Go-To Recipes for End of Summer Get-Togethers

Summer may be winding down (can you believe we’re closing in on August already? Dang!), but chances are you still have a family reunion, picnic, backyard barbecue, or town celebration coming up, and then of course there’s Labor Day weekend. Whatever it is, you’ll probably be providing some kind of side or dessert to round out the meal and share with the group. You could go with the usual macaroni salad or bars from a box, but why not shake things up and impress your relatives or friends with something totally unexpected?

If you’re looking for something different and delicious to bring to the table, I’ve got some recipes you should definitely try!

calico beans

Calico Beans beats basic baked beans any day! Photo courtesy of crockpotladies.com

Calico Beans 
Ingredients:
1/2 lb. bacon, in pieces
2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 (16 oz.) can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 (15-1/2 oz.) can kidney beans
1 (16 oz.) can butter beans
1 cup ketchup
3 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
Directions: Fry bacon pieces; remove from grease. Brown ground beef. Add onions and celery at end of browning. In baking dish, combine remaining ingredients; add bacon and ground beef mixture. Bake covered at 350° F for 45 minutes or for 6-8 hours on low in a slow cooker.

coleslaw

More zesty and colorful than classic coleslaw! 

Sweet-and-Sour Coleslaw 
Ingredients:
4 cups chopped or shredded cabbage (I buy the kind in a bag)
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp. jalapeño pepper, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 small can cooked corn kernels, cooled
Dressing:
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
Salt to taste
Directions: Place cabbage, peppers, onions, cilantro, and corn in a large bowl. Mix vinegar, sweetener, and salt in a small bowl, add to cabbage mixture and toss well. Chill before serving.   Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com

cowboy caviar 3

Why settle for regular salsa when you can dip your chips in Cowboy Caviar? Photo courtesy of culinaryhill.com

Cowboy Caviar  
Ingredients:
1 can garbanzo beans – drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans – drained and rinsed
1 can black beans – drained and rinsed
1 can white corn – drained
4 stalks celery
1 green, 1 yellow & 1 red pepper – chopped
1 small red onion – chopped
Dressing
1 cup canola oil
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
Directions: Boil dressing ingredients together. Mix dressing with bean/veggie ingredients and refrigerate overnight.

caprese salad

A light, refreshing Italian salad that’s easy to make and simply delish! 

Caprese Salad 
Ingredients:
2 lbs. assorted fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 lb. cubed mozzarella
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (I use balsamic vinegar)
Salt & pepper to taste
Directions: Toss ingredients together and chill before serving.
Photo and recipe from Foodnetwork.com

snow cone cupcakes

These snow cone treats are actually cupcakes, which means they won’t melt! Photo courtesy of lovefromtheoven.com

Snow Cone Cupcakes
You’ll find all kinds of recipes for these and other clever summer-theme cupcakes on Pinterest!

Deviled Eggs are always a hit at summer parties, but instead of going with the same old mayo and mustard recipe, try one of these Unique Deviled Egg Toppings!

Looking for handy ways to store, serve and carry your food & beverages?  Check these out:

snap and stack 2Snapware® Snap ‘N Stack Food Storage Eggtainer
Ideal for picnics and potlucks, this multi-use tote has two removable egg holders for deviled eggs and stackable containers for bars or cookies. Buy it now at boscovs.com

 

crock potCrock-Pot Oval 7 Quart Red Slow Cooker with Travel Bag
Perfect for hot appetizers, entrees, and side dishes (like Calico Beans!). Comes with a travel bag for easy toting to summer parties. Buy it now at shopko.com

cooler
Rubbermaid 60-Quart Wheeled Cooler

Keep beverages cold on the go with this roomy, easy-to-maneuver cooler. It holds up to 62 cans with ice, plus has built-in cup holders. Buy it now at homedepot.com

Enjoy!

Smark Perks Blogger Catherine B. loves summer. She just wishes it lasted longer (if only she could say the same for winter!).

Heatwave: You’ve Got to Cool It Now…

Variety of popsicles in shop

The heat. The heat. I’m melting.

Welcome to the Heat Dome. What is a heat dome? It’s some meteorological term. But frankly I don’t care. Just make it go away.

We are in Day Three (it’s like a hostage crisis) with heat indexes over 100 degrees, and maybe Texans and Floridians can handle this. But us Midwesterners are about to lose it.

