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Cruising for Christmas

One of our staff is going on a cruise over Christmas.  She’ll be in warm weather, we’ll be here in Minnesota.  The good news is it hasn’t snowed here (Minnesota had two servings of winter last year, so it looks as if we may be evening out for the 2011-2012 season).

The better news is that our team member is checking out this list of special things to pack on a cruise.

Special Items

  1. Big items
    If you’re bringing bigger items (golf clubs, scuba gear, strollers), check with the cruise line to see if these items are available to rent. It might save you some extra room and travel expenses.
  2. Extra cash
    Bring plenty of cash for your end-of-cruise tips. Some cruise lines will add suggested gratuities to your onboard account which you will take care of at the end of the cruise. Check with your cruise line’s policies so that you know when and what will be charged.
  3. Be sure to pack a good watch.
    You’ll need to watch the time on your shore excursions in order to make it back to the ship on time.
  4. Small day bag.
    Also, consider packing a small day bag to use just for your shore excursions to carry your money, ids, camera and any other essentials.
  5. Pack a carry-on bag just for the boat
  6. When you check in to the ship, your bags will go through security and might not be brought to your room until a few hours later. Pack all important items that you might need in your carry-on (meds, special needs, swimsuits, other entertainment items).
    • Do NOT put valuables in bags you are checking (electronics, jewelry, camera, money, credit cards, etc.). Put them in your carry-on if you can.
    • Bring all medications in your carry-on. They should be in their original labeled container. Bring prescription copies as well as a list of the generic names.
  7. Be sure to leave room in your luggage for souvenirs, clothes, gifts, etc.

Have fun if you’re cruising this holiday season!

3 Quick Tips for Traveling with Pets

Lots of people bring their pets on vacations.  There’s a lot to remember, but here are three of our favorite tips from over the years:

I like to take out and measure each meal of food for the dog and put each meal in a small, resealable plastic bag. I know if I just grab one of those bags it’s the right amount of food and I don’t have to bring a measuring cup.
– Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA Executive Vice President of National Programs and Science Advisor and owner of a dog, two cats and some fish.

A change in the water might cause diarrhea and intestinal distress for the pet. If you’re going to a different area, use bottled water. Also, your vet may be able to prescribe an anti-diarrheal medication or suggest a brand of canned food for your pet to prevent loose stools.
– Lisa Peterson, AKC Director of Club Communications and owner, breeder and handler of Norwegian Elkhounds

And this one is just plain smart:

Phone Number
Have a little tag made that has your cell phone number on it (many pet stores have machines that do this) – stick that on your dog’s collar when you’re traveling. If your dog gets away, they’ll call you at home but you won’t be there!
- Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA Executive Vice President of National Programs and Science Advsor and owner of a dog, two cats and some fish

More tips here.

Demi-Ashton Divorce?

We’re reading about another possible celebrity divorce…Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

If you’re thinking about divorce, we have advice from readers who have been through it. This is Divorce/Admin 101 – the administrative things you should be thinking about if you’re heading down this path.

For instance – one of our readers said:

“I took a two full weekend afternoons to pull together my system. I gathered up all my financial records, home inventory papers, budgets and monthly financial statements, and went to my office and sat in a conference room. I spread everything out to become familiar with each element.”

Here are more ideas on Divorce/Admin 101.

Minnesota Wildfires

A 100,000 acre wildfire in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area (called the BWCA) is being fanned by winds and dry wood, according to the state’s largest newspaper, the Star Tribune.

What began as a mid-August fire erupted in the past day or so when strong wind. The Star Tribune reports that the US Forest Service models indicated a .2% chance of the fire reaching the size it is now.

Authorities have begun evacuations in key areas. If you’re ever asked to leave your home right away – here’s a list of items to take with you from our Grab-n-Go kit.

Our (small) House Fire – Lesson 2

We had a house fire a couple of weeks ago – and we’re still working through the aftermath.  We’ve learned some lessons along the way that we’re sharing here.

Brief recap – We saw smoke filling the house, called 911, and learned lesson #1.

As the Newport Volunteer firemen arrived, I was outside with our dog, Lovey. The policeman who responded to the call was out with me as well.  He was the picture of calm, I think all the first responders knew this wasn’t bad. Within minutes, they had located the source of the burning rubber, metal and acrid smoke smell – the fire was in the furnace and soon it was out.

For such a small fire, the furnace had pushed the smoke and smell throughout the house and out to our neighbor’s house. The firemen brought an industrial fan and ran it for a few minutes. But as it was 26 degrees out, we couldn’t have it on long.

The firemen packed up and left.  We felt so lucky that it was a small fire and no one was hurt.

