canines, pets

I recently had a fabulous time flying with my dog, Buttercup. But itraveldog2n preparing for the trip, I found nothing but horror stories and heartbreaking posts on message boards all over the internet. Not helpful! I needed some friendly advice about how to best prepare for flying with a pet, and couldn’t find much. So, for anyone who is thinking of taking their pet with them on a trip, here’s how to make it happen safely!

1. Know Before You Go

The #1 thing that I would suggest, especially for your first flight, is to do your homework. Nothing helped me more than being prepared, knowing all of the airline’s policies, and having any and all of the gear that I thought might be helpful. Do not be shy about calling your airline with questions. I called maybe five separate times before the day of my flight. More airlines have good information on their websites, but it can be a little airline-industry-jargony (I was REALLY confused about cargo vs baggage) so make the call if you have any questions. Seriously.

2. Know What Will Keep You Grounded

Policies on whether a dog can go in-cabin or in baggage, or whether a dog can fly at all, vary by airline. We flew American, as we always do (HI AA YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND MAKE ME PLATINUM THX), and I found their policies at aa.com/pets. They allow pets, but restrict certain breeds (smashy-faced dogs and cats are not allowed, because of potential breathing issues). Buttercup is too tall and too big overall to go in the cabin (dogs need to be able to stand up and turn around in a 19in x 13in x 9in carrier that fits under the seat in front of you). So, Buttercup was going to have to go below, in checked baggage.

Very important for checked pets: ground temperatures. We were traveling in late May/early June, and the ground temp at take off and landing cannot be over 85 degrees at any point in  your itinerary – which for us meant in Chicago or in Philadelphia. The website was a little vague on the specifics, so I called and called and called some more until I had all of the information I needed. I learned, for instance, that the temperature restrictions were limited to the time Butter would be waiting for take off or waiting to be deplaned -take off and landing. This was important in my case, because the day we landed was going to be too hot – but we were flying so early in the morning (my alarm went off at 3:45am, I wish this on no one), that the temperature at landing was still going to be a cool and safe 70 degrees.

So that’s a key thing. If you’re going to Miami from Chicago on an August afternoon, don’t plan to check your dog. It’s not safe and the airline – at least American – will turn you away. On both of our flights, they checked ground temps first thing before they let us proceed.

traveldog1An Aside: Let’s Talk About Dogs as Baggage…

I kept seeing a lot of confusing information about transporting a pet as cargo and traveling with a pet in checked baggage. The quick answer to what the heck is the difference is basically cargo is for when you are NOT traveling with your pet (for instance, a rescue pet being shipped to a new owner) and checked baggage is for when you are your pet are on the same plane. American’s very specific term is “excess baggage.” I learned this from a very kind ticketing agent on my third or 20th call to the airline. She explained to me the differences, and very importantly, that she travels with her dog in baggage and while she is always very nervous, it has always gone well for them. Thank you so much, kind ticketing lady! So, Buttercup went into excess baggage. This area is climate controlled, pressurized, and well secured.

“I could never do that.” 

I heard this a few times from fellow dog lovers as I was planning this trip. And I am guilty of thinking this and maybe even saying this myself in the past. I get it. Who wants to give up your dog into the hands of an airline, those institutions known for not always offering up the best in customer care? I was pretty much in this camp…until I started flying regularly for work. In my almost monthly flights over the last year, I have seen numerous bigger-than-cabin-size dogs in airports, presumably going into checked baggage. I recently watched a man pick up his two dogs in two carriers and wait for his ride away from O’Hare. My fear of flying with Buttercup, I was beginning to realize, was like my fear of flying itself. There are very real risks, but the numbers of actual incidents are low. Yes, we’ve all read the recent-ish horror stories of pets lost and killed on flights. But, relative to the number of pets flown every year, these stories are statistically tiny. Pets tend to fly safe. I saw evidence of this almost every time I flew.

