2019 Bucket List

Lots of people have bucket lists for life. I’ve decided I’m going to have one for the year. I’m going to have one for every year. All the things might happen, and maybe they won’t, but at least I’ll have bucket list goals. These aren’t like resolutions. They don’t fall in the same category as “lose weight,” or “learn to knit.” They are one-time things…maybe places to visit, things to do, or dares…yes, dares.

Here are a few things on my bucket list for 2019:

  • Indoor Skydiving. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve done the skydiving over an outdoor wind tunnel, and it was great fun. I laughed and laughed, and my daughter and her friend laughed at how the skin on my face flapped in the wind. They did it too, but their skin didn’t flap…ahhh, youth. According to their website, IFly Charlotte is scheduled to open this spring in Concord. I’m looking forward to it! See their website here.
  • Sleep in a treehouse. A few years ago, my friend, Mary Ann, and I took our kids to Kentucky to sleep in wigwams at Wigwam Village in Cave City (see website here). In fact, Mary Ann turned 40 while we were there. Not many folks can say they turned 40 in a wigwam! This year, it would be fun to sleep in a treehouse, but the kids don’t have to go. They’re teenagers now, so they don’t want to be with us anyway. Maybe I can get Mary Ann to come up one weekend and go with me to Cherry Treesort in China Grove to stay in a treehouse. See their website here.
  • Swim with the manatees. Mary Ann has done this. In fact, there’s a manatee in Crystal River, Florida, that fell in love with her at first sight. Don’t ask me how we know he loved her…just trust me when I say he did. Hopefully, he won’t be there when I go, but just in case, I’ll take Mary Ann with me, so he will ignore me altogether. Of course, I haven’t spoken with Mary Ann about this, but I guess she knows it now. There are a few different companies that offer the opportunity to swim with the manatees. One is here.
  • Mother/daughter vacation with friends. We do this every year, but I’m keeping it on my bucket list, because I hope my friend, Jennifer, and her daughter will join us for a trip this summer. We started the new year together in LA, but I’m counting that as last year’s mother/daughter trip. We’ve been talking about what we can do, but we haven’t locked in reservations anywhere yet. Coming soon…
  • Big vacation somewhere new. I have a destination in mind, but since I’m not sure we will find the time to do it this year, I’m not going to name the place. It will take a lot of planning, and since a lot of summer is already planned, we might have to wait till summer 2020 for the trip I have in mind. If we can’t do that one, I’ll plan something else for a new destination this summer, but we are definitely doing something different. Fingers crossed. I’m looking at lots of websites for possible destinations, in case my first choice doesn’t play out. Some websites are Conde Nast Traveler for worldwide destinations and Forbes for US destinations.
  • Take a day off. I used to be really good at this. Every school year, I would designate a weekday that would be my day…no volunteering, no obligations, no doctor appointments, no hair appointments…just a day to do what I want to do. And it was awesome. I’m re-instating that plan right now, and my day off for the rest of this school year is Thursday. People used to think I was crazy when I first started telling them I took a day off, but then they realized it was genius. In fact, I was talking with a friend recently who said she is doing the same thing in 2019. Because I plan a day off in advance, it makes it easy to plan lunches or coffees with friends…something else I plan to do more of in 2019…time with good friends.

And that’s it. Nothing earth shattering. Just a few fun things I want to do in 2019…and maybe some ideas for you. They’re not resolutions. They are simply things I want to do. Well, maybe that last one about a “day off” is more of a resolution. Either way, these are things that will make 2019 more fun, and sometimes, I just want to have fun!

 

 

 

 

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Lots of folks are out there saying, “New year, new me,” but I’m not going that far. Who would I be kidding?!?! Sure, I’ll try to make some small changes in my life, but I’ll still be the old me…take me or leave me.

This year, I started the new year in a different way…with a vacation. I think it is the first time I’ve ever taken a vacation the first week of the year, and I think it was the perfect way to start the year. Years ago, someone said to me it’s important to start the year doing something you enjoy…to set the tone. Well, if that’s the case, hopefully, I’ve set a good tone for 2019.

My daughter and I met my friend, Jennifer, and her teenage daughter in Los Angeles, one of our very favorite places to visit, and we stayed in our very favorite hotel. We ate at some of our favorite places, and we shopped till we dropped. It was great fun. We were happy. We felt great. Even though the arrival of my checked bag was delayed and I had a cold…I still felt great, because of my surroundings and the great company.

While I’m sure there are going to be lots of bumps in the road in 2019, I sure hope starting the year with a fun vacation set a good tone for the next twelve months.

