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December 2015 E-newsletter

25 New Holiday Traditions to Start With Your Friends and Family this Season

Holiday traditions are the wellspring of Christmas magic. Something about the season brings out a desire to reconnect, make memories, and hold tight to our nearest and dearest. Some traditions are handed down from generation to generation, and some are more recent introductions, but no matter what defines Christmas for you and yours, the basic recipe is the same: love, time, and fun. Here are 25 traditions you can add to your December festivities:

  1. Set aside a baking day. This is a very tasty tradition and whether you're a whiz in the kitchen or a total newbie, there's nothing more Christmas-y than the smell of vanilla and cinnamon wafting through the house. So whip up a batch of gingerbread or even simple Rice Crispy treats. If you have kids, get them involved, let them stir, pour, decorate and taste-test to their heart's content.
  2. Then host a cookie swap party! The concept is simple: bake a few dozen of your favorite treats, then invite your family and friends and their cookies over, and trade! Everyone goes home with a fabulous selection, and the traditional holiday gluttony gets off to a great start.
  3. Turn holiday cards into a crafty celebration. If you're blessed with a long list of friends, writing all those Christmas cards can sometimes seem overwhelming. It doesn't have to be! Stock up on seasonal stickers, some glitter pens, and let the children go to town. Little-kid scribbles are heartwarming, and all you'll have to do is sign your names.
  4. Go caroling at a nursing home. There's true holiday magic in giving back: traditions which bring joy to others are a powerful way of remembering, and teaching your children, the true meaning of the season. At this time of year, hospitals and nursing homes may welcome visits to lonely residents. A few rounds of "Jingle Bells" can be powerful medicine, and it's fun for friends and family.
  5. Organize a food or mitten drive. Christmas can be a difficult time of year for people in need, and the charities which serve them are often strained by the demands of the season. Small donations of nonperishable food or warm hats and gloves can go a long way. If you're throwing a holiday party, consider asking your guests to bring along a little something to pass along.
  6. Toy donation. Playing Santa Claus is one of the most joyful ways of giving back. You, your friends, and your family can go Christmas shopping for a charity like Toys for Tots. Some organizations accept gently used second-hand toys, so you could also encourage them to choose one of their own toys to donate, which reveals the added bonus of "making room" for expected presents.
  7. Christmas Eve storytime. If you have kids, getting them settled in bed just when the excitement is running the highest can be a real challenge. A Christmas Eve tradition of reading a special story might be just the ticket. Set the scene with hot cocoa, light a candle, and snuggle up with a classic like "The Night Before Christmas."
  8. Christmas movie night. With so many beloved holiday films to choose from, you might be able to make this a weekly event in the run up to Christmas. Make some cinnamon popcorn and gather together with friends and family to enjoy a Christmas classic.
  9. Build a gingerbread house. Be as simple or elaborate as you like. Whether you build a masterpiece of confectionary architecture or just glue a few graham crackers together with icing, everyone's favorite part is adding the candy decorations.
  10. Bring back the board games. Buying a new board game each year is a wonderful way of fostering togetherness, and they provide much-needed quality entertainment in the long hours between the opening of the gifts and the eating of the turkey.
  11. Christmas craft day. Making adorable homemade gifts is a simple way of capturing the holiday spirit. Christmas tree decorations cut from felt are an easy option for all ages and skill levels, but the most important thing you'll make is memories.
  12. Go look at the lights. Bundle up in the car with a thermos of hot drinks, tune into the Christmas radio station, and drive around the neighborhood admiring the holiday light show.
  13. Have a Christmas video chat party. If your loved ones or friends can't be home for the holidays, make a virtual special occasion out of a video chat. Show them your decorated tree, open the presents you've sent each other, sing "Rudolph", or just catch up. Make it a standing date each year.
  14. Go on a Christmas shopping holiday. Book a night in a B&B or hotel with friends or a few family members and do your Christmas shopping somewhere new. It's a great way to get quality time together while bringing a little novelty and magic back to a sometimes stressful task.
  15. Make a special breakfast. Christmas morning traditions are extra special. Little ones, and even big kids, may be too excited to eat when they wake up, but an out-of-the-ordinary breakfast might tempt them before the inevitable sugar rush. Snowmen pancakes, anyone?
  16. Put on a talent show. From a nativity play to memorized holiday poems to hilarious PowerPoint presentations, entertaining each other is a holiday tradition which will foster indelible memories.
  17. Buy an ornament for each child every year. Kids will take pride in hanging their own ornaments on the tree year after year, and when they finally fly the nest, they'll be able to take a box full of family magic with them.
  18. Bring treats to emergency service providers on Christmas Eve. Nurses and doctors in the ER, firefighters, and police officers all work through the holidays, keeping us safe. Give back and spread the cheer by delivering some doughnuts, cookies, or mince pies to your local hospitals and stations.
  19. Make "Reindeer Food." Mix oats, candy sprinkles, and edible glitter, and scatter the sidewalk and driveway as a Christmas Eve tradition. You might just encourage Santa's steeds to show up a little early!
  20. Recycle last year's cards into decorations. Cut out scenes and figures from old Holiday cards and string them on a garland for a charming hand-made decoration. It will get longer and more beautiful every year, and it's a sweet way to remember the love each card contained.
  21. Host a holiday open house. This can be especially fun in the sometimes dreary days after Christmas. Invite friends and neighbors to swing by for a chat and a beverage of their choice. Serve turkey sandwiches!
  22. Have a Christmas camp-out (inside!) Make a pillow fort under the tree, tell stories, and foster a bit of holiday silliness. You might not get much sleep, but you'll remember it forever.
  23. Light a Christmas countdown candle. A cousin of the advent wreath, this is a great way to mark the days until Christmas. Buy a large candle, and make a mark for every day between now and Christmas. Each night, burn the candle until it reaches the next mark. This is a lovely way to mark out a little time for reflection and peace each day.
  24. Have a special Christmas outing. Have everyone dress up to the nines and make an afternoon or night into a special occasion by going to see a local production of "The Nutcracker" or "A Christmas Carol." Families - this tradition doubles as an ideal photo op!
  25. Start a "Good Deed a Day" jar. Tell your little ones that Santa's magic is fueled by the good deeds we do each day, and at Christmas time, he needs extra help. Have them go out of their way to do something nice each day, and then write it on a slip of colorful paper to place in a jar (perhaps with a pinch of glitter!) On Christmas Eve, leave the jar beside Santa's cookies and milk, to help him refuel his magic before the next stop.

