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.

 

 

How We Celebrate the USA…

Fourth of July Dachshund Dog

On July 2, 1776 the Continental Congress of the United Colonies decided to declare independence from Great Britain. The declaration was formally adopted on July 4th. The actual signing did not take place until August 2, but I digress.

In a letter to Abigail Adams dated July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote that “the declaration of independence should be celebrated with shews, games, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forever more.”

I’m fairly certain that not ONCE did he mention hot dog eating contests.

And yet, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Stand has been staging the world’s MOST famous hot dog eating competition in Coney Island, New York, every July 4th since 1916. Nothing says God Bless America like polishing off 62 hot dogs in ten minutes. That feat was accomplished last year when competitive-eating maverick Matt Stonie unseated former Nathan’s Famous champ, Joey Chestnut, who chowed down on a mere 60 dogs in the sunny Coney Island heat.

Nathan's Famous July 4 Hot Dog Eating Contest 2015

Legend has it that the contest’s roots date back to 1916, when four immigrants held a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous stand to settle an argument about who was most patriotic. My country tis of thee, indeed!

Waving-The-Flag-Fourth-Of-July-Celebrations

The fourth of July is steeped in a lot of tradition. It’s the holiday that’s synonymous with red, white, and blue festooned everything, burning your finger tips on the spent end of a sparkler, Lee Greenwood singing “Proud to be an American,” and lots of artistically-rendered desserts featuring strawberries, blueberries and Cool Whip.

But I bet a good old-fashioned marathon up the side of an Alaskan mountain isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of American independence, is it?

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Just two hours south of Anchorage, the party in Seward, Alaska begins at 12:01 a.m. on July 4th with fireworks. The biggest bang comes later that morning with the town’s famed race, Mount Marathon. The course is straightforward, but far from easy: start downtown, run to the top of the 3,022-foot mountain, then run back to the finish.

It’s rumored the race originated as a bet between locals that the mountain could not be tackled in less than an hour. Runners get schooled by steep slopes and gravity, inertia and loose shale, and are introduced to oxygen debt and lung capacity. The winners are usually locals who can practice on the mountain, or Alaska Olympians who can turn oxygen into speed. Happy birthday, Uncle Sam. Pass the oxygen canister.

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In keeping with the hot dog theme, in recent years it seems like Independence Day has really gone to the dogs, the wiener dogs. Those sleek and stealthy stubby-leggers can fly. Race fans flock to Canterbury Park in Minnesota to see the Doxies compete. Get-a-long little doggie!

Maybe it’s got something to do with America the beautiful’s “amber waves of grain” but tractor parades are particularly popular on the 4th of July from sea to shining sea. Living in the midwest, we’re especially proud of John Deere tractors, made in the heart of the heartland.

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And speaking of the sea, patriotic boat parades are an annual tradition from sunrise to sunset on July 4th.  It’s amazing to watch fireworks bursting over the water, their mirror images glittering on the surface, hearts swelling as kids sing The Star Spangled Banner – way off-key. We claim our spot in Excelsior Bay at dusk every year on the 4th of July.

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America’s 4th of July celebrations are as wildly vibrant, spirited and diverse as its citizens. It’s a beautiful thing to see us all continue to keep John Adams’ dream alive, over two hundred years later, with as much pomp and circumstance as he’d imagined. I hope you do your part to make Adams proud. Eat a bomb pop. Light a sparkler. Don’t forget the sunscreen or the bug spray. And enjoy a spectacular 4th of July!

For more ideas on celebrating the 4th of July and other holidays, be sure to visit the Smart Perks Pinterest page.

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Must read!!!

 

 

Smart Perks Blogger Melanie Bisson has her dog’s red, white and blue ensemble all picked out and ready to go for the big day.

 

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.

 

Simple Heartastic Valentine’s Crafts

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Have you ever heard the saying, “Valentine’s day is a Hallmark holiday?”

