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5 Reasons Kids Should Play Outside More

Whether it’s dance lessons, computer projects, art class or yoga, kids these days are busy bees. And while such activities are enriching and fun, experts say that many kids aren’t spending enough time doing something much simpler and every bit as important as structured programming: playing outdoors.

“Finding time for the kids to play outside can be such a challenge for parents,” says Keri Wilmot, a pediatric occupational therapist and an expert contributor to TheGeniusofPlay.org. “As a parent I worry about ‘stranger danger’ or whether my kids will be able to navigate social issues on their own. Without spontaneity, playtime has lost some of it’s fun.”

Outdoor play is necessary for healthy child development, according to The Genius of Play. The initiative, whose mission is to raise awareness about the importance of play and help parents make play a critical part of raising their kids, is sharing five benefits of unstructured outdoor playtime:

• Physical Development: Research has shown that physically active kids tend to be leaner and healthier, while an inactive childhood can lead to a sedentary (and likely unhealthy) lifestyle in adulthood. Furthermore, physical play builds gross and fine motor skills necessary for success in school and beyond. Hanging from the monkey bars, for instance, helps kids develop the hand muscles needed to grip a pencil.

• Risk-Taking: Through outdoor play, children are given the opportunity to step outside their comfort zones and try new things. While taking risks won’t always lead to success on the first try, moments like a first bike ride without training wheels, or the first trip down the big slide in the playground, are critical for building the confidence and resilience needed to pursue a future career, start a business, or handle life’s many challenges.

• Social Skills: Childhood games played outdoors can help build social skills and teach kids to follow directions. From games as simple as tag, to those with more complicated rules, like “Kick the Can,” “Capture the Flag,” and sports like soccer and basketball, communication, teamwork and other important social skills are developed during outdoor play.

• Problem Solving: Children’s imaginations are often stimulated by the world around them. Being outside widens their horizons and can encourage kids to tap into their creativity in order to come up with solutions to challenges, such as learning how to build a sandcastle or figuring out how to climb up a jungle gym.

• Reducing Stress: So much outdoor play involves physical activity, thrilling moments and a sense of freedom, all of which can boost endorphins, helping to lower stress levels and reduce anxiety and depression. Interestingly, simply touching dirt when creating mud pies or digging for worms can be beneficial. According to a Bristol University study, certain types of “friendly” bacteria in soil have been found to activate the group of neurons that produce serotonin, which contributes to a feeling of well-being and happiness. So, don’t be afraid to let your kids get a bit dirty out there!

For play ideas, expert advice and other play resources, visit TheGeniusOfPlay.org.

Playtime is essential for children. To promote health, happiness and confidence, be sure some of it is spent outdoors.

Favorite Fair Foods

State and county fair season has arrived, and that means there will be rides and games galore. While many people are drawn to fairs by the entertainment, just as many are willing to stand in line for the unique and tasty foods that seem to embody fair and carnival fun. If it can be served on a stick or deep fried, chances are you can find it at a fair. Everything from chocolate-dipped bacon to deep-fried butter may turn up on fair stand menus. The following are some of the more coveted foods revelers can expect to find at their local fairs and carnivals.

Funnel cake: Funnel cake and its close cousin, zeppole, have long been fair favorites. Topped with powdered sugar, funnel cakes can be pulled apart and shared with others.

Corn dogs: Corn dogs are essentially hot dogs on a stick that have been covered in cornmeal and fried. Like funnel cakes, corn dogs have become so synonymous with fairs and carnivals that few people have ever enjoyed them anywhere outside of their local fairgrounds.

French fries: French fries are a favorite at fairs, and carnival-goers can choose from savory shoestrings to hearty steak-cut potato chunks.

Cotton candy: What fair would be complete without a cotton candy vendor? Cotton candy is made by heating up granulated sugar until it is liquified enough to be blown into thin threads. Those threads are collected and wound into a sweet treat that is loved by kids and adults alike.

Pie: Fair-goers are likely to happen upon a pie-eating contest or pie-tasting tent. Many prefer to indulge in a piece of pie while at the fair, preferring such treats to sweeter, heavier desserts.