Source: https://www.tinyprints.com/things-to-know/new-holiday-traditions.htm


Security Q-Tip - Caution! Malicious Emails Ahead!

Despite the growing number of breaches we see reported each week, it is becoming more difficult for malicious hackers to force their way into networks from the outside. How are they getting in? Social engineering has become the go-to point of entry for most networks. Emails with malicious links are a favorite of attackers everywhere, and with users' propensity to click almost anything, companies face an uphill battle to shore up this weakness. What can be done?

One of the best things everyone can do is to slow down when going through their email. We understand how many emails can come to each user, but by taking even a few extra seconds to make sure the email looks legitimate (and makes sense!), a breach can be prevented. Some things to consider:

  • Does the sender's name match with the email address? One of the easiest ways to spoof a sender is to create a generic account with what looks like a legitimate email address as the username. For example, bsmith@company.com becomes bsmith.company@GenericEmailProvider.com.
  • Do the links go where they say they do? By hovering over a link, most email clients will display the address that the link points to. These do not have to match up, so make sure the link goes where the text in the email says it does.
  • Does it make sense for the sender to be corresponding with the user? A random email from a C-level executive to someone a few steps down from him or more may be an attempt to get in.
  • Do a quick proofread of the email. Are there obvious misspellings? If available, copy the email and paste it into Microsoft Word (or another text editor of your choice) and see if the spelling and grammar come out ok. This is not 100% foolproof, but it should give you an idea of whether or not whoever wrote the email speaks your language.

