Banish Blossom Rot & Save the Salsa!

Ripe tomatoes in greenhouse

Are you celebrating opening day this week? Baseball? No. No. No. Farmer’s market opening day, silly!  Our local market officially opens for the season this Saturday.

It’s a day I look forward to all winter long. Time to start planning the garden, and deciding which veggies I’ll put in this year.

Tomatoes, however, are a no-brainer. I’ve planted about 18 vegetable gardens of my own over the years.  And tomatoes are always the stars of the show.

If there is a mistake to be made in planting tomatoes, I have made it.

I’ve started tomatoes from seed, and experienced long, leggy seedlings that grew too thin and sideways, because I didn’t have a light source directly above, and didn’t rotate the seed tray enough.

tomato plants

My go-to tomatoes are Early Girl, Roma, San Marzano, Brandywine and Sweet 100s.

I’ve lost young tomato plants I started indoors, because I neglected to harden them off, by gradually introducing them to the outdoors for hours at a time, then bringing them back in.  These tender young plants need time to adjust to the elements – wind, direct sun, and temperature fluctuation. Truth be told, I just buy started plants at the farmer’s market now.

I’ve made the mistake of planting THREE cherry tomato plants (Sweet 100s are a fave) and ended up with eight billion of the sweet little nuggets of tomatoey goodness – more tomatoes than any one family could eat in a lifetime.

Close up of cherry tomatoes growing in a vegetable garden

But most distressing for me are the common problems that tomato-growers everywhere have experienced at one time or another that occur once the tomatoes start to bear fruit. By that time, it’s almost too late to salvage the plant for the season, and all that nurturing was for naught.

So rather than wait to diagnose tomato troubles mid-season, this year I decided to do some research to head them off at the pass. Stop blight, blossom rot and cracking before they have a chance to take root. Here are some of my top tomato tips:

  1. I have a relatively big garden for a small suburban backyard. It’s approximately 40 feet long. There are a couple of reasons why this is important. First, plant spacing. Adequate spacing between plants prevents the leaves of one plant from touching those of another. Not only does this allow air to circulate, but it prevents disease and pests from easily transferring from one plant to another. Secondly, I rotate my crops. Diseases can stay in your soil from year to year, so I try not to plant my tomatoes at the same end of the garden, or in the same row for consecutive years. Note: Planting tomatoes in a large pot on a patio is a fantastic option for apartment dwellers. I’ve done this, too. You’ll be surprised at the number of tomatoes that one well-cared for plant will produce.
  2. Have you ever had your soil checked? This isn’t an absolute necessity. But it takes the guesswork out of whether your tomato plant is getting the nutrients it needs to thrive. I like to add well-composted, aged manure directly to the soil I’m planting in.
  3. Plant tomatoes deep. A good rule of thumb is 2/3 of the plant should be underground. Planting tomatoes deep will help establish a stronger root system which helps them to survive hot weather and support more fruit.
  4. Support your plants. My grandpa always used 2-inch wood stakes and tied the stems to the stakes with one-inch strips of his old t-shirts. They sell special spongy ties now, but the t-shirt trick is more economical. I use tomato cages myself. I found some round cages that are powder-coated in rainbow colors that make me happy and brighten up the garden. They’re thick and sturdy enough that I don’t have to replace them every year like the other thin or collapsible cages.
  5. Mulch! Mulching around the base of your tomato plants will prevent a variety of the most common tomato maladies. Not only does mulch help conserve moisture, but it also helps prevent the spread of disease. Straw works great as mulch, but there are a variety of other mulches available at your local garden center.
  6. Water! Almost every tomato problem you can name from cracking to blossom rot stems from uneven watering.
Cracked tomatoes

Cracking from uneven watering

Cracking for instance develops as a result of uneven watering, or a period of drought followed by over-watering. The skin can’t stretch to accommodate the fluid build-up, and splits.  The tomato becomes like an over-filled water balloon.

Blight is a fungus that shows up as those dark concentric circles on yellowed leaves, which can occur from wet leaves. Sometimes simply removing damaged leaves is enough, but if the weather won’t comply, you’ll need to remove the whole plant.

