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Ideas for your book-themed party

Ideas for your book-themed party

Whether you're celebrating a birthday for an adult or child, a book exchange, a baby shower or any other special occasion, a book-themed party is a spirited way to honor the book lover in your life.
But themed parties aren't something easy to coordinate at the last minute. With some planning and creative ideas, your book party can bring any story to life and give your guests a reading-good time.
Here are some tips to make your book party a hit.

Pick a book and build off of it

Is your child's favorite book "Green Eggs and Ham?" Does your friend love "Pride and Prejudice" so much that his or her's copy is dog-eared and falling apart from numerous reads? Use that favorite book to help guide your theme. Take parts of the book, such as pivotal scenes or characters, to frame your menu and decorations. For example, for a "Harry Potter" theme, give guests wands, cloaks and the guest-of-honor Harry's signature glasses while feeding them "butter beer" and "chocolate frogs" (made of candy, of course).

About the food....

Every party needs cake and candy. Use gummy worms to hand out as "book worms" to guests. Make or buy a cake that resembles a book or a stack of books. If the party isn't themed around a particular book, now's the time to pull in favorites when curating a menu. Children's titles specifically lend themselves as quality source material. Good examples include "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" (red Goldfish crackers or fish-shaped sandwiches) or "James and the Giant Peach" (sliced peaches or another peach-based appetizer).

Keep them entertained

A book-themed craft, such as painting covers of old books or for children, can spark guests' creativity. "Guess the character" or a scavenger hunt can bring out guests' competitive side, and a book-shaped piñata created out of paper maiche will give everyone a sweet treat at the party's conclusion.


Use actual books for decoration

Give unloved books from a dollar or thrift store a new life by repurposing them for decorations. Paint covers and accessorize the party space with colorful books. Pages of a book can be crafted together for a tablecloth, manipulated into different shapes like pinwheels or wreaths and can even be used as wrapping paper for goody bags.

Speaking of goody bags....

Don't let guests leave the party empty handed. Stuff themed bags with bookmarks, reading lights, more "book worms" and bright, colorful lensless reading glasses.

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June 14, 2016

Chow down: How to pick the best food for your dog

Chow down: How to pick the best food for your dog

Going down the pet food aisle can be overwhelming. There are so many brands, types and flavors of dog food. Without a specific recommendation, it can be very difficult for you to find the right food for your dog.

 

According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans will spend $60 billion on pet food this year – a number that is increasing each year. Also, more than half of all American households have a dog as a member of its family. With pets being such a big business, it’s no surprise that the pet food market is flooded with hundreds of options for your dog.

 

Because there are so many options, shopping for your dog’s food can become overwhelming.

 

Dr. Rachel Barrack, a New York-based veterinarian, veterinary acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, says you should exercise caution when purchasing your dog’s food. Since each dog requires different types of food based on their breed, size and health, Barrack says chatting with your vet should be the first step you take when deciding on what food to purchase for your dog.

 

Although the foods found at the veterinarian’s office tend to cost more and you have to make special trips to stock up on it, it can be worth the extra expense and time, she says – especially if your dog is sick or has specific dietary restriction.

 

“There is definitely a difference between dog foods sold at the grocery store versus the ones available at the vet’s office,” Barrack said. “Food sold by a veterinarian is typically specifically formulated to help support a particular stage of growth or medical condition.”

 

If you can’t stomach the idea of giving your dog kibbles or wet food from a can, giving them a bite of your dinner or a human-friendly snack can cause serious harm to your dog, she said.

 

Plain chicken and rice can be appropriate when your dog has an upset stomach because it’s, “a bland combination while still being a good source of protein and carbohydrates.”

 

“I would strongly advise against feeding your dog an exclusively human food diet,” Barrack said. “Avocado, chocolate, coffee, grapes and onions, among others, are all food that are toxic to dogs – dogs have dietary needs that are not the same as people.”

 

The American Animal Hospital Association also provides basic guidelines for you to follow when feeding your dog, which include:

 

-Have your vet help you determine the right serving size of the food you select. This is particularly important if your dog is underweight or overweight.

 

-Don’t be swayed by terms on dog food such as holistic, natural, premium, gourmet or human grade. There’s no regulatory meaning behind these terms, the AAHA says, and are often used primarily for marketing purposes.

 

-Stick to age-appropriate foods, especially for puppies.

 

-There are safe commercial dog food brands. However, you should pay attention to the ingredients and make sure there haven’t been any recent recalls on the brand. It’s usually a good sign if you see on the label that food’s nutritional adequacy was met by the American Association of Feed Control Officials’ guidelines.

