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How to Make Socially Distanced Holidays Actually Feel Special

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“Happy” “Holidays” 2020 is a series about feeling connected and vaguely festive during the coronavirus pandemic.

Welcome to late October, a time beloved by all rabbis because the cluster of important Jewish holidays with major observance requirements is finally over, and they can catch a breath. Jews have now had all our major holidays: Passover (commemorating the liberation of slavery in Egypt), Rosh Hashanah, (the Jewish new year), Yom Kippur (our Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (festival of harvest and also fleeing persecution, because why not).

As Jews worldwide have wrestled with the mandate to balance safety and celebration, we have learned… a lot, through the process, both in my family constellation and also globally. Figuring out how to make holidays feel celebratory and spiritually meaningful while also satisfying Great-Uncle Marvin’s urgent desire to see all the grandkids and Nana Stella’s Very Big Feelings about whether it’s even Passover at all if she doesn’t make four potato kugels. We have Amazon Primed many tablets to people who used actual slates when they were in school. We’ve explained, and then written instructions for (and then re-written the instructions for) using Zoom on those tablets, and we have stood looking forlornly at our 22-quart soup pots trying to figure out how, or even whether, to make chicken soup with matzah balls for… four people.

It has been a lot: so many feelings, so many workarounds, and such a sense of loss in a year that has already been heavily marked by loss. The mandate to be as separate as possible feels intensely counterintuitive right now; when we’re feeling sad and tired, traditions (even the ones we complain about!), rituals, comfort food, and matching sweaters are exactly what we want. Holidays mark the passage of time in important ways while giving us something to look forward to, and it can be tough to skip making the gourd centerpiece with all the little cousins, or even having the annual fight about the dishes (in which Poppa makes disparaging comments about “women’s libbers” while his 14-year-old granddaughter delivers a scathing read of her father, uncles, and men in general). It’s the little things.

And yet, the public health advice is clear: we have to figure out how to stay physically distanced this year.

As Thanksgiving/Day of Mourning and Christmas approach, you might be trying to figure out how to proceed or what makes sense or whether to even bother. Very fair! I thought it might be useful to share what I’ve learned (and what I’ve gleaned in conversation with fellow Jews) about how to get as much of the good stuff as possible from holidays during a pandemic.

Do something special.

It’s so tempting to just not bother—to take the day off, order a pizza, and call it good. Why celebrate in such an absolute crap heap of a year? That’s not a terrible idea, and if it’s what you really want, then go for it. But: There’s also a very strong possibility that if you do the actions of celebration, the feelings will follow. Jewish tradition teaches that even if you’re not in the mood, even if you’re alone, even if you’re afraid, you should do the traditional things anyway as best you can, and the feeling will come to you in the act. This is often true! Give it a try.

Judaism has the concept of hiddur mitzvah, or making a ritual beautiful—the idea being that cooking delicious food and using beautiful ritual objects for observing or celebrating holidays makes them all the more holy. In the grim landscape of COVID, we need that moment of beauty more than ever. So doing something special for yourself (and your small bubble of whomever you live with) isn’t just a way to bring more yay-we’re-happy cheer—it’s also a way to bring more meaning to your holidays. So from a Jew who has now joined services online, received honey cake by mail, and had several ceremonial holiday meals on Zoom… take the time, shine everything up, and let even a thread of celebration in. You deserve it.

Don’t underestimate how great a Zoom holiday can be.

I was VERY skeptical about a Zoom Passover seder. I grumbled about it and made many displeased noises as we re-organized our space to figure out how to include a computer screen on our table, convinced that it wouldn’t feel meaningful.

I was wrong. Seeing everyone’s faces, even pixelated, was so nice. We read through the Passover seder together and asked questions and talked and ate and said the blessings. Not only did I indeed feel connected, being virtual meant we could invite people to participate who would otherwise have been geographically impossible, and that was actually lovely. Stack up a laptop or tablet on about 14 inches of books at the end of your table, ask everyone else to do the same, and be together for a little while. Even elders in care have been able to do this; many places have made someone available on holidays to assist with Zoom issues, so don’t rule your Nana out (even if you may end up seeing a lot of her left nostril).

You can also participate in religious services remotely these days, which gives an opportunity to either connect with your home congregation or, if you like, do a little shopping and attend a service you ordinarily couldn’t access—a religious leader you admire, a magical choir, or even a different branch of your religion. If you feel uncomfortable with some of the rhetoric at the church or other religious gathering your parents insist upon every year, use this as an opportunity to choose a service more in line with your own religious (or political) beliefs.

Plan intergenerational video cooking classes.

If there are traditional holiday foods that your family loves to eat, make this the year you learn to make them yourself. My grandma, may her memory be for a blessing, made the best stuffed cabbage I have ever eaten (or will ever eat, let’s be honest). Many times I asked for her recipe, and each time she wrote it down (or sometimes dictated it while I wrote it) and never once did it turn out even half as good as hers. By the time I figured out that I should have stood behind her and watched everything she actually did and measured everything before it went in, it was too late—she was no longer up for the all-afternoon cookery extravaganza that proper stuffed cabbage requires. How much do I wish I had a video of her doing it? SO MUCH.

All this to say: ask your Nonno to make his famous meatballs or Auntie Vi to make her sweet potato pie on camera, so everyone can cook along from home and benefit in future years from their expertise. And consider making a recording of the event to share with folks afterward so you’ll all always have it. (A family library of cooking classes? So excellent.)

