Month: August 2014

Meet the World’s Most Well-Traveled Farm Animal

This is Cowbee, and he is the most-loved stuffed animal in the entire world.

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He also happens to be the world’s most well-traveled miniature stuffed cow (fact).

Cowbee is going on 20-years-old now, and he has visited about just as many countries at my side. Internationally, he has visited, but has not been limited to: Turkey, Croatia, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, the Dominican Republic, Scotland, Canada and Puerto Rico. He has had his ventures across the United States as well, including having visited: Arizona, Washington, Missouri, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Florida.

However, he is about to about to go on his most important journey yet.

As you can probably tell, Cowbee has seen better days, even if those days were at least 15 years back. At one time, he actually had a mouth, a tail, more than one ear and two horns (lost via golden retriever accident). He is also currently sporting some unsightly bald spots which are leading the bell in his belly to itch to escape his blue fur. I also recently learned via some old photographs that there was once a polka-dot pattern on his bow. Who knew.

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At least Cowbee looked better than this gross dog, Chocolate, while in Nova Scotia. 

As a result, I have come to the responsible adult decision to send Cowbee to Realms of Gold Stuffed Animal Hospital, the most reputable doll hospital around. Unfortunately, by “around,” I mean on the other side of the country.

Through my meticulous research, I have learned that trusty Dr. Beth of the hospital is an avid blogger which is a great comfort. Also, I came across this clever blog post by Daisy, a fellow overgrown stuffed animal lover, who sent her fluffy companion Lamby to the hospital and was thrilled by the results. Cowbee also identifies with Lamby because he, too, is a small farm animal.

Being that I live in the middle of nowhere, the closest doll hospital is about four hours away so I don’t have much choice but to ship my best friend in a box via FedEx and hope for the best. Apparently, stuffed animal restoration is not a budding industry.

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Cowbee’s usual traveling quarters. 

It pains me that he has to resort to this type of travel, since usually he is carefully tucked away in my trusty backpack (never in a checked bag) and I obviously never leave my bag unattended, even if I don’t come across one of those dumb airport signs. Cowbee is literally the best travel companion one could ask for – he takes up little space, never complains, and is always cuddly – so I can’t believe that now I have to pack him in a box with styrofoam peanuts all by himself and send him across the nation.

However, in these days before I ship Cowbee off to be recowed for a month, I am reminiscing and appreciating all the cool places we have been together and how much (I) have grown in that time. He has, quite literally, been around before I can remember (I frequently come across photos of me younger and younger clutching this small stuffed toy) starting with his first journey from the pharmacy where he was probably purchased for less than $3 and brought home to a blonde baby.

See you for New Orleans, Cowb.

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Everyone loves a five-inch-tall farm animal, especially in Florence, Italy. 

The Scent of Southampton

As a true-life Jersey Girl, to me, the shore is the mark of many: the destination I inadvertently end up most weekends, a place where every beach house, no matter the size, has at least 14 mattresses, lit-up and almost tacky sprawling boardwalks, and the biggest hub of the best bars and the coolest people I can come across.

With only a few weekends left in the summer, I decided it may be time to take my shore life to new horizons – the horizons of the Hamptons, that is. The Hamptons are sort of like the Jersey Shore of the North in the fact that similar to how New Jerseyans flock to the Shore every Friday afternoon May through September, New Yorkers hop on 495 and head to the Hamptons on their summer weekends.

The difference is that the Hamptons have an intoxicating smell of money.

Driving into Southampton, a traffic-ridden drive of about four hours from northwestern Jersey, I clutched a sheet I had compiled with activities to do with some angst. There weren’t many, and for one I gave up and listed a beach just to hit four. The place wasn’t made for toddlers.

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 Biking by Agawam Lake on Gin Lane

When the highway turned into quaint lanes, this became much clearer. Otherwordly mansions beckoned from behind six-foot-tall hedge barriers, BMWs and Range Rovers literally lined the streets, and brick walkways had the undeniable air of trying too hard to be normal with perfectly manicured shrubbery and purposely vintage decor.

Not to say it wasn’t lovable – just fashionable. After we checked into our hotel, the Southampton Inn, which was voted the Best Family Hotel in Southampton by the Travel Channel, and we took the complimentary shuttle to Cooper’s Beach, which sits about a mile and a half away from the hotel and costs $40 just to park for the day.

