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)

Chaska, MN

If you were in the vicinity of the southwest metro area this past September, there’s a high likelihood that you were impacted by some little event called the Ryder Cup. An estimated 250,000 fans (more than ten times the city’s year-round population) flocked to Chaska’s Hazeltine National Golf Club and the surrounding area to take part in the historic tournament with big name golfers including Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and Sergio Garcia. With a long-awaited U.S. victory on a course specifically designed to play to the American team’s strengths, Hazeltine (and subsequently Chaska) are officially on the map!


But even after all the crowds and camera crews departed (and, indeed, long before they arrived), Hazeltine is and has been the midwest’s premier destination for major championship golf. Lush grounds and beautiful landscaping make it an ideal choice for a picturesque day at the links along with exclusive private events such as weddings and corporate parties.


Speaking of scenic venues, the Oak Ridge Hotel and Conference Center attracts many to its lakeside facilities each year. (Undoubtedly, many of those Ryder Cup visitors had their reservations there.) Situated on 130 scenic acres on Lake McKnight, it’s easy to see why many choose Oak Ridge for their wedding locale or company retreat. But even if you’re just looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities, the center acts as an idyllic, serene getaway.


If you’re looking to get away without ever leaving Chaska, though, a visit to the Chaska History Center will serve as a journey through time. Step inside the signature brick building and you’ll find everything from Native American artifacts to newspaper copies dating back to 1862 (10 years after the city’s founding). See the genealogical history of a dozen of Chaska’s oldest families, or take a look through photos depicting what life was like long before the advent of computers and cellphones (and remind your kids that, yes, there was a time before computers and cellphones).

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Because of its small town feeling, it’s easy to forget that Chaska is a good-sized suburb with a lot of variety to offer, especially when it comes to entertainment and dining.

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For starters, there’s the Chaska Curling Center. Opened in December of 2015, the center is currently home to the nation’s largest curling membership. What can we say? We Minnesotans definitely love our sports on ice! Spectators who prefer frosty mugs to frosty shoes can watch all the action from the toasty comfort of the attached Crooked Pint Ale House. Also adjacent to the Curling Center is the Chaska Event Center, another popular venue for wedding receptions.  

One of the city’s favorite destinations for families is the Chaska Valley Family Theater. Since its first production in 1996, the theater has been delighting audiences of all ages with traditional musicals featuring members of the local community. But over the years, a handful of plucky playwrights from the area have been given the opportunity to present their original works on the CVFT stage, much to the enjoyment of their local adoring fans.

Foodies can also rejoice, because there is no shortage of options when it’s time to chow down. From old-fashioned diners and malt shops, to Chinese, Italian, Japanese, and Mexican cuisine, there’s something to please everyone in the family.


The diversity in eateries reflects the city’s growing – and changing – populace. Like its northeastern neighbor Chanhassen, Chaska has really seen a population boom over the last few decades. In the last sixteen years alone, the population has grown by nearly 40%. To keep up with demand, as the population increases at a rate of about 500 households per year (with an expected peak in 2025), new development is on the rise. New build neighborhoods such as Chevalle, The Harvest, and Symphony Hills have sprung up all over town, resulting in a median home age of just 28 years. Tellingly, in the past six months, a majority of sold homes were under 20 years old. 

Over the last two years, Chaska’s median estimated home value has grown from $235,000 to $275,000. Compared to the entirety of Carver County, the rate of increase is about twice as fast.


No doubt, contributing to that impressive increase is the sale of many new construction homes within the past 12 months alone, most with 3-4+ bedrooms and 2000-2500 sq. ft. This typical home size is understandable as a majority of Chaska households are made up of married couples with adolescent and teenage children.


In spite of the city’s increasing population, though, Chaska has been able to successfully maintain its small town feel through the concentrated efforts of the City Council. After all, the city’s mission is to be the “best small town in Minnesota.” Indeed, in 2007, Money Magazine even ranked Chaska as the #8 best small town in the entire country. This accomplishment was achieved, in part, through seasonal community events such as River City Days and the Turkey Trot (coming up this weekend!). Organized efforts like Christmas in May also add to the feelings of closeness and camaraderie within the community.

As you can see, Chaska has a vibe all its own. Many may be tempted to write it off as just another stuffy suburb, but they’d be mistaken. Chaska has the warm inviting feel of a small town – compounded by its charming downtown area (complete with gazebo and historic mill) – while enjoying big city amenities in neighboring towns. Also home to the world’s largest mustache, Chaska brings a funky freshness to the ‘burban world!

