Top Trends: July 24

Throwback: Remember when Bill Cosby wrote a Grammy-award winning album in 1971 called Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs? Now we know the irony of him having a hit song surrounding the message “Say no to pills.”

Video: One guy gets close to a baby seal, and what happens next will make you ready to love on a baby seal.

Recipe: Get ready for the weekend with these summer dinner dishes!

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Traveling in Style

Packing Perils

Summer vacation season is upon us.  By car, by plane, by boat, by train….you’re bound to be headed somewhere this summer.  That means you have the daunting task of packing ahead of you, which takes time, energy, planning and decision-making skills.  Oh, the agony of accessorizing every outfit!  And how will I know what I’m doing every minute of my trip?  When it comes to packing, it’s so easy to over-pack and procrastinate.  I know I’m not alone in either department; however I might be in contention for the all-time packing procrastination award.  I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve only had a couple hours sleep before a flight because I waited and deliberated.  However, preparation and packing light are the secrets to saving time, tips and those lovely luggage fees.  (Who knew your bag would have to pay too?!)  My advice—make a packing list and don’t wait until the eleventh hour to get started!

When it comes to air travel you have to think smart and be a minimalist.  Ideally, try not to check bags.  One incidence with lost luggage and you will swear never to check your bags again.  You can usually get away with a roller suitcase and a carry-on if your trip is under a week.  Fortunately, new ergonomically designed and lighter luggage options exist for the traveler who chooses to carry her bags on board.  While schlepping your bags down the terminal concourse, jet-bridge and airplane aisle sounds exhausting, think of it as your strength work out for the day.  You will also have peace of mind that your belongings all made it safely with you to your destination.  The key is to board early, so you secure that much coveted overhead bin space.  Traveling for more than a week or for a winter ski trip with bulky clothes?  Most likely you will need to check at least one bag, so don’t forget to ask your airline about baggage fees before you go.

Helpful Tips for Frequent Travelers

If you travel frequently – especially if you prefer to carry on all of your luggage – consider creating a go-to wardrobe capsule for specific destinations or business travel.  You might have the ultimate pinstripe power suit for presentations and interviews.  When I pack for a ski trip I have staple outfits for skiing and après ski.  My “Nanook of the North” boots come out of hiding along with my rock-star tee with the fur-trimmed sleeves.  Having favorite go-to outfits for different destinations will speed the packing process and provide confidence in any situation.

Just as with your everyday wardrobe, start by building the basics.  Determine a color palette.  You might begin with the best neutral for you – black, navy, brown or gray – and choose your accent pieces, shoes and other accessories around that color scheme.

Fold clothes together to avoid sharp creases.  For delicate items, use the plastic bags from your dry cleaner for added protection.

Line the inside of your suitcase with plastic bags (from stores or dry cleaners) to prevent moisture from getting to your clothes.  It could be raining when you land!

Keep trial size products stocked and travel-sized bottles filled, so that area of packing is already checked off your list when it comes trip time.

For a touch of home, pack a scented sachet or travel candle in your suitcase. The sachet keeps your clothes smelling fresh and the candle can be placed next to your bed at night to help you relax from a long day.

I have to be honest.  If I’m traveling by car, the “packing light” rules do not apply.  Ahhh, the beauty of car travel!  You can take as much as your vehicle will hold without the guilt or the extra luggage fees.  You might spend a few more bucks in gas with a heavy load, but it’s worth it to have everything you could possibly need when you arrive at your destination.

Now that you are packed, here are some common sense travel tips to keep you healthy no matter what your mode of transportation.

