Travelling in a car with your dog

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It’s true that a dog is a mans best friend (and women!).  My two definitely are for me. It is therefore really important to me that I ensure they are safe, and well looked after at all times.   Taking them out in the car is no exception.

We all ensure our dogs are on leads when we take them out, have food and water at home, and go on regular walks, but what happens when we take them out in our cars?  Whether its a short or long journey we should still ensure they are well looked after.

The legal bit!

Did you know that if your dog isn’t secured in the car you could face a fine of up to £2,500, as well a getting 9 points on your licence?  Well you can.  Rule 57 of the Highway Code states: ‘When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly.’  A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.

If it is felt the dog caused or contributed to an accident, you car insurance can also refuse to pay out.

How to make travelling with your dog easier and safer?

Firstly, take them for good walk before you start their journey.  Make sure they have been to the toilet.  Which reminds me, keep plenty of poo bags in your car too!

Don’t have your dog on your lap or loose on the passenger seat.  You may think your dog is well behaved, but what if something distracts them?  What about if you have to do an emergency stop?  You could cause them significant injury or death as well as to yourself.

I have 2 dogs.  If I am going a short journey then they are both happy to be in the boot.  Fido is happy to lie down and just chill, but Lola likes to see what is going on around her.  She will spend the journey looking over the back seat or out of the window.  Whilst she is in the boot she is safe and can’t distract us.   If I break the back of the boot will stop her going too far.

For longer journeys though, I put Fido in the boot and Lola on the back seat.  To comply with the law and to make sure she and us are safe I use a dog seat belt.

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These are relatively cheap to buy.  This is mine and only cost £4.95 from Amazon.  If using one of these, I would suggest you use it with a harness as it allows the dog to turn around more easily.  You attach the lead part to the harness which is usually in the centre of the back.  If you have to break the harness will give greater support.  Putting it on the collar not only restricts the dogs movement, there is more likely hood of them becoming tangled, which will distract you as they will no doubt get distressed.  I also feel it would damage their necks if I braked heavily so don’t like the idea.

By separating the two dogs, I feel helps them to be more comfortable.  Fido just wants to lie down and sleep, which makes the boot perfect, and Lola likes to be nosy, so can look out of the windows.

Some owners like to use crates.  This is also a good way of transporting your dogs, but please make sure they can stand up and move around in it.  They also should be able to see out so they don’t feel frightened.

I always cover my back seat with a travel rug, with the underside upwards.  This way the dog hair won’t stick to it, and I can use it if we want to have a picnic to lie on.  I then cover this with a towel or blanket for more comfort for the dogs.

As with us, dogs need food and drink.  I would suggest you don’t feed them for a couple of hours before the journey, especially if they get travel sick.  Thankfully both my dogs are fine, but my previous dog was terrible.  He loved the car, it just didn’t love him.  The vets gave me some great tablets that prevented travel sickness.  They are not cheap, but worth it for my dogs happiness.

I always make sure I have plenty of water in the car.  Stop regularly to give them the opportunity to stretch their legs, just like you will need to.  You don’t need any fancy water bottles, old squash bottles will do just the job.  I do have travel bowls though.  They fold up nicely in the car when not in use, but I can also put them into my bag if we go walking.

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Again you can get these quite cheaply from Amazon for around £5.00.  If you don’t want to buy one, an old takeaway pot works just as well.

Take a small pot of food with you.  Just a little treat to keep them going will help them.  There is nothing worse than your dog starving when you are sat in the front munching on your travel snacks.  Just limit it to avoid car sickness!

Never leave a dog in the car.  Many people think that if they park in the shade or leave a window open, then it’s ok to leave the dog.  It is absolutely not.  The car can warm up faster than you think.  A dog can die in the car in less than 20 minutes.  If you wouldn’t leave a child in the car why would you think its ok to leave your dog?

If you need to pop somewhere such as the toilets at a service station, and you are on your own, securely tie it up outside, in the shade!  Maybe ask someone to keep an eye on them for you.  Pop a bowl of water down for them too.  If you can, take them with you.  I have taken my dog into a public toilet with me before now.

It’s always good to plan your journey in advance if you are taking your dogs.  Find places on the map you can stop safely.   Is there somewhere you can walk them?

Keep cleaning clothes and black bags in the car too!  Your dog might not have shown signs of car sickness before but you never know!  On one journey one of my dogs got a little sick.   I was able to pull into a parking spot, clean her bed up and put her bedding into the black bag, tie it up so it didn’t smell the car out for the rest of the journey!

Dogs are such a joy to have around.  Don’t be afraid to take them away with you or for days out, but as you do with young children, plan what you need to take.    This can make your life and theirs more enjoyable and relaxing.

 

 

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Are you a Sleeping Beauty?

Do you ever get one of those nights when you are exhausted, and can’t wait to get to bed.  As soon as you lay your head on the pillow, zing, you are wide awake!   Or you drop off, only to wake up an hour or so later, then that’s it for the rest of the night.  Sound familiar?  Its so frustrating isn’t it!  That is what happened to me on Thursday night.

I was working on my laptop for most of the evening, but by 9 pm I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  I get up just after 5 am each morning to walk the dogs, so to make sure I get my 8 hours in, this would be around my usual bedtime.

I slowly got myself ready for bed, settling down around 9.30 pm.  I fell to sleep almost immediately, only to wake up around 11 pm.  That was it for the rest of the night.  By midnight I decided enough was enough and got up.  I  took the opportunity to put the dogs in the garden for a quick toilet break.  I was tempted to make a cup of green tea, but decided against it.  At this point, I thought I would be able to get back to sleep, so didn’t want to have to get up again to pop to the bathroom during the night!

Half an hour later, I go back to bed.  Now here is a warning, don’t keep looking at the clock when you can’t sleep!  It makes you even more frustrated!  At 2 am I decide to play a bit of Candy Crush.  At this point my husband wakes up.  He tells me off for playing on my phone as he says it won’t help me get to sleep!  I don’t know why, but this sends me into a fit of hysterics.  Not helpful when you are trying to sleep, but it did stop me feeling as frustrated!