Blossom Rot

Blossom rot – Add more calcium

Blossom rot is another problem brought on by drought stress and inadequate watering resulting in a lack of calcium in the soil. The calcium doesn’t move up through the plant quickly enough and the tissue on the blossom-end, turns black and breaks down. You can spray tomatoes with a calcium solution as a stop-gap measure.

A good rule of thumb is to water regularly, but sparingly. Your tomato plants need approximately 1 – 1 ½ inches of water a week. A good soaker hose with a timer is your best bet.

Finally, tomatoes degrade and lose flavor if left too long on the vine or exposed to temperature of 40 degrees or less. You can tell a ripe tomato by a green gel around the seeds. Once the gel turns clear, the tomato is overripe and the flavor diminishes.  Store your ripe tomatoes on the counter to keep them ripe and flavorful as long as possible.

Did you know that adding Epsom salts to amend the soil results in larger, tastier yields? Have you tried adding coffee grounds, egg shells or fish scales when planting your tomatoes? If you have any tried and true tomato tips, I would love to hear them. Please share in the comments!

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie B, will be up at 6 a.m. on Saturday to get her parking spot at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market.

Enchanting Miniature Gardens

use2Springtime is the season of cute! My mind is full of bright colors and baby animals. I want to smell green grass and fresh dirt. I want sunshine, even on the days when the temperatures are still struggling to hit the mid-50s.

Spring can’t come soon enough for me and I need to do something green and creative. That’s why I love mini gardens so much. Even in the dead of a Minnesota winter, I am lucky enough to  have two amazing garden centers nearby with large greenhouses, featuring elaborate fairy gardens or gnome villages, like the one pictured above in Tonkadale Greenhouse.

Since I can’t start planting my garden until the danger of a hard frost has passed (in mid-May), a good alternative to full-scale immersion in outdoor gardening is to create a potted or miniature garden indoors.

use 7

You don’t have to live in a cold climate to enjoy miniature gardening. Container and terrarium gardening can be done anywhere and is simple enough for anyone. They require very little space. In fact you can create a tiny garden in a mug or teacup.

use6

Here are some quick tips that I’ve learned after several springtimes making mini gardens.

  1. Pick your container & your plants at the same time. Tiny, small-leafed plants, mosses and succulents are perfect for tiny gardens. I love to use Irish moss for ground cover. Most greenhouses now feature a section devoted to small plants for fairy gardens. These plants won’t get too big and crowd each other out. Check the tags on the plant for size guidelines. Or ask your nursery expert for some good suggestions for companion plants, given the size of your container. I like to mix it up with a couple of different small varieties of moss, ivy and ferns. Or, I’ll do all  succulents. Succulents are among the most forgiving of plants, and if you’re a plant newbie, they are harder to kill (I kid). use 8
  2. Plan for drainage. Remember, plants don’t like wet feet!  If your pot or container (you can use anything from a wood crate with a liner, a big bowl, a tin bucket, an old coffee can; I’ve seen some really cute mini gardens in repurposed containers) does not have a hole in it, providing adequate drainage is crucial. What I like to do, depending on the size of my container, is layer small stones or pebbles at the bottom of my container, with space for water to seep through. A thin layer of activated charcoal wicks moisture and absorbs any stagnant water odor. Dried moss can be used at the pebble layer to absorb excess moisture as well. 945239_657248600967981_589083094_n
  3. Use good soil. Choose a fluffy potting soil that is not too dense or too wet. I typically use Miracle-Gro, but any fluffy potting soil that allows air, moisture and nutrition will do. Depending on the size of my container, I use odd numbers of plants, based on the old decorating rule. For a medium-sized container, I will use three. I space them evenly, giving them room to grow, and tease the roots a little before nestling each little plant into it’s soil. Once the plants are in, I use extra fine sand, finely shredded bark, shells, or decorative moss as ground cover over the soil.
  4. Imagine and play. Then comes the fun part! Play time. I always start with a vision. I have little Zen gardens, cute gnome gardens, animal gardens, spring themed gardens, gnome getaways. Let your personality be your guide. I have a friend who loves the ocean and made a darling container garden using fine white sand, shells, and beach glass. use9
  5. Sunlight and water. Save the tags that come with your plants. Most miniature plants make good partners, requiring the same amount of light and water. I have always enjoyed my mini gardens indoors and then brought them outside, to the deck or patio, once the weather warms up.
  6. Enjoy! Caution: Creating these miniature vignettes with plants, and tiny little things that make you smile, is addictive. You start to see every small object as something that could serve a purpose in your miniature garden, from an acorn to agate or marble.

