How hard water wrecks your hair and what you can do about it

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Do you have hard water and hate what it’s doing to your hair? Welcome to the club!  Even though we have a water softener, half the time – make that most of the time – it doesn’t work properly. It may be due to a high concentration of minerals, sediment, etc. from our well. Who knows? As a result, I have more bad than good hair days.

If your hair is blonde or highlighted (like mine), the effects of all that iron and other metals in your water are even more noticeable. After a few weeks, my soft caramel strands look brittle and brassy!  Plus, because I can’t get the grime, soap scum, and gunk from styling products completely out of my hair, my tresses are limp and lifeless. At this point I’m tempted to shave my head and wear a wig!

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Hard water is especially hard on chemically-treated hair! Photo: mavrichi.com

Sound familiar? You’ll be glad to know I’ve found some ways to combat hard water issues and restore body and luster to your locks.

Let’s start with a few homemade solutions:

Vinegar & Cream of Tartar Paste
1. Combine two parts cream of tartar with one part vinegar in a bowl to form a thick paste. The amount of cream of tartar and vinegar you use depends on the thickness and length of your hair.
2. Let the paste sit in your hair for 15-20 minutes.
3. Rinse paste out of your hair. Once half of it is rinsed out, shampoo your hair as usual to  remove remaining paste.
4. After shampooing, rinse hair with cool water.

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Rinse with vinegar for sleek and shiny locks. Photo: hairmakeupandbeauty.com

Vinegar & Water Rinse
Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 3 cups of water. After shampooing, massage vinegar mixture into your hair, leave it in for 10-15 minutes, and rinse it out. Vinegar helps remove residue, making your hair squeaky clean and shiny.

Lemon Juice
Make a lemon rinse with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 3 cups of water. Mix well and massage into your scalp and hair after shampooing. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes before rinsing it off. The acidity in lemons helps remove mineral and product buildup from your hair, creating a sleek finish. It’s also good for treating dandruff!

Another idea I came across is to add bluish-purple food coloring (a combination of blue, red, and green) to your shampoo and/or conditioner to counteract the brassiness in your hair. Sounds crazy I know, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! See what it’s all about at theperfumeexpert.com.

If you’re a bit skeptical about this DIY remedy, try using a purple or blue tinted shampoo and conditioner for blonde/highlighted hair. Here are a few suggestions:

Biosilk Color Therapy Cool Blonde Shampoo – on sale now for $7.35 at jcpenney.com

JOICO Color Balance Purple Shampoo/Conditioner – $15.99-$17.99 at Ulta.com

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Color Renew Tone Correcting Shampoo – $6.99 at Walgreens.com

Other excellent products for treating hard water hair:

Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo – $15.50 at ulta.com
Conditions and purifies hair by removing hard water minerals and product buildup.

Ion Hard Water Conditioner – less than $8.00 at sallybeauty.com
Helps prevent buildup of minerals, reduces dryness and discoloration, and makes your hair softer and easier to style. Safe for daily use and color-treated hair.

Leven Rose Organic 100% Pure Cold Pressed Natural Jojoba Oil – around $13 at amazon.com.
Rub a small amount in your hair before styling to nourish and repair dry, frizzy ends. It’s also good for your skin and nails.

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This Malibu Hard Water Hair Treatment works miracles on distressed tresses!

I’ve saved the best for last… Malibu Hard Water Hair Wellness Treatment.
The all-natural product removes mineral deposits and impurities as it moisturizes, leaving hair silky, shiny, and more manageable after just one or two applications. I’m not kidding, the results are amazing! Don’t just take my word for it, look at these glowing reviews on Amazon.com!

Packets are sold individually or in a box of 12. Get a dozen packets now for $24.98 at Amazon.com

PLEASE NOTE: most of these treatments and products should only be used once or twice a month as they can dry out your hair.

One more recommendation:
Add a shower head filter. If you don’t have a water softener (or if it’s faulty like mine), install a filter on your shower head. It will help remove rust, residue, chlorine, and impurities in your water and improve the overall condition of your hair and skin. You can buy them at home improvement stores or online at bedbathandbeyond.com.

Find all kinds of solutions for hard water hair on Pinterest!

Sources: Reader’s Digest, everydaycheapskate.com, theperfumeexpert.com, and allwomenstalk.com.

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Yeah, I wish! Photo of Jennifer Lopez from hairstylezz.com.

