Wild Horse Torn From His Family Meets Friends Just Like Him (The Dodo)

Wild horses are a symbol of America, but they are in danger now more than ever. But one lucky horse made it to a sanctuary. Here’s the story of Journey, a wild mustang who found his freedom at the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary.

Wild Horse Torn From His Family Meets Friends Just Like Him (The Dodo)

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Help Save Costa Rica’s Marine Life on an Earthwatch Expedition (JohnnyJet.com)

In 2016, I was fortunate to go on an Earthwatch expedition to Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce (one of the three tropical fjords in the world) to assist scientists in collecting data on whales and dolphins. The cetacean population is facing multiple threats, including development of this pristine habitat. Read about my trip, and what you can do to help here:

Help Save Costa Rica’s Marine Life on an Earthwatch Expedition

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Climate Change Doesn’t Just Affect Humans – It’s Affecting These Dogs, As Well (BarkPost)

There’s no denying the fact that our climate is changing. Sadly, the animals take the brunt of it. Here, I write about the impact of climate change on Greenland’s sled dogs, and the heroes that are making a difference on BarkPost.

Climate Change Doesn’t Just Affect Humans – It’s Affecting These Dogs, As Well

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Volunteering at a Kangaroo Sanctuary: My Australian Adventure (Green Global Travel)

Four years ago, I had the incredible experience of volunteering with orphaned wallabies in Queensland. Read all about it here on Green Global Travel:

VOLUNTEERING AT A KANGAROO SANCTUARY: MY AUSTRALIAN ADVENTURE

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An Open Letter to Those Who Are Hell Bent on Celebrating July 4th with Illegal Fireworks

First of all, fireworks are illegal. In case you didn’t know that. They are illegal because you are not professionals trained to handle them. You are especially not equipped to set off bottle rockets after a few bottles of beer.

Second, you live in a neighborhood with other houses, busy roads, sidewalks. You aren’t in the middle of nowhere. Even if you are, there’s always critters around that are scared from the loud noises. If anything were to go wrong, and one of your rockets gets stuck on someone’s roof or tree, you are now responsible for creating a fire that could get out of control.

Third, your neighbors consist of people from all walks of life– they could be veterans suffering from PTSD, elderly, or those who have severe anxiety (including myself who can’t even stand thunderstorms), kids with autism who are sensitive to noise, and the most vulnerable – dogs and cats who shiver in fear hearing loud booms and bangs coming from all directions. They have no idea what’s going on, and they did nothing to deserve this. Simply putting a thunder shirt on your own pets so you can set off fireworks right outside makes you clueless. No matter how you view it, some kids and pets just can’t handle loud noises. More pets run away from home at this time than any other time, and can’t find their way home. 

Fourth, fireworks are ILLEGAL. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s okay. You are still engaging in illegal activity. And just because the police don’t have the capacity to enforce the law doesn’t mean you have permission to be an inconsiderate prick and continue to cause chaos in your neighborhood.

Fifth, do you wish to harm yourself? Thousands of people get hurt from malfunctioning fireworks or exploding firecrackers every year, including children. People lose arms, and worse, their lives, their property. I recently saw a jeep blow up on the side of the road because it was carrying fireworks in the extreme heat. Apparently that wasn’t the only incident of that sort. I bet the drivers wished they never had those in his car to begin with.

Lastly, you don’t have to care about others or even yourself for that matter (perhaps there’s a twisted darwinism at place here), but if your neighbors are clearly upset and distraught about your use of fireworks, don’t be a jerk about it and defend your illegal activity in the name of celebrating Fourth of July. Independence day is not about blowing stuff up. It’s a day where we celebrate our great country in which people from different backgrounds and walks of life, are welcome to live together in harmony without oppression and fear.

True patriotism is caring for your neighbor, doing the right thing, not harming others, respecting our veterans who have given so much of their lives for our safety. They’ve lived through real horrors where a loud bang meant one of their own dead or limbs lost. They’ve been through enough. 

Being an American means setting an example for others, giving back to the community, and caring for those who can’t care for themselves. It is NOT about showing off your prowess by lighting a few fireworks and getting momentary satisfaction at the suffering of others. It’s pathetic.

Let’s make American Kind Again. Thank you.