Corn on the cob: Corn on the cob is proof that carnivals and fairs provide some healthy fare for customers in addition to the many decadent treats on display. Corn on the cob is most popular in corn-producing areas and can be the ideal complement to burgers and other fair foods.

Anything on a stick: Each year fair vendors experiment with culinary oddities that can be served on a stick. One day it may be skewered pork chops and the next a sleeve of cookies. Those who want the full fair experience should consider trying something served on a stick.

Gas vs. Charcoal: Dishing on Popular Grilling Methods

Any time of year has the potential to be grilling season. Grilling is not only a way to prepare meals; for many, it’s also a passion. “Barbecuing is no longer just a pastime, but an integral part of the North American lifestyle,” said Jack Goldman, president and CEO, Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. “We expect consumers’ passion for flavorful food and entertaining their family and friends to continue to increase.”

The HPBA’s 2017 industry survey found that 70 percent of adults in the United States own a grill or smoker. Those numbers are even greater in Canada, where 80 percent of adults have a grill to call their own. Flavor, lifestyle and entertainment are the prime reasons people grill.

When it comes time to replace or upgrade a grill, the age-old question remains: Do I choose a charcoal- or gas-fueled grill? That decision can spark heated debate among grillmasters, but for many it may boil down to a number of factors.

Cost

Charcoal grills tend to be the less expensive than gas grills. The food and beverage trend reporter Chowhound indicates that a low-end grill can be purchased for around $25. However, deluxe charcoal kettles and other charcoal alternatives tend to be considerably more expensive. The most popular gas grills may cost anywhere from $130 to $300. Those who prefer more options and high-end offerings can pay between $800 and $1,500.

High heat searing

When cooking expensive, well-marbled steaks or other dishes that benefit from high-heat searing, charcoal grills seem to outperform gas ones, at least according to the experts behind The Sweethome, a product recommendation site owned by The New York Times Company. That isn’t to say gas counterparts can’t come very close. And deploying a cast-iron pan on top of the grates can help concentrate the heat and allow the meat to cook in its own fat.

Convenience

There is no doubt that gas grills are a marvel in regard to convenience, especially when they are directly tied into a home’s propane or natural gas system. In such instances, one never has to worry about running out of gas. Gas fuel tends to be cheaper than charcoal and easier to clean, and some gas grills come with side burners that enable cooks to prepare side dishes right next to their grilled entrees.

Portability

For those who want to grill at home and on the go, then a charcoal grill is the right investment. A charcoal grill can be brought to a campsite or a park without going to great lengths.

Clean-up

Gas grills generally are easier to clean, and home chefs do not have to wrangle much ash or leftover coals once they’re done cooking.

Charcoal and gas grills each have their merits. It is up to consumers to decide which features reign supreme as they shop for new grills.

Classic Ways to Have Fun and Keep Cool this Summer

Downtime sounds fairly straightforward, right? Unfortunately, busy schedules often prevent many families from spending enough time together simply relaxing and having fun.

With an overwhelming 96 percent of people believing it’s important to have downtime together as a family, according to research from Mintel Trends, you may be looking for some ways to do just that this summer.

Check out these great ideas for the warm weather months ahead:

Picnic Time

Sunny day? A picnic can be extremely easy to prep on a moment’s notice. Pack some blankets on which to spread out, as well as lunch — which can be as simple as sandwiches, fruits, veggie sticks and dips. Bring along lawn games, such as a croquet, badminton or bocce set, or keep things simple with a couple of frisbees or a soccer ball. Then, find a shady spot in a nearby park to enjoy the afternoon. Don’t forget to take along some bags, in case there are no garbage cans around. You’ll want to leave the area as pristine as you found it.

Hit the Pool, Lake or Beach

Nothing says summer fun more than relaxing or splashing around at the pool, lake or beach on a hot day. And this is one activity that doesn’t require a lot of advance planning; just grab some SPF and a few pool floats and you’re ready to go. Easy to pack and inflate, the latest novelty pool floats from Intex are the perfect accessory to look cool while staying cool in the sun. Durable and trendy floats for all ages like the Angel Wings Mat, a Sit N Float lounger, Realistic Sea Turtle Ride On, even a juicy Strawberry Island or Watermelon Island, are available at select online, big box and specialty retailers. Just don’t forget to pack the camera because there will be plenty of picture-perfect selfies for any Instagram post!