Taking a moment or two to think about the email you receive first, and then the content of it, can go a long way to helping keep your business secure.

Q-Tips are provided by Coulee Bank's IT Network Risk Manager, Quentin Fisher. He is always on the lookout for ways to keep our customers' information safe, here at the bank, and at work and home.


Rotary Lights – Feed the Hungry of the Coulee Region

This year, 2015, Rotary Lights will be celebrating their 21st year with the Rotary Lights Display at Riverside Park in La Crosse, WI. They have a ton of events for you and the family:

  • Rotary Lights Parade
  • Live music entertainment
  • Hay Rides
  • Carriage Rides
  • Live reindeer
  • Breakfast with Santa
  • 5k Ugly Sweater Run
  • And so much more

With over 3,000,000 lights in their inventory, you can imagine the breadth and depth of this holiday display. Don't forget - it's FREE. Rotary Lights does ask for voluntary food and cash donations to help support their mission to "feed the hungry of the Coulee Region."

During the 2014 season 237,246 food items were collected bringing the 20-year total to 2,733,112. This year's goal is 3,000,000 items – how long do you think that will take?

All About Rotary Lights

Rotary Lights is an annual gift to the Coulee Region as a cooperative effort among the area's Rotary Clubs, numerous other non-profit groups and volunteer organizations, sponsors, and last but not least - the amazing individuals that make up the Steering Committee and Board.

This annual display began in the year of 1995 and has grown tremendously since then due to the fantastic support from the greater La Crosse community. Nearly 200,000 visitors per year enjoy this holiday tradition while driving, walking or taking a carriage ride through Riverside Park.

Admission

Admission is FREE but visitors are encouraged to make voluntary contributions of cash and/or non-perishable food items as they exit the park via street or sidewalk.

Hours

Opening Day is always the Friday after Thanksgiving with the parade starting from downtown at 5pm. The lights are then shut off for the final time after the New Year's Eve late fireworks show.

The park opens at 5:00 p.m. daily and gates will close after the last car in line at 10:00 p.m. with the following exceptions:

  • Christmas Eve - 5 to 9:00 p.m.
  • Christmas Day - 5 to 9:00 p.m.
  • New Year's Eve - 5 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

Source: http://www.rotarylights.org


Business Corner: Surviving the Christmas Rush: What Small Businesses Need to Know

If you are a small business owner and Christmas is not on your mind, you are dangerously behind the curve. For most businesses, especially retail, the holidays mean an increase in the demand for their products or services. If your small business falls in this category, you need a solid strategy to maximize your success this season without burning out along the way.

"Our local merchants in Oklahoma City work extremely hard during the holiday season," said Kitt Letcher, CEO of Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma. "Yet, every year we get customer complaints that range from rude customer service to disappointed callers who feel ripped off because their must-have gift they saw in an ad wasn't available, or something else went wrong. What we have learned is that it's often minor issues that blow up due to holiday stress on both ends. But there are a few things each small business can do to make their holiday season as smooth as possible."

Hire and educate staff

Make sure your staff knows how to handle the extra rush. Instill your value and standards of customer service into your team. Teach techniques that help them keep their cool even with extremely rude customers who show up at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve. And when you see something happen step in and demonstrate the way you want customers treated.

"Use difficult situations as a way to coach your staff," Letcher said. "Don't reprimand them in front of customers. Demonstrate the values you want your employees to use."

If your staff is small, discuss schedules and time off requests, and consider hiring temporary staff to get you through the season.

"Not having enough employees available to help customers can be really frustrating for you and for your customers. Saving on personnel costs may cost you lost sales in the long run," she said.

Spread holiday cheer

It is true that some small businesses can't compare with big box deals around the holidays, but the shopping experience is something the chains can't beat. Offer a cookie, decorate the store, and welcome your customers with a heart-felt: "Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays". Consider offering gift wrapping or sending gifts "From Santa." Offer to let a non-profit come wrap gifts for tips that can be used as a fundraiser. For non-retail businesses consider giving your customers a small holiday present or send a card to thank them for being your customer.

