Man’s Best Friend is Good for the Soul—and the Body!

The day that I brought Emma home from the breeder changed my life. She was a tiny little ball of white fluff that loved to nuzzle my neck and get lots of cuddles, which she still loves to do—along with getting plenty of belly rubs.

At that time, I was going through a very bad period of depression, and once she joined the household, life became a bit more gratifying with her at my side. After all, I had a puppy to walk (and boy, does she love to walk!), to feed and to tend to. There was hardly time to succumb to depression. For those of you who have/had puppies, you know that for the first 6-8 months, you’re on the go. Nonstop.

Emma has been by my side for many years, and has helped me navigate through depression, anxiety and grief, while keeping me active and motivated.

Not surprising, there are a majority of studies that show the physical, emotional and social benefits of having a canine companion. Here are just a few:

Reduce heart disease. A recent study shows that having a canine companion is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease (lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels).

Lower stress. Having a fur baby can help lower anxiety and blood pressure, reducing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Think about it. You’re sitting on the couch, giving belly rubs to a cute little fur ball who wants nothing more to snuggle and be pet. It turns us to mush, right?

Weight loss. If you have a dog, you better love to walk—and walk a lot. Ever since I brought Emma home, she’s been a walker. I know we were meant for each other because, I too, love to walk and hike and be outdoors. Our daily routine consists of at least 3 miles—sometimes more in cooler weather, and less in the summer. But we make up for it with her agility classes, which usually give me a run for my money, too!

Social life. Before I brought Emma home, I didn’t know all of my neighbors that well. But once Emma was on the scene, all that changed. Neighbors with dogs would come around and we would share stories about our fur babies’ latest antics. Not only that, but whenever I’m out and about with Emma, I’m guaranteed to be stopped by someone who loves dogs. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you’re accompanied by a great conversation starter. (Read: single peeps, having a dog is great for getting dates!)

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, stop thinking about it and do it! You won’t regret it. And if you are already a pet-parent like me, then you know what a bundle of joy these four-legged fur babies can be.

Five Tips for Traveling With Your Dog

I love to travel. Exploring new hiking trails or different cities can be exciting. But I have a small dog and I don’t like leaving her behind. Thankfully, after years of hating the car, she has grown to like traveling.

The first time I took Emma on a plane was last summer when we visited my dad in Florida. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. Silly, I know. But I couldn’t help worrying about: What if she pooped on the plane? What if she had to pee? Would she howl or whine if the flight was delayed? What if something unexpected happened to me, what would happen to her? All that and a million other things crossed my mind.

Since then, though, we’ve been on a plane several times. Each time had its own minor worries (mainly because I’m a worrier), but it all went well in the end…even the one time when she pooped inside the terminal at JFK. Yeah, well, if she could’ve just held it two more minutes, we would have been at the pet relief area; but when you gotta go, you gotta go. And while it was one of the things I was initially worried about, poop happens. I grabbed one of the dozens of bags I keep in my jeans pockets when we travel, and quickly cleaned it up and tossed it.

Here are some of my travel tips for smooth sailing with your small pet:

1. Choose A Destination Wisely. Are you staying with family/friends, or will you have a dog-friendly hotel room? Either way, be sure to bring items from home that has your dog’s and your scent on them, so it will help her settle in when you arrive. Plush squeaky toys, balls, and a small blanket are always a good start.

2. The Right Carrier. If you’re flying with a small dog, then she can come on the plane with you. You’ll have to use a carrier that is acceptable to the airline, so be sure to check their website before you purchase one. Inside the carrier, keep a shirt or item of clothing that has your scent on it so your pooch will be calm during the flight.

3. Back Seat Driver. If you’re like me and you like toting your dog around with you no matter where you go, you’ll need to find the option that works for you. The best carriers and harnesses, though, have been crash tested, so do your homework before purchasing. The best ones are a bit pricey—but certainly worth the safety of your pet.

4. H2O. Whenever I take Emma out, I always carry a bottle of water (you can refill it anywhere) and a small collapsible dish. Just like humans, dogs need to stay hydrated, especially when traveling.

5. Travel Food. Just as you would pack snacks for yourself, be sure to bring some along for your pet. Keep in mind: feeding your pet right before a trip is not a good idea, especially if you’re flying. It will increase their urge to go potty in a contained environment. But once you’re on your way, a few bites of kibble here and there will keep her satisfied until you reach your destination.

Over the years, I’ve taken Emma on countless trips with me. And whether traveling by car or plane, these days, she’s a better travel than I am!

Neil Diamond Says Farewell to Touring

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When I turned on the news this morning, the first thing I heard was legendary singer/songwriter Neil Diamond announced his retirement from touring due to his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s. I couldn’t believe it. Fans around the world are stunned.

