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

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.

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. 

Summer Blockbusters Coming Soon

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Summertime is made for blockbusters!

With the long holiday weekend upon us, there’s always a chance that Mother Nature will rain on our parade and send us running indoors, either seeking shelter from the rain or to escape the heat. Some of us don’t even need a reason to duck into the theater for a matinee and be transported to another world. Plus, it’s always the right time for a big bucket of popcorn, a box of Milk Duds and a super-sized, lemon-lime slushie.

Thought I’d share a list of the new movies in theaters now, and some coming very soon.

July 4th. Image of july 4 wooden color calendar on blue background. Summer day. Empty space for text. Independence Day Of America

These include the amazing Finding Dory, which has been dominating the box office since it’s release, grossing $285 million in its first 10 days. And The BFG, (The Big Friendly Giant) which reteams E.T. screenwriter, Melissa Mathison and the legendary Steven Spielberg, his first time directing a Disney movie.

If you’re looking for epic adventure this holiday weekend, here comes The Legend of Tarzan, starring eye-candy for everybody, Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie (who will appear in the DC Comics blockbuster, The Suicide Squad, with Jared Leto as The Joker, later this summer).

Which summer movie are you dying to see? We’d love to hear your reviews.

On behalf of all of us at Smart Perks, we hope you have a fabulous and safe 4th of July weekend.

 

Blogger Melanie Bisson, who is pet-obsessed, has seen every trailer for The Secret Life of Pets at least a dozen times.

TisTheSeason

The presents are opened, Santa has come and gone. The feasting is over, but the fun’s just begun! This is it…the movie lovers’ most wonderful time of year when the build-up to the Golden Globes® and Oscars® meets holiday blockbusters head on.

I’m personally excited for the first onscreen re-teaming of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg since The Other Guys, in the highly anticipated Daddy’s Home. I kid, I kid. I think I’ll wait for that one to show up at The Red Box. It’s rated PG. But I have a feeling the teenagers in your household would much rather see something about “a galaxy far, far away.”

I asked a few of my colleagues around the office to share the movies they’re most looking forward to. I think there’s something for just about everyone here.

Damien Q.  Web Designer, Guest Blogger

Three movies I’m excited to see this holiday season are Krampus, The Hateful Eight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Krampus

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Krampus – Universal Studios

Krampus is a comedy-horror based on old German folklore that goes back to pre-Christian alpine traditions. Krampus is a horned anthropomorphic figure who punishes misbehaving children, the shadow of Santa Claus. Adam Scott, known for Parks & Rec, and David Koechner, known from SNL and Anchor Man star in this creepy comedy, a throwback to ‘80s horror.

Also stars: Toni Collette, Conchatta Ferrell

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, and, as usual, is expected to be a masterpiece – currently holding a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hateful Eight takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming, as bounty hunters (Tarantino assembles many of his favorite actors once again) try to find shelter during a blizzard, but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Mayhem ensues. Because Tarantino.

Who’s in it: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This is the next film in a series of endless Star Wars films from Disney, but the first directed by J.J. Abrams. After the whole Jar Jar Binks debacle and other prequels, Abrams is hoping to redeem the franchise after those horrible films (IMHO) released by George Lucas from 1999 to 2005. What else can I say? Star Wars! Plot points are to be kept a secret, don’t ruin it for yourself.

Who’s in it: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver

Catherine B. Copy Writer, Blogger

Joy

Why I want to see it: First of all, I loved Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, so if they’re teaming up again for this one, I’m there! I believe this is the fourth film featuring these two talented actors together – I’m sure it’s because they have great chemistry and are fun to watch. Secondly, I enjoy movies about real people who overcome hardships and obstacles to fulfill their dreams. I’m also drawn to emotionally-driven comedies with interesting characters. This seems to cover all the bases.

Plot: Joy is the story of a family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce.

Who else is in it: Robert DeNiro, Dianne Ladd, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini.