One year when I was in my early 30s, New Year’s Eve was rapidly approaching, and I had plans for the night that just didn’t sound like fun to me. I was talking with an older co-worker (she was probably the same age I am now), who said, “New Year’s Eve should be spent with people you want to be with…doing something you want to do. It’s bad luck to start the new year wrong.” She was right. I changed those plans, and I’ve remembered that every year since.

Don’t get me wrong. On New Year’s Eve, I was home with my husband…a great place to be. Plus, I was anticipating a great vacation. That’s the perfect New Year’s Eve for me…looking forward to something good! I don’t need to be in Times Square, wearing a diaper and watching the ball drop. Heck, I don’t even need to be awake! But it’s fun to know something fun is “just around the bend.” (Cue the song…Pocahontas singing Just Around the River Bend.)

So, if the rest of the year is like New Year’s Eve, it will be filled with excitement and anticipation. If it’s like the first week of the year, it will be fun. I might have a cold for the rest of the year (like I did the first week), but the year will be filled with time with good friends. It will be filled with excitement and trying new things. If it’s like the first week of the year, we will have encounters with exciting people, and we will meet people from all walks of life. We will spend time with old friends and make new friends. And if it’s like the first week of the year, I will sleep well at night and make good use of my time during the day. I will be happier than I was in 2018, and hopefully, I will be a better person.

And my only resolution is to commit one random act of kindness every day. Surely, I can do that?!?! Amazon offers a book that might give me some ideas. You can see it here.

So, while I won’t be saying, “New year, new me,” I will be saying, “New year, better me.” It will still be the same old me, but an improved version filled with more hope and happiness than ever before…spending time with family and friends old and new.

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 7: Teens/College Students

Everyone knows how difficult it is to find the perfect gift for a teenager or college student. After talking with a few of them, I’ve compiled some gift ideas at a lot of different price points that I hope will help. So, here we go: gifts for TEENS AND COLLEGE STUDENTS.

College Sweatshirts/Hoodies. My teenage daughter, who is a freshman in high school, and her friends love college sweatshirts, and it doesn’t really matter which college it is! Of course, most teens have favorites colleges, but the teens I know wear hoodies from schools all over the country! Sometimes, I see a college hoodie on sale somewhere, and I buy it, just because it will fit her. I regularly check Fanatics.com to see what they have, but I’m sure there are other sites too. Prices at Fanatics.com for men’s college hoodies (it’s what they prefer) start under $15. Check out their offerings here.

 

Lululemon Leggings. Teens and college-age girls love these things. Heck, moms love them too! They’re pricey, but they will be very well-received, because students can live in these things! It’s a constant request at my house. Whenever our daughter gets some extra money in her hand, she loves to spend it at Lululemon. She has learned, though, to buy them when they’re on sale. They’re shorts are popular too. And their sports bras…apparently, the best ever made. Prices for full-length leggings start at $98, but there are usually some on sale.

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Customized Starbucks Cup. We all know teens and students love their Starbucks. Mine doesn’t even drink coffee, but she loves those frappucino drinks. They also love things with their names on them. Things aren’t like they were when we were young, when almost everybody could find their names on those pre-personalized bicycle tags or stickers: Kelly, Jennifer, Mary, Joe, Michael…you get the point. Now, names are more unique. CoffeeTime Designs on Etsy offers personalized cups for hot drinks here at $7.99.  Funkytime Weddings offers cold drink personalized cups here for $11.47.

 

Keurig.For those college students or even high school students who like coffee, Keurig makes an awesome single-cup coffee maker, and it’s priced at just $49.96 at Walmart. It comes in several different colors. You can pick it up in the store or order online here. Just make sure you order some K-cups from Amazon or pick them up in your local store.

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Mini Fridge or Portable Fridge. Everyone knows teen boys and men can eat a lot. Teen boys eat all the time. They need a fresh supply of food and beverage on hand, whether they live at home or in a dorm. Girls love to keep their favorite cold beverages (and sometimes snacks) on hand. These two fridges are great for boys and girls, and both can be purchased at Walmart. One is a portable fridge that holds up to 12 cans ($49.99). Plug it into your car or home outlet. Great for tailgating! The second is a true mini fridge ($79.99)…perfect for a teen’s TV room, bedroom, or dorm room. Purchase here.

 

Long Distance Friendship Lamp. These are just awesomeness. Purchase one for yourself and one for your best friend or loved one who lives far away. Or maybe give two to your college student, so she can give one to a faraway friend. When you touch the lamp to adjust the hue in your home, it adjusts your friend’s lamp as well, letting them know you’re thinking of them! I love it, because I think it’s important for us to let folks know when we think of them. Priced from $85 to $170 at Uncommongoods.com here.

