Let’s Paws: Doggone great encounters

What’s travel without meeting new faces — preferably of the canine kind?

Some dogs I’ve had the recent pleasure of meeting:

raleigh dogs

Starbucks drive-thru, Raleigh, NC.

seattle downtown dachshundDowntown Seattle.

seattle starbucks dogPike Place Market, Seattle.

Seattle -- Henry dogDitto.

seattle-ballard dogsBallard neighborhood, Seattle.

seattle alki dogAlki Beach Park, Seattle.

Seattle Gas Works dogGas Works Park, Seattle

St. Pete me and lucky dogsThe lucky dogs of St. Petersburg, Florida — another very dog-friendly city.

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This is exactly why I talk to people on planes

Untitled

Shows why talking to fellow passengers on planes, trains, street corners (within reason), whatever, can be a real trip.

And what you can learn about yourself — and where you’re at in the bigger sense —  in the process. And all that jazz.

Don’t mean to get all mushy. But it’s nice.

 

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12 reasons to love Seattle (besides the Seahawks)

Think Seattle and you think: Seahawks. Space Needle. Microsoft. Awful weather.

Done.

That’s what I thought. Then I discovered the Pacific Northwest’s “Emerald City” has loads of sparkle.

Just back from visiting and entertaining the idea of buying a little place to call my own there, I realize I never could. For one, the gloomy weather.

Before you start arguing with me, that climate assessment comes from a friend who’s lived there for years and loves the place but hates the steady drizzle and having to turn her headlights on at 3 in the afternoon in the winter because while it’s not Siberia, it’s pretty far north.

She, by the way, is looking to move back to southern California because she can’t take it anymore.

(I was fortunate to have her chauffeur me around and offer her very thoughtful commentary in the bargain.)

For another, the lofty prices (this is, after all, the home of said Microsoft and Amazon).

But it had so much going for it, I was almost tempted to try for a toy-size houseboat. For a nanosecond, I thought I could be like those Seattleites, as they’re called, who shrug off all that wet with all that cool outdoor gear. I could be hardy too. Actually, no, I couldn’t.

At any rate, I always love bopping around there, and here’s why you should, too:

1. Combo of LA, New York and Alaska. Seattle is so far northwest, it’s an easy drive to Vancouver, Canada. And it’s an air and ferry gateway to Alaska.

seattle-vancouver better

Like some of Alaska, it started out in part as a timber town wedged between the Puget Sound  – an inlet of the Pacific Ocean — several lakes, and distant mountains.

seattle alaska

Now, it’s a string of eclectic neighborhoods that make one big, cosmopolitan city. Big enough to attract superstars Adele and Bruno Mars. At a fraction of the entertainment cost of NYC or LA, says my friend. And much easier to get to. No LA-magnitude traffic jams.

Seattle wideshot

A typical day could start with a meal more akin to the American South — homemade biscuit and eggs, a la trendy, in happening Capitol Hill

seattle eggs

 … and then browsing at the nearby Elliot Bay Book Company, a popular hangout.

Elliott Bay blur

From there, take in the arts scene in funky Georgetown (situated around the old Rainier Beer brewery).

Rainier

And then watch boats navigate through the Ballard Locks connecting the Puget Sound with Lake Union. (There’s also a salmon hatchery nearby.)

Seattle locks

2. Still, it’s its own place. Though it’s hilly and looks like San Francisco in spots with ahhh views of the sound, it’s its own place. Several locals all told me it’s not as international as Vancouver, nor as small as that other Pacific Northwest city: Portland.

3. Home of the original Starbucks. Yep, it all started here, in the iconic Pike Place Market on the sound, which Seahawks’ star Richard Sherman told me in an email is one of his favorite places. (Pike Place, not Starbucks.)

starbucks There’s really not much to the place. Trust me, it’s a lot smaller than the one in your neighborhood. And crawling with tourists (guilty as charged), so you won’t want to linger long.

