Smart Perks State of the State: The Heat is On!

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No colony collapse in my garden! Lots of fuzzy bumblebees.

Greetings & Salutations, Friends!

We’re in the thick of summer and our Smart Perks HQ team is all abuzz with activity.  We just sent our fabulous fall money-saving offers to the printer (look for them in your mailbox mid-August,) and now our creative department is busy giving the Smart Perks website its fall makeover.

The next Smart Perks mailing includes some amazing offers for refreshing your home for the new fall season from leading brands like 3-Day Blinds, Wayfair, The Company Store, DirectTV (NFL Sunday Ticket – YES!) and many others. If you’re not on the Smart Perks mailing list, you’ll want to sign up for the next mailing.

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Loved these books!

In-between gardening, reading some great books, filling my bird-feeders (lots of hungry hummingbirds and ravenous woodpeckers,) and enjoying some time ON the lake and IN the lake, I’ve been having a lot of fun taking photos of all the new puppies in our neighborhood.

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Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota

My husband just built a new front porch. He’s quite the handyman. So while sitting out in my new rocker, (oh my gosh, I’m in my early 40s!) I have to stop anyone who passes by with a dog to visit. That’s how I met the  5-month old Bernese Mountain Dog from across the street, and the 6-month old Siberian Husky from around the corner.

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Enter the Summer Caption contest! http://on.fb.me/1JexQsX.

The darling husky puppy, Kash, is so cute, that he was chosen for the Smart Perks Hot Dog Caption contest running this month on our Facebook page. The prizes include Best Buy® and restaurant.com gift cards, along with a darling heart bracelet and a 27-piece tool kit. Get creative and enter your caption today. Share it and encourage your friends to vote, too! Winners will be announced on Friday, July 31st.

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Sweet Martha’s Cookies – A perennial MN State Fair Favorite

Next up, it’s fair time. For us here in Minnesota, The Great Minnesota Get-Together, or Sweat-Together, to be more accurate. Whatever you have planned, stay cool and enjoy. Summers are way too short, so be sure to make time to really enjoy your favorite summertime traditions.

Next up in the blog, some great tips for laptops versus tablets from our Smart Perks Electronics expert, Karl. Stay tuned.

The DIY “Vintage” Trend: What You Need to Know and How You Can Take Part

mock up, laptop, working space

Many of today’s trendiest bars, homes, apartments, fashions and decor are no longer sporting the beige tones of the ‘90s, the computer-rigid lines of the ‘80s, nor the shag carpet of the ‘70s (as much as we miss all of these). The most coveted items today are refurbished, architecturally-unique throwbacks with foundations in the minimalistic movement in the early 20th century. Think of it as a remix of all of the above, but with less.

Minimalism is “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.” Thanks to the invention of websites such as Pinterest, a lot of people these days are taking old objects ­– desks, chairs, lamps, plywood, that sort of thing – and refurbishing them. The restyled piece is then placed within the context of exposed brick walls and dark wooden floors, giving it that modern vintage look.

For instance, one of my friends made an incredible standing desk out of an old door he purchased from an architecture reclamation store. All he had to do was put some homemade sawhorses on for legs and now it’s a piece that everyone asks about. The whole thing was super simple, doesn’t take up that much space and looks very cool. The sawhorses were just $20 (assembled with cheap 2x4s and sawhorse brackets) and the door was $10. $30 is pretty cheap for a cool place to work!Detail of a board with old paint on it.

Maybe you’re wondering “Who would want to display some old junk?” Why is this refurbished approach so attractive, even among people who can afford many other options?

Well, I have a theory about it: do you remember when your grandma gave you that (ugly) ring she got from her grandma when she was your age? Or maybe you still have that stability-lacking bookshelf your dad made back when you were a kid? The main reason that you might hold onto these objects isn’t because of any visual aesthetic appeal, but there’s an inherent value in the story an object carries – one that occasionally surpasses the beauty of the product itself. When people ask, “Why are you using this broken motorcycle as a coffee table anyway?” You have a great story to tell in return.

The same goes for today’s living room “masterpieces,” although the story can be a bit more self-indulgent, “Well, my (boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, whoever) and I went out to the (thrift shop, architectural reclamation store, grandma’s house, etc.) and found this (lamp, wooden door, ship mast, 1940s refrigerator, civil war musket, other random thing). Then we (put a hat on it, made it into a chalkboard, had our friends sign it, slapped an old map onto it, etc.).”