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The Southampton Inn

Pulling up to Cooper’s Beach after winding down the dark, romantic roads of Southampton, its immediately obvious that this is no Seaside – the sign proudly boasts the beach’s status of the #1 Beach in America (it is consistently named one of America’s Top Ten Beaches) and islanders are dressed in designer garb and carry everything from designer towels to designer beach bags. The beach is undoubtedly nice – clean, white sand, clear waters, and no clouding of pollution or artificial lights. A thousand identical umbrellas bloom from the sand, rented from the beach shack and grill (equipped with a deck) near the parking lot.

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 Cooper’s Beach, consistently voted one of America’s Top Ten Beaches in America

From where I sat, I could hear dozens of conversations I definitely didn’t hear often in north Jersey – how a mother was trying to get her kid into Stanford, the most stuck-up private schools in Manhattan, why some college kids just loved Seville, France, and how only those that lived in Scarsdale grew up in a “bubble.” Even as it got dark and we hung around drinking local wine from plastic cups, the beach stayed packed with families watching the weekly plays and movies that show and hosting bonfires.

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Cooper’s Beach by Dusk

Cooper’s Beach calls Meadow Lane home, a modest name for a lane that has a median home sale price of $18 million. David Koch, William Salomon, Calvin Klein and Gerald Ford all call the five-mile road home, and one another, neighbors. Being the unashamed tourist that I am, I mercilessly snapped photos of the hidden mansions as we cruised by – the only Jeep to grace the road among the Audis and the only one to even bother looking out the window to admire the works of real estate art.

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One of the many mansions of Meadow Lane, where the median home price is $18 million

Later, when I ran down the streets in the morning, it became obvious who was a tourist and who was a native based on who gawked at the multimillion dollar mansions. I constantly checked out faces walking and in cars, wondering who was a famous financier I had read about or just another normal loaded local.

I was shocked to find that as we drove the lane, we came across an attraction that I hadn’t researched and set on my list – Shinnecock Bay, which lies on the other side of Meadow Lane. The Bay has many rustic docks and walkways that run into the water, where homebound beachgoers stop to watch the sunset, fish and boat. We hung our legs over the water, scaring the minnows and snapping photos as the sun went down.

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 Sunset at Shinnecock Bay

Even as we drove inland to Southampton Village and up Main Street later in the weekend, the classic glitz did not stop. Most homes on the beach-country roads had domineering gates and more hedges and trees blocking any views to even see one brick of the buildings that lay behind. For the ones that did, we tried to glance at their beautiful wrap-around porches, waterfall pools and private tennis courts.

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 A very secretive driveway of First Neck Lane

Main Street itself is lined with well-cared-for flowers and benches and, of course, designer boutiques where I didn’t see one piece of clothing for under $179 (most disappointing). Every restaurant had white tablecloths and asked if I wanted tap or sparkling. Tate’s Bake Shop, located just north of Main Street, felt like being home again besides more BMWs that parked in front and ran in for a cookie. An award-winning bakery featuring vintage decor and a grandma’s-house feel, the place feels remote from the other gaudy shops nearby.

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 Vintage shops near Tate’s Bake Shop on North Sea Road

Southampton felt like a step into a reality that I had only ever seen on television – the owners of pristine penthouses in New York City, flocking to their wealthy beach houses where they needed no boardwalks, clubs or fried food to entertain them. Instead, they were surrounded by private pools, beach clubs and tennis courts where they took the yacht out for a spin and talked about the merits of investment in French accents.

However, as exhilarating as it was to listen in on those lives and pretend to fit in, at the end of the trip, I was exhausted. Not just exhausted for myself in always having to wear my best clothes and pretend to not be shocked at an $80 lunch for two, but exhausted for those around me. I wondered how the teenagers felt, straddled in their button-up shirts who probably just wanted to go drink beer with their friends. I wondered how this life made you into someone you couldn’t recognize and why, at 145 miles between, it felt so very far away from the nearby beaches that marked my very existence.

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Shinnecock Bay

How to Judge a Book By Its Cover

Before I plan my travel itinerary, play the process of elimination to decide the appropriate amount of shoes to tote along, or book somebody to feed the cat, there is one task that must be accomplished before all else – the scouring of the library for at least three books to stuff away (and fill at least a fourth of the space in my suitcase).