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. wishes she had thick, gorgeous hair like J.Lo, but since that’ll never happen she’ll settle for softer water. 

How to Choose the Perfect Athletic Shoes

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Walking is my favorite form of exercise. It doesn’t require a certain skill, you can do it almost anywhere, and all you need are a good pair of comfortable shoes. Yeah, about that… I’ve discovered over the years that finding suitable athletic shoes that are stylish, fit well, and don’t cost an arm and a leg isn’t always easy. For example, I’ll see a style I like but unfortunately it’s made for running instead of walking. Or, I’ll love the way the shoes feel on my feet, but they look like those ugly orthopedic clodhoppers my great aunt wore!

I know some of you can relate to my dilemma. I mean, there are so many brands and types of footwear to choose from nowadays, where do you begin? It’s a bit overwhelming to say the least.

My objective today is to cut through all the confusion and help women like me find athletic shoes that fit their needs, lifestyle, and budget.

Athletic shoes are usually grouped into three main categories: Running (or Jogging), Walking, and Cross-Training.  Here’s a little info on each, plus recommended brands/styles in various price ranges (to make it simple, I’m sending you to Amazon.com).

Running/Jogging 
You’ll want extra cushioning, maximum shock absorption, and good heel support, as well as decent traction for optimum performance on pavement or dirt. Visit Runner’s World for advice on buying the right running shoes.

Good Picks:
Asics Women’s Gel-Nimbus              $$$$
Nike Women’s Air Zoom Pegasus    $$$$
Saucony Women’s Cohesion                  $$

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The Asics Gel-Nimbus Running Shoe is a big contender in this category!

 

Walking
The soles on walking shoes are slightly rounded and flexible so the foot can roll easily from heel to toe. The best ones are lightweight and breathable, and also have some shock absorption in the heel. Go to verywell.com for help picking the perfect walking shoes.

Good Picks:
Asics Women’s GEL-Tech Neo
        $$$
New Balance Women’s WW1065     $$
Ryka Women’s Devotion                     $$

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This cool-looking Ryka Walking Shoe is a winner in every way!

 

Cross-Training
Cross-trainers are great for people who do a variety of workouts, like weight lifting, yoga, kickboxing, and aerobics. You can also use them for light jogging on the treadmill or hiking. Look for ones with a firm heel, ample support, and some flexibility to accommodate a range of activities. Go to crosstrainingshoe.net for tips on selecting quality cross-trainers.

Good Picks
Nike Women’s Flex Supreme TR 3
        $$$
Asics Women’s GEL-Blur33 TR                   $$
New Balance Women’s WX608V3               $

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Women are raving about this Nike Flex Trainer!

 

NOTE:  If you participate in a particular activity on a regular basis (e.g., you’re an avid golfer, tennis player, runner, or cyclist), you’re better off going with shoes that are designed specifically for that sport.

Some things to consider when shopping for athletic shoes:

  • Go to a specialty store where the staff can offer expert advice and assistance. Nothing’s worse than shopping at a department store and having someone who is completely clueless wait on you!
  • Have your feet measured at the store – don’t just go by size as it can vary by brand and style.
  • Try them on at the end of the day or after a workout when your feet are larger.
  • Wear socks you usually wear when working out.
  • Walk around, jump up and down, and run in place to make sure there’s enough wiggle room in the toe area and also that your heels don’t slip out of the shoes.
  • Make sure they fit and feel comfortable right away. You shouldn’t have to break them in.
  • Bring an old pair of shoes with you so the salesperson can check the wear and determine your gait.
  • Don’t go by looks alone. Focus on fit, comfort, and performance first.
  • Mention if you have high arches, flat feet, bunions, weak ankles, or conditions like plantar fasciitis, or Achilles tendonitis as these things will determine the types of shoes you can wear. In some cases, you may need to get special insoles.

Once you settle on a brand, style, and size that’s right for you, see if you can get those shoes online for less! Check out these online specialty stores:
Sportshoes.com
Footlocker.com
Finishline.com

Finally, if you want your nice new athletic shoes to last longer, try to use them solely for exercising or a specific sport. In other words, don’t wear them for knocking around. Have a pair or two of fun sneakers on hand for shopping, running errands, and other everyday activities.

