We Save $$$ Traveling with Friends

We save money traveling with friends…and make some great memories at the same time!

I’m always thinking about the next vacation. My husband just rolls his eyes every time I say, “You know where I want to go next?” He rolls his eyes because he does not have wanderlust, and I do. He loves being home, and he loves visiting the beach where he grew up. That’s fine, but I like to go to different places. That doesn’t mean I don’t repeat places, but the places I like are different than what he likes. No, it’s not a problem, because he doesn’t care when I vacation without him, and I don’t mind when he vacations without me. We’re married, but that doesn’t mean we have to be together 24/7.

My daughter and I travel with friends quite often, and we love it for so many reasons!

Our 16-yr-old daughter is an only child, and I have a cousin and several friends who also have “only children,” so it’s fun to travel with them. I get to catch up with my friends or my cousin, and my daughter has fun with their daughters.

Aside from the fun factor, it saves money for all of us, and we get to do more! How does it save money? Well, we always travel with friends we love…people we enjoy sharing space with. For example, this summer, we are going to a Caribbean destination with a friend from Alabama and her daughter. When we both had daughters, we joked that they would have to be best friends whether they wanted to or not…and fortunately, they love each other! As for the money savings, we share a hotel room or suite. Because we are sharing, we are splitting the cost, making it much more affordable for both of us. It doesn’t save us anything on airfare, but we manage to save a lot anyway.

In fact, this summer, we will do trips with three different friends and a cousin, and it’s all possible, because we aren’t spending a fortune on the rooms/suites, even though we will have beautiful, top-of-the-line accommodations! But we don’t just save on the room. We also save on rental cars, taxi rides, Uber rides, and gas costs. Seriously, it all adds up, and at the end of a five day trip, we are usually amazed at how much we saved by sharing the costs with friends.

Another way to save on travel? Consult a travel agent. I used to work at a travel agency, so I know they often are aware of specials the general public might not know about. Planning a trip to the Caribbean? Let an agent help you. Planning a cruise? Let an agent help you find the perfect one!

Maybe you want to book your own hotel reservation? One quick thing about hotels: when you are making a reservation, always check the special offers. Sometimes, they offer a fifth night free. Sometimes, they offer suites at a discount, but if you don’t check into it, you might be paying the same thing for a room that you could be paying for a much larger space. And always…always…always…continue to check the rates even after you book your reservation. Last year, after I booked our hotel for spring break, I kept checking, and the rates kept going down. I ended up with a rate that was $500 less (total) than the original rate I booked.

Other good ways to save when traveling? Some credit cards offer extra points for dollars spent while traveling, and you can get cash back. I have a credit card that gives me cash back for every dollar we spend, and we get a greater percentage if we apply it to travel. In fact, we try to pay for everything we can on that credit card, and the savings add up fast! I pay for two vacations a year with the points from that card! And don’t forget your frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards programs. If you haven’t signed up for the rewards programs of hotels where you stay, you are just throwing money away. Registration is always free for the programs, and you get points that can add up to free hotel rooms. Seriously, last year, we had 12 free nights in hotels. That’s real money.

And anyone can check out The Points Guy’s website here. The website has a plethora of information about travel savings, but one of the first points he makes is one of the points I’ve already made: get a credit card that will maximize your cash back or points for travel. He says, “By using your debit card [instead of a credit card with rewards], you are spending money and getting nothing in return.”

Travel doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and it’s a lot more fun when you make memories with people you love! So if you want a surefire way to save on travel, grab a friend and split some costs! That’s my favorite way to save on vacation costs!

 

You’re Wearing Work Pants?!?

