7 Essential Tips to Stay Sane Through Your Move

Moving can be a time of stress
Moving sucks. It always has and it always will. No matter how excited you are about your new place, no matter how many times you’ve done it before, it’s a huge transition and a massive hassle. And despite the benefits that come with living alone, it can be even tougher when you’re moving into a little one-bedroom apartment.

I’m still getting settled into my first one-bedroom, almost a month after my move-in date, and through the experience, I’ve developed a few guidelines – precepts, if you will – that have made the process smoother. I’d assert they’re still good tips for people moving into houses and people moving with roommates or families, too, so let’s just get started, shall we?

1. Get Preemptive
Before your move, nail down utilities and internet. This is tough to do when you’re hard at work packing up your things and getting your old place ready for inspection, but it makes a meaningful difference in helping the transition. I spent my first three nights in my humid, 85-degree apartment because I’d overlooked the fact that tenants supplied their own A/C units. Likewise, my first week was one without internet, simply because I figured I’d take care of it after the move (ignoring how important contact to the outside world would be immediately after such a transition). In both cases, I had only myself to blame.

Secure payment by mobile. Smart phone on a wooden desk at the of2. Get Paperless
Receiving your first bills for these utilities is a good reminder to set up online bill payment. It reduces clutter in your home, allows you to ditch stamps and constant check-writing, and benefits the environment, too. These systems are designed for every kind of consumer, so they’re extremely straightforward to set up and tend to be good at providing customer service.

3. Get Zen
Our society is endlessly preoccupied with capital-s Stuff, with wonder products that will solve all of your problems and make your life perfect. What you discover living on your own in tight quarters for the first time is that there’s hidden value in empty space as well. You COULD cram in a bed, couch, dining room table, entertainment center, and a pool table into your little one-bedroom apartment, but at what cost to your mental health? We’re setting up an apartment here, not a storage locker. Value that space!

4. Get Ruthless
You own your possessions; don’t let them own you. Ask yourself, “Does this actively serve my needs in my current set-up?  Do I have a way to store it for free until my set-up changes?” Don’t be afraid to cut loose. If you’ve got parents or relatives who are also upgrading or downsizing, chances are they’ve tried to get you to take things they no longer have room for. This is well-meaning, but it can also be an emotional easy way out for them (“Maybe Grant will want this 18-year-old TV, let’s not throw it out just yet”). Between the glasses I’d bought for a college apartment, glassware from grandparents, and glassware from parents, I ended up accidentally moving 38 pieces of glassware into my one-bedroom apartment. Just, no. Find a charity you like and get well-acquainted.

bathroom-shelf

Turn wasted space into productive space that reflects thought and care.


5. Get Creative

Apartments are measured in square feet, but they exist in cubic feet. Don’t forget this. Do yourself a favor and entertain the idea of little organizer/storage doo-dads. Coat hooks that hang over the door, slide-out drawers that sit on the tile under the bathroom sink, pull-out shoe containers that sit under the bed…these things become vital. If you’re looking to buy a shelf, get a tall one. Utilizing your high spaces frees up floor space, and that frees up your mind space. Check out the Over-the-Toilet Cabinet from Wayfair above.

quintladdershelvingunit

6. Get Ready (To Spend)
This one’s easy to say when it’s somebody else’s money, but it’s good advice nonetheless. This place is your home for the foreseeable future, and you own all its contents. Buy quality stuff that’s built to last. Skip past the dorm-room aesthetic. Think metals and woods, rather than plastics. Get a bed frame with a headboard. Obviously don’t put yourself in undue financial distress, but within reason, expect furnishing a new place to take a chunk out of your paycheck for a while. This Leaning Bookshelf from Wayfair is sturdy, portable, tasteful, and affordable!

7. Get Patient
Your move-in day has come and gone. All of your stuff is in the new place. The hard part is over, but you’re far from done. A month later, you’re still not quite done. That’s okay. You might not realize a half-dozen things you need until you’ve actually moved, and that’s fine. Get a list going to keep track of short-term needs versus long-term needs, big pieces versus small pieces. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect that of your little personal empire, either. Steady, incremental progress is the way forward.

happy man lying carpet or rug at home

Remember, it’ll all come together in the end. Take it one step at a time and savor the possibilities!

 

That’s all the wisdom I’ve got to drop today, so take it and go! Be free! Be domestically ambitious! With a little work and pride in your space, you’ll be amazed at how much brighter all facets of life can be.