By 4 am, I finally dropped off, only to be woken at 5.22 am by Lola, who was wondering why we were not up getting ready to walk her!   She really does like routine! My alarm goes off at 5.25 am which is my latest time I should be up to walk the dogs, and she knows it!   In fact you don’t need an alarm clock with her around.

I am absolutely exhausted.  I have a full day at work ahead.  The only saving grace is that it’s a Friday, so tomorrow I know I can have a lie in!

The day was as busy as I expected.  I even managed to get a session at the gym in.  It was a good job that I was on the go, as the minute I stopped later in the evening, I was completely done in!  I can understand why they used sleep deprivation as torture years again!

Why couldn’t I sleep?  I really don’t know.  I had been stressed out for the few weeks previous, but that had been resolved.  Maybe without realising it I was still thinking about it, or maybe it was the fact that unlike other evenings where I would watch TV before bed, I had been working on my laptop!    What I do know is that I need my sleep!

How much sleep do we need?

Most people need around 7-8 hours a day to properly function.  Young children and especially teenagers need a lot more.

Some people can manage on a bit less than this, everyone is different.  The key is to ensure that whatever your body feels comfortable at, you ensure you give yourself enough time to achieve it.

Some people are good at having a nap in the middle of the day.  I personally can’t do this.  On the rare occasion I do, I wake up more grumpy!  I am better going to bed earlier and making up the time.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

If you don’t get a good nights sleep, you will probably feel exhausted, even a little grumpy, as well as difficulty in concentrating.

The odd late night won’t hurt you, however if you continuously deprive yourself of sleep, this could effect your health.  Potential conditions could be obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety.  Your immune system will be low so you are more likely to catch colds and flu.  Your body is less able to fight off any bugs flying around.  Your sex drive drops and you may suffer reduced fertility.  Not forgetting the risk of having an accident as you lose concentration.

Diabetes – Type 2 Diabetes is caused as your body struggles to process glucose (high energy carbohydrate which our bodies use for fuel).

Heart Disease – Increases in your heart rate, blood pressure and chemicals linked to inflammation, can put additional strain on your heart.

Sex Drive – Libidos drop in both men and women when they are tired.  Lack of energy can reduce your interest in sex also.

Fertility – A reduction of the secretion of the reproductive hormones can impact on your ability to conceive.

Can lack of sleep make you put on weight?

You may be surprised to know that yes it can!  Studies have shown that the less sleep you have, the more likely you are to be overweight.  Why?  It is thought that the less sleep you have, the more your leptin levels are reduced.  Leptin is the chemical that makes you feel full.  In comparison, your ghrelin levels increase.  Ghrelin is a hunger stimulating hormone.

So how to I ensure I get enough sleep?

There are a few things you can do to help you get a good nights sleep:-

Get into a good routine – It sounds silly but by going to bed at the same time each night will help your body clock.

Relax – Make sure you are calm and relaxed before you go to bed.  Have a soak in the bath, listen to music (obviously not heavy metal!), read a book or magazine or watch something on TV that helps you relax.  Avoid having that argument just before bedtime!

Ban the mobile phone or laptop – Playing on your phone or computer in bed is thought to suppress the bodies production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep.

Cut out light – Having a dark room will help you sleep.  Try blackout blinds or curtains, especially in the summer months.

Don’t drink alcohol & caffeine – These are two of the biggest culprits of you not sleeping!  Caffeine is a stimulant.  Great to help you stay awake, but terrible for getting you to sleep!  Alcohol is a sedative which does make you feel tired, however it disrupts the quality of sleep you have.  You should avoid alcohol for 3 hours before going to bed.

If you want a drink, go for herbal teas, milk or a glass of water.  Be careful though!  If you drink too much before bedtime, you will be up visiting the bathroom during the night, which will again impact on your sleep!

Get comfortable – Is your bed comfortable?  If not, is it time for a new one or a new mattress?  What is the temperature like?  If like me you are going through the menopause, you could be having a lot of hot flushes!  Or it could just be your room is too warm!  Open the window, get a lower tog quilt.

Don’t forget about what you wear in bed!  Make sure it is comfortable too!

Who is in bed with you?  I am referring to our furry friends!  Get them to sleep in their own beds.  I know with my two dogs, given half the chance they would take up all the room, or sleep so close to us they are almost lying on us!

Go into the spare room! –  I don’t know about you, but some nights I could seriously harm my husband with his snoring!  Rather than that, take yourself off to the spare room, or send them to it if you can wake them up!  Believe you me, you will be surprised at how many couples say the secret to their relationship is separate beds!

What do you do if you can’t sleep?

You would think that if you lie there long enough you will eventually fall asleep.  This isn’t true though!  If you haven’t dropped back off after 15-20 minutes, get up!  Do something relaxing, then go back to bed and try again.

If something is on our mind, write it down.  This may help you put it to the back of your mind until tomorrow.

If you continue to struggle with sleep, go and see your GP, just in case there is any other health condition stopping you sleeping.  It may be a simple change needed in our lifestyle, medication or they can give you other strategies to help you.

Drawing a line!

 

So yesterday, when I stepped on the scales at group, I had expected a couple of pounds on! Although I’d done a lot of walking at the weekend, I also had a few glasses of wine! I was ok with that !

I arrived at group prepared or so I thought ! A 5 lb gain! I was absolutely horrified. I struggled to hold back the tears as I put my shoes on and left! Trying to avoid eye contact with any of my fellow slimmers.

As I walked back to the car where my husband was waiting, the tears came! I’ve come so far on my journey and to put that much on in a weekend made me feel sick !

I’d also had some news at work that afternoon that had sent me into stress mode, and will continue for at least another week! It was all over whelming ! I decided to give myself a break. Allow myself to cry and have some wine. Tomorrow was going to be a new day!