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Portable Lap Desk. You can go to Amazon and find lots of different lap desks, no doubt. And I’m not hooked on one particular one, but I do believe teens want one that’s big enough to hold a laptop computer. When I was in college, lap desks were frequent gifts between friends, and we used them…a lot. Lap desks are great for middle school, high school, and college students. Personally, I could see my teen sitting in the swivel chair mentioned below…with a lap board, doing homework in her room. Pictured below is one that starts at $17.32, purchased through Amazon Prime. You can purchase it here.

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Sports Blankets. Everybody needs a good blanket sometimes. For the young sports fans, blankets emblazoned with their team logo are great gifts. My daughter has an Atlanta Falcons blanket we use all the time…in the car, at sporting events, just hanging out at home. Whether your sports fan loves college or NFL football, baseball, or basketball, there are lots of different team blankets at Fanatics.com. With prices starting under $20 for some blankets, it makes a great gift for them at a great price for you! Check them out here.

Faux Fur Throws. For the teens/college students in your family who would rather stay warm without thinking about sports, West Elm has a wide assortment of faux fur throws starting at just $49. They’re beautiful, soft, and warm! Check them out here.

 

Weighted Blanket. A-maz-ing. While we are talking about blankets, these are good for stressed out high school and college students. Weighted blankets have been proven to help users sleep. The weight of the blanket has a calming effect. Students are known to have a little stress in their lives…exams. This could change their lives. There are lots of different ones out there, but the only one I’ve ever used is the Calming Comfort Weighted blanket, which you can purchase here. Prices start at $129. I’m getting one for my daughter for Christmas. Other brands can be purchased through Amazon.com.

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Personalized Stationery. Everybody needs it, and lots of us love it. I have a friend from college, Lori, who recently opened her own Etsy stationery shop called Proper ID Please. She has personalized notecards in 94 different designs. Each set contains 12 notecards, and they are priced at $20 per set. She can have them ready to ship in 3-5 days, but get your order in early for best selection! Order here.

LL Bean Boots. Honestly, these are classics. They never go out of style. LL Bean Boots were great when I was in high school 30+ years ago, and they’re still great. But order as soon as possible, because they make them to order, and sometimes, there’s a backlog. They’re great for men/women/boys/girls…everyone on your list. Prices start at $100, so they’re not cheap, but they are well-made and can be worn forever. See them here.175064_1914_41

Patagonia Black Hole Duffle. I discovered this awesome bag last summer when my daughter went to Iceland with a group. The most popular one is their 60L bag that sells for $129. It’s durable and roomy, and it’s water repellant. Lots of mesh pockets help keep packing organized. This is the best in the business. Great for outdoor travel, and it’s a great carryon too. Shop it here.

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Longchamp Bags. You’ve seen these in other lists, but I can’t stress enough how useful they are! Teens and college students love these, because they are lightweight, functional, and durable. They come in lots of shapes and sizes, so check think about function: shopping? overnight? weekend? And the colors! They come in so many colors! Shop them at Nordstrom here.

 

Spikeball Set. Apparently, this is a popular competitive game that was featured on Shark Tank, and students love it. I haven’t seen it in person yet, but several people have told me how much their teens love it. Activity and competition are good ways to work off stress, so if you have a stressed-out student on your hands, this could be a good distraction. When I was in college, my friend, Angela, and I played Yahtzee for stress relief. This would have been fun too. Priced at $59.99 on Amazon, it includes free shipping for Prime members. See it here.

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Magnetic Dart Board. Back in the day, we just used pointy darts. I’m sure my mother reminded us regularly, “You’ll put an eye out.” Just like Spikeball, darts are a good stress reliever. These aren’t pointy, though. These are magnetic, removing the risk of putting out an eye (for the most part). Amazon has these priced at $29.98, which is a bargain. Order here.

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Hammock (and stand). For the past few years, teens have loved ENO hammocks. Prices for them on Amazon.com start at $27.99. (Click here.)These hammocks are lightweight and easy to hang. My daughter and her friends often hang theirs in trees around the park in our neighborhood and hang out. But I you don’t have trees around your house, you can purchase a stand for the ENO, and if you purchase one made by ENO, they are priced at about $249. (Click here.)But if you’d like to get a hammock chair with stand for less, you can get it from Wayfair here for $111.99, including the stand.

 

Shower Caddy. Y’all remember living in a dorm…the small room, the roommate, the noise, the fun…and the community bathroom. Oh, the community bathroom. Remember having to carry all your shower stuff down the hall for a shower? Well, lots of college students are still doing that now, so they need shower caddies! You might be thinking, “My student already has one.” Well, yeah…but think about it: a shower caddy gets wet, so it needs to be replaced regularly. Pottery Barn Dorm has some great shower caddies, with prices starting at $14.99. Some are even eligible for personalization. Check them out here.