"We see a lot of people who want to support their local community and go out of their way to shop in local establishments," Letcher said. "Use that to your advantage and give the extra smile and holiday cheer to help ensure they will be happy with their choice to buy local."

Make sure you have the inventory

Make sure that if you make a promise to your customers in ads or in person, you have the goods to back it up. Your reputation is on the line, and no customer is less forgiving than a last minute shopper who can't buy what he is so desperately searching for.

"If you have a hot item that you think you may run out of, come up with a backup plan," Letcher said. "Can you offer them a rain check for that specific item? Is it something you can ship directly to them? Can you let the person purchase it, print out the picture, add a few items with it and make it into a gift basket? Being able to offer solutions can save a lot of headaches while an irate customer is standing right in front of you."

It shows that you are willing to take the extra effort and make your customer's day. Ask questions to find the right solution for that person.

Make sure you have enough merchandise to get you through the holidays, and make sure you are aware of trends. For example, if you know the new Star Wars movie is on its way, see if you can tie some product into this theme. Contact vendors to confirm delivery schedules, and potential order back-ups.

Localize

Tie your promotions in with other events happening in your area. If you are downtown, can you tie your events in with the Downtown events? Many local chambers work together to create a holiday shopping experience that the entire business community benefits from.

Schedule your ads and sales NOW

You need to adjust your marketing to fit the season, and you need to make sure you are being seen and heard amidst the flood of holiday offers and advertisements. Work closely with your marketing representatives, but don't get roped into marketing that does not fit your business, budget or objectives. Adjust your marketing to include holiday sales and promotions.

"Sales and promotions provided by your business should fit your business model," Letcher said. "Make sure you are staying true to your business values."

Extended business hours

During the holiday shopping rush, shoppers' loyalty often lies with deals and opportunity. Consider extending your business hours if you think you will have traffic. You want your business to be as available as possible to customers. Open early and stay open late. And don't forget to tell your customers. Post your new hours on your business door and online.

"If you have a list of customers that you want to entice early, have a holiday open house or a preview party for new inventory," Letcher said. "Make them feel special by offering something a regular customer wouldn't get. Maybe mail them a special invitation they have to bring with them to get into the party. Make them feel special and like they are part of an exclusive group."

However, if you don't think staffing extra hours is worth it, then don't. Business is after all a numbers game.

"The holiday season can be stressful," Letcher said. "But it can also be a great time to show people how much you care about your customers."

Little things matter from how customers are greeted when they enter your business to the conversation at the cash register. Make sure you and your staff are working to build a relationship with your customers.

"People like shopping with someone they can relate to, make them feel comfortable and valued," Letcher added. "Thank them for their business and be sure that all your interactions demonstrate the values of your business."

Source: http://newsok.com/article/5456066


Holiday Lights in the Park

Holiday Lights in the Park is a joint venture of the St. Paul chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the St. Paul Police Foundation with the sole purpose of creating fun and affordable holiday events that raise funds to help meet basic life needs for children and adults in the Twin Cities metro area. All of the net proceeds from this event will be distributed to a community non-profit partner, the Saint Paul Police Foundation, and the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy.

Visitors will experience a program of more than 60 larger-than-life holiday light sculptures and animated displays from the comfort of their vehicles as they cruise through the park in the evening hours. Guests can purchase tickets at the event at the park gate or in advance online.

Admission

Guests can purchase tickets at our event at the park gate or in advance by clicking here.

  • $8.00 vehicle ticket (online special); $10 in person, Cash Only at Gate!
  • $15.00 per limo/passenger van/mini bus
  • $30.00 per coach bus
  • Check out http://www.facebook.com/holidaylightsmn for news and updates

Dates & Times

Holiday Lights in the Park runs nightly from 5pm to 10pm, November 24 – January 1, 2016 at Saint Paul's Phalen Park (1615 Phalen Drive East, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55106).

