What’s On My Mind Today

Trip #3: Georgia Beaches

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The beach on Tybee Island, Georgia

My third trip of my 12in12 year was to Tybee Island, Georgia. Until about three weeks before our trip, I had never heard of Tybee Island. You see, we fully intended on going to Hilton Head, South Carolina- we had been before and loved it. We had purchased our flights into Savannah and we were waiting on a timeshare deal. With four kids and my mother-in-law, the seven of us try to travel on the cheap by staying at a timeshare and sitting through the presentation. This has worked in the past, but three weeks out, we were told there was nothing left that could fit all of us. Plus, most of Hilton Head was booked already and we weren’t looking to spend a fortune on a hotel for five nights. So, the search was on.

My husband started looking for other locations close to Savannah and came upon Tybee Island. A small island in Georgia, that is a little touristy but not overcrowded or pretentious. Since we were travelling from Friday through Wednesday, we saved money by finding a place that was rented out for a partial week and needed to fill the rest of their week. Our rental house was one block from the ocean, close a park, a couple of souvenir shops and an IGA- what more could you ask for? We had beautiful weather and spent our days soaking up the sun, collecting sea shells, cooking out on our patio and eating ice cream. Since we were travelling over Easter we had the chance to attend a sunrise service on the peer that was by far the best Easter mass I have ever been too. All in all, the trip was a relaxing break from work, school, and snow- just what we all needed. We loved the welcoming, laid back atmosphere of Tybee Island so much we are considering heading back next year.

Traveling with kids can be challenging, so check out my 7 Tips for Taking a Trip with Kids.

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Sunrise Easter Service on the Atlantic Ocean
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Trip #2: Chicago, Hamilton, and A Green River

IMG_2941For my second trip of my 12in12 year, I headed to Chicago for a long weekend of catching up with friends. Over Christmas break, my two best girlfriends from high school and I met up for drinks and planned out this adventure. We were all turning 40 soon, so we wanted a fun way to celebrate together.  We also wanted to see each other more often- it had been four months since our last get-together. And we were all dying to see Hamilton. So, over the course of the night we planned the whole thing. Now, since we picked Chicago and I already had my February trip planned, I convinced them we had to go on March 17 date, but only because seeing the Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day was on my bucket list.

We had tickets to a matinee show, so beforehand we had time to walk around downtown. The weather was beautiful so our walk down to the river was festive and fun. Seeing the river turned green was so cool. Then the show- oh the show. IT. WAS. AMAZING. Seriously. I cannot possibly put into words how good it really was. I can tell you that at intermission we were already talking about coming back to see it again. Since the show we have all been listening to it nonstop and are still trying to figure out a way to get back there, or somewhere else (another trip maybe?), to see the show again. Of course, like a good Irish girl, I topped my holiday weekend off with a corned beef sandwich and a Harp at a local pub.

The weekend was full of laughs, catching up, talking about old times, and just enjoying being together- I can’t wait to do it again.

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I did say in an earlier post, in planning for my 12in12 trips that instead of just simply sharing the fun, I would also try to share tips and tricks on how I am managing to afford these trips. Well, I paid for this entire trip using my earning from my Teachers Pay Teachers store: Cassandra’s Corner. When we planned the trip, I was still holding onto my November earnings and I hadn’t yet received my December statement. So, I knew I had those two months, plus January and February to add to it. Chicago is not cheap and Hamilton tickets can come at a hefty price too, so I knew I had to step up my TpT game. I vowed to create two new products a week for the month of January and to up my promoting game on Instagram and Pinterest. It worked and I funded the whole trip, hotel, tickets, gas, food, and a little extra for shopping from my TpT earnings. To learn more on how I make TpT work for me check out my post called Making TpT a Side Hustle that Works For You.

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Connect with Marco Polo

Since I moved I have been looking for a better way to connect with friends and family. We can call or facetime each other, but then both parties need to be available and have the time to talk. You can text, but it really isn’t the same. What I missed most was seeing my family and their kids and talking to my friends face to face. But, now I don’t have too! About a month ago my friend introduced me to an app called Marco Polo and I am officially addicted.

The company that created Marco Polo, Joya Communications,  calls the app a “video chat walkie talkie,” and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Their goal in creating it was “to help people feel close no matter the distance, enabling people to remain connected in convenient and meaningful ways,” and for me that has been the best part.  I can send a video to my sister and she watches it when she has time and responds. I can send a group of friends a video message and they can all react in their own time. I get to see all their faces and share all the ups and downs in our lives at our own convenience.