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Happy Feet, Warner Bros. Pictures

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. finally got a decent pair of walking shoes after wearing the wrong ones for years, and her feet are very happy she did!

 

Needle-felting Basics: Felted Acorns

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What is needle-felting? It’s the process of taking clean, carded wool roving, basically a big fuzzy lump of hand-dyed fiber, and using a long barbed needle to repeatedly poke and shape the wool into a tightly compacted 3-D shape. The compacted wool is much denser and is now what we commonly refer to as felt.

Creating needle-felted acorns is a simple jumping-off point for your introduction to the craft. Now is the perfect time to learn, as fallen acorn caps are at their most plentiful, and felted acorns are a wonderful addition to your fall and holiday table-settings and displays.

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Gathering Acorns – Look out, squirrels. You’ve got some competition.  Hunting for acorns is a great excuse to get outside and enjoy nature and fall sunshine. It’s also an opportunity to pick up some of Mother Nature’s other craft supplies: pine cones for holiday decorating, colored leaves for pressing, and fallen branches of birch or red dogwood for spruce pots in December.

Drying Acorns – Once you’ve gathered your acorns, drying them is an important step.  There are many crafts that involve using the whole acorn. But for needle-felted acorns, you will only use the caps. I throw the meaty nut part out in the yard for the squirrels. I will defer to my friends at wikiHow for a simple explanation of the washing, and oven-drying process.

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Supplies – There are many places to find needle-felting supplies. I purchase my supplies from Dream Felt on Etsy. I prefer to felt with Norwegian Wool, as it’s coarse and easier to work with. The super fine Merino wool, is so incredibly soft and perfect for fine details, but it’s not recommended for making acorns.  Dream Felt has a wide variety of Norwegian wool in gorgeous hand-dyed colors. The owner sells her wool in complementary color packs or individually.  There is also an autumn collection, which gives you a nice selection of autumn colors: burnt umber, deep orange, rich yellow, forest green,  and chestnut brown in a bundle.

Acorn caps

Wool –  .5 – 1 ounce each of 3-5 colors of wool for fall colors

Needles –  38-gauge is a medium, all-purpose needle and 40-gauge is for finishing

Foam Pad – provides a surface to felt on so you won’t stab yourself

Clear Tacky Glue

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, you’re ready to start.

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Felting  – The amount of fiber you pull from your roving (pull, don’t cut) will depend on the size of your acorn cap. I generally don’t use the fuzzy variety, as they make a mess. But otherwise, acorn caps come in sizes varying anywhere from a pinky nail to larger than a quarter. I’ve created a video on YouTube, which will demonstrate the process of creating an acorn from beginning to end. The video will give you a good visual of the ratio of wool to use in relation to the size of the acorn cap. I create both a medium and micro acorn, but you’ll also see an example of the large cap as well.

Once you have the loose wool, you roll it between your thumb and forefinger into a small cylindrical shape. Keeping it pinched between your thumb and finger, set it on the foam and hold it there.

Use the 38-gauge needle in your right hand (assuming you’re right-handed) and start poking. You will want to poke about ¼ to ½ of the way down into your wool. Not all the way through. Go slowly at first, until you get the hang of it. This will reduce the likelihood of overzealously poking yourself with these sharp needles. It happens. I speak from experience. They do sell leather thumb protectors, but I find them awkward, and like more control over the wool. If you’re worried about poking, you can use Band-Aids on your thumb and forefinger on your left hand. But just starting slow should do the trick.

As you’re poking, you’re also gradually poking and turning the wool into a chubby cylinder shape. It should be loosely packed at this point. Start to round off one end of the cylinder and flatten the opposite end. Keep placing the chubby little acorn nub into the cap until it’s slightly bigger than the inside of the cap.

Squeeze a dollop of clear glue inside the cap. Then squeeze the flat part of the acorn into the cap, pushing it flush with the inside. Now you poke, poke, and poke some more. It’s probably over 200 pokes. I’ve never counted. Trust me. It’s a lot of poking.  The video will give you a good idea, but once you feel more confident, you will achieve a nice steady rhythm and it will go much more quickly. Your poking now is to refine your acorn’s shape and tightly compact the fibers. You’ll notice the acorn becomes lighter the more you felt. Finally, when the acorn feels solid, you’ll use the 40-gauge needle to make shallower pokes all around the acorn to create a uniform smooth felt surface, and tame any stray “hairs.” And  you’re done. On to the next one!