4. A haven for coffee lovers in general.  You can get a caffeine and pastry fix on almost every corner. Locals all have their favorites, and there are so many, Starbucks is just a drop in the coffeepot.

roys coffee

And what’s with Seattle and coffee, anyway? The obvious: It’s nice to cozy up to something toasty when it’s dreary and you feel like you just emerged from the shower much of the time. (I was lucky, I’m told, to have experienced two sunny days in a row. That’s why there are blue skies in all my pix.)

My friend also pointed out that the coffeehouses offer a sense of community – a warm hug on a raw day.

5. Great food scene.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that there’s a lot more to the Seattle food scene than seafood and java. Move over, all you other culinary capitals. Seattle’s got just about everything. And does it pretty well.

Extra points, too, for fairly decent Philly cheesesteaks. There’s actually a couple of contenders. I tried one at Tat’s Deli, started by a guy from the Philly area. One gulp of Cheez Whiz, that sinfully great, and so awful for you cheese sauce, and I was transported back to my college town.

philly cheesesteak

6. glassybaby. When my friend wanted to buy me a souvenir, this was where we ended up — and lucky me! This candle company that counts Seattlite and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos as a fan was started by a lung cancer survivor.

Her husband had taken glass-blowing classes and made her a glass cup. She put a tiny candle in it, and the creation became her serenity.

glassybaby

Today her company makes many shades of that original cup, with glassblowers right on site at the main store in the Madrona neighborhood.

7. Great parks – and a real beach. There are many, including Gas Works Park, which offers a particularly nice view. This former site of a gas plant sits on Lake Union, where the floating house in the film Sleepless in Seattle still sits.

gas works park

Alki Beach park is on Puget Sound. It’s got an L.A. feel to it, complete with a couple of palm trees — a surreal sight this far north — along with joggers and rollerbladers.

alki beach

8. Volunteer Park Conservatory. Step into this giant greenhouse filled with exotic plants and feel like you’re back in Victorian London. That’s the idea: It’s modeled after a famed London exhibition hall.

seattle conservatory

9. The Fremont Troll. The Fremont Troll, as the name indicates, is in the, um, Fremont section. A folk tale was the catalyst for the sculpture.

troll

10. The Gum Wall. This monstrosity just may be the most disgusting attraction you’ll never want to rub elbows with. This giant wad of chewing gum has been evolving for decades.

gum wall

11. Seattle Underground Tour. Very touristy, but interesting if you’ve never been. It’s an eerie trek around what were once the main streets and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle.

Seattle  underground

12. Ferries. With all that water, make sure you take time — like I couldn’t — to hop on one of the ferries linking the city to surrounding islands. Others go as far as Canada. North of the city, you can catch a ferry to Alaska.

View of Puget Sound from Pike Place Market.

View of Puget Sound from Pike Place Market.

13. Good transit system. OK, I’m making it a baker’s dozen with a nod to the city’s transit system. And besides, I wanted to include this cool mural in one of the downtown stations.

seattle mural

 

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An experience more addictive than crack

Not that I would know. In my case, more addictive than triple-dipped chocolate malted milk balls or vintage (yep, let’s face it; it’s that old now) Sex and the City reruns.

I’m ashamed to admit it’s consumed every waking minute away from work. Kept me from this blog and off the elliptical machine. Heck, it was all I could do to get my income tax done. How pitiful is that?

I’ve been on a nutzoid ride …

seattle restaurantfrom Seattle

Sarasota Beach1

to Sarasota

Miami

Miami

New Orleans beignet

New Orleans

nyc

NYC

Tampa Columbia

Tampa

St. Pete blow up doll

St. Pete

Raleighchick2

and Raleigh.

Not to mention all the places I’ve traipsed in cyberspace. DC, Annapolis, Costa Rica, Spain.

All in search of the perfect condo.

I’ve been doing this on and off for months now. But my search has intensified in the last month because I’d really like to get something to call my own before prices balloon even more than they already have. So I’ve been a zombie on a nonstop marathon. Fixated. Driven. And, realizing as I’m emptying out my head, totally devoid of humor.