So the next morning I’m still emotional, but as far as my weight is concerned I’m drawing a line!  We can’t always control the stress in our lives, but we can control our weight loss.  It is time for me to take back control!

It would be so easy for me to comfort eat or drink, but ultimately, for a few moments of pleasure, I would have a long time of regret.  I had to ask myself what was more important – being on target.  It was a no brainer!

Every time I feel low, I look at a photo my husband took of me in Portugal last year.  I looked absolutely amazing in my bikini.  So much so, I didn’t mind him posting it on his Facebook page, for all to see!  I want that person back.

Work is hectic at the moment, I’m stressed and tired. Planning is going to be key to getting back on track.  Last night I prepared breakfast of overnight oats and a chicken salad for lunch.   I don’t want to get tempted during the day so I also fill my coolbox with an apple, banana, mullerlight and 3 baby bells!

I don’t know if I am going to have time to visit the gym over the next week or so, but I’m going to make sure I have my gym bag with me just in case.  It is better to have it and not use it.  Exercise really helps you when you are stressed.  It relaxes you.   I always watch T.V. when I’m in the gym.  I find it helps me refocus my mind.  So as well as keeping in shape I’m also looking after my mental well being.

 

I travel to work by train and car – a trip of 1.5 hours each way, so I have plenty of time to think.  In the mornings its about the day ahead, but on the way home it’s about what I’m cooking for dinner.  This is a good time to get my head straight before I get home!  If I have a plan in my head about what I’m going to cook, I have more chance of success.

My fridge, freezer and cupboards are all full of healthy ingredients, so there really isn’t any excuse.

For the rest of the week I have managed to keep in control  of my food and drink intake.  I feel so much better for it already!

I know the next few days are going to be hard, but at least I have one part of my life that I am now back in control of.

Life throws challenges at us all the time.  Some things we can control, some we can’t.  Don’t focus on what you can’t change but what you can.  It will help you more than you know.  Draw a line under that bad week and move on!

The only thing holding you back is you!

 

Walking around Hampton Lucy

Today we decided to stay closer to home.  It’s all too easy to take the countryside around you for granted.  We drive around all the time without really taking in the scenery.  So today, I had picked a walk off the internet, which started off from a beautiful village a couple of miles away from us called Hampton Lucy.

A little bit of history about Hampton Lucy

Hampton means land by the river.  In AD781, the King of Merciathe  granted land to the Bishop of Worcester.  Up until 1549, the parish was know as Bishops Hampton or sometimes, Hampton Episcopi.  The water mill in the village was first mentioned in 1086 and is well worth a visit.

The first church was built in the village in the 13th century, but by 1480 the village was enclosed and many of the villagers were driven out.

The Bishop of Worcester sold the manor in 1549 to John Dudley who was the Duke of Northumberland.  In 1555 though, during the reign of Mary Tudor, he was executed.  The lease was granted to Thomas Lucy of Charlecote by Queen Mary in 1557 which is when the village was renamed Hampton Lucy.

The current church – St Peters was rebuilt by the Lucy family in 1826, and has a Gothic feel to it.  The church is open most days and is stunning inside as well as outside.

Today the village in my opinion, is one of the prettiest in Warwickshire.  It is still very small, with the church being the focal point.  It has a lovely local pub – The Boar’s Head which serves lovely meals.  Its definitely worth a visit if you are around Charlecotte area.

The Walk

The walk starts off in the village.  You have a couple of options.  A 2.3 mile walk or a 5.5 mile walk.  We opted for the longer one.  We will however go back to do the shorter one soon, as it takes in the river Avon.

You enter a huge field through a gate, past River Keepers Cottage.  The warning on the map was for badger holes, and we certainly found a few!  You then enter some woods.  Watch out for the nettles!  That said, the views across towards Warwick over the river are amazing.  On a clear day such as the one we had, you could see for miles.  Why did I know know about this walk before!

The walk takes you through many fields, passing through gates or stiles.  Its quite level, so not overly strenuous.  As usual though, my hubby and I miss a turning past a copse!  Thank heaven we did, as we first stumbled upon a wood full of gorgeous bluebells, and then a nature reserve run by RSPB.  Sometimes it’s ok to go off track, but you really have to make sure you are not on private property!

The fields this time of year are full of rape seed, so you have vibrant yellow wherever you look.  The weather was beautiful so the yellow stood out even more!

There was a short stretch of road towards the end, but apart from that it really is just fields.  What surprised me is that this little road, I travel down quite often, I just never really thought about what was around it.

On one particular part of the walk, we spotted a very large hair running around the field of corn.  It was a little bit like Watership Down, but with a happy ending.  You don’t see this when you are in your car!

I have a fascination with birds of prey, so seeing them hovering around above us looking for food was a joy.  I am hoping to get some binoculars for my birthday this year to see them better.  I really want to learn more about them too.

The walk is a circular walk back to the village again.  It took us just under 3 hours.  Its a perfect way to get some exercise, see your local countryside and just relax and unwind.  We took the 2 dogs with us and they really enjoyed it too!  If you do take your dogs though, please keep them on a lead.  Yes there might be cattle around, but this time of year, there could be birds or other animals nesting in hedges etc, which a dog could upset.

Next time you have a free weekend and are not sure what to do, google walks in your local area.  You will be surprised what you have missed.  I’m now planning what to do on our next free weekend.  Top of my list is the village of Sherbourne!

 

Walking in the Peak District

As the weather promised to be so nice this weekend, my husband and I decided it would be an ideal time to do the 10 km walk we ran out of time for on our last trip to the Peak District.

It’s only a 2 hour drive from home, so we felt it would be a good day out with the dogs!  We set the alarm for 7.30 and had a nice start to the day, with a cup of tea in bed and a nice cooked breakfast.  We wanted to be on the road by 10 am, so were happy that we actually got out by 9.30 am!

