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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

9 Ways to Upgrade Your Deck

Sit and Store ~ Just like window seats inside your home, built-in benches on the deck can be made to offer ample storage space below for outdoor games and decor. Cover the top of the benches with comfy cushions upholstered in fabrics that will stand up to the elements. Comfy outdoor throw pillows add another level of comfort and style.

Cover Up ~ A wooden pergola dressed in panels of outdoor fabric allows entertaining even when the weather isn't perfect. For a more sturdy covering that can stand up to heavy rainfall, consider purchasing a custom roof frame outfitted with clear polycarbonate panels.

Build an Addition ~ An attached gazebo can serve as a wonderful entertaining space when outfitted with comfy seating and lighting. Other structures, such as greenhouses, can also serve as convenient getaway spots while still fulfilling their designated purposes.

Wrap Around ~ A railing, gate, or other entry feature can turn your deck into a safe, cozy enclosure. Plus, the railing provides a platform for fitted planters, birdbaths or bird feeders, or other garden ornaments. Top your railing with a ledge so it can double as a spot to set drinks.

Furnished with Style ~ Before you purchase any outdoor furniture, make sure you consider all of the choices available. Furnishings made of hardy woods, aluminum, steel, and recycled plastics are some of the most common options available today. Include an outdoor rug and a fire pit to create a warm and inviting gathering space.

Natural Colors ~ Whether bursting with flowers or foliage, plants are the perfect way to enliven a space and soften a deck's edges. If you have a wooden deck, hang the pots or place them on brick or other supports so they're not in direct contact with the floor when you water the plants -- that can lead to wood rot.

Spring for Upgrades ~ Give your deck a big style update by replacing tired wooden rail spindles with wrought-iron ones. If you live in a wetter climate, you might also want to consider switching out standard wooden deck boards for rot-resistant composite planks that will increase the staying power of your entire deck.

Room for More ~ Turn your deck into a style statement all on its own by adding a curved edge for visual interest. Extending your deck in one or several directions or adding multiple levels also increases style and function.

Light It Up ~ Solar or low-voltage post-top lights create ambience when your dinner guests linger during a summer evening. If your deck features multiple levels, you might also consider adding small lights on each step to prevent falls after the sun goes down.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

July 4th Picnic Party ~ Recipes and Entertaining Ideas

Picnic Buffet
Put your pies on a pedestal for a dessert buffet on the porch ~ shown here, cake stands in vintage milk glass and clear glass. Blue-and-white transferware plates are the perfect backdrop for golden hand-crimped crusts. Build a festive centerpiece using tiered wire baskets. Fill with help-yourself treats like ripe fruit as well as utensils. Rolled red, white, and blue bandannas can serve as napkins.

Decor Ideas
A table is set up in a shady spot for guests to enjoy an array of fresh-made pies. Here is a chance to use that vintage lace-edged white tablecloth. Make it party perfect with a colorful piece of red, white and/or blue material ~ here, a yard or two of striped cotton ticking. Finish by adorning each plate with a party favor flag.

All-American Burger
A classic family favorite, burgers are easy to make and sure to please.

Mini Portobello Burgers
Grilled mini portobello burgers offer vegetarians a savory option for the main course. But you might want to make extra — they look so good that meat lovers might snag one, too!

Barbecued Country Ribs with Lemon
Country-style pork ribs come from the loin and are thicker, shorter, and meatier than longer, thin spareribs. Slow braising in a savory tomato-based barbecue sauce tenderizes and flavors the meat.

