Top 10 Essential Activities to Partake in Before Winter Is Over

(Megan usually blogs at Charade. She a traveler, a student and a general life-enthusiast. She is also a competition level polyvore pro)

So, Christmas is done for, we’re all a little bit chubbier, and the arctic days no longer hold the charm of the festive season, they’re just cold. About now you’re probably demanding the imminent appearance of summer, but hold your horses. We’ve a few months left so let’s use them wisely.

1. Go ice skating, indoor or outdoor depending on your preference/global location. Did you know it’s thought to burn between 250-810 calories per hour?! Bye, bye mince pie muffin top!

2. Walk in a winter wonderland. Long, leisurely walks in the winter have their very own charm. Crunchy, frosted grass underfoot, robins in the trees and the chance of snowfall, how can you resist? Get yourself out there with the promise of a cosy pub lunch.

3. Sit by an open fire, preferably toasting marshmallows. If you don’t own one, find one. I’m serious, beg, borrow or steal to get your butt beside one, you won’t regret that instant nostalgic, fuzzy feeling a roaring fire is sure to generate.

4. Wear Mittens. If you don’t have any, shame on you. Buy some, wear them, and hold hands with a fellow mitten wearer. Be happy. Ear muffs are an optional (but highly encouraged) extra.

5. Eat porridge for breakfast. It’s ridiculously nutritious, tastes of sunshine if you had a little fruit or syrup and will keep you feeling warm and content for hours afterward.

6. Experiment with warm drinks like Hot Dr. Pepper Try a hot chocolate made simply by heating some milk and stirring in a huge chunk of chocolate, or even add alcohol and have a red hot cocktail party with recipes like Hot Buttered Bourbon. You can always make a huge batch of your chosen beverage and utilise a cute flask like one of these when you’re out an about on those extra nippy days.

7. Celebrate the act of wrapping up with Charade’s Chunky Knits feature.

8. Help out your local homeless or elderly. The cold weather may suck for you but think how much more severely it can affect someone without a bed or with weak health. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen or make a donation to a charity like Age Concern

9. Go to the beach. No, I’m not kidding. A beach in winter can be a truly magnificent spectacle; the crash and drag of a roaring sea; invigorating winds; a moody, looming sky and the eerie absence of the general public…

10. Get fit! Summer will be here before you know it and cold weather now doesn’t excuse a jelly belly when you’re in your bikini. Yoga or Pilates classes can be a truly heavenly activity in the winter months, as long as we’re not talking draughty church halls.

Nice work if you can get it: Sled dog Vetrinarian

You know how sometimes you meet someone at a party, and after three minutes of small talk you discover a kindred spirit? You then retire to a corner and spend the next hour swapping stories and periodically yelling “I KNOW!”? This is my story with Justine. If you see us at a crowded house party, we will be the ladies in the corner, talking intensely about what to wear in Egypt. In addition to being a traveler of epic proportions, Justine is an author, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the owner of The Best Dog in The World.

So what’s the deal? What do you do?
To “get out of the office,” I volunteer as a veterinarian for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. I’m one of 40 vets who work to ensure that the sled dogs running this 1,049 mile race from Anchorage to Nome are healthy. We examine all 1500 dogs before the start of the race, and run blood work and ECGs on them to make sure they are fit and well.

Once the race starts, I’m then flown throughout bush Alaska (in small 2-man Cessna planes) to various checkpoints, where I work (with a small team of vets) to examine every dog that comes in through the 24 checkpoints. All the dogs are examined at the end of the race also, ensuring dogs are healthy. As vets, we also take care of “dropped” dogs – in other words, dogs that couldn’t continue on with the race for various reasons [like diarrhea, being in heat (and distracting the other dogs), or sore wrists].

