Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Dogs Fly: Traveling With Your Pet

Exactly one week after I found Skipper in a shelter and adopted her last summer, JM and I were scheduled to take our vacation to my parents' lake house. It was unfortunate timing, but I was sure that Skip was "the one" for us (I was right!) and didn't feel good about leaving her in the shelter for one more minute than we had to. I also didn't feel right about putting her in a kennel or leaving her with  a dog-sitter the week after we got her. So, it seemed my choices were to cancel our vacation or to take her with us.
However, when I went online to search out the whole taking-a-dog-on-an-airplane process, I searched high and low (I'm pretty sure I went to the End of the Internet), and was amazed at how little good information there is out there on the topic. For our first flight with her, I basically winged it (get it?), and happily all went well. Skip has now flown and driven all over the country with us, and is a very happy seasoned traveler.  So I decided to write a post to clear the whole process up, once and for all. Here is everything you need to know about traveling with a dog, hoping that it will make the experience just a little less... ruff.

Dog-Friendly Destinations
The first question you need to ask yourself is whether the place you are traveling to is appropriate for dogs. Skip loves our parents' backyards in California and Boston, and the woods and lake Up North, and she is always welcomed warmly in our families' homes. However, when we travel to big unfamiliar cities, or anywhere for a wedding that will keep us busy all weekend, we always leave her home with a sitter. Sure, there are plenty of hotels that would let us bring her (click here for a list), but how miserable will she be locked up in a hotel room all day? Your dog isn't a toy- make sure you consider her comfort and happiness before you book a trip with her.

Cabin Pressure
If you are planning to fly with your dog, exact rules vary from airline to airline, but the basics are roughly the same. Dogs may fly within the continental U.S., with more strict rules and restrictions for flights to Hawaii or internationally. Some airlines require vet records, as well, so check with the airline before you book. Dogs that are 20 lbs or under and can fit comfortably in a bag 12" X 12" x 19" or smaller (Skip has this one) are allowed to travel in the cabin with you and be placed under the seat in front of you. Larger or heavier dogs must be put in a hard carrier and shipped in the baggage hold. Being sent in the baggage hold can be a pretty intense and traumatic experience for your pup (it can be very dark, loud, and cold or hot down there), so I would suggest only doing it when absolutely necessary, like a cross-country move. Otherwise, I would leave your big dog with a trusted friend, or drive wherever you're going, instead.
Comparatively, traveling inside the cabin with you is quite comfortable for your pup. Just make sure you acquaint your dog with her carrier well before the trip (to do so, put treats and favorite toys in there, and leave it open on the ground until she climbs in herself). Skip loves her bag, and sleeps contentedly through most flights. However, there is a catch to this- you will be charged to bring your dog on board ($50-150 each way) and your dog carrier counts as a carry-on, so you will likely also have to check baggage. Also, airlines limit the number of animals on each flight, so be sure to reserve Spot's spot well ahead of time.

In the Airport
Be sure to allow your dog to go to the bathroom before you enter the airport (some terminals even have designated pet areas, but most will at least have a patch of grass outside). Once inside the airport, your dog will need to be contained in her carrier- you don't want her distracting the bomb sniffing dogs, do you? When you go through security, her carrier will need to go through the x-ray machine, without her in it (unlike the fool smuggler who put a dog through the machine in the photo above). Right before you go through the metal detector, take your dog out of her carrier (removing her collar and leash) and carry her through with you. On the other side, return her to her bag (it's not a bad idea to keep some treats in your pocket to coax her back in).  Never drug your dog before a flight- drugs make your dog unable to maintain her own equilibrium, making her more likely to be injured or become motion sick in transit. If your dog is an anxious flier, you probably shouldn't be forcing her to fly.

On the Road
Most dogs love a road trip (think Travels with Charley), what with all the new sights and smells, and all that time to hang their heads out the window and let their ears flap in the wind. If you decide to take a trip with your dog, though, make sure to stop every few hours at a rest stop to let her stretch her legs, pee and drink a little water. Plan your meal breaks to be short, so you don't leave your dog waiting in a hot car for too long (be sure to roll down the window a bit), and research your hotels ahead of time to make sure they will allow your buddy in the room with you. And if your doggy is the carsick type, don't force the issue.

