Top 5 sources for Halloween crafts

Halloween is a fun time of year for all ages, and decorating your home is a key part of celebrating the season.

Halloween crafts
There’s more to Halloween crafts than just jack-o-lanterns.
Source: By Cindy (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Nothing makes you feel at home quite like decorating for the holidays. To give our readers some ideas, we’ve curated a list of places with craft ideas galore:

  1. Pinterest is of course the go-to place for craft ideas. This board is full of kid-friendly ideas for crafts, costumes, face paint, and parties for Halloween.
  2. Parents.com is also full of kid-friendly ideas for Halloween.
  3. Country Living has elegant craft ideas for classy Halloween decor.
  4. Better Homes and Gardens has DYI decor for outdoors as well as indoors.
  5. AllCrafts.net needs to hire a new webmaster, sure, but their craft ideas are gold. We can’t wait to make our own grape vine pumpkin complete with twinkle lights!

One craft we saw on each of theses sites: cheesecloth ghosts. They’re a classic craft that’s easy for even the least crafty. Make them any size, stand them up on an end table, or string them up in a light or a mobile. Kids will have fun making them, but they’re not your average cheesy, glittery decoration.

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Fall Festivals galore!

Pittsburgh and the surrounding area is beautiful in autumn, thanks to the changing foliage. Starting later this months, several communities throughout Pittsburgh are celebrating the season with festival fun for all ages. Because there are so many festivals, we’ve curated a list that includes only those with free admission and only those with an explicitly autumnal theme. We also tried to avoid overlapping events, so if you’re a hardcore fan of fall, you could attend every single event on this list, one day at a time.

Pittsburgh in Autumn
In addition to enjoying the gorgeous fall foliage, there are plenty of fall festivals to keep Pittsburgh residents busy throughout the season.
By John [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Most of these festivals offer the same standard entertainments like petting zoos and pumpkin decorating, but the varied locations should offer a nice change of pace.

Things to do for free: Rooftop Shindig

Have you been to a Rooftop Shindig before? If you haven’t, we’re here to tell you you should go. There are two more slated for this season, so you can take your pick (or go to both!).

What’s cool about these events? For starters, admission is free, and if you bring your own seating for the movie screening, you won’t even have to pay for a seat. Though you can buy a folding chair at the event for $12. When we were there last month, the chairs were those snazzy camping chairs complete with a cup holder in the arm rest and a pouch for convenient carrying.

Now, these events offer more than just excellent live music and outdoor film screenings. There’s also a giant chess board and a giant Connect Four to kill time before the show starts.

At the June 3rd event, Fireball Whiskey had a booth of free samples set up. Patrons 21 and over were able to sample 3 different mixed drinks made with Fireball Whiskey that were available for purchase at the next booth over. They were also handing out free Fireball Whiskey swag.

In addition to drinks, there were some seriously good eats for sale (hello bacon wrapped hot dog!) from pulled pork sandwiches to vegetarian egg rolls and fried rice. The Chicken on a Stick stand was also selling some delicious lemonade squeezed from real lemons for anyone not up for (or old enough for) alcohol.

It gets cold up on the roof after sunset, so bring a blanket as well as sweatshirts and windbreakers for layering. If you’re bringing little ones (or if you’re an adult with sensitive hearing) bring ear plugs, because the volume of the movie will be cranked up full blast to reach the back row.

If you’re worried about parking, put your mind at ease and take the T or bus instead: the Theater Square Garage is just a short walk from Wood Street Station.

The next Shindig is at 6 p.m. on August 26. Bastard Bearded Irishmen will be playing, followed by a screening of The Warriors.

Get organized: tips for your home filing cabinet

Even though the modern world is moving more and more to digital spaces, we still have a lot of paperwork to keep track of. Especially if you’re a renter, there are a few very important documents that you need to store in a safe place. So this week, we’re offering a few tips for getting—and staying—organized.

First of all, you’ll need a filing cabinet or a file drawer inside a desk. If you’re tight on space and don’t have many documents to organize and store, consider picking up a filing box. There are a variety of styles of varying size, portability, and durability, so pick what’s right for your needs. An office supply store will have the biggest selection, but places like Walmart and Target have what you need as well. While you’re at the store, you’ll need to buy some hanging folders and file folders to fill your new box. You can go as colorful and decorative as you want, and sometimes color-coding can be a fun, simple way to further organize your papers. Ideally, you’ll want to get a box and folders that fit legal size paper so you don’t have to fold and cram to make stuff fit.

Once you’ve brought home all your supplies, it’s time to categorize your papers and label your folders. How you choose to organize the individual folders is up to you, but alphabetizing or placing things in order of importance are the two simplest ways to do it.

For example, you might label your first hanging folder “Home” and fill it with file folders that contain your lease, records of rent and utility payments, your renters’ insurance policy, pictures you’ve taken of your apartment pre-move-in as well as all your personal belongings, and any correspondences from your landlord.

Your next folder might be for your kids’ documents (birth certificates, passports, school and medical records, etc.).

If you’re a renter and pet owner, it’s also important to keep your pet’s records organized. For example, if you have any additional paperwork with your landlord permitting your pet in the rented property, you’ll want to save that either with your lease or with your pet’s vet records (or make a copy and save it in both places to be extra thorough).