Since I’m holed up in my air-conditioned office, I thought I would provide a community service and list some of my favorite summer survival gear.

There’s a little something for everyone.

Hit the Beach, with frozen Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, grapes (all better frozen IMHO), and some icy cold beverages, toted in these totally cute insulated bags from Ban.do priced at $32-$34.

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Need something a little bigger for your crew? Maybe everyone can chip in on this little piece of paradise, a cooler with a cool breeze. YASSSSSSS, please. The Icybreez cooler from Wayfair.

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After work last night, I emerged from our sublimely temperature-controlled office, into a blast furnace. The temperature inside my car, which had been baking in the sun all day, was up to a toasty 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Lovely. If I’d planned ahead, I might have thought of one of those old-school reflective shades that roll across your windshield. Instead, I sat down on my black leather seats, and scalded the backs of my thighs. In any event, a hand-held mini-fan, powered by AAA batteries or a USB Cable, really would have come in handy.  They’re available for about $12.00 from Rakuten.

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When I got home, I wasn’t the only one who was feeling the heat. The puppies were feeling it, too. Hopefully, I don’t need to tell anyone how important it is to make sure your pets have access to plenty of fresh water, and that they shouldn’t be left outside for more than 15 minutes, or alone in a car, even with the windows open, at all in this weather. There are several ways to keep your dog cool, with a cooling vest, from Dr.s Smith & Foster or a Pet Cooling Mat for just $19.99 at Target.

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I also found some fabulous coolers for infants and toddlers, Meeno Babies “Cool Mee” Car Seat and Stroller liners with a 3-ply mesh that keeps baby comfy and safe from the heat. At Bed, Bath and Beyond.

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Finally, any time the heat index or real temperature climbs above 100 degrees, it’s no laughing matter. Here are some tips from the Red Cross to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe, when you have to be outdoors.

As for me…I’ll be the one cannon-balling into pool, in 5…4…3…2…

poolfloat

 

 

Smart Perks blogger Melanie Bisson is old enough to have LOVED the song Cool It Now, by the The New Edition back in the day. For you youngsters, that’s a boy band featuring Bobby Brown from the 80s.

 

 

The Smart Cookie’s Guide to Royal Icing

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Royal icing is having a major moment. Seriously. Decorated cookies are almost as popular as Pokemon Go right now.

There is a cookie cutter for virtually anything or any occasion you can think of.

So if you’re planning a party, or just want to do something special for a friend, you can just jump online and order a cookie cutter specific to whatever tickles the person’s fancy, from unicorns to 50s muscle cars to French Bulldogs and saguaro cactus (yes, everything and anything!)

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Of course, I want all the pretty things I see online.  And, I suffer short-term memory loss when it comes to my inability to bake, and whatever my last failed attempt was. So whenever I see some intricately decorated iced works of art on Pinterest or Instagram, I think “Oooooh, I want to do that!”

But royal icing seemed so intimidating! I’m a canned frosting from the baking aisle kind of girl. However, the fancifully decorated cookies you see everywhere right now require royal icing, which has that beautiful, smooth matte finish that makes a cookie look so professional, like it came straight from a wonderful bakery.

I enlisted the help of my go-to baking expert and good friend Mary, and said, “TEACH ME! I want to be your icing Jedi!!!” So she shared her techniques in this video, along with her amazing set of decorating supplies, and we set out on an odyssey of summer cookie decorating adventure.

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I got to do what I do best. Shop. I found adorable summer-themed cookie cutters on Etsy from Frosted. There are a bajillion great shops – just enter your desired shape + the word cookie cutter in the search box on Etsy and you’ll find some really unusual ones. Or, you can request a custom cutter if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Etsy is my go-to for unique and original everything.

I did manage to make the cookies beforehand using the package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix, although I baked one batch on wax paper instead of parchment. But the real purpose of this exercise was for Mary to teach me to decorate cookies using royal icing. My only other experience with it was a disaster, trying to make my own Ginger Bread House with a store-bought kit containing premade icing. It was too thick and well…see for yourself.

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Needless to say, Martha Stewart chose a different photo for her December issue of Living.