On A Train or Bus
Technically, dogs (other than service animals) are not allowed on Greyhound or Amtrak. However, I have seen plenty of pups board the Acela, without so much as a second glance by the conductor. Smaller, regional train lines (like the LIRR or MetroNorth) often allow well-behaved dogs on board, so check their policies ahead of time. Never try to smuggle your dog in somewhere she isn't wanted- it can only end badly for both of you.

If All Else Fails...
Some dogs just aren't meant to be jet setters- your motion-sickness-suffering Great Dane, for instance. In that case, make sure you have a wonderful dog-sitter you can count on when you have to leave her. Whether it's a dog-loving friend or a professional, you should feel confident that your dog is in good hands.   If you don't know where to look, ask your vet, trainer, or groomer for recommendations- who knows? One of these people your dog already knows may even be willing to board your little buddy with them.

Happy Travels!

photo credit: Daily Mail UK

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Squash Your Fears

 One of the best things about fall is that, as the nights get cooler, a whole new world of delicious comfort foods, too heavy and warming for summer, opens up. And one of my personal faves of these foods is squash. Now, I know that some of you would put squash lower than "termite sandwich" on your Things I Want to Eat list, but I would argue that it's because you haven't given squash a fair shake. I mean, remember when I told you about Brussels sprouts, and you were like "Ewww", and then I was all, "Try them!" and you did and you were, like "OMG, yum!"? That was a great time. Let's do that again.
Squash, when properly prepared, has a delicious creamy texture, and a wonderful sweet flavor- like pumpkin pie, but you don't have to wait for dessert! It is also rich in vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as folate, fiber, potassium, beta-carotene, iron, and cancer-preventing phytonutrients- it's pretty much up there with the healthiest foods you can eat (which is good, because it sort of makes up for preparing it with butter and brown sugar, if you want to). Also, squashes are everywhere this time of year, and are typically pretty inexpensive, so they make a readily available and easily-prepared main dish (try filling the cavity with quinoa) or a side that tastes amazing with fish, chicken, turkey, shrimp...pretty much anything. My favorites are butternut (see the middle squash in the photo above), and acorn (the front squash, above), but you should also try spaghetti, kabocha, and ambercup squashes when you see them (click here for a list of squashes).

Here is my super-easy, fool-proof, delicious squash recipe. Try it- I guarantee you will love it.
And if you don't, I'll buy you a termite sandwich.

What you Do:

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, using a large sharp knife (don't try this with a little steak knife- you'll slip and cut yourself, and I don't want your blood on my hands). Scoop out the seeds and stringy squash gunk with a spoon, and discard.
2.  Place the squash halves, face up, on an aluminum-foil-lined rimmed baking pan. Spread each half with 1 tbsp butter (or olive oil), and a dash of cinnamon, salt, pepper, and drizzle with 1/2 cup orange juice (bottled is fine). Sprinkle on 1 tbsp of brown sugar or maple syrup, if desired.
3. Place squash in the oven, and bake for 1 hour, or until the meat of the squash is tender and soft.
4.Enjoy while you think about how right I always am.

photo credit: For the Love of Cooking Blog

Friday, September 24, 2010

Travel Tip #008: Red Car(pet) Treatment

JM and I don't own a car, so between destination weddings, weekend trips to Boston, random Ikea pilgrimages, and all our other travels, we end up renting a lot of cars. This used to be my least favorite part of traveling- the whole process of getting off a plane, taking a shuttle, waiting in line, filling out the paperwork, and then having to walk around the car looking for dents... it just really got my goat.  One time, after a long-delayed flight to Denver, we arrived at 1 am at the rental car desk to find a line of twenty people, with just one person working behind the desk, and I almost burst into tears. We didn't get out of there until almost two hours later, and thereafter I had an almost sickening dread of the whole car-renting enterprise (no pun intended).

But then, something wonderful happened! JM and I found out about the premier memberships at car rental places, and signed up for them, our lives changed for the better, and we lived happily ever after. The End.

