Friday, February 5, 2016

Traveling with Cats

(This is a continuation of my travel posts from December-January.)

We arrived back in Oxford at the beginning of January after a two-day drive from New Hampshire (this after a two-day drive from Virginia to New Hampshire after Christmas). Along the way we were able to stop in New Jersey to have lunch with a close friend, and we had an awesome dinner in Danville, Pennsylvania, where we stopped for the night.

New Jersey:  Crowding in to catch a glimpse of the kitties in the car

A surprisingly healthy dinner of black bean
cakes at a brewery in Danville, PA

If you ever find yourself driving across Pennsylvania on Route 80, I highly recommend getting off at Exit 224 and stopping at the Old Forge Brewing Company for lunch or dinner. We were lucky to be there on a "live music" night and enjoyed our dinner while two local guys played songs by the Eagles, Lyle Lovett, and Hall & Oates. The waiter - heavily tattooed and decked out in the hemp and glass bead necklaces popular back in the 90s - was super friendly and very attentive. The menu was extensive, with many daily specials and more options than just your usual burgers and fried bar food. It was a really nice break after a long day of driving - so nice that it actually felt kind of like a date night!

Anyway, the point of this post is that we did all this driving across ten different states in the company of our three cats, so I thought I would write a little about traveling with cats. And yes, you read that right - TEN different states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (not to mention Washington, D.C.). It was a long haul, but well worth the time spent trapped in the car.

We traveled cross-country with our two older cats a couple summers ago (from Ohio to Oregon), and we've now traveled with all three cats to the east coast and back twice. We've gotten really good at catching the cats and loading them into the car, moving them and their accessories in and out of hotel rooms, and setting them up at their vacation locations.

The first thing to keep in mind when traveling with cats is to keep them guessing about your departure date and time. We found that if we wait until the day we're leaving to get their cat carriers out of the basement, they all run and hide, and it can take up to an hour to locate and trap everyone. Additionally, the whole experience of chasing, cornering, and forcing them into a cage is rather traumatic, especially for our black cat who is a total schizo.

Instead, we make sure to get our suitcases and cat carriers out several days in advance. All the cats run and hide when we do this, but over the course of the following 2-3 days they get comfortable with the presence of the cages and subsequently let their guards down - just in time for you to make your move.

Suitcase out; Cats lulled into a false sense of security

We've also learned that Minnie (the schizo black cat) needs to be caught first. At the first sign that something is amiss, she will hide - and she's a good little hider. She can roll herself into a tiny ball and hide in the shadows at the back of a closet or place herself directly in the center of the under-bed region of the California King, where you can barely hope to reach her. She's also quite a runner, and I swear she can turn her bones to liquid if you manage to grab her - it's like trying to hold soup.

Part of Minnie's usual daily routine, though, is to come up on the bed in the morning, right around the time we are waking up. She likes to settle in between us for some pets and snuggles, and we've learned that this is the time to grab her. One of us will hold her tight while the other runs to get the cat carrier. Before she knows what's going on, Minnie is contained and we can start loading the car. 

The other two (Milo and Zelda) are easier to lure and catch, so we wait until the car is ready before catching them. All you need to do to catch Milo is pretend you are preparing some wet food for him and the fat boy comes running. And Zelda, being a kitten, is still so afraid of missing out on anything that she is pretty much underfoot the whole time and can easily be grabbed. 

The second thing we've had to work out when traveling with three cats is the car arrangement. It used to be that Minnie and Milo were contained in a dog crate, with access to a covered litter box. This kept them from climbing all over the driver or shimmying under the seat to get under the driver's feet. With the addition of Zelda this year, we've had to rethink this arrangement. 

Zelda is still too small and active to be trusted loose in the car, so she now rides in the dog crate with her own little litter box and food and water dishes. The big cats have graduated to free-roaming, with a litter box, food, and water available to them in the back seat. This works out well since Minnie prefers to sleep under the driver's seat and Milo likes to ride on top of Zelda's cage. Over hundreds of miles of travel, we haven't yet had a problem with them crawling on the driver. 