For this icing, my baking Yoda used a recipe from Sweet Sugar Belle which she modifies slightly. Mary used the whisk attachment rather than the paddle attachment on her KitchenAid mixer, and Vanilla Bean paste. We also added additional warm water by the drop as necessary when it came time to ice, in order to get the desired consistency, so the icing would settle when the cookie was gently tapped.

Take a look at the video Mary & I made, and you’ll never be intimidated by making royal icing again.

 

 

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, learned the hard way, NEVER to put plastic cookie cutters in the dishwasher. Special thanks to icing guru, Mary Haehn. 

 

Beware of Poisonous Plants

Mesa Verde National Park - Poison ivy

My husband and I live on 10 acres, most of which are woods and pasture. We used to have sheep and horses to eat up the long grass and keep the weeds at bay.  Now that we don’t have any animals, these annoyingly prolific plants have taken over our front pasture, turning it into a regular weed-fest complete with a colony of stinging nettles. (If you’ve ever brushed up against these prickly pests you know what a pain they are, literally!) I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s poison ivy or oak lurking in our woods as well.

The fact is you’ll find menacing vegetation almost anywhere – in ditches, forests, fields and pastures, in your yard and garden, or even in potted outdoor plants.

Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors this summer, whether it’s hiking, gardening, playing sports, camping, or working in the yard. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of your surroundings and beware of plants that are poisonous.

Common Plants that Can Be Harmful to the Touch

Poison ivy and oak

“Leaves of Three, Let Them Be!”

Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac: These pestilent plants contain an oily sap called urushiol, which is found on the stems, leaves and roots of the plant. The tenacious resin sticks to practically any surface (clothing, shoes, garden tools, camping gear, athletic equipment, even pet hair) and can easily transfer to your skin, causing an itchy, red rash which could surface within hours or even up to four days after exposure. Visit poison-ivy.org for all the facts.

WildParsnip

Wild Parsnip spreads like wildfire and causes severe burns and blisters.

Wild Parsnip – often found along roadsides, in ditches, pastures and open fields, this wicked weed reacts to sunlight, resulting in serious burns and blisters. Read this recent report from CBS News It’s alarming!!

More Phototoxic Plants (ones that become toxic when exposed to sunlight): celery, carrots, dill, parsley, limes, and figs.

Chrysanthemums (aka, mums)

Euphorbia (Spurge)

Flower bulbs (e.g., hyacinth, narcissus, daffodils, lilies, tulips)

Burning & Stinging Nettles

Prickly plants like roses, thistle, cacti, wild blackberries and raspberries

Campsis radicans (trumpet vine, or trumpet creeper, or cow itch vine, or hummingbird vine)
Trumpet Creeper – it may look beautiful, but don’t be rash! Touching it may cause an allergic reaction, plus it’s slightly toxic if eaten.

Geraniums and Marigolds

Giant Hogweed (heracleum sphondylium)
Giant Hogweed – these umbrella-shaped flowers with big leaves can cause painful skin and eye irritations.

Tasty, but Deadly  
Some people like to add petals or leaves to tea, salads and different culinary dishes or use them as garnish for desserts. And, oftentimes our pets will nibble on plants. But, there are several kinds of flowers and greenery that should never be on the menu as they can make you (or your furry friend) seriously ill.

Click here for an extensive list of poisonous plants and plant parts.

Not sure what plants are safe for your pets? You’ll find a list of toxic and non-toxic plants at aspca.org.

Preventative Measures

  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., long sleeves, pants, shoes/boots with socks) when hiking in areas where these types of plants grow.
  • Wear gloves when gardening, weeding, trimming shrubs, and doing yard work.
  • Wash any garden tools, sports gear or other objects with soap and water after using them.
  • If you think your pet’s been rolling around in poison ivy or other suspicious plants, give him a bath with pet shampoo and water (be sure to wear rubber gloves).
  • Don’t burn poisonous plants as the noxious substance can go airborne and get in your eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs.
  • Stay away from plants with three leaves (e.g., poison ivy and oak), but don’t rely solely on the “leaves of three, let them be” notion. Some, like Poison Sumac, can have up to 13 leaves.

Remedies/Treatments

  • Rinse your skin with cold water right away – avoid soap, however, as it can spread the resin. Don’t forget to scrub under fingernails too.
  • Take a cool, oatmeal bath – I recommend Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment – to help dry up any blisters and weeping rashes.
  • Apply a topical cream or lotion with calamine and zinc oxide to affected areas.
  • Take an oral antihistamine – like Benadryl – to help relieve some of the itching and skin irritation.
  • If you experience a severe reaction – e.g., swelling, difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing, nausea, or signs of an infection – see a doctor or head to the emergency room immediately!