And again, by doing my homework and taking all of the necessary precautions for Buttercup, I gave her the best possible chance for a safe experience.

3. Do These Things

SO here’s are the basic steps I took to prepare us for a great experience:

  1. Socialized and trained Buttercup to enjoy traveling in cars and to accept new people and new situations. She’s been in five star hotels and cheap motel chains, elevators, every kind of staircase, piers and docks, city streets and so on. She was comfortable walking on her leash in the airports, friendly with strangers and airline personnel, and listened to my commands, even with lots of distractions. Good girl!
  2. STOPPED GOOGLING “PETS ON PLANES HORROR STORIES”
  3. Learned what the best airline safe crate is, how it would be secured by the airline (cable ties everywhere!), bought one early, and acclimated her to it.
  4. Brought scissors in my carry-on bag (from the TSA site, I learned I could bring a pair with blades under 4″) so I could cut off the cable ties the airlines would use to secure the crate door as soon as we were reunited on the ground.
  5. Took her on a very long walk the night before the flight.
  6. Gave her a normal breakfast and offered her water up until she was taken to holding.
  7. Gave her two of these before the flight. I love these. They are all natural, and seem to relax and even make Buttercup sleepy without chemical sedation. Sedatives are frowned on by airlines, as some can cause respiratory distress. (If you do use sedatives prescribed by your vet, the airline will want to know this before you board.) The great thing about the calming treats was that I’d used them before (she’s super scared of thunderstorms), so I knew how they affect her. I would not recommend giving your dog something she’s never had before right before a flight.
  8. Got to the airport early so there would be ample time to take care of checking Buttercup and for getting myself through O’Hare’s variable security lines.
  9. Asked a million questions of the gate agents and baggage handlers who took care of her. I am normally a bit reserved but I was not shy. “Where does she go now? Have you checked your dog? Where can I expect to find her when we land? Will you make sure she’s okay. I’m scared!”
  10. Bought water after I was through security so I could offer her some as soon as we landed.
  11. Explained that I was traveling with my dog in excess baggage to the flight attendant and asked if she could make sure for me that Buttercup made it on. The FA on the outgoing flight was very, very kind about this and reassured me, asking me all about Butter. The one coming home never followed-up. In fact, I never saw her again. Maybe she parachuted off?
  12. Watched M*A*S*H on the flights. Very comforting.
  13. Tried to relax, knowing I’d done everything I could to make this a good trip for us.

Listen, I WAS SUPER SCARED to check Buttercup. It was not an easy choice. But, I looked at my options and it was, I think, the best choice for her. I was going to be away for ten days and have no nearby friends or family who can care for her. I have boarded her for long trips before, but when I weighed the risks and stress of Buttercup being out of my care for 10-11 days vs for the five hours or so it took for the 1.5 flight plus boarding and landing times both ways, it really wasn’t a contest. We had amazing hosts waiting for us on the other end, and we had the best trip, ever.

day in the life

I think that would a good album title for vaguely holiday-ish but not overtly Christmas music. 

Anyway, here’s a picture I took. 



Cinema, grad school, Music

Written for grad school in 2009, this piece is a fun look at how one song has endured through twenty-five plus years and scores of use in various media. 

katrina

       Kicky drums and tambourine open the song, beating out a sense of excitement about what’s to come. Almost any listener knows the song from those first ten seconds, and anyone who is not sure is certain when vocalist Katrina Leskanich explodes with an enthusiastic, “Ow!” eleven seconds in. Then come the horns, and Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” is off on its three-minute, fifty-seven second journey of infectious happiness. It is a an upbeat, cheerful song with heartfelt, throaty vocals and lyrics that speak of the realization of true love –

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Cinema, grad school, media literacy

A little while ago, I was listening to this podcast, on which the special guest was one of my friends from grad school, Chris. The subject of John Hughes movies came up, as it will, and inevitably the hosts noted that Hughes had a keen ear for the music of the time. OMD’s If You Leave was mentioned, and hoo boy, that’s a song that throws me back to 1986 in a hurry. When I later mentioned to Chris that I agreed with him that it’s a fantastic song, I reflected that the film in which it plays an integral part, Hughes’ Pretty in Pink (1986) was kind of a watershed for me.