Crocs. I know, you thought (or maybe hoped) these had gone by the wayside. Well, for a while, they did, but they’re baaaaaack. Nobody ever claimed Crocs were attractive, but they are durable and useful, for sure. My teenage daughter and her friends started wearing Crocs again last year…to the pool…to the beach…and in the shower at camp or in dorms. Crocs come in lots of different colors, so find out the recipients favorite color first, but this is a gift that will get used. Pricing for Crocs starts at under $15 on Amazon.com. You can shop their Croc selection here.

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Privacy Pop Bed Tent. Personally, I think this is a great idea for kids or teens. It provides privacy and can provide seclusion for siblings who share rooms or or sleep better in a cozier space.They come in sizes ranging from toddler bed to king bed, and they come in a variety of colors. Easy to install, they fit right under your regular mattress, and they come in a variety of colors.  Priced from $119 to $199. Purchase here.44075242744702p__1

Charm Bracelet. High school and college are the perfect times for a girl to start a charm bracelet. It doesn’t mean they have to wear it, but it’s a great time to start collecting mementos from places they’ve traveled. After my mother died, I found a charm bracelet from her youth with lots of charms from places I knew she had visited, and it made me feel connected to her. I don’t wear it, because I’m afraid I will lose it, but I have it. Unfortunately, I never started my own charm bracelet, and I wish I had. It would be fun to have charms from special times in my life or places I’ve visited. You can get charm bracelets at lots of places, and you can get them in gold or silver. I’m listing two in sterling silver. Right now, Kay Jewelers has a heart charm bracelets on sale for about $60. At Tiffany & Co, the ever-popular Heart Tag Charm Bracelet starts at $310 in sterling silver.

 

BACtrack S80 Pro Breathalyzer OR BACtrack Mobile Pro A breathalyzer is a great gift for a college student, and honestly, some might like it for a teenager. As much as parents want their kids to make good decisions, we all know they don’t always do that. If you have a son, daughter, niece, nephew, or friend who imbibes, this might be the perfect gift to help them make good decisions. I’ve listed two, because both get excellent ratings. From what I can tell, these are the best ones out there. Just look at the two, and decide which one is best for your recipient. The BACtrack S80 Pro is priced at $129 (on sale from $149 at time of writing), and it has been tested by and meets the requirements of the DOT/NHTSA for a personal breath alcohol screening device. The BACtrack Mobile Pro, priced at $99,  has other features, working with your app and cell phone. It even estimates the time at which your BAC will return to 0.00. To learn more and/or purchase, go to the website here.

 

PBTeen Groovy Swivel Chair. Teens and college students often love a little extra seating in their rooms, but they don’t want conventional chair or don’t have room for them. These Groovy Swivel Chairs come in different colors and fabrics, and they are a fun alternative to regular chairs and bean bag chairs. My daughter likely will be getting one this Christmas…what a comfortable place to study and do homework! Prices start at $279 for the faux fur chairs (on sale right now) and go up to $399. Check them out here.

 

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Smart TV with Roku. If your college student (or teenager) doesn’t have a Smart TV, it would make a great gift this holiday season. A Smart TV with Roku doesn’t even have to be connected to any cable or satellite service. They can stream movies and shows straight through Roku with a Sling subscription. They can also watch Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and several other streaming services through the Smart TV. Of course, there are lots of different versions on the market. I found them starting at $169 at Best Buy for a 32″ TV. To check at Best Buy, click here. 

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Amazon Fire Stick and Echo Dot. I mentioned this in my favorite gifts for travelers, but they’re great for teenagers who already have televisions. The Fire Stick will enable them to stream shows and movies without cable or satellite service, but they will need Wi-Fi. In my previous post, I mentioned the $39.95 deal for the Amazon Fire Stick with 2nd Gen Echo Dot, but now they’re offering a special deal on the New Amazon Fire Stick with 3rd Gen Echo Dot for $59.95 (regular price $99.95), in stock at Amazon on November 26. Purchase now as a bundle from Amazon, and they’ll send it when it’s in stock!. Your teen or college student can plug the Amazon Fire Stick directly into the HDMI of their existing TV, and use the Echo Dot in conjunction with it. Get it here.

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Experience Gifts. I’m always telling people experiences are more memorable than things, and they make great gifts! Maybe you have a teenager or college student who has always wanted to skydive or indoor skydive. Maybe they’ve wanted a racecar experience or rafting experience. There’s a website that can sell you the experience, but if you know of an experience off the top of your head, maybe you contact the place directly. I know we have a new company coming to Charlotte called iFly which offers indoor skydiving, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. They offer gift cards in various dollar amounts. Or maybe you purchase someone a gift card from experiencedays.com, and they can choose their own experience from their offerings. See experiencedays.com here, and iflyworld.com here.

