Friday, March 26, 2010


In yet another weak moment of back pain at the grocery store I procured for myself some ThermaCare HeatWraps for the neck and wrist. I am on a bit of a mission to find something that, if not cures back pain, at least alleviates it for a minute or two. I mean at 35, I should be at least a little more mobile than my 85 year old aunt-in-law who has broken her hip. Twice. I mean fair is fair, I should be able to get up off the futon and stand straight up, and I should still be able to sit on the floor in relative comfort. I can move around on the floor ok, but sitting, say while watching tv, that’s a whole other story, and not one with a happy ending.

So in a moment of weakness and perhaps not seething agony, but definite discomfort I tried a ThermaCare HeatWrap. First of all, I am happy to report that they do not smell, at all. Not that they should by any means, but for a certain generation or two (or three) of people there are two ways to warm up and relieve sore muscles, one involves a heating pad with a cord, and the other involves smelling like a locker room. Clearly ThermaCare HeatWraps do not involve a power cord, so by default they must involve eau’ de’ locker room. Not the case.

ThermaCare HeatWraps are basically a sandwich of cotton material around heat-generating discs. The instructions state that the ThermaCare HeatWrap heats up when exposed to air and may take up to 30 minutes to fully heat up. The instructions also state not to overlap the discs. This last instruction had me a little concerned because it did not say what would happen in the event that you did overlap the discs, but the do not was underlined, so clearly it’s something that Wyeth (which is now part of Pfizer Inc.) does not want to occur. The package also states that ThermaCare HeatWraps can burn you, that your skin is more sensitive to heat as you age, and you should not sleep with them on if you are over 55. None of this information was too alarming, just good to know. The alarming part was that in large, bold all capital letters at the beginning of the instructions it says “To reduce risk of burns, fire, and personal injury, this product must be used in accordance with the use instructions and warnings.” Fire? Really?

I looked on the package to see what the ingredients were in the discs because I was curious as to what heats up when exposed to air. I’m not a chemist so this is a rather fascinating concept. The only items I have ever seen that heats up when exposed to air are military "Meals Ready to Eat” (MREs) which can actually cook themselves when you put water in them. Pretty cool, right? So I thought it might be the same chemical process. Of course there’s a big different between heating when exposed to air and heating when exposed to water, but still, we’re talking heat caused by basic elements here, so in my brain it was close enough. The package doesn’t tell you what is in them, but the website does. Interestingly enough it’s iron, charcoal, table salt, and water. Freaky, right? Who knew? (OK, I’m sure some of you scientific-chemist types knew that, but I’m a words-person, not a chemicals-n-table of elements-person.)

I opened a package and noticed that the areas to adhere the ThermaCare HeatWrap to the body were pretty small. I figured I’d only be sleeping with it on so it wouldn’t have too much opportunity to move around and if it fell off, so be it. I adhered the ThermaCare HeatWrap to my body and discovered that in fact it did take a few minutes to heat up, but not a full 30, which was nice. The other thing I noticed was that it didn’t move well with my body. I wasn’t entirely confident that if I had put it on at the beginning of the day instead of the end that it would not have ended up rolled up and falling to the bottom of my pants leg. Since it was night and I wasn’t wearing any pants, this was not a big concern.

I watched some TV to test out the warming properties of the ThermaCare HeatWrap before falling asleep with it on. It heated up nicely, but it just didn’t seem to be quite enough to get through the rope-like muscle mass that is my back. Perhaps I have a high tolerance for heat, I have been told that the temperature at which I like to shower would scald milk, but nonetheless, it didn’t feel quite hot enough. I’m sure that this is a precautionary measure since the package clearly states that the ThermaCare HeatWraps can burn you. Maybe I just need to broil myself to achieve some sort of muscle relaxation.

I slept through the night with my ThermaCare HeatWrap attached, since it didn’t seem like it would hurt me, and the box tells you that you can wear it for 8 hours and I’m not over 55 so wearing it to sleep is not against the rules. It didn’t fall off. Not only was it not bunched up at the bottom of my non-existent pants, it was also not bunched up at the bottom of my very real bed. I was pleasantly surprised.