The rest of the things you should file away are either pretty obvious (work papers, financial records, etc.) or unusual. By unusual we mean the instructions and manuals that come with electronics, appliances, and furniture. Why file these things? Because when you move, you’ll want to have the instructions handy for dis-assembly and reassembly of bulky furniture. Just think: you brought that entertainment center into the apartment in pieces, and if it won’t fit through the door fully assembled, you’ll kick yourself if you’ve lost the instructions in the shuffle.

Any papers that seem even a little bit important should be filed away for safekeeping. When spring cleaning time comes around, you can go back through your files and get rid of anything you definitely don’t need anymore. Just remember to shred documents that contain personal information before recycling them.

Know the rules, don’t get burned

When you rent an apartment, you enter into a contract with your landlord, so it’s important that you understand all the terms and conditions of that contract.

Your landlord or an agent of your landlord will likely go over your lease with you at the time of your signing or have you read it before you sign. This is the best time to ask for clarification if there’s anything you’re not sure about. But this should not be the last time you ever look at your lease.

security deposit, lease
Knowing the ins and outs of your lease is key to saving you money and aggravation if any issues should arise.

You will receive a copy of your lease that, of course, you should keep on file in a safe place. When you first receive that copy, you should look it over and refresh yourself on the important points:

  • The amount of your rent, when it’s due, and how you are to pay and where you should send/bring it
  • Late fees, fees for bad checks, and other charges you could incur
  • What utilities are included in rent and what you need to pay yourself
  • The duration of the lease, especially the exact end date
  • Rules about renewing your lease and when you can expect to receive a renewal notice
  • Rules about ending your lease early in the event of a job transfer or other situation
  • Parking regulations
  • How to report maintenance issues and other concerns
  • What, if anything, your are responsible for by way of repairs (most commonly, renters are responsible for changing light bulbs and batteries in smoke detectors)
  • Your landlord’s contact information
  • Your exact address
  • Stipulations regarding your security deposit (when will it be returned, and what do you have to do when you move out to ensure its return)

Yes, some of these points are basic, but you’d be surprised what can slip your mind amidst the chaos of moving. Plus, if you give everything a second look right away, you’ll be more likely to remember it later on when things like renewing your lease become a more immediate concern. When you come across phone numbers for maintenance and your landlord’s office, save them in your phone and also write them down in an address book or save them in some other secondary location.

If you have a question for your landlord about something, take a moment to pull your lease out of its safe spot and see if anything written in it answers your question. If not, call your landlord and ask. If you’re even the least bit unsure about what your lease states about a certain issue, such as under what conditions you would be allowed to end the lease early, call your landlord for clarification and write yourself a note to attach to the lease for future reference. When you’re done, remember to put the lease back in its safe spot.

Knowing your lease is the key to having a good experience renting, so if it’s been a while since you looked at yours and you’re fuzzy on the terms, pull it out and give it a read.

DIY: shadowbox out of a shoebox

We have a little something different this week: a DIY project! This might be just the thing if you’re still on the hunt for a last-minute Mother’s Day gift. Round up the kids, a shoe box, crafting supplies, and some small keepsakes to make a shadowbox for putting those keepsakes on display.

DIY shadowbox
If your shoe box is glossy or has a lot of stickers on it, you might want to cover it in paper before you paint it.

How you choose to decorate your shoe box depends on the supplies you have handy. If your kids are still pretty young, the easiest route is to cover the whole box in strips of construction paper. If your kids love to draw or paint,  let them at it. If your box has a lot of stickers on it or has a glossy finish, you’ll need to cover it in plain white paper before you paint or draw on it.

Once all the glue and paint has dried, your shadowbox will be ready for display. Hanging it up is easy. You can use small nails, Command Velcro strips, or even thumb tacks. (Just be sure to check with your landlord and use the hanging option they prefer to keep your security deposit safe.)

After hanging the box, fill it with those keepsakes you gathered. Just don’t put anything too heavy in it!

If your kids really loved the project, just give them more shoe boxes to transform. Over time, they could build a whole gallery wall.

National Parks close to Pittsburgh

On the hunt for something to do outdoors this summer? If you’re looking for a slightly bigger adventure than a picnic, consider visiting a National Park. There are two parks close to Pittsburgh, and both of them have plenty to offer.

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is just about 4 hours southeast of the city, but it’s worth the trip. It’s a sizable park with plenty of cabins for rent as well as more rugged camping options. The Shenandoah Valley offers gorgeous views that can be enjoyed on foot, horseback, or even from the comfort of your car driving along Skyline Drive. With Washington, D.C. just 75 miles away, you’ll definitely want to make it a longer trip to take in all the sights.

If you want to stay closer to home, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is just 2 hours west of the city, between Cleveland and Akron, OH. Entrance to the park is free, and if you want to spend a night or two, you can choose between camping or staying in a hotel just outside the park. Camping is $20 per night in the primitive campsites. Those open for the summer season Memorial Day weekend and stay open through October 31st.

The list of outdoor activities available at the park are pretty standard: biking, hiking, boating, fishing, bird watching, horseback riding, and golfing. Probably the neatest thing at the park is the train, which runs in winter as well as summer.

Now, if you’re serious about our National Parks and want to spend time touring them in earnest, the $80 annual pass pays for itself if you’re visiting at least 4-5 parks during that year. The pass admits 1 vehicle, so all you have to do is load up your family and your gear and hit the road. While the annual pass doesn’t cover camping or additional activities, finding cheap or even free campsites is easy in and around national parks.