***Before reading, please know I’m not complaining about my teenage daughter. I do not feel like she is taking advantage of me. I feel like she is a normal, healthy teenager who is trying to find her independence. It’s what teenagers do. It’s funny. Teenagers are hilarious to those of us who remember what it was like to be a teenager, and even though I’m 52, I remember it well! Teenage girls are funny creatures who think they know everything…right up until they figure out they don’t know everything. We all parent differently, and I choose to parent with laughter. I have rules, and generally speaking, she follows them.***

“You’re wearing work pants?!?!” Yes, my teenage daughter asked me this in her school cafeteria yesterday, because what do teenagers do when they’re not critiquing their mothers’ fashion choices? Isn’t that why we put in so much time feeding them, sleep training them, kissing their booboos, and helping them figure out life…so they can find fault with our wardrobes?!

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for years, but I have volunteered at her school since 2008. She is used to seeing me there in jeans or slightly more fashionable clothing, but yesterday, she saw me in the school cafeteria in what she referred to as “work pants.” And there’s a reason I was wearing those “work pants”: I was working.

Recently, I started doing a little substitute work in the library at her school, which means I am actually on the payroll. Dressing for the payroll is a little different than dressing when you’re working for free. You can’t wear jeans. You have to look somewhat professional.  Most adults would not have looked at me and thought “work pants.” I was wearing black wide-leg pants (or slacks) and a blouse I thought was really cute…collared with stripes and a tie-waist. And heels. I wore heeled booties. I didn’t look like an old-fashioned “school marm.” And I didn’t look like I was going to repair her car. I didn’t look like I was going out to take someone’s temperature or represent someone in court. But apparently, I looked like I was at work, and she felt the need to call me out on it. It’s something she’s not accustomed to…and it surprised her!

I have written before about how my daughter is definitely a teenager now. Seriously, I’ve told y’all how she rolls her eyes when I sneeze…or talk…or breathe. And now…she doesn’t like my “work pants.” Or maybe she thought I was cooler than that. Y’all, having a teenager definitely keeps you humble. If you have children…especially girls…under age 12, enjoy it. Hug them. Feel free to sneeze, talk, breathe…because soon they will be critiquing your wardrobe.

A friend came over for coffee this morning, and we compared notes on our teenagers. Thank God we have each other, or we could really start to feel bad about ourselves! We could actually start to believe we always wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, and even walk “wrong.” And maybe we do, but we went 50 years without people feeling the need to tell us that…and then we had teenagers. My friend didn’t seem to mind that when she arrived at my house for coffee this morning, I was wearing blue pajama pants with pink flamingos all over them and a gigantic black hoodie with “Rollin’ with the homies” emblazoned across the front. She didn’t even care that I hadn’t brushed my hair yet! My friend saw me dressed like that and with bed head, no less, and she still loves me! But my daughter? She doesn’t approve of the “work pants.”

So at the end of the day, I took a few minutes to explain to my teenage daughter that I can’t go to work in the library wearing yoga pants or jeans. I can’t go in wearing a hoodie with “Rollin’ with the homies” across the front of it…and a picture of a pug smoking a cigarette on the back of the hoodie…I should mention that. It’s my favorite hoodie, and honestly, it’s the article of clothing that should really embarrass her!

Most of the time, though, she is kind and funny, and I love spending time with her. She loves getting my insight and feedback, and most of the time, she listens. She even thanks me for things I do on a regular basis. She’s a keeper.

It’s hard to believe in just 2 1/2 short years, that teenager will be going off to college…”good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And then, one day, she will likely graduate from college and have her first “real” job. I hope I’m visiting her on the first day she goes to work, so I can make fun of her “work pants.” She will have long forgotten poking fun at my clothing choice, so I will catch her off guard just before she walks out the door. I’ll stroll over to her, wearing my very comfy PJs and bathrobe and drinking my morning coffee, and I’ll say, “You’re wearing work pants?” I will then bid her “good day” and remind her that I’ll be sitting around in my PJs drinking coffee, watching The Price is Right, while she’s out working in her “work pants.”