Smart Perks blogger Grant A. likes rainy mornings, fresh fruit, and the mental image of a T-Rex skateboarding.

Hey Ladies: Fantasy Football is Good for You

Fantasy Football Letterpress

I did it! I did it! I got the number one pick in my Fantasy Football draft. Big thanks to my personal Holy Ghost of the gridiron…Vince Lombardi, who I know is watching over me. This is going to be my year.

Clearly this is a sign the tide is turning in my favor, as I haven’t finished in the top three in the past three years. You’d think I might be dejected after three years without winning, right? Or perhaps, when I tell you I’m a Vikings fan, you think, “Ahhhhh, she’s used to losing.” But no, I am not dejected.

Even if I haven’t had a winning season in 5 years, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the 2016 Fantasy Football draft night since the final seconds ticked off the clock in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl last February.

Group of happy young people

I am an unabashed Fantasy Football diehard. According to Forbes magazine, I’m one of 6.4 million American women who are glued to screens, — television, mobile or otherwise, each game day, monitoring scores from around the NFL. That’s right. One third of Fantasy Football managers are women. It’s not a man’s game anymore, baby.

And no, we’re not letting our husbands and boyfriends manage our teams. I put someone in a headlock for insinuating that once. Kidding. Sort of. And we’re not choosing players by cutest mascot or tight end.

We do the homework. We “break down tapes,” as they say. I’ll admit, before I started playing Fantasy, I was a hometown team fan, and that’s about as far as my love for the game went. I knew the basics of football, but I had no idea what a tight-end was, where the redzone was, or which running back had the most yards-per-carry.

But with Fantasy Football you not only gain knowledge of the game you never in a million years imagined you’d care about, but you can name every Quarterback in the league, the best defense, the Wide Receiver with the most receptions, and the number of yards the leading Running Back ran for.

If you love analytics, there is no better hobby for you. You’ll suddenly find yourself listening to SportsCenter on Sunday Morning, watching NFL GameDay, or tuning in 15 minutes before game time to find out who is active or on the injured reserve.

There is the maddening, nail-biting anticipation of a Monday night game, when winning or losing comes down to the 4th quarter, and three extra points by your kicker stand between you and first place in your league. The only time I stay up past my bedtime on a weeknight? Guaranteed, it’s for Monday Night Football.

Gold Guy Fantasy Football Player

So why are more women drawn to the allure of Fantasy Football each year? Well, assuming they don’t have a huge passion for the game to begin with, women love it for a lot of the same reasons men do, including:

Connecting with friends, family, coworkers, neighbors – My dad and I talk now more than ever. He plays in 3 leagues. I like to go to him to discuss strategy, proposed player trades, line-up and bye week options.  However, I learned early on: don’t ever take anyone else’s advice. You’ll have no excuses and resentment if the advice doesn’t pan out, and you’ll get all the glory for yourself if you make the decision on your own.

I play in several leagues. One is a “girls-only” league with my friends from Facebook, who live all over the country. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch on a regular basis throughout the season, and we share a lot of laughs…from team names to the most ridiculously frilly, frou-frou traveling trophy in the history of football (if Martha Stewart designed trophies, this would be it).

Social Ritual and Tradition – Every year a group of my coworkers, from all departments, IT, Finance, Customer Service and Marketing, get together after work for some appetizers, adult beverages and our Fantasy draft. People who never meet during the course of business hours have become friends over  the years. There’s more cooperation, camaraderie, and morale boost through the friendly competition. We also have a jersey day and chili cook-off during the season, and, of course, we give each other a little good-spirited ribbing during the offseason.

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It’s Good for You – Everybody knows about the psychology of winning right? There’s the adrenaline rush. The self-confidence boost. Fantasy Football is good for your health. It’s science. Don’t believe me? Read for yourself, from the author of Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators.

Bragging Rights, Trophies, Cold, Hard Cash  –  Or, humiliation of opponents in extreme cases, like the guy in the news a few years back who was the big loser in his league and had to get a tattoo of his most hated team’s logo. Talk about a diehard.

So ladies, this is your year. Beginners luck is REAL. Trust me. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes on more than one occasion. Give it a go. It’s good for you!

To form a league of your own, check out Yahoo Fantasy Football…it’s my favorite.

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to reveal her team’s name in this forum.