The miniature garden is the perfect March treat to tide you over until your warm weather plants can go in. But if you simply can’t wait, violas, or johnny-jump-ups, are a good cold-hardy plant that you could probably enjoy outside out today. Happy planting!

FlowersGnome_ALT

Blogger Melanie B., a Smart Perks employee, is a Zone 4 gardener who believes in fairies and gnomes.

 

How-To: DIY Home Renovation Project

 

couple-decorating-interior (2)

“Your home should tell the story of who you are and be a collection of what you love.”
Nate Berkus

When my husband and I moved into our big two-story farm house in 1993, we knew it would take a lot of time, effort and money to update it. Besides having the wiring and plumbing redone to bring it up to code, the interior of the house needed a serious makeover. It was obvious the previous owners didn’t have any decorating sense whatsoever.

terrible interior

Though it wasn’t quite this bad, it was still pretty bad.

The walls in the dining room and living room were painted light green (the color of pond scum), the windows were hidden under heavy full-length drapes (the kind you’d find in a funeral home or the Munster’s house) and the floors were covered with filthy shag carpeting (I’m sure it harbored all kinds of nasty microscopic critters). The downstairs bathroom looked like it was straight out of a 1970’s flop house – big gold sunflowers against an olive green background, a grungy mustard-colored linoleum floor and a bathtub they probably hauled out of a junk yard. The bathroom upstairs had a long closet decorated with goofy duck stickers instead of a bathtub or shower. I kid you not. It was ridiculous!

Our realtor referred to this 1917 fixer-upper as the “Bates Motel”, but beneath all the unsightly trappings we could see that this place had a lot of character and loads of potential.

Bates_Motel

Not exactly welcoming…

For starters, beautifully carved woodwork, plate rails and beveled mirrors in the spacious dining room, bay windows in the dining room, living room and master bedroom, and underneath that hideous shag carpeting we discovered a magnificent oak floor with mahogany inlay. We were also impressed with the size of the kitchen – 17 ft. x 17 ft. with high 10 ft. ceilings – and the charming built-in cabinet, not to mention the transoms above the bedroom doors (something you’d usually find in grand hotels, not private homes.) Suffice it to say this house was a diamond in the rough.

Cathy's house.jpg

This is the detailing I’m talking about. Beautiful, huh?

After buying the house for a song, we decided we could save a lot of money if we tackled minor renovations ourselves. It’s taken quite a few years (and muscle) to do some of the improvements and, as with most old houses, there’s still plenty to do. But, anyone who has seen the before and after pictures will agree this place looks ten times better than it did when we first moved in.

If you’re thinking of remodeling your home, I have some ideas for easy and affordable upgrades you can do yourself.

guy painting

Look at that technique!

Red Walls

An example of a burgundy dining room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give walls a fresh coat of paint. Probably the easiest and least expensive way to change the look of any room is to repaint it. Think beyond the usual shades of beige and go with colors that reflect the mood or purpose of the room or your personal decorating style. For example, try bright yellow or tangerine in the kitchen, rich burgundy or hunter green in the dining room, and fresh lilac or jade green in the bathroom.

  • Need help selecting the right colors? Check out the interior paint guide at bhg.com
  • Learn how to paint like a pro with help from diynetwork.com

Restore or replace your flooring. If you’re lucky enough to have hardwood floors underneath your worn carpet (like we did) and they’re in relatively good condition, you may just need to spruce them up with a floor sander/polisher from a rental place or buy this handy Floor Scrubber/Polisher. You can always get an area rug if you want to add some color and warmth.

hand painting oil color on wood floor  use for home decorated ,house renovation and housing construction theme

It looks harder than it is, we promise!

On the other hand, if your floors are in bad shape, you’ll want to hide them under new carpeting or flooring. Look for special deals from Empire Today, one of the featured offers in Smart Perks.

