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How to Tell Your Family You’re Not Coming Home for the Holidays




Hard to Say is a column about delicate situations and difficult conversations, for people who wish they could hire a ghostwriter for all their texts.

Thanks, in part, to pop songs and treacly movies, there’s still a widespread belief that there’s no greater tragedy than not being “home” (whatever that means when you’re a grown-ass adult in the year 2020) for the holidays. Not spending a major holiday with your family of origin for the first time is a rite of passage—for you and for them.

The holidays tend to make people emotional, as does admitting that your kid is growing up and developing a life of their own. As such, these conversations can be super fraught. 

If this year marks the first time that you’re not planning to spend the holidays with your folks—whether that’s because of the pandemic or for some other reason—and, uh, they don’t know that yet, here are some tips for telling them. 

Give yourself permission to not go home.

Feeling confident in your decision is, I think, one of the most important aspects of communicating news someone else doesn’t want to hear. If you don’t feel right about it, you’re more likely to waver, over explain yourself, be talked out of it, or make excuses that are untrue or disingenuous. So before you talk to your family, think about all of the reasons your plans make sense and are OK. If you’re feeling really guilty, you might even want to make a list—for your eyes only—with your thought process. That might look something like…

  • Traveling and celebrating the holidays during a pandemic is incredibly risky for a number of reasons and I’m just not comfortable doing it. 
  • It doesn’t make sense for me to spend this much time/money/energy to make this trip. 
  • I get so few days off, and I’d like to use them to relax and recharge, not to travel to my boring hometown. 
  • I’m an adult now, and I’d like to start establishing my own holiday traditions. 
  • I don’t even like this holiday that much.
  • I’m no longer willing to spend days that are supposed to be uplifting and special with people who don’t really accept me, or who criticize and disparage me every chance they get. 
  • It’s completely reasonable for me to want to be with my partner on this holiday. 
  • I’d like to be in my own home for the holidays. 
  • [Insert sibling] hasn’t spent the holidays with family every single year and it’s been OK. 
  • This is something that every family has to navigate at some point, and I think it’s time. 
  • Lots of people don’t spend the holidays with their parents and it’s not that big of a deal—regardless of what Hallmark movies want us to believe.

Again, these aren’t thoughts to share with your family, necessarily—the point of this exercise is to help you stand firm if/when someone starts making emotional pleas for you to reconsider.

Tell your family about your plans as soon as you’ve made a decision… or, if it makes sense, as soon as you start considering not going home.

In general, it’s kind and courteous to let someone know as early as possible that you won’t be attending an event they’re expecting you at, and your family deserves that same respect. There’s a chance that they’ll make other plans as well—like booking a just-for-two vacation, making arrangements with friends, or simply cooking different foods—and the longer you delay, the more inconvenient and difficult it will be for them to have a holiday they feel good about. (And the better they feel about their alternative plans, the less likely it is to sting.) Also, the more time passes, the more instances there are likely to be in which they’ll say things like “we can do x in December when you’re home” and you’ll have to lie (either directly or by omission). You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where they are (understandably!) pissed at you for not saying something sooner. So communicate your “no” RSVP to them as soon as you make that decision.

In some families, it might make sense to say something a little sooner—e.g., “I’m thinking about not coming home this year.” If they seem like the type who wants to emotionally prepare for something for a while, go for it. If, on the other hand, they are likely to badger you about it every day for two months, hoping to change your mind because the decision hasn’t been “officially” “made” yet, it’s fine to wait until you’re 100 percent sure. 

Expect that they’ll be a little hurt and disappointed when you tell them, and give them some time and space to process their feelings. 

Remember that you’re going to get what you want here; let that win motivate you to be gracious about the fact that this isn’t the holiday they envisioned for themselves. That doesn’t mean you have to commit to spending the next three Christmases with them, or subject yourself to a 20-minute soliloquy about how you’ve broken your mother’s heart every day in November and December. But try to avoid the urge to talk them out of feeling upset. 