The morning came and I easily removed the ThermaCare HeatWrap. No hair pulling, no skin removal, it was a very simple, easy and completely uneventful product removal. Since I didn’t feel the heat that I personally require, I don’t think I’ll bother to purchase them again, but there’s still two more in the box, that I will definitely use, and if your tolerance to heat is less that mine (which most people’s is) you may very well be pleased, relaxed and un-scalded. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

Friday, March 19, 2010


There is really very little that is better than seeing a dog in the snow. Dogs love snow. Dog’s don’t have the preconceived notions of snow that people have. Dog’s don’t have to shovel. They don’t have to drive. And they don’t have to park in the city when the drifts are so high that you can’t see your car if you are lucky enough to have gotten one of the two parking spots left after the storm. They don’t have to worry about being towed for not thinking ahead and moving their car out of that one last spot on the day the blizzard hits. They just love the snow for snow’s sake.

For a dog, snow is about as cool as it is for a five year old. Another creature with no preconceived notions about it. It’s fluffy, it’s white, it’s sometimes sticky, sometimes blow-y, and falling quietly from the sky it accumulates really quickly. At night it’s not there and then in the morning it is. It’s sort of magical in its own special way. The only problem is that it’s cold.

Dogs don’t always notice when they are cold. In fact my dog Bobo didn’t start noticing that she was cold until she was over 3 years old. I noticed she was cold because when she was cold she acted like an ass. She jumped, she barked and she spun around in the air. She completely lost all sense about her. She acted like a lunatic. And somehow, mysteriously, she developed ear flaps and completely misplaced her ability to listen and certainly to comprehend any of her previous training. As a German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) neither her behavior nor her reaction to cold was particularly surprising. GSPs have short fur. Very short fur. They can adapt to the cold, but in order for that to happen, they need to be out in the cold. Oddly enough the GSP is a popular dog for winter pulling for the sports of sledding and skijoring (both as a purebred and as a cross-breed), but to see my Bobo in action, one has to wonder if that is a good idea. The way she used to behave you’d be lucky to make it out of the driveway without being pulled into a gully or flipped in the air. The GSP is an ideal working dog and they can (and do) run for hours on end, but their coat in the winter is a little sparse.

I thought for awhile that Bobo would figure out that she was cold and just come inside, but such was not the case. She insisted on being out in the snow because, well she just likes it. So in order to keep her from freezing her little cropped tail off, I bought her a winter coat. In fact I bought her several winter coats, all with different attributes, levels of warmth and style. In general I had two problems with most dog winter coats. 1) they were not waterproof and even more importantly, 2) they all were kept on with Velcro. Velcro is a great product, don’t get me wrong, but when you have a dog that shoots through the woods at 40 MPH, Velcro doesn’t work very well. Velcro comes undone, and Bobo looses her jacket. If you are ever hiking in the White Mountains, and you come across a discarded dog coat, it’s probably hers.

And then I found Ruff Wear.

Ruff Wear is a product line for active dogs. This gear is not for the faint at heart. It’s functional, and it works. It’s not for the fluffy pocketbook dogs that wear clothes because it’s cute. Ruff Wear makes dog products for dogs that work. They make products for dogs that need clothing for protection, not for dogs that wear clothes for the aesthetic pleasure of their people. And Ruff Wear seems to have it figured out.

Ruff Wear makes a variety of different dog coats, but the K-9 Overcoat is the greatest winter dog coat ever made as far as I’m concerned. The inside is fleece lined so it’s warm and soft, the outside is polyester and abrasion-resistant so that the crazy dog who tends to run into sticks, is a little more protected, and it’s made of recycled materials (which is great for those of us who care about such things). It is really easy to put on and take off since you don’t have to thread the dog’s legs through sleeves or anything. Dressing your dog consists of putting her head through a large opening at the front, folding the chest portion under your dog and clipping the top and the bottom portions together on the sides. It definitely makes the whole process significantly less challenging.

As previously mentioned there are no sleeves. This feature has its benefits and its liabilities. It makes it very easy to get the coat on and off and it does not restrict the dog’s range of motion, but it can be bad on a really cold day since there is less body covered. Also the chest portion leaves the dog’s belly exposed, which for most dogs is not a huge problem. For Bobo it does tend to be a little chilly since it has taken three New England winters to grow some fur there and what is there is a meager at best.

