Category Archives: Holidays

How to Throw a Seamless Dinner Party

Think being a good host means stressing in the kitchen while your guests enjoy the party? Think again. With a little advanced preparation, you can unlock the secrets of a stress-free holiday get-together.

Plan and Practice the Menu
Choose dishes that don’t have to be served piping hot, like lasagna, quiches and braised stews. Test out new recipes in advance so you can make necessary adjustments to the ingredients and perfect your prep time. Once you’ve got the menu figured out, prepare what you can ahead of time. Ready entire courses that will keep for a day; then heat them up just before your guests are set to arrive.

Don’t Forget the Drinks
Serving a signature holiday cocktail, whether it’s alcoholic or family-friendly, can simplify your hosting process. If you can, find one that can be premixed and served from a pitcher. Chill other beverages in an ice-filled tub to keep your refrigerator food-focused, and position the drink station opposite the food buffet to create a nice flow and avoid bottlenecks. This will help cut back on the number of people congregating in and around the kitchen.

Aim for Easy Cleanup
Plan out the number of serving dishes you’ll need in advance, and borrow from family and friends to supplement what you have. Want to reduce your dish-washing burden? Serve hors d’oeuvres, which can be filling and require little more than a napkin. If you do opt to use dinnerware, begin the party with an empty dishwasher so you clear plates and glasses as soon as guests have finished.

These tips will help you enjoy your gathering without the typical hosting hassles.


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Featured Image Credit: “Happy Thanksgiving everyone!” by Satya Murthy © 2010 (CC BY 2.0)

Top Corn Mazes in the Country, From Family Friendly to Super Scary

Fall is upon us, which means pumpkin spice and flannel is bound to be everywhere soon. But while those two trends may not be for everyone, there is an autumnal activity that all can enjoy: corn mazes! With hundreds of mazes available across the country, there’s something to please families, brainiacs, and thrill-seekers alike. Read on for our list of America’s most a-maize-ing corn mazes!

Family Fun

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1. Sever’s Corn Maze (Shakopee, MN; Sept. 9th-Oct. 30th)

Part of Sever’s beloved Fall Festival – now in its 20th year – the corn maze is fun for all ages. Navigate through the winding stalks as a family, and read fun facts about the 19 previous mazes along the way. Those who participate in this year’s Maze Challenge will be entered into a grand prize drawing, and the winner will be chosen at the end of the season. Past maze designs include the state of Minnesota, the Vikings logo, and a world map.

2. Twin Cities Harvest Festival & Corn Maze (Brooklyn Park, MN; Sept. 24th-Oct. 30th)

Of course we couldn’t forget to mention Minnesota’s largest corn maze. This year, locals will love tackling the Vikings-themed maze, which celebrates the team’s inaugural season at U.S. Bank Stadium. The maze has a sporty history, having previously been designed to honor the Wild and the Twins. Other activities at the festival include a straw bale maze (perfect for kids!), petting zoo, and hayride (of the non-haunted variety).

3. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm (Ronks, PA; July 2nd-Oct. 30th)

You can tell by the farm’s website alone that this corn maze will be an adventure the whole family can enjoy (just check out that smiling corn cob!). You never have to worry about getting lost in this five-acre field, as there are friendly “Maze Masters” positioned throughout to help you on your way. The color-coordinated challenges along the way help encourage teamwork, making this a perfect activity for families and school field trips alike.

Challenging, Not Creepy

1. Great Vermont Corn Maze (Danville, VT; Aug. 1st-mid Oct.)

The largest maze in New England, the Great Vermont Corn Maze has been called one of the top 10 of its kind in America (and you can vote now to make sure it keeps that title). In fact, it’s so challenging, that organizers encourage participants to arrive as early as possible and bring lunch since most maze-goers spend between two to five hours in the maze and checking out the adjoining attractions. They even discourage most teenagers from entering the maze without adult supervision, since they feel they won’t be able to complete it on their own without giving up!

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Photo Credit: “Corn Mazin” by Mark Smithivas © 2008 (CC BY-SA 2.0; Edited)

2. Richardson Farm (Spring Grove, IL; Sept. 3rd-Oct. 30th)

Calling all maze (and maize) aficionados – here’s one you don’t want to miss since it happens to be the self-proclaimed largest and most intricate corn maze in the world. This year, the 33-acre maze pays tribute to Star Trek for its 50th anniversary. If you think you can “live long and prosper” in this tough but fun course, then make the trek (see what we did there?) to Illinois and beam on over to Richardson Farm asap!