Watch as guests “ooh” and “ahh” at your creation. And aren’t you so crafty! I have heard similar stories countless times. Although the pieces aren’t always rooted in something sentimental like a family heirloom, they add extra value as a conversation piece and is in tangent with the current minimal trend.Sofa with lamp

I might be an amateur myself, but this is my favorite kind of design. Therefore, what follows is one amateur’s advice to another:

  • Look for organic materials such as stained wood, earthy bricks, water pipes, or antiques made out of such materials.
  • Find a lot of inspiration over at Pinterest: try searching “vintage”, “minimalist”, “rustic”, “DIY” or any other similar terms.
  • The older (or weirder) the better, so if you ever end up working with wood, make sure to treat it with the right stain. Also, if you’re looking for a really beat-up look, get a knife and crowbar out and have some fun doing some damage to it (but be sure you do this before staining it). This is a pretty decent guide on how to give wood that rustic look.
  • Finally, have fun and learn. One of the best parts of this DIY movement is that you get to express yourself artistically without worrying about perfection. Functionality is usually pretty nice though, so go for that in tandem with the look.

One man’s trash is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure. Keep that in mind and be open to the possibilities as well as the limitations of your space. And if your house is already fully furnished, you should think about passing along some of your heirlooms to a friend or consignment store that would be excited to have them. Even if you thought they might have been tacky back then, it’s probably stylish right now. Plus, it gives somebody a great story.

-Jack

As devilishly handsome as he is clever, Jack is the excellent copyeditor for the Smart Perks team. A passionate music-listener, writer, and all-around great guy, Jack is going to help keep you in the know on fun trends and interesting ideas. 

 

Ta Dah! Welcome Our New Baby…

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Meet My New Puppy Eloise!

Okay, so I did get a new puppy. Weezy is a Cairn Terrier, and almost 5 months old now. She looks very sweet, and has a keen fashion sense, (especially color-coordinating her stylish ensembles with her accessories, aka toys,) but don’t let the face fool you. Little Hannah Lecter will bite your nose off, if given the chance, which is why she started obedience training on Saturday.

But that wasn’t the new baby I was referring to. Last week we launched the new Smart Perks website with a bright, bold design, fun new features, and, of course, what Smart Perks is all about, great money-saving offers on merchandise and services.

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I don’t know if you’ve ever launched a website before, but months of planning goes into it. And not just the fun stuff, like making color choices, developing logos, artwork, and fun features; such as games, weather-bugs, and weekly merchandise deals.

There are also wire-frames to be created (don’t ask,) and seemingly endless discussions of navigation to make the site user-friendly and intuitive, so that ultimately site visitors can get to the deals that much faster.

The whole Smart Perks team got together and brainstormed content ideas, like the featured tips from experts, on everything from electronics to home improvement, decorating and organization, whatever we thought our Smart Perks audience could use to make their lives easier, using less of their precious resources – time and money, and help them work smarter, not harder, so they can simply relax and enjoy the good life!

After that came the coding, coding, and more coding from our brilliant tech team. And testing. Weeks of testing on every browser and mobile device we could get our hands on.

Finally the day came last week with much fanfare and a mostly pain-free labor, as we launched our new baby out into the world.

Pinterest_-_2015-03-10_11.24.30We’re proud of the new SmartPerks website, our Facebook page, Twitter feed, Pinterest boards,  and this blog. Our team consists of creative, passionate people with a wide variety of interests, hobbies, and talents, and we want to share them with you. We want you to look forward to more posts like the ones you’ve seen so far, including what we hope will be helpful information, tutorials, and inspiration. Maybe even some tips on training your new puppy – Miss Weezy has provided lots of hands-on experience.

So I hope you’ll stop by the new SmartPerks website, say “Welcome to the World, Baby,” and take a look at what we have to offer. There are over 35 new offers in the Spring Smart Perks mailer. If you’ve never received a Smart Perks mailing, visit the new site and sign up. There’s also a great offer for a free $25 gift card, when you receive your first free Smart Perks mailing. Smartperks.com – see you there!

-MB

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life are her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.

Seed Starting for Newbies – Greetings from Zone 4!

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Greetings from Zone 4? No, that is not the title of a science fiction novel.

Zone 4 is the plant hardiness zone for Smart Perks headquarters in Minnesnowdah. But regardless of where you live in the U.S., with spring right around the corner, it’s a good time to start thinking about seed-starting for your vegetable garden.