Now, I'm not going to pretend that the cats are perfectly happy with this arrangement. Though they have become very good travelers, the first hour or two in the car is always a chorus of disturbed yowls and complaints from all corners of the car. Zelda hates to be contained in the dog crate, so she will usually flip her litter box over within the first 10 minutes, spilling litter into her food and water and into the car. It took me over an hour to vacuum up all the cat hair and litter from every crevice of the car when we got home.

That's the other thing about traveling with pets. Our car is no longer in pristine condition. The seats show signs of claw marks, there will forever be cat hair woven into the cloth surfaces of the car, and there are water bowl stains on the carpets from particularly tight turns or sudden stops. But oh well. We drive our cars until they die, so we probably won't ever try to sell this car. Side note: We drove our last car (a Jeep Cherokee Sport) until all the electronics had died enough to make the car actually unsafe to drive (aka headlights would turn off without warning while driving 60 mph on a moonless night).

Finally, stops are a necessity on all long road trips - to get gas, to get food, to go to the bathroom, and sometimes to spend the night in a hotel (be sure to book a pet-friendly hotel ahead of time, and be prepared to pay about $25 extra for your pet). My biggest fear is that one of our cats will make a run for it when we open the car doors at a rest area off the highway, so we make sure we know where each cat is in the car before opening any doors. Then we make sure we have what we need, open the door, get out as fast as we can, and close the door fast (making sure that no cats are going to get their head slammed in the door). Once we're back in the car and ready to leave the rest area, we make sure to locate all 3 cats inside the vehicle (this involves a lot of reaching under seats and poking at furry masses). So far, we've been lucky to have no escapees!

So, that has been our experience. To be clear, we are not crazy people who take our cats everywhere. We only bring them along when we are driving somewhere and will be gone for several weeks. If you've ever paid to board your animals, you know that it is pretty cost-prohibitive beyond a day or two. Also, we miss our babies when we're away! ;)

To summarize, when traveling with cats:

  1. Get the cat carriers and suitcases out well in advance so the cats get used to their presence. 
  2. Catch them and load them into the car in the order of "hardest to catch" down to "easiest to catch."
  3. Figure out an arrangement that gives the cats access to food, water, and a litter box for long trips (a covered litter box with a door flap helps to control the smell). 
  4. Make sure the cats cannot crawl under the driver seat to get under the driver's feet (This has happened to me on the freeway - you do not want this to happen to you!). You can shove a towel under the seat from the front to close up the opening.
  5. To prevent escapes, make sure you know where the cats are before opening your car doors, close the doors quickly after you exit the car, and make sure the cats are still in the car before driving away from any pit-stop areas.
  6. You'd better be okay with your car getting a little trashed because cats, like dogs and kids, don't care if your car stinks, gets ripped, or has food spilled into every crevice.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Currently On My iPod

What kind of music are you listening to these days? Lately (like, for the past 5 years) I've been into melancholy music. In January, Ted and I went to see Gregory Alan Isakov, whom I love. He is definitely melancholy - great background music for sitting on the porch in your rocking chair. Check him out if you've never listened to his music, especially his Rust Colored Stones album (which doesn't seem to be on iTunes... huh.) along with the This Empty Northern Hemisphere and That Sea, the Gambler albums.

Anyway, in the past few months I have discovered a few new favorites that I wanted to quickly share with you, in case you're in the market for some new music. Fair warning: It's all melancholy. The great thing about this kind of music is that it's appropriate to listen to whether you feel happy and carefree or sad and depressed. It's just a nice neutral backdrop.

First off:  Broken Social Scene

I discovered this band through Abigail Webster's Instagram feed (@abigailwebster). I love this girl. She is this ultra-quirky and genuine spirit who often posts videos of her yoga practice set to cool background music. My favorite songs are on the Feel Good Lost album and Forgiveness Rock Record (although that second one is a bit more upbeat). Check out the songs Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl, All to All, and I Slept with Bonhomme at the CBC.

Second:  Angus & Julia Stone

I discovered this band through Pandora when I created a Broken Social Scene radio station. There is a lot of string instrumentation and guitar, which I love. I prefer the tracks sung by Julia, especially the first and third tracks on Down the Way called Hold On and For You. The one track sung by Angus that I really like is Draw Your Swords.