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Given the repetitive, rhythmic nature of the poking and forming of the wool into the felted shape needle-felting is incredibly relaxing.  It’s the perfect craft for multi-tasking, so you can feel less guilty about spending an entire rainy day binge-watching The Affair or season six of The Big Bang Theory for the third time. At the end of the day, you’ll actually have something to show for all the couch-surfing you did.

Be sure to watch the instructional video that accompanies this blog to see the fall acorns come to life!

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Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, loves multi-tasking. On Sundays, she is watching football, her fantasy football match-up and needle-felting.

 

Four Fun Ways to Celebrate Fall

happy little child, baby girl laughing and playing in autumnWhoohoo! Fall is finally here! I may have said this before, but autumn is without a doubt my favorite time of year, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Why we look forward to fall:

√ The weather. Blue skies, cool crisp air – I’ll take “sweater weather” over hot and humid any day! Plus, we finally get to enjoy the outdoors without the mosquitoes pestering us!

√ The spectacular scenery. Nature transforms into a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors that take your breath away, for a few weeks anyway.

√ Football games. You can’t beat the roar of the crowd and cheering on your home team from the bleachers. Watching the pros in action on the big screen is pretty awesome too! (Go Vikings!)

√ Apples and pumpkins. All ripe and ready for eating, baking, or decorating.

√ Campfires. There’s something comforting about a crackling fire on a chilly autumn night and you gotta love that heavenly wood-smoke smell!

There are so many reasons why we love this beautiful season and so many different ways to enjoy it. Here’s just a sample:
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Go Apple & Pumpkin Picking

A visit to the apple orchard should be on everyone’s must-do list. Picking your own apples is just part of the whole experience. Most places offer tractor-drawn hayrides and some also have petting zoos, corn mazes, and other family-friendly attractions. The one our company visited on a recent outing had all of these things, plus a mountain of hay to jump in, a giant corn crib slide, a play wooden train, walking paths, grape vines, and more!

Wondering what to do with all those apples? See my Sept. 2015 blog post for tasty apple recipes.

While you’re out and about, make a point to stop at a pumpkin patch nearby. Whether you’re setting them out for decorations, carving them for Halloween, or using them in a delicious dessert, it helps to know how to select the best pumpkins for your needs. Find out how at pumpkinnook.com!

If you prefer to make your pie from fresh pumpkin instead of canned, check out this recipe for Scratch Pumpkin Pie!

Beautiful alBeautiful alley in colorful autumn timeley in colorful autumn time
View Fall Colors

Each autumn, the leaves change to brilliant hues of gold, yellow, orange and scarlet. Whether it’s in your area or a neighboring state, you’ll definitely want to set aside a day this month to see the gorgeous fall foliage at its peak. Make it a day trip and have a picnic, or go biking or hiking on scenic trails to see Mother Nature at her finest. Here’s a guide to the best fall color displays by state.

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Make Merry at Oktoberfest  

You don’t have to be German to party like one! Indulge in beer, brats, and jumbo pretzels at Oktoberfest, an annual Bavarian festival and funfair observed all over the world. There’s usually a few bands playing oompah music on hand too (I’m not really into that, but I can’t help singing along to “The Beer Barrel Polka” or toasting to “zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi hoi hoi!”). The biggest one is in Munich, Germany, but you’ll find hundreds of Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States alone. Find one near you at funtober.com

We’ve been to quite a few with friends over the years, mostly in New Ulm Minnesota  (the home of Schell’s Brewery) and a couple in Wisconsin, and they’re always entertaining – where else can you mingle with happy revelers dressed in dirndls, lederhosen, and Alpine hats?

Explore other fall festivals in your state at topeventsusa.com!

Tailgating: Group Of Friends Cheering While Listening To Footbal
Tailgate with Fellow Football Fans.

Gather the gang together and enjoy some beverages, food and good conversation before the game. Pack a cooler with beer, soda, etc. and plenty of ice, bring a few snacks to share (and your own meat if you’re grilling – don’t forget the grills!) and portable chairs. Put on your team jerseys and you’re set to go. If you plan to tailgate in the stadium parking lot, be sure to pick a designated spot to meet beforehand. NOTE: you may have to purchase a reserved parking pass if you want to be closer to the venue. Also, make sure you’re aware of any stadium restrictions (e.g., alcohol, grills, tents) in advance.