Sirloin and Summer-Vegetable Kabobs with Firecracker Sauce
Try our snappy Firecracker Sauce with grilled shrimp or chicken, too.
Firecracker Sauce:
1/4 cup(s) fresh lime juice
1/4 cup(s) maple syrup
2 tablespoon(s) ketchup
2 tablespoon(s) olive oil
2 tablespoon(s) soy sauce
4 clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon(s) crushed red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon(s) ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon(s) grated lime rind
1/2 teaspoon(s) salt
Small hot peppers (optional)
1 1/4 pound(s) boneless beef top loin or sirloin steak, cut into 1 1/4-inch-thick chunks
campaignIcon Wine Pairing
3 medium onions, quartered
2 medium yellow squash, cut crosswise into 1-inch slices
2 medium zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch slices
1 large red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
12 8-inch wooden skewers, soaked in water 15 minutes
Sprig of thyme (optional)
Small hot peppers (optional)
Prepare Firecracker Sauce: In medium bowl, whisk together lime juice, maple syrup, ketchup, olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, crushed red-pepper flakes, black pepper, lime rind, and salt. Makes about 1 cup. Set aside. Prepare Kabobs: On one skewer, randomly arrange 2 pieces of cubed steak and one piece each of onion, yellow squash, zucchini, and red pepper. Repeat to make 11 more kabobs. Place kabobs in large baking dish. Pour 3/4 cup of Firecracker Sauce over kabobs in baking dish. Reserve 1/4 cup for brushing the kabobs as they cook. Let kabobs stand for 15 minutes. Heat grill to medium heat. Grill kabobs about 4 inches above heat source for 5 minutes, turning frequently. Brush kabobs with reserved Firecracker Sauce. Cook 5 to 7 minutes longer or until desired doneness is reached.

Best Potato Salad Ever
No kidding! (And no peeling!) It's all about the red potatoes; their waxy texture keeps the spuds intact as you mix everything together in this recipe ~ not to mention their festive!
3 pound(s) unpeeled red potatoes
3/4 cup(s) chopped white onion
3/4 cup(s) chopped red pepper
3/4 cup(s) chopped celery
1/2 cup(s) finely chopped dill pickles
3 chopped, hard-boiled large eggs
2 tablespoon(s) dill pickle juice
1 tablespoon(s) cider vinegar
3/4 cup(s) mayonnaise
Freshly ground pepper
In a large pot, cover red potatoes with salted cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until they're easily pierced with a skewer, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, combine white onion, red pepper, celery, dill pickles, and hard-boiled eggs in a large bowl. Drain potatoes and cut into half-inch pieces while still warm. Transfer to the bowl and sprinkle with dill pickle juice and cider vinegar. Toss salad gently with mayonnaise. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Chill before serving.

Grilled Corn in Husks
Seasoned with butter, Parmesan cheese and parsley, Grilled Corn in Husks is especially good. Be sure to give the ears a long soak before putting them on the grill. Hot off the grate, the kernels are moist and tender with a wonderful, sweet flavor.

Tomato Salad
Cut 1 1/2 pounds mixed tomatoes into wedges; season with salt and pepper. Cook 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons brown sugar in a small skillet over medium heat until reduced by half, about 3 minutes; remove from the heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Drizzle over the tomatoes; top with snipped chives and basil.

Quick Sweet Pickles
cup(s) white-wine vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
cup(s) sugar
1/8 teaspoon(s) salt
2 cup(s) thinly sliced ‘Beit Alpha’ cucumbers (about 2 cucumbers)
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon(s) torn dill sprigs
1 teaspoon(s) whole peppercorns
3 tablespoon(s) olive oil
In a medium bowl, mix vinegar, sugar, and salt, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Set aside. In a nonreactive bowl, combine cucumbers, onions, dill, and peppercorns. Add olive oil to reserved vinegar mixture and stir well. Pour over vegetables and toss to combine. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving. Store pickles, refrigerated, for up to 5 days.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fun 4th of July Crafts for Kids ~ From Party Favors to Decorations

Celebrate Independence Day with the family by making these creative and patriotic crafts for kids. From festive decorations to bike embellishments, it's easy to start your 4th of July celebration with a bang.

Firecracker Favor
These firecracker crafts will spark some fun at your celebration. Start with mailing tubes that have plastic lids. Cut red, white, and blue paper and ribbon to size; apply them to tubes using Perfect Glue.Trim each tube with a star cutout.Poke a slit in the lids and insert paper "fuses" into each hole.Fill with candy and enjoy.

Star-Spangled Bicycle
Kids will love sprucing up their bikes in star-spangled style (and you'll love using up leftover cardstock and ribbon). Set out some tape, miniature flags, and other red, white, and blue craft supplies such as construction paper and streamers, and let the kids dig in.
Some ideas:
Tuck flags into the bike handles
Tie patriotic ribbons around the bike basket
Cut cardstock stars and tape them to or thread them through the wheel spokes

Patriotic Paint-Chip Pennants
Craft pretty pennants from old paint chips for a simple and eco-friendly twist on traditional Independence Day banners.
Create triangle templates for the kids to follow, then help them cut each paint chip to fit. You can vary the colors and create patterns by using blue or white paint chips.
Next, cut small holes in the upper corners of each triangle. String them onto white yarn, making sure the yarn loops around the back of each flag. Tie the pennants to picnic tables, hang in doorways, or drape over railings for a festive welcome.