I’d packed a cool box full of drinks and snacks.  Healthy ones for me, not so for hubby!

The 10 km walk started at a beautiful village called Beeley, and took in Hob Hurst’s House, which is owned by English Heritage!

We arrive at the village and park outside the Devonshires Arms.  Anyone who knows me knows, I can’t go far without visiting the ladies, so I popped into the pub and asked if I could use their facilities.  They were so welcoming.  The pub was beautiful inside.  Very traditional and I made a mental note to go their on our way home!

We started the walk, which was up through a field by the church.   We met another couple who were on their way down.  They asked if we had done this walk before, which we said we hadn’t.  They said that the stile was blocked by an electric fence and a herd of cows.  They had walked the entire field but couldn’t see a way through.  We showed them our map and they decided to go back.  We thought we would go and see if we could find a way!  We climbed a hill to the top of the field, where we too were met by a herd of cows and the fence!  After walking the field we could see no way through here but there was another stile in the next field.  We decided to explore!  An hour later we couldn’t see a way through that was not covered by an electric fence.

We were so looking forward to this walk and it was very disappointing that the farmer had blocked a footpath off this way!  As we headed back to the car I was determined that my 2 hour drive was not wasted!  My ‘Map My Walk’ app had logged 3.45 kms, but I hadn’t come all this way for such a short walk.

We looked at our book of walks and found another one.  It was only 6.5 miles away and started at the village of Elton.  It was shorter than we had expected – just 6 km but it was a walk.  Lola and Fido were so excited to be out too, so we couldn’t disappoint them!

The walk starts off by the church in Elton opposite what looked like a closed down pub – Duke of York.  You pass through fields, woodland and an outcrop of bouldery rocks.

On the walk you pass 4 upright stones of a Bronze Age Circle, one of several around the area.  There, we met a man who said he had been there 2 hours, and although he had seen many people walk past, we were the only ones who had stopped to look at them!

A bit further on you see many rock formations including a hermits cave where in the 12th century a crucifix was cut into the rock.  It was absolutely beautiful.

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We crossed many stiles, both wooden and stone.  I have to say, I was amazed at both my dogs.  They both managed to jump all of these with ease!  The weather was amazing, so whenever we saw water we would allow the dogs to have a drink and cool off.  Mostly though this was due to the recent high rainfall!  In fact it was so muddy on one occasions my hubby walked out of this trainer!  I laughed so much, but the laugh was on me a bit later when I walked into a muddy bit up to my ankles!

There were a lot of cattle and sheep around but neither dog were bothered.  This was their first test together of being near cattle, so I was very pleased.

The walk was a circular walk back to the village.  It was such a beautiful day, with lots of amazing views.  We did over 17000 steps today.  What a way to get out and do exercise.

Tomorrow promises to be another amazing day, and we can’t wait to get out again an burn off a few calories!

If you want to lose weight, exercise will help you.  Rather than go to the gym on a day like today, you could go for a walk.  Canal walks are gentle, but if you want something a little more active something like this may suit you. You also get to see some amazing views and history!

So you fancy a BBQ or Braai?

Woo hoo, this weekend promises to be a hot bank holiday.  Being born and bread in the UK, as soon as the sun comes out, the first thing we do is reach for our BBQ’s.     So if this is your plan for the weekend ahead, what are you planning to have on it?  Traditionally for me, it was burgers and sausages, with the occasional chicken drumstick! Then I was introduced to the South African way!  Having a braai!

South Africans have the benefit of much better weather than us Brits, so it wouldn’t surprise you to know that they spend a lot more time having a BBQ, or as they call it a braai, in one year than we potentially could in a lifetime!   The benefit of this is that they seem to take it to another level!

In 2006 I moved house.  One of my neighbours was South African.  This was my first experience of a Braai.  2 years later, I met my very own South African who is now my husband.  Now burgers and sausages are a rarity.

I don’t know about you, but cooking your dinner al fresco is so much nicer!  Everyone is much more relaxed and its fun!

So what makes the perfect braai?

The Equipment

I always thought one bbq was as good as the next!  How little did I know!

Ok, lets start with the actual bbq/braai itself!  Firstly gas or charcoal?  I personally have never seen the point of a gas one.  To me, it would be like cooking in the kitchen.  I can see the benefit though if you want to be able to control the temperature, or if we had wall to wall sunshine.  For me its charcoal all the way!  Gas cooking doesn’t alter the flavour of your food, but with charcoal, you get a lovely smokey flavour!

When looking for a charcoal bbq, you will find there are hundreds of options ranging from cheap to expensive.  We have been using a Weber, as does everyone is South African, so it seems!  The main advice I would give you is to make sure whatever your budget, look for one that allows the air to flow under the charcoal!   If possible, it should also have an adjustable grid so you can control the heat (sadly the Weber doesn’t have this!) and another to try to catch your ash!

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You will also need a good set of tongs, a cleaning brush for the grid and if you like kebabs, metal skewers!  If you want to experiment with different meats then a meat thermometer would be a good idea!

The right fuel

If you have gone for the gas option this is easy!  You just need to buy the right gas canister!  For a charcoal one, you need to consider what it is you are planning to cook!

Charcoal – This is great for faster cooker.  Its easier to light but also burns quicker!

Briquetttes – This is the best type of fuel if you want to retain the heat longer.  They are also recommended for a kettle braai such as the weber above.

Wood – If you want a smokey taste to your food,  you can use wood.  Be careful what wood you use though as some of them let off horrible smells which you certainly wouldn’t want with your food!

If you want to add flavour to your food, you can buy wood chips which are infused with things like Hickory.  These are great for things like fish or pork. Or go for Applewood infused chips for a sweeter taste! Just soak them before adding to your fire.

Lighting the Braai/BBQ

There are a few options to help you get a perfect fire going:

Kindling – Lighting small sticks and twigs may remind you of old camping days as a boy scout!  Scrunch up some old newspaper, light it, then top with the small twigs.  As it catches, you can add larger pieces of wood or coals.

