a serious burn hazard," Delaware said. It goes without saying no child should be left alone in a room if the fireplace or stove is being used. You might also consider putting up an articulating barrier (one that is jointed and can be configured so that it juts away from the fireplace). It should be securely mounted into walls and placed at least 20 inches away from any hot surface. Delaware does not recommend using a fireplace screen with children around as it can easily be moved.

6. Children can be magicians. The second you think a crystal vase is safe because it's on top of a table and out of reach of youngsters, they give the tablecloth a magician's tug and smash-bang goes the crystal vase. 

7. Nature can be dangerous. We love using poinsettias and holly bushes for decorating. But certain plants can be poisonous to pets and children, specifically the berries of mistletoe and holly, Delaware said.

8. Choking hazards are not always visible. Unwrapping gifts is fun for everyone but keep a garbage bag handy for discarded bags, tags, wrap and twist ties (which pose a choking threat to little ones). 

9. Big screens can be big trouble for youngsters. If you happen to be in the market for a flat screen TV and have hit a good sale on Black Friday, consider where it's going to go. "Many parents don't realize it but televisions can easily be pulled over," Delaware said. "In fact, televisions injure over 17,000 children annually and unfortunately every three weeks one of those accidents is fatal." To prevent this type of accident from happening, he suggests taking precautions including: mount the TV on the wall out of a child's reach; tether the TV or entertainment center to a wall using solid straps (securely affixed into wall studs or other mechanical wall fasteners not plastic drywall inserts); use a mounting bar to secure the TV to the wall on an entertainment center. If you have a large plasma that can be easily mounted, try tethering it further with Velcro double-sided strips (there is actually a version designed for use in earthquake zones) and again, make sure all TV cords are out of a child's reach.

10. Take a holiday tour. Get on your hands and knees and crawl through your home looking at new objects from a child's perspective. Make it a game and ask them to join you. "Even if an accident seems extremely unlikely, it can still happen," Delaware said. "Remember, you want your family's holiday memories to include joy and laughter not an unfortunate incident that could have been prevented."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Autumn harvest brings new movies for the holidays

Fall brings in a new crop of movies just in time for the holidays.

Because film distributors know that people are usually at home and sometimes looking for something to get them away from their families for a few hours after the festivities, some of the year’s biggest movies are released between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.

This year’s crop offers moviegoers everything from the incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom to a time traveler who can’t change history but can make the world a better place. For the youngsters, there’s even an adventurous comedy about two turkeys — presumably those who escaped being eaten for dinner — who join forces to try to change that holiday tradition.

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson in “About Time.” (Photo by Murray Close/Universal Pictures 2013
Opening today (FRIDAY)
“About Time”: (Detroit opening) Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in the family can travel through time, but not change history. When he learns he can change his own life, he goes back to make his world a better place. Eventually, he learns that his gift will never save him from the sorrows that affect all families.

“12 Years A Slave”: The incredible true story of a free black man from upstate New York before the Civil War (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is abducted and sold into slavery. Enduring the cruelty of a malevolent slave owner (played by Michael Fassbender), he fights to stay alive and maintain his dignity. A chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) alters his life. Rated: R.

“Ender’s Game”: This is the epic adventure that fans of the best-selling, award-winning novel of the same title have been waiting to see. In the near future, Earth is under attack by a hostile alien race. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. Before the next attack, the International Military, led by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) recruits a shy but strategically brilliant boy, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), to join an elite force. The film also stars Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin. Rated: PG-13
“Last Vegas”: Older audiences will appreciate this story about a group of four old friends who decide to throw a Las Vegas bachelor party for the only one in the group who has managed to remain single. Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline star as the Flatbush Four buds, who have known each other since they were hellions in grade school. The film also stars Mary Steenburgen. Rated: PG-13
“Free Birds”: In this funny animated adventure directed by Jimmy Hayward (“Horton Hears a Who!”), two turkeys from opposite sides of the track, who could not be more different, set aside their differences for the common good: to travel back in time and change the course of history and the main course for dinner on Thanksgiving. The film features the voices of Owen Wilson (Reggie), Woody Harrelson (Jake) and Amy Poehler (Jenny). Rated: PG
“The Man of Tai Chi”: Keanu Reeves directs and stars in a tale about a young martial artist (Tiger Hu Chen) who must compete in an underground fight club to protect his way of life. Rated: R