 

-Avoid foods that list ingredients like corn and wheat gluten, meat and grain meals and by-products, food dyes, Glyceryl Monostearate, Butylated Hydroxyanisole or Butylated Hydroxytoluene and Ethoxyquin. Typically, the ingredient sounds like a science experiment, the less healthy it is for your dog.

 

To see if your dog’s food has been recalled, check the FDA’s recall list (http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/safetyhealth/recallswithdrawals/).   

 

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January 14, 2016

5 tips on how to talk to your children about Santa

With the peak of the holiday season is just a handful of days, parents across the country are faced with one of the most dreaded parenting questions from their children:

"Is Santa real?"

The initial inquiry is often followed by several follow-ups – "How does he go around the world in one night?" or, "What happens if the fire is on when he goes through a chimney?" and, "How could one person possibly eat all those cookies and drink so much milk?" The experience of answering your children's questions thoughtfully and carefully can be a difficult and draining process.

A few years back, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll and found that about 19 percent of adults say their children believe in Santa. Additionally, it found that a decreasing number of parents are choosing to incorporate Santa in their holiday celebrations. But even if you opt to skip the Santa traditions, it's highly likely that your children will hear about Santa from an outside source, such as school or from television.

Before entering the landmine that is talking to your children about Santa, you should prepare yourself so that you are able to explain clearly what you hope to get across to your children while still making the season magicalt.
Here are some tips from experts on the best ways to talk to your children about Santa Claus.

Question the source. Make sure to ask where this information came from that sparked the questioning. If it is something they've deduced on their own, it may be time to talk through it with them. If they're unsure and heard it in passing, try to use more restraint. You know your child better than anyone – gauge your child's reaction and act accordingly, especially if you sense your child is hesitant to hear the truth.

Clarify Santa's role. Chaley-Ann Scott writes for PsychCentral that if you begin talking about Santa as a character rather than a real figure, it can help children differentiate and transition without as hard of feelings. For example, children can often tell that animated characters from stories aren't real. Talking about Santa in the same context can be helpful, Scott says.

Let the spirit of Santa come across. When you're ready to come clean, make sure the spirit of Santa's giving is still acknowledged. Many years ago, Martha Brockenbrough wrote for the New York Times an advice column that tackles the Santa situation and can still be helpful today, "Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can't see or touch."

Tailor information based on your child's age. If your child is a pre-teen, you can take a more honest approach. But if your child is, say, 6 years old, be more careful. Try to remember that what you tell your children will likely be also told to your child's friends.

Cite Santa's history. Help soften the blow by explaining the history of how the idea of Santa came across. The St. Nicholas Center has a website that explains how a saint's work evolved into the idea of Santa embraced by Americans. For more information, visit stnicholascenter.org.

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December 16, 2015

9 Great Holiday Gifts for Pets

9 Great Holiday Gifts for Pets

As the holiday season picks up steam, picking out the perfect gift for your family members can be stressful and time consuming. But during the gift-buying flurry, don't forget about the furriest family member – your pet. Although they can't express it, dogs, cats or other critters appreciate receiving gifts during the holiday season. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Cat climber
Let your cat feel like the king or queen that he or she feels it is by purchasing them a tower to serve as a throne. This cat tower, sold at A Paw Above Pet Emporium, features multiple levels and scratching posts in a neutral décor.

Bubba Basket treats
Crafted by Bubba's Bistro in Jacksonville, Fla., these small gift baskets include dog friendly peanut butter brownies. This is an affordable, fun gift that any dog will appreciate this holiday season.

Pour protectant pet umbrella with leash holder
Do you have a dog that absolutely refuses to go to the bathroom when it is raining outside? You're not alone. Because of the fickle relationship between dogs and stormy weather, pet boutiques carry this specialty umbrellathat keeps dogs dry on rainy days. The umbrella comes in several colors and includes a reflective lining and collapses for easy storage.

Luxury square pet bed
How spoiled is your pet? If you answered very, then this is the perfect holiday gift for your beloved pet. This bed, sold at Augusta Dog Boutique, is made out of high-density foam and includes a tufted poly-filled pillow.

Kong Squeezz Holiday Ball
This treat-filled ornament will surely get your dog into the holiday spirit. Kong is typically known for its red sphere-shaped treat toy, but theHoliday Ball is in a festive green.

Martha Stewart Pets Two-Pack Holiday Tutu Mice Cat Toys
If your cat is tired of the same old toy mice, mix things up with these deluxe cat toyscreated by Martha Stewart. The vibrant colors and multiple textures of these holiday mice will keep your cat entertained. These mice are also great stocking stuffers for cats.

Aesop's Fur Cleanser
This wash is mild enough to gently cleanse your pet, but also has a luxurious mint and citrus scent. Honestly, this gift will be more for you than your dog or cat, but they don't need to know that.

