Olympeculiarities: The Weirder Fare on Tap at Brazil 2016

Gold Medal 2016 Athlete Standing Sugarloaf Mountain

Ah, the Summer Olympics. That rare exhibition of the world’s proudest athletics. I’m a sports fan, so the Summer Olympics should be like Christmas in July (scratch that, August), but I grow bored of the standard swimming, gymnastics, and track events that make up 95% of what they show on prime-time TV. Instead, I like to dig into the weird stuff, the stuff I never see anywhere else, the stuff I can’t believe made it into the lineup of the world’s marquee athletic competition. Let’s run down my top 3 wackiest Olympic events for the American viewer, followed by the best ways to watch these marvels of sport. Join me, won’t you?

Dressage

Steffen Peters

Steffen Peters on Ravel competes during the FEI World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle Final at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, April 18, 2009. Peters won the final. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

We’re starting out with a bang. The International Equestrian Federation defines dressage as “the highest expression of horse training” where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.” They call it this because it would be too ridiculous to call it “horse dancing,” which is exactly what it is. If you’ve never seen a steed doing soft-shoe, you’re in for a treat.

Equestrian Highlights – Hiroshi Hoketsu – London 2012 Olympics

Fencing

Women's Team Epee - London 2012

Photo Credit: S. Timacheff of fencingphotos.com

Most Americans know what fencing is, but few have ever actually seen it happen. It’s quite the spectacle. Two competitors, clad in what looks like what you’d get if you mixed “ninja,” “spaceman,” and “roll of aluminum foil,” get their Luke Skywalker on up on a catwalk like it’s Fashion Week in Paris. The rules can be a little much to follow, but that’s what the judges are for.

Fencing Highlights – London 2012 Olympics

Handball

Ivan_Nikčević

Ivan Nikcevic of the Serbian national handball team.

This last sport is one I wish were big in America all the time. Handball is like if a bunch of European guys weren’t good enough at soccer, so they shrunk the ball and picked it up with their hands. What results is this funky blend of soccer and basketball, in which attempts on goal frequently take the form of high-flying, acrobatic whips toward the corner of the net. Seriously, please tell your friends about handball. Maybe we can get LeBron to switch.

Check it out. Men’s Handball Final – Sweden vs. France, London 2012 Olympics

How to watch the Rio Games

NBC Sports Network will show some fencing, but we’re going to have to dig a little if we want to get off the beaten path. Fortunately, NBC makes it very easy to live-stream literally any event you could want to watch, legally and safely, without any extra signup or payment (and I say this as somebody who uses this service to watch probably 200+ English soccer matches over the course of a year). Go to NBC’s Live Extra site and you will see featured events and menus to navigate to whatever you’re looking for. Before you can begin the stream, they will ask you to log in with your cable subscriber information (this is what makes it legal, thumbs up!). One subscriber account can be used to log in multiple devices, so you and your family (or roommates) can all have your pick, or watch away from home at the same time.

NBC has put together this handy calendar for us, making it easy to see what’s happening when. But fear not, even if you miss an event live, NBC Sports Live Extra archives many events for days or even weeks, so you can get caught up or pick up where you left off. For those watching on a smartphone or tablet, the NBC Sports Live Extra app is free and provides the same great service.

That’s all I’ve got! Take my advice and explore outside the spotlight this Summer Olympics…and maybe check out Canoeing, Racewalking (just Google it), and Table Tennis while you’re at it. If you need me, I’ll be parked in front of my laptop, wearing a Mikkel Hansen Danish handball jersey.

 

Smart Perks blogger Grant Abrams can’t stop thinking about the foreign, the fantastical, and the futuristic…also chocolate chip cookies.

 

Go-To Recipes for End of Summer Get-Togethers

Summer may be winding down (can you believe we’re closing in on August already? Dang!), but chances are you still have a family reunion, picnic, backyard barbecue, or town celebration coming up, and then of course there’s Labor Day weekend. Whatever it is, you’ll probably be providing some kind of side or dessert to round out the meal and share with the group. You could go with the usual macaroni salad or bars from a box, but why not shake things up and impress your relatives or friends with something totally unexpected?