Get tailgating tips, recipes, and more at tailgating.com!

Discover more great ways to celebrate fall at realsimple.com!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. loves everything about this season, especially the colorful leaves, football, Halloween, and comfy sweaters that hide figure flaws.  

Fall Decorating: A Feast for the Senses

Fall is a feast for the senses. It evokes all the sensations of warmth, welcome, comfort, and nostalgia that surrounds this time of year. Many of life’s most cherished rituals take place in September and October: school starting, football season beginning, celebrating homecoming. For those old enough to remember, there is the visceral smell of burning leaves, or chimney smoke, beckoning one home to a hot Sunday dinner, of chili, hearty stews, squash with brown sugar and butter, homemade desserts of apple pie and pumpkin bars.

As daylight savings time ends and night falls quickly, deliciously scented candles, with enticing apple pie, caramel, and mocha scents, brighten rooms and fill them with comfort.  Making our homes cozy, feathering the nest, is a tradition that many of us look forward to the moment the calendar page turns to September.

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I made the trip last week to the Junk Bonanza, an annual fall mecca of vintage and repurposed treasures. Everywhere I looked there were wonderfully imaginative displays, featuring vintage and repurposed decor, and fun flea market finds.  It was the ideal place to spot some of fall’s biggest decorating trends in vintage home style.

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An Abundance of Arrangements Perhaps no other occasion but Christmas rivals fall for decorating with fantastic floral arrangements. The opportunities to create autumnal wreaths, centerpieces, garlands, elaborate pots and swags are endless, as are the vehicles for containing them.

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At the Junk Bonanza I found this fabulous antique canister, (originally used for twine in corn harvesting, I’m told) that was perfect for the tall dried flowers I harvested from my perennial garden. Before tossing the remnants of your garden or pots, harvest what you can for  arrangements. Dried cornstalks, cattails, ornamental grasses, withered stems of brown-eyed susans, and sepia-toned hydrangea heads are perfect for tall canisters. I have a pot of ornamental peppers, in maroon and gold sitting beside the canister, which complements it nicely.

Pillows & Throws Throw pillows made of old feed sacks, bedspreads, and old flannels are all the rage this season in earthy, muted tones of cheese cloth and burlap. The Pendleton blanket is having a huge moment this fall, which is wonderful to see. Pendleton is a family-owned company, started in the early 1900s, known for its heavy wool blankets inspired by Native American designs. They are prized for their vivid colors and intricate patterns. Like many vintage pieces, Pendleton blankets have come to symbolize American heritage, authenticity, and craftsmanship.

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Found Items from Nature A huge trend that I’m seeing everywhere from blogs to magazines to store windows are naturally shed antlers and faux taxidermy. For instance, I have a pink plaster unicorn head mounted on the wall in my bedroom. I’ve seen amazing trophy deer crafted from sweaters.  You can even find a mounted stag head at Target, and antler decor, as well. Another popular item theme is integrating craft store tail feathers of pheasant and grouse to your decor, bringing that cozy hunting lodge feel to your home. Pine cones, acorns, vibrantly colored leaves, gourds, pumpkins, indian corn, dried sunflowers, artichokes, small heads of flowering kale, all can be used to make charming autumn vignettes. 14468682_1549844185041747_6543987827821308043_o

Mixed Materials  I saw so many fabulous pieces of barn wood made into everything from mantels to dining tables. Metals, woods, tin art, architectural objects, scrollwork, doorknobs, drawer pulls, hand tools, old troughs, all of it rusted, repainted, embellished, or as is. Jumping on the monogram trend, letters in every conceivable material were available to make reclaimed items even more meaningful. A lot of the more utilitarian objects were softened by adding repurposed decor, such as pumpkins made with wool sweaters, chenille, velveteen, and lace, which made a lovely juxtaposition.

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Nostalgia The season of Halloween brings out the kid in us. It’s hard to tell who actually enjoys dressing up more these days, children or adults.  I know that I’m am not immune to the joys of decorating with witches and black cats. But over the years, I’ve evolved from paper and plastic ghosts and goblins, to a more primitive, hand-crafted Halloween look that incorporates retro style with recycled and vintage materials. Again, each of these pieces is evocative of simple delights, whimsy, Americana, and the pleasure of hand-crafted items that many of us enjoy.