Yours truly,

Your friendly neighbor

Traveling With Your Dog this Summer? Adventure Girl and Nature’s Recipe Make it Easier

Adventure Girl Stefanie Michaels has been all over the world, but one thing she loves to do is travel with her dogs. After all, they make everything fun! Now, she has partnered with Nature’s Recipe pet food to make doggie travel a lot easier. Nature’s Recipe knows what pet owners worry about most — finding the right hotel and making sure the dog is fed top notch food. Nature’s Recipe makes grain free, natural healthy food for pets, and it’s sold at most retailers, making it easy to grab a bag on the go for Fido. The company has also partnered with dog-friendly Residence Inn by Marriott in major US cities and created the VI-Pup program to make your experience much smoother.

Here, Adventure Girl shares her tips and her experience with using Nature’s Recipe resources for her recent adventure with her dog Dexter aka d2.

LS: What do you most enjoy about traveling with Dexter?

SM: There’s something to be said about having your animals with you always. It’s about making memories whenever you can, and taking our fur-babies on the road, even if it’s exploring in your own town. Dexter, who we also call d2, is an easy traveler. He’s got a naturally curious and friendly personality. He lights up any room and he enjoys living this big life! What makes him happy, makes me happy.

Welcome Dexter
Dexter at Nature’s Recipe launch party in New York City

LS: How do you choose where to go with your dog?

SM: It really depends on what works for him and his personality. He likes hikes, but I recently found out he also doesn’t mind exploring a city.

That’s really what’s important for pet parents, actually. Before traveling, evaluate your pooch. Figure out what he/she likes and is comfortable with, then choose a destination that fits.

LS: What was the last trip you took with him?

SM: We were just in New York City, working with Nature’s Recipe on a new launch of their premium dog food, now in major retailers.

I had to smile, because he went from this street dog running loose in Bakersfield to an on-screen pooch! Talk about hitting the big time! Haha!

He got to ride around in town cars with drivers and got the star treatment. He was living the “big life” and I loved seeing him get to experience new things. He would head out on breaks to a local park. He even made new friends on the street. We stayed at the Residence Inn, a brand new Marriott property in the World Trade Center area, and they spoiled him rotten with treats, food, and toys. I don’t think he wanted to come home!

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Dexter exploring New York City for the first time

LS: How is Nature’s Recipe different than other brands?

SM: They are all about premium products that go into their foods. They were only in pet stores, and now what’s great is you can find them in grocery stores across the US. It made it easier for me for this NYC trip, because I just packed enough for the road, and then when I got to the city, I dropped into the store to grab extra food. Saved me packing space, and back strain, because I didn’t have to bring heavy bags of food for the trip.

LS: How did you find the right hotel for you both? Were there any special amenities provided for Dexter?

SM: Nature’s Recipe partnered with select Residence Inns in cities like New York, Portland, Chicago and Denver to name a few. So, it introduced me and d2 to their partnership by working with them. When we checked in to the one in NYC, Dex got his name on a welcome board, and then his own bag of treats. The staff is enthusiastic about their four-legged guests, and d2 charmed everyone, who stopped to pet him; he walked away with a human girlfriend, who can’t wait until he returns next time.

It really made traveling fun for him and me. I mean, who doesn’t love getting surprises at check-in!?

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Relaxing at the Residence Inn by Marriott in downtown NYC

LS: Can you share a bit about Nature’s Recipe’s VI-Pup premium experience?

SM: The VI-Pup experience is not only for our fur-babies, but also for pet parents, too. Upon check-in, you get a welcome bag with travel essentials for exploring, toys and treats, and small bags of food. They also give you ideas for where to take your pet that is dog-friendly.

LS: What did you pack for Dexter for your big NYC adventure?

SM: It’s really important to bring along things from home that your dog likes. For d2, it was a towel that he loves to sit on at home. So, I placed it in his carrier. Also, some snacks, and a small plastic bag of his salmon Nature’s Recipe food.

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Dexter on the flight from LA to NYC

LS: What are some essentials tips to know when traveling with dogs?

SM: First things first, make sure your pet is in perfect health and up to date on all shots and medications based off what area you are heading to, such as heartworm medication.

Pick a place that fits his/her personality. Pets are like kids, they like certain places like beaches, mountains, cities– so figure this out first, then plan from there.

If you’re planning a road trip, make sure you keep them busy in the car with toys, and stop often to stretch their legs, and yours, too. It’s also a way to kick off some memories, so bring a ball to toss around a bit to get some of their energy out.