  • Hydrate! Drink lots of water, especially for air travel.  It’s a fact that you dry out at high altitudes.  Ask the flight attendant for an extra cup of water and try to avoid alcohol.  Instead have an Airborne cocktail.  Carry a roll of Airborne tablets or another product packed with antioxidants and plop one in that second glass.  Tired of water but want something low-cal?  Crystal Light and other companies now make one serving powder packets that you can add to a 16 ounce water bottle for instant sugar-free lemonade, peach tea or other flavors.
  • Sanitize! Every form of public transportation is a breeding ground for germs.  Carry hand sanitizer in the car and the trial size variety on the plane.  Clean your hands frequently, especially before touching your face.  Even wipe down the tray table and arm rests with hand sanitizer or an antibacterial wipe.  You risk looking like a germaphobe to your seat mate, but it’s worth it.
  • Ventilate! You’ve got a chatty seat mate who likes to spit when he talks.  Then he sneezes to boot.  Ugh!   All of these saliva droplets from sneezing, coughing and conversation are flying through the air in closed spaces like planes, cars, and buses.  Turn the vent above your seat to medium flow and position it so the air current moves slightly in front of your face.
  • Pack Snacks! The days of free food and snacks in coach air travel are over.  Feel like you’re in first class (use your imagination) and fill a few baggies with your favorite mixed nuts, crackers or baked chips and throw in a couple of cheese sticks or Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedges.  You’ll satiate your hunger pangs with your packed picnic and save a few bucks, while your seatmates will wonder why they didn’t think of that.  Try to skip the fast food urge if you have a layover!  For car trips keep the essential munchies and beverages in a mini cooler within easy reach.
  • Layer! The days of free blankets in coach are also over!  (Never saw that one coming.)  Pack or wear a cardigan sweater or pashmina wrap that can double as a blanket in the event your plane, train or car is cooled to sub-zero temps.  Dressing in layers has its benefits when traveling, like allowing you to adjust to a wide variation of temperatures.  You can always shed your blazer or cardigan if you get too hot in transit or once you de-plane in a tropical destination.  Layers keep you prepared in any climate!

It pays to be pro-active when traveling.  A little preparation goes a long way on the road to paradise.  Happy Packing and Happy Trails!

These are my packing and healthy travel tips for any destination.  Feel free to share yours below!

NC Gas Prices Continue to Trend Downwards

AAA Carolinas reports that the gas prices in North Carolina are the lowest they have been in more than a month and drivers are paying less this July than the July of last year; this trend is predicted to continue as the summer progresses.

Public Relations Manager at AAA Carolinas, Tiffany Wright, says that the drop in gas prices this past month is certainly impressive, and that this current trend in prices is not going to stop yet.

“Gas prices are trending downward, and that’s something I think is going to continue,” says Wright. “When you look at the fact we’ve seen North Carolina’s average gas price drop 12 cents in a month, I think that’s saying a lot.”

She attributes to the recent decline in prices to a greater reliance on gathering oil within the U.S.

“They’re trending down right now because right now we are producing a ton of oil domestically,” she says. “So, as we rely less on overseas oil and, at the same time on our end, consume less, that results in declining prices at the pump.”

Because of this dependency on oil we have accessed on our own soil, Wright says that gas prices are not being heavily affected by the conflicts going on in the Middle East.

“It’s a little opposite of what you think would be happening right now, everything that’s going on overseas,” says Wright. “Despite that, oil prices are expensive, and they remain expensive, but they’re relatively stable right now because oil production and export levels, they haven’t really noticeably changed that much. So, we really aren’t having to rely that much overseas.”

While the unrest in Russia progresses as well, Wright says she believes that as long as we stick to our oil supply, we will not encounter much difficulty.

“It’s hard to tell,” she says. “As long as we keep producing as much as we’re producing domestically, I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Wright says she expects travel to continue to as usual, and gas prices will continue to fall below less than what they were around this time last year.

“July and August typically are the busiest driving months of the year, but right now gas prices, they’re really in a good position,” says Wright. “For the remainder of what we call the ‘summer driving season,’ gas prices might actually cost less than in recent years this August, just as long as the refinery production continues and remains strong.”

To see the AAA Carolinas gas price chart that compares prices from this year to last year, click here.

Summer So Far in Orange County

As we approach the end of July, vacationing in Orange County this summer is on the rise when compared to last year. Visitors from all over the state are making Orange County their vacation destination.

Patty Griffin is the Communications Director for the Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau. She says that travelling to Chapel Hill and Orange County this summer is coming back in style.

