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.

Im Biergarten - Freunde vor Blaskapelle
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.  

6 Reasons Why E-Readers Are Awesome

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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.

Letture al mare con l'e-book

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. 

This Father’s Day Give Him the Gift of Time

Child's drawing for Father's day

June 19th is just around the corner and if you’re still deciding what to get Dad this year let me make a suggestion – instead of the usual tools, ties, fishing lures, etc., do something fun and memorable with him.

For example, last year my husband, son, daughter and grandson went to a baseball game. Granted he paid for the tickets, but he just wanted them all to see our Twins play his beloved Cubs at Target Field (he’s never lived in Chicago, but for some reason he’s a big fan). The whole experience was worth more to him than anything you could buy in a store and it meant a lot to the kids too. He told me later it was “the best Father’s Day ever!”

Not sure how to celebrate Father’s Day? I’ve got ideas for meaningful and unforgettable experiences you can share with your dad, grandpa or any father figure.

Catch a ballgame. There’s something about watching your home team in action from the bleachers. It doesn’t have to be major league. Sometimes a minor-league game can be just as enjoyable, or in some cases, even more entertaining.  Here in Minnesota we have the St. Paul Saints and the home games are always a blast! From tire races and sumo wrestling to giant pillow fights, there’s always something crazy going on between innings.

Spend the day at the races. Take him to the track and bet on the horses. You don’t have to wager a lot. Half the fun is picking which contenders will place, show or win and cheering them on. Click here for a list of horse racing tracks by state. If he’d rather watch turbocharged cars than thoroughbreds, go to fastspeedways to find a speedway near you.

Go fishing. If pop’s an angler, bring him to his favorite fishing hole for the day. Just make sure you have all the equipment you need and a fishing license beforehand.

children and grandfather having a barbecue party.

Children camping, cooking and celebrating with their grandpa.

Camp out. If he’s the outdoorsy type, consider spending a night or two camping. This will require some planning in advance, so check with him (or Mom) first to make sure his calendar is clear. Visit reserveamerica to find campgrounds in your region and to reserve a campsite.

Go hiking or biking. Another way to enjoy the outdoors is to hike or bike in scenic surroundings. My home state, Minnesota, has excellent biking and walking trails. In fact, it was recently ranked the second most bike-friendly state in the U.S. by the League of American Bicyclists (Washington was #1). Search for nature trails by city & state at trails.com.

Sample some beer or wine. Find a microbrewery or brewpub nearby and treat him to a flight to taste the various selections (e.g., pale ales, pilsners, lagers, stouts, flavored porters). Then buy him a growler filled with the beer of his choice to take home. If he prefers grapes over hops, spend the afternoon wine tasting at local wineries.

Visit a museum or historic sites. If he’s a history buff, take him to see some ancient artifacts or notable places from the past like old forts, a colonial village or civil war battlegrounds.

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My kids & their dad loved cruising around in this 1950 Chevy in the mid 90s.

Take a drive. One of my kids’ fondest childhood memories is going on mini road trips in their dad’s 1950 Chevrolet DeLuxe Superliner. Sometimes we’d take it to classic car shows or a small town close by. You never know what you’ll encounter along the way.

Hit the links. If he’s an avid golfer and you are too, reserve a tee time at a local course. Most courses take requests for tee times in advance but do it ASAP as they’re sure to fill up fast. Mini golf is another option.

Cultivate common interests or skills. Maybe you both like to build things, collect memorabilia, play an instrument, or run marathons. It’s more rewarding when you do it with someone else.

Dine together. If he likes to chow down, prepare a home-cooked meal for him. Whether it’s a four-course dinner or a backyard barbecue, just make sure it includes some of his favorite foods. If you’re not much of a cook, take him out to dinner and let him pick the restaurant.

Be adventurous. Thrill seekers may like river rafting, kayaking, surfing, or parasailing. Or, how about rock climbing, zip lining, bungee jumping, or four-wheeling? Note: he may need a doctor’s okay before participating in some of these extreme adventures.

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Three generations (husband, son and grandson) combing the beach in Florida this spring.

Be playful. Go on rides at an amusement park, race go-karts, play laser tag, darts, horseshoes, Frisbee golf, or a few rounds of pool. Or, hang out at the beach.

See a live performance. If he’s into music, look for concerts, musical festivals and venues in your area – JamBase.com is a good place to start. If he’s a theatergoer, take him to a play, or for a good laugh, check out a comedy club.

Visit eventsnearhere.com to find local events, including concerts, theater, exhibits, outdoor activities, lives shows & expos, and more.

As you can see there are all kinds of ways to spend quality time with your dad, granddad, or anyone who’s like a father to you. No matter what you do, the main thing is you’ll be making memories together.

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. no longer has her dad in her life, but she’ll always remember being daddy’s little girl.