Utilize local websites to see about dog friendly options. I use Fuel The Wag for tips on everything from keeping your pet from nose-sunburns to where the dog parks are. Super comprehensive site for pet parents!

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Dexter with his mom Adventure Girl Stefanie Michaels enjoying the New York City sunset

LS: Anything you can advise to people who want to take their dogs on vacations, but worried about doing so?

SM: I think there is a hesitation with pet parents to take their animals traveling. But, like with any holiday, it’s all in the planning. I like road trips too, because part of my memories are on the road, keeping them exploring from start to finish.

Also, there are more brands and companies out there now that are catering to our fur-babies, so just make sure to use resources like Fuel The Wag and start planning your summer adventure with Fido!

 

Our Fairy Tale Wedding at Greece’s Agreco Farm

Set to festive Cretan music, the kri-kri goat danced under olive trees while bunnies cuddled with kids, visitors picked fruits and vegetables, and my heart melted. As I watched the video for Agreco Farm, I knew I wanted to get married there. 

Located near Rethymnon in the countryside of Crete, Agreco is a gorgeous replica of a 17th Century Greek village. A lovely church, taverna, and a general store are built around a square surrounded by lush trees, herb gardens, and vineyards. The farm showcases organic, environmentally friendly traditional farming methods, including: an olive oil press, a water-powered flour mill, a giant vat for crushing grapes, and a hand-operated winepress.

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Agreco’s beautiful terrace overlooking the sea was exactly what I dreamt of when Scott and I decided on a destination wedding. At the farm restaurant, organic herbs and vegetables grown on-site are featured in authentic dishes for a true farm-to-table experience. On top of that, the farm rescues animals. What more could this nature girl have asked for?!

I would never have found this perfect place without my wonderful wedding planner, Annika Schneider, co-owner of Crete-based Moments. Annika organizes weddings on beaches like Elafonisi (one of the best in the world), churches, and Venetian fortresses. When she learned that I was an animal-loving vegetarian, she suggested Agreco. Even better — she told me she was getting married there, too! If your wedding planner suggests a place where she’s tying the knot, you know you’ve got a gem.

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From the moment I hired Annika, I knew I was in good hands. She sent me regular emails, detailing the day and providing feedback about the food, music, and flowers. She ensured that the taverna would serve the dishes we wanted. She hired the makeup artist and musicians. Over the course of the months leading up to big day, I made a trusted friend. On Skype calls, we chatted about her nuptials and her adorable baby, and I looked forward to meeting her in person.

14On our wedding day, the Greek sun beat down on us as we walked the tree-lined path towards Agreco. Scott and I were immediately separated; I was whisked away to my air-conditioned bridal suite for hair and makeup. Sitting there, on a chair overlooking the hills of a distant land as the makeup artist/hairstylist worked his magic, I felt as if I was in a movie. My dear friend Maria took pictures and got everything I needed (I’m so grateful for your friendship, Maria!). Annika decorated the venue and made sure the Lyra and Laouto musicians were set up. Soon, the music started and I knew I had to walk down the aisle.

11Everything after that moment went by too fast. I remember gliding towards Scott and asking him how I looked. “Beautiful,” he replied, as if he’d say anything else. The shining sea, although at a distance, was calming. We took out our blue notebooks and read our vows. Maria’s baby Michael (aka Baby Cheeks), dressed in an outfit identical to the groom, brought us our rings. I remember slipping the wedding band on Scott’s finger, and seeing the wide smile with which I fell in love. Maria read a poem from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet and her cousin Sofia, a famous Greek poem. The music resumed and we all danced in celebration. It was truly magical.

A rousing champagne toast by Maria’s husband, George, followed the ceremony.  We then wandered towards the animals for pictures to meet our extra special guests. We had to pay a visit to Melina, the resident donkey who was shown pressing olives in the video. There she was, trying to eat my bridal bouquet! I let her munch on a few leaves. Agreco Farm is home to bunnies, chickens, goats, sheep, and we were happy to share our special day with them.

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Even though the day whizzed by so quickly, the dinner took us a leisurely few hours. We relished the house wine and feasted on Gemista (stuffed veggies with rice and herbs), savory zucchini balls, Moussaka (eggplant and potato slices with tomato herbs) and Boureki (zucchini, potato, and tomato slices with herbs). Dessert consisted of traditional dishes, including Lichnarakia, a handmade Cretan dessert, and Sfakianopita pancakes, both filled with a soft, sweet cheese. Before we knew it, the plates were empty and our bellies full. But the meal wasn’t over until we drank shots of fiery raki, a potion made from twice distilled grapes.

