My Favorite Holiday Gifts, Part 6: Stocking Stuffers

Every year, I end up dashing around at the last minute to come up with good stocking stuffers. You can’t just have empty stockings hanging by the chimney on Christmas morning! So, this year, I’m planning ahead. I’m listing something fun for everyone here. Aren’t Christmas stocking supposed to be fun?! Without further ado, here are my favorite STOCKING STUFFERS:

Festive Cracker Set from L’Occitane. Holiday crackers have been around for a long time, but these festive crackers from L’Occitane are special, because they contain fabulous L’Occitane beauty products. Each set contains four crackers, each containing beauty products of a different scent: Sweet Cherry Blossom; Delicious Almond; Fragrant Lavender; and Nourishing Shea Butter. They can be used as stocking stuffers as a set, or break it up and put one cracker in each stocking. Priced at $34 for the set, order from L’Occitane here.

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Sports or Concert Tickets. These always go over well in my household. We tend to prefer sporting events over concerts, but we’ve given each other some great concert tickets over the years: The Eagles, Sade, and more. And when our daughter was younger, she loved getting tickets to see Big Time Rush and Taylor Swift in her stocking. There are some great concerts coming up over the next year: Pink, JoJo Siwa, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, George Strait, and more.  For sports in Charlotte, we’re fortunate to have the Hornets, the Checkers, the Panthers, and the Knights, plus some college sports too! For sporting event and concert ticket information, go to Ticketmaster.com here, or VIPNation.com here.

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Scratch Off Cards. Some of you will think I’m crazy, but Santa puts Scratch Off Cards from the North Carolina Education Lottery in our stockings every year! The most any of us has ever won on one card is $100, but hey, that’s something! One year, when I was buying them, the guy helping me told me his aunt won $40,000 on a Scratch Off on Christmas one year. I don’t sound so crazy now, do I? Prices start at $1 for NC Scratch Offs, and I usually buy about $100 worth to split among our stockings. Get them at Harris Teeter or anywhere they sell NC Lottery Tickets. If you live in another state, perhaps your state has a lottery with scratch-offs, or maybe a neighboring state. I know my friends in Baldwin and Mobile Counties in Alabama have been known to drive to the Florida line for lottery tickets…and others to the north have gone to Georgia. To see the different types of Scratch Offs, go to the North Carolina Education Lottery Page here.

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Foot Massage Roller. Anyone who spends much time on their feet can use a foot massage. This foot massage roller is perfect for do-it-yourself foot massages. Just put it on the floor, and roll it with your foot for instant relief. After walking around lacrosse or soccer fields during a weekend tournament, this will do the trick! And my daughter uses it after playing in those tournaments. Is your spouse a doctor or nurse? They’re on their feet all day…they’d love this. Have a friend or family member who travels a lot? It’s great after trekking through airports or after long flights. Weighing under 6.5 ounces, it’s light enough to carry in luggage without adding bulk. Purchase from Amazon for $18.99 here.

 

Little Stinker Bag of Reindeer Farts Cotton Candy. If you have little boys in your house, you know they love potty humor. Heck, even big boys love potty humor. What’s funnier than a bag of reindeer farts? Well, obviously, they’re not really reindeer farts, but they’ll get a lot of laughs on Christmas morning. Priced at $9.95 for three ounces (cotton candy is light) from Amazon. Purchase here.

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Firebox Head Case. Some folks will think this is absolutely crazy, but when my friend, Mary Ann, told me about it via Facebook, I was all over it! Nothing says “that’s my bag!” like your own giant face on your suitcase. I don’t have my own yet, but I will have one soon! When it comes off the luggage carousel on my first trip after Christmas, I will recognize it immediately…and everyone else will know it’s mine! I think this is a great stocking stuffer for anyone who likes a good, crazy gift. My teenager daughter would be mortified, but I know my crazy sister-in-law will love it! It’s a fabric case cover that fits over your bag. It comes in three different sizes, and the handles are still easily accessible. Purchase at firebox.com here. 