 

Answer the Freaking Door! (Life with Teens)

The doorbell just rang. I knew my teenage daughter was expecting a friend. I’m in my room knitting, because I’m recovering from a stomach bug. I stopped and listened for movement upstairs. Nothing. I picked up my cellphone and called my daughter. No answer. Instead, I got a text from her saying, “Hey.” I responded, “GET THE DOOR.” I would say I was in disbelief, but I wasn’t. She’s a teenager, and somehow, they become more self-centered than they were at four. Hard to believe, I know, but if you’ve ever parented a teen, you know it’s the truth. And I remember 16. I know we are just entering the “I know everything, and Mom knows nothing” years. How long does that last? Till 25? Ugh.

I’m taking notes on all this teenage fun. I find that if I keep notes on it, it actually becomes humorous. I can laugh about it. Here are a few notes I’ve made:

  • No matter what I wear, it’s wrong, and she will wait till other people are around to tell me. Seriously? Seriously.
  • Occasionally, I feel like a walking wallet. No joke. We just got home from vacation, and I noticed during that week that she heard nothing I had to say unless she needed money to purchase something she wanted. I’m not kidding.
  • I sneeze wrong. And I breathe wrong. Oh, and I pronounce things incorrectly…usually, it’s the names of rappers that I pronounce incorrectly. First of all, I didn’t even know DJ Khaled and Khalid are two different people…and clearly, I pronounced one of them wrong.
  • My resting face, while not “resting b**ch face,” is apparently annoying to my daughter. She has asked, “Why are you making that face?” My response? “I’m not making a face. It’s just my face.” And of course, that gets an eye roll.
  • Which leads us to this: an eye roll is the response to just about everything.
  • If I linger in her room after we have talked about something, she will look at me for about five seconds before saying, “OK. You can go now.”
  • Apparently, everybody else gets to have more fun than our daughter does. Apparently, I’m the only mom who actually expects her to go to sports practice and do homework. We know that’s not true, but she sure makes it seem that way.

That’s not a complete list, of course, but it gets the point across. But here’s the thing: just like most teenagers, behind all that sarcasm and eye-rolling is a sweet girl who still loves her parents and wants to please us. I know that, because she also does this:

  • When she gets a good grade or a bad grade, she immediately calls me or texts me. If it’s good, we cheer together. But if it’s bad, she knows I will say all the right things to help her and encourage her…set her on the right track.
  • When I’m not feeling well, she calls me before she leaves sports practice and asks if she can bring anything home to me.
  • At the end of a recent vacation, when I asked her what her favorite thing about the trip was, it was the day we were together the whole day.
  • She actually uttered these words to me recently: “Mom, you do parenting right.” What?!?! A high compliment? She didn’t mean I’m a sucker. She meant we communicate really well with each other.

She’s figuring it all out…and I am too. Teenagers are an interesting bunch, and we all need to remember we used to be teenagers. I know she needs my help navigating these years, and so far, she’s doing pretty darn well. She’s not perfect, but then again, neither am I.

As a teenager, she is somewhere between a child and a full-fledged adult. These years are interesting, and they are fleeting. Before I know it, she will be off to college and thinking she is way smarter and way cooler than I am…even more than she does now! But she’ll still call me…and not just for money. She’ll call me to share accomplishments. She’ll call me when she doesn’t feel well or when she’s sad. I know, because I did the same thing. In fact, when I had a stomach bug two days ago, I wanted to call my mom.

Gotta go give my girl a hug.

Christmas Card Photos

Have you finished your holiday shopping? How about your holiday travel plans? Have you locked in your airline reservations? What about hotels? And just when you think you have everything done, you remember you have to do holiday cards! Try finding a picture of the whole family together…good luck finding one where everyone is behaving nicely.

Yesterday, I said to my husband, “We need to get a photo for our Christmas cards.” He asked, “Can’t we just do a card with no picture this year?”

And you know the top of my head almost blew off before I calmly said, “No. Our card always has a picture on it.” He replied, “Well, maybe this year we change it up.” Nope. Nope. And nope.

