Four Fun Ways to Celebrate Fall

happy little child, baby girl laughing and playing in autumnWhoohoo! Fall is finally here! I may have said this before, but autumn is without a doubt my favorite time of year, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Why we look forward to fall:

√ The weather. Blue skies, cool crisp air – I’ll take “sweater weather” over hot and humid any day! Plus, we finally get to enjoy the outdoors without the mosquitoes pestering us!

√ The spectacular scenery. Nature transforms into a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors that take your breath away, for a few weeks anyway.

√ Football games. You can’t beat the roar of the crowd and cheering on your home team from the bleachers. Watching the pros in action on the big screen is pretty awesome too! (Go Vikings!)

√ Apples and pumpkins. All ripe and ready for eating, baking, or decorating.

√ Campfires. There’s something comforting about a crackling fire on a chilly autumn night and you gotta love that heavenly wood-smoke smell!

There are so many reasons why we love this beautiful season and so many different ways to enjoy it. Here’s just a sample:
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Go Apple & Pumpkin Picking

A visit to the apple orchard should be on everyone’s must-do list. Picking your own apples is just part of the whole experience. Most places offer tractor-drawn hayrides and some also have petting zoos, corn mazes, and other family-friendly attractions. The one our company visited on a recent outing had all of these things, plus a mountain of hay to jump in, a giant corn crib slide, a play wooden train, walking paths, grape vines, and more!

Wondering what to do with all those apples? See my Sept. 2015 blog post for tasty apple recipes.

While you’re out and about, make a point to stop at a pumpkin patch nearby. Whether you’re setting them out for decorations, carving them for Halloween, or using them in a delicious dessert, it helps to know how to select the best pumpkins for your needs. Find out how at pumpkinnook.com!

If you prefer to make your pie from fresh pumpkin instead of canned, check out this recipe for Scratch Pumpkin Pie!

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View Fall Colors

Each autumn, the leaves change to brilliant hues of gold, yellow, orange and scarlet. Whether it’s in your area or a neighboring state, you’ll definitely want to set aside a day this month to see the gorgeous fall foliage at its peak. Make it a day trip and have a picnic, or go biking or hiking on scenic trails to see Mother Nature at her finest. Here’s a guide to the best fall color displays by state.

Im Biergarten - Freunde vor Blaskapelle
Make Merry at Oktoberfest  

You don’t have to be German to party like one! Indulge in beer, brats, and jumbo pretzels at Oktoberfest, an annual Bavarian festival and funfair observed all over the world. There’s usually a few bands playing oompah music on hand too (I’m not really into that, but I can’t help singing along to “The Beer Barrel Polka” or toasting to “zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi hoi hoi!”). The biggest one is in Munich, Germany, but you’ll find hundreds of Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States alone. Find one near you at funtober.com

We’ve been to quite a few with friends over the years, mostly in New Ulm Minnesota  (the home of Schell’s Brewery) and a couple in Wisconsin, and they’re always entertaining – where else can you mingle with happy revelers dressed in dirndls, lederhosen, and Alpine hats?

Explore other fall festivals in your state at topeventsusa.com!

Tailgating: Group Of Friends Cheering While Listening To Footbal
Tailgate with Fellow Football Fans.

Gather the gang together and enjoy some beverages, food and good conversation before the game. Pack a cooler with beer, soda, etc. and plenty of ice, bring a few snacks to share (and your own meat if you’re grilling – don’t forget the grills!) and portable chairs. Put on your team jerseys and you’re set to go. If you plan to tailgate in the stadium parking lot, be sure to pick a designated spot to meet beforehand. NOTE: you may have to purchase a reserved parking pass if you want to be closer to the venue. Also, make sure you’re aware of any stadium restrictions (e.g., alcohol, grills, tents) in advance.

Get tailgating tips, recipes, and more at tailgating.com!

Discover more great ways to celebrate fall at realsimple.com!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. loves everything about this season, especially the colorful leaves, football, Halloween, and comfy sweaters that hide figure flaws.  

Staycation: All I Ever Wanted

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Sure, heading to Europe for a week sounds amazing, but that’s not really doable for the majority of us – though I wish it was!

Sometimes even taking a car trip to a neighboring state isn’t in the cards due to time constraints or previous commitments. Solution: a Staycation!

Never heard of it? Luckily, I have, and I’m here to give you the lowdown on the down low! (What?) Anyway, a staycation is a vacation where you stay at home. But don’t think this is just another regular weekend – Oh no. There are rules!