“Travel is going really well so far,” says Griffin. “Our occupancy seems to be running in the neighborhood of four to five percent ahead of last year at this time. Travel seems to be back.”

Griffin says that there are a number of reasons why summer vacationing to Orange County is on the rise this year.

“I think a lot of people coming to the area are visiting friends and family,” says Griffin. “A lot of people are having family reunions this time of year. We’re seeing tons of weddings. We’re seeing people visiting the University. Also, a lot of day trips, we’ve seen people travelling up from Charlotte or Pinehurst for the day. It seems to be a really, really busy time for Orange County.”

She also added that the restaurant scene in Orange County is a major draw for vacationers this summer. The restaurants and bars have been featured on Fodor’s Travel, Huffington Post, AAA World Magazine, Food Network, Food Republic, New York Times, and others.

For more ideas on what you can do in Orange County this summer, click here.

Duke Energy Grid Will Beat the Heat

Despite the high temperatures across North Carolina, the heat may not pose much of a problem for Duke Energy’s power grids.

Spokesperson for Duke Energy, Jeff Brooks, says that because of the sweltering heat inciting a greater usage of air conditioning, Duke Energy is certainly prepared for the increasing demand for cool airflow.

“We don’t anticipate any problems with meeting customer demand during this time,” says Brooks. “We know it’s very hot, but our grid is ready to respond, and we take steps to ensure that our electric grid is able to respond to customer demand, even when it reaches the high levels as we’re seeing during these hot days.”

Brooks also says that there are a myriad of ways for Duke Energy customers to take steps to still keep their electricity bills low when fighting the heat.

“We want our customers to be comfortable, and certainly we’re going to provide the electricity they need to enjoy their lives,” says Brooks, “but from a bill standpoint, customers can take steps to keep their energy costs lower during periods of high usage.”

Brooks says he suggests taking actions such as setting air conditioning to the highest comfortable setting and to turn it up a few degrees if you will be away from the house most of the day, making sure air filters are clean, using ceiling fans or portable fans, keeping blinds closed, and general maintenance on units. He also says that Duke Energy offers programs for customers to voluntarily decrease their energy usage on days when energy demands are higher to receive credit on their bills for participating.

When it comes to how the heat will affect the machinery of the grid itself, Brooks says that customers can rest assured that they will not have to worry about any technical difficulties.

“The electric grid is a machine, like any other machine, and temperature does have an impact on the way a machine works,” says Brooks, “but we’re not expecting anything that would cause any reliability issues at all; we’re going to be able to meet customer demand during this period.”

Summer Rains Helped Livestock But Hurt Produce

CHAPEL HILL – This summer’s heavy rains caused flooding in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but helped some farmers around North Carolina while providing challenges to others.

The heavy rainfall that came this summer shocked many people from around the area, but had various impacts on farmers growing crops.  Owner of Walter’s Unlimited farm, Roland Walters, said that the rain only made new seeding a little more difficult.

“It was just a little harder keeping things seeded or putting down new seeding,” Walter said “the produce that was already seeded, nothing growing, wasn’t any problem, wasn’t harmed or anything; we weren’t excessive enough in any way to be flooding or anything of that nature, it just delayed some seeding.”

Walter’s Unlimited raises cattle, hogs, chicken, and also grow a small amount of produce.  Walter’s said that although seeding was delayed, the livestock benefited from the rain this summer and the grass that grew out of it.

“This was actually probably the best year we’ve ever had, we rely on a lot of grass.” Walter stated “It’s actually made for better environment and better growth for all our animals.”

Other farmers have had different experiences this summer dealing with the heavy rains and cloudy days.  Wild Hare Farm’s owner, Lean Cook, said that the rainy season provided some challenges when growing many outdoor crops.

“It made it a pretty challenging summer with the cooler, cloudy weather and all the rain,” Cook said “it really increases foliar disease in particular, fungal diseases really escalate.”

Wild Hare Farm is not certified organic, but they still do not spray their produce to prevent fungal diseases. Cook grows some flowers and plants indoors which allowed for the rain and weather to not have as big an impact.  Cook says that with the rain she encountered problems making out into the fields and dealing with diseases and weeds.