Since I’ve barely “scratched” the surface on this subject, I recommend doing some research on your own.  Check out these sites to learn more about poisonous plants, what they look like, where to find them and the side effects.

Aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu

Canaryzoo.com

Everydayhealth.com

Be careful out there!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. has suddenly developed a case of Botanophobia (fear of plants). 

 

It’s a Cool, Cool Summer

everything with copy final

When I was young, one of the highlights of summer was the ice cream man coming to our neighborhood once a week to deliver sweet relief from the sweltering heat. We’d hear the familiar melodious sound of his truck down the block and dash into our houses to grab a few quarters from our piggy banks. By the time he stopped at our street we were ready with coins in hand, eagerly waiting to dig into orange cream bars, Push-up Pops, Eskimo Pies and sundae cups. Aaaahhh, those were the days.

Sadly the ice cream man wasn’t around when my kids were little. So, we’d get ice-cold goodies at the community pool, local DQ or the grocery store.

Now that I have grandchildren, I want to start a new tradition – creating our own refreshing frozen treats.

You’ll find a fabulous assortment of fun and colorful containers and contraptions to prepare and enjoy your favorite frosty creations.  Check these out…

pops

Ice Pop Molds – Make your own pudding, fruit, yogurt and juice pops with these handy little molds! Pick up a 6-Pc. Set now from Amazon!

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Zoku Ice Cream Maker – Whip up a bowl of fresh gourmet ice cream, gelato, sherbet or sorbet in less than 10 minutes!

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Ice Cream Bowls & Spoons – I love these cute little bowls with matching spoons! They’re perfect for picnics, birthday parties & summer celebrations. Get a set of 12 bowls & spoons for only $13.99 at Oriental Trading Company.

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Zoku Slush & Shake Maker – Use this specially-designed cup to mix up milkshakes, smoothies, iced coffee and floats, or turn your favorite soft drinks into slushies!

Here are some recipes you’ll want to try, too!

Chocolate Pudding Pops
Ingredients:
1 (3.9 oz.) pkg. instant chocolate pudding
2 cups milk
1 cup thawed whipped topping
Directions:  Beat ingredients with whisk for 2 minutes. Pour into ice pop molds (or you can use paper/plastic cups and wooden pop sticks). Freeze for 4-6 hours or until firm. To unmold, run water on the mold for a minute or so. (If using paper cups, peel paper off pops before serving). Variation: try other flavored puddings like vanilla or banana. Serves 6.
Recipe from Kraft.com

Fresh Fruit & Yogurt Pops
Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups plain vanilla yogurt (divided)
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 tbsp. honey
Directions: Mix honey and berries together in a bowl; set aside. In blender, combine 2 cups yogurt with berry mixture, blend until smooth. Fill ice pop molds a quarter full with yogurt and layer berry mixture on top. Freeze about 6 hours or until frozen. Serves 6.


Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream  
Ingredients:
1 pound strawberries
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
Directions:
1) Wash and trim strawberries; cut into 1/4″ slices. Place half of sliced strawberries in food processor or blender and puree. Set aside both sliced and pureed strawberries.
2) Combine cream, milk and sugar in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour mixture into large bowl. Add strawberry puree and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until completely cool.
3) While cream mixture is chilling, dice remaining sliced strawberries into smaller pieces to mix into ice cream. Pour cooled cream mixture into Ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Towards end of process, stir in diced strawberries. Transfer ice cream to airtight container and freeze for at least 2 more hours before serving. Makes approximately one quart.

See more ice cream recipes at RealSimple.com
Find ways to make smooth no-churn ice cream without a maker!

Hot Fudge Sauce
Ingredients:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet)
1/2 cup (stick) butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Directions: In saucepan, mix powdered sugar, evaporated milk, chocolate chips, and butter. Melt and bring to boil. Boil 8 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla. Take off heat and serve over ice cream. Store in airtight container in refrigerator and reheat as needed. Makes 2 cups.

sundae closeup finalTop off your sundae with sprinkles, nuts, cherries, fresh fruit, candy pieces, pretzel bits, cookie crumbs, peanut butter, whipped cream… you name it!