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Sled. This one is a tradition at our house. Every year of her life, our daughter has received a sled from Santa for Christmas, and as far as I’m concerned, that will continue as long as I can do it. She has quite a collection of awesome sleds now, so when it does snow once or twice a year in Charlotte, she is always prepared. In fact, sometimes we just have ice instead of snow, but that doesn’t stop us! (I say “us,” because yes, I go sledding too.) We have had a lot of luck with Hammerhead sleds, so this year, she will be getting a newer version of the same type sled. These sleds are lightweight, durable, steerable, and most importantly, fast. You know what they say, “Kid tested, Mother approved.” It’s not cheap, coming in at just over $177, but if you can spend it, it’s worth every penny when it snows. You get a lot more that $177 of fun out of this thing. There are some less expensive versions on Amazon too. If you want to see this one, click here. Amazon will ship it to you for free, if you’re a Prime member.

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Cash is king. Not gonna lie. Teens want what they want, and we don’t always get it right. I don’t even try to buy clothes and shoes for my daughter anymore. And sometimes, they just want cash so they can get exactly what they want. While it seems impersonal, teens and college students love cold hard cash. But to make it even more exciting, do what my sister-in-law does: wrap it up. And I mean wrap it up. Start with an envelope. Then wrap it in a ball of plastic wrap. Put that ball in a box. Wrap it in newspaper. Put it in another box…and so on and so on. Keep it interesting! Make that package as complicated and big as you can make it!

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Stocking Stuffers. For more ideas, please refer to my stocking stuffers post. There are lots of good ideas on there for young people too. You can see that post here.

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Teenagers and college students are tough customers, but hopefully, you’ll find some things here that will go over well with yours. We want them to have a Merry Christmas too!

***If you found these suggestions helpful, please LIKE and SHARE the post, and LIKE our Facebook page too! Thank you!***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Airline Travel Easier

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Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Airlines have received a lot of press in the past year or two. From dragging passengers off the plane to perverts sitting next to unaccompanied minors…we’ve heard it all. The latest press is all about paying extra for good seats and having difficulty getting seats together without paying extra for them.

A lot of people travel more frequently than I do, but I used to work in the travel industry, and I fly pretty often. I’ve learned a few things along the way that can make your life easier when traveling by commercial airline.

TSA PRE-CHECK/GLOBAL ENTRY Travel a few times a year domestically? TSA Pre-Check is worth the money. Surely, you’ve stood in the regular line and watched people zip through the TSA Pre-Check line. For me, the biggest benefit, aside from expedited screening, is not taking off my shoes on that nasty airport floor, but there are others: you don’t have to remove your laptop or small liquids from your bag, and you don’t have to go through that body scanner. It costs $85 for five years of TSA Pre-Check. Apply online here. After applying online, schedule an appointment online and take documentation to a processing center to complete the process. When I went, I was there for less than 10 minutes. If you travel internationally more than once or twice a year, consider Global Entry, which is “a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports,” according to their website. It is $100; learn more by clicking here.

RESERVATIONS Two words: BOOK EARLY. It gives you the best possibility of getting a good fare and desirable seats and increases the chances of sitting with friends/family. Over the past few years, airlines have started charging extra for more desirable seats near the front of the cabin. I am most familiar with American Airlines, because they have a hub in Charlotte.

According to an interview (conducted in a Boeing 777) with American’s CEO in the Wall Street Journal, “American’s strategy now is to offer passengers more seating choices—a strategy seen clearly from Mr. Parker’s seat in the back of the reconfigured 777. Those interested in low fares sit in the back, where American has 146 basic coach seats. If you’re willing to pay more or have elite status, 66 coach seats provide extra legroom. You can pay several hundred dollars more and move up to premium economy: 24 seats that are 19 inches wide instead of 17 and have 38 inches row to row. Then there are 37 lie-flat business-class seats. Nearly half of the plane’s 273 seats offer extra room.” You can see the article here.

