Helpful Tips

Smart Money: Cash Passport

11 July 2012

Sorry, folks. Traveler’s Checks are a thing of the ancient past. They’ve been replaced by debit cards, credit cards and most recently … Cash Passports.

I’d heard about Cash Passports for several years but was skeptical about them: I always felt deep down that it was some kind of scam. However, after reading some positive testimonials, I decided to try one this year for my trip to England.

You can get a Cash Passport at the exchange company Travelex, found in the international terminals of major airports. You put an initial sum on the card (you get the best deal on exchange rates if you go over a certain amount, like $700) then use it as if it were a debit card, either as a swipe card or to withdraw money from ATMs. It’s widely accepted here in England.

So why use a Cash Passport instead of a debit card? Several reasons.

(1) It has a “chip and pin” system which makes it very secure for use in Europe; over here they consider our non-chip US cards (both debit and credit) very unsafe as it’s much easier to steal information from them.

(2) The amount of the card is in British Pounds (you can also choose Euros) so you only have to deal with exchange rates one time, upon purchase of the card at the airport, and the rest of the time you can figure out everything in British Pounds based on the remaining balance on your card.

In my opinion, it beats having to monitor the exchange rates on your checking account as transactions go through, as well as being charged a percentage for each transaction. The advantage of a Cash Passport over a credit card is similar to that of a debit card with the additional advantage that the CP lets you withdraw cash without charge, whereas a credit card would charge for a cash advance.

You can check your balance online (supposedly — I’ve just been keeping a tally of all my expenses) and if it gets lost or stoelen there’s a number you can call immediately to deactivate the card and you’ll be issued a new one with the remaining balance.

Bottom line is that everyone has a different system and preference for how to handle their money abroad. I’ve tried the CP this year and been very pleased with how it’s worked for me. I think I’ll continue using the CP in my travels in the future. You might want to check it out, too!

Avoid Jetlag by Fasting? Hmmmmm.

28 May 2012

Have you ever:

  • Felt wide awake in the middle of the night when you should have been sleeping?
  • Had huge food cravings at the most inconvenient times?
  • Felt groggy and like your head was full of concrete in the middle of the day?

You may have been experiencing jetlag. Anyone who’s suffered jetlag can testify to how maddening it can be. The rule of thumb is that it takes one day to recover from jetlag for every time zone you’ve crossed. For example, if you fly to London from New York you’ll cross five time zones and it will be five hours later at your destination than at your port of departure.

Who wants to spend five days recovering from jetlag? A new study tested the theory that fasting may be key to avoiding jetlag — completely. Watch the video below and see what lengths you’d go through to avoid jetlag. I’m still thinking about this one.

This Holiday Season, Eat the European Way

22 November 2011

When it comes to overeating, holiday potlucks and buffets are the ultimate danger zone. The temptation of a buffet, of course, is to taste everything. Keeping in mind these two steps (practiced for centuries by Europeans and gourmets) can help you navigate the buffet minefield and come away from parties satisfied, yet without the customary side dish of guilt.

STEP ONE: APPLY 3 BASIC GASTRONOMIC PRINCIPLES

1.      Enjoy with your eyes first. Appreciating the presentation of a dish (actually looking at your food and admiring it) enhances the taste of the food.

2.      Savor each bite. Savor first with your nose by noticing the smell of the food, then with your palate. Vocalizing your appreciation of the food’s qualities will guide your taste buds into noticing each subtle flavor and texture.

3.      Take your time. Don’t rush! Pause when you are intent in conversation to avoid mindless eating. Enjoy the atmosphere around you and breathe deeply as you dine.

 

STEP TWO: APPROACH THE MEAL AS A SERIES OF SMALL COURSES

If the event is casual enough, get up frequently from the table and return to the buffet for each “course.” For example:

1. Salad and Soup. By beginning with a soup and salad, your stomach starts filling up so the “I’m full” signal gets relayed sooner to your brain. Some tips to remember at the salad bar:

  • Start with a solid base of leafy greens
  • Add real veggies on top
  • Go for a rainbow of dark, bright colors
  • Avoid croutons and bacon bits
  • Clear dressings (simple vinaigrettes, for example) generally have fewer calories than creamy dressings (like ranch and thousand island)
  • Clear soups generally have fewer calories than creamy soups

2. Main Dish. Help yourself to a small portion of one entrée (beef, fish, chicken, pork) and two small sides – you can even have one small portion of bread. Or sample small portions (silver dollar size) of several entrees and sides, but only enough to fill a small plate, not a dinner plate. The key emphasis should be on moderation and the key word should be “small.”

3. Cheese and Fruit. Indulge in a few bites of cheese with crackers, and have as much fruit as you desire. The goal is for you to start feeling full around this point to avoid the grandfather of all pitfalls: dessert!