Neighborhood Resources

Neighborhood Schools

Public Parks & Attractions

District 112: Eastern Carver County Schools See a full list of city parks here
Guardian Angels Catholic School Chaska Curling Center
Southwest Christian High School  Chaska Town Course
St. John’s Lutheran School Chaska Valley Family Theater
The World Learner School Dahlgreen Golf Club
Hazeltine National Golf Club
Minnesota Lanscape Arboretum
World’s Largest Mustache

Faith Communities

Local Restaurants

Chaska Moravian Church Chaska City Diner
Christ Victorious Lutheran Church  Chaska My Love
Church on the Hill China Pagoda Restaurant
Crown of Glory Lutheran Church Crooked Pint Ale House
Cross of Grace Church Cuzzy’s Brick House
Guardian Angels Catholic Church Cy’s Bar and Grill
Meadow Spring Church  Detello’s Pizza
River Alliance Church Johnny’s
Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church Pasta Zola
St. John’s Lutheran Patron Mexican Bar & Grill
Valley Evangelical Free Church Rising Dragon
Westbrook Community Church  Sake Sushi
Tommy’s Malt Shop

Latest Bathroom Trends and Features

According to a recent Houzz & Home survey, homeowners are investing more on bathroom renovations than in previous years, largely due to outdated designs and finishes. What types of upgrades are they spending money on? Here are some of the latest trends and tech updates being used in bathroom design.

Aesthetic Additions
You don’t have to tackle a full overhaul to make a big impact in the bathroom. Smaller changes can often bring big rewards, both from a resale perspective and by adding value to your daily experience.

Cosmetic favorites, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 2016 bathroom trends, include polished chrome finishes and neutral colors like white and gray. And bathrooms are becoming more streamlined with floating vanities, open shelving and undermount sinks. When larger changes are made, homeowners are incorporating amenities such as no-threshold showers and higher vanity heights that allow for aging in place.

Tech Touches
When you consider updating the appliances in your home, you may automatically think of doing so in the kitchen, living area or laundry room. Many, however, are quickly adopting technological advances in pursuit of the smart bathroom. Some of the more popular add-ons available include:

  • High-tech toilets: The most basic bathroom appliance now has seat-warming options, LED lights, motion sensors and automatic dryers.
  • Accessorized soaking tubs: You can take a basic bath, or you can soak in a chromotherapy tub with mood-enhanced lighting. Or enjoy an air bath, with massaging bubbles similar to a hot spring.
  • Digital faucets and showers: Along with reduced flow, which conserves water and money, faucet features also include touchless technology and programmable settings like a timed shower option.

Which market trends and tech updates appeal most to your family? When done well, these upgrades can improve your quality of life and increase the value of your home.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: “luxury-bathroom-design-axor-8-554×312” by home space © 2010 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Home Fire Safety in Cooler Weather

Devastating house fires can happen in an instant, and many begin due to human error. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that cooking tops the list of residential building fire causes (50 percent), followed by heating equipment (12.5 percent) and electrical malfunction (6.3 percent).

Make your fall and winter seasons merry, bright and fire-free with these essential fire safety tips.

  1. Schedule a chimney inspection at least once a year. Creosote, or condensed smoke, builds up on the flue and can catch fire. An annual cleaning and inspection can help prevent chimney fires.
  2. Keep flammable items at least three feet from heat sources. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, 56 percent of fatal home heating fires ignite from items being placed too close to heating equipment. Make sure everything is a safe distance from heat sources, including the furnace, space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves.
  3. Check smoke detectors frequently. Approximately 60 percent of house fire deaths happen in structures with no working smoke alarms. Test your home’s smoke alarms monthly and replace batteries each year.
  4. Have a family escape plan and practice it regularly. All household members need to know all exit strategies in case a fire breaks out, as well as where to meet once they’re safely outside. Have a semiannual drill and practice at different times of the day.
  5. Cook safely. Never leave the room when boiling, frying or baking, keep pot holders and dish towels away from the flame, and immediately turn off appliances when not in use.
  6. Be mindful of holiday decorations. If you choose to decorate with strings of lights, always check their condition first. Throw out those with exposed electrical wiring, and be sure to read over the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: “Fireplace at Mom’s” by Catherine © 2009 (CC BY 2.0)

Chanhassen, MN

With all of the recent news surrounding Prince’s death and the subsequent conversion of Paisley Park from the late artist’s home into a public museum, Chanhassen has been in the national spotlight quite a bit lately. But by no means is the museum the only attraction the city has to offer.