Just last year, I went to see Neil at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The man is a master songwriter and entertainer, who never ceases to disappoint. His show was a trip down memory lane not only for him, but his audience as well. (At least, for me, it was.)

img_6906Thanks to my mom, my earliest childhood memories include Neil Diamond. My mom was a huge fan, and I became one as well. She discovered Neil in the ‘60s with his very first album. She loved that he was a local boy from Brooklyn. More than that, she always said to me, “He’s a poet. He speaks to the soul.”

How right she was. From songs like Cherry, Cherry, Brooklyn Roads and I Am, I Said to You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Story of My Life and Nothing but a Heartache, Neil always knows how to tug at the heartstrings and reach into your soul to bring back a memory.

img_6895I recall in particular this one year when my dad and I got my mom Neil’s latest album for Christmas. My mom and I would sit in the living room every day and listen to it, along with all his other albums. (This was back in the day of the LP records.) She would sing along, and I would, too, while trying to complete a puzzle of the United States that was spread out on the living room floor, the sun pouring in through the front window. I remember this like it was yesterday. It’s one of my favorite memories of me and my mom.

The first Neil Diamond concert I went to was with my mom at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. In fact, every concert of his I went to was with my mom—except for last year. She had passed away a few months before, so I went solo to see our favorite singer, to just “be” there with mom, like all the other times. It wasn’t the same without her, but I’m glad I went, now knowing that was the last Neil Diamond concert I would ever see in person.

This morning, after I heard the news, I put on Neil’s music and sang along, just as mom and I did for all those years. Only this time, my eyes burned with tears. Nothing can take away my memories of me and mom and Neil, but nothing will ever be the same again for me. No more attending live concerts, no more singing Sweet Caroline with Mom at Neil’s shows. Thankfully, I have all his music to enjoy for years to come. And, while he has retired from touring, I can look forward to hearing new songs from Neil in the future, as he’s now sticking to writing, recording and pursuing other projects.

Thank you, Neil Diamond, for bringing your poetry into my and my mom’s lives. My childhood wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Okay, now it’s time to pour me some Red Red Wine with a splash of Cracklin’ Rose.

Cheers, Neil!

 

 

 

Confessions of a Germophobe

It was just like any other day at work. I brought in some snacks to share with my team. (We usually took turns bringing in goodies—very healthy to sometimes decadent.) This time, it was a bag of sea salted popcorn.  As usual, I put out a stack of paper cups so everyone could pour popcorn into the cups instead of reaching their unwashed, un-hand-sanitized germ-infested hands into the bag. As I looked up from my desk, the head of the sales department—who had just recovered from pink eye, mind you—was reaching into the bag where she grabbed a handful of popcorn and shoveled it in her mouth before going back for seconds.

Horrified, I froze. WTF was this woman thinking, especially just after having pink eye, where I had to go around the entire office wiping everything down with Lysol and Clorox bleach wipes because the cleaning service only came twice a week? Where I wore latex gloves around the office in case she touched something that I just cleaned? How dare she violate my team’s snacks in that way?! These snacks were for my department—not for the entire office.

Before you start thinking I’m crazy, I’m not. Just a germophobe. I don’t actually have a lethal fear of germs—I just don’t like touching things that other people have touched, not knowing whether or not they washed their hands. Who knows what’s on their hands?! (Did they go to the bathroom and forget to wash? Did they cough into their hand before shaking mine? That sort of thing. Gross, right?)

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At work, everyone knows I’m a “clean freak” aka germophobe. My team always puts up with my quart-size hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and everything else that I use to keep the office—and my hands—clean. When it comes to celebrations, they are kind enough to always have extra dishes or cups on hands so people can take their own portions without contaminating the food for the rest of us.

While it’s scary how nothing can kill that 0.01% of a germ, I will always carry liquid sanitizer, hand wipes and bleach wipes. There’s no telling what I’ll encounter on my travels. (There’ll be more on “germ-free travel” in a future post.) As for my office, yes, that is usually spotless and scrubbed within an inch of its life. (This “germ free office” commercial from Staples always makes me laugh.)

Thanks to my obsession with hand washing/sanitizing—and not touching too many things in public—I have managed to cut down on the amount of times I’ve been sick in a given year. Here are some useful habits that you can incorporate into your routine to reduce germs and maybe even reduce the amount of colds and bugs you get every year, too.