Refinish cabinets, shelves and furniture. Instead of investing in new kitchen cabinets, consider refinishing your existing ones with paint or stain. Why not dress them up with different knobs or handles too?

Go to hgtv.com for a simple tutorial on refinishing kitchen cabinets.

Cabinet redo

Photo Courtesy of Pinterest User One Good Thing…

Replace faucets and sinks. Make an outdated bathroom look like new instantly by replacing your faucets and sink with more modern designs. You don’t even need a plumber to do it!

 

Re-tile the floor or backsplash. Tiling is relatively easy. All you need is a little know-how and the right supplies, like tiles (standard subway-style tiles are the most common and the easiest to install), a v-notched trowel, tile mastic (adhesive), a tile cutter, and grout. You can find most of these things at home improvement stores. Go to diynetwork.com for step-by-step instructions on tiling floors, backsplashes, showers and more.

Update window treatments. Get rid of those heavy drapes or dated curtains and put up some sleek new blinds, Roman shades or sheers. Or, you could create your own custom curtains, drapes, shades & more out of materials you already have on hand. Check out the amazing (and easy) DIY Window Treatment ideas from hgtv.com!

shades-products-roman-400

Just one of many options from one of our partners, 3 Day Blinds. Check out Smart Perks for a coupon!

You’ll also find some cool ideas in Melanie’s March 2nd blog post!

For supplies and products, look no further than Smart Perks! You’ll find some great offers from Build.com, Lowe’s, 3 Day Blinds, and more in our Home & Garden section.

Final Note: Before you invest in an older home, have it inspected by a professional to make sure it’s structurally sound. It’s easy to correct cosmetic flaws, but if the foundation is fragile you’ll have a nightmare on your hands. If you don’t believe me, rent the Tom Hanks’ movie The Money Pit!

Good luck and remember, it’s worth all of the effort once you see the fruits of your labor! Have any of you renovated your home yourself and have pics to send? Include them in the comment section!

Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, may not be handy with a hammer, but she does know how to create an awesome honey-do list.

 

NewYear

“Cheers to a New Year and another chance to get it right.”
– Oprah Winfrey

It’s time to uncork the champagne and bid adieu to 2015! We all know New Year’s Eve is a big deal and people all over the globe will be celebrating in a big way. You’ll find everything from extravagant, black-tie galas at high-class hotels to Karaoke contests in small town bars. If you’re not out carousing with friends you’re probably glued to your TV watching millions of spirited revelers take over Times Square.

Back in my single days, my friends and I would get all decked out and pay a month’s worth of wages to attend some lavish soiree, hoping to meet a rich bachelor (a girl’s gotta dream, right?).

Other years we’d go bar hopping and spend half the night fending off inebriated admirers and the other half waiting in line for drinks. Of course, we could always count on a few brawls and plenty of PDA to keep us entertained. Ah, good times.

If you’ve ever been out on New Year’s Eve you know how crazy (and expensive) it can be. So, if you want to take a break from the outlandish parties and crowded bars, I have some ideas for a fun evening with friends or family at (or close to) home.

Neighborhood Block Party. My sister-in-law and her husband live in Florida and every New Year’s Eve they get together with their neighbors for a barbecue. They’re on a cul-de-sac so they’re able to set up grills and tables right on the street and roam around with drinks in hand. At midnight they shoot off fireworks. The best part is everyone can walk home afterwards.

Progressive Dinner. Another great way to celebrate the New Year with your neighbors is to have a progressive dinner – appetizers at one house, the main course at another and dessert at a third. Everyone contributes something for each course.

big glasses times square

Theme Party/Potluck. Get the gang together at someone’s house and have everyone bring a snack or appetizers and their beverage of choice. To add a fun twist to your gathering, have it revolve around a specific theme. We do this every year and so far we’ve had pirates, hippies, the Old West, famous TV characters, a Hawaiian Luau, and a Mexican Fiesta. Often times the food, decorations and party favors are tied to the theme.

For entertainment, you could play games, watch movies and tune into one of those New Year’s Eve extravaganzas on TV. Don’t forget the party hats, foil horns and champagne!