Pack Healthy School Lunches Your Kids Will Eat

Final Main ImageIt’s that time of year again when kids are gearing up for school or are already settling into their classrooms (do I hear a collective sigh of relief?). If you have children in grade school, you may be wondering what to do about their midday meals, specifically whether you should pack their lunches or trust they’ll eat whatever the cafeteria dishes out.

Let me just say if your little darlings are finicky eaters, they’re probably better off bringing their lunches from home. The trick is to make them appealing and nutritious at the same time. I know, easier said than done, right?

Well, good thing I have some ideas for tasty and healthy meals, as well as fun and functional ways to tote food & beverages to school!

Say Goodbye to Boring Bag Lunches

Back in the day, if you weren’t lucky enough to own one of those groovy tin boxes with your favorite TV characters, you had to carry your lunch in a flimsy, worn-out brown paper bag that was barely big enough to hold a sandwich and an apple.

These days you’ll find an awesome assortment of durable, roomy and cool-looking lunch bags, boxes and containers, many at discounted prices during back-to-school sales. Here’s a sample:

Insulated Lunch Bags. These lightweight bags come in so many patterns and styles – from cartoon characters and action heroes to cute critters and bright geometric designs – you’re sure to find something to suit any age and taste. Find fabulous lunch bags. like the one below, at Amazon.com!

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DIY Lunch Box.
Pick up a plain tin lunch box, like the one above from Oriental Trading, and let your child decorate it his or her own way with glitter, markers, magnets, stickers… you name it!

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Rubbermaid LunchBlox®.
  This Bento-style kit includes 3 colorful containers with leak-proof lids to help you organize and store snacks, fruit, veggies, dips and sandwiches, plus a Blue Ice® pack to keep food chilled and fresh. Everything snaps together to fit inside tall or flat lunch bags. See the complete LunchBlox line at Rubbermaid.com.

Best Bets for Beverages and BrothsContigo water bottles

Contigo AUTOSEAL® Gizmo Kids Water Bottle. The BPA-free reusable water bottle is leak- and spill-proof and has an easy-clean transparent lid. Go to reuseit.com for all kinds of clever water bottles for kids!

 

Crayola® Juice Box Holder. No more crying over spilled juice! Just place the juice box in this sturdy, squeeze-proof plastic container and the juice stays put! Get one now for only $3.99!

food jarninji turtles food jar
THERMOS Brand FUNtainer Food Jar.

The compact, double-wall stainless steel container holds up to 10 ounces and keeps food hot or cold for hours. Choose from a variety of FUNtainers at Target.com.

Kid-friendly (and mother-approved) menu ideas:
* Pita-bread pizzas — If they like pizza, they’ll devour these! Take pita rounds (without the pockets) and top them with pizza sauce from a jar, pepperoni and grated mozzarella. Bake in a toaster oven and wrap them in foil to stay warm.
* Sandwiches in fun shapes — Use crust or cookie cutters to turn ordinary sandwiches into something “magical” like butterflies, hearts or dinosaurs! Get a 5-Pack of Sandwich Crust Cutters at Amazon.com
* Pinwheels — Spread cream cheese on a flour tortilla, cover it with deli ham or turkey, shredded cheese and lettuce, roll it up and slice into bite-size pieces.
* Kabobs — Take wooden skewers and lace them with chunks of ham or turkey, cheese and fresh fruit like pineapple or apple.
* Mini pot pies — make these ahead of time, heat ’em up and wrap in foil to keep them warm. Here’s an easy pot pie recipe from Betty Crocker.
* Pasta — Most kids like mac & cheese, spaghetti & meatballs and ravioli. Needless to say, homemade is better than the pre-made kind you pop in the microwave. Try these delicious, kid-tested pasta recipes from allrecipes.com.
* Vegetable alphabet soup — Heat it up in the a.m., put it in a thermos and it’ll still be “mmm, mmm good” at lunchtime.
* Ants-on-a-Log — A good-tasting, good-for-you snack that’s fun to make and eat! Just spread peanut butter on stalks of celery and sprinkle with raisins.
* Veggies & dip — A great way to get youngsters to eat their vegetables! Fill a container with baby carrots and include hummus or ranch dressing for dipping.
* Yogurt — Click here to find the best yogurts for kids.
* Something to drink — low-fat milk and ice water are the best choices for beverages. Juice boxes are good, too, as long as they’re low in sugar. Sodas are a no-no, of course. Even diet soft drinks have been proven to be unhealthy.
* Include some fresh fruit (grapes, berries, an apple or pear), string cheese, crackers, maybe a granola bar or cookies (from scratch) for dessert, and they’re good to go!