Gel – I don’t recommend this.  It is difficult to see if the coals or wood is alight, and seems to not last that long, so you end up using the whole bottle with little effect!

My personal favourite is Fire Lighters!   They are relatively cheap to buy these days.  You can add them around your coals or wood.  Once lit they will burn for up to 10 minutes, giving the coals or wood a chance to catch!  I also love the smell of them – which I know is a bit weird, but a Braai/BBQ is all about the smell as well as the taste!

Building the perfect fire

Fire needs oxygen, which is why I recommended you buy a Braai/BBQ that allows air to flow under the coals.  These mini ones you can buy in foil trays at the shops might sound like a good idea, but they are more difficult to use than you think, as the airflow is restricted.

Place some firelighters inside the Braai/BBQ and light them.  After about 10-20 seconds add a few coals over them.  As the coals catch, you can add more coals.  To help regulate your cooking it is a good idea to build the fire so that one side is higher than the other.  That way you can place your food on different parts of the grill to cook at different times and speed. Replace the grill and relax to allow the fire to take hold!

So when is the right time to put the food on?  Well this type of cooking can’t be rushed!  How many times have you seen food raw or burnt from a Braai/BBQ?  The best time to add your food is when you can hold your hand over the grill about 2-3 inches away and count to 3 without burning your hand!  Any longer and the coals may not be hot enough to cook your food through.  You can of course add more later and some people have some heating up separately.  This is especially useful when you are cooking something that takes many hours!

What do we put on our Braai/BBQ

Well the number 1 item you will mostly find on our grill is a nice piece of steak!  This in itself was a learning curve for me!  Not any old type of steak would do!  It had to be about an inch thick and have some fat on it!  We marinate it with a dry rub which you can buy in most supermarkets although as you would expect, ours comes all the way from South Africa!

So what else can you find on our grill?

  • Spatchcock Chicken – this is usually marinated in a piri piri, chinese or bbq sauce.  Its basically a flat chicken!  These need to be cooked on a low heat for a long time.  Always check it is fully cooked before serving!  We tend to put it in the microwave for 10 minutes before adding to grill to help start it off.  Keep the lid on to retain the heat while cooking will help it cook all the way through.
  • Chicken Drum Sticks – again marinated ones are great.
  • Chicken breast – just be careful it doesn’t dry out!  Using a marinade will help this.
  • Beer Can Chicken –  Place an opened can of beer inside a chicken and stand up on the grill.  You can also use soft drinks like ginger beer!
  • Rack of Ribs – great with a marinade
  • Lamb Chops – these need to be chunky chops.
  • Kebabs – These can be made in different variations – Vegetable, Chicken, Lamb or prawn!
  • Garlic Potato Kebabs – Pre – boil your new potatoes and put them on skewers with garlic cloves!
  • Corn on the Cob – I prefer to put these in foil.  You can add butter if you wish.
  • Roasted vegetables – Chop vegetables of your choice and place in foil dish with a bit of oil and garlic.
  • Garlic Bread – Wrap in foil
  • Whole joints of pork or beef – These need to be cooked slowly.   As with the Spatchcock Chicken, keep the lid on during cooking.
  • Fish – again I would recommend wrapping in foil unless it is a whole fish
  • Burgers – yes I know what I said earlier but I still love my traditional burgers.  If you make your own they can be great fun and you can vary your flavours.
  • Sausages – go for big chunky ones or the Cumberland wheels.  Again there are so many flavours out there that you can really vary it!

If using marinades, keep some aside to baste the food as it cooks.

Amazon sell some really good Braai/BBQ recipe books.  Treat yourself to one.  It might give you some new and interesting ideas!  Remember that cooking this way isn’t something you can time exactly.

I mentioned above about building your coals up higher one side to the other!  This is great when cooking as you can move the meet around so it doesn’t get burnt!  If cooking the chicken for example you can put it on the lower side with the lid on.  This will ensure it is still exposed to the heat without the flames being directly under it.  It will act like an oven.

Don’t forget to include some side dishes with your meal.  The usual salads are great but what about a potato bake.  They are easy to make.  Just peel some potatoes then slice.  Chop up an onion!  Layer a dish with potatoes and onions adding some feta or cheese of your choice throughout the layers.  Cover with either chicken stock (for healthy option) or full fat cream.  Bake in over for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and potatoes cooked.

What ever you do with your Braai/BBQ this weekend, make sure you have fun!  We Brits don’t get to see the sun very often, so make the most of it.  Experiment with different things.  A good old British BBQ can be so much more than just your sausages or burgers, although to be honest, there is nothing wrong with just having them either!

A word of warning though! Make sure the ash is 100% cold before you dispose of it!  Even the slightest heat could spark a fire if you threw it into the bin!

Dogs are better than a personal trainer!

Dogs Trust

So you want to get active but you just don’t have the motivation, then a dog could be just the answer.  Having a dog is like having your own personal trainer, they are also a lot more rewarding!  Walking an hour with your dog can burn off approximately 205 calories.  If your dog is more bouncy and pulls you, you could burn more!

What’s more, a dog encourages you to be out regularly, come rain or shine.  You also get to see and experience new things. They encourage you out into the countryside, trying out new walks and new locations.

I have always had dogs around me.   My memories from my childhood are going for regular walks with my parents and the family dog.  When I left home in 1988, I decided to have 2 kittens instead.  Whilst I really loved them and they were a delight to come home to, they do not compare to a dog.

I used to go for long walks on my own.  One day I was walking in the Malvern Hills and it struck me.  I love being out in the countryside and the reason I don’t do it as much as I like is because I don’t have the full motivation.  It was there and then I decided to look for a dog.

Choosing a dog

When you decide to buy a dog you have to take many things into consideration.  Dogs are for life, they are not a play thing you can put away when you are bored with it.  They can also be expensive.