4. Dessert. By the time you get to this course, if you’ve focused on the presentation, smell and taste of your food and gotten up between courses to walk around, you should be filling up. Do a dessert sampler (1 ½ bites of anything that looks good to you or 1 small slice/portion of your favorite dessert; no ice cream unless that’s your whole dessert). Enjoy with coffee or other hot drink.

If you follow these steps, you’ll leave the buffet full but not stuffed. You’ll have exercised self-control but not lost any dining pleasure. You’ll be constantly amazed by the Lord’s creativity when it comes to food, with such a variety of colors, textures, flavors and smells. As the Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Easy Candle Trick: Removing Stubborn Wax

3 November 2011

I love burning candles to enliven overcast autumn days and to beautify the holiday season. But removing wax from candleholders? Not my favorite thing in the world. Until my mom taught me this clever little trick that turns that dreaded task into an absolute cinch.

Here’s the trick: Once the votive has burned out, simply place the candleholder “as is” in the freezer for 2-3 hours. Remove it from the freezer and the candle wax will pop right out.

Pretty easy, huh?!

The Etiquette of Afternoon Tea

23 April 2011

Whether taking tea with the Queen or just a friend, here are 10 helpful things to remember: 

1.

After taking a seat, unfold your napkin and place it immediately on your lap.

2.

Ladies, do not cross your legs at the knees or sit far back in your chair;

Instead, sit towards the edge of the seat and cross your legs at the ankles.

3.

If you are an invited guest, wait to be served. Do not eat until your host/ess has invited you to do so.

4.

If you are the one serving, pour from the teapot with one hand while securing the lid with the other.

5.

Traditionally, if you have milk in your tea you would not take lemon, and vice-versa.

6.

Do not leave your spoon in the tea cup; when not in use, place it quietly on the saucer.

7.

The proper way to hold a tea cup is the way that feels most comfortable and secure to you;

Don’t put out your pinky if that does not seem natural to you, though you may find it useful for balance.

8.

Scones should be split horizontally with a knife then slathered with clotted cream or butter before adding jam or curd.

9.

Eating with your fingers is perfectly acceptable when taking afternoon tea.

10.

If you must rise before the end of the meal, place your napkin in your chair;

Once the meal is finished, place the gently crumpled (not folded) napkin on the table.

 

Your Spiritual Credit Score

31 March 2011

Americans are entitled to three free credit reports per year. For a little extra money, you can also find out your all-important credit score, a score between 300 and 850 that determines your eligibility for loans and special interest rates. Looking at your credit report can be frightening because it brings you face-to-face with the reality of how others (loan officers, car salesmen, potential employers) see you.

But have you ever wondered how you’re doing on God’s scale – do you know your spiritual credit score? How would you score if each relationship in your life were counted as an “account” on a credit report?

1. Are your accounts in good standing?

“Paying as agreed” is a crucial component towards having an account in good standing. Do you keep your promises? Can your spouse, your children and your friends count on the fact that when you commit to something, you’ll stick to it even when it requires sacrifice? Sometimes another person closed out your account and you didn’t want them to. Now the account is in poor standing and you feel a lack of control, bitterness and unforgiveness. With God’s help even this account can be turned around.

2. Do you have too many open accounts?

Keep the oldest friendship accounts open – at least the ones in good standing. Maintain these and give them the attention they need. As the saying goes, “Make new friends but keep the old; those are silver, these are gold.” It’s easy to get sloppy and neglectful if you have too many accounts open. Make sure you allow adequate time and resources for each new friendship. Know the difference between “friendship” and “ministry”: surround yourself with a core of friends who are positive people, people who give and take in a balanced way and maintain proper boundaries.

3. Are you paying off debt or just moving it around?

Face your problems, face responsibility. You’ve opened the account, you’ve gotten yourself into debt, now pay it like a man (or woman). In other words, if you’ve stepped into a relationship with a person and it hasn’t worked out, figure out what’s wrong, ask forgiveness, make your peace before moving on or you will continue having the same type of problem with everyone you meet. Work out your issues, settle accounts, and maintain good standing.

Your most important account

A credit report will show any manner of information in the form of bars, graphs, and pie charts, along with a breakdown of all your accounts, both open and closed. But the bottom line really is the overall credit score. In the end, the bottom line is your relationship with God. Do you love him, fear him, spend time with him? Do you feel like you and God have an understanding that this is a busy season of your life and you’ll catch up with him later when you have more time?

In the end, many of us might be surprised by our spiritual credit score. Perhaps we think that we’re doing great, when we’re actually in big trouble. Or maybe we’ve been beating ourselves up about a past mistake and think our spiritual credit report is permanently damaged but in reality there’s no record of it on our report: it’s been blotted out!

Check your credit score — financial and spiritual — on a regular basis and keep those accounts in good standing. You’ll be glad you did.