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With winter raging outside, what could be sweeter than a day spent in the craft room, making pretty things, and reveling in all things heartastical? That’s a word, right? Well, it should be.

Some people dream of warm, sun-drenched escapes. I dream of a dining room table covered with pretty papers, colorful ribbons, rubber stamps, felted wool, and lots and lots of glitter.

There’s something incredibly decadent and rejuvenating about taking some time for yourself to go off-the-grid. Turn off the tech, and tune-out the noise. Make stuff. Make meaningful stuff, that you put a little bit of yourself into, to share with your Valentines.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

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Gift wrap from Cavallini Papers. Available at http://www.papersource.com.

Gift Wrap Valentines and Garlands

I found some really fun vintage and Victorian gift wrap at a local boutique and fell in love immediately. The texture and thick stock were fabulous. Too pretty to just wrap a package and have it torn up and thrown away. These Italian wraps can be found in 20 x 28″ sheets online at Paper Source.

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The first thing I did was use glue stick, thoroughly covering the back of  the wrapping paper and applying it to large sheets of tag board or thick card stock, to make it extra durable. Smooth, smooth, smooth with your hand and then set a couple books on top to make sure the paper is firmly adhered and your card stock doesn’t curl.

After just a few minutes of dry-time, it’s time to put your preschool construction paper cutting skills to work. I find this part remarkably relaxing.

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At this point, you can finish off individual Valentines with some additional flourishes such as red or pink glitter glue, fabric or Washi tape around the edges, or use a hole punch and adorn with tulle or grosgrain ribbon.

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I decided to make a garland, and it couldn’t have been easier. I just used a hole punch and about 4 feet of red and white baker’s twine, and voila! Now I have a darling vintage garland greeting my guests, along the length of a shelf, when they come in my front door.

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Printables from Brit & Company. Find them on the Smart Perks’ Pinterest Board.

 

Valentine’s Printables

Given my affinity for cutting and pasting, my own personal Zen, I go crazy for free printables. You can find a zillion of them on the Smart Perks Pinterest boards. Here are two projects I completed this weekend.

The first are some sweet treats, Hershey’s Miniatures candy bars, wrapped in fun 90’s pop wrappers (see above). Too cute. Love to surprise my coworkers with a little something unexpected to make them smile.

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My second Free Printable Project was inspired by fellow blogger, Super Mom. This is an awesome and hilarious idea for a non-candy related Valentine that kids with allergies can enjoy. And it won’t be forgotten any time soon.  I simply glued the printed designs onto cardstock, cut them out, and I’ll use red and white baker’s twine to affix the darling Valentine’s Whoopee Cushions that I found online at Oriental Trading to the cards. I think you might want to save these for an in-home party though. Can you imagine a classroom full of third-graders with Whoopee Cushions? OH. HECK. NO.

 

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Fun With Felt

I love felt. Needle-felting is one of my favorite hobbies. It’s extremely satisfying to take a mound of raw, dyed wool and shape it into something completely new. There are many YouTube tutorials on needle-felting. All you need is clean wool, a felting needle and a piece of felting foam. Careful, those needles are sharp. I recommend Dream Felt on Etsy for all needle-felting supplies. Their wool colors are fabulous. I used their wool roving to make the felted wool hearts and ball garland shown in the main photo.

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But if you want to do something a little simpler, you can buy sheets of regular felt at Michaels or your local craft store, along with various Valentine shades of DMC embroidery floss, and create some one-of-a-kind Valentine’s coasters with a personal touch. I used some of my favorite song titles and lyrics, such as Tainted Love, You Sexy Thing, and Love is a Battlefield, to create unique Valentines that won’t be thrown away on February 15th.

You only need to know two basic stitches to complete these simple hearts – a running stitch for the word or design, and a blanket stitch to sew the two hearts together. Just cut two heart shapes from your felt, approximately 4 inches in diameter. Stitch designs on front (and back if you want), add buttons or other embellishments. Then blanket stitch the two hearts together, design-side facing out. Easy Peasy!

