Dog Days of Summer: Summertime Pet Gadgets

dog friendly travel

Travel smart with your furkids.

Summertime is full of outdoor activities that are perfect for bringing along the family dog. Hikes, beach trips, dining al fresco – your pup enjoys spending time with you and experiencing new sights and scents. The warm weather definitely promotes more time outside, but sometimes the heat is too much and can be dangerous to canines. When you spend time with your dog traveling this summer or at home on a staycation, here are a few gadgets that can help:

  • Cooling accessories. Aside from hydration, another way you can help keep your dog comfortable is with a cooling collar. Several brands, like KoolCollar, are worn on your dog’s neck and help regulate your dog’s temperature. Some varieties work with ice cubes, while others can be soaked in cool water and then worn. For greater surface area, some manufacturers create vests that operate a similar way. (Some are made for humans too!)

    beach tent

    Tents are not just for camping, they can provide shade for your pup on beach trips.

  • Dog beach tent. You can enjoy a break from the sun and a cocktail in the cabana with your dog. Canine tents and beach cabanas offer a shady, ventilated spot where your dog can relax.
  • iFetch. You might have your hands full with a toddler or two—keeping your dog entertained might be challenging! iFetch can help manage dog play time. This device launches a ball, the dog places the ball back inside, and the fun keeps going. They work indoors and outdoors!
  • Foldable bowls and bottles. Foldable food and water bowls and bottles are perfect for traveling. Several lined cloth options can fold up in your suitcase or even in your pocket, and take up just about as much room as a pair of socks.
family dog

Our dog Cinnamon enjoying summer.

You might have peace of mind keeping your dog with you while you travel. Our dog Cinnamon is a notorious escape artist. When tethering her in our yard, we went through a few dozen different restraints until finding one that safely and successfully keeps her at home!

One of the challenges when traveling with pets is finding dog-friendly accommodations. You might find a pet-friendly hotel at the beach, only to learn there is a weight limit. We have had multiple positive experiences with Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), both within the United States and abroad. Generally, dog-friendly rentals on VRBO will require an additional pet deposit or cleaning fee. Having all the amenities and familiar comforts of a home might be a better travel experience for you and your dog. A bark-happy dog might fare better in a private home than with hotel room neighbors a wall away!

Summer Beauty Prep Time

summer beauty

Streamline your tan and protect your hair this summer.

Now that Memorial Day has passed and marked the start of the early summer season, we gathered helpful summer beauty routines and featured them on the Asher Marie Collection blog. From affordable mobile tanning options that can cater to parties in your home, to deep conditioning hair treatments that minimize sun, salt, and chlorine damage – we covered all the necessary basics. Check out Summer Beauty Prep to read about them all.

Modern Working Mom

work at home mom

Parents today have more digital shortcuts and tools than ever before, but do you really need to rely on your smartphone? Modern working mothers, like myself, have our own routines and support systems. Whether you work from home or your job offers a flexible schedule out of the home, balancing professional and familial responsibilities is an art.

work life balance

How do you juggle priorities, keep little ones happy and healthy, plus take care of yourself? I’m one of those individuals who feels guilty for pleasure reading. I always feel like I should be productive and contributing to my home and work. Here are a few (mostly low-tech) ways I’ve been able to make days more fluid, less stressful, and manage to get it all done:

  1. Handwritten lists. Yes, there are plenty of apps for organizing tasks, but I prefer to rely on handwritten lists. Reminders and tasks with pen and paper are familiar to me, and they also keep me away from further distractions on digital devices. How many times have you gone to your phone for one thing and found yourself scrolling and replying to emails 20 minutes later? As a last resort, if I don’t have any hard copy note-taking supplies with me I will text myself a note. I’ll be sure to see it later in the day since I clear out all my personal texts daily!
  2. Routine for all. Although common and simple, picking out our clothes the night before helps the next day run smoothly. My toddler has an outfit for the day, one for naptime, and others dependent upon his activities. Having those lined up and ready when we need them moves the day along. Many parents are overwhelmed with keeping a clean house and get distracted by straightening up. Now that my son is three, he’s much more independent and his nap times are shrinking. As he has grown responsible enough to clean up his toys, I use that time to start dinner or basic household clean up. While he finishes his meal, we wipe down the kitchen counters and load the dishwasher. Together we do laundry and he learns color sorting and basic measuring. No big cleaning time is taken away from our day when we piecemeal it throughout our normal routine and the bonus is the learning included along the way!
  3. Autopilot. Of course, the trick is to stay with your routine! I do rely on technology in this way. Our neighborhood grocery store Harris Teeter offers online shopping. This allows me to shop from my phone or computer and set a pickup time. I can pick up the groceries after a meeting and not have to make two separate trips—plus avoid food shopping with a toddler, which could eat up a lot of time! I also love Amazon Prime Subscribe and Save and newest addition, Pantry. Their subscription service offers reduced prices and lets me set dates when our items are automatically re-ordered and dropped at our doorstep. Huge help and it is often much less expensive then me walking into any large retailer…with or without a list!