OllyBottle
There's nothing worse than when you are with your dog on a hot day and you have to give up your water bottle to satisfy their quench. The OllyBottle is a travel friendly solution. The BPA-free bottle also includes a detachable bowl, making it the perfect accessory for a trip to the dog park.

ASPCA Animal Tea Towels
These tea towels feature images of some of Instagram's most famous pets. By purchasing these towels, a donation is given to the ASPCA. Not only are these for a good cause, but it could make your pet think they have a new friend.

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December 09, 2015

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

At many holiday parties, you can expect to see the same untouched cheese ball and fruitcake, set to Bing Crosby and other holiday favorites playing on the speakers.

But if you're hosting your own holiday party this year, or asked to contribute to another party, consider shaking things up a bit. Though traditional choices can be time-honored favorites, you can introduce some new traditions by putting a spin on the expected.

Here are some ideas to get you started on spicing up an upcoming holiday party for guests to enjoy and where you can eat, drink and be merry.

EAT
Sure, you've been to that holiday party and have tried that traditional cheese ball. Some times it can be crumbly, tasteless or – even worse – just not good. But there are several new spins that you can try that modernize the cheese ball.
Here's a recipe for a tasty, updated cheese ball:


Locabuy's Cheese Ball recipe

You need:

  • A package of cream cheese
  • A mix of cheeses with your favorite cheeses, which can include cheddar, Colby, mozzarella or goat cheese
  • 1/8 cup softened butter
  • Salt and pepper and other spices, based on your preference. Examples include minced onion, garlic salt or even some spicy mustard.
  • Coating for the cheese ball. Again, this is completely up to you, and can include anything from chopped pecans, crushed pretzels or even Ritz crackers.
 

Mix cream cheese with small amounts of other cheeses. Taste as you go along, and adjust accordingly. Add butter and spices. Place in the fridge for a few hours. Form the concoction into a ball shape, and then roll it in the coating. Serve with crackers, nuts and fruit.

DRINK
Just like the cheese ball, eggnog can be one of the most polarizing holiday menu items. For those who love it, they can't get enough. But for non-eggnog enthusiasts, sometimes an alternative is needed. Here's a suggestion for a lighter, holiday-inspired drink:

Holiday punch

You need:

  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • Chilled club soda
  • Orange slices
  • Simple syrup
  • Frozen orange juice without pulp
  • Ground clove
  • Cinnamon
  • Sugar
  • Fresh cranberries
  • Lots of ice
 

Mix all liquid ingredients. Add spices and sugar, tasting along the way. Adjust based on outcome. Top with sliced oranges and fresh cranberries. Replace red wine with fresh cranberry juice for a virgin version.

BE MERRY
Tired of the same old Christmas classics played on the holiday stations? Here's a list to help you form a new playlist to play at a party.

  • She & Him, "Christmas Wish"
  • Sufjan Stevens, "Put the Lights on the Tree"
  • Rogue Wave, "Christmas"
  • The Polyphonic Spree, "Happy Xmas – War is Over"
  • Aimee Mann, "Christmastime"
  • Coldplay, "Christmas Lights"
  • Oasis, "Merry Christmas Everybody"
  • fun. "Sleigh Ride"
  • Weezer, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

 

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December 07, 2015

8 traditions to introduce this Thanksgiving

8 traditions to introduce this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a very stressful time of year. During the chaos of cooking, organizing and decorating, creating new traditions and celebrating the season can easily be overlooked in the disarray.

This year, with a little planning and a bit of creativity, you can make this Thanksgiving more special than ever for you and your family. Here are some easy ideas to keep family members engaged and entertained this Thanksgiving.

  • Ask relatives about their favorite traditions. Reintroduce some forgotten traditions by asking other family members what some of their favorite traditions were when they were children. Traditions with deep family roots can be more meaningful for younger generations of the family.
 
  • Teach a history lesson. Teach your children that Thanksgiving isn't just about turkey and stuffing. Pick out some Thanksgiving-themed books at the library to read, talk about why you celebrate Thanksgiving and incorporate history-inspired crafts.
 
  • Work on the family table together. With all the cooking and planning that goes into Thanksgiving, ask your family to help decorate. The children could personalize a disposable tablecloth with drawings and signatures. Family members also can make tablemats, each highlighting their favorite family moments with pictures. The family table doesn't have to be fancy, and young children will especially love helping out.
 
  • Speaking of crafts... Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to be crafty. Visit Pinterest for inspiration and ideas. Some favorites include Thankful Family Tree, where each family member adds an item to a small tree highlighting what they are thankful for, creating construction paper turkeys and building cornucopias. There are even printable coloring sheets for young children. Print some out to help occupy children when you're trying to cook.
 