Obviously I had a busy weekend, working non-stop on my crafty fun times. But with 3 weekends left until Valentine’s Day, you still have plenty of time to try one of these projects, or one of the many, many others you’ll find on our Smart Perks Pinterest board. I love shopping! But handmade Valentine’s are good for the heart, and the soul! Enjoy.

Blogger Mel B., a Smart Perks employee, has pinholes in her pointer finger and a scissor blister on her knuckle.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

Santa Baby, Slip A Lipstick Under The Tree

 

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Sephora’s “Oh What Fun” sample bag, free with purchase on Black Friday!

 

Santa’s coming!!!! And his cheeks won’t be the only ones that are plump and rosy this holiday season. From my girlfriends to grandmas, all the ladies on my holiday list are going to be getting their “glow” on with fabulous beauty products!

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Too Faced Le Petit Tresor Lipstick Trio $29

 

After watching dozens of Carli Bybel make-up tutorials and taking advantage of each and every Black Friday, Cyber Monday and email promotion that have come across my computer, I’ve stock-piled some sensational beauty gift sets and stocking stuffers (like flash tattoos – so hot), without spending a fortune. Plus, I’ve picked up a few tips along the way to help you save and collect some rewards for yourself, too.

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Tarte Contour Palette & the Original Beauty Blender from Sephora.com

 

One of the year’s biggest trends is Contouring, providing definition with different shades of creams and blushes to play up your cheekbones or make your nose appear thinner. I watched a tutorial, and while the final result looked amazing (hello, supermodel bone structure) there were just too many products for me. Too intimidating. Enter Tarteist (from Tarte costmetics) and their color palette. All the products you’ll need in one ultra glam gold compact with an over-sized mirror. This makes a great gift for all ages. And you can add one of my favorite products, a beauty blender sponge, to help. Beauty blenders come in mini, medium and large. The one shown in the photo features a cleansing bar for your blender, too. Minis are the perfect shape to get under lashes, and all around your face and provide flawless coverage.

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Stuff Stockings with Bath Products from Lush.com, Whale Nail Brush from CB2, That Gal from Benefit Cosmetics, and the Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar Palette from  Too Faced

 

Palettes are another hot trend this year, although they’re a little on the spendy side. So the perfect eye-color palette may be the one big gift you want to get for your bestie. Urban Decay’s Naked palette is hugely popular. Bobbi Brown has several special holiday palettes for eyes, lips and cheeks as well. But my personal gift-giving favorite is from Too Faced. The tin case is shaped like a giant chocolate bar, and the 16 shadows not only come with delectable names and colors ranging from warm colors like hot chocolate and rich mocha. But the best part is, they actually smell like chocolate! (drool) It’s an expensive gift at $49. But if you purchase from a store with a rewards program, like Sephora with their VIB program or Ulta, you will earn points that you can redeem for freebies and purchases throughout the year yourself.

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Bold and sparkly…that’s the trend for holiday parties. A dramatic nail is the perfect accessory. And talk about accessorizing…check out the stylish make-up bag that comes along with this cool polish set. These are a must-have for the teens and sisters.

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QVC’s Tarte Holidaze of Giving 15-piece Collection

 

QVC, QVC, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…in Easy Pays! If you’re running over your holiday budget for December, you can afford to really wow Mom with 4 easy pays of just $16.48 ($65.94) on this spectacular gift set from Tarte. Opening the box is like Christmas morning itself. Unwrap layer after layer of surprise. I LOVE the brushes and chubby lip pencils. The eye cream is fabulously rich. You will not be disappointed in this amazing value. QVC is also offering Easy Holiday Returns. You can send any gift back until January 31, 2016. No questions.