If you’re looking for something different and delicious to bring to the table, I’ve got some recipes you should definitely try!

calico beans

Calico Beans beats basic baked beans any day! Photo courtesy of crockpotladies.com

Calico Beans 
Ingredients:
1/2 lb. bacon, in pieces
2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 (16 oz.) can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 (15-1/2 oz.) can kidney beans
1 (16 oz.) can butter beans
1 cup ketchup
3 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
Directions: Fry bacon pieces; remove from grease. Brown ground beef. Add onions and celery at end of browning. In baking dish, combine remaining ingredients; add bacon and ground beef mixture. Bake covered at 350° F for 45 minutes or for 6-8 hours on low in a slow cooker.

coleslaw

More zesty and colorful than classic coleslaw! 

Sweet-and-Sour Coleslaw 
Ingredients:
4 cups chopped or shredded cabbage (I buy the kind in a bag)
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp. jalapeño pepper, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 small can cooked corn kernels, cooled
Dressing:
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
Salt to taste
Directions: Place cabbage, peppers, onions, cilantro, and corn in a large bowl. Mix vinegar, sweetener, and salt in a small bowl, add to cabbage mixture and toss well. Chill before serving.   Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com

cowboy caviar 3

Why settle for regular salsa when you can dip your chips in Cowboy Caviar? Photo courtesy of culinaryhill.com

Cowboy Caviar  
Ingredients:
1 can garbanzo beans – drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans – drained and rinsed
1 can black beans – drained and rinsed
1 can white corn – drained
4 stalks celery
1 green, 1 yellow & 1 red pepper – chopped
1 small red onion – chopped
Dressing
1 cup canola oil
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
Directions: Boil dressing ingredients together. Mix dressing with bean/veggie ingredients and refrigerate overnight.

caprese salad

A light, refreshing Italian salad that’s easy to make and simply delish! 

Caprese Salad 
Ingredients:
2 lbs. assorted fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 lb. cubed mozzarella
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (I use balsamic vinegar)
Salt & pepper to taste
Directions: Toss ingredients together and chill before serving.
Photo and recipe from Foodnetwork.com

snow cone cupcakes

These snow cone treats are actually cupcakes, which means they won’t melt! Photo courtesy of lovefromtheoven.com

Snow Cone Cupcakes
You’ll find all kinds of recipes for these and other clever summer-theme cupcakes on Pinterest!

Deviled Eggs are always a hit at summer parties, but instead of going with the same old mayo and mustard recipe, try one of these Unique Deviled Egg Toppings!

Looking for handy ways to store, serve and carry your food & beverages?  Check these out:

snap and stack 2Snapware® Snap ‘N Stack Food Storage Eggtainer
Ideal for picnics and potlucks, this multi-use tote has two removable egg holders for deviled eggs and stackable containers for bars or cookies. Buy it now at boscovs.com

 

crock potCrock-Pot Oval 7 Quart Red Slow Cooker with Travel Bag
Perfect for hot appetizers, entrees, and side dishes (like Calico Beans!). Comes with a travel bag for easy toting to summer parties. Buy it now at shopko.com

cooler
Rubbermaid 60-Quart Wheeled Cooler

Keep beverages cold on the go with this roomy, easy-to-maneuver cooler. It holds up to 62 cans with ice, plus has built-in cup holders. Buy it now at homedepot.com

Enjoy!

Smark Perks Blogger Catherine B. loves summer. She just wishes it lasted longer (if only she could say the same for winter!).

Heatwave: You’ve Got to Cool It Now…

Variety of popsicles in shop

The heat. The heat. I’m melting.

Welcome to the Heat Dome. What is a heat dome? It’s some meteorological term. But frankly I don’t care. Just make it go away.

We are in Day Three (it’s like a hostage crisis) with heat indexes over 100 degrees, and maybe Texans and Floridians can handle this. But us Midwesterners are about to lose it.

Since I’m holed up in my air-conditioned office, I thought I would provide a community service and list some of my favorite summer survival gear.

There’s a little something for everyone.