  • Introduce a new recipe. Break out of the expected and try a new recipe or a new spin on a recipe. Offer the traditional option, plus the new option. If family members enjoy the new dish, make it a part of the Thanksgiving spread each year.
 
  • Create an album. Many people have stored the family photo albums and switched to digital photo keeping. But there's something special about a tangible photo album that family members can see whenever they like. Try updating the album each year around Thanksgiving, and include artwork and letters.
 
  • Play games. Looking for something to entertain the masses while you're cooking or after everyone has eaten? Introduce games for family members to play. Encourage a flag football game in the backyard or host Thanksgiving bingo (printable cards can be found here). For an easy solution, break out a couple of decks of cards and let family members play their favorite games.
 
  • Give back. Start a tradition that can help others by volunteering or donating to your favorite charity. An easy idea is to have your children help pack up unloved toys and deliver to a children's charity. Passing on toys can help instill in children the importance of giving back while celebrating the spirit of Thanksgiving.

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November 20, 2015

7 tips for charitable giving

7 tips for charitable giving

It's almost Thanksgiving, which means it is that time of year when you reflect on what things you are thankful for in your life. It's also the perfect time to use your blessings and time and pay it forward by donating or volunteering to a nonprofit organization of your choice. But if you're new to donating or volunteering, the process can seem daunting. What organization should you donate to? Which one will use your donation in the most efficient ways?

You're not the only one with questions. According to the Giving USA Annual Report by the Giving USA Foundation, last year, Americans gave a record of $358 billion to charities. With giving at an all-time high, it can make it even more difficult to find that perfect nonprofit for you and your family.


To get you started, here are some tips that can help you pick the best nonprofit to support with little effort on your part.

1. Use your passions to help find the right organization. Do you love animals? Is education something that is incredibly important to you? Write down three of your passions, then use the power of the Internet to find a match to one of your favorite causes or issues. There are a plethora of nonprofits out there, both nationally and local to your area, and boiling down some of your interests can help parse down some potentials. Third-party sites, such as CharityNavigator.org, list organizations by categories, such as community development and health nonprofits. It also offers rating of organizations from fellow donors.

2. Research potential organizations carefully. There are numerous websites out there that provide oversight of nonprofit organizations. Take the time to look up a potential organization to make sure your money and time will be used efficiently. For example, Guidestar.org gives users the opportunity to review organization's 990 forms, which outline spending and salaries of an organization's employees.

3. Skip the cash. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends never donating cash to a charitable organization. It is a security issue and can make it more difficult to exempt on your tax return. Records are easier to trace via credit cards or checks. The FTC also recommends never wiring money to a charity, which is a method often requested by scammers.

4. Ask questions. If an organization calls asking for funds, ask them some questions. Specifically, ask them to cite the exact name of the charity, how much will go to a fundraiser (if applicable), and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity. See if you can call them back after some research. If the caller can't provide these details or wants you to donate immediately, you may want to take pause before donating.

5. Report bad experiences. If you encounter a nonprofit during your research that doesn't seem legitimate, report it to the FTC. According to the FTC, if a nonprofit won't provide proof that it is tax deductible, will not provide detailed information about its identity or asks for donations in cash or to wire funds, it could be suspect.

6. Cite your generosity on your tax forms. When you donate to a nonprofit that is a qualified organization by the IRS, you can itemize your deductions on your tax return. Make sure you keep records of your donations, including receipts, then use those records to report itemized deductions on Schedule A of the 1040 federal form, lines 16-19. This is only available for donated funds, not for donated time. Visit the IRS's EO Select Check page to see if an organization is exempt (https://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Exempt-Organizations-Select-Check).

7. Commit. If you found the perfect charity, are happy with the organization's results and donate frequently, consider making a long-term, annual commitment. Nonprofits rely on annual donations to maintain operations. Knowing they can rely on you as a donor can eliminate many solicitations for future donations and ensure the success of your favorite nonprofit.

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November 09, 2015

Well-read: Classics to re-read

Well-read: Classics to re-read

As the weather gets cooler, nothing can be more enjoyable than getting cozy with a warm blanket and relaxing with the perfect book. But if nothing on your reading list seems appealing enough to start, it may be time to dust off one of the classics that were once required reading in school.
Below are some suggestions on what books to pick up again. Life experience and insight may make reading these classics again much more enjoyable the second time around.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

With the release of the first draft of the book earlier this year, "Go Set a Watchman," many are returning to the original release more en masse. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in Alabama features protagonist Scout, a young girl, as she witnesses her father, Atticus, represent a man accused of rape. Themes of racial injustice, the loss of innocence and life in the South are easier to examine for more mature readers.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This controversial novel also features a young protagonist, but this time it is a teenage boy named Holden Caulfield. Many high school students relate to Holden's search for a personal connection, growing pains and distrust of adults. But as an adult, reading Holden's journey could be more insightful and give you a different viewpoint of the classic.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The story of Edna Pontellier finding her place in turn-of-the-century New Orleans may be difficult to relate to for young readers. Edna's a young mother of two, which is typically not as interesting to teens who read the book. The shocking ending, which alarmed some readers, may be easier to digest the second time around. Depression, independence, feminism and other mature themes may be easier to grasp for older readers.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