The lowest/most restrictive fares they offer are called Basic Economy. They are in the back of the plane. There are several restrictions, but the biggest one, in my opinion, is that you cannot get seat assignments till check-in, and for me, that is a big red flag. I don’t have a problem with American offering Basic Economy, but there is no way I would knowingly go to the airport without an advance seat assignment.  If you do not have an advance seat assignment, there is a greater likelihood you will be stuck with the “leftover” seats or be bumped from the flight. However, according to a friend who is an industry insider, airlines aren’t overbooking like they used to, so the possibility of being bumped is much lower. (If you do get bumped, according to my insider, you can get “sweet” compensation in the way of vouchers that are good for two years…can be used for flights or upgrades.) Traveling as a family and want to be together? Book Main Cabin or better. Whatever you do, get advance seat assignements or pick a different flight. If you are unable to book seats together, try to book aisle seats and/or window seats for leverage. Aisle seats are prized, and if you offer someone a middle seat in exchange for an aisle seat, the answer will be, “No dice.” That being said, here is a trick to use if your child is seated next to a stranger: Walk the child to his/her seat. When buckling up your child, get the airsickness bag out of the seat back pocket. Open it. Hand it to your child, and say, “Honey, when you get sick, make sure you use this bag.” Do not whisper it. You want the person next to your child to hear. They will likely offer to trade seats! Whatever you do, do not ask your flight attendant to assist you in trading seats with someone. People booked early and likely paid more for their seats. Usually Main Cabin seats are about $20-$50 more (on American and United) than Basic Econ. If you can do Main Cabin, do it. With Main Cabin, you get advance seat assignment, overhead space (none with Basic Econ), and you can change your flights for a fee…not with Basic Economy. I prefer to think of that additional $20-$50 as the regular price and look at Basic Econ as the no frills, discount price. You can see a great skit from The Carol Burnett Show about a No Frills Airline here. It puts things in perspective with humor. Maybe airlines should show that skit on a monitor in the gate area.

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS  Need to send your child on a flight unaccompanied? Arrive at the airport at least two hours before the flight. I’d have to be there three hours before for peace of mind. You will have extra paperwork, and you will need the full name (as it appears on ID), address, and phone number of the adult meeting your child. (That person must have ID.) You will be required to get a gate pass and walk the child to the gate. Before saying goodbye, remind your child to know where exits are, pay attention to the emergency demo, and if he/she is uncomfortable with their seat mate, let the flight attendants know. You can see me discussing this with my friend, Maureen, on Been There Moms here. Also, plan to be at the airport for a while; you are required to stay in the gate area till the plane is off the ground…not when it leaves the gate. You must wait until the gate agent tells you the plane is in the air.

CHECK BAG RESTRICTIONS before you pack. You already know there is a weight restriction for a checked bag, but did you know there is also a size restriction? Check your airline’s website. You do not want to be told at the airport your bag is too heavy or too large. While you’re at it, check carry-on restrictions. In American’s Basic Econ, you only get to carry on one bag that will fit underneath the seat in front of you. For Main Cabin, you can have two…one under the seat and one overhead.  ***And while we’re talking luggage, take a picture of all checked bags before you check them. If they don’t arrive when you do, you will have a picture to show the baggage agent. Also, hang on to your claim checks till you have your bags in hand. If you’re like me, it might help to take a picture of your claim checks too.***

CHECK IN EARLY You’ve heard it a million times, but people don’t take it seriously. Arrive early! I check in online, but still, I prefer to get there two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. Folks may call that extreme, but  I’ve never missed a flight or panicked at security, wondering if I would make the flight. Make it easy on yourself; arrive early. You never know how long the lines will be. Why risk the stress? Using Mobile Boarding Pass? Take a screen shot of it beforehand, so you can access it quickly. I always print mine. My husband and I saw a couple in Miami struggle for five minutes trying to pull up their boarding passes on their phones. Once you clear security, it’s time to go relax and wait. I have TSA Pre-check, but I still arrive extra early, giving me time to relax or check email before boarding.

RELAX AND ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT Once your group number has been called and you have boarded, relax. Enjoy the flight. Maybe you try to sleep or catch up on emails (if WiFi is offered). It might mean playing games on your phone or reading a book or magazine. Just relax and let the professionals do the work.

***Does the idea of being in the air cause you stress? It’s likely the loss of control causing you anxiety. Check back soon. I’ll write about ways to empower yourself inflight.***

She’s Home

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My 14-yr-old daughter is home from her two-week adventure in Iceland. She doesn’t even seem tired after hiking, backpacking, rafting, sleeping outside, and all the other stuff she did.

I admire her and all the kids who did this challenging trip. I couldn’t do it. Well, I suppose I could, but I wouldn’t want to…tent sleeping = deal breaker. She said Iceland is a beautiful country, and she had a great time, but she did miss talking with us.

I totally get that. First, I missed her more than I knew I could miss someone. My husband and I said it to each other several times a day, “I miss our girl.” We could hardly wait for her to return, especially as I stood at the airport waiting for her plane to land. It seemed like forever. I was excited at that point, but time moved slowly, like waiting for Santa. Another reason I understand is that I visited Mexico with school friends and a teacher when I was fourteen, and we all experienced some homesickness. The difference? I could call home. Back in the 1980s, calling the US from Mexico was expensive, but my parents were OK with it. I didn’t call every day, but I did call a couple times…especially when I was homesick.

So, yesterday, I stood outside customs/immigration with my big sign, “Welcome Back!” I listed the girls’ names at the bottom. Waiting. The lady next to me was waiting for her grandson to come in from Iceland too, so we distracted each other.