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The western neighbor of Eden Prairie, Chanhassen is a charming suburb fit for a postcard. A quaint downtown, tree-lined streets, and plenty of park acreage make it a beautiful place to visit year-round, but especially in autumn, when the fall foliage is at its peak.


If a drive or stroll through town isn’t enough to satisfy your autumnal leaf cravings, then you’ll definitely want to visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to see nature at its most colorful. Ranging from red maples to maroon and purple oaks, the trees here are the state’s most diverse collection. While at the arboretum, be sure to check out Pumpkin Palooza and the AppleHouse, which has an offering of more than 50 varieties of apples. We’ll bet there’s nary a doctor in sight!


Before Paisley Park opened to the public, the most well-known destination for visitors was probably the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. The theater is the nation’s largest of its kind, and more than 10 million people have enjoyed its 220+ productions over the years. It’s earned more than 1.6k 5-star reviews on Facebook alone, and fans rave about the Broadway-caliber performances, live music, amazing food, and exceptional customer service. The theater can take you from first date all the way to “I do,” as it’s a popular choice for both nights out and wedding receptions. Looking for something more low-key? Then check out the attached Brindisi’s Pub, which claims to have the best happy hour in town.  

With a median sales price of $347,500 (most homes sold for $350k+ in the last six months), the city is way ahead of the rest of Carver County and the Twin Cities region as a whole.


Chanhassen’s population is growing at a rate about twice that of Minnesota; this is the main impetus for a bevy of new development throughout the city. All the new construction is reflected in the city’s median home age of just 23 years (half of the state’s average age).


The city is overwhelmingly popular among mid-career level professionals and their families, which fuels the demand for homes with 3+ bedrooms. Luxurious neighborhoods like Longacres and Stone Creek are recognized for their beautiful spacious homes, many boasting more than 2500 square feet.

Most residents spend an average of 23 minutes traveling to work each day. For those who rely on public transportation for their commute to downtown Minneapolis and the U of M, there are two transit stations conveniently located on opposite ends of town, with eight routes making frequent roundtrips.


In 2009, Chanhassen was named the #2 best place to live in America by Money Magazine (most recently, it ranked #7 in 2015). With a high quality of life, low unemployment, unparalleled amenities, fantastic schools, well-educated residents (97% of adults have a high school diploma or higher) and homes as cute as the one seen above, these accolades come as no surprise!


Outdoor recreation and leisure activities are highly prioritized among Chanhassen residents. There are two golf courses within the city limits (Bluff Creek and Halla Greens), and Hazeltine National Golf Club (of recent Ryder Cup fame) is just a chip shot away in neighboring Chaska. When it gets too chilly to hit the links as it inevitably does every year, you can take your golf game indoors at Golf Zone, which features 40 heated driving range stalls and an 18-hole putting green.


Fitness is also important to Chanhassians. More than 90 miles of trails, 20+ parks, and five public beaches help residents stay on the move. Undoubtedly, this collective passion for a healthy lifestyle influenced the choice of Lifetime Fitness to establish headquarters in the city. More than 1,000 of the national brand’s employees are based in Chanhassen, and we’re betting those lucky people have access to the high end amenities offered by the impressive health club onsite.

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The importance of physical well-being is imparted on residents from their early years, with a pay-as-you-go recreation center (attached to Bluff Creek Elementary School) that has served the community for over 20 years. According to the city website, the rec center “takes pride in creating a fun and friendly atmosphere for people of all ages at an affordable price. [It] is a focal point for many of the city’s recreation activities. The facilities include a gym, fitness room, aerobics/dance room, and meeting rooms.” Outside, there are tennis courts and plenty of green space. About three miles east in downtown Chanhassen is the skate park, another favorite pastime for the city’s youth.

Speaking of the youngins, there are plenty of seasonal activities that will delight both children and children-at-heart. From the annual Halloween party to February Festival to the state-renowned Fourth of July celebration, the family-friendly events are great ways for Chanhassians to connect with their community.