Instead of writing out an airtight defense or offering a 30-point apology, get comfortable with the idea of simply saying, “Yeah, I hear you” or “I know, and I’m sorry,” and then just… letting them feel their feelings for a bit. Ideally, they’ll get over it once they’ve had some time to process and talk to a couple friends about it. But even if they don’t, try not to let their disappointment make you think you’re a terrible person or that you’ve done something horribly wrong. Families disappoint each other—at the holidays and always—and it’s not great, but it’s fine. And managing their emotions around this isn’t really your job. 

Be firm and honest while still being kind.

The tone of this conversation should match how your family talks about holidays in general. If your mom’s been talking about how excited she is to have you co-host her annual cookie party that is basically a family reunion since January, you should probably take this a bit more seriously and make sure what you say is really considered. If your family holidays are fairly informal and all plans are hashed out in the group chat, a private text—that’s still thoughtful, of course—might be fine. 

When it comes time to tell them what’s going on, don’t beat around the bush. Say something like, “I wanted to talk to you about the holidays this year. I know we typically do X, but this year, I’ve decided to do Y instead.” That “I decided” is important—it communicates that the decision is final, and that you made it yourself. (Don’t throw your partner under the bus here! Take ownership of your choices!) 

From there, you can go into your reason, keeping in mind that this part doesn’t have to be terribly long; pick whatever explanation makes sense to you and that you think your family will be able to grok, and tweak accordingly so it feels right for you.

What to say if the reason is coronavirus:

  • “I’ve read way too many stories about small family gatherings ending in tragedy, and I’m just not willing to take that risk.” 
  • “I’ve barely left my home for the past six months; as much as I love our typical Thanksgiving weekend, I’m just not comfortable traveling, interacting with strangers, or combining households during this pandemic.” 
  • “I love you so much, and I couldn’t live with myself if I got you sick.”
  • “The holidays are the riskiest time to travel because of how many people will be and will have been out and about and mixing households. Airports are also likely going to be way more crowded than they’ve been, and so will planes—airlines want to make money, so they are likely to sell all their seats.” 
  • “I know that I won’t be able to fully relax and enjoy myself while I’m there, and I don’t want our time together to be burdened by that.”
  • “There are so many logistical arrangements we’d need to make—I’d need to quarantine before I go, once I’m there (at a hotel or Airbnb), and once I’m back, and I’d want you to quarantine before I arrived, too. Plus we’d all probably need to get tested within that. It would be really expensive and take so much time and work, and it’s still not a zero-risk proposition.” 
  • “Even if I did all that, it still wouldn’t be a normal holiday because [siblings/aunts and uncles/grandparents] wouldn’t be there and we wouldn’t be able to do [our annual Black Friday trip to Target/neighborhood cookie party/extended family singing carols around the piano on Christmas Eve]. Honestly I think doing something entirely new and different will feel like less of a bummer than trying to approximate some version of that this year.” 
  • “We’ve already made it this long without a visit; let’s hold out another few months so that our reunion is guaranteed to only be about enjoying each other’s company.”
  • “I would rather stay home this year to ensure that we’re all around and healthy next year, and for the next several years.” 

And, if it feels right, you might also want to emphasize that you know this plan isn’t ideal—that you had trouble accepting this reality at first, but that you’ve given it a lot of thought and that you know it’s the right thing to do. 

If you can’t afford to travel home: 

  • “I’ve looked at my budget multiple different ways and have been looking at [flights/hotels/car rentals] for weeks, and I just can’t swing it this year.”

One note: Do not make it about money if it’s not really about money! Lying is never a great move, and you don’t want to open up the possibility they’ll offer to pay or just get you a plane ticket with their credit card points or something. 

If you can’t take the time off work, especially this year, when the logistics of testing and quarantine are going to add a lot of days to your trip: 

  • “My PTO is so limited so I’d have to be back to work by x date, which would mean [complicated and wildly expensive logistical plan for making this all happen].”
  • “Since I’m new at this job, I’m not able to take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off work like I have in the past; a trip home for just X days would be really expensive, and so rushed that I don’t think we’d even enjoy ourselves.”