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The Revenant – Mammoth Studios

The Revenant

Why I want to see it:
After watching the trailer and learning that this film is inspired by true events about survival against unspeakable odds, I’m really anxious to see this movie on the big screen. Other reasons it’s on my must-see list – it’s being touted as one of the most anticipated films of 2016 and it stars one of my favorite actors, Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve been a big fan of his since I first saw him in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and I heard he’s spectacular in this movie. Maybe this will be the year he finally wins that elusive Oscar!

Plot:
The Revenant is an immersive and visceral cinematic experience capturing one man’s epic adventure of survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit. In an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness in the 1800s, legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. In a quest to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption.

Who else is in it: Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Kristoffer Jones

Batman V Superman: The Dawn of Justice

Why I want to see it: Also listed as one of the most anticipated films of 2016, but you’ll have to wait until March to see it! When my kids were young I’d take them to see every kind of superhero movie there was and I admit I enjoyed them as much as they did – the cool getups, the stunts, the special effects… it was pure entertainment and a great escape from our everyday lives. I’m still drawn to this genre and this particular movie piques my interest because it has two of the most popular DC comic heroes battling each other. I mean, who do you root for Superman or Batman? It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Plot: Fearing the actions of Superman (Henry Cavill) left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante Batman (Ben Affleck) takes on Metropolis’ most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat Doomsday quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.

Who else is in it: Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Michael Shannon

Katie U. Copy Editor, Blogger

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Sisters – Universal Studios

Sisters

Plot: Two sisters, one very loose and childish (Tina Fey), and the other uptight and divorced (Amy Poehler), throw one last party at their childhood home, which their parents are about to sell.

Why I want to see it: I’ve been waiting months to see this movie, and although it came out this past weekend, I was too busy to go see it! Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s are nothing less than national treasures, both for their comedic abilities as well as their social activism, so I’d watch paint dry if they were the painters. This duo is truly dynamic, and getting to see them on screen again after their amazing job hosting The Golden Globes, I’m all about it.

Other stars: Maya Rudolph, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, James Brolin

Hail Caesar

Plot: Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a Hollywood “fixer” helping the production of the upcoming film entitled Hail Caesar starring famous actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). When a hungover Whitlock is kidnapped by a group named The Future, Mannix is the one in charge of collecting $100,000 and rescuing him.

Why I want to see it: I mean, hello! A film directed and written by the Coen brothers with a crazy talented cast (I will see any movie ScarJo is in), but the plot itself sounds fascinating. It’s categorized as a comedy, drama and a musical, and that fact alone makes it seem like it will be nonstop entertaining. I’m also somewhat of a Coen brother fanatic, so altogether, it’s pretty much a can’t-miss for me.

Other stars: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Emily Beecham, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand

Trumbo

Plot: Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a Hollywood screenwriter who, in 1947, was blacklisted along with other artists for refusing to testify to the United States Congress regarding alleged Communist propaganda in Hollywood films. He spent eleven months in federal prison in 1950.

Why I want to see it: Doesn’t this movie just seem to scream Give Me All of The Oscars? Personally, I’m excited to see Trumbo more for the historical aspect. I love biographical dramas, and although I had never heard of Dalton Trumbo specifically, I did know the history of the Hollywood Ten and found it fascinating. Though this movie seems like it might be dryer and less purely entertaining than the other two, I have the highest hopes for it.

Other stars: Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman

Santa Cinema 3D

Have fun at the Movies, Your Friends at Smart Perks!

So there you have it…nine great flicks. At my house, we’ll probably see something funny, like Sisters. Although if The Revenant were out on Christmas (not released until January 6th nationwide) I would see that for sure. I love a good man against nature survival story.

My other dark horse, if I can convince my husband to go, would be The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne is one of my favorite actors. He was AMAZING in The Theory of Everything, Les Miz, and My Week With Marilyn. If you’re staying home, Netflix these.

On behalf of all of us at Smart Perks, we hope your holidays are just like the movies, full of laughs and entertainment, with more love, joy and music than drama.

– Ho! Ho! Ho! from The Holly Jolly Blogger, Melanie B., a Smart Perks employee.