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In the end, we got the wedding well beyond my dreams. I am so happy Scott and I began our life together at this enchanting place, in the company of lovely people and adorable animals. One day, I hope to return to Agreco, and spend more than a day to take in the beauty and serenity of it all.

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Photos courtesy of Maria Giatrakis.

Nature Traveler’s 10 Best Organic Beauty Products

Looking good the natural way isn’t as hard as you might think. I’ve wanted to write about the organic/vegan beauty products I love for a long time. Some I’ve used for years and others I just started recently, but they’re all working for me. There was a time when I never applied sunscreen soaking up the sun in California, moisturized during harsh New York winters, or cared about what deodorant I used so long as it lasted long flights. My face had dark spots, my hair was a frizzy mess, and my skin was an entirely different story.  But eco-friendly products changed my life!

When it comes to saving the planet and staying chemical-free, the best decision is to switch to all-natural, cruelty-free products. From shampoo to lotion, toxins enter your body and who knows what havoc they could raise in the future. It’s time to take your beauty and health seriously, and what better time to start than Earth Day!

1) 100% Pure Intense Nourish Face Balm: I’ve been a devoted customer of this organic, vegan product for years. Healing avocado, shea and almond butter smooth skin, while anti-aging vitamins and antioxidants protect and repair it. It clears blemishes and and prevents acne and uneven skin tone. I simply love it! Plus, it feels good to the touch and smells divine. $25

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2) Coconut Oil: It was on my Guatemala service trip that learned about the benefits of this amazing natural product. A fellow volunteer had gorgeous, long locks and attributed coconut oil to it looking healthy and silky smooth. She went on to describe the different ways it can be used: in cooking, nourishing skin, and providing a wellness boost. I’ve been hooked every since. Whether it’s cracked cuticles or frizzy ends, I’m reaching for my extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil from Nature’s Way. $15

Coconut Oil

3) Cruelty Free Makeup: This is probably the hardest choice for most women to go vegan/eco. That said, more and more companies are refraining from testing on animals and making products free from harmful chemicals. My favorite eco-friendly company is Real Purity, which makes exceptional makeup products, from eye shadows and foundation to blush and everything in between. The best part is that you can order samples for as little as $1.50 to see if they work for you. Some other companies I like include LUSH, Earth’s Beauty, and Bite (check labels before purchasing). $1.50 & up

Real Purity

4) Bodhi Basics Deodorants: It’s scary switching from conventional deodorants, but aluminum and parabens (preservatives) in antiperspirants are blocking our bodies from releasing toxins, creating a buildup of these harmful substances. There are a ton of natural deodorants, and I tried a few before learning about Bodhi Basics from my coworkers who swear by these tubes made with essential oils. On my first order, I received Tea Tree Oil & Lemongrass, Geranium & Lemon, and Lavender, Rosemary & Eucalyptus handcrafted sticks (two of which were in tiny tubes ideal for traveling). They make me smell like a spa! Bodhi Basics is named after the owner’s adorable dog Bodhi. (Now you know the real reason I went with them!) $5 to $9

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5) HerbOlive Hand and Body Lotion from Greece: One thing I took away from Greece (other than marrying my husband) was the amazing HerbOlive all-natural products. These are made from 100% organic olives; their scent whisks me back to the charming streets of Crete and the romance of my honeymoon. But that’s not all– the lotions are so creamy and rich that you’ll be reaching for them more often than needed. $6

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6) Boots Botanics Facial Scrub: I discovered this while browsing at my local Duane Reade. They had a buy two, get a makeup bag offer, and I couldn’t pass it up. I bagged two facial scrubs. The scrub contains refining walnut shell to buff away flaky skin, while crushed apricot seeds gently sweep away impurities. I have only been using this for a few weeks and what I enjoy most is the sweet hibiscus smell that fills the room when I use it. $8.49

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7) HerbOlive Shampoo & Conditioner: I’ll admit, I struggled with finding the right shampoo and conditioner. I tried several brands and I was almost ready to give up when I learned my favorite HerbOlive brand makes hair products, too! My favorite is the Hair Repair Mask with Olive Oil & Avocado for Damaged/Colored Hair. $6.30