Overall however, the Ruff Wear K-9 Overcoat is a fantastic product and I would recommend it to anyone with an active (perhaps accident prone) dog who enjoys the snow but doesn’t much care for the cold. It keeps Bobo warm, dry and safe. She still acts like a nut when she is cold, but since she’s generally not that cold anymore, the times that she acts like a complete lunatic are seriously minimized. She’ll even listen when we are outside now. I’m even considering trying skijoring next year.

Friday, March 12, 2010


In a moment of weakness we bought a camper/trailer. We were convinced that with a dog and three cats we would never leave home again if we didn’t find a way to take the kids with us and since lugging them all in and out of hotels was always a bit of a pain in the ass, our slightly twisted logic made us believe that the only way that we could vacation and actually enjoy it with all kids in tow, was if we had a camper/trailer/conversion van. So we bought one.

Off to the dealership we went looking for the perfect conversion van. You can see it can’t you? The whole family cruising in style and never having to stop to pee. What a deal. Well come to find out that conversion vans are unbelievably expensive considering what they are. It’s a van with a bed in it. Come on now they are not worth $80,000. Ok, clearly they are since that’s what they cost: on the low end. So we immediately eliminated that idea and moved onto the next best thing. A trailer. In fact, we moved to a really good idea, a toy hauler trailer. One in which we could not only travel in style with the kids, but also travel in style with the motorcycles. Yes, yes, you read right. We had the best intentions of traveling the country with the dog, the cats and the motorcycles. A romantic notion, no?

After looking at a variety of vans (we had to look despite the cost), trailers and busses, we settled on a 19 ft Weekend Warrior (the FB1900: the FB stands for Front Bath). We figured 19 ft was a good sized “starter trailer”. Since we were new to the trailer world we didn’t want anything too large. After all we had to tow the thing, park it, back it up and hook it up. We definitely didn’t want something that was too large to handle with some semblance of dignity. So we ended up with a Weekend Warrior Super Lite. Lite in this case means approximately 6600 lbs. not really very light, but since I wasn’t carrying it on my back, it was lite enough.

The back of the Weekend Warrior is a ramp up which you can drive your motorcycles. There are rings in the floor to which you ratchet your bikes. The rings are cleverly hidden under the carpet which covers the floor of the living space when you are choosing to live in it. The carpet easily rolls up and can be stored to the side for motorcycle-toting purposes.

There is both a gas pump and an outdoor shower from which you can fill up and clean off your 2-wheeled baby. There are propane tanks for power and cooking, a canopy for shelter from too much sun or light rain, a television with a DVD player, a cable for, well cable, a stereo with outdoor speakers and our chosen model had a really nice sized shower. Clearly the people who design these things also use them, because everything you could ever need for sleeping/eating/cooking/toting/showering/lugging was taken care of.

I can tell you that I have never been so impressed with the inside of anything. Every single inch is used for multiple purposes. The beds (yes I said beds. Plural) are on tracks which allows them to drop down into what amounts to queen sized bunk beds or lift up so you can park your motorcycles under the space where they (and the carpet) once were.

The counter doubles as a stove, the oven as a convection oven and microwave oven (not sure how that works, but mine is not to question why or how) the couch doubles as a third bed (so you can sleep 6 people), the refrigerator is small and somehow the shelving is more efficiently configured than my refrigerator at home. I mean there is no reason that I should be able to fit as much food in a traveling fridge that is half the size of the one in my full sized kitchen and yet…There is air conditioning and heat (albeit a little loud, but they are both fully functional). The bathroom and clothing storage is spacious, the pantry roomy and the chairs strangely cushy. All in all it’s a great product with a lot of features that really make it user friendly, comfortable and good for a long, motorcycle oriented trip.

So now let me tell you what this fabulous vehicle didn’t have. No lug wrench, and no jack. This apparently isn’t an issue with the product itself but seems to be one of those little hidden secrets of the trailer world which forces you to buy extra insurance and extra services (such as the inevitably needed roadside assistance). Suffice it to say that after a relatively expensive trip to Walmart and the purchase of a much needed hydraulic jack (and multiple other tire related items), we were in business. Now, I don’t necessarily mind not having a jack or a lug wrench, but I mind not knowing that I don’t have a lug wrench or a jack. I mean after all, trailers are for vacation and vacation is for fun, finding out that you have no jack or lug wrench when you need one is not fun and therefore does not count as vacation. In fact that qualifies as something that you need a vacation from.