Premier memberships at rental car agencies allow you to skip the line, go straight to your car and drive out. They also make you first in line for upgrades and other perks. Basically, they eliminate all of the unpleasant parts of renting a car, and make you feel like a VIP (even if it is just at the rental car parking lot).  But, best of all, if you are a little wily, you can get them for free. Shut up, right? But I won't shut up because it's true.  Like you, I always thought that you had to pay for those perks, but it turns out paying is for suckers - the agencies waive those fees for a wide variety of reasons, and some of them may even apply to you (and even if they don't, you can pretend they do). Here's how to sign up for some of the major rental companies premium service totally gratis.   You don't have to thank me- just wave at me as we both zip past the line and out of the parking lot.

The below programs are always free, for everybody. I think the only reason everyone isn't already signed up is because they seem exclusive. Don't be fooled and let the sheep stand in line. One caveat- you will have to enter your credit card information to sign up (and be sure to read the fine print, as with any offer).

Avis Preferred
Alamo Quicksilver
Budget Fastbreak
Dollar Express
Thrifty Blue Chip

Hertz #1 Gold: Hertz offers free Gold membership to American Express cardholders, US Airways frequent fliers, and many others (otherwise there is a $60 annual fee). You can check all the associations to which you belong, to see if you qualify, or you can just use this link, enter
Program Name: US Airways Preferred
Promotion Code: 6173
and be on your way.

A few more tips:
-Try to concentrate rentals on one or two agencies you use the most (we use Hertz and Avis), so you accrue points and free rentals.
-Lots of companies and associations offer discounts at rental agencies, so if you belong to AAA, USAA, AARP, etc. or you work at a large company, make sure to enter that info or mention it at the counter. You'll be amazed at the discounts.
-When all else fails, don't forget to check online coupon websites to find promo codes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A "Better" Rule

 I have a weird habit of telling myself what to do. Like, I'll throw a tissue at a public garbage can and miss, and be about to just walk away and leave it, when the busybody in my head says, "where do you think you're going?," and I have to sheepishly go back and pick it up.  This is probably because I'm very bossy in general, and because I was home-schooled as a child and spent a lot of time in my own head (not much has changed, really, now that I think about it- except now you guys have a window in). I suppose this is what you call a "conscience," but I choose to think of it as my own personal Internal Rule Book.  These rules include things like "Never Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today" and that old classic "Do Unto Others..."

But one of the best rules I try to live by is "Leave It Better Than You Found It".  Once you get this little phrase knocking around in your noggin, you'll be amazed at how often it applies to your situation. Here are just some of the little ways to try to leave things better as you go through your day.

While Shopping- When you try things on in a store,  hang everything you're not buying back up on the right hangers to give back to the salesperson, and pick up any pins or tags that are lying around.

 Litter- When I take Skip for a walk and have to use a baggie to pick up her, ahem, deposits, I also pick up whatever stray cigarette butts or gum wrappers are lying  around nearby. I am already crouching on the sidewalk with a plastic bag on my hand, so why not?

Bathrooms- When you use a public restroom (or even at a friend's house), replace the toilet paper roll when it's empty, and rinse out the sink when you wash your hands. Even if the mess was there when you got there, the next person is going to think you did it, so you might as well tidy up a bit.

Borrowed Things- If you borrow anything, be it a dress, a car, or a power saw from a friend, give it back in better condition than you got it- send the dress to the dry cleaner, replace the blade on the saw, and fill up the tank on the car.  It's still way cheaper than buying your own.

Parties- I'm not suggesting you turn on a loud Huey Lewis song and start a food fight like in some 80's movie, or try to be the life of the party at every shindig you attend, but if you introduce two people who make a connection, man the bar for a little bit (again, no Cocktail- style bottle twirling required) and help clean up a few glasses at the end of the night, the party will have been better for your being there. 

At the Office- At even the best offices, things sometimes get boring, tedious, frustrating, depressing, and repetitive. Rather than joining in the chorus of complaints, though, shut your mouth and try to make things just a tiny bit better- replace the toner cartridge in the printer everyone's been ignoring, bring in some cookies to share, thank someone for their hard work, and give credit where it's due. At least you won't be bored.

