Birthday and Christmas Gifts for Runners and Fitness Enthusiasts

by Kelly R. Smith

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Best Christmas gifts for runners and fitness enthusiasts
Best Christmas gifts for runners and fitness enthusiasts

Everyone loves gifts. It’s better to give than to receive. What do you give the person that has everything? All very true, but when it comes to birthday and Christmas gifts for runners and fitness enthusiasts, there’s always something new on the market. Marketers know that running gear and gadgets are powerful motivators and that is a good thing for gift-givers. So, how to choose?

Cold Weather running Gear

The weather outside is frightful, as the song says. Well, maybe not so much here in South Texas, but there’s the odd 40° morning here and there. Given that many runners are smack dab in the middle of training for a winter marathon, some cold weather gear is in order.

  • Compression Arm sleeves. You might have heard them called sports sleeves. They’re really getting to be a thing for those of us who are thermally challenged. They might look odd, but so were Bluetooth ear buds when they first came out; go figure. Compression arm sleeves can be handy when a runner’s core temperature doesn’t warrant a long-sleeved shirt isn’t needed; just go with a singlet and sleeves.
  • Technical running gloves or mittens. These work in our area since you can wear them when you head out in cold running weather, and then take them off and tuck them into your waistband when you warm up or catch a tailwind.
  • Running jacket. Although any windbreaker will do the job, a specialized running jacket is preferable because it’s engineered for the job — pockets, detachable hood, water-repellent, etc. I bought the Adidas Men’s Running Supernova Tokyo Jacket last winter; here is my running jacket review.

Christmas Gifts that Keep on Giving all Year Long

Some fitness gear spans all the seasons. that’s a good thing. Check these out.

  • Water bottles and hydration devices. Hydrate or die is the phrase that springs to mind. This market has really expanded with customers involved in all sports. The most basic variety is the hand-held. Then there’s the one I like, the Fuelbelt Sprint 10-ounce Palm Holder with Pocket. It’s a regular bottle but it comes with a cushioned strap. This means you don’t have to keep a tight grip on it as the miles roll by. CamelBak “backpacks” used to be just a cycling thing, but more and more runners are wearing them. I suppose they would be handy for fastpacking, but it seems a little extreme otherwise. Plus, in the summer it reduces available exposed skin area for cooling by evaporation.
  • Running safety gear. This is one item that’s isn’t used as much as it should be. We train on the roads and we sometimes get out there in the dark; people drive disconnected, what with texting and such behavior. Obviously, despite all cautions taken, runners and cyclists do get hit. At the very least have your contact information available. I’ve been wearing a Road ID emergency information bracelet for years now. Its got a metal tag stamped with my name, address, two contact phone numbers, and my blood pressure medication.
  • Technical running socks. Unless you’re a barefoot runner, you’re always going to need a pair or two in the drawer and one on your feet. Shop for socks that are specifically designed for running to minimize the chance of blisters.
  • Body Glide or another anti-chafe lubricant. Back in the day we had to settle for Vaseline. It worked but was temperamental on very cold or very hot days and what ratio of days does that constitute in your world? And, it stained clothes. No more; now we’ve got Body Glide, possibly the most effective anti-chafing product available. It comes in a handy applicator resembling a deodorant stick. No more dipping your fingers into the Vaseline tub.


Hopefully, this article provided a good jumping off point in terms of ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts for the runners and fitness enthusiasts in your life. The good thing is that they are all functional and sure to be appreciated.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Strange and Weird Christmas Traditions from Around the World

A Christmas Tree Shootout!
A Christmas Tree Shootout!

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. And it’s not just Christians that take advantage of this final festive occasion before the big blow-out that is New Years Eve which signals the end of one year and the ushering in of another; many members of other religions do indulge in Christmas.

The thing is, some of the traditions seem downright strange to Americans. But that’s OK; each to his (or her) own. That’s what makes the world go ’round. Let’s have a look at some of them, in no particular order.

Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets
Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets

While we consider turkey, ham, or something similar to be traditional fare, not so in Japan. Many Japanese folks prefer to make their Christmas dinner Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s advisable to get it on a take-out basis; its popularity is such that reservations may have to be made to eat at a KFC restaurant on Christmas in Japan. I wonder how this got started?

Catalonia

Catalonia Poop Log
Catalonia Poop Log

The Catalonia Poop Log, or Caga Tió, strikes me as odd although festive in a naughty sort of way. It works like this: each and every night starting on December 8th, Caga Tió is “fed” and then covered with a blanket to protect him from catching a cold. On either Christmas Eve or Christmas day he is placed in the fireplace, beaten with a stick, and ordered to poop. He is encouraged, along with the beating, by singing songs. He proceeds to poop candies, nuts and and other treats. One last push yields an onion, a head of garlic, or a salt herring. I’ll pass on the candy, thank you very much.

Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia
Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia

Also from Catalonia, we proudly bring you caganer, or defecating figure, set out every year in the nativity scene along with the holy family and the three wise men. In the 18th century, 18th century, the caganer was traditionally represented as a peasant with his trousers down, bare bottom hanging out, complete with a pile of feces underneath. The exact meaning behind this figure is subject to debate, but it’s thought to symbolize fertility. Nowadays caganers can lampoon authority figures and celebrities. You have to ask, what is it with Catalonians and bowel movements?

Italy

 Befana from Spain
Befana from Spain

In some areas of Spain, forget Santa Claus or Sinterklaas; Befana takes center stage. She is reputed to visit homes during the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and leaves candy and presents in stockings for the good boys and girls. However, the bad children get coal, dark candy, or sticks. Even though she has the appearance of an old hag, in reality she is a kind soul and sweeps homes using a broom before she leaves. This is meant to brush away the problems of the previous year.

Ireland

Guinness Stout from Ireland
Guinness Stout from Ireland

Here in the USA we treat Santa to a glass of milk to slake his thirst and a plate of cookies to fuel him in his travels. Not so on the Emerald Isle; there he gets an offering of Guinness Stout and a slice of mince pie. Aye. I approve of this ritual.

Austria

Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria
Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria

The poop log’s got nothing on this guy! Half-goat, half-demon, he’s the stuff of nightmares and meant to keep the kiddies in line. During the Christmas season he punishes those who have misbehaved, in contrast with old St. Nick, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts.

Compared to Other Countries…

Taken altogether, our whole Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves thing seems fairly tame! It never ceases to amaze how different societies handle these things. I hope you got a few chuckles learning about these strange and weird Christmas traditions. If so, share with your friends and social media.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas

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The Traditional American Version of Santa Claus
The Traditional American Version of Santa Claus
Sinterklaas Arrives in Amsterdam
Sinterklaas Arrives in Amsterdam

Judging by the two images above, Santa Claus and Sinterklaas look remarkably similar. They have the same copious hair and whiskers, the same predominately red and white garment color scheme, and a jovial spirit. But, that’s where the similarities begin to diverge.

The Origins and History of Santa Claus

Some say that the original Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, a small Roman town in modern Turkey in Anatolia. This was around 270 AD. He had a reputation for secretly giving gifts to those in need.

Although his suit is red today, it was originally green. His marital status has changed; Santa was a bachelor until around 1849 when a wife (Mrs Claus) was mentioned in the short story, ‘A Christmas Legend’ written by James Rees.

What about that jolly face? How accurate is our portrayal to the real St. Nick of yesteryear? The short answer is that it may be very close. Why? It is believed by some scholars that St. Nicholas’ bones were absconded by Italian sailors during the 11th century and taken to the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola located on the southeast coast of Italy. The crypt was repaired in the 1950s and the Nick’s skull and bones were documented with x-ray photos and thousands of detailed measurements. From there, scientists used modern forensic facial reconstruction to give us the image we know and love today.

But where did the tradition of giving gifts to children begin? We have two stories to illustrate this. The first one is better known and goes like this: three young girls are saved from a life of prostitution when the young Bishop Nicholas quietly delivers three bags of gold to their indebted father, which he can use for their dowries. The second tale relates that St. Nicholas entered an inn whose keeper had just crudely murdered three boys and pickled their dismembered bodies in basement barrels. The bishop not only sensed the crime, but resurrected the victims as well. Hence, he became the patron saint of children.

In the 1500s the Protestant Reformation began and good old St. Nick fell out of favor across northern Europe. But in the Netherlands, kids and families would not give up St. Nicholas as a gift bringer. And that’s when they brought Sinterklaas with them to New World colonies.

The Origins and History of Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas (his name is a contraction of Sint Nikolaas) is based on St. Nick but cast in a Dutch mold. He looks similar in that he is a jolly old sod dressed in red but he sports a bishop’s hat, rides a white horse, and carries a long, curled shepherd’s staff. An important distinction is that the Dutch conceptualize him as a kindly old man instead of a Catholic saint. The end result is that Sinterklaas is celebrated by Dutch people of all ages and beliefs, without any real religious connotations.

The rituals surrounding Sinterklass and Santa differ as well. The Feast of Sinterklaas is held on December 6th, the day that St. Nick passed away. This is when gifts are exchanged and good-natured fun is made of loved ones. Christmas is focused on family and church services, not gift-giving.

The Sinterklass-Santa Connection

The general consensus is that Sinterklaas was the precursor of our Santa Claus tradition. Many historians hold that Dutch and German settlers carried the tradition with them when they went to America. There, his Catholic garb was bit by bit morphed into the jolly non-sectarian red suit with the white fur trim we are all familiar with. Also, his lithe frame gave way to a well-padded potbelly, and his trusty white horse was traded in for a troupe of reindeer. Either way, both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus stand for the generosity of spirit and kindness to children.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


10 Common Turkey Cooking Mistakes: Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner Tips

by Kelly R. Smith

Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner
Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner; YUM!
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This article was updated on 11/14/20.

It’s fair to say that there is nothing quite as emblematic of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner as that prince of birds — the turkey. It didn’t make it to be the national bird though Ben Franklin lobbied for it, but it did make it to being the savory symbol of two of our favorite national holidays.