I’ve started seeds indoors for over a decade now. It’s a great way to save money by avoiding nursery prices, and I typically have more than enough plants leftover after mine are in the ground, to share with friends and family.

Have you seen the price of a grocery store tomato lately? You shouldn’t have to make a choice between a child’s college education and a tomato! Besides the savings, starting seeds indoors will bring a little summertime to your home during a cool, damp March.

To get started, you need to decide which veggies you want to plant, depending on your personal tastes and growing space. If you live in apartment, a lot of plants can be grown in a couple big pots on a deck or outside your front door.

I usually like to start cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans indoors. Herbs, especially chives and basil, are easy and fun to grow, because they smell DELICIOUS as soon as they sprout. You can dry them and use them throughout the year. Fresh herbs are the best, and you really can taste the difference in your recipes!   mozzarella di bufala con pomodoro e basilico

Then head to your local hardware, discount store or nursery and pick out your seeds. Check the back of your seed packets for the zone hardiness of the plant, and how much time you’ll need to allow if you’re starting indoors, as well as time until harvest. The typical amount of time for indoor growing is 6-8 weeks. Here in Zone 4 we shouldn’t put our plants in the ground until after May 15th, when the danger of a killing frost is USUALLY passed.

I usually start my seeds around St. Patrick’s Day or during the NCAA Final Four. I remember in previous years, sitting on my kitchen floor, with seed starter soil everywhere, listening to a tournament game, while trying to get wet soil out of my grout. That was before I wised up and started using peat pellets.

While some hardier veggies like lettuce and radishes can be sown directly in the ground in early spring, others have to wait until the ground warms up. Tomatoes, for instance, thrive in heat. If the temps are too cold, or the weather too cloudy, their growth can be stunted. Tomatoes are an excellent plant to start indoors.

Then you’ll need a tray that will allow adequate drainage and a clear, vented cover. I recommend investing in a multi-square version like the Jiffy Starter Kit if you’re a newbie. jiffy-greenhouseIt has everything you’ll need, except the seeds, light and water, and will cost approximately $10 or less. Plus the tray can be used again next year.

You can buy the growing medium loose, or in a little mesh-covered peat pellet. Trust me…the peat pellet is the way to go to avoid a mess! You soak them in hot water for about 5 minutes and voilá…they expand to just the right size. It’s pretty cool to watch. Kids will love this, too.

There’s even a little hole in the top of the mesh to place your seeds in. So all you have to worry about is checking the back of your package for seed-planting depth, and how many seeds to plant in each pellet. It can take anywhere from 4 to 14 days for seedlings to emerge.seedling

The three most important words of wisdom I can give you, after years of making every mistake imaginable, are to separate, ventilate, and rotate!

  1. Separate. You’ll typically plant multiple seeds in a peat pod, because all the seeds may not sprout. However, sometimes they will and you’ll need to separate or thin out the young sprouts. If you don’t, once they start to leaf, they’ll crowd each other out, competing for space and nutrients. Your plants won’t thrive, and when it comes time to plant, you’ll have a bunch of tangled, thin, and gangly plants.
  2. Rotate. Placement of your seeds is key. You need a warm, sunny place that gets the most light over the course of the day. Seeds need warmth to germinate. So a window near a heat vent is optimal.  You can buy a small grow light and warming mat on which to place your seed tray for around $30-$40. Although I never have. Remember these investments sound like a lot, but once you have the right equipment, you’ll have it forever. When the seeds have sprouted, you’ll need to rotate the tray at least once a day or more, so that neither side has to lean toward the sun. Optimally you want light coming from directly above, so that your young seedlings will grow straight up and have strong healthy stems. Believe me, I’ve had many years, where I’ve ended up with spindly, sideways tomato plants, that have eventually borne fruit, but it certainly wasn’t easy to put a tomato cage on a horizontal plant.
  3. Ventilate. As I mentioned, seeds to stay covered and warm in the first several weeks, hot and moist like a greenhouse with minimal ventilation. But once they have sprouted, you’ll want to keep the soil moist, but not drowning, and ventilate or you’ll have moldy soil. Once the plants are touching the lid, you can remove the lid completely.