How did this happen? Sheer panic.  Embarrassed to say at this advanced age, I’ve never owned any property. Chickened out a few times, due to money. Which actually cost me much more in the long run.

Now that prices are leaping, I’m trying to keep up and grab something while I still can. Gottafinditgottafinditgottafindit.

Call it Fear and Loathing on the Real Estate Front. I could write a book — or at least a substantive story. And I intend to.

The short version: I now know the difference between a condo and a co-op; what Redfin is (hint, it’s not a fish); what you can and can’t do in a 55+ (oh, the horror) community; why Florida is another galaxy; the crucial difference between a V and an X flood plain (why not knowing could spell real disaster); the intricacies of masonry and drywall; “comps”; and how to ace DocuSign.

I can sniff out the caliber of a real estate agent real quick. And I offer this nugget: A real estate agent is not your bud — no matter how much time you spend together.

I’m not done yet. Not by a long shot, I’m sorry to say. But I am inching ever closer to making the actual purchase. Not quick enough, I know, for those who still care despite my lunacy; and you know who you are.

The addictive part is looking at the myriad of properties online. The pathetic part is looking just for sport. And the really hard part is actually making the effort to move toward an actual deal.

That’s where the gripping fear comes in for me. Can’t make a wrong decision! Even though I know intellectually that I can always sell it. But … but.. what if it ended up like one of those dogs that lingers on Trulia for 180+ days! The ultimate nightmare.

I realize this is strictly a First World problem. And I’m lucky to have such a dilemma.

carry-on better

But trying to grab onto a speck of the American Dream means a lot to somebody like me who’s always been on the go and can stuff almost all her worldly possessions into a carry-on.

(If you’ve gone through all this, you know exactly what I’m blabbing about.)

If you’ll excuse me, there’s 140 new listings on Zillow. And an update from a realtor.

Listen, someone that I think is very together confessed it took her four years to find her place. So I don’t feel so bad …

Thanks for letting me latch on to some perspective. Feels so good to get back to the blog. Wouldn’t dream of staying away this long ever again.

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Selfies in Seattle, for a good reason

Not being vain for the sake of being vain here.

I swear there’s a really good reason for these selfies in Seattle with my good buddy, video director Peggy Cronshaw, who lives there and is the ultimate tour guide.

georgetown hobbit2

Alki1

Conservatory1

Troll1

Lake Union1If your head’s not spinning from the lunatic camera angles, you’ll see each background is a completely different neighborhood.

And that’s what’s so neat about this city that I could never totally differentiate from Vancouver or Portland, Oregon, its Pacific Northwest neighbors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

I learned Seattle is a city with a decidedly distinct personality. And lots of gorgeous water views, to boot.

Up next: The insider’s guide to Seattle — including some input from the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman.

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Let’s Paws: Thanks, airline, for caring about sick pet

It’s an awful spot to be in: hunting for a reasonable airline fare to get to a loved one’s funeral at the last minute.

Some of those so-called airline bereavement fares aren’t easy to come by.

American Airlines, which just merged with US Airways, just got rid of it. Some low-cost airlines like Southwest and JetBlue, never offered it to begin with.

So imagine my surprise and thanks this past week. Mitch and I were in Seattle. He was at a conference, and I was poking around, trying to see what was so great about the Seahawks’ home turf.

We got a call from Patty, our distraught dog sitter, toward the end of the trip.

Ginger, our ancient dachshund, was in a horrible way and might even be dying, Patty feared. She was like a rag doll and wouldn’t drink or eat the yummy food Patty always provided — like the occasional cheeseburger, which they went and got together in Patty’s convertible.

patty and ginger2

Their bonding was always a sight to behold. But no fun this time. Patty was rushing her to the vet.

Since The Ginge is more than 17,  we, too, figured this could really be it. We needed to get back to Pennsylvania ASAP. For all we knew, she’d be gone by the time we got there.

Mitch, who was trying to keep it together, told the nice reservations person at Alaska Airlines why we had to change our flight. Since she, too, was a dog lover, she went the extra mile to help with the fare.