Baseball, Up Close

Root, root, root for the home team at a minor league baseball game, where there are no bad seats and fans have more chances to interact with the players, pose with the mascot and even round the bases. A great activity for a weekend or even a family fun night mid-week, minor league baseball games are affordable, fun and local.

When the kids are out of school and the days are long, use all that downtime to your advantage, finding classic ways to unwind, reconnect and have fun.

Coping with Age-Related Hair Loss

Attitude goes a long way in regard to self-esteem. With a positive spin, it’s possible to get through difficult situations and even have a favorable outlook on getting older. But even the most optimistic among us may at times worry about the physical signs of aging and wonder what can be done to make them feel and look their best. Wrinkles and a little extra weight around the middle certainly garner attention, but hair loss is another age-related concern. As people age, their hair changes in several ways. Graying through loss of melanin pigment is the most apparent. MedlinePlus, the health information resource from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, says that strands of hair also can become less dense and smaller through the years. Many follicles also may stop producing new hairs. Regardless of age, it is customary for a person to lose about 100 hairs a day. If those hairs are not replaced as readily as they once were, patches of thinning and balding hair may appear.

The rate at which hair falls out is largely determined by genetics, according to Headcovers Unlimited, a company that produces wigs, scarves and other headwraps. But nearly everyone will experience some sort of age-related hair loss. Hormonal changes during menopause can cause noticeable thinning and scalp exposure that may be mistaken for actual hair loss. There are many ways to mitigate hair loss. Here are some handy tips.

• Try a new cut. Work with your stylist to determine a haircut that can suggest the appearance of thickness and camouflage the loss of density or bare spots. Graduated layers kept close to the face can help, as can pixie cuts. Men can choose to go entirely bald and bold.

• Treat hair gently. Avoid harsh chemical processes and constant heat styling. Protect fragile hair from damage by pampering it.

• Look for thickening formulas. Many shampoos, serums and conditioners tout volumizing or thickening properties. These can help plump up hair and make thinning less apparent.

• Talk to your doctor. Hair loss may be a result of medication, a skin condition or aging. Doctors may suggest products, such as Minoxidil and Lipogaine formulas, that can be used on the scalp to reduce hair loss and help follicles produce new hair strands.

Hair thinning and hair loss can be a symptom of getting older. Knowledge is key to improve hair’s appearance at any age.

Father’s Day Gifts for the Modern Dad

Father’s Day is a chance for people to show the special men in their lives just how much they’re loved. Though it was first celebrated on June 19, 1910, it was not until decades later that President Richard Nixon made honoring fathers a nationwide holiday in the United States. While there are many different ways to honor dads, it has become customary to offer gifts and other tokens of affection. According to History.com, Americans now spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts. Many modern fathers are more involved in their children’s lives and around the house than their own fathers were. Gifts that cater to today’s well-rounded dads are sure to be appreciated.

Cool duds: Modern dads are fashion-forward and might enjoy a piece of clothing or a gift card to their favorite retailer. If you know a store where Dad loves to shop, stop in for some inspiration.

Pampering products: Mom is not the only one who likes to indulge in some pampering from time to time. Put together a carefully curated basket of men’s grooming products, or purchase a set from a bath and body store like Lush.

Fitness finds: If you haven’t already gifted the special man in your life with a fitness tracker watch, now is the time to do so. Such a watch will tap into his love of gadgets and provide some utility as he tries to be as healthy as possible.

Cookbooks: The stereotype that dads are hopeless in the kitchen has long since been refuted. Many men are top-notch home chefs and will appreciate some new recipes to try. Combine the cookbook with a new culinary tool, like a cast-iron skillet or a mandoline slicer, so he can try out his skills right away.

Support the team: If Dad is a sports fan, find a baseball cap or a jersey of his favorite team/player. Many sports stores only carry inventory for local teams. If Dad supports a team in a different state or country, do your shopping online at a site like Fanatics.com.