Third:  James Vincent McMorrow

Another Pandora discovery - you've probably heard his song We Don't Eat in your feed if you have any melancholy Pandora stations. I've only listened to his Early in the Morning album, and I love it as background music when I don't want to be distracted from whatever I'm doing. This album can almost be a little *too* melancholy, so it's best for something like taking a long luxurious bath or chatting with your best friend over morning coffee. In my opinion, We Don't Eat is the best song of the album, but I also like Breaking Hearts and Early in the Morning, I'll Come Calling.

Last, but definitely not least:  Benjamin Francis Leftwich

I think this was one of those "Customers who liked this also purchased" suggestions on iTunes, and I'm really glad I checked him out! BFL is like James Vincent above, only 10 times better. He's all acoustic guitar and ethereal singing, and I love to listen to him when on a long meditative walk. I've even made a couple of short Instagram videos of these walks using riffs from this album as background music. My favorite tracks from this album are Box of Stones, Atlas Hands, and Don't Go Slow.

I hope you check out one or more of these artists if you're in the market for some new music!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Travels in Oregon

We've finally just arrived back in Ohio after a whirlwind of travel from east coast to west coast. There were good times, there were bad times, and it's nice to be back home and get back to our routine.

I have a couple posts I'm working on about our travels, so they'll come a little out of order as I complete them. Today I'll write about our most recent trip to Oregon.

A couple years ago my grandparents moved into a retirement home/assisted living facility. Since then, my parents have been spending most of their time in my grandparents' old house in Bend, Oregon. My brother and aunt now live in the area as well, so it's easy to visit most of my family all in one place. Phew! So nice.

I grew up in the Portland area, visiting my grandparents in Bend throughout the year. Portland and Bend (both in Oregon, for those of you not in the know) are very different places. Portland is a metropolitan area, whereas Bend has more of a resort town feel. Separated by the Cascade mountain range, Portland's weather is mild and rainier while Bend's weather is dry and sunnier with more snow in the winter.

Ted and I flew into Portland because we wanted to see a concert at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall. Gregory Alan Isakov played with the Oregon symphony orchestra, and it was magical. *heart eyes emoji*  

Before the show, we walked around Portland in the cold rain, stopping at Powell's for some book browsing and Koji Osakaya for a sushi dinner. We recommend both to anyone visiting the city.

bathroom graffiti at Powell's

The next morning we were off to Bend! Halfway between Portland and Bend you pass Detroit Lake and can stop in the small town of Detroit for a bite to eat. This time we ate at the Cedars, but I'd have to say I prefer the other restaurant in town: the Korner Post. Our waitress was very nice, though, and when the fryer flame went out halfway through the preparation of our meal, she literally ran to the convenience store to buy a new lighter. Good thing we were the only customers at the time since she was the only waitress/hostess at the time.

Detroit Dam is just down the road...

Besides these down-home restaurants along the way, one of my favorite things about Bend is that almost every gas station has a drive-thru coffee shack set up nearby. You can get a latte and a muffin, and sometimes even a breakfast burrito, and you don't even have to get our of your car (you can stay in your car while you gas up, too, since Oregon is one of the two states where you don't pump your own gas). 

While in Bend, we had lunch with my grandparents, watched football and ate several delicious meals with my aunt, skied a half day at Mt. Bachelor, and went out to eat at a couple of our favorite Bend/Redmond restaurants (eating is a big part of any family visit, you know?).

Mt. Bachelor

Dad and me on Canyon run for a warm-up

Brother, me, and Dad taking a break at the base

This is what you get when you say, "Ok now guys, goggles down; serious-face photo."

That's the Three Sisters and Broken Top on the horizon

I wanted to take some video and more photos of us on the slopes, but after taking the series above, I dropped and accidentally buried my phone in the snow. With ski gloves and freezing temps, it was a little hard to get all the snow off the lens and screen, so I pretty much kept my phone in my pocket after that.

