By Tori Linville
If your deck or patio has seen more dried up leaves, stray grass and weeds this summer than actual activity, you might be in need of an outdoor living space overhaul. Or maybe you just don’t feel like you’re getting enough out of your outdoor space. Well, we’ve gathered three of outdoor entertainment’s go-to and top trends to help you fix your outdoor woes in order to reach your seasonal escape.
First things first – start with an ideal outdoor room.
The classic outdoor room not only establishes an outdoor area, but also makes for a welcoming environment that guests will enjoy. The experts at bobvila.com have some great tips and tricks that make this seemingly overwhelming task a pretty easy fix.
· Start with a roof that frames your outdoor area – a pergola with some vine potential or even an awning are some options to check out. After dealing with the roof, go to the ground: lay out an outdoor rug that compliments your color scheme and/or outdoor furniture.
· Speaking of color schemes and what not, go for bulky(ish) furniture and earth tones that will obviously compliment the surroundings. Furniture pieces that allow for a guest to kick back and relax are almost always preferred over a dainty lawn chair (if those even exist). Easy care fabrics are an obvious choice for weather-wear.
· Lastly, add some lighting. String lights here are a popular craze, but anything you prefer will do. Just as long as you have some to illuminate the area when it’s dark out.
Check out more info. here on how to get the perfect backyard escape.
Next up: an unforgettable grill
If there’s one trend that will never go out of style, it’s the outdoor stovetop otherwise known as a grill.
High-tech grills with tons of features can be found virtually everywhere. For example, the Saber Smart Edge Grill was Consumer Reports’ favored grill with infrared top and optional ceramic glass lid. If watching the food slowly cook wasn’t enough, the grill hooks up to WiFi so a phone can keep track of when to cook, when to clean and when to fuel up.
If you’re looking for a more straightforward number, other Consumer Reports grills included the Weber Spirit E-220, the Weber Spirit SP-320 and a Kenmore grill. See them (and other cooking gadgets) here.
Lastly, throw in a fire pit for a multipurpose focal point
Don’t actually throw one, but you get the point. Fire pits have been all the rage for a while and for good reason. As a center point for décor arrangements, the fire pit isn’t just for show. It’s also warmth, light and even serves as a Smores maker.
Also, it’s probably one of the biggest draws for winter outdoor entertainment (if you’re brave enough). That being said, a fire pit practically pays for itself.
Consumer Reports likes the Alfresco Fire N Table, Forshaw and Waterstone for a variety of reliable and quality fire pits.
Honorable Mention: outdoor movies, anyone?
A new, refreshing entertainment piece is the re-emergence of the outdoor screen for at-home enjoyment (in place of drive-thru movies, of course).
While a projector would be necessary, a screen could just as easily be made with some bed sheets and nails. If you’re feeling the outdoor movie vibe like we were, all you need is a blank wall (or screen) to get started!
Full outdoor entertainment systems are available on sites like Amazon but first, check out this article to see what it takes to blow away your guests with your outdoor film.
Photo Credit: HGTV.com
Article sponsored by Bama Exterminating and the Geoffrey Shook Agency of State Farm.
Find Bama Exterminating on the web at: http://bamaexterminating.com
Find the Shook Agency of State Farm on the web at: http://insurewithshook.com
By Tori Linville
Back to school isn’t just about backpacks and new classes. It’s the one time of year that a student’s immune system is re-exposed to millions of germs after a three month break. It’s back to the cafeteria for school lunches instead of food at home. It’s back absent-mindedly touching doorknobs and noses. If you’re not too grossed out, here are some reminders and tips to helping the transition from home to school easier on the whole family.
Stress the importance of common sense when spreading germs, meaning:
· Washing hands after using the restroom to reduce the spread of sickness. For little ones, reminding them to wash their hands through the duration of the Happy Birthday song two times in their heads can be a helpful tip.
· Cover mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing
· Keep hands away from eyes and mouth
· Regularly use hand sanitizers and disinfectants, especially after touching eyes, mouth, keyboards, community tools such as scissors, etc.
· Don’t share food, drink or personal items with classmates in order to reduce illness and other possible contagions
· Double check for possible sicknesses before arranging any play dates or sleepovers
· Pack a lunch complete with more whole grains, fruits and veggies. Low-fat dairy products and low-sodium and low-fat choices are best along with portion control to make a healthy meal
· Ensure plenty of exercise and sleep for a healthy body
Some products that are backpack and pocket-friendly and can help slow down sickness include:
· Pocket sized Germ-X
· Personal Tissue Packs
· Tea Tree Oil (to prevent lice)
· Sanitizing Wipes
· Vitamin C Drink (or drink mix)
Photo Credit: Barterco.com
Article sponsored by Med Center Urgent Care.