Think Outside the Ice Box
Tickle your taste buds with unique flavor combos like brown butter & bacon, cilantro & lime and curry & mint – click here for recipes
Or, try this Miso Butterscotch Milkshake  (It seems like an odd combination – miso paste and ice cream? But, I’ve been told it’s surprisingly delicious, a perfect blend of sweet and salty.)

As you can see, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creating your own frozen treats. Here’s to a cool and sweet summer!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. adores ice cream. If she didn’t care about calories, she could probably eat a carton of chocolate almond in one sitting.

 

Planning a Theme Party Doesn’t Have to Be a Circus

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The season of outdoor parties is upon us! Graduation parties, weddings, birthdays, showers…everyone loves a summer party.

And one glance at Pinterest or Instagram and you’ll immediately realize that theme parties are a huge trend.  If you’re a Pinterest fan, you have to admit it…you’ve spent many an hour perusing board after board of fabulous cakes, floral arrangements, magical barn weddings, and over the top, themed birthday bashes. From elaborate color-coordinated candy tables to amazing baby gender reveal cakes, social media can give you a serious case of party FOMO (fear of missing out).

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So when my friend’s french bulldog Louis was about to turn one, I said “Me! Me! Me! I want to host the party at my house.”  Yes, we threw his dog a birthday party. And it was spectacular. I thought I’d share some tips on planning a summer birthday, so you can dream big and ensure nobody and nothing will rain on your parade, so to speak. I’ll also share some of my favorite party planning resources.

Pick a theme you love. Something that excites your imagination. Something that expresses your personality. If you’re in love with your theme, you’ll have no trouble imagining creative ideas to implement it. Enthusiasm breeds inspiration.

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Create a Vision Board. Google is your friend. Seriously, what did we do before search engines? Type in your theme (in this case, circus party) and the word images and you’ll get tons of great ideas. Copy the images into one Word document, or print out pages to create a collage or stick in a party plan folder. Whatever works for you.  Whether you want to DIY or enlist the help of professionals, starting with a vision in mind of your perfect event will save you from feeling let down with your final result.

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Have a couple WOWS in mind. Or maybe just one. For instance, the Big Top Circus Cake was my WOW. I went to the bakery about 3 weeks in advance (I know my limitations, I am not a baker) and I went in with a sheet of paper showing 7-8 circus cakes I’d found on the Internet that I was madly in love with. The baker immediately brought me back to reality. “Do you want to pay for a wedding cake?” I was asked. Some of my ideas were “Cake Boss” HUGE and way out of my budget. But we started talking about what I could afford. Layer cakes were out. However, I had my heart set on a circus tent. We ended up with a big top cake that would serve 8, covered in fondant (which is more expensive) and a dozen cupcakes with plain frosting and sprinkles, which were considerably less expensive. I got the cake I dreamed of. After all, cake is the best part of the party, right?

What about the dogs you ask? Well, my friend found some inexpensive and awesome dog bone molds and simple dog-friendly cake recipes, and he made those himself. So two-leggers and four-leggers alike got to enjoy birthday cake!

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Have fun planning. It’s a party! We made this party fun for both the dogs and their humans. Treat bags included cookies for the dogs and colorful gum balls for the people. Plus, wacky props like foam rubber noses and other goofy favors that made for plenty of great photo-ops. And we didn’t forget the two-legged kids. They got cute little circus tattoos and animals!

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Create a big first impression. Whether guests or passers-by, you want to let people know where the party’s at!

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Encourage your guests to take part in the theme. They’ll want to come prepared to play along and have a good time, too!

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Location. Location. Location. With summertime outdoor events, you have to be prepared for anything weather-wise, and you must have a sense of humor about it. Outdoor parties are not for the faint of heart. Before our party our biggest concern was rain. We considered public parks with a covered picnic shelter, but no loose dogs were allowed. We drew the line at tent rentals for the dog party, and it was a prime graduation party weekend, so we had to compete with that from nearby rental stores. So, our fallback plans included the garage and the house as a last resort. In the end, it wasn’t the rain we needed to worry about. It was oppressive 90+ temps with a heat index around 100 degrees.  We made sure we had extra water and plenty of cold drinks and ice to keep humans and dogs hydrated. We borrowed box fans from everyone we knew and had them on the deck and in the garage. We also had two swimming pools out for the dogs to cool off. We ended up moving lunch and cake indoors because no one wants to eat in that kind of heat.