We walked through the house, it smelled terrible – like a tire fire mixed with other bizarre man-made chemicals. We called a friend who gave us the second lesson of the evening – get as many clothes, linens, towels, pillows and rugs out as possible.  The smell would permeate them and it would be almost impossible  to get out.

We did this – and it saved us hundreds of dollars in cleaning bills.

– Susan

Time Off? Scream Fire and See What Happens

This is usually a week where family hangs out after the holidays.  In a calm moment at the house, scream ‘Fire’ and see who knows gets out of the house quickly and safely.

If no one knows how to get out, create a home emergency exit plan this Saturday or Sunday.

Here’s how:

  1. Draw a floor plan of your residence. Mark two escape routes from each room, in case of flooding or fire. If your home has more than one story, make sure there is a way to safely exit the upper floors.
  2. Place a copy of each plan in each room in an obvious location – like on a door (just like hotels do!).  
  3. Practice your escape plan every month using two exits. Make sure windows and doors aren’t stuck (winter freeze?) and that screens can be removed.
  4. Practice at night to see how long family members take to wake up. You should also practice blindfolded. Why? This mimics the darkness of smoke. Smoke makes it very difficult to see anything as you try to get out.
  5. Designate a place for everyone to meet outside. Make sure everyone knows the address and phone number of this place (so you can call if the emergency happens and you’re not there). Consider a neighbor’s house or nearby gas station.

Also, get your kids involved with this; they’ll need to know how to get out as well.  Here are some good tips:

  1. Have your kids choose the place where to meet in case you need to leave the house immediately. Make a deal with your kids that they will stay in that spot until they are told by firefighters or police that it is OK to move. Make sure this meeting place is away from the road and driveway – first responder vehicles will drive on these.
  2. You’ve done the family escape plan – have the kids color in escape routes (remember they have to have two exits to color in).
  3. Have your kids choose where they’d like to place the escape plan in their room (you need to make it easily accessible) as well as other rooms in the house.

Also, you may not be home when an emergency or fire strikes – so ….

  1. Know the emergency response plan adn phone numbers for your workplace, your children’s school or day-care center, as well as other places where your family spends time.
  2. Also, meet with neighbors either informally or through a neighborhood group to create a neighborhood preparedness plan. Learn what neighbors or relatives may require extra assistance.

OK, that should fill a couple of hours this weekend.  Have a safe and happy new year!


National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month. There are a couple of sites with information on this month’s focus –

AdoptUsKids.  The goal of National Adoption Month in 2009 is to increase awareness of the need for recruiting and retaining foster and adoptive parents. Good info on the several ways you can contribute to this cause (no matter who you are – they have a link….)

The National Council for Adoption (NCFA) has interesting statistics here.

Organizations behind this month’s focus the U.S. Children’s Bureau, Ad Council, AdoptUsKids, and Child Welfare Information Gateway.

– Susan

Don’t Let the Pumpkin Burn the House Down

Every year, fires during the holiday season (which we’re stretching from Halloween through New Year’s) cause around $930 million dollars in property damage. Take extra precautions by following these tips.

Holiday Decorations

  1. When we say ‘holiday’ we mean Halloween, Thanksgiving, religious holidays and New Year’s Eve.
  2. Consider using decor (artificial tree, scarecrow) that is labeled “flame resistant.”
  3. Do not place your tree, lit pumpkin or outdoor lights close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent.
  4. Evergreens:
    • If you do use an evergreen, water it daily to keep it from drying out.
    • Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks.
  5. If you do use an evergreen, water it daily to keep it from drying out.
  6. Lights:
    • Make sure to inspect stringed lights and window ornaments annually for deterioration.
    • Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
    • Use lights in their designed areas. Don’t use ‘indoor’ lights outside.
    • Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet.
  7. All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents.
  8. Don’t burn wrapping paper, candy wrappers, or boxes in your fireplace.
  9. For pumpkins, trees, outdoor decor and wreaths: Consider battery-operated candles instead of ‘real’ ones. Check out SmartCandle and, which has a slew of options.


  1. If you have a party with smokers, you should always check between sofa and chair pads because cigarettes, cigars and other items can drop down and smolder for hours before you even know the fire has started.
  2. Don’t smoke in bed or while sitting in furniture.
  3. Don’t leave burning cigarettes in an ashtray.
  4. Keep lighters and matches out of sight and reach from children.
  5. If you smoke outdoors, be sure to take in all ashtrays and cigarette butts so the wind does not blow the ashtray contents around your property.
  6. Make sure all butts have be extinguished before emptying the ashtrays.

The goal: Safety first, fun second.

– Susan