Find them on the web: http://www.medcenterurgentcare.com
By Tori Linville
Being at college, let alone paying for college, can be a completely nerve-wracking experience. The game has changed and so have the finances. There are so many different avenues to financing a college education that it can easily be overwhelming and confusing. While there’s a never-ending amount of information about student loans and other ways to pay for college, the first step isn’t what you might think.
Organize your thoughts and prep mentally for the Financial Aid Jungle.
Doubt and assumptions are your worst enemies when looking to apply for a loan or scholarship. Believe it or not, many people assume they’re not good enough in some type of way to qualify for the various types of aid. It’s never too soon or too late for investigating which loans and scholarships you can apply for.
The best tools to use are perseverance, tenacity and self-control. Just getting started with the search for the correct aid is an extremely large step to finding the best aid possible. Taking on a controlled money-saving plan to supplement whatever aid you receive is also a big battle, as cutting corners is something that isn’t taught in a college course but picked up along the way.
Lastly, every bit counts. If that means writing a five page essay for a $50 scholarship that you won’t have to owe later plus interest, why wouldn’t you do it?
Exhaust all avenues of securing aid
To figure out what kind of funding you can secure, you need to know all the different ways to get some moolah. See rachelcruze.com for further info. about what types of aid to look out for.
· College-Specific Aid – colleges are sneaky sometimes. Scholarships aren’t always published and to see what you could be missing out on requires some dedication and legwork. While a phone call is okay, the ideal would be to visit the financial aid office to check for any and all opportunities you could be eligible for.
· Federal Aid – this is where your FAFSA comes in. While federal aid does have the largest amount of aid available, it’s mostly based on financial need that is reflected by the household income. A.k.a. don’t rely on just your FAFSA to get you to the finish line.
· State Aid – this kind of help is usually financial need + achievements = money. This is where the hard work and studying pays off.
· Military Aid – if you or a family plan on serving or have served the country, military aid is a definite possibility.
· Personal – obviously, this comes from your wallet. Last resort only.
Use loans as a last option for funding your experience and remember that debt is NOT a requirement for a college education.
Focus on Federal loans first: Known as federally guaranteed Stafford loans, these are usually offered as part of financial aid awards and have lower-than-market interest rates. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest immediately, while subsidized loans don’t start until you graduate.
After that, consider a PLUS Loan: Federal Direct PLUS loans are open to parents of dependent undergrads and graduate students. They’re based on your credit rating and FAFSA. The government insures the loan and sets the interest rate and benefits. Parents have to apply for this loan and an application can be found at a financial aid office. You can defer the repayment until six months after no longer being enrolled.
Finally, consider private loans as a last resort of the last resort. (College financial aid offices occasionally give private loans. These don’t have to be accepted.)
Research other secure and stable strategies to help generate funds
Look into 529 College Savings Plans: These come in two different breeds, but can help a ton.
A 529 college savings plan simply helps save for college. These are usually managed by an investment company and are state-sponsored. You can enroll in a plan from any state – eligibility isn’t determined by residency.
A 529 prepaid tuition plan cover future tuition at today’s prices.
To enroll in a 529, there are additional requirements. See collegedata.com for tons of free and useful information to get started with your financial aid journey.
Article sponsored by Belle Chambre.
Find them on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/BelleChambreTuscaloosa
By Tori Linville
The smell of pencils and excitement will soon fill the air for students and summer break will end. This doesn’t have to mean the end of fun altogether, as some would have you believe. Back to school shindigs to celebrate the coming of a new school year are the perfect re-introduction to academia that will have your guests ready to go. We’ve scoured blog after blog for some of the best back to school party ideas so you don’t have to. The simple, must-have ideas are below, with more resources and how-tos for your unforgettable celebration!
· Create a cute tablescape that ties into your theme
Glue a some felt leaves onto a red plate to make an apple plate. Throw in a cute table runner to add. See how Spaceships and Laserbeams rocked these ideas.
Feature a centerpiece with composition books as a platform, pencils as the flowers.
· Add some back-to-school inspired edibles
Some created their own custom cookies that look like chalkboards, pencils and more. Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish are perfect snacks or even some alphabet cupcakes could do the trick. Checkout these ideas in action at Pizzazzerie.
· Handout some crafty invites
Stun all your guests with your craftiness before the party even starts. Using file folders like this blog did will stand out as thoughtful and will list everything they need to know. If you’re not feeling like going the extra mile, that’s okay too. They have free, printable invitations anyway that will work in a snap.