Of course, we can’t end this blog without mentioning Prince one more time. While the longtime community member and landowner is no doubt the most famous former resident of Chanhassen, he certainly is not the only star who’s called the city home. Minnesota congressman Erik Paulsen grew up in Chanhassen, as did NFL player Tim Mattran. Kris Humphries (yes, Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband) has a home here, and James Denton (who had his own famous Housewife) is rumored to live in the area as well.

Do you live in Chanhassen? Did you ever get a chance to meet Prince? Have you been one of the lucky few so far to tour Paisley Park? We’d love for you to share your stories in the comments!

Neighborhood Resources

Neighborhood Schools

Public Parks & Attractions

District 112 See the full list of community and regional parks here
District 276 Chanhassen Dinner Theater
Chapel Hill Academy Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
St. Hubert Catholic School Paisley Park

Faith Communities

Local Restaurants

Bethel Fellowship Church Brindisi’s Pub
Chanhassen Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses Chuckwagon Charlie’s Smokehouse & Saloon
Discovery United Methodist Church Gina Maria’s Pizza
Family of Christ Lutheran Church Happy Garden II
Living Christ Lutheran Church Houlihan’s
St. Hubert Catholic Community Kai’s Sushi & Grill
Temple of Eck, Eckankar Na’s Thai Cafe
Westwood Community Church Paragon Bakery
For more info on life in Chanhassen, check out this year’s Residents Guide! Piada Italian Street Food
Rey Azteca

Adding Privacy to Your Patio or Yard

A yard or patio is the perfect spot for enjoying the outdoors, whether that means playtime with your kids or quiet relaxation after a long day. And while you may like your neighbors, you may not want to see and hear them every time you venture into your backyard. If more privacy interests you, consider these options below:

Fencing — Probably the most straightforward solution, fences have long been the go-to for homeowners seeking seclusion. Be sure to check city ordinances and HOA policies before installing one.

Hedges — Shrubs like boxwood and privet are commonly planted along property lines. Choose an evergreen variety for year-long privacy. Make sure it’s suited for your climate and matures to your desired height.

Screens — Stylish and effective, folding wood-panel screens add a nice visual element while blocking unwanted views. Opt for a weather-resistant screen designed for the outdoors.

Trellis — The lattice configurations on these simple wooden structures offer an element of privacy. They’re also a perfect host for climbing vines and plants if you’d like additional coverage. Just be sure to check the sunlight and care requirements for the vegetation you plant.

Pergola — A pergola helps block views from second-story windows and balconies. It can be as simple or intricate as you’d like and will offer a degree of shade along with privacy.

Drapes — Budget-friendly and chic, panels help screen off your patio and can be moved as desired. Make sure the fabric is suitable for outdoor use or spray it with a water-resistant coating.

Vertical Garden — If you’re looking to increase privacy and also want to grow your own herbs, consider a living wall. You can buy prefabricated tower planters for easy installation.

If neighborly noise is a problem, a water fountain is a relaxing, sound-muffling solution. Consider your outdoor space and choose the privacy-adding options that work for you.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: “RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014” by Karen Roe © 2014 (CC BY 2.0)

Fall Landscaping Ideas: How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter

Fall landscaping preparation ideas ready your yard for a long winter and glorious spring.

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon | Published: October 4, 2011

Fall landscaping chores are your last chance to prepare your property for winter, and to protect that curb appeal you’ve worked so hard to create. So pull on some gloves, grab your tools, and get ready to mulch, prune, and plant before snow and frozen ground turn the lights out on your landscaping.

Spread Mulch

“Fall mulching is better for the plants than spring mulching,” says Dan Taft, owner of The Cutting Edge in Chantilly, Va. “It helps protect roots from frost and helps retain moisture during a cold and dry winter.”

Spread 2 to 3 inches of fresh mulch around shrubs and trees. Taft warns home owners to avoid using free mulch from municipal piles, which often contain disease spores; instead, buy hardwood shredded mulch from home and garden centers, he says.

“Cheap, dump mulch mainly is made from trees that have died from disease,” Taft says. “Many diseases will linger in the mulch, like leaf spot and pine bark borers. You don’t want ground-up diseased plants around your landscaping.”

Remove the Dead and Dying

Fall isn’t the time to prune, because that encourages growth when healthy plants should remain dormant. But don’t shelve your shears and loppers yet. Fall is the time to neaten your landscaping before putting it to bed for the winter.

“If you remove dead landscaping in fall, you don’t have to look at it all winter,” Taft says.