If you’ll be spending the time with your partner’s family instead:

  • “Taylor’s parents have invited me to their place for Thanksgiving, and I told them yes since I haven’t been able to go in past years, and I’m really excited to [get to know the whole extended family/spend a holiday with Taylor/travel to Alaska].” 

If you just don’t have it in you: 

  • “As you know, I’ve been stretched really thin lately; I’m incredibly burned out by [work/school/whatever], and I know I’ll feel better if I just stay put for the month of December. As much as I love spending time with you guys, traveling and being away from home for the holidays is pretty taxing, and I am just not up for it this year. 

You could also add something like, “I’m also dying to have a few days off to [cook a bunch of amazing recipes/have a little time to relax and recharge/catch up on That Big Project I keep wanting to do].” 

If you can’t bear another year around your racist/anti-queer/kind-of awful relatives, especially not this year:

This one is tricky—if you’re not ready to be direct and blow the whole thing up, you might want to go with the “I’m just burned out” or “I don’t have the time off work” excuse. (It’s OK to not be fully honest with people who are abusive.) But if you are ready and able to draw a line in the sand—if the idea of sharing a dinner in close quarters with anti-maskers who love them a QAnon meme is just Too Much and also actually dangerous this year—you could say something like…

  • “Honestly, I’m still pretty shaken by [what happened last Thanksgiving/how Grandma reacted to me at sibling’s wedding/all the terrible things you have said to me in the past three years] and I’m not up for spending another holiday subjected to constant criticism and questions about my [grad school plans/gender identity/partner/politics/life choices]. I think it’s going to take a while before I get to that point; I’m not saying I’ll never come home again, but I’m just not willing to pretend everything is OK this year when it’s very much not.” 

If it makes sense, you might also add something like, “I don’t want to put you in an uncomfortable position so I’m going to call Grandma and Grandpa and let them know that I’m not going to be there this year because I can no longer tolerate Dad’s racist schtick.”   

If possible, share what you’re excited about doing this year versus shitting on your family’s holiday plans. 

Setting aside that last situation, in most of these scenarios, you should make a point to talk about what you are excited to add to your holiday this year instead of listing all the things that a holiday with your family lacks. 

Saying “I don’t want to spend 18 hours round-trip in transit, just to spend three days in my shitty hometown watching shitty TV shows while we all scroll through our phones and bicker about whether some small slight from nine years ago actually happened” might be true, but they aren’t going to feel good hearing that. Saying, “I’m really excited to get to know Partner’s family, because I haven’t spent much time with them yet” or “I’m really looking forward to [doing Black Friday shopping/attending midnight mass/going to my friend’s iconic Boxing Day brunch] in [current city] and cooking a big meal for [Partner/friends/etc.]” is also true, and isn’t nearly as insulting. 

If it makes sense, offer up some alternatives/compromises.

If you can throw them a little bone without it being too draining/expensive/complicated, do that. In non-pandemic years, that might sound like, “We’ll spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning up north with Taylor’s family but we’ll be to your place by 2:00 on Christmas Day” or “I’d rather come visit in the February when there isn’t as much going on and we all need something to look forward to.” This year, it might be more like, “I know it’ll be weird to not be able to open gifts together on Christmas morning, but I was thinking we could all make the same breakfast foods, put on matching pajamas, and use Amazon’s watch party feature to watch Die Hard together.”

Also look for small ways to be generous in the weeks leading up to the holiday and on the day itself. Can you send a replica of your family’s beloved ornament to each of your siblings, so everyone’s trees feel spiritually connected? Get your dad to teach you his iconic seven-hour beef stew recipe over FaceTime? Call a little more often and send more photos of your day-to-day life than usual? Things like this cost you very little and go a long way toward soothing hurt feelings, and toward establishing new traditions. 

Rachel Miller is the author of The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People. Follow her on Twitter.


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



(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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



Open Sourced logo

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.

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.

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



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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