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LINGER AS LONG AS YOU LIKE

Were you expecting to take the kids on a holiday-season tour of the White House before it was placed off-limits to the public because of the ongoing security concerns? OK, so you're naturally disappointed. But maybe you'd settle for the next best thing: a presidential mansion virtual tour, via the Web. A Bush administration announcement says 360-degree views of the "unique holiday decorations" in - and "historic grandeur" of - much of the building are available at: www.whitehouse.gov/holiday.

DON'T BRING THOSE IN HERE

Speaking of public buildings and holiday decorations, concerns of another sort have surfaced in St. Paul, Minn., where red poinsettias are banned from the Ramsey County Courthouse. Metal detectors installed after Sept. 11 now stand where the traditional plants used to go, anyway. So score one for the people already objecting to the poinsettias as having a politically incorrect religious connotation. But then research discovered that the connection came only from folk legend. Now, poinsettias are back, as ordered by the city's mayor, who happens to be Jewish. But they're white, making almost no one happy.

What's in those Afghan relief kits US kids are paying for

A toothbrush and toothpaste are among items in the first 10,101 relief packages being shipped to Afghan children, thanks to donations from young Americans. President Bush urged kids to donate a dollar to their Afghan counterparts. More than $1.5 million has been raised so far. Packages, distributed via the Red Cross, also include:

Recommended: 8 holiday tips for dealing with difficult relatives

Lollipops and Starburst candy

Plastic ball

Composition notebook

Antibacterial soap

Small plastic teddy bear

Two pencils, with sharpener

Raisins and almonds

Knit hat and warm socks

Crayons (nontoxic)

(Additional shipments will contain tents and winter jackets.)

- Associated Press

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