International Travel Tips

August is here and summer travel season is coming to a close! I recently returned from two beautiful weeks exploring Istanbul, Greece, Malta and Italy and was inspired along the way to take a few notes on international travel. Obviously not all of these tips apply to every form of travel, or every place you’ll ever go, but they do apply in general and I wrote them to emphasize the difference in domestic and international travel. Please see below for some ideas on how to have a safe, happy international traveling experience.

International Travel Tips

1. STEP Up and Be Prepared

It didn’t matter how many times I told Josh that I would be fine in Turkey, he was very nervous about my trip. So of course he had to be proven correct and we were in the country on the day of the military coup.  We ended up getting out of Istanbul safely and quickly, but I had been prepared in case of such an emergency. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that allows Americans to register with the nearest embassy while traveling abroad, before even leaving the U.S. The program updates you on security risks and threats, as well as provides the embassy with both your contact and your emergency contact’s information in case of an emergency. Sign up for it once, and then just add any travel plans to your account in the future. I signed up before my trip and it was very easy and reassuring to know the embassy knew exactly where we were and what our travel plans were, as well as how to contact Josh if something was to happen.

I will never stop traveling, there is still so much to see out there in this beautiful, diverse world and I endeavor to see as much of it as I possibly can… But rest assured, I am also going to take every precaution and will always take my plans and safety very seriously.

2. Pack Your Patience

If you travel to Europe in the summer, you are going to stand in more lines than Disney World. In July. On a Saturday.* You’ll stand in Passport Control and Customs and at tourist attractions and subway platforms and taxi stands and…well, you get the idea.  Any traveling requires patience, but traveling internationally requires an extra dose of patience as you fumble your way through foreign languages and unknown cities. Everything seems a little more complicated and a lot more frustrating when you aren’t sure where you are going and you’re out of your element. But that’s exactly why you’re traveling to the unknown! The adventure!

So put on your Patience Hat and try to relax…you’re on an adventure.

3. Maps (I know, actual hold-in-your-hand maps)

Remember maps? We used to have them if we went somewhere that we’ve never been and used them to navigate? Well bust them out if you’re going abroad, even if you have an international data plan but especially if you do not! We’ve almost become conditioned to just depend on our smart phones, but its a good idea to have an actual map if you are in a foreign country dealing with a language barrier. I had a map in my hand throughout most of Istanbul, Athens and Rome and it saved us a few times when someone’s phone wasn’t working or Google Maps was on the fritz. And I am proud to say I didn’t get us lost once! I like these Frommer’s Day By Day books because they give some ideas on what to see in a city, as well as have a convenient pull-out map in a pocket in the back.

I have quite the collection...

I have quite the collection…

4. Try New Things

Listen, I am all for enjoying the comforts of home…but remember, you’re not home. And presumably you left home for a reason. So logic dictates that maybe you should try some new things while you’re out exploring the world. You don’t have to try lamb innards in Sicily, but stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to experience a new culture and give you a good story to tell when you get back home! We even made sure to check out the McDonald’s menu in each country, if only to compare it to home and see what was considered local fast food. It was fascinating.

lamb guts

Lamb brains, intestines, etc. Tasted like pork.               Sign me up, MTV’s The Challenge!

5. Understanding

Nothing teaches you how to be more understanding than adjusting to other cultures. Small things such as European air conditioning (not nearly as powerful as ours here in the South, FYI) can become big things if you let them. Adjusting to customs such as a store being closed from 1-3, or a city basically shutting down on a Monday, can be difficult adjustments for those of us stuck in our American ways. But again, you have presumably left your circle of the world to see someone else’s – adjust your expectations, take a deep breath, and enjoy it. You’ll be home to your Normal and missing the stunning shores of Greece before you know it!