Also coming this fall are:
Nov. 8 “Blue is the Warmest Color,” an erotic lesbian coming-of-age story (NC-17); Marvel superhero sequel “Thor: The Dark World” (PG-13) ; “Diana,” the last two years of the Princess of Wales’ meteoric life, stars Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews and Douglas Hodge (PG-13).
Nov. 15 — “The Best Man Holiday,” college friends reunite over the Christmas holidays, starring Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long and Harold Perrineau (R); “Dallas Buyers Club,” is based on a true story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof’s battle with the medical establishment to provide treatment for HIV-positive people (R).
Nov. 22 — “The Book Thief,” based on the international best seller, starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and Sophie Nelisse (PG-13); “Delivery Man,” a sperm donor (Vince Vaughn) discovers he has 533 children (PG-13); “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the anticipated second in a trilogy based on the “Hunger Games” books, stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Philip Seymour Hoffman (PG-13); “Kill Your Darlings,” with Daniel Radcliffe as beat poet Allen Ginsberg (not yet rated).
Nov. 27 — “Black Nativity” is a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes’ celebrated play (not yet rated); “Frozen,” a 3D Walt Disney comedy adventure in which optimist Anna (Kristen Bell) sets off on an epic journey to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter (PG); “Oldboy,” a thriller directed by Spike Lee, starring Josh Brolin Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley; and “Philomena,” in which a political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son (R).
Nov. 29 — “The Armstrong Lie” (not yet rated).
Dec. 6 — “Out of the Furnace” a gripping drama about family, fate and justice, stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard and Willem Dafoe (not yet rated).
Dec. 13 — “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second in a trilogy adapting the  book by J.R.R. Tolkien, with Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry (not yet rated); “Tyler Perry’s a Madea Christmas,” stars Tyler Perry, Kathy Najimy, Chad Michael Murray, Anna Maria Horsford (not yet rated).
Dec. 18 — “American Hustle” (not yet rated);
Dec. 20Anchorman: The Legend Continues” San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy returns with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Christina Applegate (not yet rated); The Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” follows a week in the life of a young folk singer in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, with music by Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Marcus Mumford and Punch Brothers (R); “Saving Mr. Banks” inspired by the untold story of how Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” made it to the screen, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks (PG-13); “Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie” (not yet rated).
Dec. 2547 Ronin” stars Keanu Reeves as a half-breed who must help 47 leaderless samurai fight mythic beasts, shape-shifting witchcraft and wondrous terrors (not yet rated); “August: Osage County” (not yet rated); “Grudge Match” stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone as old boxing rivals who come out of retirement for one final match (PG-13); “Labor Day,” starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire and James Van Der Beek, in which 13-year-old Henry Wheeler struggles to be the man of the house for his mother when a stranger convinces them to take him in (PG-13); “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is James Thurber’s classic about a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life with a world of fantasy, starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig and Adam Scott, directed by Ben Stiller (PG); “The Wolf of Wall Street,” directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Favreau, Spike Jonze, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey in the story of New York stockbroker who goes from penny stocks and righteousness to IPOs and a life of corruption in the late ’80s (not yet rated).

Jan. 1 — “The Devil’s Due” stars Allison Miller and Zach Gilford as a newlywed couple coping with an unexpected pregnancy that turns sinister (not yet rated).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Put those pumpkins to good use this fall

If the bumper crop rumors are true, this Halloween we'll be seeing some great pumpkins, Charlie Brown. The sad thing about pumpkins is many of them get tossed into the trash once the monsters disappear and Halloween is over. What a waste. As gourds and members of the squash family, pumpkins can be so much more than jack-o-lanterns:

* Bowl of plenty. Pumpkins can be used as bowls to hold soup, punch, fruit and even dips. Just cut the top off and scoop out its pulp, seeds and stringy flesh. Once it's clean rub the inside walls of the pumpkin with oil to keep the inside shell from drying out and caving in. Then fill it with your food of choice. 

* Pumpkin face mask. Set aside some of that puree in a bowl. Then add some brown sugar and a dash of milk to create a vitamin-rich facial mask rich in vitamins A, C and Zinc.

* Pumpkin centerpieces. Clean out a pumpkin and fill it with soil - only this time do not worry so much about the stringy flesh as it serves to fertilize the potting soil. Once filled with soil add your favorite flower be it a mum or tropical indoor plant. When the pumpkin starts to show signs of rotting, just transplant the whole thing in a traditional flower pot or, if it's a perennial plant, straight into the ground outside.

* Pumpkin soup stock. Most people use chicken and beef as a source of soup stock but the guts of a pumpkin make an excellent stock for vegetable soups. Just remove the seeds from the guts of the pumpkin and put the guts into a pot and fill it with water. Now add the veggies: celery, carrots, whatever other aromatic vegetables you like. It should boil for approximately 30 minutes. When the stock begins to change color, pour it through a strainer. The stock can be used for soups, sauces and a variety of other recipes.

* Pumpkin candles. Mini pumpkins make for great candles. Just hollow them out and add a candle or fill it with melted soy wax, beeswax or the gel type of candle wax sold at most craft stores. Once the hot wax is in the pumpkin, add your favorite scent and a wick (also sold at most craft stores).

* Pumpkin compost. Because they are rich in zinc and vitamins A and C, as well as other nutrients, instead of tossing your rotted pumpkins into the trash toss them into your backyard compost bins to further replenish the soil.

* Pumpkin puree. From baked goods and soups to pie and cheesecake - pumpkin puree can be used in a variety of recipes. To make pumpkin puree, follow the same directions previously given, only once it's cleaned out turn it upside down and place on a cookie sheet. Pour a little water on the pan and bake it at 350 F for about 90 minutes. The skin will become tender and easy to peel from the flesh. Toss the skin in the trash and the flesh into a food processor and blend until you have puree. If you plan on making puree, however, you'll want a sweet-tasting pumpkin rather than a sweet-looking pumpkin such as those in the pumpkin patch. Ask for sugar pie, red kuri, cheese, rouge or blue Hokkaido pumpkins. 

* Pumpkin cauldron. Take your jack-o-lantern one step further by turning it into a spooky billowing cauldron. Simply carve your pumpkin and set a large glass jar into the center of it. Then add dish soap and hot water to the jar along with a piece of dry ice. Kids will love the spooktacular effect created by the bubbles and smoke that will come pouring out.

Gina Joseph is a reporter and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Send comments to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com, follow her on twitter @ginaljoseph and visit her beat blog at macomblife.blogspot.com.