Dollarphotoclub_73383225.jpg

Girls’ Night In. Watch romantic comedies or episodes of TV shows like Sex and the City, Downton Abbey and Desperate Housewives, maybe play some board games or even a little Truth or Dare! Forget the diet for one night (it’s the holidays after all) and indulge in your favorite comfort foods. For beverages, how ‘bout mixing up some delicious “girly” drinks, like cosmos, sparkling sangrias, or lemon drop martinis. Check out mygirlishwhims.com for easy and tasty drink recipes.

Dinner for Two. No reservations, no problem! You can always have a romantic dinner at home. Some menu ideas: Filet Mignon with baked potatoes & tossed salad, a pasta dish like Fettucine Alfredo or Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Caesar salad & French bread, or seafood with steamed asparagus and rice pilaf. Not sure what kind of wine to serve with your meal? Click here for a wine & food pairing chart  Create a romantic mood with lighted candles and soft music. Or, make it more casual and have pizza and beer. Hey, whatever floats your boat!

Happy new year card on table set for party

Family Movie/Game Night. When our kids were young, we’d rent movies or watch them on VHS tapes (remember those?). Now that there’s Blu-ray the picture and sound is so much better. Or, make it easy and stream movies directly to your TV. Enjoy a few “concessions” like popcorn, candy and beverages while you’re at it. As for games, you can play board games, cards, or build a puzzle together.

Click here for a list of the top 100 movies for kids & families from Rotten Tomatoes.

Click here for a list of the best board games for families.

Click here for fun New Year’s Eve games for kids and adults.
Of course, every New Year’s celebration needs some good eats. So, I’ve included a few of my favorite appetizer recipes:

med102917_0507_artichokedip_vert

Artichoke Dip from marthastewartliving.com

Buffalo Chicken Dip
Sweet ‘n Tangy Meatballs
Bacon-Wrapped Smokies
Artichoke Dip
Fiesta Pinwheels

Here’s to a happy, safe and healthy new year!

Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, enjoys celebrating the New Year with good friends, good food and good wine (in this case a sparkling Asti Spumante).

May your troubles be less,
And your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness come through your door.
– Irish Toast

How To Survive Hosting a Big Family Thanksgiving

2293fa420475ce6866721b51de139e84

Practically everyone I know looks forward to Thanksgiving.

It’s one of the few times you can get together with family or friends to catch up on each others’ lives and reminisce, and of course watch a little football.

But, let’s be honest the main attraction is the feast… turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, pumpkin pie topped with real whipped cream… oh, yeah!

Slice of pumpkin pie served on antique china. Bacground of assorted pumpkins and what is left of the baked pie.

Sure, you may have to loosen up your belt a bit (or change into your lounge pants) after indulging in all the glorious food, but you can always diet for days afterward to cancel out all the calories you’ve consumed. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

My family has been hosting this holiday for years. At first it seemed a little daunting and stressful, but now that we’ve got it down to a science, we actually enjoy it. Besides, everyone contributes something towards the meal. We’re just responsible for the turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy.

Of course, we need to take care of all the preparations, too ― shopping for groceries and other essentials, thawing the turkey (I buy frozen because it’s cheaper), cleaning the house, setting the tables and getting up at the crack of dawn to stuff the bird and throw it in the oven. Fortunately, my husband and kids pitch in and somehow it all comes together in the end.
If this is your first time hosting and you have no clue what to do, don’t sweat it. I’ve got some tricks to help make your turkey day a success.