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Lypsyl Lip Balms. My daughter and her friends recently brought these fabulous lip balms to my attention. Available at Walgreen’s, Walmart, and Amazon.com, they are made of Swedish Beeswax Lip Balm. According to the teenage girls who hang out at my house, they are the best lip balms on the market. Guess what will be in the my daughter’s Christmas stocking this year? But Lypsyl’s not just for women. They are offered in the original formula and in Yummy Sticks too. Purchase at your local Walgreen’s or Walmart, or purchase on Amazon.com here.LypSyl_2018_lineshot

Kendra Scott Moody Mood Necklace. I mentioned these in the Christmas accessories post, but they are worth another mention. Doesn’t every woman love to find a little jewelry in her Christmas stocking? This is fun, because it will remind some of the old mood rings of the 70s. Aside from that, they’re just pretty! Priced at $75, the mood necklaces come in silver, gold, and rose gold. Kendra Scott also offers mood rings for the same price. Purchase here.

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Restaurant Gift Cards. This is almost too simple to mention. We all know about gift cards, and they make great stocking stuffers for just about everybody. For teenagers, there’s Starbucks, ChickFilA, Shake Shack, and more. For adults, you can go more upscale, or just something they like: Starbucks (again), Cafe Monte in Charlotte, Bricktop’s in Charlotte, or The Palm. Or maybe you know a hotel they frequent? Lots of hotels and spas offer gift cards, as well.

 

Dylan’s Candy Bar Hot Chocolate. Dylan’s Candy Bar has an assortment of hot chocolate mixes that are fun for the whole family. They offer several “mystery color” hot chocolates that turn red, pink, or green in your cup, making for an interesting hot cocoa experience. And they offer flavored hot chocolates as well: Fir Real (Double Chocolate Christmas Hot Chocolate), Just Hangin’ (Salted Caramel Christmas Hot Chocolate), and Sweet But Twisted (Peppermint Christmas Hot Chocolate). For any family member who has seen the movie or the musical, Mean Girls, they offer a hot chocolate called You Go Glen Coco pink hot chocolate mix. Purchase directly from Dylan’s Candy Bar here.

 

Claus Porto Musgo Real Soap-on-a-Rope. Soap-on-a-Rope has made a comeback in recent years. Because I love Claus Porto soaps, it’s the one I recommend for men. The Classic Scent is fantastic and fresh, but not flowery, and Claus Porto uses Shea butter in all their soaps, making them great for moisturizing too. Get this at Neiman Marcus for $28 here. OR get it in a set with cologne directly from Claus Porto for $90 here.

 

Lush Bubble Bar. Starting at $5.95, these beautifully-scented bubble bars create a relaxing bath experience. Some of them are even reusable. There are different shapes and scents, and who doesn’t love a bubble bath? Shop Lush Bubble Bars here.

 

L Erickson Grab and Go Pony Tube. Best ponytail holders ever! I discovered these several years ago when I was waiting to check out at Anthropologie in Los Angeles. You know how they have all sorts of little accessories near the checkout? Well, I grabbed one of these tubes, and I was so glad I did! My daughter and I both use them, and they hold our hair without damaging it. Anybody in your life who ever wears a ponytail will love these. Priced at $18 for the tube of 15 ponytail holders, they’re not cheap, but they are worth it. Get them at Amazon Prime here. Or from Nordstrom here.

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Bluetooth Beanie. Bluetooth Beanies are a hot item this Christmas, and they are the perfect size to shove down into the toe of a Christmas stocking. You know how you have to have something you can push in to the toe to support everything else in the stocking? Well, here it is! Bluetooth beanies are great for listening to music while attending sporting events, running, skiing, and more. Amazon offers lots of them, but here is one that gets great ratings…the Everplus beanie, starting at $14.95. Get it at Amazon here.

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Duluth Trading Larry Flashlight. I have one of these, and it comes in handy. Sure, we have flashlights on our phones, but they’re not like this. I’ve used this one at the beach while we looked for ghost crabs at night. I’ve used it while I walked the dogs at night. It gives off a lot of light, and it’s lightweight too. Makes a great stocking stuffer for any member of the family. Don’t all little kids love flashlights?!? Don’t teens and college students need flashlights? Priced at $14.95, it’s a great deal. Purchase from Duluth Trading Company here. 

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City Clues. One Christmas, we planned a trip to New York for our daughter, so we decided to fill her stocking with clues about the trip. Since she was 11 or 12 at the time, we went with clues a girl her age would associate with NYC. That meant her stocking contained a magnet from the Empire State Building, an 8″ replica of the Statue of Liberty, come candy from Dylan’s Candy Bar, some frozen hot chocolate mix from Serendipity, an Eloise doll (from Eloise at the Plaza), Yankees tickets, and tickets to see Matilda on Broadway. Oh, and an I Love NY t-shirt. She figured it out, and she was thrilled. Planning a big trip? Find some souvenirs online to put in your family member’s stocking.

 

 

And there you have it…stocking stuffers! Get busy shopping! Christmas is just over a month away, and you don’t want to miss out on the good stuff!

***Next time: TEENS AND COLLEGE STUDENTS!***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 5: Travel Stuff

I love a vacation or getaway, so nothing makes me happier than a travel-inspired gift, whether it’s something I can use while I travel or something that reminds me of travel. So today…GIFTS FOR TRAVEL AND AVIATION ENTHUSIASTS.

Away Luggage. It’s sleek. It’s durable. Away Carry-ons have an ejectable battery option. And best of all…it’s guaranteed for life. Away Luggage comes in 12 colors, and each piece is on durable wheels that rotate 360 degrees for ease of movement. Plus, if you travel with multiple Away Luggage pieces, they nest inside each other, so after you unpack, they take up less room in your hotel room. Starting at $225 for the carry-on, these are a great gift for travelers. You can also have it personalized by the manufacturer. Check out their whole website, as they also offer totes and backpacks made of water-resistant nylon. Shop here.

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Away Carry-on, $225

W&P Design Carry On Cocktail Kits. These carryon cocktail kits are small, but they contain everything you need to mix cocktails in flight, except the alcohol, which you can get from your friendly flight attendant, or purchase miniatures in advance. W&P offers kits for an Old Fashioned, a Bloody Mary, a Margarita, and more. At only $24, they make great gifts that will actually be used by the family member or friend who travels regularly! Or purchase the Travel Pack, which includes a small travel-size bag packed with three cocktail kits at $90. Don’t need the kit? Maybe your traveler would like five of the cocktail kits, called The Frequent Flyer, at $100. See slideshow below. Get them here.

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Seat For 1. This bag from Uncommon Goods gets a thumbs up from me, surprisingly. When I first saw it, I thought it was crazy, but after checking it out, it sounds awesome! The bag weights 2.6 pounds, and it’s small enough to carry on, but strong enough to hold an adult sitting atop it. In fact, it will withstand up to 330 pounds! Anyone who has ever had to stand at a boarding gate where there were no empty seats will appreciate this wonder! No more seats? Create your own with this bag! Priced at $65, it’s a great gift for a traveler. Get it from uncommongoods.com here.

Airportag.com I wrote about this one for home gifts, as well, but it’s worth mentioning again. This is one of those websites I could peruse all day. It bills itself as the “best aviation and travel gift shop.” It’s a great one, with airline and airport themed apparel and accessories…even featuring defunct airlines. Great for the aviation enthusiasts in your life, there are lots of customizable products. Personalized boarding pass-style pillows, mugs, shirts, comforters, totes, luggage tags, and many more…they have it all for the folks who love planes and trains. And the popular airport code apparel? They have that too! Prices start at under $5 for stickers. The airport codes duffle shown below is $64.90, while the airline “crew” luggage tag is $14.90, and the tote, bottom right, is $24.90. Shop airportag.com here.

O2 cool 5″ fan. Looking at this 5″ fan, you think there’s no way it helps anyone anywhere. Well, I think your traveling family member or friend will be surprised. I purchased one of these when I was in Vermont a couple of years ago, because I needed a fan on my face in the hotel room. It was the only one I could find in the local store, and I thought I would end up throwing it away. I didn’t throw it away. In fact, I used it for the rest of that trip and gave some to family members who also enjoy fans while they’re sleeping. It’s small enough and light enough to pack in a suitcase without adding weight or bulk. Priced at just $14.99, it’s a great buy at Amazon here.

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Amazon Fire Stick TV Bundle with Echo Dot (2nd gen). This is a great gift for the traveling friend or family member who loves streaming TV shows or movies. They can plug it into any TV’s HDMI port, connect to Wi-Fi, and continue streaming hit TV shows and movies…picking up where they left off at home. Pair it with the 2nd generation Echo Dot, making it even easier to use. Priced at $39.98 for the Fire Stick and Echo Dot, it’s a great deal from Amazon. Get it here.

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Mark and Graham Personalized Luggage Tags. Mark and Graham does these right. Made of quality leather in bright colors to help travelers locate their bags on the luggage carousel, these make great gifts. Priced at $55, you can get them here.

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Travel Diffuser Aromatherapy Kit. We love diffusers in our house. Sometimes, I walk into my daughter’s room and am surprised to find it smells like a posh spa, because she is using her diffuser with a lavender oil or some other great essential oil. Priced at just $30, the kit includes the small diffuser plus three essential oils: lavender, lemongrass, and peppermint.  Lavender is relaxing, while the others rejuvenate and refresh. I have my own essential oils from DoTerra I can use, as well, making it even more useful. Purchase the kit here.

Longchamp bags. When I travel, I often make purchases, and they don’t always fit into my luggage. A few years ago, a friend gave me a Longchamp Le Pliage bag, telling me she would fold it and put it in her luggage when she traveled. When it was time to go home, if she had made purchases, she could fit them in the bag and check it or carry it onto the plane with her. Made of durable nylon with leather accents, the bags fold flat and come in different colors and sizes. My favorites for travel are the Le Pliage Expandable Tote at $195 and the Le Pliage 21-inch Expandable Travel Bag, priced at $255. See them all at Nordstrom here.

Vintage Airline Gifts. OK, so it isn’t actually vintage, but a lot of the logos are at rebubble.com. I love apparel featuring defunct air carriers, and both of these sites offer plenty of options. Maybe you know someone who worked for one of the carriers, or you have a friend who is an aviation enthusiast. Or maybe your family member would love some airline-themed personalized stationery. The possibilities are endless.  Search for an airline name (National, Eastern, Pan Am, Continental, Mohawk, TWA, Braniff) and see the possibilities. Shop redbubble.com here.

Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine. I’ve had one of these for years, because sleep is important. I’m a light sleeper, so when I’m in a hotel, I hear the air conditioner turn on and off. I hear slamming doors. I hear people walking past my room. And sometimes, I hear traffic. I learned a long time ago that white noise is my friend. I purchased the Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine, and I carry it every time I travel. If you have a friend or family member who travels but complains about noise in hotels, this could be the ticket! Get it at Amazon for $44.95 here.

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LUSH Solid Shampoo/Conditioner with Tins. For travelers, it really stinks to arrive somewhere and discover your liquid shampoo or conditioner has leaked. Pressurized cabins can do a number on bottles of haircare products. When I was perusing the Lush website recently, I discovered they have solid shampoos and conditioners! No more messy leaks! And they’re priced right and smell great! Each item is priced under $15 for just under 2 ounces, and they come in a variety of scents. Make sure you pick up a tin for each product. Each tin is priced at $3.95. Shop Lush here.

Beautural Steamer for Clothes. I don’t always have time for the hotel to press my clothes when I’m traveling, so I love having a good portable steamer. With almost 600 reviews, this portable steamer is the highest-rated one on Amazon. It heats in 30 seconds and operates at 1200 watts, and it’s perfect for home or travel. Package includes a lint brush, fabric brush, and creaser. Your traveling friend will thank you. Purchase for $34.99 with free shipping here.

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Travel Listography. If you’re not familiar with Listography, you’re missing out. Listography Journals have been around a while. This particular one offers the traveler the opportunity to list travel-related things: places to travel, animals I’ve seen in the wild, people I’ve met along the way, etc. It makes a great gift for the traveler who loves to keep track of what he/she has done and keep a bucket list too. Purchase for $10.32 from Amazon here.

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And there you have it…a list of gifts for the traveler or aviation enthusiast in your life! Happy shopping!

NEXT TIME: Stocking Stuffers!

Move Over! My Driving Pet Peeves

I’m going to throw something out there that people don’t seem to remember: the left lane on a multi-lane road is for passing. I know! I know! You think it’s the fast lane. Some folks like to refer to the lane closest to the median as the fast lane, but in truth, it’s a passing lane. If you’ve been cruising all over town in the left lane, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, in some states you will be ticketed for cruising in the left lane…I have a cousin who learned the hard way after receiving a ticket for it on Interstate 10 in Louisiana. Just yesterday, I was trying to pass someone, and the car ahead of me in the left lane was going the same speed as the car beside him in the right lane…for three miles…get around the other car and move over!

Ever been driving in the left lane and had a car come up rapidly behind you? Unfortunately, the state in which I live, North Carolina, has very weak left-lane laws, but you’re supposed to move over so that faster car can pass. Surely, you’ve noticed clusters that form in traffic when cars in the left lane are not moving faster than other lanes. Here’s the gist: Use the far left lane (nearest the median) for passing. In some states, all lanes except the far right lane are for passing only, and if you’re using the lane for anything other than passing, you can be ticketed. You can see information about states’ left lane passing laws here.

In fact, within the last year, lots of Alabama drivers were surprised when they were ticketed for it. I know, because I talked with an Alabama State Trooper about it. Alabama State Troopers sent out a message via Yellowhammer News two years ago. To see it, click here. If you are slowing down the left lane, you are endangering lives. I always say, “If I’m having to pass you on the right, you’re doing it wrong.” Jake Lingeman wrote about it in Autoweek here.

Now that my daughter is about to get her learner’s permit, I’m paying more attention to driving habits, and here are some observations:

  • HAZARD LIGHTS IN RAIN Do not slow to a crawl in rain and turn on your hazard lights. Just don’t. Some states have laws against it. Hazard lights are for traffic hazards. Where I grew up, if you couldn’t drive in rain, well, you would hardly ever drive. If you consider yourself a hazard, you need to get off the road. If you can’t drive in rain, get off the road. Don’t stop on the shoulder; have lunch or coffee somewhere. By slowing to a crawl with hazard lights flashing, you are creating a hazard. Should you drive 85 through a rainstorm? No. But the other day, I was behind a car that slowed to 35mph in rain on the interstate highway…with hazard lights. Don’t do it. To see state laws regarding the use of hazard lights in rain, click here.
  • TURNING RIGHT ON RED First thing you need to know is you must come to a complete stop before turning right on red, and then you may turn ONLY when clear. You must be sure all parts of the intersection are clear, including cars facing you from across the intersection. If someone else has a green light or green turn arrow, you must wait. It happens all the time coming out of my neighborhood. I get the left turn green arrow, and mid-turn, someone from the other side turns right on red at the same time. Nope, nope, nope. Traffic facing a steady burning GREEN ARROW has exclusive right to enter the intersection to make the indicated movement free from conflict. Cars turning with a green arrow have right of way. And don’t forget to watch for pedestrians and cyclists. For more info, click here.tim-gouw-128115-unsplash
  • U-TURNS ON RED LIGHTS It’s illegal. I see it all the time. If you go into the intersection at any time on a red light, except making a right turn when clear, you are violating traffic laws. In some states, as long as you don’t enter the intersection or crosswalk, it’s OK, but that’s rare. To see what a Florida officer said about it, click here.

So, yeah…not complaining…just putting it out there. I certainly make mistakes when driving…probably every single day. But if I cut someone off or make another mistake, I always give the courtesy wave. If you don’t know about that, you can read about it here.

Happy motoring!

***COMING THURSDAY: My Favorite Holiday Gift Ideas for 2018!***

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Fear of Flying? Take Control

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If you’re afraid of flying, you’re not alone. I’m not one of those people, but I know a lot of them. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that empowerment is the key. People are afraid to fly, because they feel a loss of control. They know commercial air travel is safer than driving to the airport, but they are driving themselves to the airport. On the plane, they are handing over control to a stranger.

We can talk till we’re blue in the face about how much safer air travel is than driving, but that doesn’t help those people who are afraid. This is one of those situations in which knowledge is power. People can feel more confident about flying if they have a plan.

I’m not going to get into the detailed engineering of jet engines. You don’t need to know a lot about the thrust of jet engines, but here’s the basic info:  Jet engines suck in air through a fan in the front. The high speed blades in a compressor raise the air pressure, and gas is added. As the mixture expands, it shoots out the back of the engine, causing the jet to thrust forward. Simple. What you really need to know is how you can take control of your own situation, so I’m going to tell you. I wrote a blog recently about making air travel easier. For the most part, it was about eliminating stressors leading up to the flight.If you start with eliminating the stressors of the airport, it’s easier to stay calm. You can see my previous piece, Making Air Travel Easier, by clicking here.

Now I’m going to tell you some things that might help eliminate some of the fear of actual flying.

AIRLINE TRAVEL IS SAFER THAN EVER USA Today ran an article in April, after a Southwest emergency, with this headline:

Airlines, including Southwest, are so safe it’s hard to rank them by safety

Wow. That should make us all feel a little better. You can read the article here.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER This is the absolute truth. Since you won’t be flying the aircraft, you don’t need to know how to fly it. The knowledge you need is how to react in an emergency and some calming techniques. In an emergency, we want to be able to get out of the aircraft quickly. I was a flight attendant for a while after I graduated from college. I know it is highly unlikely you will ever have to evacuate an aircraft. Here’s something else I know: accidents are survivable, especially if you have information that will help you get out.

  • When I board an aircraft, the first thing I do is look for the nearest exits…which may be behind me.
  • Count the number of rows between yourself and the two nearest exits. If something happens, and it’s dark, you need find your way out by touch. Even if you are unable to see, you can touch seatbacks and count your way to the exit.
  • Pay attention to the safety demo/video and review the safety card before takeoff. It will make you feel better to see how the exits work. Often, that information is included in the safety card in your seat back pocket. You can see American Airlines’ safety video here. A Delta video is here, and United’s is here. I love the United video. Keep in mind these are samples; different aircraft have different procedures…pay attention.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and natural fabrics. Synthetic fabrics tend to be more flammable, so wear natural fabrics like cotton. Also, wear shoes in which you can move quickly.
  • Fasten your seatbelt low and tight around your hips, decreasing the likelihood you will be injured in an emergency.
  • Keep both feet flat on the floor for takeoff and landing, decreasing the risk of back injury or leg injury in an emergency.
  • Make sure all bags in your row are completely underneath the seats. You don’t want to trip over something if you need to get out quickly.
  • When I travel with my daughter, I tell her, “If there is an unlikely emergency, do exactly what I tell you without hesitation. If I can’t get out, you go without me.”
  • In the unlikely event of an emergency, leave all your belongings behind! The more things people try to carry, the more difficult it is to get people out.
  • If you must take anti-anxiety medication (or have a cocktail) when you fly, take the lowest dosage possible for relief. Less medication/alcohol means you can react more quickly if necessary.
  • If you still can’t relax, try soft music (even classical?) on some earbuds, or watch a lighthearted movie. Play solitaire. Read a book or magazine. But don’t wear earbuds during takeoff and landing; you want to hear any instructions if needed.
  • My trick for calming myself in other situations is to stop and use my senses: think of something I can hear; think of something I can see; think of something I can touch; think of something I can smell. Putting myself through that thought process can take my mind off the situation.
  • Another calming trick is to find something to count. Count passengers. Purchase boxes of candies in the airport, and count the candies in each box…slowly. Counting is a good way of forcing yourself to think about something else besides your anxiety trigger.
  • If you are traveling with children, remember your children pick up on your body language. If you’re anxious, they become anxious. Try to calm yourself.

Here is some information about aircraft cabins you might find useful:

  • Often, the electronic pings you hear are simply passengers using their flight attendant call buttons, flight attendants trying to communicate about drink cart needs, etc.
  • Soon after takeoff, there is often a thud sound as the landing gear is raised back into the underbelly of the plane.
  • Many times, after takeoff, you will notice the aircraft seems to slow down a little. It might be due to noise ordinances over a city or another request by air traffic control. This is normal.
  • Often, when items shift in the galleys, you will hear them banging around.
  • Passengers sometimes slam doors when they go into the lavatories. You may be surprised by the sound. And sometimes you hear the flush.
  • If you have a drop of water fall on you, it is likely condensation from the air conditioner.
  • Sometimes, landings are just a little jarring, because the pilots are compensating for crosswinds on landing. No big deal.

Hopefully, this calms some of your fears. I feel better about situations in life if I have a plan for mishaps. When I drop my child somewhere, I tell her, “If there is a fire alarm or active shooter situation, get out of the building fast. Call me after you get to a safe place.” If I’m in the building too but not with her, she knows to get out first, then call me. And for years, we’ve reviewed the “stranger danger” plans.

Try to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to survive an emergency and some calming techniques, and you will likely feel better about flying altogether. Here are some books offered by Amazon you might find helpful as well: SOAR The Breakthrough Treatment For Fear of FlyingFear of Flying Workbook  and Scared Flightless.

I tend to feel better when I’m armed with knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Making Airline Travel Easier

aeroplane air travel airbus aircraft

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.***

Back to Reality

Ahhhh…vacation. If only we could feel as relaxed in daily life as we do on vacation.

We returned last night from what is likely the last big vacation of the summer for us. I love vacation. I love vacations of all kinds…active, outdoors (but not camping), water, city, lazy, big, small…just vacations in general. I love visiting new places and familiar places.

This most recent trip was to a familiar place, Los Angeles, but we had people with us who had never been, so everything old was new again. We had a great time…three moms with three teenagers. One mom was my awesome sister-in-law, whom I adore, and the other was my college friend, Angela…also adored. As we all started to depart the hotel yesterday, I could feel “reality” hanging over our heads like a fog.

I always get a little sad when I know the final big trip of summer is over. This year, because of high school sports, the final big trip of summer had to be a little earlier. (Note that I keep saying our final big trip, because I keep hoping for a couple of small adventures.) Our daughter is starting 9th grade and trying out for high school teams this year. Those tryouts start in early August, so no more vacations…back to reality.

Reality means it’s time to start getting prepared for the next school year. I get queasy just thinking about it. I don’t know if my daughter is nervous at all, but I am. It happens every year, but this year, more so, because she is going to high school. I’ve never had a child in high school, so this is a new experience for us. Deep down, though, I know she will settle in just fine, and eventually, I will settle down.

The most immediate thing on the horizon is the “assigned summer reading.” That is reality at our house right now, and that is the part I do not like. It’s not really my reality; it’s my daughter’s reality, but I will have to listen to her complain about it. I’m not the mom who helps with homework or nags about assignments. Most of the time, I don’t even know what the assignments are…and that’s how I’d like to keep it. I’ve talked with my friend, Maureen Paschal, about assigned summer reading on Been There Moms. You can see the video here. I simply do not like assigned summer reading. I feel like it is encroaching on my family time, and it’s like a cloud hanging over summer for us. I love to read, and I hope my daughter will eventually love it too, but even as a reader, “assigned” reading was tough for me as a student. At some point in the next couple weeks, she will take a couple days to sit down and read that book. She will complain about it, but she will get it done.

Personally, I think, if the school is going to require summer reading, I think they should also require outdoor exercise. There are some students who love reading all summer, and there are some who enjoy being outdoors all summer. Sure, there are some who fall between the two, but my daughter loves moving around and being outdoors. Sitting still? Nah. There’s no fun in that. But I really believe that if the school is going to have assigned summer reading, they should also have required outdoor exercise hours. If we are trying to enrich the whole student, let’s build their minds and their bodies.

Another reality is getting prepared for my daughter’s freshman year, meaning I need to make sure she has everything she is going to need. Right now, though, we are one month out from the first day of school, so seeing school supplies in the stores just makes me nauseous. I will get everything in advance with time to spare, but I don’t look forward to it.

And then there’s this reality: a month of back to back trips means things in my closet (and my home) are in disarray. I came home from the beach in June, and I’ve had several back-to-back trips since. I won’t get into listing all the places we visited, but it has been a lot of packing, unpacking, and packing again. And in some cases, I didn’t even unpack and repack…there wasn’t time. I just packed other stuff in a different suitcase. I need to take the time to straighten out all that, and it is one of my least favorite things to do. It means pulling out everything from closets around my house and purging. I’ve found some good “purging” advice in an article from the Huffington Post here. I dread it. But I will do it…maybe while my daughter is doing her assigned reading!

Today, though, I choose to ignore those realities. I want to enjoy the last fun, lazy days of summer…hanging out in the pool, spending time with family, harvesting tomatoes, spending time outdoors, and possibly, taking a little road trip or two. I’m on my way out to the pool now…