Checkout these diy invites that are also free and printable. While they are pretty specific, you can use them your own way for your own invites. Additional supplies such as stickers, note cards and more are also available.
Article sponsored by Tuscaloosa Tire and Service Center.
Find them on the web at: http://tuscaloosatireandservice.com
By Amy Poore
If you’re looking for a cool treat to bring to a weekend gathering this summer, you can’t go wrong with anything chocolate and creamy. This chocolate mousse pie is absolutely delectable and will please everyone at the next backyard party.
Enjoy your summer and bon appétit!
Chocolate Mousse Pie
- 1 ready-made graham cracker crust
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 3 Hershey bars (1.5 oz.), chopped
- 3 Special Dark Hersey bars (1.5 oz.), chopped
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounce container of Cool Whip
Melt cream and chocolate in microwave in a microwave safe bowl for 45-60 seconds. Stir until chocolate is melted. If additional melting time is needed, melt for 10 more seconds.
In a stand mixer, cream sugar and cream cheese until smooth.
Next, in the mixer, add chocolate mixture to cream mixture, reserving around 1/4 cup of chocolate mixture for garnish.
On a slow speed, add Cool Whip to mixture.
Pour mixture into prepared crust, smooth top and drizzle with remaining chocolate sauce.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Amy Poore is a new mom, a wife and a foodie. To see more of Amy's delicious recipes, visit her blog, Poore Amy, at www.pooreamy.com
Photo: Amy Poore
Article sponsored by: Bear Creek Manor
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BearCreekManor
By Tori Linville
School is almost in session for another year. Teachers will be sending home assignments to complete and requests for classroom supplies. Children will be stuffed with knowledge and lunches. To survive the back to school daze, we’ve got some great ideas to try that will supply smiles all around. Good grades not guaranteed.
Teacher Survival Kit
A great way to get on a teacher’s good side is an unforgettable survival kit. The start to the new school year requires tons of supplies that teachers need for the day to day of operating a classroom. Grab a small dollar store basket and line it with some tissue paper. Then, load it up with some of these goods:
· Germ-X or any type of hand sanitizer
· Post-It Notes
· Printer Paper
· Notebook Paper (wide ruled)
· A box of tissues
· Paper Clips
· Binder Clips
· Dry-Erase Markers
· Dry-Erase Board Cleaner
· Stickers for grading
Back to School Candy Pencil
Send your kiddos back to school with these treats to hand out to classmates. They’ll be sure to be a class favorite and allows for a quick break from all the learning!
What you’ll need:
Yellow scrapbook paper
Pink scrapbook paper
Metallic of foil scrapbook paper
Paper cutter (optional)
1 piece of lined paper (to guide)
Large skewer or scoring tool
What you’ll make:
1. Cut Paper
Yellow paper: cut 3.5 in. by 4.5 in.
Pink paper: cut .5 in. by 3. 5 in.
Metallic paper: cut 3.4 in. by 3.5 in.
Cut a circle from another piece of pink paper by tracing around the rolo candy and cut out.
2. Using the lined paper as a guide, score the long side of the yellow paper every two lines.
3. Write a fun, nice message in the middle of the paper. Fold the paper on each of the scored lines.
4. Attach the pink and metallic paper to the end of the yellow with glue.
5. Carefully remove the white paper from the Kiss and color the tip with a black marker.
6. Using glue, wrap the Rolo candy with the paper and secure, then add the Kiss.
7. Attach the circle of pink paper to the end of the candy with glue.
Check out this website for more fun school-themed craft ideas.
School Countdown/Art Display
Using a simple picture frame and some twine, you can generate excitement about the upcoming school year by displaying a countdown and then displaying any artwork the children come home with during the year.
Just take a large picture frame and wrap it with twine. Start by tying a secure knot with the twine at the top right of the frame, then wrap around the frame.
Hang a fun, festive countdown by securing sheets that display the days with a clothespin. After school has started, use clothespins to hang artwork and enjoy!
Article sponsored by Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
Find them on the web: http://www.hschurch.com
By Allison Adams
Congratulations! You have made it to summer! School is out and hopefully things are slowing down a bit in your routine.
After such a cold winter and a rainy spring, I’m eager to see if I even mind the scorching heat of southern summer this year. If so, I may just bear it and think of places such as Iceland, where June weather ranges between 47 and 53 degrees. Their official “summer” began on April 23.
Summer is a season, but for our kids, it is an extended holiday. All of our responsibilities we juggled with ease during the school year must now be combined with shuttling to and fro for pool dates, summer camps and other activities. Hopefully, we can also coordinate a bit of wandering for our young explorers.