3. Cool Patch Pumpkins (Dixon, CA; Sept. 17th-Oct. 31st)

Founded in 2001, this maze has been officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest (at 40 acres in 2007 and, again, at 60 acres in 2014). Bigger isn’t always better, though, as many challengers have discovered by getting lost among the tall stalks…and then proceeding to call 911 for help (a practice local sheriffs discourage, by the way). To avoid the commotion and potential panic, heed the map given to you at the maze’s entrance and plan to be in there for at least a couple hours.

This year’s design was inspired by the farm’s logo, and last year’s pattern was the emblem of nearby Sacramento Kings. The grounds also feature a world-renowned pumpkin patch (of course!), where the youngsters can partake in picking their own pumpkin from a field of thousands. More fun activities include the pumpkin cannon, a corn bath, and hay rides.

Terrifically Terrifying

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We wonder what’s lurking around those corners in the darkness… Photo Credit: “so scary” by Lindsey Turner © 2007 (CC BY 2.0)

1. Ludicrous Labyrinth at Scream Town (Chaska, MN; Sept. 30th-Oct. 30th)

Ready for some crazy thrills around every corner? Then enter the Twin Cities’ scariest labyrinth, and get ready to run for your life. Not only will you have to navigate the twists and turns of a typical corn maze, but you’ll also be combating fog, flashing lights, and creepy characters chasing you through the corn. Enter only if you’ve got nerves of steel (and a good pair of running shoes).

2. Haunted Carter Farms (Princeton, IA; Sept. 30th-Oct. 31st)

Touted as America’s original haunted corn maze, the only clue given by the creators here is where to begin – getting out of “the place where corn and nightmares grow” is entirely up to you. While they are all about unabashedly scaring the bejeezus out of you, there is a bit of good in their wicked hearts – if you bring two non-perishable food items, you’ll get $2 off admission and the items will be donated to The Hunger Drive. That, however, is where the kindness ends. Also, be sure to arrive on time – as they say, the last “victims” enter the gates at 10:30pm.

3. Dark Harvest Corn Maze (Ulster Park, NY; Sept. 17th-Nov. 5th)

Just one of many terror-inducing attractions at the Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, New York, the corn maze will surely fulfill your need to scream this Halloween season. Based on a chilling story, the maze is a dark, daunting labyrinth…with no emergency exits. This is definitely an enter-at-your-own-risk situation. Each attraction (including a hayride, several haunted houses, and the corn maze) leads to the next, so be prepared to be scared straight silly for at least three hours. If you can’t handle chainsaws, crazy clowns, or crowds, then we’d advise skipping this one altogether. May we suggest a visit to Cherry Crest Adventure Farm instead?

Have you ever ventured into a corn maze? Where? Do you prefer family friendly or freakishly frightening? Let us know in the comments!

Featured Image Photo Credit: “UFV corn maze media day 01” by University of the Fraser Valley © 2014 (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Harriet Band Shell

Celebrate Memorial Day 2016 in the Twin Cities

Memorial Day is right around the corner, which means summer can’t be far behind. If you need some last minute ideas on how to celebrate summer’s unofficial kickoff, then you’re in luck. We’ve put together a list of the best places in the Twin Cities to spend some time this long holiday weekend. Whether you’re a history buff, sports fan, or just want to relax with some good music, we’ve got an idea for you.

Historic Fort Snelling: Travel through the past to discover what life was like for early Minnesotans and learn about our country’s military history. Afterwards, enjoy games, historical reenactments, and a scavenger hunt.

Lakewood Cemetery: Pay your respects to American soldiers, while enjoying some family-friendly fun. Activities include a Memorial Day ceremony, live music, tours of the cemetery, drawing, poetry and photography classes, art and history exhibits, refreshments and more.

Lake Harriet Band Shell: Memorial Day marks the annual re-opening of the Band Shell for the summer Music & Movies in the Parks series, which runs through Labor Day. Up first is All the Islands, a Minneapolis based folk-pop band. While you’re there, you can enjoy a picnic in the picturesque Lake Harriet Park or rent a paddle board to take out on the water.

The Landing: It’s Wild West Weekend at this Shakopee venue. You’ll be able to experience reenactments of popular western legends, learn how to cook over an open campfire, and finish the memorable weekend with an 1880s Memorial Day ceremony on Monday afternoon.

CHS Field: The Twins are away for the weekend, so why not head on over to St. Paul to catch the Saints play the Kansas City T-Bones on Sunday? Make sure to stick around afterward for the Memorial Day Celebration Fireworks Super Show, which is sure to delight baseball fans of any age.