Things to consider are:-

  • What type of home you have?
  • Are you allowed pets where you live?
  • Do you have a garden?
  • How long will you be out of the house each day?
  • How much time you can dedicate to the dog?
  • Do you have children?
  • What would you do with a dog when you go away?
  • Do you want a puppy or an adult dog?
  • Does everyone in your household agree with having a dog?
  • Who will walk it and take care of it?
  • Can you afford a dog? Vets bills, pet insurance, food, toys, bedding etc cost money!

Reality of having a dog

When thinking about a dog I can’t reinforce how important the above points are.    Dogs need a lot of time, not only to walk them but to train them.

Puppies look cute, but they grow up.  Make sure you know how much they will grow!  Some dogs can put on 1kg’s a week as puppies!   Also remember a puppy needs training on basic things such as going to the toilet, sit, walk etc.  These take a lot of time and patience.  You will have lots of accidents while you are toilet training them which you need to be prepared for.  Its not the puppies fault it has had an accident, as its still learning so don’t shout at it.  You can impact on its development by doing so.  And lets not forget chewing!  You can buy as many toys as you like but a puppy will still try and chew your chair legs, tables etc.  If you have children or adults come to think of it, they have to make sure nothing is left in a puppies reach!  They are like babies started to crawl, into everything and pushing all the boundaries.

Think about your day and be honest. Can you walk them twice a day.  If you are a single parent for example with pre-school children, working full time, are you really going to be able to get up and walk the dog as well as get the children up before going to work?  When its freezing cold and pouring with rain do you really want to be outside walking them?

Why do you want a dog?  Is it for company or to get you out and about?  If it’s purely for company, consider a small dog.  If you have visions of playing ball in the park, then maybe a medium sized dog.  Remember the larger the dog the more dog food space you need!

Research the breed to find out how much exercise they need.  Border Collies for example are intelligent working dogs that need a lot of exercise and stimulation.

Dogs are a tie!  They are not like cats where you can have a cat flap or litter tray and leave food out for them over night!  Dogs need to be looked after.  You can’t just decide to go out for the day or stop overnight at friends.  You need to make sure you don’t leave them too long and without the opportunity to go to the toilet outside.  They also need company.  Depending on the age of the dog will depend on how long you can leave them.  A puppy shouldn’t be left for more than a couple of hours for example.

Cost is another major factor.  You have the initial cost of the dog, food, collar, leads, bedding and toys.   This when you first get your dog can add up.  Then ongoing you need to factor in pet insurance (around £40 per month), annual injections, having dog spade (£100 – £250 depending on sex), kennel fees when you go on holiday (approx. £30 a night) etc.  They are not cheap!

If after all this, you still want a dog then great!  They are so rewarding.  Here are my experiences of dogs.

My First Dog

At that time, I was working full time and living on my own.  I decided that a puppy would be out of the question.   Puppies need constant attention, they can’t be left too long and you need to be able to spend the time training them.  I just couldn’t commit to that and so it would be unfair on the dog.

I contacted my local Dogs Trust.  They will assess your circumstances and advise you on the best type of dog for you.  We decided that an older dog would be more suitable for me.

The Dogs Trust as with other dogs homes don’t just take in strays.  There are also dogs in there where the owner could no longer keep them for various reasons such as a new baby, moving house or even that the owner has passed away!

I don’t know if you have ever been to a dogs home before.  If you haven’t you may think that as soon as you go and see the dogs you will want them all!  That wasn’t the case for me.  Whilst I thought a lot of the dogs were cute and I felt sad for them, on my first visit nothing said ‘take me home’.  Bizarrely, my mum was disappointed that I didn’t ask her to go with me on my first visit, so we both went back the same day to look again. On this trip I saw her.  She must have been out when I visited in the morning.  She was 8 years old, a cross between a greyhound and German shepherd.  She was absolutely beautiful.

The dogs home didn’t have a lot of detail about her only that she was a quiet timid dog, who just wanted company but also liked to be left alone.  Perfect for what I was looking for.  The minute I saw her I knew she was the one!

When you see a dog you like, the Dogs Trust check your suitability then introduce you to them.  The dog was called Tilly at the time.  She hadn’t been in the home for long so didn’t really know the name, so I changed it to Sophie.

The dogs home do a check of your home before they will let you have a dog.   They particularly want to make sure that your home is suitable for the dog you have chosen and the garden is secure, so the dog can’t get out.  A 6 foot fence or wall is perfect.  Also, how long will it be left and who lives in the house etc.   I had my 2 cats, so they also had to check that she would be ok with them.  Thankfully I was approved, and Sophie came home with me a few days later.  The Dogs Trust don’t sell you the dogs, but they do ask for a donation which covers the cost of vet bills, vaccinations etc.  At that time it was £50.

As Sophie was an old dog, I couldn’t get pet insurance for her, so any vets bills were covered by me.  Although I didn’t have any history on her.  I did know that she was once shot by a pellet gun and one was still lodged in her.  As it was only a few millimetres from her heart they couldn’t remove it.  You can imagine that she didn’t like bangs after that!  She also used to run away if a newspaper came through the front door!

Every morning I would walk her, my mum would call in every lunch time and then I would walk her again at night.  At weekends we would go for long walks together.  It was due to walking her that I met a man who was to become by husband!  Our early dates were walking her across the Saxon Mill and fields in Warwick, in the summer months.

One of the strange things about Sophie though was that when I was out she didn’t like being in the house.  In fact, she ate my kitchen carpet once as she got stressed.  The vet suggested that as she was a stray, I should try buying her a kennel and seeing how she was in the garden.  She absolutely loved it!  So, from then on if I went out she would go to her kennel, but as soon as I came home she was in again.

At home Sophie was the most perfect dog.  In the 4 years I had her I never heard her bark!  Unfortunately, the 2 cats bullied her in the first few weeks which ended with a Tom and Jerry like fight!  After separating them and having a good talk to them all, they came to a strange understanding.  Sophie wouldn’t go into their space if they didn’t go into hers.  It stayed like that until the day I lost her.