  • Plan ahead. This is a must! I decide on the menu weeks in advance and ask each guest to bring something, like a side dish, salad, rolls or dessert, oh and a bottle of wine (you can never have too much wine).
  • From there, I make a list of the things I need to buy and shop around for the best deals. Stores generally offer discounts on turkeys, breadcrumbs for stuffing, and other popular Thanksgiving fare days or even weeks before the holiday.
  • Thaw the turkey. If you do get a frozen turkey, you’ll want to purchase it a week or more in advance. The reason being it takes about 5 days to thaw a 20-24 lb. turkey in your fridge. The folks at Jennie-O have some tips on how to properly thaw a frozen turkey.
  • Make sure there’s enough tableware. We tend to have a big crowd every year (25-28 people), so I usually end up borrowing extra plates, glasses, silverware, serving bowls, and platters from a relative or friend. I don’t worry about them matching. Everyone will be so busy eating they’re not going to notice (or care)! Besides, mixing different patterns and colors make your presentation a little more interesting and avant-garde.
  • Tidy up the house. I de-clutter and clean the house, at least the rooms my guests will see, in stages. Otherwise, it can be too overwhelming. I do the dusting and vacuuming a day or two before the event so everything stays clean. A word of advice ― recruit family members to lend a hand, even if you have to bribe them!
  • Set the table the day before. It gives you one less thing to do on Thanksgiving Day. I cover them with nice tablecloths (if I need extra, I’ll borrow one or two from my mom or sister-in-law), and place napkins and silverware at each place setting. I also make sure I have salt & pepper shakers at each table.
    GHK image

    Photo by Good Housekeeping.

    As for the centerpieces, I create my own with candles, miniature gourds & pumpkins, and different colored leaves. Need some inspiration? Check out these do-it-yourself centerpieces on Pinterest.

  • Timing is key. This is where it gets tricky. You have to figure out how long it’s going to take to prepare everything (turkey, potatoes, gravy, sides, etc.) so the whole meal is done at the same time. It helps to do what you can ahead of time and have your guests bring pre-cooked or pre-made items so all you need to do is heat them up in the oven or microwave, or keep them chilled until you’re ready to eat.
  • Start with the turkey as it takes the longest. Usually the packaging includes cooking instructions. If not, you can look them up online at www.allrecipes.com. It also depends on whether or not your turkey is stuffed. Some people prefer to have the stuffing outside of the bird, but our family has always cooked the stuffing inside the turkey. Either way be sure to remove those little bags of giblets (heart, liver, neck, etc.) from the turkey before you pop it in the oven. In fact, you may want to cook up some of those little gizzards and add them to your stuffing to make it more flavorful. Here’s a recipe for classic giblet stuffing from Better Homes & Gardens.centerpieces country living
  • Make it casual. We have our guests arrive early in the afternoon for “social hour” with wine and cider, and some light appetizers (crackers & cheese, veggies & dip, etc.) before dinner. The main meal is served buffet style ― it’s less formal and more manageable. My husband carves the turkey and everybody dishes up their own plates then finds a place at the table.
  • Take time to enjoy the meal and each others’ company. In fact, we don’t start clearing the table until everyone is finished. Most of the time we’re all so stuffed after the meal we wait an hour or two to have dessert, giving us time to relax, catch up on the game, or take a stroll around the neighborhood.
  • Ask for help. I find that people (in my case it’s the women) are always willing to help out, whether it’s setting out the food, clearing the table, or doing the dishes. We talk and laugh a lot in the process so we don’t mind being stuck in the kitchen while the others are sacked out on the sofa.

Finally, don’t panic! I decided a long time ago not to fret over things like lumpy gravy or mismatched silverware. After all, it’s dinner with your relatives or friends, not the royal family!

Here’s to a happy and stress-free Thanksgiving!

Pinterest_Discover_and_save_creative_ideas_-_2015-11-12_11.43.19

Click here for Free Thanksgiving Chalkboard Printables.

Blogger Catherine B, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys a good Riesling with her turkey.

Top 5 Self Tanners for Under $30 from the Former Sun Goddess (who finally saw the light!)

6877e4882f55d3acc12004005405a105

Hooray, summer is almost here! I love everything about this season… the celebrations, baseball, hiking, biking, flip-flops, but mostly the warm sunshine.

Back in the day you’d find me catching rays on the beach or in my backyard for hours at a time. I’d douse myself with baby oil (sometimes laced with iodine) and hold an album cover wrapped in foil under my face to reflect the sun… I was determined to look like those bronzed beauties in the Coppertone ads! I worshipped the sun. My brother even called me the “Sun Goddess” (knowing him it wasn’t meant to be a compliment).

My grandmother would always expound on the dangers of sun tanning ― “stay out of the sun, it’s bad for you!” She was a nurse so I guess she would know. But did I listen? Of course not, I was a teenager!

magda-something-about-mary

Magda from There’s Something About Mary, 1998. 20th Century Fox.