So last night, I sat down and starting scrolling through the pictures on my cellphone, trying to find one that would work. I could find pictures of my daughter and me. I found pictures of my husband and my daughter. I found pictures of me and my husband. But finding a pic of all three of us? That’s tough.

I decided to get creative. Since I couldn’t find a good picture of all three of us, I decided I would create one! I found a picture of Velma, Daphne, and Shaggy from one of the Scooby Doo movies, and I superimposed our faces onto their bodies. Yes, I let my daughter be Daphne, and I became Velma, while my husband was Shaggy. I laughed till I cried thinking of my husband dressing and acting like Shaggy. And my daughter walked in while I was laughing by myself. She looked at me like I’m a weirdo…the same way she always looks at me, because she’s a teenager…and asked, “What are you doing?!” I said, “Working on our Christmas card picture.” And I showed her my creation. She was not amused.

So I tried something else and put our faces on Carly, Sam, and Freddie from iCarly. It had the show’s logo across the top, and I kept Spencer in the photo too. If you’re familiar with Nickelodeon’s iCarly, you know the characters. If you’re not familiar with the show, you can see info here. When I showed that picture to my daughter, she let me know I was taking things too far, “Mom, no. Just no.” Seriously, though, her reaction made me really want to use that one on the card.

But after that, I tried a different approach. I found a picture I liked of me and my daughter, and I added my husband’s face to it…like he is sticking his head into the picture from the side. When I showed it to the daughter, she laughed and said, “Add the dogs too!” So I did. It was a joke, but then, I kind of liked it, and the daughter liked it too. But the husband absolutely did not approve. In fact, he went back to “can’t we have a card with no picture?” I told him that indeed, he could, if he were married to someone else, but I love photo cards! And he said, “Let’s take a picture of the three of us this weekend though, and we can do that.” He has no idea how hard it is to get all three of us together…showered….dressed….and photo ready…at the same time.

So at some point this weekend, we will try to get a picture of the three of us. It won’t be professional, but maybe we will pull it off. If not, folks will be receiving a card with the picture of me, the daughter, the husband’s face Photoshopped in, and the dogs Photoshopped in too! I know…if you’re on our list, you’re hoping for the Photoshop picture!

***Once we find an acceptable picture, we will upload it to Shutterfly.com to make our cards. You can see Shutterfly card options here.***

Sweet Sixteen!

Our daughter is a high school sophomore, and she and lots of her friends are turning 16. No one is more excited than she is. In fact, if I asked her right now how long till her birthday, she could likely tell me how many days and how many hours. More importantly, if I asked her how many days till she can test for her drivers license (a few days after her birthday), she might know down to the minute.

Lots of friends have told me stories about watching their kids drive away on their own for the first time. For some, it’s scary and nerve-wracking. Others say it’s exciting, knowing their children are gaining more independence. One friend has told me how upset she was when her son drove to school by himself for the first time, because it hadn’t occurred to her that the last time she drove him was the last time.

While we are excited for our daughter, there is a little apprehension. She’s 16, and her brain still works like a 16-yr-old. Driving is a big responsibility. We have done everything we can to prepare her for this moment. While North Carolina requires young drivers to log 60 driving hours while they have their learner’s permits, we have required her to log 120 hours. It gives me a little peace of mind to know she has logged double the required number of hours. We have reviewed different situations in driving:

  • Always STOP before turning right on red when clear.
  • When the light turns green, look to make sure cars aren’t coming before driving into the intersection.
  • Plan your route before you leave home.
  • Avoid difficult left turns.
  • At a certain shopping center in Charlotte, never use a particular entrance/exit.
  • When coming around a bus in said shopping center, be aware that cars might not see you and will turn in front of you.
  • Slower traffic keep right.
  • When brake lights come on in front of you, immediately put your foot on the brake…and watch for brake lights two or three cars in front of you.
  • Don’t follow closely.
  • Avoid high traffic areas when possible…and high traffic times too.
  • Don’t play loud music; you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you.
  • Pay extra close attention in roundabouts. You might know what you’re doing, but it’s difficult for lots of people.
  • If you’re not sure you can fit into a parking space easily, just drive farther out in the parking lot. You’re healthy. You can walk.
  • No cell phone usage or other distracted driving.
  • Be smart/use good judgment.
  • Pay attention to road signs!