After clearing customs/immigration yesterday, my daughter and her friends looked happy and relaxed. We did not cry (whew!), but she jumped into my arms. We did a group hug with her friends whose moms weren’t there. I was elated to see all of them! I asked them if they’d like to get something to eat before we got on the flight back to Charlotte. They opted for chicken nuggets, fries, and a Frosty from the airport Wendy’s.

On the plane, she asked me if I had missed her, and that’s when I cried. l told her she has no idea how much I missed her…and she doesn’t know, because until she has her own child who goes off on a two week trip with no communication, she will not be able to understand what it feels like to send your precious child 2,500 miles away. Think about that…I wouldn’t put my dog on a plane with someone to go 2,500 miles away. I wouldn’t send any prized possession on a plane with someone to go that far away.  Yet, we had to let her do this trip. And there will be more trips. There will be more experiences.

After we got home yesterday, a friend came over, and as we were talking, I told her how desperately I missed my daughter while she was gone and how it gave me a new appreciation for my parents’ experience. They must have missed me like crazy when I was gone too. At least when she goes off to college, she’ll be able to pick up the phone and call. As for this trip…I’m thrilled she had the experience. I know she learned a lot about Iceland but even more about herself and her ability to persevere. But honestly, I don’t want to be anywhere that I can’t call home for two weeks. In fact, I don’t think I even want to be at a posh resort in a beautiful setting with fun things to do and fabulous food if I can’t call home whenever I want! We are a talking family.

We want her to be independent, and that’s why we let her go. We’re already planning next summer. Will she do another one of these trips? I don’t know. If she wants to do another one, of course she can.

We are thrilled to have her home. She’s my favorite child.

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Missing My Girl

It hasn’t even been a week since my 14-yr-old daughter left for Iceland, and I’m already missing her. I know…that’s pathetic. We received our first “email update” a couple of days ago, and it sounds like they are having a fabulous time, but it might have made me miss her more, if that is even possible. I know I’m not the only crazy parent missing a child right now, though. I’ve talked to several friends whose children are on these trips, and we all feel the same way. We miss our children! However, I feel pretty sure she isn’t thinking of us…I hope she’s not. I hope she is enjoying everything Iceland has to offer and then some!

She is traveling in a group of twelve teenagers, with two young adult leaders…a girl from North Carolina, and a guy from Louisiana. The group leaders write the updates, and they say something about each traveler. According to that first update, while they were visiting The Blue Lagoon, a well-known geothermal spa, my daughter “led the group to the smoothie bar and then to the mud mask station.” I actually laughed out loud when I read that, because my daughter loves smoothies, and she loves masks. At least I know she isn’t starving, and her skin should be glowing when she comes home!

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Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, Iceland

I’ve worried about her “starving,” because my daughter is a picky eater. I tried to expose her to lots of different flavors when she was a toddler, but she’s like her daddy…she likes bland food. She eats a lot of grilled chicken, pizza, yogurt, broccoli, fruit, potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and rice. Oh, and peanut butter. I told her before she left that she will have to eat whatever they give her. According to one of her leaders, on the last trip, they had a lot of lamb and salmon, two delicious foods I’ve never been able to get my daughter to eat. My fingers are crossed that she will expand her palate on this trip. I did stick a few snacks in her bag, but she likely has gone through them by now. She doesn’t get that picky-eating gene from me. I will eat just about anything, except organ meat…nope, not gonna do it. My husband, on the other hand, eats nothing spicy. There are things he has declared “spicy,” and then I take a bite and laugh at him.

My sister-in-law has a 15-yr-old son on another trip offered by the same tour company. He is touring Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. We shared our updates with each other earlier today, and his trip sounds exciting too! According to his update, he “nearly had a nose to nose interaction with a baby sea lion who was looking for a buddy to swim alongside him!” Sounds like so much fun! He will get home two days before my daughter, so I will get to talk with him and hear all about his trip first. I can hardly wait, but I’ll have to wait another week.

I’m flying up to New York to meet my daughter and a couple of her friends when they arrive from Iceland. I’m thinking I need to make a gigantic WELCOME BACK sign for them. Think they’d be embarrassed? I don’t really care…I’m doing it. The only people they will know in the JFK Airport will be the people from their trip. I’m flying up a day early and staying at a hotel near the airport, and I will be so excited that I won’t sleep a wink that night. Pray for a safe return for them, and pray they are on time, so I don’t have to wait any longer than necessary.

My husband and I are meeting my brother and sister-in-law on vacation later this week. Our favorite dogsitter/housesitter arrives tomorrow night. I’m hoping the vacation will be a distraction from how much I’m missing my girl. We’ll laugh a lot, get some exercise, and lounge on the beach for a few days. I’m hoping my brother will cook dinner for us every night…he’s a great cook.

