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.

Planting Herbs: A Feast for the Senses

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If the thought of a garden nursery or farmer’s market makes your pulse quicken, then you’re probably familiar with the intoxicating allure of the herb. Even if I never once used my herbs for cooking, I would still plant them every year, because they are literally a feast for the senses, their heavenly aromas released with a touch, stunning colors and foliage, wonderful variety of textures, and oh, the taste of fresh versus dried herbs! C’est magnifique!

Martha Stewart & the British pronounce them with a Her rather than a Ur, which always makes me laugh because I think of my Great Uncle Herbie and the 70s classic Herbie “The Love Bug”.  But I digress.

Before I plant my window boxes or garden, I plant herb bowls. I can plant them early in the season, and if the temps are going to fall too low, I can easily bring them indoors or cover them to protect against frost damage. Basil is especially susceptible to damage from the cold weather, and should not be planted outdoors until all danger of frost has passed.

Another reason I love herb bowls is because I can get creative with mixing and matching complementary plants for simple aesthetics. My favorite pot would contain a variety of different colors and textures. For instance, thyme is one of my all-time favorite herbs for container gardening, because it comes in so many beautiful varieties. I love the tiny green teardrop leaves on woody stocks. My favorite thyme plants are English Thyme, Woolly Time, a wonderful fuzzy creeper, and Lemon Thyme, with its gorgeous variegated foliage and fresh citrus scent.

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Clockwise: Pesto basil, lemon thyme, english thyme, rosemary and french lavender

A good rule of thumb when planting for aesthetics is to plant one tall plant such as a silvery rosemary or chives, a trailing plant like creeping Rosemary, a small to medium-sized colorful plant, like a purple sage or purple basil, a bright lime green plant thyme, and a specialty variety oregano.

Or, I can plant for a more utilitarian theme, like a bowl containing the most common herbs for cooking (basil, oregano, sage, chives and thyme or rosemary), or, for sweets, teas, soaps and oils (chamomile, lemon verbena, mints and lavender).

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Clockwise: Peppermint, purple basil, woolly thyme, and golden sage

When I say mint, you probably think peppermint. But there is quite a variety of mints to choose from, including pineapple or chocolate. My favorite cheap thrill of summertime is to pluck a fragrant leaf or two of pineapple mint and just inhale the deliciousness.  A word of caution, though: mint is best grown in pots as it is an aggressive grower, and will quickly take over a garden, spreading year after year.

Watering – Unlike house plants, herbs need to be watered frequently. The good news is unless left for several days without water, most herbs will bounce back from wilting once watered. During hot summer days, you may have to water at least once a day. They should never be allowed to dry out, completely.

Clipping & Pruning – Using basil as an example, when clipping, start towards the top. That’s where the tender, young leaves are. The large, older leaves at the bottom of the plant absorb the energy from the sun that helps produce new leaves. With basil, and other herbs, you should never allow them to flower unless you’re growing them for decorative purposes only. All of the plant’s energy goes to the flower instead of producing new leaves. You want your basil growing out, not up.

Storing Fresh Herbs – Most cut fresh herbs will keep for at least a week, wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Cooking  – One tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs will equal approximately one teaspoon of dried herbs. Or you can simply remember you’ll typically need 3 times the amount of fresh herbs as dry.

I have to share two of my favorite ways to use fresh herbs, beyond pizza and bruschetta.

I could eat Italian food, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A hearty red sauce is my favorite. However, every home chef should have at least one classic summertime pesto recipe. Here is one from The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. While many know her now from Food Network, I have all of her cookbooks. She is a true icon! http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pesto-recipe.html

Another summertime staple at my house is Herb Butter, which can be made sweet or savory. You can’t go wrong with a lemon thyme herb butter, which is fabulous on pasta, fish or hot, crusty bread. And, it couldn’t be simpler to make, so you’ll spend less time in the kitchen and more time outdoors.

Lemon Thyme Herb Butter

½ cup softened butter

2 tsp. flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)

½ tsp. lemon thyme (finely chopped)

2 tsp. lemon zest

Roll on wax paper into a tube shape. Refrigerate until hardened.  Slice off a round pat when ready to use. Garnish with a thinly sliced lemon half or a sprig of curly parsley.