Now at first, I had some naysayers in my contacts who were leery of the hows and whys. I got questions like, “why don’t you just call/text/facetime instead?” Here’s the answer: quite simply this is waaaayyyyy easier and a lot more fun. We don’t need to be in the same time zone and have the same availability. I can send you a long video about everything that happened at work or I can share a quick joke. And the second my video is over the camera flips to you to respond. If I texted you a video you’d probably send me an emoji back. If I had the times and wrote everything in a text, you’d think I was crazy and still respond with an emoji. Now, it’s like we are together again, talking, sharing, and mostly laughing.

Once you download Marco Polo, you can connect with anyone in your contact list. You can create groups, save videos and add colors and text. The app also has features, like filters and voice changers. Once you have used the app enough you can unlock even more features.  If you need some assistant using the app, you can join my Marco Polo Group: A Little Bit of MP and check out some of my videos on how to use the app!

So, go download it and get connecting!

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The Snapchat Scare

As a parent you know that you have to tell your child not to talk to or take anything from strangers. You go through all the scenarios and practice yelling “NO” and running away, finding you and telling you everything. As there seems to be more dangers these days, we also know that even when they are with us we have to be more guarded and prepare ourselves for some unwanted scenario. I try not to live in fear, I try to stay aware, and I do my best to keep my kids safe, or at least I thought I was.

The incident I’ll describe actually happened two months ago, but it took me awhile to process it, to get over the emotions to be able to write about it. I actually only started to write this post because I read about another incident that occurred in my hometown, at my former place of employment, at another place where I thought my kids were safe. I realized how much more vigilant and aware we all need to be. In light of what happened, I thought I’d share my story.

My boys are on the local swim team and I have to drive about 20 minutes to get them to practice. When it’s just me, I usually go in with them and workout or grade papers while I wait. However, sometimes I have my two younger daughters with me and so we will go run errands or I try to find something to entertain them like stopping at the library, the park, or  the pet store. This particular Sunday night, none of those were an option, so I pulled into Burger King. It has a play area, so my husband and I ordered two pops and let them loose. We had done this before, we thought nothing of it. They run around and we sit and talk- literally five feet from them. We can see them 90 percent of the time and we can hear them all the time. So that’s what we did, then and other times before then, but not since.

My three-year-old is very friendly and we have had the talk about strangers, read books about strangers (I love the Berenstain Bears version) and thus she is cautious of adults. But what we learned that day, is she’s not when it comes to older kids. She has two older brothers who she adores and wants to hang out with all the time. She talks about having friends all the time. So when she was climbing through the play area and sliding back down saying she made some friends, I assumed it was just talk. There were a few other kids running around with parents doing the same thing we were- sitting at their table close by, talking, eating, checking their phones, or reading. We saw the other kids running around- we thought nothing of it. Then, I noticed that my daughter kept climbing to a specific part of the play are and talking to someone I couldn’t see. I told her to come down and again she yelled to me that she had friends up there. It seemed weird, but not too weird, so I told her to keep moving. When she came down I asked her about it and she told me there were to girls up there who were her new friends. When the girls climbed out of the play area- they were middle school aged. They had coffees and phones and had been sitting up in a secluded area of the play structure. I thought it was odd that they were there by themselves and just sitting up there but I still didn’t think much of it. We packed the girls up, picked up the boys from practice and started to head home, when my phone rang.

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Now, I live in a small town and we were at the Burger King two towns over, but it’s still a small area and it seems as though everyone knows everyone. The call was from a relative who saw my three year-old daughter on her daughter’s Snapchat. It turns out, those girls were up in the play structure recording my three year-old and posting it! Now it was nothing lewd or inappropriate but still, they were asking her questions, recording her answers and posting it online. Like I said, she loves the idea of friends and they picked up on that right away, asking her “Are we friends?” and recording her saying yes and telling them her name. I was outraged to say the least. We whipped the car around and headed right back to Burger King. I was shaking. I don’t know what else they said to her, I don’t know how many times they posted, I had a had a million questions. How could they? What were they thinking? Why hadn’t I noticed and done something? Why would they even think it was OK? But, what worried me the most was that they took advantage of her innocence, of her wanting to have friends, to get her to talk to them and it felt predatory, even if that’s not how they meant it.

Let’s pause here. Yes, I post pictures of my kids to my social media, sometimes videos too, but that is my choice. With my older kids, I ask them if its OK, and it’s usually some type of accomplishment or a simple smiling face. But, these are my kids and I get to make that choice, not someone else. She didn’t know she was being recorded and even if she did, she is nowhere near old enough to give permission. What they posted- I didn’t get to see it or approve it (not that I could have) I had no choice, no voice. I was livid.