My quest for the perfect beach-worthy tan followed me into my 20s, 30s and early 40s. By my mid-40s, the effects of all that sun exposure started to show up on my face and hands in the form of wrinkles and big ugly freckles. Yikes! I decided then it was time to heed my grandma’s advice before I turned into that Magda character in There’s Something About Mary!

I began reading about UV rays damaging your skin and it really started to sink in. Never mind the wrinkles and freckles; it’s skin cancer you really need to worry about! After that I started looking for safer ways to attain that golden sun-kissed hue.

Going to a tanning salon wasn’t an option (apparently artificial rays are just as bad), so I did some research on self tanners and decided to try one. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. After a few applications, my skin tone changed from milky white to soft caramel. What a relief! Now I can look like I spent my summer at the beach instead of inside a cave, without putting myself at more risk for skin cancer!

Obviously some brands are better than others, but suffice it to say today’s self tanners are notches above the old formulas that turned your skin neon orange, like you just crawled out of a giant bag of Cheetos! I found out the hard way you need to follow directions to a tee and make sure you exfoliate and moisturize your skin a few days before you apply the tanner. Otherwise, you’ll end up with unsightly streaks or blotches – not an easy fix, believe me! Click here for step-by-step tips on applying self tanner.

eeea3c4a1c6cda28_blog_005.xxlarge

Here’s a rundown of some popular self tanners you can get for less than $30:

Jergen’s Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer – average cost around $9.00
I love this product because it goes on smoothly, dries quickly and works gradually, allowing you to build up a subtle, natural-looking tan in about three days. You can get it in a lotion, foam or pump (I’ve only tried the lotion) and it comes in fair to medium and medium to tan. Some have SPF 20 UVA/UVB protection and there’s also a firming solution that helps diminish the appearance of cellulite ― I’m all for that! Available at drug stores, discount stores, and Walmart.com.

L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Pro Perfect Salon Airbrush Self Tanning Mist – average cost around $11.00
This product distributes a fine mist where you want color and can even hit hard-to-reach areas like your back. And because you don’t have to rub it in with your hands, no orangey palms (a telltale sign your tan is fake!). I just tried this one a few days ago and it seems to be working. I like that it dries fast too! L’Oreal offers several kinds of self-tanning products. Click here to see the full line.

Victoria’s Secret Beach Sexy Self-Tanning Tinted Spray – average cost $15.00
According to reviews I’ve read, the results are instant and the tinted mist lets you see where you’re spraying for a more even, all-over color. It also has shimmering flecks so you end up with a “golden glow, just like a super model!”

Banana Boat Sunless Summer Color Self Tanning Lotion – average cost $9
This oil-free lotion is enriched with Aloe Vera and Vitamin E and has self-adjusting color so you can go from a soft honey to a rich bronze. Good for all skin tones. Available at discount stores, drugstore.com and Amazon.com.

Fake Bake Flawless Self Tanning Liquid – average cost $26
This one costs more than the other brands, but apparently it’s worth every penny. It comes with a professional mitt that allows you to glide on the liquid with even strokes for an instant, streak-free tan. There’s also a dual function cosmetic bronzer that shows you where the liquid goes, for easy, flawless application. It’s fast drying and long-lasting too.

I recommend testing a few different self tanners to find one you like. Click here for more about self tanners and choosing one that’s right for your skin tone.

One last thing… some sunlight is good for you (vitamin D and all that). Just make sure you use sunscreen whenever you’re outdoors, even if it’s cloudy. Better yet, find a self tanner with sunscreen.

Okay, now you’re golden…time to brave the swimsuit!

– Catherine B, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys her work, but is looking forward to retiring so she can write whatever (and whenever) she wants at home in her pajamas.

The “Garage Sale King” Shares Secrets of a Successful Sale

Two hands holding brown cardboard with garage sale on blue sky background

Every spring there’s a community-wide garage sale in our town and we like to get in on it. After all, you can make hundreds of dollars in one weekend selling things you want (or need) to get rid of any way, like the pair of duck decoys gathering dust in our garage or the frightful clown figurines I inherited from my aunt (as they say, “one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure”). 1116200_695488353810672_1208156024_oBut, we learned the hard way you can’t just set out a mishmash of stuff hoping people will come along and buy your second-hand goods. It takes planning, organization and some know-how to make your sale a success. Otherwise, it’s not worth the time and effort.