However you use them, from salads to steaks, I hope you enjoy a summer full of delicious herbs!

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For a free download of this darling watering can cross-stitch from Country Living visit http://bit.ly/20bD3Hp.

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie B., enjoys fresh herbs for their scent as much as their taste!

All uncredited photos taken by Mary Haehn.

 

 

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

From Garden to Table: Time to Get Your Zucchini On!

I love vegetables, especially if they’re fresh from the garden. This year, I can actually say we’ll be enjoying zucchini, cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, and sweet corn from our very own garden!

After 20 some years without one, it’s about time.

I have to give my husband all the credit as he did the tilling, planting and tending. In my defense, he’s semi-retired so he has the time to do it. I don’t.

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San Marzano tomatoes from blogger Mel B.’s garden last summer. She blanched, peeled, and froze these in Zip-Loc freezer bags to use in sauces throughout the fall and winter.

The tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet (I can’t wait for BLTs! I also like them sliced with a bit of salt & pepper – my mouth is watering just thinking about it!)

The zucchini and cucumbers, on the other hand, are growing like crazy! In fact, my husband brought in a giant, blimp of a zucchini the other day. My first thought was, what the heck am I going to do with this?! Since I couldn’t exactly use it as a door stopper, I had to come up with other uses for this humongous summer squash. So, I searched online for recipes featuring zucchini as one of the main ingredients, and found the perfect recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread on allrecipes.com (see recipe below). I figured as long as there’s chocolate in it, my husband and son will eat it (make that devour it!).

Because I had a surplus of the green stuff, I made a double batch. I kept one cake-size pan of it at home and brought a loaf in to work to share. I must admit I’m not much of a baker (I don’t have the patience and usually make a huge mess in the kitchen), but I’m proud to say my zucchini bread was a big hit with both my family and co-workers.

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Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Ingredients
2 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
3 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate until melted. Stir occasionally until chocolate is smooth.
2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, oil, grated zucchini, vanilla and chocolate; beat well. Stir in the flour baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared loaf pans.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2015 Allrecipes.com

This is my own recipe for a super-easy side dish you can whip up using fresh zucchini and tomatoes.

Zucchini & Tomato Parmesan

Ingredients:
3 medium-size zucchini, sliced
2 large tomatoes, chopped or 2 cans stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup diced onions
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
Italian seasoning (basil & oregano) to taste

Directions: In large skillet, sauté zucchini, tomatoes and onions in hot olive oil for 5 minutes. Add Parmesan cheese and seasoning. Stir to coat well. Serve hot.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This is a recipe that Smart Perks blogger Mel B. has been enjoying since she was a little girl. It was her grandmother’s recipe.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk (milk w/lemon juice or vinegar 1/2 tbsp for 1/2 cup milk)
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups grated zucchini

Topping: 1/3 cup chocolate chips, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Directions: Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients. Pour into 13 x 9 greased and floured cake pan. Sprinkle topping over all. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.

Even if you don’t have a garden of your own, you can find fresh zucchini and other healthy, delicious and home-grown produce at your local farmer’s market.

Whether your veggies are the fruits of your labor, or your local grower, enjoy the fresh taste of summer!

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Little dog, big zucchini. Home office dog, Beanie.

Smart Perks Blogger, Catherine B, a Smart Perks employee.

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

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

Greetings & Salutations, Friends!

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

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

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Loved these books!

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

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Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mani/Pedi: What to Know Before You Go

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Summer’s here and it’s the time of year to expose your tootsies and toe-cleavage to the sun and sand! From sandals to peep-toes, summer shoes are more fun. And we feel more care-free and bold in our nail polish choices as well. I love it! No matter your age, a good nail color is an expression of your personality, and a mani/pedi can make your spirit soar.

Whenever I tell my mother I had my nails done, she gasps and recoils with such disgust at my shockingly foolish extravagance. You would think I just bought a diamond-encrusted sports car!

“Why would you ever throw money away like that? I’ve never had a manicure. That’s just such a waste,” she exclaims with righteous indignation. But the days of the mani/pedi being an exclusive indulgence for the wealthy, or something a girl does once or twice in a lifetime, for prom or her wedding day, are long gone.

