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.

 

Turn Up the Heat, It’s Chili Season!

Chili is the perfect fall dish. Think about it. Few foods are more satisfying on a cool, crisp evening than a hearty bowl of chili. Serve this savory stew on game day and you’re sure to score a lot of points with hungry football fans. And, because it’s so versatile (have you seen all the different chili recipes online?), it appeals to any appetite.

Some like their chili muy caliente (very hot) with loads of sweat-inducing peppers that set our tongues ablaze, while others prefer a milder version, with just a dash of cumin and cayenne. In Texas they leave out the beans (it’s called “Bowl ’o Red”), and in Ohio they serve it over pasta (aka Cincinnati Chili). So, how you make and take your chili seems to be a matter of taste, tradition, and location.

Every October we have a Chili Cook-Off at work. Resident “chefs” bring in slow cookers filled with their homemade creations, and by noon people are lined up with bowls in hand, eager to treat their palates to a range of flavorful and fiery concoctions.  My taste buds are tingling already!

Since we tend to consume a lot of chili this time of year – at football parties, potlucks, everyday meals, AND cook-offs – I thought I’d share a few recipes, including some award winners! Note: if you can’t take the heat, just tweak the recipe a bit or go with one that’s a little less zingy.

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The 1st place winner in our last chili cook-off. One taste and you’ll know why!

Southwest White Chicken Chili   
This is my absolute favorite chicken chili recipe and it’s gluten-free!
Ingredients:
3-4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 (14.5 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed
2 (14.5 oz.) cans sweet corn, one drained & one with liquid
2 cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
2 pkgs. dry ranch dressing mix
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. cumin
1(14.5 oz.) can of chicken broth (optional)

Directions:
1) Place cooked, shredded chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker.
2) Pour the beans, corn, and tomatoes over the chicken. Mix in the ranch mix and spices. NOTE: This is a thick chili. If you are concerned with the thickness, you can add chicken broth to thin it down some. It won’t change the flavor much, just the consistency.
3) Lay the cream cheese on top of the chicken, beans, and corn.
4) Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
5) When done cooking, stir in the cream cheese.
Serves 6-8. Recipe courtesy of glutenfreemakeover.wordpress.com. Photo: dennyssupervalu.com

Chili Corn Carne - traditional mexican food, in wooden bowl,

This recipe is loaded with extra-hot peppers, so it definitely has some kick to it!

Matschina’s Ghost Chili
If you like it hot, I mean really hot, this one’s for you!
Tip: Keep dairy products (e.g., ice cream or milk) on hand to tone down the heat from the peppers. Wear gloves when cutting chili peppers.
Ingredients:
7 ghost peppers, julienned
5 habanero peppers, julienned
5 jalapeño peppers, julienned
1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
2 medium white onions, chopped
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage
3/4 lb. applewood smoked bacon
3-4 (28 oz.) cans of San Marzano tomatoes
Vegetable oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper, to taste
All-purpose flour (optional)

Directions:
1. Using a sauté pan, heat oil to medium heat and add garlic. Simmer garlic for one minute; add peppers and onions and sauté until onions are translucent and peppers are heated yet crisp (not soggy). Place in cooking pot (without heat).
2. In another pan, brown sausage, adding salt and pepper to both. Drain grease.  Add to cooking pot.
3. Cook bacon. Drain grease. Chop. Add to cooking pot.
4. Add tomatoes straight from the can to cooking pot. Break up tomatoes with cooking spoon into bite-size pieces, but not so much that you have created a sauce.  Add up to all 4 cans to cooking pot, depending on your desired consistency.
5. Add all spices to taste, using a smaller amount of oregano than the first three on the list and then salt and pepper to taste.
6. Simmer everything in cooking pot on low-medium heat for 3-4 hours to allow flavors to come together.
7. Serve with flour tortillas, cheese, onions, sour cream, and chives.

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Simple to make and full of flavor – no wonder it got 5 stars on allrecipes.com!

Debdoozie’s Blue Ribbon Chili
This is one of the easiest and tastiest chili recipes out there!
Ingredients:
2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) jar salsa (mild, medium. or hot, depending on your taste)
1 pkg. chili seasoning mix
1 (15 oz.) can light red kidney beans
1 (15 oz.) can dark red kidney beans

Directions: In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, combine ground beef and onion; sauté for 10 minutes or until meat is browned and onion is tender. Drain grease. Add black pepper, garlic salt, tomato sauce, salsa, chili seasoning mix, and kidney beans. Mix well, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least one hour. Serves 8.
Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com.

For True Texas Chili, try this recipe from epicurious.com.

Skyline Chili 3-way
Wondering how chili tastes with spaghetti? Here’s a recipe for Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili from americanfoodroots.com.

Go meatless with this Contest-Winning Vegetarian Chili from Taste of Home.