Your Home- Each day, try to make your house or apartment a little better than it was the day before - Whether that's through a big project like re-tiling your bathroom, or a little one like changing a light bulb that's burned out. I don't always succeed at this one (it's a little like swimming against the tide), but I'm always glad I tried.

 Boyfriends- Well... you probably aren't going to change them much for the better. But at least try not to screw them up too much for the next girl.

When you set your mind to the idea of the little contributions you can make to wherever you are, you'll find yourself doing them without thinking.  At least until that little voice in your head says "well done, ol' chap!"

Wait, did I mention that my conscience is British?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scramble For Dinner

For the last few months, JM and I have been in and out of town so much, that I haven't really had the time or inclination to shop and stock the fridge.  Which means two things: We ended up drinking a lot of tap water, and I found myself trying to scrape together dinners from whatever happened to be left in the fridge. I'm always up for a good culinary challenge, but there's only so much you can do with a couple shallots, frozen spinach and a chunk of goat cheese (for example). Happily, the most disparate elements can almost always be united with the help of one magical, delicious ingredient: the egg. I know I write a lot of posts about eggs, but that's because I write posts about my life, and I eat a lot of eggs in real life. And this is one eggy topic I haven't covered yet — the basic scramble. More forgiving than an omelet, faster than a fritatta, the scramble is the humble cousin of more complicated egg dishes. This is the sort of thing that anyone can cook — even people who can't cook — and have dinner on the table in ten minutes.  And the best part is, you can throw in the kitchen sink from whatever is left in your fridge, and come up with surprisingly lovely combinations. Obviously, this isn't the sort of dinner you make when you have company coming over (unless it's me coming over — I'll be psyched), but when it's just you and your roommate/husband/girlfriend/dog/Glee rerun, there's nothing better. As a bonus, this meal is free... or only costs about $2 per serving (depending on how you look at it).

Here are some random ingredients that taste great in a scramble:
Vegetables: Tomatoes, Onions, Shallots, Zucchini, Garlic, Bell Peppers, Spinach, Mushrooms, Leeks.
Meat: Sausage, Ham, Smoked Salmon, or Bacon.
Herbs: Parsley, Basil, Chives, Dill, Sage, Thyme, Oregano

Cheese: Feta, Cheddar, Queso Blanco, Swiss, Goat cheese, Blue Cheese.

1. Chop up your vegetable and meat ingredients, and saute them in olive oil in a skillet, over medium heat, until cooked through.
2. In the meantime, break eggs into a bowl (I usually factor 2-4 per person, depending on how hungry my eaters are). Add chopped herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.  Stir briskly to combine with a whisk (or a fork). Pour eggs directly into the skillet with the other ingredients.
3. Allow the eggs to set for a few seconds, then use a wooden spoon to pull the cooked eggs off the bottom of the pan, and allow the raw eggs to take their place. (Ergo, "scramble").
4. When eggs are cooked through, sprinkle on grated cheese, (and more herbs, if desired) and divide onto plates,  serving with toast and/or a green salad... if you happen to have them around.

Photo Credit: Bon Appetit

Monday, September 20, 2010

Power Play

Have you ever noticed how, wherever your wall outlets happen to be located, they are always in the wrong place? Like, on the end of the room where you would never put your TV. Or just a little too far down the wall to allow for you to vacuum the whole room.
Most notably, in almost every apartment I have lived in, the bedroom outlet seems to be located exactly behind where you would put a nightstand.  Which isn't so bad for plugging in a bedside lamp, but is a real pain in the posterior for plugging in anything else. Especially if you use your phone as an alarm clock (I also use mine as a calendar, watch, notebook, and flashlight), and want to have it close at hand in the morning - moving your nightstand to plug in each night just isn't an option.   Which is why I devised a clever (if I do say so myself) solution to this problem. I bought a simple extension cord with two outlets, and ran it from the outlet behind the nightstand. Using zip ties, I attached it to our bed frame, hiding the cord behind the nightstand (if you don't have something to hide the cord behind, you can use a staple gun to discreetly attach it to the wall along the floor). Now I have two plugs easily at hand, exactly where I want them for charging my phone and my Kindle.  I'll put in a plug for this current idea you can really get a charge out of.