Patriotic Beanbag Toss
For a quick and easy addition to your 4th of July party, rinse and clean six metal cans (old soup or vegetable cans work well). Paint patriotic stripes with acrylic paint. Let them dry for a few hours before handling.
Stack the cans in a pyramid and toss beanbags to knock them down for a fun, all-ages yard game. Whoever knocks the most down wins!
You can also plant flowers in each can and use them as table centerpieces.

Firecracker Photo Album
Turn a simple arrow-shape chipboard album into a fun firecracker keepsake. Purchase the album from a scrapbooking or crafts store, then gather your favorite crafts supplies.
Use red paper to cover the base of the album, then use a glue stick to overlay white paper for the stripes. Trace and cut a triangle from blue paper to use for the firecracker tip.
Finish your album with star stickers, ribbons, and adhesive letters. Fill the album with photos and memories of the 4th!

Patriotic Snack Pails
Help everyone keep track of their treats with these cute snack pails. Use number stickers or cut paper to label each one as shown, then have the kids help pick out their favorite snacks to put inside.

Patriotic Friendship Bracelets
Simple lengths of intertwined string, lacing, or ribbon have cemented camaraderie between generations of best buds.
Weave a little patriotism into the classic craft with red, white, and blue lacing (available at crafts stores) braided into bracelets to give and to wear. Experiment with different combinations of strands and embellish with beads for added flair.

4th of July Snack Cartons
Waiting for the fireworks to start can make kids (and adults!) antsy. Make the wait pass quickly with snacks served in festive take-out containers.
Give kids red, white, and blue take-out boxes (available at crafts or party stores) and an arsenal of stickers, ribbons, and other embellishments, and let their imaginations do the rest.
Fill the decorated containers with popcorn or trail mix, grab a blanket, and settle in for a spectacular show.

Patriotic Sandals Craft
Add a little patriotic flair to your wardrobe with star-spangled flip-flops made especially for watching fireworks. Use hot glue to attach glow-in-the-dark stars to each flip-flop strap (we found flip-flops in three colors, but you could use solid-color shoes, too). The fireworks won't be the only thing lighting up the night.

4th of July Wind Sock
Make this red, white, and blue wind sock by gluing scrapbooking paper around a clean frozen juice-concentrate container, then extending paper a few inches beyond the can. Twist white chenille stems around a pencil for a curly shape, then tape them to the inside bottom edges of the wind sock. Add streamers in the same way.
Inside the top, tape two equal-length pieces of fishing line across from each other so the wind sock is balanced; tie together at the top for easy hanging at a 4th of July celebration.

Custom Red, White, and Blue Cup Holders
Plain foam beverage insulators become canvases for creativity on the 4th of July. Dress them up with patriotic style by using paint pens and attaching sticker stars and stripes.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Creative Father's Day Desserts

Give Dad a Father's Day gift that will satisfy his sweet tooth as well as touch his heart. These cute and easy dessert ideas for Father's Day are a great way to thank Dad for being a role model, teacher, and friend.

Happy Father's Day Golf Cupcake
Hit a hole in one this Father's Day with a creative cupcake for the golfing dad. Bake traditional chocolate cupcakes, then use green food coloring to tint vanilla frosting. With a pastry bag and narrow decorating tip, create thin blades of grass with upward strokes. For the cupcake topper, write a message on a new golf ball. Hot-glue the ball to a new, clean golf tee. Stick the topper in the middle of the cupcake just before surprising Dad with the treat.

Baseball Glove Cupcakes
Take Dad out to the ball game for Father's Day with these glove-and-ball cupcakes. Frosted vanilla wafers with red icing details make each ball, while halved peanut butter sandwich cookies give each cupcake glove dimension.

We Heart Dad Cookies
Put a homemade spin on store-bought sugar cookie dough by using alphabet cookie cutters to spell out Father's Day sentiments. Tint purchased frosting Dad's favorite colors and sandwich in between cookies after baking for an extra-special treat.