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Love this! Quick dry with ionic heat hair dryer from TJ Maxx, $24.99

 

TJ Maxx has really expanded it’s selection of beauty products and they even sell make-up now. It’s a great place to get bath and hair care products and beautiful luxury soaps for under $10. I fell in love with this floral-designed hair dryer, yours for only $25!

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Origins Gift Set

 

Origins Ginger Souffle Whipped Body Cream is my absolutely favorite luxury cream for after shower, in the drying winter. It’s just $33 at beauty.com, and well worth the splurge for its zesty,  invigorating scent. It’s the only Origins product I’ve tried. But the holidays are a great time to get a variety of products from a brand you love at an affordable price. Like this fantastic Origins gift set from Sephora, with a variety of products. It’s over $74 in value, for only $34. Plus, Sephora always sends samples along. These are great stocking stuffers, because everybody loves a free sample- they’re low commitment and you can’t beat the price!

I love to pamper my friends and family during the holidays with gifts that they might feel a little guilty buying for themselves. But it’s the holidays…a time to indulge. It’s the best time of year, and also typically the only time of year, when cosmetics go on sale. Case in point: Have you ever read the back of a department store coupon?

So be bold! Be bright! Be merry!

And most importantly, enjoy the gorgeous glow of this most wonderful time of year.

Happy Holidays, Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee and blogger.

 

 

 

Holiday Gift Ideas for The Hard-To-Buy-For

Picture it: the twinkling lights blinking off fresh snow, a heady evergreen-and-sugar-cookie scent in the air, a table laden with delicious treats…and no gifts under the Christmas tree due to poor planning.  Uh-oh!

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Disappointed kids on Christmas do not a merry day make.

 

Though the winter holidays are typically a time of great joy, this busy time of year is not without its trials and tribulations. Whether it is perfectly planning a five course meal with family or friends or remembering to buy gifts for said cherished ones, there are certain holiday stressors everyone is affected by. Luckily for you, we’re here to guide you with suggestions of gift ideas for the trickiest of cases, so no one in your circle gets forgotten.

Got a gadget-obsessed great uncle but you’re kind of a Luddite? A friend’s daughter who is obsessed with some trendy toy you’ve never heard of? Help is on the way! Spanning price ranges and generations, we’ve got you covered.

For Preteens Who “Just Hate Everything”:

Groovy Coloring Books

We were all in that stage once: you’re 11 and everything is the worst and no one understands me. Well, they might not know it yet but they need to chill out. And what better way to relax with a coloring book! You may have heard that coloring books are making a big comeback – and are totally not just for little kids anymore. Now, there are numerous options for the hip preteens in your life, including our favorite: Oodles of Doodles: Over 200 Pictures to Complete and Create. This coloring book inspires creativity with a few drawings here and there, encouraging the artist to finish the page themselves. Another great one is the Creative Haven Fanciful Faces Coloring Book, a crowd favorite which has detailed outlines of psychedelic portraits.

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For older kids (and preteens with great taste in music) there’s also the Indie Rock Coloring Book which has illustrations dedicated to some of the most popular indie musicians, such as Iron and Wine or Hot Chip. Bonus? A portion of the proceeds goes to music-related charities, so you’re (in a good way!) double-gifting.

Alternate Ideas: Emily + Meritt Animal Headphones, Gameband Minecraft, Classic Chuck Taylors

For Your Best Friend’s Young Kid:

A Gaming Toothbrush

We’ve all noticed how into gaming and technology kids are these days, but this gift combines those things…with hygiene. Confused? So were we! But the Grush Gaming Toothbrush is a genius way to get kids to enjoy brushing their teeth, helping them visualize their brushing in a fun, healthy way. Instead of getting your BFF’s baby a game that will rot their brain or something noisy like drums that will rot your friend’s brain, this interactive toothbrush is giving them the best of both worlds.

 

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Grush works by displaying a personalized game on a handheld device and guiding the child with the moves to perfectly brush each quadrant of the mouth for 30 seconds. The results can even be sent to the parent, helping them track their child’s progress.

