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.