  • Wash your hands. As soon as you come in from work, food shopping, wherever, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. Use soap, scrub for 20-30 seconds, then rinse. Of course, if you’re going out to eat, it’s always best to wash up just before dining. If you’re too lazy to walk to the restroom, bring hand wipes and sanitizer.
  • Use paper hand towels. If you plan on having lots of company, instead of having everyone reuse the same towel over and over, use the disposable hand towels. Kleenex makes them and you can place the box on the sink and save the regular towels for your own personal use. (Just be sure to wash those regularly, too. Otherwise, the towels will be germier than your hands.)
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. While this is a no-brainer, a lot of people are too lazy to cover up when they cough or sneeze. And for crying out, do not sneeze into the palm of your hand! Use your sleeve or elbow or a tissue. By covering up, you’ll stop the spread of a potential cold or flu. If you don’t, people within 6 feet of you can catch whatever you have. Yes, 6 feet.
  • Wear gloves. If you’re like me, then you’ll be wearing gloves on the subway year-round. In the winter, it’s less conspicuous. In warmer months, instead of gloves, you can use hand wipes, paper towels or latex gloves. Whatever floats your boat. Just don’t touch anything in the subways! (Don’t get me started on how dirty the NYC subways are!)

Easy Winter Soup—Hungarian Style

Since I’m on the road to recovery from the flu (ugh, it’s been a rough a week—and yes, I did get the flu vaccination!), I thought I’d share a favorite recipe of mine. After a week of broth and veggie soup, I’m ready for something else that has a little more flavor—and kick!

The real name for this dish is paprikás krumpli (pronounced: POP-ree-kahsh KROOM-plee). It’s known as the Hungarian “peasant” dish, yet it is enjoyed at any time of day by everyone in Hungary.

This recipe has been handed down from my Hungarian grandmother (on my dad’s side) and is very easy to make. I learned to cook this at an early age, and it’s only gotten better over time.

The secret ingredient is the paprika. If you can get your hands on Hungarian paprika, it will taste that much better. (Not at all paprika tastes the same.)  Whether you like spicy or not-so-spicy, this dish can be adjusted to your taste buds.

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Ingredients:

2 medium onions (yellow, not sweet); diced

1 red pepper (sliced thin)

1 large tomato (diced)

4-5 large potatoes (Idaho are best)

2 tbsp Hungarian paprika

1-2 tbsp Hungarian hot paprika (adjust to preference)

1 tsp sea salt

½ tsp black pepper

caraway seeds

olive oil for sautéing onions

water

Directions:

  • In a large soup pot, heat oil on medium. When hot, add the diced onions and sauté until golden (usually 10-15 minutes). Stir often.
  • Remove from fire and add in the Hungarian paprika. If you like it spicy, add in as much of the Hungarian hot paprika as you like, up to 2 tbsp. Stir until all onions are coated with paprika.
  • Add diced tomatoes, sliced peppers, and potatoes. Mix well.
  • Add enough water to cover the potatoes.
  • Add in sea salt, black pepper and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Mix well.
  • Bring to boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes.

img_6841The paprikás always tastes best the next day when all the juices have soaked into the potatoes, but can be enjoyed immediately.

If you make this dish, please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Élvez! (Enjoy!)

5 Winter Safety Tips for Dog Owners

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I’m sure I’m not the only pet parent whose dog loves the outdoors and the snow. It seems, the colder it gets, the longer Emma wants to stay out. And when it snows, it takes forever to get her back inside. If it were up to her, she’d dive through all the mounds of snow until it melts.

Thankfully, I’ve picked up some helpful tips over the years to keep her safe and warm during the coldest season of the year. Hope these will help you, too.

Protect the Paws

Ice melt and rock salt are irritants and can burn the paw pads, so the best thing to do is cover your dog’s paws with booties or a protective salve before heading out. Once back inside, be sure to have a towel handy to wipe off excess snow or salt. If you need to use an ice-melter on your own driveway or walkway, please be sure to choose one that is pet-friendly.

Limit Outdoor Time

To avoid frostbite, limit time spent outdoors. Instead of longer walks, go out several times a day in shorter spurts. It’ll give your fur baby something to look forward to. And, please, don’t leave your dog outside for extended periods of time. I’ve seen too many stories on the news where dogs are left outside in the cold—without food, water or shelter—and they end up with frostbite, or worse, dying. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog. Be smart.

IMG_0479Bundle Up

Depending on the temperature, I have several different outerwear options for Emma. From sweaters in the fall, to insulated coats in winter, I always make sure she is protected from the elements. I wouldn’t like to be outside without a coat in the extreme cold, so why would I let her?

Eat Up

Since dogs burn extra energy trying to stay warm, it might be a good idea to give her a little extra food at mealtime. Not too much, mind you. You don’t want your pup gaining a lot weight that she will have a hard time taking off when the weather gets warmer. Also, don’t forget to provide fresh water. This will help keep dogs hydrated and their skin less dry and flaky.