With a non-chronological, satirical narrative, Catch-22 can be a difficult book for young readers. The novel mostly follows Capt. John Yossarian, a U.S. Air Force B-25 bombardier during World War II. Based on the experiences of the author during his time in the service, some themes and descriptions can be graphic. Like "The Awakening," reading "Catch-22" may be less glaring during a re-read.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Like "Catch-22," "The Sound and the Fury" also uses numerous narrative techniques to tell the story of the Compson family. Based in Mississippi over a 30-year time period, the saga is often daunting to young readers. Especially challenging to read, but also some of the most insightful for characterization, are the pieces of the book from Benjy's perspective. This piece of literature remains a classic because of its ability to stand the test of time, even today.

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November 09, 2015

Tips for traveling with your pet: By plane, train and automobiles

Tips for traveling with your pet: By plane, train and automobiles

At the height of the holidays, traveling is often an unavoidable part of the season. However, it can be difficult to leave your beloved pet in a kennel or with a caretaker while you're away.

If you decide to have your pet accompany you on your travels, there are some rules you should follow to ensure your pet's safety – even if you plan on just traveling a short car ride away. Here are some suggestions, based on how you plan to travel this holiday season.

By plane:
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says pets should accompany you in a plane trip only when it is a necessity. The ASPCA says air travel is extremely stressful for pets. But if it is unavoidable, the first thing you should do before you get on the plane is to try to book a direct flight to eliminate any undo stress on your pet. It will also lessen the likelihood that your pet could be misplaced during a layover.

Another precaution you should take is to have your pet checked out by its vet prior to air travel. Your vet can tell you if your pet is healthy enough to travel and give you ways to help your pet relax while in the air. Before you arrive to the airport, you need to also purchase a USDA-approved shipping crate large enough for your pet to stand and turn around in comfortably. Make sure the crate is properly labeled, is lined with paper towels or newspaper for accidents and gives your pet access to food and water.

By train:
Each railway has its own rules on what type of animal is allowed on the train. Amtrak (http://www.amtrak.com/carry-on-pet-pilot) allows small dogs and cats on select trains. However, they are only allowed on certain lines and need their own pet ticket. Amtrak also only allows pets for up to seven hours. Pet reservations are required prior to boarding on the train.
What it boils down to is that you need to do your research before booking your train travels, and contact the train's operator to see what rules they have. There are also pet friendly train lines, such as Dog Travel Company, which is dog friendly.

By automobile:
The Humane Society suggests that dogs should not roam the car, and cats belong in carriers. When roaming in the car, they can distract the driver and venture into places that can be unsafe for you and your pet. A harness for your dog that is anchored to a seatbelt will provide extra safety.

Additionally, the organization says pets should be placed in the back seat of the car to avoid injury if an airbag is deployed.

And yes, you want to give your pet the sensation of feeling the breeze while on the road, but The Humane Society discourages allowing dogs to have their heads outside the window because debris or air toxins could harm your pet.

Although the holiday season brings cooler temperatures, The Humane Society says to never leave your pet alone in the car. Cold temperatures can harm your pet, and it also clue thieves that your car may be unlocked or running if there is a pet in there.

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November 03, 2015

Fall into fall with these decorating ideas

Fall into fall with these decorating ideas

Wedged between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the height of November positions itself as the perfect time to incorporate autumnal décor into your home. Fall-inspired decorations will ease the transition into holiday time, while also making your home ready to welcome Thanksgiving guests.

The following are some decorating ideas to make your home a bit more fall friendly.

Leaved wreaths


The first thing guests' see when they come to your home is the front door. Creating a seasonally appropriate wreath is a fantastic way to welcome them. To create your own, visit your local craft store and pick up a hot glue gun, ring-shaped Styrofoam and faux leaves and flowers inspired by the season. Some elements to consider include acorns, branches, orange and brown leaves and ribbon.

Autumnal centerpieces


Creating a fall centerpiece for your dining room table now will free up some time around Thanksgiving so you can focus on other elements of holiday planning. It may also be time to dump the cornucopia and start with something fresh. Try interesting containers as a base, such as mason jars, lanterns or other glass containers. Fill them with acorns, candles, cranberries, popcorn kernels, lentils or legumes. For a more traditional centerpiece, try incorporating faux fall leaves, pinecones or other blooming fall flowers. Some examples are beautyberries, mums, pansies or sunflowers.