That was an awful day.  I knew it was coming but I didn’t want to face it.  This is one of the down sides of having a dog.  You love them so much that when you have to make that decision, it is so hard.  My vets knew how I worshiped her so when I took her to be put to sleep, the vet offered for it to be done under a tree in the sunshine.  It was beautiful, I brought her home and she was buried in my garden.

I said I would never have another dog!

My Best Friend

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A year later, I had a huge hole in my life.  I couldn’t have children but still had a lot of love to give.  My husband suggested I bought another dog.  I wasn’t sure but decided that maybe a trip to the Dogs Home would help me make my decision.

Again, on our first visit I saw nothing that I wanted to bring home.  The second visit there was a dog, but it had tree issues!

On our next visit I saw him.  He was a 2-year-old border collie/golden retriever cross!  He was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen.  The problem was he had major issues!  They had taken him in at 6 months old and he had been in the kennels for 18 months.  They had been unable to rehome him as he didn’t take well to humans.  Other dogs he was great with, in fact they used him to settle in new dogs into the home.

I knew he had problems, but I was determined to have him.   The staff warned my husband and I that it may not work, and if it did, it would be a slow process.  I didn’t care how long it took Ember was coming home with me.    A strange name I know but he was found in November.  The dogs names the animals based on when they are found or where etc.  As he had known it most of his life I decided to not change it.

Initially, they suggested a slow introduction.   They would walk him, and my husband and I would slowly walk along catching up with her, but ignore the dog!  I did this, but my husband couldn’t resist going to stroke him, which caused Ember to snap at him.  The dog handler was very cross with my husband as was I,  but thankfully she allowed us to continue.

It took many weeks of slowly building up our contact with him to build up trust.   We went from just walking with him to walking him ourselves.  Then to playing ball and finally sitting down and him coming to us for fuss.   Gradually, after seeing him every day for a few hours over many weeks, we could bring him home.  I was so excited.  We did have to sign a consent form though to say he would always be on a lead, muzzled and kept away from children.

When we got him home had to do work with him on what a door bell and letter box were, as he had never been exposed to these.  He also hated feet and boxes.  My view was that he was put into a box and stood on, but I will never know!

Sadly, a year later my husband and I separated, so Ember and I moved into a new home together.  He became my best friend.  Someone to come home to every night.  It didn’t matter how I was feeling, he was always happy to see me.  He also needed his 2 walks a day so it meant I couldn’t sit at home feeling sorry for myself.

As time went by Ember relaxed around me and other humans.  By the time I met my new husband he was more secure.  My hubby loved him straight away.  He no longer needed his muzzle or lead when we went out.  He was also great with my nieces.  He was the most perfect dog you could ever meet.

I was so proud to have him.  I was never short of people to look after him if I went on holiday.  When I had my breast cancer he kept me motivated to do my physio and build my strength back up.  Because he didn’t need a lead, I could walk him every day on my own.  It meant I could also get out of the house.  He would never cross a road without being told to, and if we went to the shops he would sit patiently outside waiting for me.

As he was getting to nearly 12, he had started to slow down.  The vet and my husband suggested another dog to keep him active.  My husband wanted a border collie puppy!  The vet thought this might be a good idea as Ember could help train it and in return the puppy would keep him going longer.

The search for another dog!

I still wasn’t sure I wanted a puppy as they are such hard work.  We both work full time and I didn’t think we would have the time to train it.  As a compromise, I decided that maybe we should look at the Dogs Trust first.

We saw 2 dogs that we both liked.  We spent time with both.  One was a ‘snoopy’ type dog, but it was too timid and didn’t even want to walk.  The other was a 2-year collie cross.  She was beautiful, very loving and playful.  We thought she would be perfect with Ember.

We arranged a meeting for the 2 dogs to meet.  It was fully supervised.  I had Ember on a lead and a member of the Dogs Trust had the other dog.  Immediately the other dog saw Ember it attacked him.  She had to be pulled of him.   It was heart breaking firstly as the dog had hurt Ember and scared him, but secondly the match wasn’t going to happen.

We left the Dogs Trust and decided to leave it a while!

When home I was looking at the internet at dogs for sale – as you do!  I saw an advert of a 16-week-old border collie puppy for sale.  The owner was selling it as she said she couldn’t keep it!  He looked so cute.  Maybe a puppy might be better for Ember as it wouldn’t attack him!  I showed him my husband and he agreed so I made the call.  We arranged to go that evening to see him.

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When we arrived, I was surprised to see it was a block of flats.  The flat was on the first floor.  When we went in, the flat was quite small.  The owner had 2 children under 5 with the puppy and no garden just a small balcony.  I could see this was not the right environment for this type of dog so immediately said we would take him there and then!   We paid her £200 and took this little bundle home!

As we were not expecting to have a puppy or a dog that day, we were not prepared so I had to do a quick shop the next morning!

The puppy was initially called Ben but my hubby always wanted a dog called Fido, so we changed his name!

From day 1 it was evident that Fido was an alpha male.  He tried to dominate Ember and us!  Ember was so good and patient with him.  Because he had spent 8 weeks in the flat, without a garden his toilet training was awful.  You have to remember that puppies can’t go out until they have had all their injections, so you have to ensure you have somewhere for them to go in the meantime to train them.  This can be for a good 4-5 weeks if you have them at 8 weeks old.

I would put him out almost every hour during the night to try and train him.  As it was January, I can tell you now, it was not fun sitting outside in the freezing cold trying to get a puppy to go to the toilet.  It took about 6 months and many accidents to fully get him trained.

He did help Ember get more active, but sadly he died from a seizure 6 months later!

Ember was my world.  I couldn’t imagine my life without him.  He had been such a massive part of it for 10 years.  We had been through so much together.  I can’t even tell you how devastated I was.  Fido would never replace him but coming home to him helped take away some of the pain.