A recent broadcast of a couple investigated for allowing their children, ages 10 and six, to roam the streets made national news. The story opened my eyes to terms such as “helicopter parents” (a.k.a. busy bodies) and “free-range parents” (the ones at home wondering why they haven’t seen the kids in a while).
I was surrounded by both of these as a child growing up in Livingston. My best friend’s grandmother had ways of knowing when we’d ventured too far. My mom would send us out the door saying, “Go play, check in for lunch and don’t be later than dark.” It was the way we rolled in a small town. Tuscaloosa neighborhoods are no different.
Many of us remember timeless, "last a decade-like" afternoons roaming the sidewalks, walking or on bikes, lunches at the Dairy Queen where we snacked on a swirly cone, traversing creeks, culverts, pastures, and flag football games we just happened upon. There were no cell phones. Okay, maybe there was a pay phone - but who could keep a quarter in their hand while riding a bike?! We were adventurers! We didn’t carry purses! The end of the day was signaled by the subtle neon blinking of lightening bugs, as we’d say goodbye to our friends and peddle quickly home to see what was for dinner.
Being on the lake, it is hard to focus on work, I admit. The boat dock is usually dripping with kids, dogs and life jackets. This past month, my oldest graduated from college at Alabama. He’s headed to set the world on fire with his music. I just hope he remembers to take some time to savor the little things, to remember the mud pies, the ice cream truck and his little red plastic jeep.
While he is on the road chasing his dream, I’ll be reminding myself to snuggle with his little sister (who just turned 10) and really immerse myself in her summer, while staying out of her way so she can explore, learn about the world and be completely carefree and creative the way we used to.
Before too long, the days of summer will lead us into fall.
Icelandic summers include a full 20 hours of daylight each day in June. Here in the south, we’re given fewer hours of daylight – but many more hours of sunlight (Iceland’s summer includes, more often than not, lots of cloud cover).
So embrace the Southern Summertime! We can dream of summers elsewhere, but then we would miss out on all this sunshine, humidity (and sweat), and especially the adventures that are going on in our own back yards.
Blessings for a memorable summer.
Photo: Allison Adams
Article sponsored by Med Center.
Find them on the web: https://www.medcenterurgentcare.com
By Tori Linville
It’s hard work keeping up with a human. And in the summer? A pup needs a break every once in a while. There’s only so much man’s best friend can do without opposable thumbs! What’s a person to do? Start with frozen dog treats specially made with summer in mind and never look back. May you be the god you dog thinks you are.
DIY Ice Lick
Fill a bucket with water or chicken or beef broth. Fill it with the normal dog treats your sidekick usually likes or any dog toys laying around. Freeze and present to your four legged friend. The treats and toys will create a happy reward for persistence and you’ll be able to relax with a happy pup.
PB and Fruit Ice Circle
Blend a half cup of peanut butter and water in a blender and pour into a bundt cake pan. Add one cup of chopped fruit* and two tablespoons of flax seeds. Freeze for about four to six hours.
*Fruits that are dog friendly include apples (no seeds), bananas, blueberries, kiwis, lemon, watermelon (without the rind), oranges, peaches (no pit), pineapples and strawberries.
Blend ripe bananas, some plain yogurt, peanut butter, honey and water until you have a consistent texture. Pour into ice cube trays, and stick a dog bone in the middle for a fun (and useless) popsicle handle. Freeze overnight.
Basically, just mix a healthy dog-friendly bunch of ingredients into different shapes, freeze and watch an excited tail wag!
Article sponsored by Holy Spirit.
Find them on the web at: http://www.hschurch.com
By Tori Linville
Leaving behind the four-legged family members is never preferred, but it’s sometimes necessary when taking vacations or road trips. We want the best for our dogs and cats alike and hope the same for yours, too. Which is why we’ve helped locate the best boarding available to the area so you don’t have to.
Indian Hills Animal Clinic
The Indian Hills Animal Clinic offers an array of services that complete the perfect package. It features a pet boarding hotel that caters to all pet needs with all the conveniences. It offers indoor runs, large cat condos, climate-controlled kennels and windows for a look outside. There are even large suites with beds, television and access to a private exercise yard. Dogs are walked three times a day Monday through Friday and twice on Saturday and Sunday. Favorite toys and other items from home are welcomed. Check out the Indian Hills website here for more information on your pet’s stay.
Animal Medical Center
Animal Medical Center is a one-stop spot for all your animal’s needs. While the clinic offers a doggy daycare complete with pool time, nap time and more, the boarding facility is available as well (for dogs only). From standard kennels to luxury suites, any pup can find something suitable for his/her needs. Climate control and high-quality meals are also offered. Look at the center’s website for more information about pricing here.
