Santa Barbara with My Spaniel and her Brother (Or How to Not go Broke on a Road Trip)

Los Angeles is bizarre. No one has a job and everyone drives a Mercedes. I mean, everyone — even the old guys who sit on my street corner in velour tracksuits and try to sell old vacuum cleaners and plastic Jesus clocks every Saturday. They drive S-class sedans. No Joke.

This is why it’s essential to escape the city to get a grasp on sanity — and gain some perspective. Today I’m seeking sanctuary in Santa Barbara, and I may continue to San Francisco tomorrow if I feel so inclined.

Obviously, the dogs are coming with me. First of all, their dog sitter costs more than a stay at the Four Seasons. And second, I like them and I’d rather not leave them at home. I book a room at the Santa Barbara Motel 6* by the beach because all Motel 6 locations are dog friendly, and I’m on a budget. (Incidentally, many Four Seasons** locations are also dog friendly, but I only stay there on business, and this trip is anything but.)

In an attempt to save additional money, I make all of my espresso for the journey before leaving and pack it in a cooler with some milk and a bottle of Picton Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Between the kongs, the squeaking squirrels, and the bag of fancy fish and sweet potato dog food, I think the dogs are taking up more real estate in the trunk than I.

I download the audiobook of George Orwell’s 1984 onto my iPod, and we hit the road. Before we reach Calabasas, the dogs are lulled to sleep by talk of the Miniluv and the Minitrue.

When we arrive in Santa Barbara, we visit the duck preserve for a long post-car walk. It’s a beautiful day, and I’m pleasantly surprised my monsters don’t menace the inhabitants… much.

We meet the receptionist’s Beagle upon checking in and head to our room. This is Albus’ first road trip, and he puts himself to sleep in his travel crate as soon as I have assembled it.

Later, I walk up Milpas Avenue and pick up a few tacos to go, the dogs in tow. I lived in Santa Barbara one summer in college and every bit of the city is coming back to me as if I had never left. I see the familiar Winchell’s Donuts and dentists offices. I find myself telling the Roos, “Mommy used to live here,” as if they know what that means… or even care. I’m embarrassed to admit I talk to them like they’re people. It probably means I need more friends. Or I’m just a weirdo.

We head back to our room and stream some Netflix on my MacBook while I sip my Sauvignon Blanc and eat my carnitas tacos. I realize this is a totally terrible pairing, but I hadn’t planned on the tacos when I packed the wine, and I’m on a budget.

The next morning we take a lovely walk at the Douglas Family Preserve (named for Michael Douglas) overlooking the Pacific. I become quickly convinced Woodley suffers from canine Asperger’s. She has her head down as if she’s counting every blade of grass in sight while Albus makes many new friends. I realize she’s a bird dog and she’s probably just on the scent of something, but I’ve had four Cocker Spaniels in my life, and she is by far the most aloof of them all. She’s insanely attached to me and doesn’t care much for other dogs. (In fact, she positively despised her Spaniel sister, but that’s a story for another time.)

When Albus first arrived, I’m quite convinced she was looking at him like, “You’re still here?” She’s used to him now, and I think she secretly digs him. At least she will concede that his butt makes a good pillow. For Woodley, that’s progress.

After our lovely morning outing, I decide to head up to San Francisco. It’s going to be cable cars and fog for this traveling trio… after six hours in the car, and a lot more George Orwell, that is.

*It’s important to note that some Motel 6 locations prefer you only check in with one dog. Others don’t care. My general policy is to be a respectful guest by cleaning up after my dogs, crating them (if necessary), and making sure they’re quiet. I also book my room online in advance so it’s usually too late for them to really protest that I have two dogs. (Only one location has ever balked that I had two dogs, but they still let me stay because I had already paid, and I was nice to the woman at the desk.)

**Four Seasons has weight restrictions on canine guests, and Albus is NOT a small boy.

Travel Tip: If you’re looking for a luxury hotel without size restrictions in Santa Barbara, check out The Canary. I’ve stayed at the hotel, and it’s lovely. (The rooftop patio is divine.) I didn’t bring my dogs for that particular trip because I was wine tasting with a group. A good friend of mine did stay at the hotel with her Beagle on another occasion and had a great experience.

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Somebody’s Having a Baby Spritzer (Or how to entertain pregnant friends)

Tonight I’m experimenting with alcohol-free fizzy drinks. No, I’m not on the wagon. I have pregnant friends, and I’m contemplating throwing a baby shower or three. I’m not above waving champagne punch in pregnant ladies’ faces, but I’d be a lousy host (not to mention a bad friend) if I didn’t serve something sweet they could sip as well.