Tell us about an average day in sled-dog vetting?
The average day of sled dog vetting includes the following: waking up chilled on the floor of some abandoned building in some small village in Alaska; grabbing a coffee and some instant oatmeal gruel; donning lots of winter gear; going outside in -20F to watch dog teams run in; approaching a sleep-deprived (often grumpy musher) to inquire about his or her dogs; performing physical examinations on the team of sled dogs (typically 14-16 dogs/team); repeating this last step for the next 80 dog teams coming in all day and night long; freezing your hands off; stepping in poop; getting your face licked by lots of sled dogs; getting covered in dog fur/diarrhea/saliva; running to a frozen outhouse to then strip off lots of winter gear; freezing your butt on a frozen toilet seat; donning lots of winter gear; running inside to drink some Tang and hot coffee; grabbing a quick bite; getting surrounded by local Athabascan kids who are excited to see non-villagers; working 18 hours a day followed by an occasional nap, a quick shower every 3rd or 4th day; repeat.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
I first developed my love for sled dogs at Cornell University, where I attended veterinary school. During my 3rd year courses, I was taught nutrition by a sprint sled dog veterinarian. The world of sled dogs immediately grabbed my attention – I was amazed to discover that Iditarod sled dogs burn approximately 10,000 kcal/day. I was instantly in love with these marathon athletes.

Since then, I’ve done advanced training at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital (associated with the MSPCA in Boston, MA), where I completed my internship, and then went on to University of Pennsylvania, where I completed a fellowship and residency in emergency and critical care. I’m currently a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care (DACVECC), which means I’m a veterinary specialist. Of course, that’s not necessary to be a sled dog vet – one just needs to have 5 years of vet training, and be adaptable to substandard Alaskan conditions!

How did you get into this line of work?
I’ve always loved animals, and knew I wanted to be a vet since I was 7. I didn’t discover the world of sled dogs until later in my life, but have always loved and respected the different relationships and roles that animals and humans have with each other – whether or not it’s for companionship (like my dog sleeping in my bed with me) to working police dogs or sled dogs, I knew I wanted to be able to provide the highest level of quality care for all of them.

Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
Aside from being sleep deprived, constantly cold, reeking of dog, craving a salad after 10 days of ramen noodles, going 5 days without bathing, and having frost-nip on the tips of my fingers?

What are the highlights?
My two favorite parts of working as a vet for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race are my colleagues and the environment. I work with wonderful, compassionate, fun-loving, adventurous vets that I typically would never meet otherwise (like horse vets from all over the country or Texan vets trying to survive a temperature below 70F). We’re able to work together, share floor space in an abandoned, cold gym or wall tent, and bond over frozen supplies and fingers while exchanging funny work stories. Next, bush Alaska is beautiful – the trail is constantly variable – you may be at a checkpoint that is a deserted ghost town, or at a large fishing village along the frozen Bearing Sea, or at the base of the Alaska Range.

Are there any misconceptions about working in this field?
The biggest misconception is that it’s a glorious position. You’re working like a dog, 18-hours a day during the middle of the night, hungry, dehydrated (no! not the frozen outhouse seat!), sleep-deprived, dirty, cold, and sweaty, and now you’re surrounded by grumpier, dirtier, people.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in getting into this?
If you’re a vet, I’d recommend attending the annual International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA) pre-race training seminar (in Anchorage, AK). This is held just days before the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (which starts on the first Saturday of March), and offers you the opportunity to learn more about sled dogs. I’d also recommend joining the ISDVMA ( which works to ensure the highest levels of quality care in this field. Veterinary race applications are typically available through the ISDVMA newsletters or via the chief veterinarian.

If you’re a vet tech, or just curious, I’d recommend going to the Iditarod website to check out how to volunteer – it’s competitive, but once you’re on the trail, you won’t regret it!

Any would-be vets out there? Any questions for Justine on how to wrangle Huskies?

How to Survive a Road Trip with Your Grandparents, or Why I Believe in God. Pt 2

(This is part 2 of Erin’s tale of dealing with geriatric travel mates. Usually, she blogs at The Fierce Beagle. Also, she can probably out-dance you.)

Uncle R: Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [fumbling with the digital controls for the air conditioner, which is on full blast] What?
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [louder] WHAT?! [Pushes wrong touch-screen button; snow is now starting to form around the window panes]
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [louder still] WHAT?!? [pushes two or three more buttons; air conditioner shuts off in flourish of industrial-grade noise]
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [with exasperation] What’s “Mickey D’s?”

I was in no mood to appreciate the absurd humor of this exchange between my uncle and grandmother, and not just because we were deep into a road trip that I was sure would end in mortal catastrophe. You see, we had just spent the night with front-row seats at the second circle of hell.