Wow, that was corny.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's A Sign

In case you were wondering what I was up to during that lengthy period of time in August when I was not posting on the blog regularly, here's the answer: projects. Oh, sure, I did I certain amount of reading, suntanning and swimming (with the occasional wedding thrown in for good measure), but for the most part, when my mom and I get together, we end up doing projects. It's probably a good thing that we don't live in the same town because JM and my dad would forget what we look like without sawdust in our hair and paint on our faces. And this summer, one of our projects was creating signage. My family's lake cottage is in an old self-managed association where most things have a lovable, decaying, well-used quality to them. This year, we decided to class the place up a bit by replacing some of the more decomposed wooden signage that had been around since the (first) Roosevelt administration, and had become, essentially, unreadable. I like old signs as much as the next guy, but here's a tip: When you can't read them anymore, it's time to throw in the towel. But why hire a sign-maker, when you can easily make your own professional(ish)-looking painted signs yourself? With simple materials you can easily find, you can make signs for whatever your heart desires- house names, street numbers, "keep out- no boys allowed" for your treehouse- the possibilities are endless. Here are the easy-peasy steps we took to make our fancy new signs. And may they happily point the way and rot until my great-great-grandchildren replace them.

What you will need:
A piece of wood, cut to size
A computer print-out of what you want the sign to say, sized to fit
A piece of graphite transfer paper
Acrylic paint and a small flat-sided paintbrush
Varnish and a disposable sponge paintbrush

What you do:
  Step 1: Using your computer, print out the lettering for the sign in the size and font that you like (you may have to print it in several pieces and tape together, as I did). Place a piece of graphite transfer paper, graphite down, on your wooden board. Place the print-out on top, aligning how you like, and attaching it with tape to secure.
Step 2: Carefully trace the lettering on the print-out with a sharp pencil, pressing firmly. In case the photo at left has you perplexed, I do not have teeny-tiny hands- that is just an abnormally large pencil. For your purposes, any size pencil will do. Even a pen would probably be fine, come to think of it.
Step 3: Remove the print-out and graphite paper. I could have omitted this photo, and almost did, because it doesn't really illustrate anything and reveals that I messed up the placement of my graphite paper, and didn't transfer the top half of the word "courts". But I didn't because I wanted to show that everyone makes mistakes when doing projects, and it's no big thang- just fill in the tops of the letters freehand, and get on with it.Or, just place your graphite correctly in the first place.

Step 4: Using a thin paintbrush and your acrylic paint, carefully fill in over the lettering. The paint will cover the graphite. If you smudge, you will be able to wipe up the paint as long as it is still wet, so keep a rag at hand. Also, imperfections are part of the charm of homemade signs, so relax.

Step 5: Allow paint to dry completely. Cover entire piece of wood with varnish, and allow to dry until set. Hang or place your masterpiece and revel in your handiwork.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oh, Yes!

It's been a while since I have done a post about a new beauty product, because, frankly, I haven't used a new beauty product in a while. I'm a creature of habit, and once I find a product I love, I tend to stick with it with an almost religious ferocity. I've used the same brand and color of eyeshadow (this one, Nosy McGee) every day for eight years, and if (horror of horrors) it were to be discontinued, I wouldn't be surprised to find myself outside the factory with a ski mask and a grappling hook, planning a raid to gather the remaining shimmery tubs. So, it was not without a certain amount of trepidation and skepticism that I even tried the new(ish) line of hair products from Yes to Carrots. But! They are amazing!