The emergence of the mall nail salon, rather than having your nails done in a high-end hair salon, has made clean, pretty hands and feet accessible to everyone at a reasonable price! The strip mall next to my office has a nail salon that I’ve gone to now for five years.  For $14, I can get a regular manicure and polish, and I’m in and out in under 45 minutes. I always tip over 20% because the hand-massage alone is worth $14 during a break in my stressful workday. A gel mani typically costs double, but it will last 2-3 weeks, as opposed to the one week that a regular polish typically lasts without chipping.

A “luxury” pedicure which involves a calf and foot exfoliation with a tingly mint scrub and to-die-for massage, followed by having your feet slathered in a thick oil and wrapped in steaming towels, runs between $40 -$50 in my area before the tip, and takes about an hour. It is heaven on earth, and believe me, you deserve a luxury pedicure, at least once a year.

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I love that I don’t need an appointment because I’m a “fly-by-the-seat of my pants” kind of girl, and with the exception of the holiday season, I can just walk in, pick a color and I’m good to go.

If you really want to see a certain person and if you gravitate towards acrylic nails, which take longer, you can make an appointment. For instance, at my salon, there’s one nail technician who does amazing acrylics, and the last time I was in, he was doing the nails of one of the leading female business leaders in the country. I couldn’t believe I was sitting next to her, but it’s really a testament to the quality of work and talent you can find in a mall salon.

So about those gel manicures… I have had varying results with these. They’ve been around now for several years, and the color selection has improved 10-fold. Now you can generally find any color in a gel that you can find as regular polish.The thickness and hardness of the layer of gel applied seems to affect the length of time the polish lasts. I just had a french gel manicure and it only lasted a week before the first gel peeled off (note: I tried a different salon while on vacation.) And once one nail goes, I immediately start picking the others off. This is VERY bad. It removes the top layer of your nail, which leads to weaker, brittle nails. The alternative is soaking your fingers in an acetone polish remover, typically at the salon.

Another consideration with gel nails is that the UV light exposure needed to get the nails to set. Some may be suspicious of the UV light used in the nail dryers at salons. According to a study from the December 2012 Journal of Investigative Dermatology, nail lamps would be safe to use for over 250 years of weekly manicures and even then there would be a low risk of skin cancer. Click here for more on UV light exposure at the nail salon.

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Make sure your salon uses instruments that are properly sterilized and wrapped in a sealed paper package, so you can see they are using a fresh, sterile set of tools for every client. With pedicures, you should watch or ask to make sure that the foot bath is thoroughly cleaned with a disinfectant between each customer.

If you can’t get in for a pedicure, then treat yourself at home. Keep a pumice stone in the shower and gently slough heels and calloused areas. Especially during the summer months, when you’re running around barefoot or in sandals. Also, for dry, cracked heels, try slathering them in Vaseline, Udderbalm (yes, that’s what it’s called…check the foot care aisle at Target or WalMart) each night before bed and cover with socks. This really does work!

Just for fun, I asked some of my girlfriends on Facebook to share some of their recent mani/pedis with me. I like seeing how each of their personalities are reflected in the colors and styles they choose. What about you? What are you doing with your nails this summer? I’d love to hear. Nail art? Jamberry Wraps? Please share!

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Need some at-home help to keep your feet looking lovely between salon visits, here’s a great deal from The Great deal company. Only $4.99. Look for a mani kit, too. http://bit.ly/1HxHJgA

Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, has been known to go through 3 whole cycles in her nail salon massage chair, during her pedicures. Big shout out to Twin Cities Nails in Minnetonka! You are the best.

Dog Days: Making Summer Safer for Your Dog

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Did you know the saying “It’s a dog’s life” means life is tough? WHAT? Obviously whoever coined that phrase never met my dogs. Spoiled rotten. As they should be. Right? My dogs LOVE summertime. It’s their favorite time of year. But there are a lot of things us pet parents need to be aware of to keep our beloved besties safe during the dog days of summer. Here are ten ways you can protect your pooch this summer.