Visit our Kid Stuff Pinterest board for more school lunch ideas!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. tried brown-bagging her lunch once in first grade but gave it up after the paper bag ripped and she lost half her meal on the sidewalk.

4 Deliciously Different Things to Do with Zucchini

If you have an overabundance of zucchini in your garden, you’re probably thinking “what the heck am I going to do with it all?” Yeah, I’ve been there and I know from experience that if you don’t pick them soon enough, your zucchini will turn into overripe, torpedo-size gourds!

Sure, we joke about leaving bags of the green stuff on neighbors’ doorsteps and using giant zucchini as door stops, but the truth is there are so many wonderful ways to prepare summer squash, you’ll wish you had more!

Let’s start with these amazing recipes!

zucchini shrimp scampi

This savory shrimp scampi uses spiralized zucchini in place of pasta and has only 214.3 calories per serving! 

Zucchini Shrimp Scampi (Serves 4)
Ingredients:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more, to taste
1/4 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-1/2 lbs. (4 medium-size) zucchini, spiralized
2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley flakes

Directions: Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pink, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and lemon juice, season with salt & pepper. Bring to simmer. Stir in zucchini noodles until well combined, about 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan and parsley, if desired.
Recipe and photo courtesy of Damn Delicious.

Watch this video on how to spiralize zucchini.
Don’t have a spiralizer? Shop for one now at Amazon.com.

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Try this good-tasting, good-for-you snack with your favorite dip!

Baked Parmesan Zucchini Crisps   
Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 zucchinis, thinly sliced to about 1/4 inch-thick rounds
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper
Directions:
1. Lay out paper towels and place zucchini slices on the paper towels. Sprinkle zucchini with salt on both sides. Cover zucchini slices with more paper towels and press down. Leave for 20 minutes. Paper towels should be wet and zucchini slices fairly dry.
2. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a shallow plate, combine Panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, oregano, salt & pepper; set aside.
4. In a 2nd shallow plate, add flour seasoned with salt & pepper.
5. In a 3rd plate, beat eggs with salt & pepper.
6. Dredge zucchini slices in flour, dip into eggs then dredge in Panko mixture, pressing to coat.
7. Place zucchini slices on prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all zucchini rounds are done. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until zucchini rounds are golden and crispy. Serve with your favorite dip.  (We like it with ranch dressing.)
Recipe from jocooks.com.

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This yummy zucchini quiche is easy to make and there’s bacon in it… need I say more?

Zucchini Bacon Quiche (Serves 6-8)
Ingredients:
1 tube (8 oz.) refrigerated crescent rolls
2 tsp. prepared mustard
6 bacon strips, diced
3 cups thinly sliced zucchini (about 1-1/4 lbs.)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten*
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese*
2 tbsp. dried parsley flakes
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. dried oregano*
1/4 tsp. dried basil*

Directions:
1. Separate crescent dough into eight triangles; place in a greased 10” pie plate with points toward the center. Press dough onto the bottom and up the sides of plate to form a crust; seal perforations. Spread with mustard.
2. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels; drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of drippings. Sauté zucchini and onion in drippings until tender. In a large bowl, combine eggs, cheese, seasonings, bacon and zucchini mixture. Pour into crust.
3. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cover edges loosely with foil if pastry browns too quickly.
*I changed this Taste of Home recipe by adding an extra egg and replacing mozzarella with Colby Jack cheese and dried basil/oregano with Adobo seasoning. My husband devoured it!

Southwest Zucchini Boats

These fun zucchini boats are packed with flavor and they’re healthy, too!

Southwest Zucchini Boats (Serves 4)
Ingredients:
4 medium zucchini
1 lb. ground beef
3/4 cup salsa
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided

Directions:
1. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise; cut a thin slice from the bottom of each with a sharp knife to allow zucchini to sit flat. Scoop out pulp, leaving 1/4″ shells.
2. Place shells in an ungreased 3-qt. microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Remove from heat; stir in salsa, bread crumbs, cilantro, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup cheese. Spoon into zucchini shells.
4. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 4 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Microwave 3-4 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and zucchini are tender. Serve with sour cream if desired.
Photo and recipe from Taste of Home.

Looking for something on the sweeter side? Check out these recipes for Chocolate Zucchini Bread and Cake from my 8/4/15 blog post.