We turned the car around immediately and headed back to Burger King to confront the girls. They weren’t there when we went back, but my husband alerted the other parents who were there and then he told the manager. We figured out who the girls were and reported them to the police. Although the police couldn’t actually do anything, they did go to their houses and talk with them. And that was basically the end of it. There was nothing else I could do. I was grateful for what the police did, but I was still left feeling uneasy about the whole thing.

I teach middle school, so I know that at this age kids’ brains are still developing, they are impulsive and they don’t always think through the consequences of their actions. I know that kids don’t always understand how far reaching, permanent, and how scary social media and the internet can be. I think from my reaction that night in the car and the days that followed, my older kids got a glimpse into those effects and will think twice themselves. But, what now? I had to have a long talk with all of my kids about what to do when someone points a camera or a phone at you. I even went back to Burger King to speak with the manager. I thought they should have a sign about the age appropriateness of the play structure or no cell phone use in the area, or something. The manager, while concerned, said it ultimately wasn’t his decision, but that incidents like these are the reason many restaurants are removing their play areas. I know a sign won’t completely stop people, but  it might deter some, or it might make a parent like me think twice and monitor their kids more closely.I called corporate and they basically wrote down my concerns to send up the ladder, but I still haven’t heard back. It’s shame that something worse might have to happen before we see any changes, but it seems like that’s the way it is these days. For now, I continue to talk to my kids about strangers, cameras, and safety, off and online. I’m not sure what else I can do.

The Sani Seal

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I just had to share this. Maybe I have been living a sheltered life, but I have NEVER seen this before! My husband and I  had to go to the “big city” to do some shopping, so on the way, we stopped at the casino and that’s where I saw it. This toilet seat is covered in a plastic wrap and it has a mechanism that removes it when you are done so that there is a fresh cover for the next person! When I saw it, I forgot I had to go and just marveled at it. I placed my hand over the motion detector twice  just to watch it in action again. I really should have taken a video, but ladies were starting to stare at me staring at the toilet because yes, in my amazement I forgot to shut the door. Where did the old plastic go? Where did the new plastic come from? Who came up with this? While I was amazed, I couldn’t get the thought of peeling my butt off the plastic- the thought still gives me goosebumps. Plus, what a giant waste! I mean are people really sitting on public toilets? Yes, kids need too, but kids at a casino? I guess I just assumed everyone was squatting like me. I NEVER sit on a public toilet- NEVER! I distinctly remember my mom meticulously placing toilet paper on a public toilet seat when I was little and the fear that welled up side me just thinking that one of those pieces might slip off and my bare butt might come in contact with the seat. I am not a germphobe- it’s just something about toilets. From the moment I was tall enough to squat- I did and never looked back- literally and figuratively. Yeah, I know someone can come up with a list of all the other surfaces that are actually dirtier than a toilet seat and it won’t change my mind- there is just something about it that is too gross for me. So cover it in paper or plastic wrap it will always be gross and I’ll still squat.

Trip 1: Caribbean Cruise: Fun, Sun and Lessons Learned

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Toes in the sand on South Beach

For my first trip of my 12in12 adventure I went on a five day cruise, with my husband. We sailed out of Miami, visited Key West and Cozumel and then stayed another night in Miami before heading heading home. The weather was gorgeous and we spent most of our time just relaxing. We ate, drank and soaked up the sun, which was just what both of us needed. When we stopped in Key West we spent our time walking around and stopping in the little shops and restaurants. I especially enjoyed the chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick. The island is beautiful and we decided this was definitely a place we would come back to visit again. In Cozumel, we did a little bit of walking and shopping, but spent most of the day enjoying the ship without all the crowds. Our last night of vacation we spent in Miami. We walked around South Beach and enjoyed a fabulous dinner outside in the fresh, sea air. Miami, we decided too was a place we could see ourselves visiting again. It was an absolutely wonderful time spent with just my husband and a fabulous way to celebrate my birthday and kick off my year of travel.

When I decided on the 12in12 idea I wanted the vacation aspect of the trips, but I wanted them to be meaningful as well. I want to see and experience new things to relax and to learn, and this first one did all of that. My biggest take away from the trip was that I use my phone all together too much.  I love what technology has done for us in terms of availability of information and sharing- obviously I’m writing a blog, I get it.  But, I constantly worry what it is doing to our kids and while I monitor their usage, I have to wonder if I am being a good role model. My husband has always made little comments about the time I spend on my phone and I have always kind of blown it off, or I will set it down for a few minutes to appease him, only to pick it up later. I justified by saying I was multitasking or I was looking at my phone to relax, just like someone else might watch TV, what was the difference? But being without it on the cruise has really made me see how much I used it- and for what? I didn’t need to multitask or work and and I was certainly relaxing without. I actually blew through three magazines and read two books in one week! And I have to admit that there seemed to be some type of weight off my shoulders from that break from social media. When we were back on land and I had service, I did pick my phone back up, but I have resolved to make some minor changes so that I can break the habit of constantly picking it up.