6. Be Ready to Have Your Outlook Changed (and let it)

Believe it or not, the rest of the world does not revolve around the United States. I know, I just blew your mind. But I think as a nation we tend to have a very U.S.-centric mindset and I believe it holds us back as a culture. Traveling internationally exposes you to so many new sights and sounds – but it also can expose your ignorance and biases, if you let it. It is much easier to say “Nope, we don’t want your refugees” while sitting at home…and an entirely different experience to watch them line up at the Athens docks, waiting to escape their war-torn country with children and everything they own in the entire world in their hands. It may not change your mindset, but it will give you a level of understanding you simply could not achieve from your couch. Or seeing soldiers with automatic weapons walking the streets in droves and feeling an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that we live in the United States and are not experiencing military coups (insert Donald Trump presidency “that’s an inevitability” joke here) or a police state. I am so lucky to be an American, and nothing hammers that point home quite like exposing my heart and mind to different cultures and countries.

everywhere meme

Alright, that sums it up for now! I know I’ll never be done traveling or learning, so I presume I may need to come back and update this list as time goes on. In the mean time, I encourage you all to travel and join me in a life filled with new experiences, cultural awareness, and adventure!

Do you have any tips for international travel? Any trips planned? What’s on your Travel Bucket List?

 

 

*Don’t go to Disney World in July. That’s just good advice.

Book Recommendations – June 2016

Welcome to my most requested List… Book Recommendations! And I wrote one TWO years ago and promised to do this monthly. Lies. But I am back again and going to give you a quick list to get back in the swing of things…a few books I’ve read since my last round of recommendations that I’ve started telling people to read. And again, I promise not to post spoilers in the descriptions if you promise not to post spoilers in the comments!

Affiliate Link disclaimer: If you click on the book, it will take you straight to my Amazon affiliate link so you can order…and ordering from my link enables me to buy more books. All of which I’ll tell you about in future lists. Isn’t Amazon grand?

1. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

It sounds terribly sad (a train of orphans? wahhhh) but I promise this is a captivating novel that will pull at your hearts strings as you follow the journey of two different young women, at two different periods in our history. The story follows both Vivian, a Depression-era young girl and her struggles on the Orphan Train (yes, it was a real part of our American history; the trains used to bring children from our crowded East coast cities out to the rural Midwest), as well as Molly, a teenager in our modern-day foster care system.

2. I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai

If you are not familiar with the story of Malala Yousafzai, you should be. Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in 2014, in recognition for her fight against the suppression of children and her work towards the education of all children, worldwide, regardless of gender. Her memoir chronicles her life in Pakistan, explains why she is a champion for children’s education, specifically young women’s, and reveals the aftermath of when she was shot by the Taliban in 2012. The extensive details of Pakistani history can be cumbersome, but we can all find inspiration in her message and story.

PS: Be careful purchasing this one if you decide to not just click on the handy dandy photo of the book above – there is also a “young readers” edition for children that is less detailed. The cover looks similar and is marked “Young Reader’s Edition” but it is an easy mistake to make.

malala

3. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown

Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games. It’s a Science Fictionish Fantasyish and Young Adultish (the main character is 16 at the beginning of the trilogy but it doesn’t read like a YA novel) and combines a revolutionary war with space travel, historical Roman & Martian society and class oppression. A tale as old as time, right? I know this one sounds very niche (where my ancient Roman history Sci Fi readers at?!) but the trilogy feels fresh and like nothing I’ve ever read before while combining a compelling story line of friendship, war and intrigue.

4. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

Another historical novel, this one is a page turner but not because its a thriller – because it is a really well-written story. We follow two sisters in German-occupied France during World War 2 – one joins the Resistance, one follows the rules and permits her home to be occupied by a Nazi captain. PS: It reminded me of another Kristin Hannah novel, Winter Garden – an excellent story, strong female characters and just the right amount of pulling on my heart strings.

5. The Girl on the Train

Wait, didn’t she already write about a train? Sure did. But The Girl on the Train is very, very different from Orphan Train. This novel is more along the lines of Gone Girl (you can read my recommendation for that here) and is a page-turning thriller. And just like Gone Girl, it is coming to a movie theater near you in October!

But you all know the rules around here – the book is better so read the book first!

bookstofilm

Alright. There’s a few new books for you to add to your shelf and let me know when you read them! I plan on writing a few more book lists over the upcoming months, with drafts already created for Young Adult, Fantasy, Memoir and All Time Favorites!

What genre of book list would you like me to write next? Have you read any of these books?

How To Make Laundry Detergent

Yes, it’s true – I make my own laundry detergent. I know what you’re thinking – “What?! She doesn’t have 19 kids and counting, why would she do that?!” Well the short story is that I’m cheap. The slightly longer story is below with instructions on how I make mine!