You’ll find tons more zucchini recipes on Pinterest too!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. is hoping these recipes will entice her husband to eat more vegetables. 

Olympeculiarities: The Weirder Fare on Tap at Brazil 2016

Gold Medal 2016 Athlete Standing Sugarloaf Mountain

Ah, the Summer Olympics. That rare exhibition of the world’s proudest athletics. I’m a sports fan, so the Summer Olympics should be like Christmas in July (scratch that, August), but I grow bored of the standard swimming, gymnastics, and track events that make up 95% of what they show on prime-time TV. Instead, I like to dig into the weird stuff, the stuff I never see anywhere else, the stuff I can’t believe made it into the lineup of the world’s marquee athletic competition. Let’s run down my top 3 wackiest Olympic events for the American viewer, followed by the best ways to watch these marvels of sport. Join me, won’t you?

Dressage

Steffen Peters

Steffen Peters on Ravel competes during the FEI World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle Final at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, April 18, 2009. Peters won the final. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

We’re starting out with a bang. The International Equestrian Federation defines dressage as “the highest expression of horse training” where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.” They call it this because it would be too ridiculous to call it “horse dancing,” which is exactly what it is. If you’ve never seen a steed doing soft-shoe, you’re in for a treat.

Equestrian Highlights – Hiroshi Hoketsu – London 2012 Olympics

Fencing

Women's Team Epee - London 2012

Photo Credit: S. Timacheff of fencingphotos.com

Most Americans know what fencing is, but few have ever actually seen it happen. It’s quite the spectacle. Two competitors, clad in what looks like what you’d get if you mixed “ninja,” “spaceman,” and “roll of aluminum foil,” get their Luke Skywalker on up on a catwalk like it’s Fashion Week in Paris. The rules can be a little much to follow, but that’s what the judges are for.

Fencing Highlights – London 2012 Olympics

Handball

Ivan_Nikčević

Ivan Nikcevic of the Serbian national handball team.

This last sport is one I wish were big in America all the time. Handball is like if a bunch of European guys weren’t good enough at soccer, so they shrunk the ball and picked it up with their hands. What results is this funky blend of soccer and basketball, in which attempts on goal frequently take the form of high-flying, acrobatic whips toward the corner of the net. Seriously, please tell your friends about handball. Maybe we can get LeBron to switch.

Check it out. Men’s Handball Final – Sweden vs. France, London 2012 Olympics

How to watch the Rio Games

NBC Sports Network will show some fencing, but we’re going to have to dig a little if we want to get off the beaten path. Fortunately, NBC makes it very easy to live-stream literally any event you could want to watch, legally and safely, without any extra signup or payment (and I say this as somebody who uses this service to watch probably 200+ English soccer matches over the course of a year). Go to NBC’s Live Extra site and you will see featured events and menus to navigate to whatever you’re looking for. Before you can begin the stream, they will ask you to log in with your cable subscriber information (this is what makes it legal, thumbs up!). One subscriber account can be used to log in multiple devices, so you and your family (or roommates) can all have your pick, or watch away from home at the same time.

NBC has put together this handy calendar for us, making it easy to see what’s happening when. But fear not, even if you miss an event live, NBC Sports Live Extra archives many events for days or even weeks, so you can get caught up or pick up where you left off. For those watching on a smartphone or tablet, the NBC Sports Live Extra app is free and provides the same great service.

That’s all I’ve got! Take my advice and explore outside the spotlight this Summer Olympics…and maybe check out Canoeing, Racewalking (just Google it), and Table Tennis while you’re at it. If you need me, I’ll be parked in front of my laptop, wearing a Mikkel Hansen Danish handball jersey.

 

Smart Perks blogger Grant Abrams can’t stop thinking about the foreign, the fantastical, and the futuristic…also chocolate chip cookies.

 

How We Celebrate the USA…

Fourth of July Dachshund Dog

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

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

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

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

Nathan's Famous July 4 Hot Dog Eating Contest 2015

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

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

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

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

images.washingtonpost.com

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

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

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

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

John_Deere_Tractor_4th_July

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

boat-parade-first-place

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

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

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Must read!!!

 

 

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

 

This Father’s Day Give Him the Gift of Time

Child's drawing for Father's day

June 19th is just around the corner and if you’re still deciding what to get Dad this year let me make a suggestion – instead of the usual tools, ties, fishing lures, etc., do something fun and memorable with him.