A friend’s daughter arrived home earlier this week from her tour of the Pacific Northwest. She was gone for three weeks. I called my friend, the mom, the morning the daughter was coming home and asked if she was excited that her baby girl would be coming home tonight. Of course she was! She sent me a cute picture they took of her two daughters right after the younger one arrived home safely. You can see it below. So sweet. You can tell they are so excited to see each other. I asked my friend if she cried, and she said, “We all did!”

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My friend’s daughters. The one on the right just arrived home safely from her tour of the Pacific Northwest.

I guess I need to wear waterproof mascara next week when I go to meet my daughter at the airport in New York.

Stargazing

If you know about my affinity for Los Angeles/Beverly Hills, you probably think I’m going to write about famous people. Nope. I’m actually talking about stargazing of the astronomical kind, not the Hollywood kind.

Last year, my friend, Mary Ann, and I went to Damascus, Virginia, with five kids: her three, my daughter, and a friend of my daughter. Damascus, Virginia, is the home of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile bicycle trail that starts at the top of Whitetop Mountain. For info about the trail, click here. We went to ride half the trail…the first 17 miles from the top of the mountain to the town of Damascus.

Before we went, I called ahead to the bike shop and let them know we would be coming. The bike shop I like to use, Creeper Trail Bike Rental (see website here), has a large assortment of rental bicycles for adults and children. I spoke with Craig, one of the owners of the shop with whom I had dealt before. Next, I set up a rental for the night before our ride. We opted to rent a local four-bedroom apartment for the night, so we would have plenty of room for the seven of us.

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We left Charlotte in the afternoon and arrived in Damascus a couple of hours later. It was late afternoon, and we went straight to our rental apartment. After everyone picked a room, we decided to go out to dinner. Damascus is a small town, and a lot of places close early, but fortunately, we ran into some locals who told us about a locally-owned pizza place, which turned out to be fun and delicious. It was located near a grocery store, so right after dinner, we went to the grocery store to get milk and cereal for breakfast and a few other snacks to take out on the trail with us the next day.

Once we were back at the apartment, some of the kids went inside, and a few of us stayed outside. We had noticed how clear the skies were, and thanks to Mary Ann’s oldest son, I had a new app on my phone that would help me see constellations, satellites, and stars. Mary Ann and I sat out on the picnic table in the backyard chatting for a while before lying back to see the stars. Where I live in Charlotte, there is so much city light that it’s difficult to see any stars. Add in the fact that my husband lights up the exterior of our house like an airport, and there’s not much chance of seeing anything in the sky. Using the app Mary Ann’s son had told me about, Sky Guide, I knew which satellites would be coming over the horizon, and I found constellations I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. I don’t know if there was a meteor shower that night, but we saw lots of meteorites, or as I like to call them, shooting stars. The term, shooting stars, just sounds more exciting. Two of the kids came out to join us as we were stargazing, and we all were amazed at the sky above us. I had never realized just how much fun it is to stare at the sky. I could have stayed there all night.

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We were relaxed and enjoying the sky show when suddenly, we heard a loud BANG! I don’t know what we thought it was, but it scared us. Well, it scared three of us, anyway. Three of us were off that picnic table in a split second and fighting our way up the porch steps and through the back door of the apartment. Mary Ann never made it inside. She was too busy laughing at us from the picnic table. As it turns out, the sound was a truck backfiring on the road in front of the apartment, so nothing to fear, but it took a few minutes for my pulse rate to come back down. I still wonder why Mary Ann didn’t run…was it a set up? Couldn’t have been, though, because no videos of the three of us running scared have surfaced…yet. Actually, I wish we did have a video, because it had to be hilarious. We did go back to stargazing afterward, but we couldn’t stop giggling about the backfire.

The next morning, we all got up, packed up our belongings, and went to the bike shop at about 9am. Craig loaded our rented bikes onto a trailer and drove us up the mountain in his van. On the way up, we told him about our stargazing the night before, and he suggested that net time we are in the area, we should go up to the top of Whitetop Mountain and do some stargazing from there. He said it’s beautiful on a clear night. I’m hoping I can get Mary Ann to go with me again in a few weeks, but frankly, I’m a little afraid of going to Whitetop…what about bears? Or Bigfoot? Maybe we will go in my car and watch the skies through the sunroof…at least then, we could make a fast getaway if necessary. I’m not usually a wimp, but I’m a wimp about bears and Bigfoot…and mountain lions…and snakes…and spiders.

So, Mary Ann, get your shorts and sneakers, and let’s hit the trail…The Virginia Creeper Trail! Looking forward to some pizza and stargazing!

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