That said, the preparation can cause severe anxiety just as holiday season loneliness can. It’s far too easy to get it wrong; too dry, undercooked, or overcooked. Let’s look at 10 common turkey cooking mistakes.

Not Thawing the Turkey Long Enough

This is a very common mistake, especially for those first-timers. This mistake will lead to forehead slapping and a mad attempt to finish the thawing process in a sink full of warm or cool water. Now which was it again?

As a rule of thumb, allow one day in the refrigerator for each 4 pounds of turkey. Using this rule it is easy to determine approximately how long you need to let it defrost before getting busy cooking your turkey. Taking this into consideration, be sure you have enough room in your fridge before you go shopping.

Over-Brining the Bird

Many recipes call for brining — soaking in a solution of salt and spice which is a snap to do with an herb brine kit. However, many of the most available commercially-produced turkeys, such as frozen Butterball birds, have already been pre-treated with a solution of salt and spices. This is done in order to stretch out the shelf life, not necessarily to please your palate. That’s why the brine kit is a better idea; it’s specially prepared for flavor, not storage.

If you do this again (just because the recipe says so), you will end up with a salty bird indeed. Just check the label before you proceed. On the one hand, if the producers have already done it, you have less work to do albeit while sacrificing some flavor. On the other hand, it’s a real chore hand-pick your favorite spices.

Not Drying the Turkey Sufficiently

If your aim is a crispier skin on the outside you’ll want to thoroughly pat the bird down using paper towels before it goes in the oven. Drying the inside cavity of the turkey is also important but not doing so is also a common mistake. Generally speaking, having a well dried turkey inside and outside will yield a more evenly-cooked and flavorful bird.

Cooking the Stuffing Inside the Cavity

Whatever Grandma told you, this is not the best of ideas. The main problem here is that to cook the stuffing through fully and guarantee that all of the bacteria inside the raw bird has been eliminated, you will need to cook the turkey for a longer period of time. The result? Dry, overcooked meat. Embarrassing, Chef.

The obvious answer is to make the stuffing from scratch or use one of those basic boxed delicacies. I like to bake a loaf using my oatmeal flax seed bread recipe ahead of time and make it from that. Super healthy. Either way, cook it outside the bird. We won’t tell if you don’t.

Trussing the Legs too Tightly

It makes sense when you think about it; closing off the cavity means longer roasting time and possibly uneven cooking. Your only real limitation is the width of your roasting pan. If you are going to buy one of those disposable roasting pans at the store, buy it at the same time that you buy your turkey to be sure you have a good fit.

Not Investing in a Real Meat Thermometer

Sure, it’s tempting to rely on that little pop-up button thingamajiggy that the poultry farmers embed in the bird’s hide, but these are notoriously unreliable. These may be faulty and pop up when the meat is already overcooked. Since you’ve only got one shot at this, go ahead and invest in a real meat thermometer. You will get more accurate results and as a bonus, you dinner guests will regard you as a professional. 

Cooking at the Wrong Oven Temperature

We all know some cooks that recommend blasting the turkey at high heat (425°F) for about 30 minutes first and then lower the temperature. However, a low, steady temperature of  325°F from beginning to end is preferable.

Certainly, the initially high-heat method may take 30 to 90 minutes off your total cooking time, but remembering to reduce the temperature  is just one more thing to remember on what is already very busy day.

Not Allowing Your Bird to Rest

No, we’re not talking about letting the turkey take a break. Resting simply means taking it out of the oven when it’s done and simply letting it sit there. This should be done with all meats actually. With a turkey the recommended resting time is 15 minutes.

Why do we do this you might ask? Resting time allows the juices inside the turkey to soak back into the meat, instead of dripping out as soon as you you slice into it. This results in a moister bird. More bang for your buck. It’s still important to keep the turkey warm so tent it with foil until carving time arrives.

Not Preparing the Surface of the Turkey Properly

It’s not clear whether the Pilgrims did this step (some history revisionists even claim that there wasn’t even a turkey present) or not but things have changed since then. It’s not a difficult step; just rub the turkey all over with olive oil or melted clarified butter. The main reason for this is to ensure that the turkey browns evenly. Aesthetics is important; just ask any chef.

Not Inserting the Thermometer in the Correct Spot

You can’t just spear the bird willy-nilly and expect to get the result that you want. Your target is in the thickest part of the thigh, right smack-dab in the crease where it meets the breast. If your bird weighs in at 18 pounds or less, monitor the temperature beginning at 2.5 hours and every 15 minutes following that. For a turkey above 18 pounds, start checking at 3 hours.

Avoid these 10 common turkey cooking mistakes and you and your guests won’t have to be confronted with a foul fowl.



It’s true that stuffing is the most traditional side dish and that’s fine. But if you like to step out of the box and add a very non-traditional dish, you won’t go wrong with Spaghetti Carbonara.

If you are worried that your guests are getting too hungry due to the extra preparation time it takes to do it just right, why not put out an appetizer? I’ve found that Panamanian-Style Ceviche hits the mark rather well.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.