Crayola Experience at Mall of America: Just in case the weekend weather isn’t ideal for spending time outside, consider heading to the largest mall in the U.S. for this brand new, hands-on attraction which just opened May 25th. The Crayola Experience features 25 one-of-a-kind attractions (including a crayon factory, glow-in-the-dark coloring stations, and create-your-own puzzle area), Café Crayola, and the Crayola Store.

How will you be celebrating Memorial Day? Let us know in the comments!

St.Patrick’s Day Parades and Celebrations

Every year, on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated. It began as a religious holiday in Ireland and is still celebrated like so in Ireland. In the US it is more of a festival that celebrates Irish culture with parades and a variety of events.

Boston parade is the second largest in the country. It is the most Irish of all the cities in the US, that is why St.Patrick’s Day is celebrated all week. The parade goes through South Boston and features marching bands, live music and many more fun festivities.

New York Parade is also one of the largest with 150,000 participants. The bands are marching down the 5th avenue in Manhattan and it usually takes about five hours to complete the route. Participants of the parade are bands military, firefighters and cultural groups and clubs.

Scranton parade is considered to be the oldest ones and it is believed to be one of the most popular. There are over 12,000 participants and include Irish step dancers, local organizations, Irish groups and bagpipers. The parade always begins with a Mass at St.Peter’s Cathedral.

Chicago parade was first held in 1956 with the Irish population growing. They way St.Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Chicago is pretty unique. Starting in 1962, they began to dye the river green for the celebrations and stays green for about five hours. It causes no harm to the water, in fact, the dye can detect pollution.

New Orleans parade also included marching bands, float riders who throw not only beads, but also ingredients for the Irish stew! Festivities go on for 10 days and include not one, but three parades. One of the most popular celebrations are the block parties, these are outdoor parties that are free and open to public.

Flickr Creative Commons: Max Talbot-Minkin (CC BY 2.0)
All photos used under this license.

Fireworks

New Year’s Resolutions for New Homeowners

As 2015 comes to a close, many of us are making resolutions for the new year. To eat more healthily, exercise more often, and become more financially responsible are among the common pledges year after year. However, if you just became a first time homebuyer recently, we have a few special recommendations to put on your resolutions list this year to ensure an enjoyable experience as a new homeowner in 2016. 

Flickr Creative Commons: oddharmonic (CC BY-SA 2.0); Edited

1. Keep up with your seasonal maintenance.

In case you haven’t realized it yet, owning a home is a lot different than renting. One of the reasons is that your house will require much more maintenance (especially if you previously lived in an apartment), and now repairs and fixes are your responsibility. If you’ve only owned your home for a few weeks or months, you probably haven’t yet had the chance to deal with it in all types of weather, meaning there’s an element of the unexpected waiting for you in the new year. With the changing of seasons, there’s always something that needs to be checked on or updated to make sure it is functioning to the best of its ability. Taking care of these items in advance will save you a lot of time and money down the road. Don’t know which projects need to be completed when? Contact us to request a copy of our handy seasonal home maintenance guide.

2. Experiment with a new color scheme.

There’s a good chance that you did some painting when you first moved in, in order to personalize your home to your preferred style and that’s great! But with the new year approaching, it’s always a good idea to consider some change, and a fresh coat of paint is just like getting yourself a new haircut. Whether you’re thinking about a subtle shade change for your bedroom walls or a complete makeover for your kitchen, this is the time to go for it. And since Pantone just named their new colors of the year, perhaps these might be some options for you to consider (especially if you’re planning to welcome a new bundle of joy in 2016)? Or, if you’re not quite willing to commit to new paint, try adding some visual interest via trendy accent pieces, such as tribal print artwork and accessories

Flickr Creative Commons: Christian Bros Cabinets (CC BY 2.0)

Flickr Creative Commons: Christian Bros Cabinets (CC BY 2.0)

3. Splurge…a little.

Buying a home is probably one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your life, and right now your wallet might be feeling a bit light. But as you get used to making your mortgage payments, they won’t feel like they’re making such a big dent anymore. You’ll then realize you might want to spend a little more to make your home feel complete. Don’t get us wrong – we’re not advising you to install the most tricked out home theater system you can imagine or a fish tank the size of your old apartment bathroom. However, we are encouraging you to treat yourself to that fancy vacuum you’ve had your eye on for months or a new dining room set that will go with those gleaming hardwood floors. After all, this is your house to do whatever you want with now, and you want to make it feel like your home, which might just mean adding a few indulgent creature comforts. You’ve worked hard to be able to call yourself a homeowner, so treat yourself!