Our hefty change fees were waived, but we did have to pay extra for the different day.

No matter.  At a time when bereavement fares are being dropped, we got a break trying to get back to be with our beloved dachshund.

Ginger in bed2

Who’s doing way better now, as it turns out. Looks to be an infection, and she’s on antibiotics. Our old girl is almost back to normal. At least for the moment.

Big sigh of relief. And big shout-out to Alaska Airlines.

Thanks for understanding.

 

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Let’s Paws: Giving a little therapy to a therapy dog

me and dogs5

As always, you never know who you’ll run into in your travels. Meet Stella and Sophie, enjoying the heck out of the Amish mud sale in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Stella is the gorgeous gal on the left. Sophie, I’m told, is a seizure alert dog. She’s been specially trained to warn those prone to seizures of an impending attack.

Happy to give some love as a way of saying thanks.

 

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Amish rite of spring is plain dirty

Punxsutawney Phil may be a cute guy, but let’s face it — he’s not exactly Al Roker when it comes to spring predictions. (I worked with Al many weather forecasts ago. Lots of fun.)

mud lanco street

I like the odds better in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

You know spring is in sight because every year, at the end of February, the Amish there have what’s known as mud sales. They’re held on several weekends leading into the warmer months.

(More about Lancaster County’s Amish, otherwise known as Plain folk, in this behind-the-scenes look at the movie Witness.)

mud--fire company open

Anyway, mud sales are the main fundraiser for many local fire companies in traditionally Amish communities. In fact, some Amish are firefighters.

mud cafeteria

It’s like watching Witness for real, as the Amish interact with the English — in other words, the rest of us — on their home turf.

Mud sale pretty much says it all. The name refers to the ground after the winter thaw.

mud horse and buggy

This year’s first sale kicked off yesterday. After weeks of brutal snow and ice in the Northeast, Mother Nature decided to play nice. The sun finally made an appearance and it was so warm, some jackets were shed.

mud gooeyist

The heat wave brought lots of gooey mud.

mud me changing shoes

Good thing I brought along some icky old running shoes that I didn’t care about to change into. My suede boots would have been done for.

I’d never been to an auction before, let alone a traditional Amish auction. There were several going on at once.

mud quilt darker

Everything from those famous quilts …

mud furniture kids

… to furniture …

mud lead window

… antiques …

mud buggy and me1

… and Amish buggies.

mud mickey mouse1

The Amish auctioneers were adept performers. Their quest for bids sounded like yodeling at a very fast clip. Mountains of merchandise moved pretty quickly.

mud lawn mowers

Spring was definitely in the air.

And so was the camaraderie in this relaxed setting. Unlike the tourist shops lining Route 30, the main drag in Lancaster County, conversation flowed more freely. There were snippets of Pennsylvania Dutch language — a form of German — all around.

Amish buggy dashboard.

Amish buggy dashboard.

I wasn’t about to do anything as gauche as ask for an Amish buggy ride. But I did get to peek inside, and was shown where the battery was installed to power turn signals.

Couple of other things I learned from the locals:

Though cellphone cases were for sale, the Amish are divided on the use of cellphones. Some acknowledge they’re necessary for business, but also see their overuse as a threat to family life.

mud corn soup bridge

That preparation for the chicken corn soup starts in September with the corn harvest. And the egg noodles for the chicken pot pie (no piecrust is involved in the the Amish version) are homemade.

mud pies1

That the picture-perfect baked goods are all local.

mud whoopie pie kid1

That the Amish like their sinfully rich whoopie pies (cream-filled cakes) as much as the rest of us.

That it’s very bad form to stick a camera under their noses. If you want a picture, get it from a side or back angle, or from a distance.

Being polite goes a long way.

There’s still plenty of time to experience a Pennsylvania Dutch mud sale. Here’s the remaining schedule.

 

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How to breeze through airport security

Have you had it with the airport security sprint?

You know, where you have to factor in extra time at the airport and then become a wreck, juggling driver’s license, boarding pass, jacket, belt, shoes, a baggie stuffed with liquids ready to ooze all over everything. Plus unwanted wear and tear on your laptop.