Aside from hopping in the van and conquering long-distance travel for the fun of it, my apparently younger-than-me-at-heart grandparents also love spontaneity. Though we had embarked on a three-day tour of New Mexico, they hadn’t planned so much as what towns we would stop in for the night, nevermind made reservations at a hotel. So after our rather fascinating trip into the Carlsbad Caverns, our spur-of-the-moment plan to find lodging in Alamogordo went to pot upon discovering that every hotel in town was booked solid because of some biker convention. Or, to clarify, I should say every reputable hotel in town was booked solid.

After inspecting and dismissing more than one motel, the grand’rents decided on a rinky-dink motor inn near Holloman Air Force Base that was clean yet kitschy. Like in a movie, I told myself. And for a good two hours, it was like being in a movie: We watched TV on an old 13 incher, and cuddled up in a bed that looked and felt like it could belong in your sweet Aunt Mildred’s attic guest room.

Then our neighbors arrived. And suddenly, our wholesome family film turned into a horror movie of the Zodiac variety: No calamity befell us (the protagonists), but the feeling that we were on the cusp of something terrible hovered constantly. Especially after the tone of the terrifying sounds emanating from just inches on the other side of the wall changed suddenly and ominously after we called the front desk to complain. To this day I don’t know exactly what was going on in the room next door or the parking lot outside, but I do know that we had stumbled into a favorite locale for some of the guys from the base to party with their hookers. ’Nuff said.

One benefit of traveling with elderly grandparents is that they just don’t question your motives when calling their motel room at 6 a.m. and asking if we couldn’t leave already.

One disadvantage of traveling with elderly grandparents is they take life at a leisurely pace when you just want to get the hell outta dodge.

Lucky for us lucky lucksters, Denny’s was open. So instead of adiosing Alamogordo posthaste, we sat down to a three-course breakfast. My uncle, who eats excruciatingly slowly, ordered the biggest meal of all: a short stack (with whipped cream), eggs and bacon. Four hours later (or so it seemed) we were finally on the road again. For about 15 minutes. Because then, Uncle R’s watch went off.

The sun rises and sets according to Uncle R’s watch. When the alarm goes off at 5:30 p.m., he makes his way to the table with the conviction of a farmhand who just heard the dinner bell. So when Uncle R is tasked with timing the grandparents’ two-hour driving shifts, he takes that job Seriously.

When that wristwatch alarm went off barely a quarter of an hour into our second day on the road, I foolishly dismissed it. When Uncle R dutifully uttered “Mom?” I still didn’t clue in. But when my grandmother pulled over to the shoulder to switch seats with my grandpa, comprehension dawned: She had just completed the final 15 minutes of the previous day’s two-hour shift.

Truth be told, after that, the last leg of our trip was fairly uneventful: We frolicked across the dunes of White Sands National Monument; we indulged my fantasy of visiting the Very Large Array outside Socorro (where Jodi Foster discovered the extraterrestrial broadcast in Contact).

By the time we were pulling back into Albuquerque, I erroneously believed we were in the clear and started jovially chatting with my grandma while my grandpa eased the ship safely into harbor. Then the van (and my stomach) lurched as we swerved across three lanes to make the exit to home; my grandma forgot to shout her driving instructions from the back row since she wasn’t paying attention, and so my grandpa wasn’t paying attention either.

So, how exactly does one survive a road trip with elderly grandparents? Put simply: Prayer. Start praying before the trip, if possible, so God knows you’re serious. If you’re Catholic, I might even suggest having a ritual Mass done on behalf of your upcoming journey. And if you’re not much of a religious type, a road trip with your elderly grandparents is definitely occasion to reconsider.

Notes from the Road – Death Cab for Pukey

So. The Mister and I decided to take a slightly less beaten path to Machu Picchu. And if you´re wondering exactly what that means, it means we followed the directions in the Lonely Planet under the heading “Off The Beaten Path.” So it was just us and 400 other travelers attempting to get away from it all.Though we were probably the only ones who didn’t have dreadlocks and were over the age of 23.

Instead of spending $100 on 12 hours of train ride, we spent several days riding $1 local buses through The Sacred Valley, poking through sweet little towns and drinking a lot of coco tea. All was going quite well, all paved roads and flush toilets and such, till the last leg of our journey.