There are so many things to know/learn when driving. I remember when she was younger, she once asked me if driving is difficult. I explained to her that no, the act of driving is not difficult; it’s the other drivers/cars on the road that make it difficult. Anyone who can drive will know that is true. You never know when someone will follow you too closely or stop unexpectedly in front of you. You never know when a car will turn in front of you or change lanes on top of you. And we all make mistakes while drivingwe just have to hope we don’t make big mistakes. And if you’re wondering…yes, I’ve taught her all about the courtesy wave…when someone lets you into traffic…when you make a mistake that affects another car…courtesy wave.

So here we go…in a few days, if she passes the test, she will be driving by herself. Several of her friends have failed the driving test the first go-round, so we aren’t counting on it being a sure thing. My husband will take her to the DMV, and they will call me afterward. He navigates government offices better than I do. He also navigates cell phone stores better, but I’ll save that for another day.

The bad news is that I won’t have that car time to chat with her. Now, when I bring her home from school or sports practice, that drive time is a little decompression time. We catch up. She likely won’t be a passenger in my car very often for the rest of her life.

The good news? I won’t have to drop everything to pick her up somewhere. She can drive herself to and from school and sports practices. She is excited. She is gaining some independence, and I can have a cocktail on the patio in the afternoon!

Don’t we all remember when we got our driver’s licenses? Don’t we all remember how it felt like forever till we had them? It’s a milestone. It’s a big deal. It’s what makes the sixteenth birthday a special one. And I’m excited for her to spread her wings!

Now, she just has to pass the test.

Don’t Make Me Get My Voodoo Doll

I’ve been volunteering at my daughter’s school since she enrolled there in 2008. It’s a TK-12 school, and she is in tenth grade. It’s a fabulous school, and we are very fortunate to have a large volunteer base…lots of moms, dads, and grandparents who pitch in all the time to help make sure everything runs smoothly.

I’ve volunteered in lots of different ways…helping with art classes in elementary school; helping make costumes in lower school; helping with various events; helping coordinate volunteers for admissions; working with the music department; volunteering in the library; volunteering as room mom or team mom; taking tickets at carnivals; recruiting other volunteers…lots of different things that I have enjoyed. And while I’m doing whatever job I might be doing, I take it seriously.

I take it seriously, but I still have fun, and I always remember we are support for the system. We are supposed to support the school, the administrators, and the teachers in what they want us to do. We don’t run the place. I do things the way I think the people for whom I am working want it done.

Do I think it’s important to volunteer? Yes, for any number of reasons, the first being that I can volunteer. I am able. I have time. Another reason? I feel it’s important for my daughter to see that I think her education is important enough for me to invest my time. And another reason is that I know the school needs volunteers. Many hands make light work! I am one of those 20 percent of the people who do 80 percent of the work.

And even though I feel it’s important, it’s not the most important thing in my life. It’s not even near the top of the list. I enjoy it, and I want to do it, but I don’t place it above everything else I do. Want to know why?

I realized a long time ago that the work I do for free falls in far behind the stuff I need to do for my family and for myself. I have a small immediate family…just me, my husband, and our daughter…but doing for them comes ahead of doing for everyone else. Do I let myself get stressed out about volunteer work? Heck no! It’s supposed to be fun! I’m working for free, for Pete’s sake! And when someone tries to make it stressful for me, I pluck a strand of their hair to take home with me for making a voodoo doll. That’s all it takes…one strand of hair attached to a voodoo doll.