“I could see that,” he said.

This gave me pause. Really? It shows? But it’s true. Pretty in Pink is the thing from which many things Megan come.

Check it: Poor girl from the literal wrong side of the tracks attracts a handsome “richie” aka wealthy boyfriend. It’s awkward, then goes well, then doesn’t, then she makes a questionable looking Prom dress for all the right reasons, shows incredible strength and (spoiler) Richie sees the error of his weak-spined ways. Kiss in the parking lot, and scene.

Also she has extraordinary friends, a missing parent, and an incredibly creative wardrobe.

Okay, except for the Prom dress making and the happy ending, this was my high school experience.


My parents split in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, plunging my mom and me into food stamps and scraping by. We lived on quite the wrong side of town, out of my school’s district, and fibbed to the school about my actual address until we finally moved into an even more wrong part of town, socially speaking.

In the next year, a friend named Kelly  taught me to shop at Goodwill. This was a revelation, and I could augment the so-so clothes we could afford with funky sweaters, cast-off sequined tops and hats. Oh, the glorious hats. I found myself in thrifting and in wearing ever-increasingly unusual things.

I wore hats I bought at antique stores and silver sandals, big hoop earrings and a little yellow leather box purse, slung across my chest like a messenger bag.  I’d gotten it on a band trip to Europe that fateful end-of-my-family summer – the last big thing my parents did for me before the divorce, and I still don’t know how they paid for it. And for all of junior year I had a wealthy boyfriend from the right side of town.

All of this is to say, I was living some Andie Walsh realness and I didn’t even know it.

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Andie and Me.

There are differences, yes. My boyfriend cheerfully took me to the prom, so we avoided the WHAT ABOUT PROM, BLAINE? scene in the hall. We broke up the next fall and it was sort of mutual. Kind of. I pined, but you do that when you’re 17 and your family is a mess and Boyfriend represents some kind of stability. You do that.

James Spader wasn’t there. But I knew a guy with a Trans Am and he was REALLY cute.

And no one performed this for me.

Duckie or no, Pretty in Pink is one of those movies that stuck in my consciousness and has never left. In my own desire for funky earrings and vintage hats, I think I was searching for the freedom of expression that Molly Ringwald’s Andie exhibited. Sure, she dressed the way she did because she couldn’t afford to shop where the rich kids did, but she also chose to express her creativity and sense of style honestly and openly. She wasn’t trying to look like everyone else, on a shoe-string budget. She was being herself. Perhaps something that started from necessity became for her a calling card, a statement, a declaration.

And beyond her clothes, Andie is a girl/woman who is fearless in declaring her right to be herself. In the WHAT ABOUT PROM scene; in her unusual and devoted relationships; in her final, defiant appearance in the ending scenes, Andie is Andie’s best champion and completely her own person. I love her for that.

And there’s something else in this film, a small but pivotal scene between Andie and the school principal, that moved me from the first time I saw it and continues to capture me.

In it, Andie has been called to the principal’s office for speaking out in class against some prototypical mean girls. I always want the principal to go to bat for her, but instead he turns the conversation slightly on its side.

“If you give off signals that you don’t want to belong,” he tells her,  “people will make sure that you don’t.”

At twelve I found this statement profoundly unfair. At twenty, I found it unsettling. And at forty, I get it. It’s true. And I wasn’t wrong at twelve – it is, indeed, unfair. But if you unpack it a little, you can see, deep in its heart, the notion that we are responsible for our own happiness. Whether we choose to fit in or not, we need to own our choices and own our joys and sorrows. We can’t always control what life hands us but we can decide how we react and how we deal with the people around us. Andie is eighteen; she’s just learning this. When I was young, I thought the principal was trying to stifle her sense of justice, but now, I see him guiding her through a world that will not always be easy, or kind, or fair.