Hit the Beach, with frozen Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, grapes (all better frozen IMHO), and some icy cold beverages, toted in these totally cute insulated bags from Ban.do priced at $32-$34.

thenthethreebecomeone

Need something a little bigger for your crew? Maybe everyone can chip in on this little piece of paradise, a cooler with a cool breeze. YASSSSSSS, please. The Icybreez cooler from Wayfair.

shopping

After work last night, I emerged from our sublimely temperature-controlled office, into a blast furnace. The temperature inside my car, which had been baking in the sun all day, was up to a toasty 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Lovely. If I’d planned ahead, I might have thought of one of those old-school reflective shades that roll across your windshield. Instead, I sat down on my black leather seats, and scalded the backs of my thighs. In any event, a hand-held mini-fan, powered by AAA batteries or a USB Cable, really would have come in handy.  They’re available for about $12.00 from Rakuten.

Mini-Cooli-Portable-Air-Conditioner

When I got home, I wasn’t the only one who was feeling the heat. The puppies were feeling it, too. Hopefully, I don’t need to tell anyone how important it is to make sure your pets have access to plenty of fresh water, and that they shouldn’t be left outside for more than 15 minutes, or alone in a car, even with the windows open, at all in this weather. There are several ways to keep your dog cool, with a cooling vest, from Dr.s Smith & Foster or a Pet Cooling Mat for just $19.99 at Target.

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I also found some fabulous coolers for infants and toddlers, Meeno Babies “Cool Mee” Car Seat and Stroller liners with a 3-ply mesh that keeps baby comfy and safe from the heat. At Bed, Bath and Beyond.

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Finally, any time the heat index or real temperature climbs above 100 degrees, it’s no laughing matter. Here are some tips from the Red Cross to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe, when you have to be outdoors.

As for me…I’ll be the one cannon-balling into pool, in 5…4…3…2…

poolfloat

 

 

Smart Perks blogger Melanie Bisson is old enough to have LOVED the song Cool It Now, by the The New Edition back in the day. For you youngsters, that’s a boy band featuring Bobby Brown from the 80s.

 

 

Tips for Sensational Summer Hair

Hairstyle with colorful flowers. Haircare concept. Backside view

There’s no doubt about it, summer is hard on your hair. High heat and humidity can cause your locks to go limp like a wet noodle or, in my case, frizz out like dandelion fuzz. Too much exposure to UV rays can make your tresses weak, brittle and more susceptible to split ends, especially if they’re color-treated, and chlorine from the pool or salt water from the ocean makes hair more porous and parched too.

With these tips, you can have healthy, great-looking hair all summer (and all year) long!

  1. Keep it hydrated. Use moisturizing shampoos and conditioners, especially if your hair is dry and damaged already. Follow it up with nourishing oils (e.g., Argan) or silicone serums to smooth out the kinks and lock in the moisture. Then once a week treat your hair to a deep conditioning mask, like the ones featured on realsimple.com.

    There are all kinds of conditioning treatments out there, but you can also make your own out of natural ingredients like honey, avocado and egg whites. Check out these easy recipes for homemade natural hair treatments.

    lathered head

    Skipping the shampoo for a day or two is better for your hair!

  2. Lather up less. According to the pros, you should wash your hair every other day or even every few days to allow natural oils from your hair and scalp to surface. Less shampooing actually improves your hair’s appearance, making it softer, shinier and easier to style. If your hair feels too oily (or smells a little funky) between shampoos, try a dry shampoo spray – there’s a fine selection at Sephora.

    If you’re having a horrible hair day (we all have those, right?) you can always pin it up, pull it back in a pony tail, or braid it. If it’s short, spritz it with water and style.

    Back view of relaxed woman in swimming pool with blue water

    After taking a dip in the pool use a clarifying shampoo!

    If you spend a lot of time in the pool, you should use a clarifying shampoo, like Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three, to help remove chlorine buildup and other impurities. It also keeps your hair from turning green (yes, that can happen!).

    Of course,  it’s important to pick the right products for your hair type. Click here to find the best shampoos and conditioners for you.

3. Cover it up. If you plan to be out in the sun for any length of time, consider wearing a hat – like a fun straw fedora or a cool ball cap – or even a colorful scarf to protect your hair and scalp from the elements and keep color-treated hair from fading or turning brassy.

4. Get a trim. Because hair tends to be more frazzled this time of year, it’s a good idea to have the ends trimmed at least every 4 to 6 weeks.