4. Stay in touch with your real estate agent or broker.

You just spent three or four months talking with your agent nearly every single day and, perhaps, seeing them on a weekly basis for showings. But after closing…well, *crickets chirping*. Believe it or not, your agent will notice your absence in his or her life! Many agents grow fond of their clients throughout the home buying process and end up missing them once the search is over. Of course, they understand that you’re busy moving in and getting settled, but most would love to have a quick conversation every so often to hear about how you’re loving your shorter commute or new neighborhood hotspots.  While many agents do their best to check in periodically after closing, it sometime gets a little hard with numerous beloved clients to stay in touch with. You can help get the convo started by sending your agent some photos of the improvements you’ve made since moving in or by asking for a referral to the best snow shoveler in town. Good agents make it their business to establish connections with trusted service providers in the area, so this should be no problem. 

Do you have any new homeowner resolutions to add to our list? If so, let us know in the comments! And Happy New Year, everybody!

 

All photos used under this license.

Mall of America Holiday Shopping

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Flickr Creative Commons: Aine

Mall of America is the largest mall in America, hence the name. The mall is so big that 7 Yankee Stadiums could fit in it, or 32 Boeing 747’s. So if you are looking to shopping, for any reason, and you are in the area, MOA is where it is at.

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Flickr Creative Commons: Random Retail

This holiday season, if you are looking to pick up any holiday gifts for the loved ones, then shop at MOA. It has 520+ stores, so you can find that little something for anyone, even if they are hard to shop for. If you have ever been to MOA, you may have noticed that the temperature never changes, it is always 70 degrees, no matter if it is winter or summer.

If you are searching for that empty parking spot and you can not find one, just remember, you are not alone, someone else is searching for one of 12,550 car filled spaces. Moreover, MOA will always looks clean, especially with a trash-less floor, thanks to the 11,000 year round employees and 2,000 bonus employees during the holidays.

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Flickr Creative Commons: Ted

Have you ever thought, if you went holiday shopping, and you wanted to look in every store at MOA, how long would it take? According to MOA facts, assuming, you spent 10 minutes in each store, it would take you 86 hours! If you like to ride rides, you are in luck. While you are at MOA, check out Nickelodeon Universe, you will see lots of greenery; well, at least 30,000+ live plants and 400 live trees climbing as high as 35 feet. It took 65 semi-trucks to transport all those trees.

In the event you are holiday shopping at MOA, appreciate every detail the mall has to offer, like the 4.87 million square feet, which is enough to fit 258 statue of liberties. Just remember, next time you are in the state of 10,000+ lakes, whether you are local or not-so local. Be happy that you are in the largest mall that America has to offer with a wide vanity of shopping sections.

All photos are used under this license

10 Christmas Light Tips to Save Time, Money, and (Possibly) Your Life

10 Christmas Light Tips to Save Time, Money, and (Possibly) Your Life

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Here’s how to light up your Christmas light display safely and economically.

Christmas lights can be modest displays to show good cheer, or million-bulb light-apaloozas that draw gawkers from near and far. Here are some tips on how to get the most from — and spend the least on — your holiday display.

1. Safety first. Emergency rooms are filled with homeowners who lose fights with their holiday lights and fall off ladders or suffer electric shocks. To avoid the holiday black and blues, never hang lights solo; instead, work with a partner who holds the ladder. Also, avoid climbing on roofs after rain or snow.

2. Unpack carefully. Lights break and glass cuts. So unpack your lights gingerly, looking for and replacing broken bulbs along the way.

3. Extension cords are your friends. Splurge on heavy-duty extension cords that are UL-listed for outdoor use. To avoid overloading, only link five strings of lights together before plugging into an extension cord.

4. LEDs cost less to light. LED Christmas lights use roughly 70% to 90% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. You can safely connect many more LED light strings than incandescents. Downside: Some think they don’t burn as brightly as incandescent bulbs.

5. Solar lights cost nothing to run. Solar Christmas lights are roughly four times more expensive to buy than LEDs, but they cost zero to run. They’re a bright-burning, green alternative. Downside: If there’s no sun during the day, there’s no light at night. The jury’s also still out on how long they last; they’re too new on the market for results.

6. Dismantle lights sooner than later. Sun, wind, rain, and snow all take their toll on Christmas lights. To extend the life of lights, take them down immediately after the holidays. The longer you leave the up, the sooner you’ll have to replace them.

7. Plan next year’s display on Dec. 26. Shop the after-Christmas sales to get the best prices on lights and blowups that you can proudly display next year. Stock up on your favorite lights so you’ll have spares when you need them (and after they’re discontinued).