Make Memories. Once the guests arrive, accept that you’re on the roller coaster, you’re buckled in, and there’s nothing you can do now but hang on and enjoy the ride. Mishaps make memories. It’s hard to see it in the moment, but looking back you’ll be talking about the things that went wrong and laughing about them. It’s a party. ENJOY! If you’re having fun, I guarantee your guests will too!

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The birthday boy@ouiouilouis loved his Bark Box.

Favorite Party Supply Stores:

Big Dot of Happiness

Oh Happy Day

Oriental Trading

Shindigz

Party City

Smart Perks blogger, Melanie Bisson is a natural born clown.

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy a Front Porch Summer

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Last summer my husband built us the front porch of our dreams, something I’ve longed for forever.

The front porch evokes a romantic ideal of summer for me, of life before social media, or central air. I’m reminded of the traditional farmhouse porches of Forrest Gump, or the Walton Family, up on Walton’s Mountain (Good Night, Johnboy). The front porch was the place where gossip was exchanged, secrets shared and wisdom imparted.

The allure of the front porch is endless to me. Rocking chairs, a porch swing, brightly colored Adirondack chairs, all of them say “Stop and sit awhile.” A porch can create a sense of community. Just building the porch, I met new neighbors I hadn’t talked to in over a decade in our home. Or, sometimes it’s just a friendly wave, a smile and a nod from the runner jogging by, ear buds in place, but that connection is still made.  My dogs have made countless new friends, as dog walkers stop to let the pooches get acquainted.

If you’re an early riser, the porch is perfect spot for quiet and solitude when the sun comes up on a warm summer morning.  It’s also the ideal time to enjoy a little nature, the smell of fresh cut grass, your beautiful blooms, or the sounds of the birds hiding in the trees.

I have a fountain inside my screen-porch, and the sound of the running water attracts hummingbirds. So I put a hummingbird feeder right out front, where I could watch them hovering, hear the furious buzzing of their wings as they feed. I’ve become familiar with the different chirps and songs of the feeder regulars, the dee-dee-dee of the chickadees, the “pretty, pretty, pretty bird” of Mr. Cardinal, the sweet meows of a gold finch, or the plaintive coo of the mourning dove.

13323305_1424426537583513_8057884246284569945_oNot only does a porch offer an inviting welcome to guests and passers-by, but it also adds curb appeal to a home’s façade. It’s a glimpse of your personality, with a dash of summer flair – cascading ferns, colorful throw cushions, a vintage watering can, bright red Wellies waiting at the door.

I devour book after book on the front porch. Sometimes I’ll coincidentally find an incredible book where the porch itself feels like a character. Such was the case with The Truth According to Us, the second novel from the co-author of the insanely popular book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Set during the summer of 1938, The Truth According to Us evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters, bringing to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring  visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever.

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If you’re looking for a couple of other great books to read on your porch swing, I suggest Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which is being made into a film by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. Two other fantastic reads are At the Water’s Edge, from Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, or The Nest, a recently released novel about the extremely dysfunctional Plumb family, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

Half of our porch, which extends across the front of our house, is screened in. We have a ceiling fan to create a light breeze when the sultry August air is thick and oppressive. The screened room protects us from being devoured by man-eating Minnesota mosquitoes. It also allows us to enjoy the quiet night sounds, the crickets and frogs, sometimes an owl, or the last little voices of the neighbor kids riding home at dusk.

The chance to play a game of cards with friends, without air-conditioning, television, or mobile devices, is a welcome break from modern life.

 

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Photo from Southern Living magazine

But my FAVORITE thing about a front porch is decorating it for the 4th of July. I’m a devout sentimentalist when it comes to a farmhouse front porch festooned in red, white and blue bunting, garlands, flags in all the flower pots, and the John Philip Souza march playing in the background. Hooray for the red, white and blue!

If you’re looking for some ideas on creating the porch of your dreams, here are a couple more sources for inspiration. HGTV  Country Living  I hope you’ll take some time to disconnect and enjoy some good old summertime, wherever your “happy place” might be.

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson is currently in her happy place.