We discover that we need to take a taxi to the little town of Santa Theresa, where we´ll hike along an abandoned railway for three hours till we get to Aguas Calientes. We pair up with a Chilean couple so that the two hour taxi ride will run each of us $5. We pile into a slightly beat up Toyota station wagon for what I´m sure will be a pleasurable ride filled with small talk and travel stories. Maybe we´ll all be Facebook friends after this!

Our driver pops in his only CD (UB40´s Greatest Hits) and we turn down a narrow, rutted service road. I dutifully gulp down a Dramamine as I am The World´s Best Puker and have experienced the wonder of Peruvian mountain roads before.

Sam chats with the Chileans in the back seat while I notice that this washed out road? With all the bumps and total lack of shoulder? It´s been going on for quite a while. But whatever, right? I survived six hours of this between Siem Reep and Bangkok, it´s all good. This is but another badge on my Girl Scout travel sash, right?

And then we start up the mountain. We are driving through the Andes at 30 miles an hour on a road with no shoulder, no guard rail and one lane. The driver occasionally tries to engage me in conversation, looking at me and smiling as I whisper scream “Fala Portuguese! No Espanol!” and point at the road. He kindly swerves to avoid particularly deep holes which sends me into poorly managed hysterics. The steering on the car is so loose that turning the tires necessitates what appears to be a 90 degree turn over the cliff. The first few times this happens I do that bit where my hands fly up to cover my face and then spontaneously smooth down my hair. Every time we round a corner, he honks to alert on-coming vehicles.

We begin to meet other vehicles on the road, which results in a lot of honking, flashing of lights and our driver staring down other drivers. Eventually they all back up into someone´s driveway three miles back and we speed past them waving nervously.

As we get farther up the mountain, we begin to encounter waterfalls. All this necessitate fording six or seven inches of water and crossing bridges that appear to be, somehow, actually narrower than the car. I begin to write a news clip in my head ¨American Couple Dies in Andes, Attempting to Save $60″ and I look back at Sam and see him eying all the possible exits and testing the release button on his seat belt.

Just as I begin to question my Agnostic religious stance, we turn the corner into Santa Theresa. Though I have pitted out my last clean shirt and probably lost three years of my life to worry, I´m alive! Dusty and dirty and a total nervous wreck, but alive!

I should have known it would turn out alright. I saw the driver cross himself and kiss the Mary hanging from his rear view mirror before we took off.

Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

Nice work if you can get it: Professional Do-gooder

This is part of our series of interviews with people who have fantastic, envy-inducing jobs. They all also happen to be my friends. I met Meghan while we were both teaching English in Taiwan. After we left the R.O.C., we traveled through Thailand and Vietnam together, dodging motorbikes and taking over-night trains into the mountains. Now she lives on a swanky island, house sits for millionaires and saves the world one kid at a time.So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I am the Director of a Youth Centre built by the AIDS Awareness Foundation in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. TCI is an independent country, in the Caribbean in which struggles for identity. Provo (the main inhabited island) has grown astronomically in the last 20 years and so there is no strong foundation of culture on which the younger generation has to build. The Centre I work for fills a massive void as there really isn’t much for the young people of this island to do in their spare time. We target teens from ages 12 and up.

My job has changed from week to week since I began just over 6 months ago. I went from being handed an empty group of buildings to running drop in hours (after school and Saturdays) and searching the Island trying to find donations and volunteers to run programs of any sort. It’s sort of like being a school principal, teacher (and janitor) all while trying to search out funding sources.

Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
My day begins as most others would, checking email, seeing if the Centre is clean, getting art or office supplies, etc. Then there is a never-ending list of things to be done: check in with local schools, pay bills, advertise events, find sponsors/donors, fine-tune Code of Conduct/Discipline Plan and other standard protocols, call parents etc etc. I choose whichever of these is highest on the priority list on the day and plug through whatever I can. After school is out for the day and kids start arriving, there is the business or supervising and/or the running of programs myself.

It all changes again during Christmas and Summer Break – we open all day so I try to squeeze all my other tasks while leaving volunteers in charge from time to time.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
To be honest, I didn’t set out to do this. I studied Biology and Psychology at University but always had a strong desire to help others one way or another. I’d volunteered in various positions since I was a teenager from feeding elderly in the hospital to some of the experiences mentioned below, but only had brief stints of training specific to the tasks I was to perform

How did you get into this line of work?
To be honest, one thing just led to another. After my Bachelor’s degree, I went to Taiwan to teach English and pay off my student loan. During that time the Tsunami happened in South East Asia. I visited Thailand the following May and was touched by the community surrounding the rebuilding. I quit teaching December of that year after saving a little extra money and went back to volunteer for 2 months.