The great thing about decorating for the season, rather than the holiday, is that you won’t have to rush on November 1st to take everything down. That means more time to nestle up under a cozy Pendleton throw and bask in the glow of your charming fall home.

Smart Perks Blogger Melanie Bisson, is always a sucker for a kitschy vase. For more fall decorating ideas, check out the Smart Perks Pinterest page, Fall Decor Inside and Out.

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 The next Junk Bonanza will take place in Portland, October 14-15th.

Check out https://www.instagram.com/purplepincushion/ for some great hand-crafted and repurposed items.

 

 

6 Reasons Why E-Readers Are Awesome

E-Book
I’m a binge reader. I’ve been known to stay up until 3:00 a.m. to find out whodunit in a mystery novel! That’s why I’m so glad I have an e-reader. My husband gave me a Kindle Fire two years ago and I’m addicted to it! Now instead of borrowing books from the library or buying them at the bookstore, I just download the titles I like to my Kindle and start reading right away.

I know some of you are thinking “why would I want an e-reader when I can download books and much more on my tablet?” Although I see your point, I can give you at least six great reasons why you may want one anyway.

1. You can download and store zillions of books at a time. I find titles I like on BookBub, a free service that allows you to pick from thousands of titles and download your selections to your e-reader. They send me daily emails featuring e-books I can get for free or next to nothing in my favorite genres (I prefer historical romances, crime fiction, thrillers, and suspense novels). And, get this – you can organize titles so they’re easier to find and delete any from your library after you’re done reading it! Sure beats all those hardcover books and paperbacks taking up space in your house!

blonde three years old baby shirt and shorts, sitting comfortably in sofa inside home at night reading and watching digital tablet, face illuminated by the light of the screen

Download TV shows, movies, and videos and view them on your e-reader anytime, anywhere!

2. You can entertain yourself on the go. My e-reader is actually a tablet so I can  download movies, TV shows, videos, and games and enjoy them in the car, on the bus or plane, at the airport or in my hotel room. I also prefer to use the Kindle instead of my smartphone to shop online and chat with friends on Facebook – the screen is bigger.

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My Kindle fits perfectly on my treadmill so I can read or watch something on Neflix while I exercise!

3. You can read and exercise at the same time. My 7″ Kindle is just the right size for the little shelf on my treadmill. I just turn on my device and it automatically goes to the last page I visited. And because you swipe instead of turn the pages on an e-book, I can read while I walk without losing my place or my pace!  I’m also able to make the type larger so it’s more legible. (Can’t do that with a regular book or magazine!) Sometimes I get so engrossed in a story, I lose track of the time and pretty soon I’m walking for 50 minutes or an hour! I just started watching TV shows and movies on the treadmill too. So I guess you could say my e-reader motivates me to exercise longer.

4. You can use it at night without disturbing others. My Kindle has a backlight so I don’t have to turn on a lamp and bother my husband while I’m reading, checking emails, or browsing the Internet. It’s a lifesaver when I’m suffering from insomnia! Note: the light is softer on an e-reader than the LCD display on a tablet, so there’s less strain on your eyes.

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This portable device is perfect for reading on the beach, at the park, or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

5. You can carry it in your handbag, backpack, or tote. E-readers are so compact and lightweight that you can take them practically anywhere!

6. You can get one for under $100. The price for e-readers continues to go down, so these days you can pick up a basic one for around $50. Find the best e-readers for under $100 at ereaderguide.org.

I may be partial to the Kindle, but there are other good e-readers out there like the Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony PRS, Ectaco JetBook, and Kobo Glo. Instead of giving you a rundown on the various makes and models of e-readers available today, I’ll just direct you to these sites for more info.

Topreviews.net – reviews and compares the top e-readers for 2016.

PCMag.com – gives you their picks for the best e-readers on the market today.

Consumerreports.org – provides an e-readers buying guide and a rundown of brands and models, what they offer, and what they cost.

My advice is to compare different e-readers on your own and find one that meets your needs, taste, and budget.

Still not convinced? Check out this article on gizmodo.com that covers the benefits of e-readers versus tablets.

As for e-books, go to slodive.com for a list of top websites to download free e-books.

Happy reading!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. can’t walk on the treadmill without her Kindle anymore. If she forgets to charge it, she’ll just skip her workout. 

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

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In honor of the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service, my husband and I decided to rent an RV and take our three dogs on a road trip to Yellowstone, stopping at several sites along the way. Needless to say, there was never a dull moment. However, despite all the craziness inherent in first-time RV travel, I had many personal epiphanies, as I ventured into the “wilderness” (we stayed at campgrounds, omg!) and I thought I would share some of my insights with you.

Here are just a few:

Go Naked. Well, not literally.  As the saying goes, “the ability to accessorize is what separates us from animals.”  To me, going naked means wearing no make-up, jewelry, or cute shoes. Okay, I admit, I couldn’t go cold turkey. I did use mascara and lip gloss. But that was HUGE for me. Even stranger still, I wore no jewelry. My ears went completely unadorned for 9 days. I had no watch. My watch is as ubiquitous to me as Wonder Woman’s gold cuffs are to her. I FEEL naked without it. I applaud all of you lovely ladies au natural, who face each day fresh-faced and free of bangles and baubles. I wish I were one of you. Who knows, maybe there’s hope for me yet. I’m a firm believer in the theory that it’s NEVER too late to change.

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Tune Out Social Media. It’s a blessing in disguise, for die-hards such as me if I can’t get service at my destination. Facebook is a hard habit to break. I not only work in social media, but I’m a devoted Instagrammer personally. It killed me not to be able to post photos of all the beautiful, interesting things I saw. But guess what? I not only survived, I truly lived in the moment.

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Stay Active or Atrophy. As I climbed the wooden steps to the top of Mammoth Springs, I literally fell over when I stopped to tie my shoe. I got dizzy looking at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I was winded and my heart pounded as I climbed the slightest incline. I absolutely swear, an older lady with an oxygen tank kept pace with me on the path to Devil’s Tower. No lie. This was a huge eye-opener for me that sitting at a desk all day, gardening on the weekends, and walking my dogs every night were not going to cut it as I age. Now that I’m home, I need to develop a serious exercise regimen that pushes me harder.

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Sacred Smoke Sculpture at Devil’s Tower

Take Notes. I have kept a journal almost every day since the first grade, when I learned to write. But on vacations, much to my horror, I get home and find blank pages where all the interesting people, places and adventures should be. It’s the little, odd, unexpected things that spontaneously happen to you on vacation, that really make the trip. So take a notebook. A simple wide-lined, spiral-bound will do. I kept mine handy so any time I had a spare moment I would jot down a couple of key phrases, just enough to jog my memory once the trip was over. It also came in handy to take notes from our vet back home when one of my dogs had an emergency, and to keep track of how much we spent on gas. I’m not an artist by any means, but I doodled a sketch of the creek beside one of our campgrounds, and as primitive as it is, the drawing is at least representative of what I wanted to capture.  So now I can go back and reconstruct my trip with the small details that mattered and fill in those blank pages. Those are the memories that take you back to a specific time, and risk being crowded out by day-to-day minutiae.

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The kayak trip…I’m the little yellow dot on the far shore

Spend Time Alone. Explore. Be still. Reflect. Be grateful. Notice the little things. Despite this being an anniversary trip, with apologies to my husband, some of my best memories of this trip were when I ventured off alone. I’d sneak in an hour or so each day to walk through the woods alone to a creek. Or I’d use walking one of the dogs as an excuse to venture down to the beach to watch the sunset over the water. My favorite alone time was renting a kayak early one morning on Jackson Lake, before the wind kicked up. I had the whole lake to myself. The water was perfectly still, and there, spread out in front of me, was not only the majesty of the Grand Tetons themselves, but a mirror reflection of them on the water. It was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I felt reverence. I know that this moment of calm was something I will carry with me and pull out when the stress of everyday life begins to wear me down.

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Contemplating life at Jackson Lake, The Grand Tetons

Finally, as author Susan Jeffers famously said, “Feel the fear, but do it anyway.” I don’t climb around on mountain boulders, ranging in age from 250 to 600 million years, every day. Or ever, in fact. Nor do I get the chance to venture off into the woods (bear spray in hand) exploring, searching for the source of the rushing water sounds, when I’m comfortable in my suburban home. But vacation is the time when you can be whomever you want to be. Do the things your home self, your 9-to-5 self, your mom self would NEVER do. Be bold and wander.

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Smart Perks blogger, Melanie Bisson, gets up close and personal with the wildlife.