5. Comb it out. Use a wide-tooth comb instead of a brush to detangle your hair when it’s wet. Pulling a brush through damp hair can snag strands and cause breakage.

6. Limit heated styling tools. Give your hair a break from blow dryers and flat irons as often as you can to prevent split ends. If you do need to use them, protect your tresses from the heat with the right styling products – totalbeauty.com ranks the 10 best heat protectant products.

Bad Hair Day

Talk about a wild mane! My hair has actually looked like this on a humid day!

NOTE: If your hair is fine and curly, like mine, you’re better off letting it air-dry, especially on humid days. If I don’t style it right, I end up looking like a Chia Pet! I don’t want tight tendrils like a poodle either, so I’ll unwind my curls a bit with a straightening cream or gel – I like  John Frieda Frizz Ease Unwind Curls Calming Cream.

If you have thick, wavy hair, you should apply styling products only on the ends. Otherwise, you get that Sphinx-head look, all bushed out on the sides.

To tame unruly flyaways, I use Kenra Platinum Silkening Gloss –  a 2.2 oz. bottle costs around $20, but it lasts a long time and is worth every penny! Plus, it smells heavenly!

Learn how to air-dry your hair like a pro with these tricks from Allure.com

7. Drink lots of water. In other words, hydrate your hair from the inside out.
keep calm hair
Here’s to a great hair day, every day!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. wishes she had a live-in stylist to do her hair every morning. 

 

 

 

 

The Smart Cookie’s Guide to Royal Icing

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Royal icing is having a major moment. Seriously. Decorated cookies are almost as popular as Pokemon Go right now.

There is a cookie cutter for virtually anything or any occasion you can think of.

So if you’re planning a party, or just want to do something special for a friend, you can just jump online and order a cookie cutter specific to whatever tickles the person’s fancy, from unicorns to 50s muscle cars to French Bulldogs and saguaro cactus (yes, everything and anything!)

pineapple

Of course, I want all the pretty things I see online.  And, I suffer short-term memory loss when it comes to my inability to bake, and whatever my last failed attempt was. So whenever I see some intricately decorated iced works of art on Pinterest or Instagram, I think “Oooooh, I want to do that!”

But royal icing seemed so intimidating! I’m a canned frosting from the baking aisle kind of girl. However, the fancifully decorated cookies you see everywhere right now require royal icing, which has that beautiful, smooth matte finish that makes a cookie look so professional, like it came straight from a wonderful bakery.

I enlisted the help of my go-to baking expert and good friend Mary, and said, “TEACH ME! I want to be your icing Jedi!!!” So she shared her techniques in this video, along with her amazing set of decorating supplies, and we set out on an odyssey of summer cookie decorating adventure.

il_570xN.979053024_i5ci

I got to do what I do best. Shop. I found adorable summer-themed cookie cutters on Etsy from Frosted. There are a bajillion great shops – just enter your desired shape + the word cookie cutter in the search box on Etsy and you’ll find some really unusual ones. Or, you can request a custom cutter if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Etsy is my go-to for unique and original everything.

I did manage to make the cookies beforehand using the package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix, although I baked one batch on wax paper instead of parchment. But the real purpose of this exercise was for Mary to teach me to decorate cookies using royal icing. My only other experience with it was a disaster, trying to make my own Ginger Bread House with a store-bought kit containing premade icing. It was too thick and well…see for yourself.

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Needless to say, Martha Stewart chose a different photo for her December issue of Living.

For this icing, my baking Yoda used a recipe from Sweet Sugar Belle which she modifies slightly. Mary used the whisk attachment rather than the paddle attachment on her KitchenAid mixer, and Vanilla Bean paste. We also added additional warm water by the drop as necessary when it came time to ice, in order to get the desired consistency, so the icing would settle when the cookie was gently tapped.

Take a look at the video Mary & I made, and you’ll never be intimidated by making royal icing again.

 

 

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, learned the hard way, NEVER to put plastic cookie cutters in the dishwasher. Special thanks to icing guru, Mary Haehn. 