Pin this image and save for later!

Pin this image and save for later!

1) The Why

It’s a pretty predictable story: I saw it on Pinterest, tried it once, and realized that it’s not only cheaper than buying laundry detergent but it’s super easy. A 100 fluid ounces of Tide is $12-$14 and that’s 64 loads of laundry. If you do four loads of laundry a week, that Tide should last you about four months. I realized that for $14.46 (the cost of my laundry detergent materials) I could do laundry for three times as long because you only need two tablespoons per load! Plus, you’ll have leftover materials for the next batch, so it’s actually closer to $10 after you use up the remaining ingredients for batch number two. Not to mention the added benefit of not having to lug huge containers of detergent home from the store…

2) The When

One batch can usually last me about a year.  I made the batch I am currently using in JULY of last year. Now, part of the reason it lasts me this long is because I still do all our workout clothes in a sports detergent designed to eliminate sweat, odors, and make our pricey tech shirts and dri-fit gear last longer (If you take care of them, you don’t have to buy more, which makes that sports detergent worth every penny). I also have a weak spot for the smell of Tide Febreze, which is how I still do our sheets…but otherwise, I do all our laundry with this concoction.

3) The How

Container:

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Gosh, wouldn’t it be so pretty in one of those big hurricane jars? Like the magazines? Yup. Probably would be. But here’s my Sterilite plastic bin that I bought at Target for $6 because I’m super classy…and my laundry detergent is hidden behind a closet door so I’d rather function over form.

Ingredients:

Click on the products above to add these directly to your Amazon cart!

Grate your bars of soap until you have 4 cups – I’ve found that one bar equals about 2 cups…so if you buy a 3 pack, you’ll have a bar leftover for your next batch. That is officially the hardest part of this entire process.

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Combine the 4 cups of grated soap with 6 cups Borax, 4 cups Washing Soda, and 4 cups Baking Soda.

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Use two tablespoons per load!

Pro Tips:

– You’re going to have leftover ingredients towards your next batch of laundry soap – rather than keep the 3 or 4 half empty boxes and extra bar of soap cluttering up my laundry area, I combine them all in one container and write myself a note of what I need to add to the batch and store that underneath my sink until A. I need to make my next batch or B. One of the ingredients I need goes on sale or I have a coupon for it and I’ll pick it up and add it in.

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– I bought a measuring spoon set at the Dollar Store so that I could have a dedicated Tablespoon to leave in the detergent.

– I decided on my last batch to add a cup of Downy Fresh Protect ($5-6) because I had a coupon for it and I really like how it adds a nice fragrance to the detergent. Totally optional.
And that’s it! I know it seems “extreme” and really cheap to make your own laundry detergent…but I hope after you’ve read this that at least it doesn’t seem difficult as well! I have continued to make my own because its remarkably easy as well as saves money. And I love not worrying about buying it for an entire year…that might be the best part!

**This post contains affiliate links – if you click on the products and add them to your Amazon cart, it supports my blog**

Sucker Punch

<8 months later>

Oh, hey, hello there.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but since I last posted, my Mom died. She died, and it took me this long to figure out how I was going to write about it. And I finally decided I’d write about my experience with grief in the hopes of helping others, even if its just a reminder that grief is a personal process and we all do it differently. So here’s a few things I learned along the way about grief.

1. Waves

I have found that most people describe grief by attributing some sort of movement to how it works – “it comes in waves”, “it’s a roller coaster”, “sometimes it just hits you hard”, etc.  And while being bowled over by a wave or punched in the gut are accurate sentiments when dealing with a loss, I think one important aspect of the “wave” or “punch” that needs emphasized is this – the element of surprise. If loss is anything, it’s a sucker punch. You’re not sure when its coming and there’s no way to prepare. And after the initial blow lands, you’re suddenly standing on a beach feeling the tide go in and out, wearing you down, burying your toes and your sadness in wet sand…until you hear a long-forgotten song or have a dream and the tide turns and the storm brews and a wave of grief crashes over you. And you realize that you were happy, with your toes and sadness buried, and you start to feel guilty that you forgot to be sad.

Feet

2. Guilt

“Could I have done more? Could I have changed something? What were my last words to her?”

Everyone I have spoken to about grief seems to experience some sort of irrational (or rational) guilt after a loss.  I personally had a complicated relationship with my mother so my guilt was, in part, rational. I did not go to her bed side when she got sick. I did not go to her bed side because she has had deteriorating health for ten years and if I went to her bed side every time, I’d have lived at her bed side. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty that I didn’t go the last time. Of course I do. Now my brain and heart both understand that I could not go every time, but that does not stop the “I should have gone THIS time” guilt. And that’s okay. It just makes me human.

3. There’s No Wrong Way

Speaking of being human – there’s no wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently and everyone grieves their own way. We need to stop being so judgmental as a society on this one – “her Mom just died, why is she going on vacation, when MY Mom died, I didn’t get out of bed for a week.” Well two thumbs up for you and your grief process, but everyone copes differently. Let them.

A description I wrote of my own grief and its many facets, a few days after my Mom died:

I lost my mother to her addiction a long time ago. Drug and alcohol use developed into a disease that stole her ability to parent me and our relationship became anything but traditional. So when I lost my mother last week to a heart attack, I know my loss was unlike many others who have lost a parent. I feel consumed with sadness at the loss of my Mum, partially because you only have one mother, but I am also mourning the mother I knew from childhood. I feel a huge loss of history – what did I wear on the first day of 2nd grade? What was my big gift from Santa when I was 9? These are questions only my mother could have answered and I am sharply feeling the loss of this history. I didn’t consider this aspect of loss and it has blindsided me. I also feel anger, as my mother unjustly isolated us from the rest of my family and thus removed all the witnesses I should have had to someday tell me some of these childhood stories. I feel hope, as I know there are future stories that are not yet written and I have a wonderful husband and family to help me write them. I feel relief, as she has battled her disease for a long time and is no longer in any pain. I feel peace, as in the last few years we had come to a better place and she understood I loved her and had found forgiveness. And I feel loved and more grateful than ever for the wonderful relationships I have with friends and family.

See? A lot of different feelings and emotions come with grief, not just sadness. Give yourself permission to feel and empower others to do the same.

4. Don’t Worry About It

It’s easy to start thinking about what you are “supposed” to be doing or feeling. I briefly got hung up on this fact last fall, as I worried what everyone would think. “Geez, she really does have that heart of stone, she barely seems fazed” or “She is such a hypocrite, how can she be so sad, she didn’t even go to her Mom when she was sick” or “Um, Cailyn’s Mom was the worst, why is she sad, it’s a blessing.” Yup. I had all those thoughts and felt so many unnecessary worries. And it didn’t matter for one second if everyone thought all of them or none of them. Allow yourself every minute that you need to feel and heal – but try not to concern yourself with appearances.

Feel meme

5. Forgiveness

Chances are, at some point, someone is going to say or do the “wrong” thing. You might. Your best friend might. Your husband might. Since everyone grieves differently, no one really knows what anyone needs.  Which unfortunately means that at a time in your life when YOU are hurting…you may need to have a little grace, both with yourself and with your loved ones.

Practice forgiveness. Because no one knows what to say.

6. There’s Nothing to Say

I wish there was something I could advise others to say that would help…but I can’t because what helps one person could be the absolute last thing the next person wants to hear. Due to my mother’s long battle with her addiction, it was comforting thinking that she was in a better place and pain-free. But expressing that same sentiment to someone else may result in them asking you “why isn’t the better place with me?!” Which is an entirely logical question to pose when you are reeling from the loss of a loved one.

If I absolutely had to say something, I think the safest sentiments are: “I’m sorry for your loss”, “I love you”, and “I am always here for you”.


Speaking of opinions, this entire list is my personal opinion on grief. Since grief comes in all shapes and sizes, feel free to disregard everything I wrote.  I am totally okay with that. But. If me describing my journey helps anyone understand or remember that they are not alone in their feelings or struggle with grief, than this post was worth it.

PD_0090

Finally, to my Mum:

Thank you for teaching me to always be myself and reminding me that I can be anything I want to be. Thank you for turning up the radio and singing. Thank you for always choosing ice cream. Thank you for saying you were proud of me. Thank you for always reminding me to believe.

My childhood wasn’t amazing and your addiction was a powerful and cruel disease – But I am grateful for everything you got right.