You’ll want to watch the bottom of your mesh peat pods for exposed roots, transplanting them to larger pots filled with regular potting soil until it’s time to put them in the ground. Potting up tomato seedlings © Arena Photo UKAlways refer to the back of your seed packs for more specifics, like when to pinch the first leaves from the stems.

And when you’re ready to put your seeds in the ground, remember, the plants need to be gradually acclimated to the direct sun outdoors, and other elements. So you can take them out for a couple of hours each day. This is called hardening off your plants, and you can read more about the process online.

Starting seeds indoors has been one of the best experiences I’ve had as a novice gardener, and I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, without reading stacks of books, or spending a fortune. The results have been great savings, and the greatest rewards…FRESH VEGGIES and the satisfaction of knowing I grew them myself. Have your own tips or experiences with seed starting? Please share in the comments!

Young plant in a pot ready for planting

-MB

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life are her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.

Valentine’s Day – What Can I Do In Five Days?

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Five days.

Valentine’s Day is five days away…and I haven’t even thought about getting the kids their Valentines cards for their classmates yet. Gulp!

I mean, I was busy. Work, grocery shopping, taxes, dog-grooming , the Grammy Awards! Well, okay, maybe not the Grammys. But you know what I mean. Life…it’s so LIFEY!

And Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday this year. That means a whole day to plan super fantastic, creative, outrageously fun, festive and fabulous food, activities, cards and small gifts for the whole family…including the dogs.

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What can I do in five days that doesn’t involve outrageous shipping fees, a degree from Martha Stewart University, or blowing my diet, and my Valentine’s diet, too?

Worried? Who me? No way. My best friend Pinterest has my back.

I just spent an hour or so scouring the boards of some of my favorite Pinners, and came up with everything I need to create an awesome day for everyone: friends, the kids, my husband, mom, sister, and our dogs, Bacon & Beanie.

I found FREE printables for cards, crafts and games! Even if it’s a snow day (Hello New England!) there are plenty of activities to keep everybody busy. f85ac4a871596f4ff9ff9d72abcd905cTake a look at this darling free printable from quitetheoccasionevents.com.

Check out the Smart Perks Valentine’s board on Pinterest for dozens of great ideas, like Valentine’s lasagne. Or strawberry pancakes. Or White Chocolate Krispie Hearts. (drool)

You’ll love the ideas for a day of crafting with your best girlfriends, too.

https://www.pinterest.com/smartperks/simple-valentines-ideas/

I feel better already. I can do this.

I hope you have a wonderful, stress-free Valentine’s Day!

CHEERS!

-MB

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life are her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.

It’s Time for a Fresh New Perspective

Bouquet colorful tulips at home

February is here.  It’s the time of year when Winter starts to feel a little stale. The doldrums have set in, and if you’ve got the slightest case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, it’s a real thing,) it can begin to feel like Spring will never come.

You need a little pick-me-up. Or maybe a big pick-me-up.

First things first, flowers and a cupcake!

It’s indoor “watch em grow” bulb garden season. The grocery stores and nurseries are full of them. Tulips, daffodils, the delicious smell of grape hyacinth…instant mood-booster!

chocolate cupcakeNext, a visit to your local bakery or cupcakery. A cupcake is a little party you throw for yourself. Just thinking about a bakery case filled with red velvet cakes, cream cheese frosting, rich chocolate ganache, heavenly buttercream, coconut, and sprinkles in bright, happy colors can give you a rush of endorphins.

Thirdly, visit the paint aisle at the local home-improvement store. Did you know there are literally hundreds of shades of white? Not only will a fresh coat of paint, in even one room of your home, brighten your surroundings, it will give you a positive sense of accomplishment when you’re done.

You can do it!

Want to double your “feel good?” Choose a bold paint color! Like sunshiny yellow for your guest bedroom, or tranquil seafoam green or blue for your bathroom walls. Be daring. Shop your circulars for sales on paint, and do it yourself, and you can afford to start over if you don’t like the color.

Something else to look forward to – the new Smart Perks mailing is coming soon. It features dozens of great discount offers, including some amazing savings on blinds for that freshly painted room!

Smart_Perks_HOME_-_Welcome_-_2015-02-03_13.57.04And to coincide with the new Spring Smart Perks mailing, the Smart Perks web site has a fresh new look that’s bright, cheerful, and most importantly full of great savings and expert advice on saving you time and money. Look for more tips on paint selections, and interior painting for beginners. Until then, here’s a peek at the new Smart Perks site. Enjoy!

– MB

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life are her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.