Bryant Drive Animal Hospital
Veterinary services, grooming or boarding can all be found at the Bryant Drive Animal Hospital. The animal hospital caters to every pet’s needs while boarding, including a well-rounded meal and the attention it deserves. Climate control, room to exercise and other amenities are provided as well. Check out the Bryant Drive Animal Hospital in order to suit your pet’s needs here.
Hope Animal Clinic
Hope Animal Clinic comes with several perks that are perfect for boarding. From the bedding to the individual personality of a pet, Hope Animal Clinic caters to it all. Dogs are walked at least twice daily and provided special bedding depending on size. Doggy Daycare is also available during boarding for an extra fee. Felines can enjoy a relaxing, quite stay in a connected cat condo. Extra large cats receive open cages. To find out how the clinic can best serve you, check here for rates and more information.
Liberty Animal Hospital
Liberty Animal Hospital accommodates for dogs and cats, but can also look after your rabbit, guinea pig, hamster and even your bird! Two levels of boarding are offered – regular boarding and club vet boarding. Regular boarding includes an endless supply of fresh water, specialized feedings and a walk three to four times a day. Club vet boarding includes these features along with specialized play times. Be sure to grab a boarding release form before checking in. To find out more, click here.
The Pampered Pet Resort
It’s all in the name for this boarding location, which offers dog and cat boarding along with other services. All the usual amenities are available, including climate-controlled rooms, walks at a minimum of four times a day and themed luxury suites. Toys and premeasured food from home is welcome and dogs from the same family are allowed to board together overnight. This policy is also allowed for cat boarders as well. Cat boarding does limit playtime to only members of the same family. Two room cat condos are available. To see pricing and more, visit the resort’s website here to prepare for your pet’s escape.
Whitesburg Animal Hospital
With fresh water and a complimentary bath after a seven night stay, there’s really no reason not to board with this animal hospital. Personal attention and supervised outdoor play are just two of the many features at Whitesburg Animal Hospital. Both canine and feline alike can board in either a classic suite or a themed suite. Special food from home is welcome and concerned parents can request more frequent feedings. To find out more, click here.
Paradise Pet Resort and Spa
On top of everything offered at Paradise Pet Resort and Spa, pet owners can access a webcam to see pets in real time. To receive the feed while mobile, the ODoggy App can be downloaded to keep an eye on your pet while you’re away. Dog accommodations include villa suites, clubhouse suites and cabana suites (the cabanas have access to a private outdoor patio). Cat condos include three story playrooms, a living room, dining room and private bathroom area. To check out all that’s available visit the website here.
Known as the oldest kennel in the area, the Unicorn Kennel offers both indoor and outdoor kennels. It is family owned and operated, with flexible hours for pick ups and drop offs. Climate-controlled with highly-praised staff and facilities, Unicorn Kennel has reasonable prices and will be sure to come home with tails a-wag. For hours of operation, click here.
Article Sponsored by Sealy Furniture.
Find them on the web at: http://sealyfurnitureoutlet.net
By Tori Linville
So you’ve got a festive drink in your hand (hopefully complete with umbrella) and toes are firmly in the cool sand. The only thing in front of you is the waves lapping at your feet and an undisturbed horizon that your eyes can’t get enough of. You go to pet your trusty sidekick, but he’s not there. Why? Because the beach you’re at doesn’t allow pets. How do you find the perfect beach for both you and your best friend? Check out the one’s we’ve found just for you.
Fort Morgan Beach
Though dogs are only permitted if on a leash, it’s better than sitting at home and missing out. If you do bring a pet, it’s recommended that you stay between the Engineer’s Wharf and the fishing pier. The best place to park is probably best at fort parking or at the pier, because lots can get crowded. Luckily, the beach itself doesn’t have too many complaints of overcrowding. The beach is parallel with the main road, but there is a fine if you take a dog outside permitted areas.
Pups on a leash are allowed at the public beach around the year at Dauphin Island. The best bet is most likely the beach near the old fishing pier. This area stretches for a few miles and is ideal for owners to bring their pets to play. Dogs aren’t allowed at West End Beach Park at the extreme west end, though.
Cape San Blas
Perhaps some of the most inviting beaches can be found at Cape San Blas. Pups of all kinds are free to roam and play as they please while on a leash. Avoid marked turtle nests and be sure to utilize the doggie waste disposal stations to keep the dog-friendly aura alive!
Article sponsored by Mona Ochoa-Horshok.