We stuck to Outback and Northwest Express chairs because
the other side of the mountain was a little windy.
Each of those runs off Northwest Express can easily take 20 minutes from top to bottom.

Northwest chairlift - last run of the day

View from the top of Northwest Express:  Sparks Lake and the Three Sisters

A little cold and windy at the top of the chairlift

In addition to skiing, I got a morning walk in with my mom and aunt. There are nice, wide paths along the canals that get a lot of use from locals. My aunt's dogs had a great time, though they had to stay on leash most of the time due to the thin ice covering the canal. Nobody wants to have to rescue a large, wet dog from freezing cold canal water.

Mom and Aunt, with Roxy and Cole

Roxy got a little too intimate with the
goose poop on the trail and had to have
a snow scrub mid-walk.

When not enjoying the outdoors, we visited with my grandpa and took my grandma to the High Desert Museum

The museum is pretty cool, although better during the warmer months since there are several exhibits outside. We especially enjoyed the birds of prey exhibit with bald eagles, a golden eagle, several different owls, and lots of information.

Ted's wingspan is "Golden Eagle" while mine is more like "Turkey Vulture"

Ted also did a weather report for my grandma:

He's standing on his knees because he was just a little too tall for the kids' weather station.

It was a full trip, packed into one week, and we're really glad we went. Now that we're back in Ohio we have one weekend to get ready for the Spring semester, and the college students should be returning any day now! 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas in D.C.

The White House, Washington, D.C.
That outdoor vestibule behind us was added last year after a man jumped
the white house fence and made it all the way inside the front door!

Ted and I are lucky to have a long break between the fall and spring semesters, so we decided to take a road trip for the holidays. Our first stop was 8.5 hours from Oxford: Washington, D.C.

Whenever we're going to be away from home for an extended period, we take the cats along for the ride. The process of corralling and catching them has become pretty routine, and they have become excellent travelers.

The first hour usually goes something like this (turn your volume up):

But once they realize that this is going to be a long haul, they settle down and the rest of the trip goes more like this:

We are also lucky to have friends and family members who will let us bring three cats into their home while we visit them (thanks, family!). It's helpful that our cats always use the litter box and don't (usually) scratch the furniture.

I won't summarize the whole vacation, but I will share photos from a fun event - the White House holiday tour! Our sister-in-law was able to get 4 tickets, so we joined them to see all the decorations. To get in, we had be pre-approved a couple weeks in advance and then go through 3 separate security check points, one of which involved being sniffed by a secret service dog. 

Before going in, Ted and I toured the Christmas tree display behind the white house. There was one tree for each state, all decorated with ornaments made in-state (some from artists and some from schools or other programs). I snapped photos of the Ohio and Oregon trees:

The Oregon ornaments were made from items found along the Oregon coast.

There was also a large central tree with an electric train and village set up around the base. The ground was littered with coins from people who were trying to toss them into the train's boxcars as it passed.

You can see the small state trees just beyond the people in the background.

There was some added excitement when a large military helicopter took off from the White House lawn! We're pretty sure the President was not on board, though, as there had been photos published earlier that week that showed him playing golf in Hawaii.

The White House tour itself is self-guided. You are free to move along at your own pace through designated hallways and rooms. In the past, photography was not allowed, but since everyone kept sneaking photos with their camera phones anyway, the WH now allows the taking of photos. This is both exciting and annoying, as much of the tour now involves side-stepping other people's selfies.

Each state had a personalized snowflake in this hallway display.

The Obamas' dogs had their own display of tennis ball Xmas trees.

A gingerbread White House covered in chocolate

Check out the legs on that piano!

At the end of the tour there was a White House employee ready to take our photo under the presidential seal. Unfortunately, we were photo-bombed from the adjoining room... Too bad it wasn't President Obama!

Ted's twin brother and our sister-in-law who got us the tickets

This is the second time we've had the privilege of touring the White House, and both times were well-orgnized and easy. The wait to get in is not too long since you are given an entry time, and the tour itself is just the right length. If you are interested in doing this the next time you're in Washington, D.C., you can find information here on the White House webpage. Plan ahead!! You have to request tickets at least 3 weeks in advance.