  1. Flea & Tick Prevention – In some parts of the country, flea and tick prevention is a year-round necessity. But for many of us with cold winters, it’s April through October, per our Veterinarian’s recommendation. Being from Minnesota, tick-borne illnesses in dogs are very common, and not just Lyme’s. My mother has a cabin in northern Minnesota and all four of her shih-tzus have contracted some form of tick-borne illness from deer ticks.  11121943_1136831179676385_7852837262015505958_oThere are a variety of topical, spot-on treatments and oral medications that are very effective. I’ve used K-9 Advantix 2 on my three terriers for years and it has been very effective. Seresto is a new flea and tick collar that claims to be effective for 8 months, so no more forgetting to apply on a monthly basis. I simply jot down the dates in my monthly planner for easy reference. Shop around for the best price. Costco and 1-800-PetMeds are two good options, but my veterinarian now offers rebates to make medications more affordable. If you’d like to try natural flea and tick preventatives, those are available as well. Discuss your options with your vet for additional advice.
  2. Heartworm – Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes, a summertime staple, unfortunately. However, unlike twenty or thirty years ago, there is treatment available for heartworm. But it is a painful and risky treatment, that can require a dog’s activity to be limited for as long as two months. The best thing you can do for your pet is prevent heartworm all together by treating him or her monthly. My dogs are tested each spring with a simple blood test, and then treated monthly until a hard freeze in the fall, with Heartgard. Talk to your vet for more information. 1010551_678388688853972_2026449562_n
  3. Does your dog love to garden? Something about all that dirt and lovely smelling compost proves an irresistible combination to canines. We flower gardeners can get very frustrated by Fido’s garden forays. However, it’s not just a nuisance. It can also be dangerous. Many perennials are toxic to dogs: begonia, coleus, foxglove, gladioli, aloe, ferns, and ivy are just a few. For a complete list of toxic perennials, check the ASPCA list. Also, be aware of what you are using as mulch. Cocoa bean mulch smells delicious to dogs, but is harmful if ingested. If you think your dog has consumed a toxic plant, check the list and contact your vet immediately.
  4. Who doesn’t love a summer picnic or barbecue? I know my dogs can’t resist a little nibble of hamburger or a baby carrot handed out on the sly. But be aware of the foods that are toxic to dogs. No guacamole or fruit salad. Avocados, onions, and grapes are just a couple of foods dogs should never eat. For a more complete list check out this link from the Humane Society.lg_1299951_1372199250
  5. Sunscreen for dogs?  Did you know that dogs can suffer the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays, too? White dogs and short-haired dogs are especially susceptible to sunburn. Here is a list from Cesar’s Way – Canine Skincare Awareness of helpful tips for keeping your dog sun-safe this summer.
  6. Swimming. I know many of my friends with water dogs and retrievers think the sight of my little stubby-leggers wearing flotation devices is hilarious. Dogs instinctively know how to swim right? Well, yes, but many breeds with flat snouts and stubby legs are very weak swimmers. They should never be left unattended around a pool. If you boat with your dog, a life jacket for a dog who suddenly jumps can be a lifesaver. Outward Hound makes great flotation devices for pets. 278406_244044452288400_3410829_o
  7. Lake Water. It is never a good idea to let your dog drink lake water. Certain types of blue-green algae can be toxic to dogs. Also, many smaller lakes are chemically treated. Rinsing your dog after a good swim can help avoid skin reactions and take care of that delightful fish smell he picked up on the beach.
  8. Extreme Heat – Always provide plenty of fresh water for your pets, indoors and especially outdoors. If your dog is going to be outside for any length of time, make sure he or she has access to a shady spot, such as under trees, patio umbrellas, or in a dog house.190253_138945479464965_743003_n
  9. As much as your doggie loves to accompany you on your errands, it’s best to leave him home in the summer months. Studies show that when the temperature is 85 degrees outside, the temperature inside a parked car can rise to 90 degrees within 5 minutes, 100 degrees within 10 minutes, and 120 degrees within 30 minutes. It’s better to be safe, and risk a pouty pooch.
  10. Fireworks – Every 4th of July, before we leave the house for the fireworks display on the lake, we turn the air conditioner up, turn on all the televisions, close the shades and make sure our dogs are safe indoors. We don’t want them to be one of the many dogs who run away frightened by the loud booms. Many of my friends use the Thunder Shirt, which is a snug t-shirt that helps make the dog feel secure. There are also calming collars. But one of the best things you can do is desensitize your dog to loud noises. Here’s a great list of ideas you might want to trylg_1299951_1372200805

– Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, spends her summer gardening, boating and stalking cute doggies like a crazed paparazzo.