Today, after dropping off another mundane book from the Amazon Best Books of the Year list, I took the shelves in my usual routine to find my picks for the month – I started by checking out the New Books rack, quickly became overwhelmed and frustrated, and then began a systematic look through the shelves (starting with Z, of course) to pick out some good reads.

While methodically eliminating the crimes of literature from the public library in a matter of moments, I came to an abrupt conclusion – it is perfectly okay to judge books by their cover. And by that, I literally mean books. Before you waste hours poring over books in preparation for your next beach getaway, check out these tips in how to find the best reads from the staggering library shelves.

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“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

– Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451

Image courtesy of  mika@urbex

1. Gravitate towards the hard-covers because no publisher is going to waste their dollars on a crap book for a brilliant hardcover. Soft-cover, little books often seem to be ridiculous chick-lit that feature web-art covers and lame heroines battling singledom or some other typical plot line. If a book is in hard-cover, somebody with taste already decided it was worth being a little bigger than the rest.

2. You shouldn’t need to squint to see the names of the reviewers because nobody puts The New York Times in size nine font. If notable and scholarly publications and authors are big and bolded beneath “SUPERB” then you’re now in the realm of possible English genius. If you’ve never heard of the ten reviewers listed on the book, you may not have such luck, and there could be a reason why no one bothered to say some nice words about it.

3. If someone has 50 books on the shelf, they’re probably kind of old and not to say that elderly authors have outlived their talent, but if that’s not your thing, then it’s best to look a little further down the shelf for those that have, at the most, seven or eight books stacked to one another. Let’s put it this way – I don’t go near Mary Higgins Clark, because really, how many original plot lines can you have when you’ve written almost 50 books.

4. Always read the first few sentences of the first page because if you don’t like the way it’s written there, or if you’re even just not keen to the font or the voice of the narrator, you’re not going to get through the book. I’ve read tons of exciting back covers only to open the book and realize… I have no idea what’s going on and the font is in Courier New. It’s better to learn now than after you’ve wasted 5 solid nights of reading.

5. Err on the side of caution and pick up a few books, if you’re an avid reader. Not only are you going to get through way more books than expected after your plane gets delayed for six hours and your parents forgot to pick you up from the bus station, but you will have no interest further than page 20 in half the books you checked out. It’s better to have more rather than less, and if you own them, you’re even better off because once you’re done, you can leave them for the next lucky reader.

The Waiting Game

I’m always waiting for something.

During the peak vacation months of summer, I crave the moments after I have booked a plane, reserved a room or simply made plans to crash at a friend’s shore house. I love pulling out my blue planner and marking down the days that I will finally be away and enjoying the anticipation of wondering what will happen, who I will meet, and all the excitement I’m sure to have. Time after time, I build up my trips to an unfathomable amount of fun, and to be honest they rarely ever live up to my expectations (although looking back in my highlight reel of vacations, they always do).

This is good.

Turns out, in research that doesn’t shock me, the largest jump in trip-bliss comes from the seemingly small act of planning the trip in the first place and waiting for it to come to fruition. Researchers from the Netherlands determined in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life that the anticipation of an upcoming trip can actually last up to eight weeks (so buy your plane tickets early).

And, oddly enough, it turns out that those in the study who even post-trip described their vacation as “relaxing” did not experience inflated levels of happiness after the trip was over. This means that the happiest they were the entire time was in the process of planning the trip.

This doesn’t mean that you need to have a vacation planned every eight weeks to experience this higher-than-baseline happiness. Instead, make it hometown-scale by arranging your weekend early and making plans with friends for later early in the week now. Find fairs, farms, museums, tours, cities and activities to do nearby where you live and decide that’s where you’ll be this Saturday. Pack your weekends so full of fun that you’ll forget it was just Saturday and Sunday and you’ll wonder how it’s humanely possible that you have this much fun every five days. 

Even if when I get to my destination the food kind of sucks, I fight with my friends and I don’t meet one single good-looking guy, I still always relish every week, every day, every moment before my trip, imagining the extraordinary memories we are sure to create. I like putting in the legwork and doing the research required to make sure that I see every sight and packed all of the perfect outfits. I need to have a full calendar so no matter how many days pass, there is always something new and exciting to look forward to.

None of my imagined memories happen. Never.

However, in a perfect sync with a life aboard the traveling circus, madder things always occur leading me to imagine, anticipate, and relish over and over again.

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