  • Remove dead annuals.
  • Deadhead spent blooms, and cut back dead and desiccated ornamental grasses and perennials.
  • Lightly prune dead and dying branches from shrubs and trees. Carefully remove dried blossoms from hydrangea, but don’t remove dead-looking stalks, where new buds will form in spring.
  • After the first frost, cut back tea roses to about a third of their height.

Wrap Delicate Shrubs

Heavy snow, ice, and high winds can dry and split your delicate and pricey shrubs. To protect your landscaping from the winter elements:

  • Hide small plants under overturned plastic pots or buckets.
  • Wrap shrubs, such as boxwoods, in burlap.
  • Surround vulnerable trees with shredded leaves.

Take Advantage of Fall Sales

Early fall until the ground freezes is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Not only do cooler weather and autumn rain put less stress on young landscaping plants, nurseries often have sales to empty their shelves before winter.

“They need to sell every plant by Dec. 1,” Taft says. “Nurseries generally pay a third of the price that you’re paying. So don’t be afraid to offer less than the asking price. If you’re buying several things, the manager may give you a break.”

Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Featured Image Photo Credit: “Williamstown, Massachusetts” by Doug Kerr © 2010 (CC BY-SA 2.0; Edited)

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


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!


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


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)

Create an Annual Home Maintenance Checklist

Your vehicle requires routine maintenance to run smoothly, and the same goes for your house. Without service reminders, however, it can be easy to forget to tend to all the systems that keep your house fully functioning. Fortunately, you can create a simple annual maintenance checklist to properly care for your home and prevent potential issues from becoming major problems.

Start by making a list of each task you’ll need to complete over the coming year. Make sure your yearly home inspection includes all major systems (HVAC, electrical and plumbing), the interior and exterior of your home, water and septic tanks, doors and windows, and the attic or basement if applicable.

When that’s done, organize the list according to how often each item needs to be checked or maintained and set reminders accordingly. Your home maintenance checklist might start to look similar to this:


  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Change air filters in the heating and air conditioning system.
  • Clean range hood filters to avoid possible grease fires.
  • Trim back any shrubbery or plant growth around the outdoor HVAC unit by at least 18 inches.


  • Check and wipe down sliding doors and window tracks.
  • Replace batteries in smoke detectors.
  • Test garage door and grease tracks as needed.


  • Clear gutters of spring and fall foliage.
  • Power wash windows and siding.
  • Schedule seasonal service of the HVAC system before summer and winter.


  • Inspect and insulate pipes to protect them from freezing.
  • Trim trees and shrubs away from the home’s exterior.
  • Touch up exterior paint and check for wood rot or water damage.
  • Check grouting in kitchen and bathroom and repair if necessary.

A home maintenance checklist will make it easier for you to manage the upkeep of your house. It can also help you catch minor issues before they become costly home repairs.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: “3D Home Inspection Checklist” by Chris Potter via Flickr © 2012 (CC BY 2.0)

Minnesota Universities Rank Highly on U.S. News Best Colleges List

It’s back to school for most of us, and that means one thing: school ratings are here. U.S. News just released its annual rankings of the best national colleges, and two Minnesota universities have scored coveted spots on the highly regarded list.


Photo Credit: “Pillsbury Hall” by Mulad (Public Domain)

The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities made the top 100 at #71 overall and #26 among public schools. With campuses in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, students are just minutes away from either downtown and the urban amenities that entails. Likewise, students who make the short trek to Stadium Village get to watch the NCAA Div. I Gophers play at TCF Bank Stadium. Location and camaraderie are just two factors that contribute to the school’s 92% freshman retention rate. Another noteworthy accomplishment? The U has the nation’s #4 best undergraduate chemical engineering program among schools whose highest degree is a doctorate. Also impressive are the school’s top-ranking graduate programs: #9 for best medical school (primary care) and #27 for best business school (the Carlson School of Management).


Photo Credit: “St. Thomas Campus” by Mulad (Public Domain)

Coming in at a respectable #118 is the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. An 84% acceptance rate and low student to instructor ratio help make all Tommies feel welcome, aiding the high retention rate (currently at 88%). St. Thomas also notably tied as the 78th best college for veterans in the country.

Schools on U.S. News’ list are ranked on various indicators, including graduation and retention rates, academic reputation, and financial resources (see complete methodology here). Other Midwest universities on the list include University of Chicago (#3), Northwestern University (#11), and University of Notre Dame (#15). The full rankings can be found here.