After Thailand, I traveled and then ended up in TCI working as a yoga instructor. But my last volunteering episode only made me want to go back to do more. I applied for and was selected to go to South Africa with Grassroot Soccer (, the NGO that taught me the most about the non-profit world. I fundraised over $10 000 to support my stay and spent just under a year with them. Before I went to Africa, I had made connections with the AIDS Awareness Foundation in TCI as Grassroot Soccer dealt with HIV prevention. I interviewed for the job at the Centre while away and came back this past May to TCI to help open the Centre.

Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
It can be very overwhelming at times – generally non-profit organizations are understaffed therefore employees and volunteers will have to work very hard to keep it afloat. But I believe the community will come together if there is a good plan and a solid foundation behind the organization.

You can also feel like there is so much to be done, that it’s not worth the difficulties at times. But I think most jobs and even daily tasks are like that to some degree.

What are the highlights?
To be part of something much greater than yourself is an amazing feeling. To simply know that whatever you do, no matter how trivial the task, there is a greater purpose behind it and your work will make the world a better place. To be able to do that every day is a great reward.
There are also the little things. To see the smile of a grateful participant, to notice positive change in a regular youth member, those things keep me going.

What are the misconceptions about working in the non-profit sector?
That you can’t make a living or that it’s all volunteer work. There are a great many jobs being offered through grants issued to Orgs. The Clinton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have brought a lot of publicity to the area in recent years. You don’t have to be in the field doing the dirty work either. Non-profits need to run like businesses as well, there is lots of admin work, marketing, PR, HR etc. These days you could be doing almost anything you want while helping a good cause and building your career.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in becoming a professional do-gooder?
If I were to do it all again, I would have looked into classes in International Development at University. There are certainly times I have felt under-qualified and a background education would have helped to overcome that. However, I truly believe that volunteering for causes you believe in, without any ulterior motive but purely because you want to help for the greater good, it what will help you see a path to get you where you want to go.


9 Valentine’s Day Ideas You Haven’t Heard A million times before

Looking for Valentine's Day ideas? Or romantic ideas for your anniversary? Click through for 9 great ideas your partner will love!

Looking for Valentine’s Day ideas other than chocolates + roses + dinner? You’re in the right place!

Romance is about soooo much more than flowers and candy (though I’d never sneeze in the face of some dark chocolate and a bouquet of spider mums). Romance is about knowing your partner, understanding what makes them happy, and then planning accordingly.

If you haven’t taken the love languages quiz, I so recommend it. It’ll really help you plan a Valentine’s Day your person will love!

9 Valentine’s Day Ideas You Haven’t Heard A million times before

Tell them you’ll cook what ever they want in the kitchen and do what ever they want in the bedroom.
Or maybe combine the two (winkity wink!)
Eagerly and uncomplainingly attend an event of your partner’s choosing
Yes, this includes movies starring The Rock, professional sports games, sports bars, hiking trips, and video game marathons in their BFF’s basement.
Get a membership/subscription to something that’s meaningful to both of you
It could be a season pass to the roller derby or the art theater, as long as it’s something you like to do together.
Recreate your first date, down to your outfit and what you ordered
Ours was renting a surrey at Hiawatha park, followed by dinner and wine. Annnnnnd I may have lectured Kenny about Kesha’s merits.
Get a calender made featuring photos of all the fun stuff you’ve done in the past year
Plan an escape
It doesn’t have to be extravagant! It could be camping in your neighborhood park and zipping your sleeping bags together. Or having a dirty weekend at a sleazy hotel with bad florescent lighting. Getting out of the house is sexy.
Write your partner a letter about the day you met them
What the weather was like, what was going on in the rest of your life, what your first impression of them was.
Get something meaningful engraved into something ridiculous
A spork, a guitar pick, their cleats, the handle of a screwdriver. You get the idea.
Make customized fortune cookies
I’ve done this in the past by microwaving fortune cookies for 30 seconds, pulling out the factory fortune with a tweezers and then stuffing my own inside.
What will you be doing with your special someone? Tell us in the comments so we can try it!

P.S. How to give great gifts to just about anyone

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash