Our Daughter Is 15 Today

It’s difficult to believe. Our daughter is 15 today. As I type, she has about 15 more minutes to sleep before getting up for school…ninth grade, a high school freshman. How did we get here so quickly?

It has been 15 years since she changed our lives. Wow. We had no idea what we were doing as new parents, and we have no idea what we’re doing as parents of a teenager. We take it one day at a time. Even last night, she asked me if she could go to some concert in a couple of months, and I answered, “Can’t we deal with that when it gets a little closer?” Sometimes, I refuse to believe she is old enough to go to concerts.

Getting here has been a journey. Our daughter was never a sleeper. Even as an infant, she didn’t really nap. She was always wide-eyed and always moving. I’ve always said she is just like my brother. He was always on the move and still is. It serves our daughter well in athletic endeavors. She has lots of energy, and the athletic field is the perfect place to use that energy. Of course, all that energy disappears when I try to drag her through a museum…but that’s OK. Museums are usually quiet places, which is why she doesn’t enjoy them. I get it.

When she was two, our pediatrician told me, “What you have here is the classic strong-willed child. It will drive you crazy, but it will serve her well.”

I remember milestones…her first day of preschool, when she was ten months old. I needed a break one day a week, so she went for three hours to the preschool at our church. The first time she went, I cried as I walked away. And then her first day of “real school”…transitional kindergarten at an independent school. I didn’t cry that day. I was excited for her. She was four years old. She would turn five six weeks into the school year. But on that first day of “real school,” I drove up, and she got out of the car like a pro and walked up the sidewalk to her new classroom. I can remember what she was wearing. I wanted to watch her walk up the sidewalk and into the building, but it would have caused a logjam in the carpool line, so I drove away.

There are so many memories. I remember her crawling at breakneck speed. Her first tooth emerging when she was 10 months and 2 days old…later than most. Her first steps when she was 11 months old…she walked and then ran all in the same day. The joy on her face on Christmas mornings. She always loved Santa; she was the little girl who would sit on his lap and talk his ear off. How she was afraid of the Easter Bunny…a giant bunny coming into her house was terrifying, so he always left her basket just inside the door. I remember when she fell at preschool when she was three, popping her lip open. I remember walking on the pier with her at our condo on the bay, alligators in the water beneath, holding her hand so tightly it turned blue. I remember watching a nutria forage for food underneath the same pier. Our girl loved digging in the dirt in my parents’ yard and running back and forth across the bridge in their front yard. She would catch the giant black and yellow horse lubber grasshoppers that populate the Gulf Coast with her bare hands. 1200px-Horse_Lubber_Grasshopper_(Taeniopoda_eques)When she was little, she loved Easter Egg hunts year round. She loved playing outside with her older cousins. She has always loved being outside. We still remember the look on her face during her first trip to Disney World when she was four. We spent countless afternoons over the years with our playgroup…having fun with friends. We’ve gone on road trips with friends and other vacations with friends…New Orleans, Upstate New York, Maine, Puerto Rico, Atlanta, Chicago, Kentucky (slept in a wigwam!), San Francisco, Louisville, and more. I remember when the admissions counselor at her school told me how sweet she was during her visit (she was four years old) when they asked her, “If you break a cookie in half, how many pieces do you have?” She answered, “I would have two, but I would give one to my friend, Caroline, because she’s in the hospital.” I remember when she was taking swimming lessons as a toddler, and every week, she helped a scared little girl walk to the pool, taking her by the hand and walking her over. I vividly remember dropping her off at the airport in New York last summer for a two week trip to Iceland, and I can still remember the joy I felt when she was back in the USA. My husband and I have watched hours of soccer, field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse. We went to dance recitals when she was a little girl…cute little yellow tutu with temporary tattoos all over her arms. I can still see the look on her face the first time she went to an Alabama football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium…it took her breath away. She has always loved rollercoasters…we were regulars at Carowinds Amusement Park for years…going almost daily when she was two, three, and four.  I’ve taken her to see concerts: Miranda Cosgrove, Matty B, Selena Gomez, Big Time Rush, One Direction…even One Direction opening for Big Time Rush. She has met some of her favorite athletes: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Tony Romo, Evander Holyfield. I should mention she also met Squishy Paws from Ricky, Nicky, Dicky, and Dawn, but only because I recognized the sweet little pooch when we were touring Paramount Studios…a proud moment. I’ve taken her to Los Angeles at least once a year since 2011, and she never gets tired of it.

On the journey to fifteen, she has lost two great-grandmothers and two grandparents…most recently, my mother this past December. She has had broken bones (wrist and shoulder) and multiple sprains. When she was ten, she came down with the flu on Christmas Eve. Yes, Christmas Eve. Since she was awake sick all night, Santa had a tough job that year. After a couple of nights at home with the flu, she and I moved to the Ballantyne Hotel for the next three nights and ordered room service till she was well. She has endured the stress of trying out for sports teams and standardized tests at school. She has watched her daddy go through brain surgery. And now she’s in high school. She is enjoying the transition from middle school to high school, and one day, I hope she will enjoy the transition to college just as much.

Before she goes off to college, I plan to make lots more memories…and afterward too. But since I know she leaves for college in less than four years, I want to make these high school years the best they can be.

One thing I know for sure is that she teaches us far more than we teach her.

I can’t believe she’s 15.

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Learning to Drive

As our daughter’s 15th birthday approaches, so does the excitement about the driver’s learner permit. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s nerve-wracking at the same time.

It’s a lot more difficult to get a driver’s license now than it was when I was a teenager. Our daughter doesn’t even have her permit yet, and we’ve already had to jump through some hoops.

In North Carolina, there are lots of moving parts to getting a learner’s permit. If no one tells you the different steps, it can be rather confusing. I’ve had to ask multiple people a million questions throughout the process, so hopefully, this will help some of you. This has been our process:

  • Register for Driver’s Education at age 14 1/2, if it isn’t offered in your school. (see bottom of page for contact info for three companies)
  • Send in payment for course.
  • Attend course and pass written driver’s ed test.
  • Go to the DMV for the eye test (if the company doesn’t offer it)
  • Schedule the driving portion of Driver’s Ed.
  • Complete the practice driving (six hours) with instructor.
  • Obtain proof of enrollment form from school.
  • Go to DMV on or after 15th birthday for written test and permit…take birth certificate, form from school, completed Driver’s Ed form, and Social Security card.

If I didn’t have friends who reminded me of things to do throughout the process, my poor daughter probably wouldn’t be on her way to getting her permit in a couple of weeks.

She completed the classroom/written test portion of Driver’s Ed the first week of June, getting it out of the way. She had to be 14 1/2 to enroll in the course. We then had to wait till about a month before her birthday to schedule the driving portion of the course. She had the first of two three-hour sessions this past Saturday, and she said everything went smoothly.

Anyone who has ridden with a new driver knows it can be nerve-wracking, but the only way to learn is through practice.

When the instructor arrived at our house, she told me that she usually stays in the neighborhood for the first two hours, and she never takes anyone on the highway in their first session. I wasn’t worried. I knew our daughter was in good hands, so I was very relaxed while they were gone. Plus, my daughter has practiced driving me around on private roads for months.I knew she would do well driving the instructor in the neighborhood.

When my daughter got home three hours later, she said she thought she had done very well, and she did go on the highway. She said that after they drove around the neighborhood a couple of times, the instructor said she was ready to get out on the open road. First, they practiced some parking skills at a nearby parking lot, and then they got in the interstate! Yikes! I love interstate driving, but some people hate it. I asked my daughter what she thought of it, and she said she liked it. Near the end of the lesson, they drove to pick up the next student driver and came home. She has her next session this weekend.

I’m excited for her, and nervous for us. I remember when I was learning to drive. It was exciting thinking about the freedom that was coming my way! I’m sure she feels the same way, but first, we have to make sure she knows what she’s doing. We have a year to help her practice to get her prepared.

It was a lot easier when I as a teenager. We took Driver’s Ed at school, and then when we turned 15, we could test for our learner’s permit. That was it. I don’t even think we had to show any proof that we had taken Driver’s Ed. But Driver’s Ed at school was fun. We had driving simulators. They were nothing like real driving, but they were fun!

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

I remember some of the driving mistakes I made early on when I was learning to drive. My poor Daddy. Our house was at the top of a hill, so if you backed out of our driveway in one direction, you were backing a little downhill on the road. One day, with my daddy in the car, I forgot to put the car into Drive after backing out, and I stepped on the gas pedal, sending us speeding down the hill backward! Somehow, Daddy stayed calm, and I got things under control. He probably never wanted to drive with me again, but he did. Another time, I stepped on the gas instead of the brake as we turned into a street. And somehow, we survived it.

I’m sure when Daddy was teaching my brother to drive, it was much less stressful for him. My parents had caught my brother driving a friend’s car when he was just 14, so there’s no telling how much driving experience he really had when he got his permit. It wasn’t funny at the time, but Daddy laughed about it years later.

Later, after I had my license, he taught me to drive a manual transmission on a Jeep we had…another adventure, but not one my daughter is likely to have, since so few manual transmission cars are made now.

So our adventure in driving is about to begin. It’s difficult to believe. I remember when our daughter first started walking, and we said she didn’t have walking around sense. Will we feel the same way about her driving?

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DRIVING SCHOOLS IN CHARLOTTE (I’m only listing companies my friends have used):

Helms Driving School…Website:   http://www.helmsdrivingschool.com/Services.html

Jordan Driving School…Website:   http://www.jordandrivingschoolcharlotte.com

Faulkner Driving School…Website:   http://faulknersdrivingschool.com/about-us.aspx

 

 

 

 

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A Wilderness Life Skill for Girls

Guys have it made when they’re stuck outside with no bathroom. On camping trips or hiking trips, they just walk over to a private place in the woods and do their thing. It’s not so easy for girls. First of all, there’s no way for a girl to make her bladder gladder without actually exposing herself. Well, there is a product out there called Go Girl that helps, but it takes a little practice at home before trying to use it in the wilderness. You can see it here. It really does work and makes going outside much easier. I know, because my sister-in-law gave me one for Christmas. Do you camp? Do you fish? Do you ever find yourself needing to “go” when you’re hiking? I don’t. I don’t camp. I really don’t, but there were times in life I needed wilderness relief. Therefore, I know the importance of carrying the Go Girl with me.

When I was a little girl, my friend, Allyson, who lived down the street, had two older siblings…a sister in the high school band, and a brother on the football team. Allyson’s mother took us to games, and what fun it was! To a little girl in a small town in the south, a high school football game is a big deal!

Allyson’s mother volunteered in the concession stand sometimes, and on those nights, Allyson and I waited for her to close up shop. It probably didn’t take long, and we were happy to get to keep playing together, but on those nights, we were the last ones out.  One night when I was probably six or seven, while we waited for her to close up the concession stand, I knew I needed to pee…I was in a bind. The field lights had all been turned off, except at the concession stand. I told Allyson’s mother I needed to go to the bathroom, but she laughed and told me the bathrooms were locked. Eek. Her mom was (and still is, I’m sure) a sweet lady…not all stuffy and formal, so she gave me an alternative: “Nobody’s here but us. Just go around the stands where it’s dark and tee-tee in the grass.”

I’m sure I looked at her wide-eyed, and said, “I’ve never done that outside.” With a little encouragement from her that I would be able to pull it off, Allyson and I set off into the darkness. We walked around the bleachers, but not too far because we were a little scared. I remember vividly that I was wearing my very favorite little navy, sailor-style skort with white, anchor-embellished, decorative buttons on the front. I went behind the bleachers, pulled down my little sailor-style skort, and tinkled…all over the back of my favorite little sailor-style skort, but I didn’t know till I pulled it up. I had discovered what many women have known for years: it’s not that easy to pee outside. It was my last attempt for many years. When it was time to drive home, I had to stand up in the backseat of the Buick. I couldn’t sit on the seat…I would have gotten it wet. And since there were no seatbelt laws in the mid-70s, standing up while the car was moving was not unusual.

Years later, I attempted wilderness relief again…desperate times call for desperate measures. I was in my twenties and had walked down to a river with some friends. Realizing I wouldn’t be able to wait till we got back into town for the bathroom, I went behind a tree down by the water. This time, I was old enough to understand how to do it correctly. It’s all about balance…no big deal, right? Right…except for the boat that came around the bend just as I got started. They got a look at that full moon, and they honked and waved. I was past the point of no return at that point so all I could do was continue and give a big wave…and laugh. But I didn’t wet my shorts.

Wilderness relief is a life skill. For whatever reason, my mother didn’t teach me that one. It’s likely she tried and I flat refused. I’ve always been a little stubborn. But when I became a mother, I knew my daughter needed that life skill. I taught her the skill of wilderness relief when she was about two…in the Nordstrom parking deck at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte. I don’t know that you could call it wilderness. She was potty-training, so we had visited every ladies room in the mall, and I made sure she went in the last one before we walked to our car. As soon as we arrived at the car, she said, “I need to tee-tee.” I didn’t have the time, patience, or energy to go back into Nordstrom, so I said, “Well, you need to learn how to do it outside.” And right there, in the Nordstrom parking deck, between two parked cars, she learned about wilderness relief. It has come in handy over the years when she has had sports practice at fields where the bathrooms were locked.

I hope it’s a skill she will pass on to her daughter one day…just so she won’t mess up her favorite little, sailor-style skort.

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Keep The Courtesy Wave Alive

Is it possible there are people out there who don’t know what a courtesy wave is? I guess it’s possible. I grew up thinking everyone knew about it and everyone did it, but as time has passed, I’ve come to realize some folks still don’t know. Are we witnessing the slow death of the courtesy wave?

A courtesy wave is a hand wave or gesture a driver or pedestrian offers as an expression of gratitude for a kindness on the road, or as an expression of apology after a mistake.

When I was growing up, courtesy waves were commonplace. Everybody did it, as far as I knew. I remember both my parents being courtesy wavers, and my brother and I became courtesy wavers, as well. It’s just what we do. Or at least that’s what I thought. It seems fewer people offer the courtesy wave these days.

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Last week, when I was driving to school, a man was trying to back out of his driveway into the street, but traffic made it difficult for him. I stopped so he could get out. He backed out of his driveway and drove away…no courtesy wave. He certainly didn’t owe me anything, since I did it out of the kindness of my heart, but really? I couldn’t believe it! I stopped traffic for him, and he couldn’t just hold up his hand to thank me? That’s like someone holding open a door for you and you don’t say “thank you”! Come on, dude! Just give me the wave!

Another afternoon, I was picking up my child from a crowded place. The car next to me and I allowed a car to pass in front of us, so he could exit. He didn’t even look at us, much less give a courtesy wave. I looked over at the driver of the car next to me and recognized him, so I put down my window and said, “Wow. A courtesy wave would have been nice.” He responded, “I thought the exact same thing!”

But it happens all the time. I think there are way fewer courtesy wavers than there used to be. I don’t get mad, but I often wonder if they know how great the courtesy wave is. Courtesy waves carry a lot of power, but if you don’t do it, you’ll never know. They have the power to make someone feel appreciated; or to apologize; or to offer forgiveness.

I’m an extreme courtesy waver. My courtesy wave is one long continuous wave from different angles…or accompanied by a “thank you” if I’m a pedestrian. I offer that wave in different situations. Here are some examples:

  • If I’m trying to walk into Target, even if I’m in the crosswalk, and you stop to let me cross, I’m giving you a courtesy wave to thank you for your kindness. I’m likely going to smile and actually say, “Thank you!” I appreciate someone letting me cross. That’s how a pedestrian can use the courtesy wave.
  • As a driver, if traffic is backed up in my lane, and you let me over in front of you, you get a giant courtesy wave. In fact, chances are I will roll down my window and hang out the window to give a big wave with a big smile, and I will likely follow up with another wave over my shoulder and a wave out my sunroof. Like I said, I’m an extreme courtesy waver.
  • A courtesy wave can go a long way in bad situations too. If you cut me off in traffic and keep going, I think, “What?!?!” But if you offer a courtesy wave after, I simmer down. That courtesy wave means, to me, that you are apologizing for making that mistake. And I even give the courtesy wave of forgiveness in return. At the same time, if I accidentally cut someone off, I raise my hand for that courtesy wave as quickly as possible.

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I understand frustration in traffic. There are lots of things I dislike about driving: slow drivers in the left lane, drivers who fail to yield the right of way, people who change lanes without looking, and more, but a lot of those things can be forgiven with a courtesy wave. Sometimes slow drivers don’t realize they need to get over, but if they give me a quick wave and move over after I pass them on the right (ugh…if I’m having to pass you on the right, you’re doing it wrong), all is forgiven. I know they don’t care if I forgive them or not, but it’s civility.

Civility is good, and courtesy waves are part of that. I refuse to believe this gesture is dying. I choose to believe it is alive and well, but some folks just don’t know about it yet. Spread the word, friends…courtesy waves are powerful. They aren’t required, but they are appreciated.

***Thank you for reading Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things. If you enjoy my blog, please go “LIKE” it on Facebook.***

 

 

 

 

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Parents’ School Year Goals?

Looking through “the Facebook” today, I came across a friend’s post asking, “Parents, what are your goals for this school year?”

Am I supposed to have school year goals? I’d never considered it, but maybe I’ve been missing out on something. Maybe, while teachers and students are setting goals for the new school year, I should be setting some goals of my own. I’ve asked other friends, and they looked at me like I had fourteen eyes. One of them said she has one goal: drink more wine. Another one said her goal is to keep her children organized for the school year. I told her, “Good luck with that.” I’m not a terribly organized person, so personally, I’d probably hurt my daughter’s organizational skills rather than helping them.

So, after talking with friends, I decided to make my own list of goals for the school year, and they are goals for me, not my daughter:

  • Family time. My first goal is to make sure we carve out some family time. Between school sports, school, real life, and social lives, this can get neglected. This school year, I will make it a priority…to make sure we have time to just be together…maybe dinnertime, maybe watching sports together, maybe vacations…whatever…I will make it happen.
  • Have fun. This is always at the top of my list. No matter what we are doing, we can make it fun. That doesn’t mean we don’t take things seriously; it means we approach it with joy. I’ll use my library volunteer job as an example. I volunteer every other Tuesday, and the job entails checking out books for students, shelving, reloading paper in printers, etc. Sounds boring, right? And I’m sure it can be, but it has always been fun for me. I look forward to it every time, because I became friends with the people who work there, and it’s always fun to spend time with friends. There’s nothing wrong with sharing jokes or life stories while you work! I try to become friends with people in my volunteer positions, so it feels like I’m hanging out with friends while we’re working.
  • Enjoy lunch with friend(s) at least once a week, and once a month, I need to try a restaurant in town I’ve never visited. My friend, Linda, and I meet regularly, and we tend to meet at the same four or five places. Next time, we are going to a new place, and I’ve found the perfect place for us to try. It’s easy to keep going to the same places, and I won’t abandon those, but if I try a new restaurant once a month, that’s twelve new lunch places in a year!
  • Laugh a lot…a whole lot. At the risk of sounding like a song from Mary Poppins, I love to laugh! Really…it’s one of my favorite things to do. I grew up with a brother who loves to laugh and naturally makes people laugh, so I’ve had a lot of laughing practice. It cures a lot of ills. Therefore, I’m going to try to keep myself out of non-laughing situations.
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  • Spend time outdoors…all year. I love being outdoors. I love sunshine. I don’t love camping, so don’t get any ideas about that. In spring, summer, and fall, this doesn’t take much effort. But winter? That’s another story. It’s exactly when I need to get outdoors…to avoid SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder…or what I call the wintertime blues. So this year, I am going to try to spend some time outdoors even when it’s cold. Brrrr.
  • Make some new friends. We have some new families coming to our school this year, and I plan to welcome them with open arms. You never know where you’ll find a friend…and I love fun, new friends…especially ones who like to try new restaurants and laugh a lot.
  • Travel when we can. High school means lots more time spent on homework, and it means lots more time dedicated to school sports. Whenever we can squeeze in some travel fun, we will do exactly that.
  • Exercise more. OK, I had to throw in one of those things that is a “must do.” I need to exercise more, so I added it to the list. If I can find people who want to laugh with me while exercising, that’s even better!
  • Watch more football. Yes, I’m putting it on the list. I watch a lot of football anyway, but I want to watch more. Don’t worry, Bama fans, because I am Schleprock, I will not watch Bama games in real time. I will record them and watch them after the fact. But I want to watch other games…a lot. Besides, this is a good way to fulfill the first goal I listed…spending time with family. How many more days till football season starts?

And those, my friends, are my back-to-school goals…nothing education-related at all. Sure, I could make my goals all about my child, who is now a high school student, but guess what…school is her job. Yes, if she asks me for help or I think she’s having issues, I will help her, of course. She knows that. But she also knows it is her responsibility to take care of school work. After all, I’ve already done 9th grade. It’s a lot more difficult than when I was in school, but she knows I will help her if she needs it, and she knows if I can’t help her, I will help her find someone who can. The one school-related thing I will do is continue to encourage her to establish relationships with her teachers…they can definitely help her if she needs help.

Let’s get this party started!

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.***

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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