Looking at my herb garden I see that my cilantro plant has committed suicide, so that herb won’t be making an appearance in my glass this evening. I put the withered leaves into my compost bin and swear under my breath. So much for making salsa on Saturday….

I decide to pluck some fresh mint and basil and mix up a tasty mojito-inspired spritzer while blasting Maroon 5’s Moves like Jagger. (It’s essential to dance in the kitchen while making drinks — even if they don’t contain vodka.)

The recipe is below.

Somebody’s Having a Baby Spritzer

1 Lime*
3 Sliced strawberries, plus 1 whole strawberry for garnish
4 Fresh basil leaves
4 Fresh mint leaves
2-3 T of sugar, plus extra for the rim of the glass
8 oz of soda water

Squeeze the juice of one lime into a tall glass or a cocktail shaker. Add the mint, basil, and sugar. (I like my drinks a little sweeter, so I go with 3 T.) Use a muddler to macerate the sugar and herbs. Add the sliced strawberries and mash a little more. Add soda water.

Slice one strawberry beginning at the pointed tip, but do not slice it all of the way through. Rub the strawberry around the rim of the serving glass.

Pour a few tablespoons of sugar onto a small plate and invert the glass onto the plate, rimmed side down. The strawberry juice will help the sugar adhere to the rim.

Put the strawberry on the rim as garnish, and then place a few ice cubes in the glass.

Pour the spritzer into the decorated glass. If you don’t want the bits floating in the glass, you can use a strainer. I like chunks, so I skip this step.

Consume.

Repeat.

Dance while you’re drinking your sweet little libation. Show off your moves like Jagger, even if the only one watching is your disapproving dog.

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*Lime Composting Note: There’s quite a debate about including citrus in your compost bin. Discussions range from the pH impact on soil to worms’ predilection (or lack, thereof) for citrus.

I decide to use the smashed lime to wipe out the inside of my sink before disposing of it. Lemons and limes offer a green way to clean your sink (plus they make the stainless steel look all shiny).

Chopped citrus peel can also be used in your garbage disposal to prevent it from smelling like the Bog of Eternal Stench.

If you’re looking for a shopping guide for some of the products I dig, I have included the links below:

Citrus Juicer

Soda Stream

Muddler

Rotting Veggies Rule (Or How to Make a Compost Bin on Your Balcony)

My whole family is into rotting garbage. We all compost. We always have. OK, I didn’t do it in college. I was too busy buying fifty pairs of bad Steve Madden platforms that ripped up my feet as I staggered home from the bar with my sorority sisters. If I’m being honest with myself (and you), I didn’t do it in grad school either. Now that I’m an adult (hush, Mom), I’m having anxiety about throwing away potato peels. It’s time to compost.

The city of Los Angeles provides free bins, but they’re enormous — like the size of a Smart Car — enormous. I wouldn’t have room on my tiny balcony for my contraband grill or my herb garden if I used the free bin. There wouldn’t be much point in making soil if I didn’t have an herb garden to put it in, so I need the herb harden. And I need the grill for the one day a year I feel grilling steak for someone.

The solution? Make my own compost bin.

Here’s how I did it:

I bought a Rubbermaid container from Home Depot and set to work. I can’t do anything halfway, so I made mine decorative. I drew a pattern in Sharpie to serve as the template for the design. I then used a sharp screw to pierce the plastic. For extra aeration, I created circular holes with an x-acto knife. Oxygen is essential for decomposition, so you need to make sure to properly aerate the bin. This means creating holes on the top, bottom and sides of the bin.

Frankly, I would recommend wearing gloves for such an endeavor. I managed to get blisters and break them open during my art project, but I did have a hell of a good time anyway. I opened a few cheap beers and blasted some lively tunes as I cranked away on the screws. I recommend some James Brown or the Spencer Davis Group. Nothing gives you energy like Bud Light, Mother Popcorn, and Gimme Me Some Lovin’.

For the inside lining, I bought WeedBlock because it’s durable despite being filled with holes. I sewed the lining together with a needle and thread. (The lining keeps the soil from falling through the large holes on the bottom of the bin.) I then set the box on two bricks to increase the airflow. In total, I think I spent $30 on the project.

A large bin from a gardening supply companies can run you $100. Plus, I had fun. Minus the blisters, of course.

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