Shirt-and-Tie Father's Day Cake
Tell Dad how much he's appreciated with this adorable shirt-and-tie brownie cake. Bake a batch of brownies in a lined 13x9-inch baking pan; let cool. Frost the cake with Dad's favorite frosting flavor and color (we used chocolate). Create the collar and pocket with a darker shade of frosting, and use melted white chocolate to form the necktie. For a striped tie, use decorating gel icing or licorice. Add candy-coated milk chocolate pieces for collar and pocket buttons.

Dad's Root Beer Float Cupcakes
For the root beer-drinking dad, whip up these root beer float cupcakes, complete with root beer-flavor hard candies and colorful straws.

Football Brownies for Dad
Score a touchdown in Dad's eyes with these fudgy football brownies. This Father's Day treat is especially appropriate for the guy who loves football and chocolate.

Fun Father's Day Activities for Dad

Spend some quality time with Dad this year and try one of our fun Father's Day activities. From grilling together to taking a trip to the museum, there is a Father's Day activity for every Dad!

1. Spend Quality Time as a Family: It doesn't matter what the activity is, the most important thing Dad wants for Father's Day is to spend time with you! Plan a backyard bonfire or curl up with a movie, either way, simply scheduling family time will make his day special.

2. Plan a Father's Day Outing: Whether it's a museum, a farmer's market, or a ball game, plan a trip to a nearby attraction to celebrate Father's Day. Choose something that fits Dad's personality ~ after all, it is his day!

3. Cook Dinner with Dad: Get the whole family involved in cooking Dad's favorite meal for a special Father's Day dinner. Even younger kids can help ~ assign them easy tasks, such as setting the table or tossing the salad.

4. Enjoy the Outdoors Together: Find a hiking trail, go for a bike ride, or head to a local park to enjoy the outdoors. As long as you're outside and spending time with Dad, he'll be sure to have a great Father's Day.

5. Give Dad Alone Time: Whether it's watching football, taking a nap, or catching up on some light reading, Dad will love the chance to have a few hours for himself. It's Father's Day, so let Dad pick his activity for the day and then let him enjoy his alone time!

6. Take a Fishing Trip: What better way to spend Father's Day than doing what Dad loves best? A fishing trip can be as simple as throwing a rod in the local pond, but he'll love showing you the tricks of the trade.

7. Grill Outside with Dad: Host a Father's Day barbecue or cookout to let Dad show off his grill master skills. Invite friends and family to come ~ the more the merrier!

8. Read Your Favorite Book Out Loud: It can be difficult to find time to spend with the whole family but one easy way to get everyone together is to sit down and read a favorite book out loud. Looking for something more upbeat? Have the kids act out the scenes as you read

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fun Serving Ideas for Your 4th of July Picnic or BBQ

From snack ideas to table settings, these crafty serving suggestions will help you host a fabulous, patriotic picnic or potluck on the 4th of July. We've looked to the trends: Mason jars, paper projects, and flag motifs to help inspire a red, white, and blue holiday feast.

Sparkling Place Setting
Encourage guests to get in the spirit by setting each place with a box of sparklers. For an easy, DIY napkin ring, glue the end of a 12-inch grosgrain ribbon to the flat side of a D-ring. Wrap the ribbon around a napkin and the sparklers, and loop it through the D-ring to secure.

Mason Jar Drinks
There's something classic about Mason jars, and they're great vessels for 4th of July drinks. Shop antique stores for vintage versions, or look for Mason jars with handles, lids, and straws online, which makes them perfect for portable picnicking.

Decorative Utensil Jars
Don't bother setting the table -- guests can grab what they need from these adorable, no-fuss utensil jars. Simply decorate containters, like empty oatmeal canisters, by wrapping them with festive paper and securing with tape. Add an adhesive chalkboard label to send a fun message.

Fruit Salad Sailboat
A simple sail is all you need to transform a watermelon fruit salad into a seaworthy centerpiece. Cut a triangle from ticking fabric and fold it in half over a dowel. Hot-glue the fabric along the dowel to secure and along the loose edges for a stiff sail.

Patriotic Snack Station
An arrangement of classic snacks is a great way to keep guests happy until the 4th of July picnic begins. We love the bright colors and nostalgic feel of licorice, pretzels, and boxed caramel popcorn.