Family time at home snuggling on couch in living room eating pop

Don’t worry: the rules are very easy. Mostly, just relax. After all, it’s your vacation!

Rules include: No work, no phone calls, no errands, no doing laundry. It’s quality time with your spouse or kids or just yourself, exploring your own town and relaxing in your own home (or in a nearby hotel or bed and breakfast).

If you need more advice, here are my Staycation Rules! Rules:

Rule 1: Really, Truly No Working

It’s best to utilize a long weekend for a Staycation, or you can simply take off a Friday and/or Monday from work to create your own. Or, if you have a full week off and nothing to do (like during Spring or Summer Break, for instance) all the better!

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Either way, put an “out of office” message on your work email, and don’t you dare look at that phone. Even to top your Candy Crush score or to read the news. This is your Staycation! You have to make the most of it, and getting a “Reply All” from all of your coworkers isn’t going to do much to help your relaxation.

In the same vein, no errand running. The dry cleaning can hold off for a few days.

However, if you are anything like me, and you’re choosing to stay at your home for your Staycation, I would suggest cleaning your house beforehand. That way, you don’t have the itch to pick up your kids’ toys or to dust the bookshelves. SmartPerks blogger Cathy has some tips on how to perfect your spring cleaning you might want to give a try to make sure you’re in the proper, relaxed mindset.

Rule 2: Theme Your Vacation

Hey, we’re really trying to make the most outta this Staycation. Wherever your ideal vacation place is, go with that theme – for an evening, a whole day or the entire weekend.

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Recipe for Greek kebabs here.

For example, if you’re feeling a Mediterranean vacay, go to the grocery store one day before your Staycation. Pick up some key items, like marinated olives, tapenades, fresh feta cheese, and pita as an appetizer, and some shrimp skewers with roasted vegetables for dinner. Don’t forget the fresh fruit and baklava for dessert – and maybe a bottle of Ouzo. 😉 Play a beach-y Greek station on Pandora, and enjoy!

After dinner, you can settle down with a movie like My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Mamma Mia.

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Maybe the next day, go to a park and have a picnic, head to the beach or take a hike, or if the weather isn’t permitting, drive to the nearest museum, spend a day at the spa or go to a fancy restaurant you wouldn’t normally try. Not all of your Staycation events have to be themed; sometimes it’s just nice to enjoy your own area while treating yourself.

Rule 3: Think Outside the Box

Of course, turning your living room into an Amazonian jungle isn’t likely to happen (though it might sometimes feel like it with that summertime humidity!), but choose activities that aren’t typical to your regular Saturday afternoon.

If you’re unmarried or don’t have kids, don’t feel left out – The best part of a Staycation is how little planning it can require, and that you can invite local friends or family on short notice. I one time had a Staycation in New York City with some of my closest pals, going out to meals, visiting the major tourist attractions, and in general acting like a visitor in my home city. We hadn’t planned it out at all, just woke up on a Saturday and decided that would be a fun way to spend the weekend!

If you’re Staycationing with pals, make it feel adventurous by going on a longer drive (2-3 hours is a good amount) so you have a change of scenery. You can even rent a convertible! Find hiking trails or national landmarks, or even quirky attractions, and make a day of it. I’ve used the site Roadside America before on long road trips to find the most interesting destinations.

Three Female Friends On Road Trip In Back Of Convertible Car

“Let’s go see the Unclaimed Baggage Museum!”

Regardless of who you do it with or if you’re alone, make sure you’re being creative! Instead of seeing a movie at the same old cinema, what about catching a live theatrical performance? Or, if you like the park, what about heading to a zoo, greenhouse or public gardens? Do you spend your time reading historical novels? Ever heard of a live reenactment!? The ideas are endless. As for me, I’ll stick to the kitsch – I plan on visiting the Hometown of Paul Bunyan and taking a gander at his giant statue. I’ll probably have too busy of a schedule this summer to travel a lot, so a Staycation here in Minnesota sounds about right.

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Just remember: The possibilities of a Staycation are endless. Whether you spent your whole life in the town you live or moved there a month ago, there’s always something near by to make you see your surroundings in a whole new light. Enjoy!

Blogger Katie U., a SmartPerks employee, thinks her perfect Staycation involves a stack of fresh novels, Netflix, enough groceries to feed a small army and some nice red wine. Who needs Paris (or the world outside her apartment), anyway?