To me, this was the genius of John Hughes. He could tap into the pain and humor of adolescence like no one else. And he portrayed the unique stories of teenage girls with a dignity, honesty, and respect that few ever have. He knew that growing up is complicated and messy and it largely sucks. There are few absolute truths. There are few absolute rights and wrongs. It is up to you to decide your truths and live by them.

And then there’s this, best scene ever:

Pretty-in-Pink-pretty-in-pink-21203179-497-278
Me too, girl.

classroom films, short of the week

Here’s one of my favorites, first re-introduced by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 90s. Watch that version – it’s fantastic. What To Do on a Date (1950), produced by the prolific and amazing Chicago-based Coronet Films, is the story of gooney high school guy, Nick, as he learns how to ask class cutie Kay on a date, has a small breakdown realizing he doesn’t actually know, well, what to do, and subsequently is schooled on the safe, group activities that make for an acceptable date in 1950.

To wit:

  • weenie roasts
  • square dances
  • taffy pulls
  • swim meets (wait, what?)
  • baseball games
  • fixing up the scavenger sale at the community center

I am not making this stuff up, kids.

Nick and Kay do seem to have a good time at the scavenger sale (I cannot say those words without giggling for some reason), and they snack on Cokes and ice cream, while Nick works up the nerve to ask for a second date. He slips in some fun gender role generalizations:

“All thought all girls wanted fellas to take them to fancy places, spend a lot of money.”

“Not this girl,” Kay reassures him.

For that matter, the whole thing firmly reinforces the idea that dates are for the male to initiate and the female to accept, graciously. Girls should be patient and quiet, happy to do low-cost, very public activities, preferable with a group, or at the very least, with another couple. But if producer Coronet is to be trusted, don’t accept too many dates, because then you’ll be Going Steady, and no one wants that. But that’s another entry.

 

Cinema, classroom films, short of the week

I dearly love watching and writing about classroom films of the 1950s and 1960s. I’ve written about them here and there, and decided to collect my far-flung bits into a Short of the Week feature. Because why not.

Kicking off is one of my absolute favorites, Habit Patterns, from 1954. It’s a fifteen-minute exploration in shame and conforming, wrapped in a veneer of grooming and time management instruction.

Our film starts ominsouly. We open on ponytailed, sweet-faced Barbara clutching a scarf  and sobbing in her bedroom, while a stern female voice declares, “It’s a little late for tears, isn’t it Barbara?” It’s like my last job.

The source of Barbara’s upset is revealed in flashbacks. She oversleeps. Her room is sloppy.  Her sweater is stained. And when she receives a very important invitation to a very important classmate’s house, her manners are not up to speck.

It’s a tough day for Barbara.

To top it all off, the narrator continually compares Barbara to her neighbor Helen.  Helen, taller, well-groomed, and “with a pleasant word for her parents” is on time, gets plenty of sleep, and most importantly,  uses “taste in selecting her clothes. She’s able to match the right skirt with the right sweater.” Barbara will never live up to Helen. She knows this. Her mother knows this. The narrator knows this.

When it comes down to it, I really like Barbara AND Helen. I want to be organized like Helen, but Barbara’s sassy attitude and helter-skelter approach to her wardrobe give her some real personality.

So, Barbara gets through her day at school, running late for everything and with barely combed hair. In short, she stands out, and if there is one thing you do not do in a classroom film from 1954, it is stand out. When Anne Tolliver, apparently the social doyenne of this particular Junior High invites Barbara over after school, it is cause for celebration – Barbara has been chosen! – and for panic -her sweater is stained! Her hair is a mess! How can she possibly fit in?