Stamped Napkin Ties
Salute Old Glory with star-studded napkin rings. Stamp "USA" into metal tags using a steel stamp set. Thread star-pattern ribbon through the tags and wrap around striped napkins. For no-sew napkins, cut cotton ticking in 16-inch squares; fray the edges by pulling on the threads. You also can roll silverware into the napkins for guests to grab as they head through the buffet line.

Fair-Style Berry Cones
Use food to decorate the picnic table. Form sturdy waxed paper into cones, securing with transparent tape. Fill each cone with blue or red berries to create a sweet treat and dazzling display all in one.

Red, White, and Blue Table
Mix and match assorted paper goods to create a patriotic table setting. Don't worry if the blues and reds don't match perfectly -- together they'll create a cohesive look suitable for any patriotic holiday.

Deli-Style Sandwiches
For a fun presentation, preassemble hot dogs or burgers with buns wrapped in waxed paper. Secure the wrap with an American flag toothpick.

Patriotic Buckets
Display famous words from the Declaration of Independence on galvanized tubs. Coat tubs with white metal primer. Then paint each tub a different shade of blue. (Buy deep blue exterior paint and dilute with white exterior paint to get the two lighter hues). Use letter stickers to spell "life," "liberty," and "happiness" on the tubs. Fill with ice to hold drinks or frozen treats, or use without ice to hold sparklers for some 4th of July fun.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Simple Handmade Gifts for Father's Day

From photo albums to desk sets, we've got just the right handmade Father's Day present for Dad. He'll love the sentiment of these easy homemade gifts just as much as you will love crafting them!

Necktie Photo Album
Line up several of Dad's retired neckties (or shop around for cheap ties at thrift stores) to create this simple, one-of-a-kind album for a creative Father's Day gift. Simply select a scrap book or photo album the coordinates with the ties. Cut the ties to your specific length and hot glue them on.

Travel-Theme Wall Art
Remind Dad of a favorite vacation with this easy wall-art gift that shows old road maps some love. Cut a map that you no longer use to standard printer-paper size. Create special words, phrases, images, and symbols with word-processing software, and print them in color on your map. Attach the map to a store-bought canvas with spray adhesive, then brush on two coats of decoupage medium to seal it. Tip: Give a newer map a weathered or vintage look by soaking it in extra-strong coffee or black tea for an hour; hang to dry.

Cork Office Caddy
Keep Dad's office in tip-top organizational shape with these two-in-one upgraded pencil holders. Join two square pencil holders with permanent glue; let dry. Attach cork floor samples (available at local home centers) to the sides and ends of the dual caddy with permanent glue. Once dry, fill one side with pencils and create a planter on the other side. Line the bottom of the planter with a 1- to 2-inch layer of gravel or sand. Plant a succulent (or another plant that doesn't need a lot of water and maintenance) to green up Dad's desk.

Dad's Favorite Things
Put together a collection of essentials for dad with this cool Father's Day gift idea. A fun tech toy, such as the iPod Touch shown here, is tucked into the pocket of a new collared shirt, making a pair of functional gifts he'll love. Tip: When selecting a protective cover for the iPod Touch, get a clear or plain white one and decorate it with fun stickers or paint to add a personalized touch.

Office-Supply Holder
Help Dad keep his desk supplies neat with this eco-friendly organizer made from recycled chip canisters. Wrap clean, empty canisters with adhesive shelf paper. Apply a strip of contact cement or silicone-type adhesive down one side of a container, and adhere it horizontally to another. Continue stacking and joining the containers until the desired-size unit is achieved.

Patterned Necktie Pillow
Line up several of Dad's retired neckties (or shop around for cheap ties at thrift stores) to create this simple, one-of-a-kind pillow for a creative Father's Day gift.

Monogrammed Boxer Shorts
Jazz up Dad's favorite boxer shorts by monogramming them. Purchase iron-on letters at fabrics stores, and spell "DAD" on one leg of the shorts; iron.

Fishing Lamp
This reading light is a real catch for the dad who loves to fish. Select a colorful variety of fishing bobbers and sinkers from your local sporting goods store or dig through Dad's tackle box and pick out your fav's and his (ones he won't mind not using anymore). Using heavyweight thread, sew them around the bottom edge of a paper lampshade.