Of course, I’m kidding (or am I?), but seriously, there have been times I’ve wanted to make some voodoo dolls. Not gonna lie. And usually, it’s because someone takes themselves way too seriously. Or maybe someone has a high anxiety personality…something I don’t jibe with. Maybe someone is just downright disagreeable…or thinks they know everything…or they create drama…or can’t smile. Yep…I have actually given up volunteer positions because someone I was working with couldn’t smile. Girl, I’m funny…if you aren’t laughing when you’re with me, you are a hopeless, unhappy creature. As I’ve heard someone say somewhere: Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s how I look at it. I volunteer at school when it works for me and my family. I enjoy it, and I take it seriously. Do I think anyone is going to remember what I’ve done ten or twenty years from now? Heck no! They aren’t even going to remember my name! After my daughter goes off to college, I will run into folks in the grocery store who will think I might look familiar from school, but they won’t be sure…and that’s one thing I know for sure. That is not my legacy!

So, I will continue to volunteer at my daughter’s school. And I will continue to laugh and be happy while I do it. And I hope everyone else is too! But don’t make me get my voodoo doll!

***You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.***

To order your own voodoo dolls, you can find them on Amazon.com here.

First Day of Sophomore Year

Today is the first day of school at our daughter’s school. She will be starting her sophomore year of high school. Seriously…only three more years of school before she off to college. How can that be?!?

She survived…even thrived in freshman year! She learned a lot academically, socially, and athletically. She got good grades. She loved her teachers. She made new friends. She had some solid extracurricular activities. In fact, she played varsity field hockey and varsity lacrosse, and she was a basketball cheerleader. The cheerleading part is a big deal. She is not one who likes to perform. She likes to play sports. She isn’t looking at her “audience” when she plays sports, but cheerleading is different. I was very proud of her for trying something new. And it wasn’t just new to her. Her school hadn’t had cheerleaders in years, so she was a part of a new team altogether.

And now she begins her second year of high school. She has already had a few field hockey games. She had school orientation yesterday, and after a rough morning of “I have nothing to wear,” she rebounded after orientation, telling me she was thrilled with her schedule for the year. Even though she had no idea which of her friends were in her classes, she was happy with her schedule. Whew! That’s a win!

The first couple months of school, my husband will drive her to school, or she will ride with friends. I will pick her up after field hockey practice most of the time, and I’m sure she will get rides with friends when she can. But in October, she should be getting her driver’s license, and life will change for all of us. She will drive herself to school and home from practice in the afternoons. She will be able to meet her friends on weekends on her own. I won’t have to take her where she wants to go, because she will be able to drive herself. It’s going to be a big change, and though I’m sure I will worry every single time she drives away, she will be gaining some independence.

Independence is the goal. Our little girl is growing up…that’s for sure.

Last night, before going to bed, she made sure she had everything she needs for school today…notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, books, book bag, etc. We made sure she is prepared for a new school year. After forcing her to take “first day of school” pictures, my husband drove her to school this morning, and they stopped at Starbucks on the way. I feel sure she reunited with friends she hasn’t seen this summer, and right now, she’s likely meeting her new teachers. She’ll eat grilled cheese from the cafeteria at lunch, and if she doesn’t get a ride home with a friend, I’ll pick her up after school.

And chances are, she will tell me very little till she is good and ready to tell me.

But I’m embracing this 10th grade year, even though I prefer an eternal summer…and I’m already planning vacations for the holidays, spring break, and next summer. It’s what I do. We always need something to look forward to. Because I want her to know that life is meant to be lived NOW. Do the things you have to do so you can do the things you want to do. See the world. Enjoy your friends. Learn new things.

I’m not going to pretend I’m happy the school year is starting. I’m not. If I could do it, life would be one big adventure. But reality is that she needs to go to school…for lots of reasons.

Our baby is not a baby anymore.

Let’s get this school year started…and I’ll be looking forward to the next holiday!