After our first garage sale was a bust (we had no idea what we were doing), we consulted our friend, Larry, who is known around here as the “Garage Sale King.” That’s because he manages to rake in between $2,000 and $3,000 every year peddling everything from bikes and baby clothes to fishing tackle & flower pots. Suffice it to say, Larry knows what people want and what they’re willing to pay for them.

Here are some inside tips Larry shared with us:
Sort and set aside items you want to sell. Make sure they’re in good condition (they may be used, but no one wants to buy things that are dirty, stained, torn, or broken). Some of Larry’s top sellers: kids’ clothes & toys, kitchenware, furniture, sporting goods, camping gear, tools, lawn/garden supplies, collectibles, books, CDs, DVDs, games, and jewelry.
Pick dates & times for your sale. According to Larry, Fridays and Saturdays are the best days and Sundays tend to be a wash. However, he’s been known to get quite a few customers on Thursdays as well. As for times, Larry suggests opening your sale around 8:00 a.m. and closing it no later than 5:00 p.m. Serious garage-salers like to shop early so they can get first dibs on the good stuff (I guess it’s an “early bird catches the worm” kind of thing). Some will even show up the night before to get a sneak peek at your wares, so be prepared!

Check out Delightful Order for Garage Sale supplies like this printable sign.

il_570xN.341258156

Check out Delightful Order on Etsy for some great garage sale supplies.

Advertise. Your best bet is to put up big, legible, two-sided signs (with days and times of your sale, your address and arrows pointing in the right direction) around town and at the end of your street a few days before your sale. Balloons will get their attention too. NOTE: check with your city hall first to make sure there aren’t any restrictions on signs. Other advertising avenues: flyers, the internet and local newspapers.
Decide what you’ll need ahead of time. Some of the essentials: long tables (borrow them if necessary) to display your merchandise, a garment rack or long shower rod to hang clothes, shelves for books & knickknacks, a card table for checking out and chairs to sit on, labels/tags for prices (use big ones for larger items), a cash box (a shoe box or an old metal tin works), tablet & pens to tally/keep track of purchases (a portable calculator may help too if you’re bad at math like I am), bags & boxes for carrying merchandise and newspaper for breakables. Don’t forget the cash! You should have enough small bills and coins to make change.
Price items accordingly. Shoppers are looking for bargains – we’re talking how low-can-you-go deals here – so don’t overprice your merchandise and be prepared to haggle, even if it’s over a measly 50 cents! Use round numbers like .25, .50, .75, $1.00, etc. so it’s easier to make change. On the last day of your sale, mark down whatever’s left by 50% or more to get rid of it. Or, do what Larry does and let people fill a grocery bag for $5.00. Have a free box for items that would go for less than a quarter, like little toys for kids. Of course you want to make some money, so click here for guidelines on garage sale pricing. Hint: If more than one person/family is involved use different colored labels or people’s initials to keep track of who’s selling what.

Old objects in secondhand trade market
Focus on presentation. Arrange tables so it’s easy for people to navigate between them and set everything up in a neat and orderly fashion, by category. For example, line up books, movies & music by genre, display clothing by gender, size and type, and put similar items next to each other. Place more desirable merchandise, like furniture, sporting goods and small appliances, in a prime spot so people notice them right away when they walk/drive by.
Create an inviting atmosphere. Play music in the background (it doesn’t have to be elevator music, but nothing loud or offensive – after all, children and grandmas come to these sales!). 1781b0a2410890434b3ea36de0f984dfOffer beverages like bottled water and soda, and maybe a few treats like cookies or bars for $1.00. Better yet, have the kids set up a lemonade stand and let them keep the profits.
Make checkouts easy and pleasant. Be courteous with customers and carefully pack their purchases. Always smile and thank them when they leave. Remember, happy customers are loyal customers.

Follow these basic tips and you’ll be a garage sale guru in no time.

Good luck and have fun!

Catherine B enjoys her work, but is looking forward to retiring so she can write whatever (and whenever) she wants at home in her pajamas.