All in all the Weekend Warrior is a great product, but before you hit the road, make sure you take stock of what you have and more importantly, what you don’t have. Now that I have let you in on the best kept secret of the trailer world, you are already a step ahead. But please note that before you pull out of the driveway, make sure one of the things you do have is a good sense of humor. Without that, you could find yourself in need of a vacation immediately upon your return home.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I may be a skeptic, but my mother-in-law is not. In fact there are few people in my life as skeptical as I am about, really anything. My mother-in-law, wonderful woman that she is, spends a lot of time offering my wife and I items that we really don’t want. She and her husband (my father-in-law) are quite possibly the world’s most perfect people, except that they regularly insist on assuring that every time we see each other, my wife and I leave the visit with more stuff than we had before we arrived.

Usually these items take the form of things that we really don’t need, like cases of water, or paper tote boxes, or old rollerskates with keys. But every once in awhile, the items take on a uniquely practical form, such as a chapstick or, in this case, the Tide to Go pen. I never would have bought such an item, not necessarily because I didn’t need it, but because I didn’t think it would work, and there is little I share in common with Kelly Ripa. Although I have found myself sitting across the table from a lot of men who dribble food on their ties, I have never once had the inclination to do anything about it. It’s not really my place, and quite frankly, I think it a bit weird. I wasn’t opposed to the product, per se, it’s just that I never thought it would find a use in my life. The dirt in my life is usually much too large for anything the size of a pen to fix. Nonetheless, I found myself in possession of not one, but two Tide to Gos (Tides to Go?). Apparently I’m much dirtier than I though,t because not only my mother-in-law, but a friend from South Carolina gave me one. Who knew the messes in my life could so easily be fixed with a mini-cleaning product?

Of course, since I didn’t actually purchase the product myself, I had no commitment to its presence in my life. So there they sat for years, untouched. One rested in the junk drawer in my bedroom, and the other I stuck in my briefcase thinking that maybe I’d need it while I was working and wearing my big-girl clothes. Of course then I forgot about it for about two years during which time I had flown with it successfully no less than 25 times. (Interesting how well airport security works, but I digress.)

Fast forward to about four months ago when I was sitting in my bedroom, watching TV and eating a pomegranate in a white sweatshirt that yet another friend gave to me. (Don’t I have the most generous friends?) I know that’s quite a picture, and I can’t really tell you what flash of brilliance enticed me to wear white and eat a fruit with notorious staining properties. Nonetheless, there I was, hardly noticing the mess I was making until it was too late.

Luckily it was a large sweatshirt so the rich, red pomegranate juice landed only on me and not the furniture. After cursing my stupidity for moment, I remembered the long, lost Tide to Go in the junk drawer and decided to give it a whirl. I figured the sweatshirt was already ruined so what harm could come of ruining it more? I only wore it in the house anyway.

I primed the Tide to Go and applied it generously to the many offending spots, fully believing that absolutely nothing would happen. Low and behold, I was right, nothing happened. I applied more, which also had no effect, and then I put it away. Relegated the offending Tide to Go to the junk drawer where it clearly belonged. I settled back in to American Idol or NCIS or Bones or whatever I was watching, and forgot all about the trauma of yet another product disappointment.

And then the strangest thing happened. I looked down. Looking down in and of itself was not a particularly strange, what was strange is that my pomegranate spots were gone. Not faded, completely gone. Pomegranate is used as a material in natural dyeing, so this was really quite impressive; a little frightening perhaps because the thought of anything with stain removing powers that potent is just terrifying. I’m not a chemist or anything, but I can only imagine what the compound capable of such an act could do to me should I ingest it or somehow find myself doused in it. That all said, so long as I don’t eat the Tide to Go, or stick it in my eye, I guess I don’t really have anything to worry about.

It is a story with a fateful twist. A story with a happy ending. A story about a white sweatshirt restored to its purest form. It’s a story about a product that actually does as it claims. Tide to Go is a definite go. And although I will never find myself removing food spots from some guy’s tie across the dinner table, maybe I have more in common with Ms. Ripa than I thought.