There is very little not to love about this shampoo and conditioner ($7.99 each from, or major drug stores). For one thing, they are made with (almost) all natural ingredients, and have none of the toxic carcinogenic parabens, phthalates, or SLS that is frequently found in shampoos and conditioners. I mean, I like having shiny, pretty hair, as much as the next girl, but I'd rather not have to die for it. And shiny, pretty hair I have, indeed, with these products. I swear, you'll like what it does for your 'do so much, you'll find yourself flirtatiously tossing your hair around like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Even if you're a guy. And, as if that wasn't enough, the products also have a lovely light, clean scent that will make you irresistible to members of the opposite sex. Okay, that last part isn't true- if you have an unpleasant personality and a face like a pit bull, no shampoo is going to turn you into a femme fatale.  But these products do really smell delicious, in a way that's not too fruity or perfume-y, so your fella can use them without feeling creepy about it.

 Yes to Carrots also has a skin-care line, which I am gathering the courage to try, but I'll bet is pretty great, and new lines called Yes to Tomatoes, Yes to Cucumbers, and Yes to Blueberries, which you might like even better. As for me and trying new things, all I can say is "yes, yes, yes!"

Note: You may have noticed that after I posted this, Google Adsense (in it's infinite wisdom) started running an ad for Yes to Carrots on my sidebar. That's because they use some smarty-pants algorithm that attaches appropriate ads to related content, not because I wrote a post endorsing an advertiser. All opinions and endorsements on my blog are my own, and I have never been paid or compensated to say something nice about a product, person, place, or thing. Unless you count not complaining too much about my husband, since he goes to work every day and lets me stay home and write a blog as "compensation".

Monday, September 13, 2010

Travel Tip #007: Surf Wisdom

Dear Readers,
okay, I'm back now. For real this time. This has been the summer to end all summers with my travel schedj/busyness level, but that's no excuse for neglecting you as I have. Thank you for your patience with me, and I promise never to abandon you again. At least... not until next summer. 

Given that I grew up in Southern California, have long, sun-bleached blond hair, occasionally use the word "gnarly" in earnest, and take every opportunity available to get a suntan, it's no wonder that I frequently get asked the question "do you surf?" Given that he grew up in Boston, wears a suit most of the time, and can frequently be seen carrying copies of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times in his L.L.Bean tote bag, and occasionally uses the word "chuffed" in earnest,  it's no wonder JM does not frequently get asked that question. But, come on, people, didn't your mother ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover?

While I prefer to build sandcastles and read US Weekly on the beach (how tan can you get in a wetsuit?), my ever-unpredictable husband has taken up surfing, and, as is the case with everything he does, he has thrown himself in headlong. And it turns out, thanks to impressively large big toes, and a lifetime of ice skating and skiing, he has better-than-average balance, and a natural affinity for the sport. Within days of his first lesson last winter, my Google searches started auto-suggesting "used surfboard, nyc", and copies of Surfer and Surfing magazines started showing up in our mailbox (yes, those are two different magazines- there's also Surf, Gold Coast Surf, and Eastern Surf, it turns out). And while I have mostly been content to stack these by his bed, or shove them into the aforementioned tote bag (along with the Economist), I found myself flipping through this month's issue of Surfer, and, in addition to enjoying the eye candy of beautiful people shredding in beautiful places, it's surprisingly well written and... I actually learned something.

So this week's travel tip comes to us from the editors of Surfer, with our compliments, and wishing them warm waters, perfect breaks, and gnarly sessions, or whatever.

Here it is: Before traveling abroad, scan the important pages of your passport into your computer, and email the files to yourself (my own suggestion would be to also save them to a Google Document, so they are easily found in a pinch). That way, if your passport gets lost or stolen, you will be covered (and lest you think the editors of Surfer have taken too much water in their ears, the State Department website also suggests you photocopy your documents before you travel- but methinks an accessible electronic copy is better than a paper copy you might forget or lose along the way). While you're at it, I might suggest doing the same with your birth certificate, credit cards, social security card, and driver's license (just be sure to make the files private and password protected, and title them something nondescript, like "Travel").  As a bonus tip, Surfer also recommends that you "don't waste money taking a fish to Hawaii," whatever the hell that means.

See? And here you were, thinking all surfers were brainless, and then they go surprise us with this wonderfully clever tip. Boy, were you wrong about surfers.

Well, maybe not all surfers.

photo credit: via rougerouge on flickr.