8. Permanent attachments save time. If you know you’ll always hang lights from eaves, install permanent light clips ($13 for 75 clips) that will save you hanging time each year. You’ll get a couple/three years out of the clips before sun eats the plastic.

9. Find those blueprints. Instead of guessing how many light strings you’ll need, or measuring with a tape, dig up your house blueprints or house location drawings (probably with your closing papers) and use those measurements as a guide.

10. Store them in a ball. It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way to store lights is to ball them up. Wrap five times in one direction, then turn the ball 90 degrees and repeat. Store your light balls in cardboard boxes, rather than in plastic bags: Cardboard absorbs residual moisture and extends the life of your lights.

Source: http://bit.ly/1XTgqW2

All photos used under this license. Flickr Creative Commons: Abigail Batchelder

Celebrities Who Do Not Celebrate Thanksgiving

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Flickr Creative Commons: Gage Skidmore

One of the celebrities who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving is Angelina Jolie, who is known for her charity work and helping people form other cultures. She believes that the history behind the holiday is against her beliefs.

Cher also does not celebrate for the same reasons as Jolie. She said that it is time for her family to get together and watch movies, but not to celebrate.

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Flickr Creative Commons: David Caroll

Unlike first two, Zooey Deschanel is not bothered by the holiday history much, but mostly about Thanksgiving food. She doesn’t like the color of the food, according to her, it doesn’t look appetizing. But she does like the fact that it’s time for the whole family to get together.

Alicia Silverstone is not against the holiday itself, but since she is a vegan, she does not like the “turkey” part of the holiday. She has her own food website with animal-friendly recipes.

THE 2015 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS(r) - The “2015 American Music Awards,” which will broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, November 22 at 8:00pm ET on ABC. (Image Group LA/ABC) ALICIA SILVERSTONE

Flickr Creative Commons: ABC Television Group Photostream

Mayim Bialik, the “Big Bang Theory” star, is also a vegan, and she does like the holiday except the Black Friday shopping. She avoids going to stores until after the holiday season.

All photos used under this license.

 

 

 

Family Thanksgiving Traditions

While many families have their own Thanksgiving traditions, there are some that are deep rooted in American history.

So why turkey and not chicken? The first Thanksgiving dinner, back in 1621, included turkey, fish, pumpkin, and squash. Turkeys are big enough to be able to feed the whole family. At that time, chicken and cows were more valuable alive than dead.

Turkey pardon is an annual ritual. It became a tradition since George H.W. Bush decided that the presented to him turkey would not end up on a dinner table and granted a presidential pardon.

Breaking the turkey wishbone is another Thanksgiving tradition. Ancient Romans believed that chicken bones held the power of good fortune, so when pulling apart a wishbone, the good luck came upon the one who got the larger piece.

Football is also a part of Thanksgiving celebration. Back in the day the game was usually between Detroit Lions (Portsmouth Spartans) and Green Bay Packers, now there are more football games on Thanksgiving day.

Parades have been a part of Thanksgiving celebrations since the 20th century. For many people Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday shopping season, thus many stores started their promotions by sponsoring parades, such as Macy’s Parade and McDonald’s parade.

All photos used under this license.

Thanksgiving around the World

Thanksgiving is known to be celebrated in the US and Canada. But, it is also celebrated in other countries such as Liberia, Japan, Netherlands, and the Norfolk Islands.

Since Liberia was founded by freed American slaves, it is the country that traditionally celebrates Thanksgiving and it is celebrated on the first Thursday of November. As a tradition people go to churches and concerts. Then they get together for a dinner, and traditionally they have roasted chicken and mashed cassava.

Thanksgiving is also celebrated in the Netherlands. Before pilgrims settled in Plymouth Rock, they came to Leiden, the Netherlands and lived there for 11 years. One of their traditions is to attend a service in Pieterskerk gothic church. They also have family Thanksgiving dinners where  traditional turkey and mashed potatoes are served.

Thanksgiving in Japan is not celebrated the same as in the US; it used to be a fall harvest festival. Now it is called Labor Day Thanksgiving, when people celebrated workers and thank them for hard work, and it is celebrated around the same time as in the US.

Norfolk Islands used to be a British colony in 19th century; it was a frequent port for many American ships; they brought many american traditions and recipes that fit well with English harvest festival celebrated at the island at that time. Thus, Thanksgiving celebrations have taken root. It is celebrated on the last Wednesday in November. Their traditional Thanksgiving meal is roasted pork, chicken, and baked bananas.

All photos used under this license.