Incorporate new colors


Fall themes can appear anywhere in the home, other than in just expected areas. Been thinking about repainting a room in your home? Try using a shade of muted pumpkin, mustard or a crisp red inspired by apples or the season's leaves. Incorporate fall fabrics in your home's décor, such as houndstooth, herringbone, tweeds or velvet. Cozy up a space for the colder weather with some candles and seasonal flowers, or spruce up the walls with fall-inspired art.

Enhance outdoor spaces


As the weather chills, now is the best time to be outdoors and enjoy the cool outdoors. Prepare for guests by upgrading outdoor spaces like patios or backyards. Some ideas to brighten up these areas for fall include adding lights or lanterns, introducing new potted plants around entertaining spaces or even consider introducing a decorative scarecrow.
If your outdoor space is limited, set up a small display of gourds and seasonal plants that will easily spruce up the area.

Introduce new smells


Not all fall-inspired décor has to be seen. Consider making your home smell like the season. A humidifier that disperses essential oils is a great way to introduce fall-inspired scents. Autumnal essential oils include clove, cassia, cedarwood, cinnamon and myrrh.
Cooking fall favorites can also make your house seem more ready for fall. Roasting acorn squash, pumpkin seeds or creating some apple cider can help your family get excited about the upcoming holiday season.

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October 30, 2015

Serve it up: Tailgating recipes

Serve it up: Tailgating recipes

During the height of football season, nothing beats sharing an afternoon with friends and family outdoors, right before the big game. But no function is complete without the perfect menu to accompany the football fun. Below are some themed and weather-appropriate recipes to feed the masses, course by course.

Appetizer: Snackadium

 

 

A snackadium is an impressive spread of dips, chips and other snacks. Most of the work here comes during the construction of the stadium. When complete, your guests will love the football field-inspired spread.

You'll need: Eight small loaf aluminum disposable trays, small casserole size aluminum tray, one one large disposable serving tray, guacamole, salsa, queso, sour cream, beef jerky, choice of various toppings such as pickles, crackers and fresh-cut veggies, chips, pretzels, electrical tape (sounds odd but is very handy during construction).

Snackadium recipe: tape casserole tray in the center of large serving tray with electric tape. Secure two loaf pans horizontally on top and bottom. Tape remaining loaf trays on the serving tray sides, with three on each side, vertically. This will be the bones of your stadium.

In the center tray, divide in threes with the center as the largest section. This will be your field. Each outside section will be your end-zones. Fill middle with guacamole, and sides with queso and the other with salsa. Use sour cream in a Ziploc bag with the corner cut to pipe out the lines of the field onto guacamole. Create field goals out of jerky and toothpicks and place one in each end zone. Now, fill up the "stadium" (the surrounding empty containers) with the chips and toppings. Add a little bit of lime juice to the guacamole if you make it in advance to prevent browning.

Main dish: Chili

Chili is a great way to warm up fellow tailgaters, especially in the colder months. Spice up the chili with a toppings bar that includes cheese, sour cream, crackers and hot sauce. Multiply ingredients based on crowd size. This recipe is for about five people.

You'll need: a slow cooker, 1 pound of ground beef, about 3/4 a cup of diced onion, celery and green pepper; minced garlic, two cans of tomato puree, 2 cans of kidney beans and a dash of chili powder, parsley, basil, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper.

Instructions: Brown beef, drain. Dump remaining ingredients, along with the beef, in the slow cooker. Cook on low for about eight hours. The best part of slow cooker chili? Easy transport to game day.

Dessert: Football cakes

 

 

These delightful little cakes will get everyone ready for kickoff while satisfying their sweet tooth.

You'll need: Football-shaped cookie cutters, white frosting, a large baking sheet (preferably 18-inch by 13-inch), flour, sugar, boiling water, salt, powdered cocoa, butter, milk, eggs, baking soda and vanilla. For the frosting, you'll need more butter, more powdered cocoa, more milk, more vanilla and powdered sugar.

Instructions: Start with the cake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt two sticks of butter in a saucepan, and add five tablespoons of cocoa. Then add two cups of boiling water to dilute. Combine two cups flour, two cups sugar and 1/4 tsp. of salt while cocoa mixture bubbles. Stir in flour mixture and allow to cool. Add 1/2 cup of milk or half-and-half with two beaten eggs, a dash of vanilla extract and a tsp. of baking soda. Pour concoction into the baking sheet and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. To make the icing, use the same saucepan to melt another 3/4 stick of butter (it's ok, you're celebrating). Add four tablespoons of cocoa (sound familiar?). Take off of heat and add 7 tbsps. milk, one tsp. of vanilla extract and a pound (yes, you read that right) of powdered sugar. Mix and ice on cooled cake.
Take the cookie cutter and cut out small footballs. With white icing, create the lacing of the football.