If your family (or other folks you like to gather with) are local, do a drop-off potluck.

Perhaps Nonno only knows how to make his meatballs for a crowd of 40, and you’re just five people this year. Consider sharing the wealth. Make your standard giant batch of your favorite it’s-not-a-holiday-without-it dish, and invite family and friends who live nearby to do the same with their respective specialties. On the day before (or the morning of), divide your vast amount of that one thing into appropriate portions, and deliver to each of the other households in your group. You’ll all be able to eat the same things at the same time—over video chat if you want, and I strongly think you do—even if you can’t be together in person.

Sharing food remains a cornerstone of many holidays, and anything you can do in that direction takes a bit of the sting out. And since you won’t have to deal with saving some of everything for Cousin Always Late this year, you can make an extra plate or two and take it to someone you know could use some extra food cooked with love.

Add a sense of togetherness (and structure) to video gatherings with readings or questions prepared in advance.

Passover has a whole workbook to read before the meal, and a Rosh Hashanah seder includes a series of questions about what we want to welcome or finish in the coming year. The collective consideration of our circumstances gives an opportunity for sharing joys and sorrows, for reflection, and for connection beyond “So what’s new?” Your version doesn’t have to be religious (though it can be), but think about adding some collective reading (everyone reads one paragraph) and some go-around questions to your table. Some ideas:

  • Add a land acknowledgement or reading of the true history of Thanksgiving/Day of Mourning to your feast.
  • Invite everyone to respond to questions—not just “what are you thankful for?” (though that’s a Thanksgiving classic), but add others that are appropriate for your observance or celebration. You could try “What do you hope to be thankful for next year?” or “How can we support Native/Indigenous people in their struggle for land rights?” around Thanksgiving/Day of Mourning, and perhaps for Christmas or New Year’s questions like “What will you work for this year?” “What do you want to end this year?” “What do you want more of this year?” Even little kids can answer!
  • Ask people to bring a poem, quote, or even a song lyric that was meaningful to them over the last year and read it aloud. For a bonus point, they can say why it was meaningful to them.
  • Read Christmas-themed children’s books! Try Santa’s Husband, Grandma’s Gift, Rachel’s Christmas Boat, Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, or pull out a childhood favorite. Pleasing even if no small children are present, honestly.
  • Here’s a list of holiday poems (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and even Hanukkah) to read from around the table. Even if your family or friends aren’t necessarily big poetry fans, poems add a note of gravitas to special occasions that may resonate, especially this year.
  • Draw names in advance and have everyone give a two-minute toast to another guest.
  • Ask your older relatives to tell you stories about firsts: first airplane ride, first telephone they had at home, first date, first job. How much did things cost? What do they remember about what they wore or ate or heard or saw?

Or, if your family usually celebrates a religious Christmas (or you’d like to try it), The North Carolina Council of Churches has published this Advent workbook God With Us: A Social Justice Advent Guide for Families. It includes scriptural readings, poems, meditations, discussion topics and activities (many of which can be safely accomplished or modified for social-distancing) for the entire period of Advent (Nov. 29–Dec. 24 this year).

Dress up and feel cute.

Like many people, I, too, am now a proud member of Sweatpants Nation, and my children (who by the end of the summer were basically feral) definitely balked at their button-downs and yontif dresses when I brought them out. But putting on good clothes makes the occasion feel special, and goodness knows we all need opportunities for that right now. Take the time for hair, makeup, a beard trim or a fresh shave, actual pants, and so on. Go wild—maybe even wear shoes! You’ll be glad you did, both for the nice feelings and for the inevitable screen-shot of everyone on Zoom your aunt Carol is going to post on Facebook.

Honor your elders by staying apart.

Listen, we all wish we could be all together with some people we love right now—whether that’s your family of origin or your chosen family. And those of us who don’t feel sure our elder members will see another holiday are wishing for it extra hard. But the mandate of balancing safety and celebration must tilt toward safety, in order to preserve the possibility of future celebration. As recent lessons have taught us (repeatedly), we can’t actually keep our elders or their friends safe from COVID-19 with our love or good intentions. Worse, we can actually harm them—and those who come in contact with them later—by gathering. The desire to trust that everyone has been careful and just hope for the best is so understandable! But public health advice and the available evidence are appallingly clear: we absolutely must not, not this year.

No matter how hard it is for you to miss those meatballs or that sweet potato pie or those tamales, those hugs and even those backhanded compliments about your new hairstyle (which looks great, by the way), know that Zoom funerals are terrible, and playing any part in someone dying alone in isolation is even worse. Please don’t do it.

Do something else that helps you feel connected to other people.

You don’t have to drive anywhere or cook for and clean up after two dozen people this year. Use that time! Do a puzzle or play a game with your housemates, write paper letters or draw pictures to send to friends and family, collaborate on a fun photo shoot or an all-family TikTok dance challenge or even just take a walk/ride/roll to look at plants and birds and see if you can figure out what they’re all called. When you get home, put your feet up and call one or two of your close pals for a long catchup chat. The silver lining to missing out on the casual “you look great!”s and “hey, how have you been?”s from distant relatives and church acquaintances this year is that you can take the time back to focus on the people that are really important to you.

Follow S. Bear Bergman on Twitter.

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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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