For example, last year my husband, son, daughter and grandson went to a baseball game. Granted he paid for the tickets, but he just wanted them all to see our Twins play his beloved Cubs at Target Field (he’s never lived in Chicago, but for some reason he’s a big fan). The whole experience was worth more to him than anything you could buy in a store and it meant a lot to the kids too. He told me later it was “the best Father’s Day ever!”

Not sure how to celebrate Father’s Day? I’ve got ideas for meaningful and unforgettable experiences you can share with your dad, grandpa or any father figure.

Catch a ballgame. There’s something about watching your home team in action from the bleachers. It doesn’t have to be major league. Sometimes a minor-league game can be just as enjoyable, or in some cases, even more entertaining.  Here in Minnesota we have the St. Paul Saints and the home games are always a blast! From tire races and sumo wrestling to giant pillow fights, there’s always something crazy going on between innings.

Spend the day at the races. Take him to the track and bet on the horses. You don’t have to wager a lot. Half the fun is picking which contenders will place, show or win and cheering them on. Click here for a list of horse racing tracks by state. If he’d rather watch turbocharged cars than thoroughbreds, go to fastspeedways to find a speedway near you.

Go fishing. If pop’s an angler, bring him to his favorite fishing hole for the day. Just make sure you have all the equipment you need and a fishing license beforehand.

children and grandfather having a barbecue party.

Children camping, cooking and celebrating with their grandpa.

Camp out. If he’s the outdoorsy type, consider spending a night or two camping. This will require some planning in advance, so check with him (or Mom) first to make sure his calendar is clear. Visit reserveamerica to find campgrounds in your region and to reserve a campsite.

Go hiking or biking. Another way to enjoy the outdoors is to hike or bike in scenic surroundings. My home state, Minnesota, has excellent biking and walking trails. In fact, it was recently ranked the second most bike-friendly state in the U.S. by the League of American Bicyclists (Washington was #1). Search for nature trails by city & state at trails.com.

Sample some beer or wine. Find a microbrewery or brewpub nearby and treat him to a flight to taste the various selections (e.g., pale ales, pilsners, lagers, stouts, flavored porters). Then buy him a growler filled with the beer of his choice to take home. If he prefers grapes over hops, spend the afternoon wine tasting at local wineries.

Visit a museum or historic sites. If he’s a history buff, take him to see some ancient artifacts or notable places from the past like old forts, a colonial village or civil war battlegrounds.

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My kids & their dad loved cruising around in this 1950 Chevy in the mid 90s.

Take a drive. One of my kids’ fondest childhood memories is going on mini road trips in their dad’s 1950 Chevrolet DeLuxe Superliner. Sometimes we’d take it to classic car shows or a small town close by. You never know what you’ll encounter along the way.

Hit the links. If he’s an avid golfer and you are too, reserve a tee time at a local course. Most courses take requests for tee times in advance but do it ASAP as they’re sure to fill up fast. Mini golf is another option.

Cultivate common interests or skills. Maybe you both like to build things, collect memorabilia, play an instrument, or run marathons. It’s more rewarding when you do it with someone else.

Dine together. If he likes to chow down, prepare a home-cooked meal for him. Whether it’s a four-course dinner or a backyard barbecue, just make sure it includes some of his favorite foods. If you’re not much of a cook, take him out to dinner and let him pick the restaurant.

Be adventurous. Thrill seekers may like river rafting, kayaking, surfing, or parasailing. Or, how about rock climbing, zip lining, bungee jumping, or four-wheeling? Note: he may need a doctor’s okay before participating in some of these extreme adventures.

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Three generations (husband, son and grandson) combing the beach in Florida this spring.

Be playful. Go on rides at an amusement park, race go-karts, play laser tag, darts, horseshoes, Frisbee golf, or a few rounds of pool. Or, hang out at the beach.

See a live performance. If he’s into music, look for concerts, musical festivals and venues in your area – JamBase.com is a good place to start. If he’s a theatergoer, take him to a play, or for a good laugh, check out a comedy club.

Visit eventsnearhere.com to find local events, including concerts, theater, exhibits, outdoor activities, lives shows & expos, and more.

As you can see there are all kinds of ways to spend quality time with your dad, granddad, or anyone who’s like a father to you. No matter what you do, the main thing is you’ll be making memories together.

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. no longer has her dad in her life, but she’ll always remember being daddy’s little girl.