Twist on Traditional Thanksgiving

thanksgiving recipes

Keep the turkey and give the rest of the dishes a twist!

Fall is an intimidating time to eat healthy. Many of us have Halloween candies lingering, chocolates tempting us… then a few weeks later, a Thanksgiving feast (And leftovers!), followed by holiday parties, dinners with family (and if you have a huge extended family like mine that can mean multiple dinners and desserts), and then a New Year celebration to cap off the year with a toast— FYI, those cocktails are not calorie-free!

Instead of completely sacrificing the comforting foods we traditionally associate with Thanksgiving, I would like to offer a few ways you can alter recipes so that they retain their appeal, but minimize calories and fats.

Thanksgiving side dish

Simple substitutions can cut a lot of calories.

  • Casseroles. Most Thanksgiving dinners include a casserole or two or three. One dish that has been a welcome treat at my family dinners is a simple substitute: Roasted veggies with garlic and olive oil. Broccoli, asparagus and butternut squash work well. A ‘casserole’ is not complete without cheese! Top with grated Parmesan, Gouda or sprinkle goat cheese before serving.
healthy olive oil

Olive oil can hold many flavors when you infuse with garlic and herb blends.

  • Replace butter. You can generally substitute healthy oils for butter in most recipes—or at least a portion of the butter requirement. Butter is high in saturated fat and calories. With many pies adorning tables this holiday season, lightening up the butter content in other dishes can help offset your saturated fat intake. Offer various infused olive oils for breads instead of butter patties and use applesauce as a substitute for some baked goods.
bread recipes

Switch out ingredients in your bread to make them higher in fiber and nutrients.

  • Gluten free. You don’t necessarily need to suffer celiac or a gluten allergy in order to enjoy Thanksgiving. For bread, try homemade or store-bought gluten-free dinner rolls. They are usually made with garbanzo bean flour, almond meal, rice flour, and other higher fiber non-wheat flour blends. Instead of conventional stuffing, try a “stuffed rice” alternative by adding dried cranberries, warm apples, herbs, nuts and bacon to make extra hearty.

Can you forecast how your entire Thanksgiving dinner will play out? Where everyone will sit? Is your holiday décor the same year after year? With just a few simple changes you can transform your Thanksgiving dinner experience and make it memorable for everyone:

The Turkey Table. One long table for one long dinner? Perhaps, but if space allows, you can make the meal more social by arranging tables in a U-shape or L-shape, setting up a kids’ table nearby to keep them included. For table decorations, considering mixing traditional flower arrangements with other natural elements. Pinecones, colored leaves and acorns all make great seasonal options. Consider spray painting gold and mixing in various candles in glass jars or hurricanes for a layered effect.

Island time. If you are the chef behind the Thanksgiving dinner and normally use a kitchen island for food prep, consider clearing counter space and using the island as a serving space.

Place cards. Place cards are an easy place to be creative. To maximize table space, take advantage of place settings. Everyone will need silverware, so wrap fabric or construction paper around silverware and apply a chalkboard label. Have your little one help you apply the chalkboard label stickers and let them write the guests’ names too.

Have you tried twisting things up before? Let us know what worked for you! Happy Thanksgiving ~ Cheers!

Pumpkin is Done, Check These New Fall Flavors

fall recipes

No pumpkin here!

The cooler weather makes outdoor spaces perfect extensions to your home entertaining area. Yes, the sun sets a little earlier, but this means you have unique lighting options to create a stunning al fresco retreat.

Of course along with the cooler weather and a chance to spend some more time outside (without little ones getting fidgety in the heat or having sunscreen sting their eyes), fall also brings a bevy of opportunities to get together with friends and family. While every season has birthdays, the widely celebrated holidays in the fall, including Thanksgiving, offer prime times for all ages to get together.

The market is already saturated with pumpkin-flavored treats every fall. While everyone loves a pumpkin spiced latte, the infiltration of this specific member of the gourd family into everyday foods may be a bit typical and boring. If you’re hosting this season, instead of infusing all your foods with a can of Libby’s, try another classic fall flavor, like apple. Instead of a pumpkin pie, baked apples with a crumble topping can be a delicious option that will give you that same autumnal feel.