Don’t be worried about seeming like a weirdo getting a kid a toothbrush; kids really do like the darndest things. For instance, at the age of 8 one of my favorite gifts was a suction-cup magnifying mirror. (Note: the staff of SmartPerks doesn’t recommend buying this for your niece or nephew, no matter how weird they are.)

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Monster Hoodie, $39 at BustedTees

Alternate Ideas: Monster Hoodie, FurReal Friends, Imaginext Ultra T-Rex

 

For Gadget Heads:

Futuristic Wireless Device

The Amazon Echo is a wireless speaker and voice command device brought to you by Amazon. Voiced by “Alexa,” consider the Echo a pseudo-assistant. As it’s designed around your voice, think of Echo like a tabletop version of the iPhone’s Siri – but more advanced. It can make to do lists, set your alarms, give real-time info like traffic and weather, and of course also play music from a variety of sources. Amazon Echo

At $179.99, it is definitely a splurge, and maybe more of a gift for a family or a super special friend, but any tech-y person would be ecstatic to get this gadget they might not have bought themselves. Functional but fun, tiny but mighty, the Amazon Echo would be welcome in any savvy smart home.

Alternate Ideas:  UP4 by Jawbone, Perfect Drink App-Controlled Smart Bartending, Tile Dongle

For Your Uncle (or adult brother, boyfriend, husband or dad):

A Gift-of-the-Month Club

Sure, you’ve thought of a gift-of-the-month club before for a special man in your life, but then decided it wasn’t personal enough. That’s all changed. No matter how specific the interests of your male loved one are, there’s a gift-of-the-month club for them.

Do you have a forgetful, quirky male relative always wearing socks so holey they seem biblical? Check out Sock Club, which delivers American made socks directly to your door.

Know an adorkable dude who refuses to grow up? Look into LootCrate, which has an assortment of gamer-related gifts.

Sophisticated cigar connoisseur, always looking for the next trend? SmartPerks has an awesome discount with Cigars International! Just use promo code SA4360 to send your loved one four new cigars a month!

Are there some big foodies in your family? There are gift-of-the-month clubs for hot sauce, a variety of meats and cheeses, and even alcohol! Our favorite is the long standby Club W, which personalizes your wine delivery based on your tastes.

There are plenty more exotic ones, so look around! Get creative. Everyone likes a fun, free surprise each month. Gift-of-the-month clubs fulfill that without you even having to run to the store.

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The Great Deal Company’s Stainless Steel Bar Set, only $39.99

Alternate Ideas: Smart Control Remote, Whiskey StonesStainless Steel Bar Set

 

 

For the Picky Mother-in-Law:

You’ve screwed up one too many times with your persnickety MIL. The baking supplies you happily gifted her last year were met with a snarky comment about how she already owns five whisks; what does she need with another? And so it’s gone for years.

But not this year. This year, you’ll get her something the whole family will appreciate; a one-two punch of a gift. Organize a time all of your extended family can get together, and hire a professional photographer to take family photographs. That’s not it. Also, have them each write a letter or note (kids can draw pictures) of what this matriarch means to them. Then, gather all of the photos in a personalized scrapbook/photo album with the notes and drawings. Sit back, relax, and smugly watch as your MIL is blown away by the thoughtfulness of this gift. It’s personal, sweet and endearing. She’ll never look at you the same way again! Warning: you’ll be setting a high standard for all future gifts, but worry about that next year.

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Bluetooth Activity Tracker, $49.99 from the Great Deal Company

Alternate Ideas: Bluetooth Activity Tracker, Crafting Classes, Restaurant Gift Cards

The holidays are the happiest time of the year. Hopefully, with our gift suggestions, even your hardest-to-please loved ones will share in your joy. Have more ideas? Shout them out in the comments!

Blogger Katie U, a Smart Perks employee, would like all of these gifts herself, especially the cheese-of-the-month box.