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As time went on Fido started to show some behavioural issues.  He chased cars, bikes, lorries, joggers etc when out walking, barked at the slightest noise, wouldn’t let my hubby or I leave the house without him to mention a few!   It was a complete nightmare.  When he was calm he was lovely, but I was struggling with him.  We took him to puppy training but he kicked off around the other dogs, so we spent the 8 week course either in the carpark or in a separate area.  I really didn’t know what to do with him.

I spoke to the vets who recommended getting a dog behaviourist in.  We did this and the second she walked through the door she identified the issue.   She said he was constantly in ‘fight mode’.  She said that the first few weeks of bringing a puppy home are crucial.  If you get that wrong and you don’t socialise them properly they will have issues.  She said a key sign is his face.  He looks like he has had a face lift his face is so tight.  It was going to take a lot of work and patience, but we could help him relax.

First thing we had to do was to walk him and our recent addition separately!  I used to take both our dogs out in the morning on my home.  My hubby now had to come with me.  He isn’t a morning person so the 5 am starts didn’t please him but he knew it was important.  We also had to walk him in a quiet area away from traffic, so this meant driving him for his walk.  A lot of distraction techniques were needed for noises or leaving the house.  That was 16 months ago, and we are still work in progress!

Fido has really tested me especially in light of how well Ember turned out.  There are times even up to a few weeks ago when I have thought of giving him up!  I don’t think I ever would, as I do love him dearly.  Its not his fault, its how he has been treated in his early days, but I want people to realise that dogs are not just cute, they are really hard work.

The new addition

After losing Ember, Fido was on his own.  My hubby and I thought he might welcome having another dog as company.  We knew he had dominance issues so felt that a female dog would be more suitable.   I wanted another rescue dog as the thought of a puppy filled me with dread.  I wasn’t sure I could cope with another 6 months of toilet training!

We did some research and found a border collie rescue centre.  There were a few dogs we liked the look of so arranged to go and visit it.

We had a look around and again there was one in particular I fell love with.  She was 2 years old and so cute.  She was a smaller collie and very loving.  We introduced Fido to her.  Initially it went well, but then his dominance thing kicked in!  We abandoned that thought although part of me for a while wished we tried harder with the union.  Thankfully someone took her a few days later so I was pleased.

After this experience we decided that an older dog which already had issues wouldn’t be suitable.  A puppy would however be able to develop around him.

To make sure any puppy we got was given the best attention possible, we decided to get one just before Christmas when we would be home for 2 weeks, then at work a couple of days before I was due to have an operation, which would mean another 3 weeks at home.

I researched breeders and found one which had border collie puppies ready around that time.  We drove up to Derbyshire to see them.  There in the corner of the pen was the cutest ball of fur.  She looked just like a teddy bear.  All the other puppies were running around but she was just curled up in the corner.  That was it, I was sold!  As she was ready we could take her home there and then!  We had taken a blanket with us just in case, which we asked the breeder to rub on the mother.   This way, she would still be able to smell her mum. On the drive home, I wrapped her in the blanket and cuddled her.  At home I had already bought a play pen for her so put her into it, so she could be introduced to Fido slowly.

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The first night she slept like a baby in her playpen next to me.  Not a single cry!  I got her up a couple of times during the night to go out to the toilet but that was it.

Fido tried to show his dominance and did attack her a couple of times.  As with most puppies they can annoy older dogs.   I was advised to leave them to it if they fought so Lola would learn her boundaries, but I just couldn’t see her get hurt or upset.    I put her in kennels with him a few months later and the kennels said the same to me.  They had a fight while they were in there and Lola has the scar to prove it, but everyone is right, she did learn very quickly.  Lola used to come to me for comfort, which I happily gave!  I wasn’t doing her any favours.  She was a delight.  Sometimes tough love is needed!

She was so different to Fido.  Her toilet training only took a couple of weeks.  In 2 years we have had less than a dozen accidents!  She is super intelligent.  Too intelligent!  Within 24 hours she worked out how to open the zip on her play pen.  We fenced off the garden as the two dogs were ruining our lawn, and she learnt how to open the gate!

Lola is a chewer too!   She has eaten jeans, t-shirts (both left on floor by hubby), my friend left a pair of leather shoes out (he was told not to) and she ate them!  She has chewed the kitchen table, chairs, sideboard, garden plants etc.  We have bought her dozens of toys, but they don’t last very long!

She is quite an independent lady!  Whilst Fido is very insecure and always wants cuddles, she is happy to be on her own.  She is very loving and loyal though.

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Both of my dogs have very different characters.  They can be hard work but the joy they give us makes up for this.  Being the breed they are, they need a lot of exercise.  This suits us as it means we get a lot of exercise too.   We also have someone who helps us out during the day.  We couldn’t have them without her.

Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I’m exhausted on the way home from work.  I really want to just go home, put my pj’s on, and sit on the sofa!   You can’t do that with my 2.  The second you walk in the door they know you need to go upstairs, get changed and take them out.   They won’t settle until you do!  I have to say though, once we are out, we are so grateful to them.

I really enjoy the early morning walks too.  You get to see foxes, deer etc.  It’s a time to think about the day ahead.  Frosty clear mornings are my favourite!

Because my dogs are very intelligent and need stimulation, we have 6 activity toys which we give them every day full of treats to keep them occupied.  Dogs who are bored will become destructive, so you need to know your dog well, and ensure you make sure they are comfortable and happy.  I also have CCTV at home, so I can keep an eye on them.  It has been very entertaining watching Lola, especially as she reorganises the furniture in the kitchen to make sure her bed is getting maximum sun during the day!

Weekends are a pleasure, as we have a great excuse to get out into the countryside for long walks.  Both dogs leap into the car with excitement.

I certainly would recommend a dog, but only after you have carefully thought about it.  Dogs are for life not just for Christmas!