Source: http://saintpaulpolicefoundation.com/holiday-lights/


Money Safety Tips for the Holiday Shopping Season

Scams, fraud and data hacks abound during peak shopping season. However, you can fight back against the criminals who may try to steal your identity and money with a few precautions and common sense. Protect your identity and your funds during the holiday shopping season by paying attention to the tips below:

Monitor Your Accounts

Proactively monitoring your financial accounts (such as bank and credit card statements) can help you catch errors and spot potential fraud at the first sign. To simplify this process, consider using a single credit card for all your holiday purchases. That way you will only have one statement to check instead of several. This practice has the added benefit of reminding you to stay on track with your budget, too.

Always Think Before You Click

To avoid infecting your computer or mobile device with malicious software, never click on a link to a deal or special savings on a social networking site or in an unsolicited email. Scammers will often disguise a social media post or email to make it seem as if it's coming from a known retailer, but the link will take you to a fake site and infect your device. If you see a link that supposedly leads to a sale you want to take advantage of, visit the retailer's website directly rather than clicking the link. From there you can verify if the sale is legit.

When Shopping Online, Avoid Public Wi-Fi

If you're doing some of your holiday shopping online to avoid the crowds, keep in mind that any purchases made online require transmitting your credit card and/or bank account information over the internet. Using a public Wi-Fi connection to do so puts that sensitive information at risk. Hackers can tap into unsecured Wi-Fi connections at hotspots like coffee shops and airport terminals to capture that information. The new, more secure EMV chip cards do not protect against this kind of fraud. If you're using a wireless connection to shop, be sure that it requires a password or WEP key.

Be Proactive

Finally, take action by changing your passwords if you hear about a data breach or other fraud that could affect your accounts. This is especially critical if you use the same password on multiple accounts. If you notice suspicious charges on your credit card or transfers from your banking account, contact your bank right away to notify them of the issue. They may put a freeze on the account to prevent further fraud, but this will keep the criminals from emptying your account.

Source: WBA Consumer Column E-Newsletter


Coulee Investment Center: Your Advisor: A Partner in Pursuing Lifelong Financial Goals

Shari Hopkins, CFP®, Financial Consultant - 608-784-3904
Shari Hopkins
LPL Financial Advisor
608-784-3904

Need help managing your financial life? An investment professional is a tremendous resource to tap for financial planning information throughout your lifetime. For instance, your financial advisor can help you with:

Short-term savings: Avoid piling up debt when unexpected expenses come your way by having at least three months of living expenses available at all times. If you don't have an "emergency" fund, your financial advisor can help you figure out how to build one.

Investing for long-term goals: Your investment professional can help you determine how much you will need to retire and then work with you to build a portfolio to pursue the kind of retirement you have in mind. He or she can also help you come up with creative funding solutions for your children's education.

Estate planning: Contrary to popular thinking, estate planning is not just for the wealthy. Creating a will and naming a health care proxy (someone who makes medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated) and durable power of attorney (someone designated to decide financial matters if you are unable to do so) can make sure your wishes are honored. Consider using a qualified professional to develop an appropriate plan.

Three Tips for a Smooth Financial Meeting

Prepare for an appointment with a financial advisor by keeping this pre-meeting checklist in mind.

  1. Organize your thoughts and set priorities. Think about your financial goals and time frames. Your advisor will be able to help you review these issues and match them to your tolerance for investment risk. Also discuss your top areas of financial concerns, such as reducing debt.
  2. Gather the appropriate paperwork. You'll likely need to bring financial documents, such as investment account statements and tax returns, to your first meeting. Call in advance and ask what documents would be helpful.
  3. Prepare questions for your advisor. It's important that you feel comfortable with your advisor and the services provided. Ask about the type and level of advice you should expect. Talk about how often you should meet for a "checkup" or to rebalance your portfolio.1

1Rebalancing strategies may involve tax consequences, especially for non-tax-deferred accounts.

Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by Wealth Management Systems Inc. or its sources, neither Wealth Management Systems Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall Wealth Management Systems Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.

© 2015 Wealth Management Systems Inc. All rights reserved.

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