Now that I’ve enticed you with all these amazing recipes, it’s time to indulge your chili cravings!

Find more great comfort food recipes on our Smart Perks Pinterest Board!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. likes to get out and enjoy the fall weather, but when winter comes she’d rather hibernate.

7 Essential Tips to Stay Sane Through Your Move

Moving can be a time of stress
Moving sucks. It always has and it always will. No matter how excited you are about your new place, no matter how many times you’ve done it before, it’s a huge transition and a massive hassle. And despite the benefits that come with living alone, it can be even tougher when you’re moving into a little one-bedroom apartment.

I’m still getting settled into my first one-bedroom, almost a month after my move-in date, and through the experience, I’ve developed a few guidelines – precepts, if you will – that have made the process smoother. I’d assert they’re still good tips for people moving into houses and people moving with roommates or families, too, so let’s just get started, shall we?

1. Get Preemptive
Before your move, nail down utilities and internet. This is tough to do when you’re hard at work packing up your things and getting your old place ready for inspection, but it makes a meaningful difference in helping the transition. I spent my first three nights in my humid, 85-degree apartment because I’d overlooked the fact that tenants supplied their own A/C units. Likewise, my first week was one without internet, simply because I figured I’d take care of it after the move (ignoring how important contact to the outside world would be immediately after such a transition). In both cases, I had only myself to blame.

Secure payment by mobile. Smart phone on a wooden desk at the of2. Get Paperless
Receiving your first bills for these utilities is a good reminder to set up online bill payment. It reduces clutter in your home, allows you to ditch stamps and constant check-writing, and benefits the environment, too. These systems are designed for every kind of consumer, so they’re extremely straightforward to set up and tend to be good at providing customer service.

3. Get Zen
Our society is endlessly preoccupied with capital-s Stuff, with wonder products that will solve all of your problems and make your life perfect. What you discover living on your own in tight quarters for the first time is that there’s hidden value in empty space as well. You COULD cram in a bed, couch, dining room table, entertainment center, and a pool table into your little one-bedroom apartment, but at what cost to your mental health? We’re setting up an apartment here, not a storage locker. Value that space!

4. Get Ruthless
You own your possessions; don’t let them own you. Ask yourself, “Does this actively serve my needs in my current set-up?  Do I have a way to store it for free until my set-up changes?” Don’t be afraid to cut loose. If you’ve got parents or relatives who are also upgrading or downsizing, chances are they’ve tried to get you to take things they no longer have room for. This is well-meaning, but it can also be an emotional easy way out for them (“Maybe Grant will want this 18-year-old TV, let’s not throw it out just yet”). Between the glasses I’d bought for a college apartment, glassware from grandparents, and glassware from parents, I ended up accidentally moving 38 pieces of glassware into my one-bedroom apartment. Just, no. Find a charity you like and get well-acquainted.

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Turn wasted space into productive space that reflects thought and care.


5. Get Creative

Apartments are measured in square feet, but they exist in cubic feet. Don’t forget this. Do yourself a favor and entertain the idea of little organizer/storage doo-dads. Coat hooks that hang over the door, slide-out drawers that sit on the tile under the bathroom sink, pull-out shoe containers that sit under the bed…these things become vital. If you’re looking to buy a shelf, get a tall one. Utilizing your high spaces frees up floor space, and that frees up your mind space. Check out the Over-the-Toilet Cabinet from Wayfair above.

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6. Get Ready (To Spend)
This one’s easy to say when it’s somebody else’s money, but it’s good advice nonetheless. This place is your home for the foreseeable future, and you own all its contents. Buy quality stuff that’s built to last. Skip past the dorm-room aesthetic. Think metals and woods, rather than plastics. Get a bed frame with a headboard. Obviously don’t put yourself in undue financial distress, but within reason, expect furnishing a new place to take a chunk out of your paycheck for a while. This Leaning Bookshelf from Wayfair is sturdy, portable, tasteful, and affordable!

7. Get Patient
Your move-in day has come and gone. All of your stuff is in the new place. The hard part is over, but you’re far from done. A month later, you’re still not quite done. That’s okay. You might not realize a half-dozen things you need until you’ve actually moved, and that’s fine. Get a list going to keep track of short-term needs versus long-term needs, big pieces versus small pieces. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect that of your little personal empire, either. Steady, incremental progress is the way forward.

happy man lying carpet or rug at home

Remember, it’ll all come together in the end. Take it one step at a time and savor the possibilities!

 

That’s all the wisdom I’ve got to drop today, so take it and go! Be free! Be domestically ambitious! With a little work and pride in your space, you’ll be amazed at how much brighter all facets of life can be.

Smart Perks blogger Grant A. likes rainy mornings, fresh fruit, and the mental image of a T-Rex skateboarding.