Drink: Bloody Marys


Like the chili, making Bloody Marys offers up another opportunity to create another toppings bar. Toppers can include celery, bacon, olives and cheese.

You'll need: celery salt, lemon, lime, vodka (omit if making a virgin), tomato juice, Tabasco sauce, prepared horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, ground pepper and smoked paprika.

Instructions: Take glass and coat rim with lemon and lime wedge. Coat edge with celery salt. Fill glass with ice. In a shaker, squeeze a lemon and lime wedge. Fill with 2-ounces vodka, 4-ounces tomato juice, a couple dashes of Tabasco, 2 tbsps. of horseradish, a few dashes of Worcestershire, pepper and a pinch of paprika. Shake and pour over ice.

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October 29, 2015

A game plan: A look at the best games for tailgating

A game plan: A look at the best games for tailgating

For many, one of the best parts of fall is the beginning of football season. No matter the team, a favorite experience among football fans is the party beforehand. Participating in tailgating is a lively way to celebrate your favorite team. But to tailgate properly, you need to entertain your guests and friends, and the best way to do that is to set up some fan-favorite games.

Here's some of the most classic and easy games you can make or buy to entertain fellow tailgaters.

Cornhole

The universal, quintessential pre-game game that reigns supreme is cornhole, also known as a beanbag toss. Now, this isn't the same beanbag toss from elementary school field days. Cornhole has become a competitive and, for some, serious game.

You'll need: Two wooden boards and two sets of beanbags, with four bags per set. Each board should be painted or decorated differently. Each board should be about 2-feet by 4-feet, with a 6-inch hole that is 9 inches from the top.

Objective: Cornhole is broken into innings. During each inning, each player throws four bags toward one of the boards. The game can be played as singles or doubles. If you're not clear on the rules, there will certainly be a fellow tailgater who considers themselves a cornhole expert who can help.

Beer pong

This may not be the most family-friendly game, but it's one that can quickly bring you back to your college days and is perfect for helping you get ready to cheer on your alma mater. Can be played with or without beer.

You'll need: Red solo cups (must be red because of tradition), a beverage of choice, a table and tennis balls.

Objective: Each player tries to throw or hit the balls into the cups. If it lands in a cup, the opponent needs to drink the contents. Use caution when not near a restroom.

Ring toss

This game is certainly more appropriate for younger family members. A carnival favorite, ring toss is an easy game known by many.

You'll need: Two to four players, rings of different colors and stakes or other types of goals with various point values. Fun options for stakes include painted bottles, cones or cups.

Objective: Pretty simple stuff here. Assign point values based on difficulty level. Each player takes a turn to try to get the highest point value. The player with the highest combined points wins.

Ladder toss

Also known as "Horsey Golf," ladder toss is a simple and fun way to get ready for football. It's also a fairly easy game to construct and play.

You'll need:

If constructing yourself, you'll need PVC pipes of varying sizes:

  • 5 10-foot long sticks of ¾-inch PVC pipe
  • 12 ¾-inch PVC T joints
  • 12 ¾" PVC 90-degrees fittings
  • 12-foot of 3/8-inch nylon rope
  • 12 solid core balls, six of one color and six of the other



Cut the PVC pipe to construct the ladders. Create 9 2-foot long pieces and 6 1-foot pieces. Use these pieces to create ladders with a standing base. Drill holes in balls and attach rope.

Objective: Set up two ladders. Each team needs three ball/rope combinations, called bolas. Each rung on the ladder has different point values, typically with the top rung being worth one point. Typically, whoever gets to 21 points first wins the game

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October 23, 2015

DIY dog costumes for Halloween

DIY dog costumes for Halloween

With Halloween just a handful of days away, finding a quality and creative costume can be a challenging – especially for your dog. If you still haven’t found that perfect dog costume, it may be time to turn to a glue gun, glitter or felt.

 

Making your dog’s costume can be fun and cost-effective, and supplies can be picked up at any craft store. You’ll also insure your dog will wear a costume that actually fits and stands out in a crowd. Just plan on giving your dog plenty of treats if they actually wear your creation longer than 10 minutes. 

 

Here are some suggestions for DIY dog costumes for Halloween.

 

Pop culture inspiration:

 

From “Harry Potter” to “Orange is the New Black,” characters from your favorite movie, TV show or book can serve as fantastic inspiration for your dog’s costume. Turning to one of films’ most iconic characters will make your dog easily recognizable this Halloween.

 

Costume idea: Dorothy from “Wizard of Oz.”

 

What you need: Brown yarn, red baby socks, blue gingham fabric, Velcro, blue ribbon.