Then trying not to think about potentially nasty environmental vibes emanating from that body scan thingy that can’t be good for you. Not true, says the government.

Followed by a fresh tidal wave of worry over whether you’ve left anything behind as you’re stuffing your feet back into your shoes after the screening. Trust me — it can happen. I once lost my driver’s license.

You know it’s all necessary, (some would debate that point) but  … if only it were a little easier.

It can be.

That’s what I found out a few weeks ago, when I was bracing for the usual at Philadelphia airport. I was rendered speechless after being told I could go right through, everything intact.

And no body scan; just a stroll through a metal detector, which to me seems a lot less dangerous.

This lasted for about a month. Then, wham. I was back to the old airport security shuffle.

Where did this perk come from and why did it vanish so quickly?

I posed those questions to the Transportation Security Administration, the folks in charge at airports.

TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein explains.

Though I have a frequent flyer airline credit card, he said I was likely picked at random. Consequently, my airline boarding pass printed out with the words “TSA PreCheck.” This was my magic ticket – informing the TSA security folks I was eligible for the express security line.

Though Feinstein wouldn’t get into specifics of how that’s determined, he said key info like my name, date of birth and gender can figure in. (You generally have to include all that when you buy your ticket.)

The reason this perk was so short-lived, he said, was that it’s done on a flight-to-flight basis. No guarantees.

Seems the only way to get through quicker on a more-consistent basis is to apply for the TSA PreCheck benefit. Yes, it does exist.

There are several ways of doing this, and all will cost you time and money. Depending on how much you fly, it may be worth it.

If you fly mostly in the U.S. and use certain airlines and airports, you can apply for what’s called as a Known Traveler Number. Depending on the airport, it may also mean expedited screening for international flights.

The program requires an online application and a visit to a TSA center, where you pay an $85 fee, show government ID and get fingerprinted.

Once you receive that number, you enter it every time you make an airline reservation. It’s good for five years.

Most U. S. airport participate in the program, as do most U.S. airlines. However, some do not. They include Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit.

Feinstein says those airlines have also been invited to participate, but it’s up to them to decide if they want in.

If you do a lot of international traveling, there’s the Global Entry program. For $15 more, you’re promised faster clearance through immigration, often through special kiosks.

Requirements are more stringent. A passport or proof of permanent U.S. residency is required. So is an interview.

There are similar programs that range in price. All require an interview and passport if you’re flying between countries. (There may be exceptions for ground transportation between the U.S. and Canada.)

All memberships are good for five years. And they all include the TSA PreCheck, so you can get out and in more quickly.

While this all may sound like too much trouble, here’s something to consider. If you have the PreCheck clearance and are traveling with kids 12 and under, they can use the express line too. Might be worth it right there.

A final caution: Even if you’re signed up, there’s still a chance you might end up in the regular security lines once in awhile due to “random” TSA security measures, says Feinstein.

Confused? Maybe this will help.

Or maybe not. Just when I thought I sort of understood the process, I was at the airport yesterday. “TSA PreCheck” showed up on my boarding pass again. Goodie. But I still had to take my laptop out of its case. Go figure.

 

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Airport security: Royal treatment lovely while it lasted

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been allowed to breeze through airport security. No literally bending over backward to futz with shoes, jackets and laptop computers. Or losing driver’s licenses — which actually happened to me once when I wasn’t paying attention.

Far from celebrity treatment, but I felt pretty special anyway.

All because of this printed on my boarding pass: “TSA PRECHK.”

I thought it might have had something to do with my frequent flyer credit card. Whatever. It was such a relief.

But the other day, that magic code was missing from my boarding pass. Back to the reality of being ordinary. What a comedown.

Has this happened to you?

I’m in the process of finding out what this is all about.

We know you have to do a job, TSA folks, but jeez. ('Princess', Newark, NJ, airport, 2011.)

We know you have to do a job, TSA folks, but jeez. (‘Princess’, 2011.)

 

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