 

Beware of Poisonous Plants

Mesa Verde National Park - Poison ivy

My husband and I live on 10 acres, most of which are woods and pasture. We used to have sheep and horses to eat up the long grass and keep the weeds at bay.  Now that we don’t have any animals, these annoyingly prolific plants have taken over our front pasture, turning it into a regular weed-fest complete with a colony of stinging nettles. (If you’ve ever brushed up against these prickly pests you know what a pain they are, literally!) I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s poison ivy or oak lurking in our woods as well.

The fact is you’ll find menacing vegetation almost anywhere – in ditches, forests, fields and pastures, in your yard and garden, or even in potted outdoor plants.

Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors this summer, whether it’s hiking, gardening, playing sports, camping, or working in the yard. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of your surroundings and beware of plants that are poisonous.

Common Plants that Can Be Harmful to the Touch

Poison ivy and oak

“Leaves of Three, Let Them Be!”

Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac: These pestilent plants contain an oily sap called urushiol, which is found on the stems, leaves and roots of the plant. The tenacious resin sticks to practically any surface (clothing, shoes, garden tools, camping gear, athletic equipment, even pet hair) and can easily transfer to your skin, causing an itchy, red rash which could surface within hours or even up to four days after exposure. Visit poison-ivy.org for all the facts.

WildParsnip

Wild Parsnip spreads like wildfire and causes severe burns and blisters.

Wild Parsnip – often found along roadsides, in ditches, pastures and open fields, this wicked weed reacts to sunlight, resulting in serious burns and blisters. Read this recent report from CBS News It’s alarming!!

More Phototoxic Plants (ones that become toxic when exposed to sunlight): celery, carrots, dill, parsley, limes, and figs.

Chrysanthemums (aka, mums)

Euphorbia (Spurge)

Flower bulbs (e.g., hyacinth, narcissus, daffodils, lilies, tulips)

Burning & Stinging Nettles

Prickly plants like roses, thistle, cacti, wild blackberries and raspberries

Campsis radicans (trumpet vine, or trumpet creeper, or cow itch vine, or hummingbird vine)
Trumpet Creeper – it may look beautiful, but don’t be rash! Touching it may cause an allergic reaction, plus it’s slightly toxic if eaten.

Geraniums and Marigolds

Giant Hogweed (heracleum sphondylium)
Giant Hogweed – these umbrella-shaped flowers with big leaves can cause painful skin and eye irritations.

Tasty, but Deadly  
Some people like to add petals or leaves to tea, salads and different culinary dishes or use them as garnish for desserts. And, oftentimes our pets will nibble on plants. But, there are several kinds of flowers and greenery that should never be on the menu as they can make you (or your furry friend) seriously ill.

Click here for an extensive list of poisonous plants and plant parts.

Not sure what plants are safe for your pets? You’ll find a list of toxic and non-toxic plants at aspca.org.

Preventative Measures

  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., long sleeves, pants, shoes/boots with socks) when hiking in areas where these types of plants grow.
  • Wear gloves when gardening, weeding, trimming shrubs, and doing yard work.
  • Wash any garden tools, sports gear or other objects with soap and water after using them.
  • If you think your pet’s been rolling around in poison ivy or other suspicious plants, give him a bath with pet shampoo and water (be sure to wear rubber gloves).
  • Don’t burn poisonous plants as the noxious substance can go airborne and get in your eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs.
  • Stay away from plants with three leaves (e.g., poison ivy and oak), but don’t rely solely on the “leaves of three, let them be” notion. Some, like Poison Sumac, can have up to 13 leaves.

Remedies/Treatments

  • Rinse your skin with cold water right away – avoid soap, however, as it can spread the resin. Don’t forget to scrub under fingernails too.
  • Take a cool, oatmeal bath – I recommend Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment – to help dry up any blisters and weeping rashes.
  • Apply a topical cream or lotion with calamine and zinc oxide to affected areas.
  • Take an oral antihistamine – like Benadryl – to help relieve some of the itching and skin irritation.
  • If you experience a severe reaction – e.g., swelling, difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing, nausea, or signs of an infection – see a doctor or head to the emergency room immediately!

Since I’ve barely “scratched” the surface on this subject, I recommend doing some research on your own.  Check out these sites to learn more about poisonous plants, what they look like, where to find them and the side effects.

Aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu

Canaryzoo.com

Everydayhealth.com

Be careful out there!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. has suddenly developed a case of Botanophobia (fear of plants).