You Missed Your Flight WHY?? Confessions and Tips from an Overconfident Flyer

25 March 2011

I rose from my seat at the gate as my row was called. Long line, tired travelers, airline personnel scanning the tickets through a machine … it was all so routine. I’d been at the Atlanta airport for five hours and was ready to go home.

Beep, “Enjoy your flight,” beep, “Have a nice flight” … “Bonk.” My ticket running through the machine made a dissonant, abnormal sound, like there should be a red x above my head instead of a green check mark like the other passengers.

The puzzled attendant looked down at my ticket, “Honey, you’re not flying with us, you’re flying United!” Suddenly the world was in slow motion and I looked up at the signs on the wall I’d been staring at but not seeing for the last few hours: “Norfolk” — my destination … “D-E-L-T-A” — not my airline. 

Embarrassed, mad at myself, I kept wondering as I made a bee-line to the United Airlines terminal, “How could this happen to me? I’m a world traveler! Airports are my second home!”  But I was too late. My flight had finished boarding a few minutes before and the door was shut. Shocked, stunned, horrified, I pondered what to do next.

Sometimes circumstances throw you for a loop. This was definitely not one of my proudest moments. But learning to make the most of the resources available to stranded passengers can help you cope, even when circumstances are a little less than ideal. Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t panic. Realize this happens all the time, even to seasoned travelers (ahem!).
  2. Find the nearest customer service desk for your airline. Calmly and briefly explain to them what has happened. Already have in mind what you would like them to offer you: rescheduled flight (preferably at no cost), hotel discount for the night, free shuttle to the hotel and back to the airport, meal voucher, free long-distance phone call (even overseas).
  3. Don’t dwell on what might have been. Whatever the circumstances, you missed your flight. You may have missed a day of settling in or sightseeing, or maybe even an important meeting. Resolve not to lose too much sleep over it, and to make the most of your experiences once you hit the ground.
  4. If possible, get a good night’s rest. Chances are you missed a bit of sleep in the stress of packing and preparing for your journey. Don’t waste time on Facebook telling everyone about your woes. Use your down time in the airport or in a hotel to get some sleep. If given the option of paying a discounted price for a nice hotel or staying at the airport – time permitting – choose the nice hotel. Once you reach your destination, you’ll be glad you did.

No one is immune to making dumb mistakes. In my case, having flown hundreds of times nationally and internationally, I was overconfident and neglected to check “details” like was the flight number on my ticket the same as the one at the gate. But the incident taught me to check, double check, and triple check all my flight information so that it never happens again!   

See Stranded in Style for creative ways that passengers have used their unexpected additional airport time.

Flying Defensively: Top 10 Travel Tips

22 December 2010

Top Ten Stress-busting Tips

Top Tip – Travel nonstop whenever possible. Most frustration in travel comes from missed flights or the anticipation of missed flights at your layover destination. Avoid the hassle by booking a direct flight if one is available, even if you pay a little extra.

When traveling nonstop is not an option, consider the following tips:

Tip #1 – Choose an early departure. Selecting a morning or early afternoon flight increases the possibilities for other outgoing flights in case yours is delayed or canceled.

Tip #2 – Check the weather. Watch for any weather phenomena at your departure airport, layover airport, final destination airport, and anywhere in between.

Tip #3 – Check for other flights. See if there are any later flights at your connecting airports in case you miss yours. Keep times and flight numbers handy in your carry-on.

Tip #4 – Get a good night’s sleep. Pack your suitcase early and avoid the temptation of doing last-minute errands. If you start your journey relaxed, additional stressors will seem more bearable. 

Tip #5 – Arrive at the airport with time to spare. For a domestic flight, arrive at least an hour before your flight time. For an international flight, allow two hours.

Tip #6 – Pack plenty of food. Whether you are traveling alone or with children, pack more food than you think you will need. Flight delays can interfere with layover times and your plans for grabbing lunch during your 2-hour layover may not materialize.

Tip #7 – Pack water bottles. Carry an empty water bottle or two through security and refill with water on the other side or simply buy water bottles at the gate. Dehydration can make you weak and sick, adding to the frustration of an already stressful day.

Tip #8 – Pack for an overnighter. In a large Ziploc bag, pack a set of clothes (including a fresh pair of undies) to keep in your carry-on bag. I like to pack a pair of lightweight cotton pants, a cotton shirt and a hoodie that can work as pajamas in a pinch.

Tip #9 – Pack essential toiletries in your carry-on. Include in a small Ziploc bag anything you would need if forced to spend the night at the airport or in a nearby hotel. This will also help avoid inconvenience in case the airline loses your luggage or your bags don’t make your flight because of an abbreviated connecting time.

Tip #10 – Don’t forget to pack a good attitude. Patience and a cheerful heart can go a long way towards alleviating your own stress and that of others.