Join a Gym

Yes, they are such things as doggy gyms! Emma goes to one and it’s a great place to be when the weather outside is rotten. Indoors, she can run around, jump through hoops, zip through tunnels, and even swim! Does your neighborhood have a canine fitness center? If so, give it a try. Your dog will love it. Mine does!

How To Choose the Right Dog For Your Lifestyle

My little WestieSo, you want a dog. Great! Being a pet parent is very rewarding. But it is also a big responsibility. There are factors to consider even before you walk into the shelter or choose a breeder to pick your pup.

Before bringing home your new fur baby, please do some research on which breed and/or size of dog would be best for you. Too often, people adopt a dog that doesn’t fit with their current lifestyle, and the dog ends up having adjustment issues (i.e. behavioral) or ends up getting re-homed because it can’t be trained.

When I first considered getting a dog, I gave a lot of thought about how my life would change: Who would she stay with when I went away? Did I have enough room in my small house? How could I exercise her? Did I need a dog-sitter? How long could she be left alone? Overall, I needed to make sure that the dog would fit into my lifestyle.

emmapuppyI did plenty of research on different breeds and sizes of dogs, I even went to several shelters, but as it turned out, I ended up with my first choice, a Westie (West Highland White Terrier). Westies are known for being stubborn (I can certainly attest to that!), energetic (they never slow down), and easily trainable (when they’re not being stubborn!).

Thankfully, I have been blessed with my little Westie over the years. She is a bundle of love that brings joy into my life every day. And she is certainly worth all the time and energy I continue to spend on caring for her.

Here are some things to consider that helped me find my forever fur baby that may help you:

How Much Time Do You Have?

As in, how much time do you have to devote to caring for and training your new dog? While puppies require a lot more attention than adult dogs, bringing home either will demand much of your time.

For the first few weeks, be sure you are home so you can help get her adjusted to the house. If you get a puppy that isn’t trained yet, you’ll need to start potty training on day 2 (yes, that’s right. Don’t wait!), otherwise, your house will be messy and smelly in no time.

But potty training isn’t where it stops. Dogs must be trained to understand the basics: sit, stay, come, wait, etc., otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for an unruly dog that people don’t want to approach or that won’t play well with other dogs. Buy books on training, hire a local dog trainer, go to a canine fitness center, take online courses, do whatever you have to do, but please, train your dog!

Tip: If you’re a workaholic, for the sake and sanity of the dog, please reconsider. Dogs need love, attention and lots of care. If they are left alone for too many hours, they can become depressed—or worse, destructive to the house due to separation anxiety.

Yes, Size Matters

If you live in a small studio apartment, it would not be wise to adopt a dog that can grow to over 100 lbs (a German shepherd, for example). Ideally, the smaller the space, the smaller the dog. In the home, dogs need space to move around and play; and if your dog is too large to spread out or get a quick lap around the living room, chances are, you’ll need a bigger place!

emmabythejumpsExercise is Essential

Are you someone who likes to go for long walks or runs every day or are you a homebody? Dogs need exercise, and lots of it! The worst thing you can do is not exercise your dog, which can lead to other issues (but that’s a story for another post).

Westies are terriers. That means, they are very active. I knew this when I got her. So, every day, I take Emma out for three long walks, each walk being at least one to one and a half miles. In addition to that, I take her to agility classes so she gets to exercise all her muscles and can socialize with other dogs.

Healthy Diet = Healthy Dog

Exercise and diet go hand-in-hand, whether you’re human or canine. And since I’m a healthy eater, so is Emma. While I am careful of what I feed her (grain-free, human-grade ingredients), I make sure I don’t overfeed her with extra treats (only when Grandpa comes to visit does she get extra) or table scraps (never!). An overweight dog, is an unhealthy dog.

When I first took Emma in for evaluation at the canine gym where she goes to agility, the owner of the school told me she was “overweight” and I could be shortening her life by two years (yes, two years!) if she remained this size. Emma is a small dog. The ideal weight for her breed (female) is 14-16 lbs. She was over 18 lbs at this time! I totally freaked out. I want my fur baby around forever!

What did I do? Well, I immediately put her on a crash-diet (no treats, portion control and more veggies!) and enrolled her into agility classes. The weight came off—and has stayed off! She is a healthy 15.5 lbs, and continues to get plenty of exercise, eat a healthy diet, and even get special salmon dinners once a week!

How Much is This Going to Cost Me?

A lot. No matter what breed or size dog you bring home, be prepared to spend a bundle on your pup, especially during that first year of new and changing diets, necessary supplies (crates, beds, travel carriers, etc.), toys, and, of course, vet bills. All this can add up.

Adding a fur-baby to your family can be one of the most rewarding things you can do. These creatures aren’t just your pets—they become part of the family and should be treated as such.