There’s also a real feeling of class stratification here. The girls at Anne’s gathering, which resembles more of a conversation salon than adolescent girls hanging out (where is the giggling?) speak with what seem to be some kind of affected east coast accents (“the trouble with me is getting STAHTED with something new…my mother had to DRAHG me to the museum.”) Barbara does not. They talk of literature, visiting museums, attending the symphony, and summer homes. Barbara looks pained in her middle-class, museum-less shame.

She desperately tries to fit in by jumping into a conversation about summer homes and pretending she has one. But the narrator is not about to let this one slip by: “you only went [to the lake] once, didn’t you Barbara? Once you start fibbing, you can’t stop.” Oh, the narrator is relentless in her shaming.  And I’m pretty sure poor Barbara can hear her, because the end result is that she feels increasingly uncomfortable and leaves the party, but not before she hears Anne and some of the other girls talking about her:

“Maybe she felt shy?”
“A stained sweater isn’t shyness. And BAHD MAHNNERS are BAHD MAHNNERS no matter what you call them.”

Barbara runs home to cry alone, in her room, and we’ve come back to the beginning. Mrs. Narrator (you know she’s a Mrs.) continues on the offensive. “In all society, at all ages we know people are going to talk about other people,” she reminds Barbara, urging her not to dump her creepy friends, but instead to work on not giving them anything to snark about.

The gossiping girls are off the hook, and we spend the next seven minutes going through a litany of neighbor Helen’s good habits in hopes that Barbara might learn from them. Here’s where I get a little mesmerized by the complicated rules for putting away clothes and washing your face (“hang today’s skirt in the back of the closet to rest the fabric”).  It’s also where I get totally distracted by Barbara’s adorable mid-century bedroom. But don’t worry, Barbara pays better attention, and by the end she is forming the “good habits approved by custom and accepted by society.”

Thank goodness. But what will Anne and her minions talk about after the next conversation salon?

grad school, the monkees

Monkees Surprise

Over at tumblr, a video I made for my fall 2012 Fan Studies class made the rounds all the way back to me, all covered with love and awesome notes from other Monkees fans. It’s like getting a present!

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It’s a super cut of all* of the running gags from The Monkees 1966-1968 television show. Which was, of course, fantastic.

Watch the original video right here:

*I missed a few, I know. 

grad school, updates

Today, I submitted my final project for graduate school. With this, I’ve finished my last class – a course on Audio Documentary production. It’s now onward to the Comp Exam, and hopefully, graduation!

For this project, I was so very fortunate to have three lovely people share with me their stories about moving, growing, and home. I’m sharing it here so they can finally hear what all those conversations with a microphone in their faces (or clumsily recorded Skype sessions) were all about.

My special thanks and complete gratitude to Caralyn, Gerald, and Melissa for your generosity and confidence in me. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed spending the last few weeks with your stories.

 

Music credits:

“A Man/Me/Then Jim” – Rilo Kiley, (Lewis, Sennett)
“Blackbird” – Micky Dolenz (Lennon/McCartney)

Produced in GarageBand.

day in the life

People are further from each other than they appear.
People are further from each other than they appear.

So I’m hanging out by myself for a while. He’ll be home weekends. I’ll be FINE. Still, I’m making a I’m Sad But Okay Playlist to get me through this first week of being faux-single.

Songs NOT to include:

Leaving On a Jet Plane
Darling, Be Home Soon
Only the Lonely
It’s Too Late
What’ll I Do?
Photographs and Memories

So, I guess it’s just I Will Survive on a loop, then.

Cinema, Month of Madness

And here I am, falling behind already. To my credit, it has been a roller coaster lately. In the last week I:

  • endured a seismic shift at work
  • endured another one
  • got hit by two enormous migraines, more or less related by above, which took me out for two days
  • spoke on a panel of writers about writing because people think I’m a writer
  • made pretty cupcakes for a birthday

Oh! I also, watched a lot of movies. Let’s talk about that. A partial list:

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