The idea doesn’t just apply to desserts. You can incorporate the same apple flavors into main dishes, like chicken apple sausage skewers—aromatic pieces of sausage and tangy apples grilled to perfection. Even your kids are sure to like this sweet and savory combination—and it’s a great way to get them to eat their fruit!

For other fall dishes, while summer sees a lot of the lighter herbs like dill, basil, and mint, this time of year the more woodsy varieties become popular, such as rosemary, sage, and thyme. Instead of the summer’s spices of lemon pepper, saffron, and cumin, the spices more popular in the fall include cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice.

You can incorporate these herbs and spices into your main dishes, but they’re also great for your drinks. For added flair this fall, opt for drink recipes that allow you to incorporate the unique ingredients for stirring that the season has to offer. A cinnamon stick can perfectly accent a warm cup of apple cider, and a sprig of rosemary or thyme can beautifully accompanying a unique cocktail, like the gin and tonic infused “Thyme to Kill.”

herb infused drinks

Rosemary is not just for your roast!

The other nice thing about apples and fall herbs? Not only are they edible, but they make great decorations. Plus, a pre-party apple-picking adventure with kids is another fun, family benefit!

Alternative & Creative Halloween Décor & Treats

Halloween is just around the corner. How prepared are you for trick-or-treating?

If the season has gotten away from you lately, there’s no need to rush for go-to plain pumpkins or classic Halloween sugary treats.

halloween treats

For your pumpkins and décor, instead of entrusting your toddler with a carving knife, painting your pumpkins can give them a unique look that can accentuate your existing decorations. If you’re looking to glam up your porch this season, try covering your pumpkins and other gourds in shades of black, gold, silver, or glitter spray paint. You can even accent them with reflective pushpins or specialty designs such as a chevron pattern, by using different colored paints with masking tape.

pumpkin decorations

Forget the mess of pumpkin carving and paint instead.

Double the use of your masking or painters’ tape by letting your little ones create faces with the tape on their own pumpkins. They’ll get the satisfaction of creating their own designs. You can even paint them like their favorite characters, such as the minions from Despicable Me.

If your kids really want to put their mark on your house this season, give them a way to do so that won’t leave you with a big mess to clean up on November 1st. Let your little ones show their Halloween spirit by using sidewalk chalk to create some spooky designs. They’ll get the satisfaction of participating and you’ll be happy knowing the cleanup will be a breeze.

For treats and giveaways, you don’t have to pass out full-sized candy bars to be the favorite house in the neighborhood. There are some treats that can be just as welcomed, and help lower the neighborhood sugar intake!

Halloween-inspired temporary tattoos can be a welcomed break among the high-caloric treats of the evening, as well as fun gifts like glowsticks or mini bubble toys.

Of course treat-or-treating in itself can be stressful if you’re traveling with a toddler. As an alternative, you could look for a “trunk-or-treating” get-together in your area. They’re frequently held by community organizations as a substitute for the traditional door-to-door option.

For a more personalized experience, you can even host a scavenger hunt get together with neighbors and friends that have children of similar ages. You’ll have a chance to socialize with other parents, and the kids will have fun searching for their favorite treats.

Cut Summertime Costs

utility costs

Reducing summer utility expenses can boost vacation budgets.

The summer heat and brainstorming indoor toddler activities made me think of the extra expenses that surface in the summer. If you are trying to make funds flexible for spontaneous beach trips, summer camp fees, or traveling some place cooler—think about what you can control: Your thermostat!

Electric bills can surprise you. Our neighbor was recently surprised by a $700 electric bill. These costs creep up on us. It’s not as if we have a rolling dollar gauge on our electric meter like you find at the gas station when filling up your car. You may not realize how your cooling expenses add up until a month later when you receive your bill.

After years of business experience as a Realtor, I repeatedly see how homeowners battle energy costs. Here are some traditional and new modern ways to reduce your energy output and hopefully minimize your energy costs.

growth ecology - led lamp - green lighting

LED. You may have started replacing your traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs over the years, but the affordability of light emitting diode (LED) bulbs has helped many businesses and homeowners reduce costs. If you thought you got a great savings by switching to CFL, according to Seesmart Technology, LED bulbs use approximately 50% less energy than CFLs. (LEDs use 90% less energy than standard bulbs.) This is a notable savings that you enjoy every month and for years to come since the bulbs are expected to last for over a decade. For readers in Raleigh, one of the leaders in LED technology is right here in Research Triangle Park—CREE!

Daylight. Since the days are longer in the summer, there’s not as great a need to use lights around the house in the morning and evening. (In the winter it’s usually dark by 5 o’clock!) Outside, replace your outdoor electric lighting with solar-powered wireless lights. You only have your up-front purchase fee and no ongoing expenses. Daylight is good and bad though. Yes, we don’t need artificial light as much indoors, but the extra intense light also heats up our homes. Keep your blinds closed during the day—especially for southern-facing windows—to block the unnecessary heat from coming in.