Mom meme

 

Friday Five – August 14, 2015

Friday Five

The return of the Friday Five and since it’s Back To School season, I’m dedicating this one to teachers! They never get enough gratitude and this blog won’t be enough, but it’s a start. Here’s some ideas and ways to thank your favorite teacher, as well as a few thank yous of my own!

1. School Supplies

You know that feeling you get when you start a new notebook? When you open to a brand new page and use your favorite pen? The feeling of calmness and serenity and the “I can do anything” attitude that comes with it? That’s the new school year. And I don’t know if any of you that aren’t parents have taken a look at what is included on a 3rd grader’s School Supply list these days, but it is extensive – I checked out a local school’s requirements and bought everything on the list and it was over $60! And I had coupons! Now obviously I don’t have a 3rd grader, so I hauled it all over and dropped it off with the bestie and donated it – Kristin will supplement any child in her classroom’s supplies who can’t afford to bring it all. My point is this – if you can, do the same. Every kid deserves that “new notebook” feeling and not everyone can afford it. And if the family can’t, the teachers do it. And that’s not right either. You can check out my favorite local and deserving school’s list here, but wherever you are, your town probably does backpack drives and welcomes donated supplies!

IMG_20150811_1717252. Respect

I wrote this one out three times and have deleted it because I don’t have a child who goes to school and it’s hard to speak on (make that, be heard on) something you have only observed. So I am just going to say this: Respect teachers. They have a hard job and they deserve your respect.

3. Life’s a school and you gotta show up!

“If history does repeat itself, then I’m going to name my pet dinosaur, Reginald.”

4. Volunteering

All year round, teachers need volunteers. Even if it’s just to do story time or organize, every moment you can help them, is a moment cherished by a teacher. And you would not believe the amount of time they spend working outside of the classroom. Kristin’s job ended hours after my 9-5 job did when we lived together. School hasn’t even started yet for your kids, but those teachers are already in their classrooms, organizing and prepping curriculum. It’s astounding the amount of work necessary just to get the classrooms ready, never mind the planning, training and grading that goes on after the bell rings during the school year. An additional, year-round way of giving if you can’t give your time? Check out Donors Choose. You can choose to fund a classroom library, field trips, art supplies… You can give any amount of money towards any area of education that makes you happy. Books make me happy, so I donate to class room libraries and book drives…or when one of my teacher friends has a request. Because helping my friends makes me happy too. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a lot. Every bit helps and Donors Choose often does matching drives.

5. Sandwich

The foundation of my education was built in Sandwich, Massachusetts. I’d like to thank a few of those teachers that started my own journey into reading and writing and an education I deeply value. Thank you Mrs. Linda Pearsall, (1st grade), both Mr. & Mrs. Schermerhorn (11th & 6th, respectively), Mr. Mike O’Brien (12th grade), and Mr. Kevin Brogioli (11th grade). Yep. They’ll probably never, ever read this. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write it – because every teacher should know they made an impact and I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for them. Not to mention, I own this place. #idowhatiwant

StraightOuttaSomewhere

 

So, if you get a chance in the next few weeks…thank a teacher. Buy them a Starbucks, express your gratitude, acknowledge how hard they are working. And from me: Thank you, to every who is called to teaching. It is a noble pursuit and I am grateful to each and every one of you for making the world a better place. You are making a difference.

Are you ready for back to school? Do you still remember your first grade teacher? Share your favorite teacher with me in the comments! 

 

How To Spiralize Zucchini

As you may have read, I got a spiralizer a few months ago and have been obsessed with zoodles (zucchini noodles) ever since! I’ve been working on making this list simple and to the point so it’s the only thing you’d ever have to read in order to start spiralizing. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to spiralize and a couple of my simplest recipes:

1. Buy a Spiralizer!

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There are two characteristics I hate when it comes to kitchen gadgets:

  • Hard to clean – If there was one thing that would prevent me from actually using something in my kitchen, it’s something that is frustrating to take apart and hard to clean (please see juicer; collecting dust)
  • A million parts – If there are 40 accessories I need to store in my kitchen drawers and then become really annoyed at when I try and open the drawer and the part jams against the ice cream scoop and causes the can opener to jam against the top and I can’t open the drawer and then I am really frustrated and… well, you’re picking up what I’m putting down.