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8) Lavanila Sunscreen: This 100% natural and vegan, SPF 40 face cream is infused with antioxidants, botanicals, and amino acids; its ultra sheer formula goes on smooth and provides ample protection. This has been a constant in my toiletry bag whenever I travel and it never disappoints. Lavanila plants a tree for every order you place. $28

Lavanila

9) EOS Lip Balm: EOS stands for Evolution Of Smooth, and they aren’t kidding! Their lip balm, which comes in such awesome scents, including coconut milk, Blueberry Acai, and Honeysuckle Honeydew is petroleum and paraben free and heavenly to apply. I got hooked when a fellow travel writing friend gave me a balm when I visited her in L.A. I love and use it so much, I even included it in my wedding goody bags for hotel guests. Talk about obsession!  $3.29

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10) Essential Oils: Did you know that perfume has toxic ingredients linked to hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and even cancer? The second I learned this, I ditched my bottles and opted to go with essential oils. Made with the purest ingredients, these oils perform many functions. Some are calming when applied to skin or diffused in a room. Others can be applied to relieve aches and pains. They can also be used for alleviating allergy symptoms and digestive problems. I use both YoungLiving and DoTerra (for different reasons). I cannot recommend these enough! If you’d like, I can connect you with representatives for both. $15 and up

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Which products do you love? Feel free to share in comments. Happy Earth Day!

Laddoos for the Win, How He Met My Mother

In honor of our six-month wedding anniversary, I decided to share this little vignette from our first year together.

I have never seen my mother so happy. In her almost 60 years on earth, I couldn’t even recall seeing her so joyful. Yet, it happened the night I brought home an all white, Jewish boy from Long Island.

“Does he eat laddoos?” she asked me. But before I could answer she was warming the sweets up in the microwave and handing them over to S, who had just devoured a scrumptiously spicy South Indian meal like he grew up with it. He wiped off the tandoori sauce from his lips on his tomato red flushed face, and gladly took a laddoo like a kid in a candy store.

When he first walked in, he brought a bouquet of flowers, not for me, but for the woman of the house. I could see her falling for him the second he handed it to her.

“Oh, for me? Not for my daughter?” She was genuinely surprised.

For me, he brought a stuffed animal of a bison, named Bill Bison after my favorite travel author Bill Bryson. He had just completed his 50th state, North Dakota, and got me a souvenir to remember the occasion. Our love of travel brought us together, among so many other things, from reading to writing, from music to movies, we were compatible in so many ways.

When we made it through nine months together, he said “I don’t want to pressure you, but I think it’s time,” referring to coming clean about him to my parents. I flip-flopped, worried what they’d think of my choice for a partner, who clearly was so far from our Indian culture. But I knew I had to share with them how happy this person makes me, how wonderful he is to my dog, and how we are planning a future together.

While S was still on his trip, I did it. I told my parents over breakfast, thinking if they wanted to be dramatic about it, I could just get out of the house and go to work. My heart beat a bit faster, I could hear myself stumbling on my words as I spilled, “I found someone.”

Immediately, they smiled. Mostly, I believe because they were relieved to hear that sentence coming from someone who had sworn she would never get involved with anyone.

“He is not Indian, is he?” asked my mother right away, as if she had her suspicions all along. They knew. All of it. All I did was confirm. They were elated. Before I even told them about what he does for a living, where he lives, and how good of a boyfriend he is, they were congratulating me. They were just glad I had found someone and even more so because I decided to share it with them. Soon, arrangements were made for them to meet him.

“I can’t believe he ate everything,” my mom said, as soon as S left the house after the visit. “I hope he doesn’t have any side-effects from the spicy food,” she smirked. I told her S was used to this food, and would love to come back.

“He can come anytime he wants,” my dad said, clearly very fond of this potential new addition to our family.

Later that night, “Can you believe we did it?” S asked. I couldn’t. I finally found a guy my folks like!

Despite the surreal feel of it all, it felt good, somewhere at the pit of my stomach, knowing that this could be it. That this man, who was considerate enough to bring my mother flowers on their first meeting, would be good to come home to everyday.

PS- Yummy laddoos from mom are waiting for you in the fridge. 🙂 

Love in Imerovigli, Santorini’s Hidden Gem (NY Resident)

I am so excited to share the first article my husband and I wrote together about our lovely time in Santorini, Greece. Click on the picture below to read all about the enchanting village of Imerovigli and Pegasus Suites & Spa, published in NY Resident’s Feb 2016 issue.

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