Cook outside. Electric stove? In the evening when you have more shade to enjoy being outside, cook dinner outside on a grill. You won’t use up electricity to pre-heat your oven inside, and the extra heat from the oven won’t warm up the house and put the burden on your air conditioning system.

Drafts. This is a simple tip—check your weather stripping! You may be letting in a lot of heat if you have French entry doors or poor seals around your garage door. New weather stripping typically costs less than $5 and is easy to replace.

smart homes

What if your home knows what you want before you do?

Smart. Technology helps us in so many areas of our lives. Several new “smart home” services have surfaced in recent years that help homeowners more efficiently manage utilities. You may have seen Nest, a thermostat that ‘learns’ your activity and programs heating and cooling to suit your needs. Iris is another system that increases control over your home’s utilities—and even allows you to unlock your doors remotely! Both can be operated via apps on your smartphone. Another reason to be proud of being a Triangle-area resident, Duke University partnered with the Pratt School of engineering to create the Duke Smart Home Program. This program is educating students to find new ways of incorporating technology into homes.

Hide From the Heat! Indoor Toddler Time

Even if you are not local to Raleigh, you likely experience hot and steamy summer days. After a long winter of snow after snow in Raleigh, my little one was excited to get out and enjoy a few outdoor toddler activities. Yet ever so quickly, the temperatures have gone to the extremes!

My toddler is crazy about “indoor races” and coordinating a short indoor field day can tire out a toddler without worry of sunblock or heat. Try three-legged races, sac races, or a mess-free balloon toss with rice or dried lentils. (Save the water balloons for outside!)

indoor toddler activities

My toddler: The Champion of Indoor Races.

We have already had a week straight with over 90-degree temperatures and we still have the whole summer ahead. (Even when the heat is at a tolerable level, summer activities with kids mean sunblock patrol!) Also, as a Realtor I’ve noticed an influx in residential properties in downtown Raleigh. Whether you are trying to have fun in the shade at home, or are an urban dweller and find yourself inside, here are a few ways to enjoy family time inside away from the summer heat. Each of these activities come with “prize” ideas to keep your kids busy longer:

Scavenger Hunt – These never get old! Draw (or print out if you are not an artist) a picture on a small piece of paper where the next clue is hidden, and leave a trail of 10-15 clues around the house. The last spot hides the prize. Prize ideas for inquisitive toddlers: Memory matching game or puzzle.

soap crayons

Soap crayons make a mess that is easy to clean.

Soap Crayons – This may be a slightly deceiving way to trick your kids into cleaning house! Give toddlers soap crayons and let them go wild on tile floors in your kitchen and baths. Then have a contest to see who can ‘erase’ the fastest with a mop. To make it festive for the Fourth of July holiday weekend–only use red, white, and blue soap crayons. Prize ideas for active toddlers: Container gardening kit or water play table.

Make Your Own Book – Help your toddler tell a story about a recent experience. Take a beach trip? Visit grandma? Start with what was for breakfast, then how they got to where they were going. What did they do? Who did they see? What did they learn? What was their favorite part of the day? Least favorite? Create the book the old-fashioned way with paper, crayons or colored pencils, magazine cut-outs—you can even make “pop-ups” or lift-the-flap features. Alternatively, let your little one start navigating storytelling with digital formats. Scribblit is an online platform that connects kids with illustrations, story ideas, and publishing tools to tell their story and get it printed so that you can have it for years to come. Create a ‘book award’ to congratulate your young author. Prize ideas for literary toddlers: Winner gets to choose a book or eBook on Amazon or a visit to your local library.

toddler art project

Art projects can be more than just crayons…

Art – As a sensory activity, let your toddler mix glitter, beads, and other craft pieces into a zip-top bag. Add a bit of hair gel, seal the bag, and they can squish the pieces around mess-free. Make different ‘themed’ art pieces and reward them for the best one. Prize ideas for budding artists: Bath tub crayons or Button Art Kit.

Dino Cookies!

Dino Cookies!

Dinosaur cookies – Or pick any other theme your little one is interested in! These cookies can follow your go-to basic sugar cookie or peanut butter cookie recipe, but before baking, stamp a toy dinosaur’s foot into the dough. Prize ideas for junior chef toddlers: Kid-friendly cooking knives (these are made out of nylon) or Curious Chef Pizza Kit.

Before you know it summer will be over and we will be complaining about snow again. For now, stay cool in the shade of your homes and keep your little ones busy and learning!