Craft beers: The craft beer movement has expanded exponentially in recent years. Visit with a local brewer and purchase bottles or growlers of a favorite brew. If you know the flavor profile that Dad favors, find a beer that suits that preference while also giving some new varieties so he can put together his own flight.

This Father’s Day, delve deeper to find gifts that a dad will truly love — even if he seemingly has it all.

Container Gardening for Beginners

Gardening is a rewarding activity that gardening enthusiasts can’t wait to get back to once the weather warms up. Many gardeners find getting their hands dirty while tending to a garden can be a great form of escapism. In addition, growing one’s own fruits and vegetables can be great for the environment. Though it’s easy to assume gardening is an activity exclusive to homeowners with their own yards, that’s not the case at all. Container gardening can make it possible for anyone to garden regardless of where they live.

The benefits of container gardening go beyond making gardening accessible to everyone. Many plants grown in containers are less susceptible to disease than plants grown in the soil, which can reduce reliance on potentially harmful pesticides. Container gardens also tend to be easier to maintain than traditional gardens, making gardening more doable for people with especially hectic schedules. Container gardening can be simple, and novices can consider these tips when planning and ultimately tending to their first gardens.

Conduct a light audit. Walk around your home to determine where your plant can be placed so it gets as much light as it needs to thrive. Some plants need a lot of light, while others can thrive with a lot less. By conducting a light audit before choosing plants, you can determine if your home is most conducive to plants that require a lot of a light or those that need little light to get by.

Make sure containers have ample drainage. The gardening experts at Good Housekeeping note that drainage holes are essential when choosing containers. Waterlogged soil can be fatal for plants, so there must be ample drainage in the container. Don’t focus too much on the size of the holes, just make sure that they allow excess water to drain out from the pot.

Don’t forget to feed your plants. Potting soil won’t necessarily have nutrients that plants can access, so many container gardeners must fertilize the soil so plants can thrive. Good Housekeeping notes that watering with diluted fish emulsion, seaweed extract or compost tea can help plants thrive. Feed once every two weeks to start, adjusting the schedule thereafter depending on how the plants respond.

Seek advice. Local gardening centers can be great resources for novice container gardeners. Such centers can recommend plants with a history of thriving in the area as well as plants that might be more compatible when containers are placed next to one another.

Container gardening can bring gardening to any home, whether it’s a light-filled private home or an apartment where sunlight is sparse.

The Various Benefits of Farm-to-Table

Few things are more satisfying than biting into a fresh tomato right from the garden or seasoning a meal with herbs picked from a windowsill greenhouse. Restaurants recognize the value of such experiences, and more and more are relying on locally sourced products in their kitchens.

The farm-to-table movement is not new, but it has gained momentum as consumers become increasingly enamored with the flavor and environmental impact of locally sourced foods. The National Restaurant Association found that farm-to-table food was one of its top 10 trends for 2015. Furthermore, the group says that one in five consumers are willing to pay more for local food, and 41 percent admit that locally sourced ingredients influence their decisions when choosing where to dine. Newcomers to the farm-to-table dining experience may not understand all the fuss surrounding this popular trend. The following are some of the key benefits of farm-to-table.

Peak freshness and ripeness: Local produce ripens on the plant and can be harvested at the last possible minute before it turns up on a plate. This helps ensure that it contains the highest amount of nutrients and flavor, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Food that has to travel further is often picked well before it is ready, ripening on the way to stores or other vendors.

Better for the environment: Food that needn’t travel far before reaching diners’ plates saves roughly 500 gallons of diesel fuel to haul produce a distance of 1,500 miles. This conserves fossil fuels and prevents harmful emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Supports neighboring farms: Supporting farm-to-table restaurants and other eateries keeps business local in two different ways. It not only benefits local restaurants, but it also directly supports neighboring farms, fisheries and other suppliers.

Accessibility to seasonal choices: Farm-to-table eating provides a wide variety of in-season foods. This can translate into tastier foods because they are grown and harvested during their optimal growing season.

Reduces factory farming: According to O.info, the informational resource powered by Overstock.com, farm-to-table and local farming can reduce reliance on large, profit-driven corporations that may focus on maximum production over animal health and welfare. Local farms may be more inclined to treat their animals well and institute sustainable practices.