 

Directions: Cut several long strips of brown yarn. Put hair tie in the middle of the yarn and braid both sides. Secure with blue ribbon. Attach to ribbon and tie it on the base of your dog’s throat. Drape and cut blue gingham based on your dog’s size and measurements. Cut accordingly and secure with Velcro. Complete the look with red socks on paws. Don’t expect them to last long. Costume is especially effective if you or other family members also dress up as part of Dorothy’s crew.

 

Disguise as other animals:

The most common dog costumes sold are those that make them look like an entirely different animal. No matter your dog’s size, they are guaranteed to be adorable dressed up as an insect, a bird or even as – gasp! – a cat.

 

Costume idea: Bee

What you need: black duct tape, black fabric strip, yellow tank top or onesie (size based on the size of your dog), black pipe cleaners, yellow craft pom-poms, yellow or black tulle, elastic

 

Directions: Measure tank to around dog. Cut straps and reattach using Velcro to secure. Cut from top to bottom of tank top, cut off excess, and reattach with Velcro. Take top off of dog and stripe with black duct tape. Measure tulle based on dog’s waist measurements. Secure the tulle with elastic and Velcro. Finish the look with a black fabric strip. Hot glue black pipe cleaners and top off with yellow craft pop-poms. Attach to fabric strip, and secure at the base your dog’s throat. If you want to add wings, use white panty hose and wire hanger to simulate the look.

 

Dogs dressed as food: 

Dogs dressed up as food are another Halloween favorite for pet lovers. Who doesn’t love to see a dachshund dressed as a hot dog? Food costumes are also some of the easiest to recreate, especially American favorites such as pizza and bacon.

 

Costume idea: Spaghetti and meatballs 

 

What you’ll need: Baby onesie or tank top based on your dog’s size, red gingham cloth, yellow or white yarn, red felt, polyester stuffing, brown felt or brown Play-Doh

 

Directions: Cut onesie at neck and arms to fit dog. Cut vertically from top to bottom of onesie, and attach with a strip of fabric at the bottom if it is too tight on your dog. Take onesie off of dog. Cut square of gingham cloth and attach to onesie. This will be your tablecloth. Attach bunches of yarn on top of gingham. Cut out “splotches” of red felt and place randomly for sauce. Finish with balls of brown Play-Doh or brown felt stuffed with polyester stuffing for the meatballs. 

 

 

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October 16, 2015

Home trends, room-by-room

Home trends, room-by-room

As the housing market continues to rebound, now is a great time for you to purchase or renovate your home. To compete on the market place, your home should be on-trend and current, which is why it is increasingly important to follow home trends.

Home experts agree that the modern home is worlds away from homes built just 20 years ago. With more open, airy floor plans, less rooms and hallways and a higher reliance on green building, homes are more dynamic than ever. Gone are the stuffy living rooms no one is allowed to sit in, and in its place are spacious, yet cozy, family room areas.


Incorporated in these areas are technology-driven designs, such as integration of lighting, cable and music systems, as well as using smart phones to control nearly everything – including your thermostat.

Whether you're planning on purchasing a new home, renovating or just a home-improvement enthusiast, here are some other home trends that have flourished in 2015, room by room.

Kitchen


The kitchen is arguably the room that can make or break the home's ability to sell. The kitchen also is the area most likely to incorporate trends in color and materials.


Speaking of color, homeowners are turning to bolder color choices for cabinetry. White, gray, and even greens and blues are becoming increasingly more common. Kitchen designers are also incorporating more open spaces, glass doors and pull out drawers in the cabinetry.
Islands have been a long-time kitchen trend, but now super islands are dominating kitchens. With dining rooms becoming increasingly less popular, designers turn to islands to serve as a transition between it and the living space.


New materials, including quartz and concrete are quickly replacing the once highly desirable granite.

Bathrooms


Bathrooms are another make-or-break room that should be current to increase the likelihood of a fast sell. Some current trends include more free-standing tubs and larger showers. Lighting often seen only in dining and living rooms are now in many bathrooms.
Many designers also are bringing in outside influences into bathrooms. This can include more rocks and stones instead of tile, bigger windows for more natural light and incorporating other natural materials like bamboo and flowers.

Bedroom trends


Many think that a bedroom is pretty straight forward – four walls, flooring and furniture. However, new dynamics have been added to bedrooms to make them more exciting. This includes the return of wallpaper in geometric and playful designs. Builders also are adding multipurpose spaces to accompany master bedrooms, which are used as offices, sitting rooms or exercise areas.

Other rooms

Although the number of rooms typically isn't as high, there is an increase in "function" rooms. These include studies, mudrooms and laundry rooms. This has increased as technology has allowed many to work from home, which requires rooms such as studies.

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October 02, 2015