Five Simple Ways to Break the Phone Habit

  1. Turn Off Push Notifications. Every time your phone lights up or makes a noise it acts as a trigger. Like Pavlov’s dogs your brain has been trained to pick up the phone when it produces the trigger- so remove the trigger and you’ll pick it less.
  2. Put Your Charger in an Inconvenient / Out Of The Way Place. I  kept chargers everywhere- the kitchen counter, the bathroom, nightstands, the car- everywhere. That way I could have my phone close by and charging, which in turn meant I could pick it up at every chance. So, I have limited my options and placed my chargers out of the way, like the laundry room and the spare room. I have my ringer on in case someone needs me, but now the phone isn’t staring me down begging me to pick it up anymore.
  3. Buy a Real Alarm Clock. Most people use their phones as their alarm clock, but that means that your phone is in your hands before you go to bed and as soon as you get up. You can find a simple alarm clock at the dollar store and that simple investment will keep you from staying up late and/or getting sucked into the your phone first thing in the morning.
  4. Keep a Small Notebook Handy. We all use our phones to create lists, take notes and set reminders, but the old school pen and paper might actually be more effective. When we write things down, instead of asking Siri to do it for us, we remember them better. When we pick up the phone to take that note, we are more tempted to quickly check emails, texts or social media for just a second, which usually turns into more wasted time.
  5. Set a Sleep Timer. A regular timer will just go off and you can keep scrolling or hit the snooze, but a sleep timer will shut your phone down so that you have to put it down.

Turning 40!

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Well, I recently turned 40! Exclamation point- right? Yes! I had a wonderful birthday, spent with my family, and like most birthdays, the fun lasted a little longer than just one day. You see, I like to celebrate my birthday week, ya know extend the festivities just a bit, but this year is different, I’m shooting for a little longer than a week.

Forty is definitely a milestone birthday and in the months leading up to it, I felt like I should either be dreading it or setting some type of goal that I would accomplish by the actual date. But, I wasn’t really dreading it and none of the goals I considered seemed right. I’ve never been someone who is ashamed to admit my age and I wasn’t (and still haven’t) been “feeling old.”  Sure, people had plenty of suggestions as to what I could do to mark the occasion, from parties, to workouts, to workout parties, the list was endless. I had seen what others around me were doing, like running marathons or going on trips and I knew I wanted to do something, but what?

Ultimately I decided to make the whole year a celebration! Over the top? Maybe. But, I figured who cares? After all, it is my birthday, I should celebrate it however I want. I didn’t need to make other people happy, although I think some of my plans have so far. It all started when my husband earned a free cruise last summer (he is a teacher who is also a Farmers Insurance agent on the side). When we saw the dates we (really more me) were so excited that it fell on the week after my birthday! As the cruise date got closer, so did my big birthday and in my quest to find some way to mark the day I found a hashtag that inspired me: #12in12. This, my friends, represent the idea of taking 12 trips in 12 months. And once I found it, I was hooked. The only issue I had was how I could make it more meaningful. I knew I could write about my experiences, but I wanted each trip to mean something to me, my family, my friends, my career, really anything that didn’t really make it just all about me. But, yes I still wanted to have fun and see and do things I had never done before.  Since the first trip was the free cruise, I figured maybe I could try to keep the idea of an “earned” or discounted trip -some type of deal I could share with you, along with all the fun- going for the next 11 months.

So the week after my birthday I set off on my first trip- a Caribbean Cruise! It was perfect. The weather was beautiful, the atmosphere was relaxing and fun and we really enjoyed ourselves (more on that later). The next trip I have planned is to meet with some friends who are also turning 40 this year for the weekend in Chicago and we are going to see Hamilton! This trip I funded completely with my earnings from my Teachers Pay Teachers store Cassandra’s Corner. Knowing I was going to do this motivated me to create more products and work on promoting them, which will hopefully also fund another trip later this year. The plans for trip number three and four are still in the works. The third is a spring break trip with the kids that we are planning on using our SkyMiles for and staying at a timeshare where, yes, we will have to go to a presentation, but we also get to stay cheap (more on this later).  And the fourth, well that one is a under wraps for now as we work out the deals and the details.

As this fabulous fortieth year continues I hope my thoughts and feelings on this milestone stay positive as I travel and keep you posted on how and where. Happy Birthday Day to Me!