Learn about the community: A person might live in an area and never know that a local vineyard is in the vicinity or that a producer of straight-from-the-hive honey is nearby. Exploring farm-to-table resources can open people’s eyes to local businesses doing great work in and around their communities.

Agriculture and the Economy

Though it’s easy to look at the tech industry and think this increasingly influential sector is what makes the world go round, something closer to the very core of the Earth may be what’s driving your economy.

The agricultural sector plays a strategic role in a nation’s economic development and prosperity. From the earliest days, agriculture has been heralded as playing a crucial role in North American culture. Farmers who grow produce and raise livestock for meats and other products have long exemplified what it means to work hard and take initiatives to be self-sufficient.

The symbiotic nature of agriculture and the economy is noticeable when examining the ups and downs of each. This is because food production and the potential of agriculture extends beyond the fields and local food stands. These resources impact supply chains and other markets. A strong agriculture base influences other employment sectors like food manufacturing, biotechnology, hospitality, machinery building, and much more, while a weak agriculture can adversely affect those sectors.

While it can be difficult for residents of developed nations to visualize agriculture’s effect, one only needs to turn to impoverished and developing nations to see just how big an impact agriculture can have on an economy. Agriculture provides food and raw materials, eventually creating demand for goods produced in non-agricultural sectors. Also, food provides nutrition that can serve as the foundation of a healthy nation. Earning a living in agriculture strengthens purchasing power, which fuels other markets. Eventually, farming can pave the way for development, including roads, markets, shipping services, exporting, and many other sectors.

Agriculture is an important economic building block. An especially important sector, the agricultural industry, when supported, can contribute greatly to sustained economic growth.

How to Control Crabgrass Before it Appears

Homeowners who enjoy tending to their lawns know that grass is vulnerable to a host of problems, many of which appear at a time of year when lawn enthusiasts want to showcase the fruits of their lawn-and-garden labors. Crabgrass is a common problem that appears in summer. According to Lowes, crabgrass plants produce thousands of seeds between midsummer and early fall. While the first frosts of late-fall or early winter kill the crabgrass plants, the seeds produced by the plants remain dormant throughout winter and then begin to grow as the ground temperature warms up with the spring and summer thaw.

As a result, controlling germination, which is the development of a plant from a seed or spore after a period of dormancy, is the key to preventing crabgrass from becoming an unsightly blemish that can harm your lawn in summer. A proactive approach to crabgrass can save homeowners the headaches of dealing with this unwanted guest taking over their grass. The following tips, courtesy of Lowes, can help homeowners reduce the likelihood of their lawns being overcome by crabgrass as summer hits full swing.

Recognize that routine lawn maintenance may not be enough. Even lawns that receive sufficient TLC can fall victim to crabgrass. A proactive, crabgrass-specific approach to lawn maintenance is the most effective way to control the problem before it pops up.

Apply a pre-emergent herbicide. Pre-emergent herbicides kill crabgrass seedlings as they germinate. While these herbicides are highly effective, they must be applied at precisely the right time. The right time to apply them depends on weather patterns. For example, Lowes notes that homeowners who live in regions that might have experienced warmer than usual winters will probably need to apply the herbicides earlier than usual. While the manufacturer instructions should always be followed when applying herbicides, it’s essential that homeowners take weather patterns into consideration as well.

Wait until the ground temperature rises above 60 F. Applying herbicides when the ground temperature is below 60 F might render the products ineffective. Gauging soil temperature can be tricky, but Lowes advises monitoring shrubs and trees on the property. Once shrubs begin to bloom and trees bud, herbicide can be applied.

• Wait when treating newly seeded lawns. Pre-emergent herbicides might kill new grass seedlings, so homeowners with newly seeded lawns should wait until they have mowed their lawns three times before applying a herbicide.

Emphasize uniform application. If a herbicide is not applied uniformly across the lawn, crabgrass can establish itself and ultimately spread to the rest of the lawn.

Do not thatch or aerate after applying a herbicide. Thatching or aerating a lawn after applying a herbicide might break the product’s chemical barrier, thereby rendering it ineffective.

Crabgrass can quickly spread on an untreated lawn. A proactive approach that prevents its growth can keep lawns looking great through summer.