Even a good defense is not going to save you 100% of the hassle but it can go a long way towards giving you peace of mind. In the words of the incomparable Barbara Johnson, “If you can learn to laugh in spite of the circumstances that surround you, you will enrich others, enrich yourself, and more than that, you will last!”

“A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)

Tackle the Holiday Buffet the European Way

16 December 2010

When it comes to watching what you eat around the holidays, buffets are the ultimate danger zone. But the right approach can help you navigate the minefield and come out without the customary side dish of guilt.

The temptation of a buffet, of course, is to taste everything. Instead, think like a European and apply this two-step technique:

Step One: Approach your food with the right mindset. Apply these three basic gastronomic principles:

1.      Enjoy with your eyes first. Appreciating the presentation of a dish (actually looking at your food and admiring it) enhances the taste of the food.

2.      Savor each bite. Savor first with your nose by noticing the smell of the food, then with your palate. Vocalizing your appreciation of the food’s qualities will guide your taste buds into noticing each subtle flavor and texture.

3.      Take your time. Don’t rush! Pause when you are intent in conversation to avoid mindless eating. Enjoy the atmosphere around you and breathe deeply as you dine.

Step Two: Approach the meal as a series of small courses.

Here’s how it works: if the event is casual enough, get up frequently from the table and return to the buffet for each course.

First Course: Salad and Soup

By beginning with a soup and salad, your stomach starts filling up so the “I’m full” signal gets relayed sooner to your brain. Some tips to remember at the salad bar:

  • Start with a solid base of leafy greens
  • Add real veggies on top
  • Go for a rainbow of dark, bright colors
  • Avoid croutons and bacon bits
  • Clear dressings (simple vinaigrettes, for example) generally have fewer calories than creamy dressings (like ranch and thousand island)
  • Clear soups generally have fewer calories than creamy soups

Second Course: Main Dish

Help yourself to a small portion of one entrée (beef, fish, chicken, pork) and two small sides – you can even have one small portion of bread. Or sample small portions (silver dollar size) of several entrees and sides, but only enough to fill a small plate, not a dinner plate. The key emphasis should be on moderation and the key word should be “small.”

Third Course: Cheese and Fruit

Indulge in a few bites of cheese with crackers, and have as much fruit as you desire. The goal is for you to start feeling full around this point to avoid the grandfather of all pitfalls: dessert!

Fourth Course: Dessert

By the time you get to this course, if you’ve focused on the presentation, smell and taste of your food and gotten up between courses to walk around, you should be filling up. Do a dessert sampler (1 ½ bites of anything that looks good to you or 1 small slice/portion of your favorite dessert; no ice cream unless that’s your whole dessert). Enjoy with coffee or other hot drink.

If you follow these steps, you’ll leave the buffet full but not stuffed. You’ll have exercised self-control but not lost any dining pleasure. You’ll be constantly amazed by the Lord’s creativity when it comes to food, with such a variety of colors, textures, flavors and smells. As the Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

So Many Leftovers …

29 November 2010

What creative ways does your family recycle holiday leftovers?

Here are four of my favorite ideas:

1. Turkey Casserole

This has always been my dad’s favorite. Spread mashed potatoes on the bottom of an oven-proof rectangular or oblong dish, then a layer of dressing/stuffing, topped with a layer of shredded turkey. Cover with gravy. Add another layer of mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with swiss cheese, if desired, and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until heated through and bubbly, then five minutes under the broiler.

2. Morning-After Biscuits

This is my friend Jessica’s favorite morning after-Thanksgiving breakfast. I’d never heard of this before 4 days ago but it’s destined to be a new tradition (oxymoron?) in my family. Simply take leftover dinner rolls or biscuits, cut in half and spread with butter, then place cut side up on a baking sheet under the broiler for about a minute. Watch constantly so they don’t burn! Serve with jam or honey.

3. Mini Sandwiches                                                    

Mini Sandwiches

Combine day-old dinner rolls with leftovers from the cold cuts platter to make cute little sandwiches. Use a selecton of different meats like turkey, salami, prosciutto and cheeses like provolone and pepper jack and slather bread generously with mayo and mustard.

4. Turkey and Vegetable Stir-fry

In my opinion, holidays are not complete without a crudite (crude-ee-tay) platter. Crudite is French for cut-up vegetables. I love to cut up broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers and carrots and have this very healthy finger food available for guests to snack on as the meal being prepared.

However, you can pretty much guarantee it won’t be the most popular item around so there will always be leftovers! Toss leftover veggies and some turkey in a wok or hot pan along with some easy homemade stir-fry sauce or a packet from the grocery store. Add water chestnuts and cashews, if desired. Serve over rice, rice noodles, or that leftover spaghetti languishing in the back of the fridge.

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