“Yea, spotty foliar diseases, the other thing is when it’s as wet as it was this summer it’s hard to get out an weed” Cook commented.

The weather this summer has been different from the past few years when we had high degree days and little rain.  Walter’s says that because of the weather this year his livestock has been doing great.

“Hasn’t been excessively hot like it has the past few years, so I think it’s been a very good year, very good summer for our animals” Walters commented.

Although the rain’s this summer made some of the seeding for the next rotation of crops difficult, more grass has been available for livestock.  Walter’s Unlimited had a successful year with the cooler weather and abundance of grass for livestock.

The Ultimate Gazpacho

This is the last week of summer. In years past when I found myself overwhelmed by single parenting three kids I would daydream wistfully about the day I would put all of them on the bus and walk home to leisurely get ready for a non chaotic day. This year my youngest, Leo, starts kindergarten, and my oldest, Amira, is going to middle school, which feels like a big step to me.

But now that this day has nearly arrived, I am almost sad. For over 11 years, I have always had someone at home or out of school, other than little snatches of time here and there. Rather than anxiously waiting for them to grow up, I now want to slow down and savor each moment. So I decided to savor this particular summer day by making gazpacho with my daughter.

 Summer always makes me think of gazpacho. I spent my junior year of college abroad in Seville, Spain. I lived with a Spanish family and learned a few crucial Spanish dishes from the mother, Meli. In Seville, as soon as it warms up you see gazpacho being offered in the cafes and tapas bars. They normally drink this cold soup out of a glass.

Here is the recipe she taught me:
5 large tomatoes
2 cucumbers
2 cloves of garlic
balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp
extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup
salt, to taste, maybe start with 1 tsp

Core and then blanch the tomatoes in order to easily remove the skins. Peel the cucumbers as well as the garlic. Put all ingredients in the blender. It will most likely take two batches to do. When I made this in Spain we would offer a sip of it to the man of the house, Manolo, so he could tell us what it was lacking. Almost always the answer was, “Mas sal! Mas vinagre!” Translation- if it tastes bland, add more salt or vinegar. Chill the soup before serving. It tastes better the next day.  

I ran into my friend, Nice Pollido, when Amira and I were shopping for the tomatoes at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. She eats only raw foods. She said she just cores the tomatoes and includes the skins in the soup. She also suggested a variation of adding either one ripe avocado or some basil for a different flavor. In Spain they also sometimes add bread to thicken it up. Enjoy and be sure to savor this summer day!
Thanks for reading! I am always looking for great photo stories to tell in the Chapelboro area. If you know of someone or something that should be documented please write to me via email here.

Who Said Summer is Relaxing?

I’m hardly in that blush of youth (first or otherwise) but, up until this summer, I think I still had some sort of romanticized view of summer.  Even if I wasn’t partaking, I’d picture lemonade by a lake or sailboats at sunset.  I’d imagine less schedule pressure and fewer demands, but it seems as though those may be fantasies brought on by too much viewing of the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art a few years back.  

I don’t know about you but it seems like I run twice as hard during the summer.  Part of the problem is that week to week, I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.  Not only where.   But when am I supposed to be where?  This would be problematic if only a bunch of adults were awaiting my arrival but generally I’m checking a spreadsheet to find out which summer program is hosting my son on any given week and its particular schedule.

Each week also has different requirements for lunch and snacks.  Refrigerated or not.  Send money or not.  Plan to be at a culminating event or not.  Does it involve finding a sleeping bag?  What about goggles and a towel?  Sunscreen?  Bug spray?  Both?  Will he re-apply?  

I know the tired joke that parents are glad to have kids return to school because school will have them but I’ll be glad to have school return because I know the rules.  And because I’m tired, not just the joke.  

As usual, I have to find a way to rationalize fitting this bit of musing under the heading of Savvy Spending.  So why don’t you help me?  Tell me how you spend your summer and if you’ve managed to find the sweet spot of serenity in yours.  Leave a comment below or write to me at