Annnnyways. It comes with three different blades, all of which can be stored easily in the base. And it comes apart quickly and is a breeze to clean. I can not say better things about it – easy to clean and easy to store? Sign me up.

You can buy yours here:
Paderno World Cuisine A4982799 Tri-Blade Plastic Spiral Vegetable Slicer

2. Spiralize 

Cut one end off the zucchini and place cut end against the spikes to secure it…then twist the crank! It’s that easy!

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Tips for Success:

  • Secure base (handy dandy suction cups are located on the bottom).
  • Spiralize 30-60 minutes before you plan on cooking in order to dry out the zoodles. I do this by shaking a little sea salt on a paper towel, putting the zoodles on the paper towel, shaking a little sea salt on top of the zoodles, and then placing another paper towel on top and weighing the paper towel down with something (I use my trivets). The salt helps draw out the moisture and the paper towels will both be damp within 30 minutes. It’s pretty universally accepted that zoodles can be a soggy mess and just taste better if you take the time to dry them out.
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The amount of zoodles from one zucchini. As you can see, the long zucchini stem is all that is not used after spiralizing.

3. Saute in Olive Oil

I heat up barely a tablespoon of olive oil and then toss in the zoodles, covering for a minute, stirring, covering, stirring…the entire process takes 5 minutes. Obviously, it will take a little more time and olive oil if you spiralized two zucchinis.

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I think they are good with a little bit of butter and some salt and pepper…but that’s not nearly enough fun (or protein) so see below for my favorite ways to make them a meal.

4. Add Stuff!

The easiest way to introduce Josh to zoodles was to add in a few cheese tortellini, and that has become my favorite way to jazz them up. At the beginning of the week I’ll make some tortellini and keep them in the fridge – then all week whenever we have zoodles, I’ll throw in 6 or 7ish tortellini as well. I am all about the easiest method to prep dinner each night – so whenever I can make things just once, and use it all week? I’m all over it.

Spaghetti…ish

Spaghetti sauce, turkey meatballs (yup, I buy them in the bag), grated Parmesan (nope, didn’t grate it myself, only my crazy cousin Erin does that) and a couple tortellini

20150423_180600 Greek…ish

Halved cherry tomatoes, scallions, feta cheese, shrimp or grilled chicken

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Minimalist (AKA, I already ate too many calories that day or haven’t been to the store)

Feta, grilled chicken, salt and pepper

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Asian Veggie Stir Fry

Asian Vegetable Steamer bag, grilled chicken or shrimp, Parmesan/mozzarella cheese

20150616_190715See that frying pan? That’s the result of me sauteing the zoodles for about three minutes, then throwing in the already cooked tortellini, grilled chicken (buy a big bag of this pre-cooked from Sam’s, or I grill a bunch of chicken beforehand for meals all week), and veggie mix (Steamer bag, microwaved already) in order to heat up the tortellini and grilled chicken and use the least amount of dishes or pans possible in the process. I do the same with the shrimp, but in reverse – first I saute the shrimp (again, from a bag, frozen…are you noticing a theme? #easy) then I throw the zoodles on top. I just want to be sure the shrimp gets fully cooked.

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Alright. There you go! I never thought I’d do a list about cooking (as I really, really dislike cooking) but the spiralizer intimidated me at first and wanted to share how I use mine in the easiest way possible. Hope this helps and please feel free to share with your fellow spiralizing friends or those looking to get started spiralizing!

What’s your favorite spiralizer recipe? Would you like to see future Easy Cooking with Cailyn posts? 

Disney World Planning Tips

disney meme

As a frequent Disney World guest, I often get asked for tips on how to plan a trip to The World and decided it was time to put it all in one place. Now, this is very much a starter session in planning and covers the basics – the idea is to answer this question:

“Ok, I want to plan a trip to Disney World – where do I start?”

1. Do Your Research

Well, you’re here, so you’re off to a good start! The first thing I say to anyone that is planning a trip to Disney World is “do your research.” Sometimes these trips are once in a lifetime, sometimes they’re once a year – do you really want to spend it waiting in a line you could have avoided or being miserable because you’re starving? Disney is known for their customer service and they’ll certainly do everything they can to accommodate you but there are limits to everything (see #4, dining reservations). Look at park maps, become familiar with your hotel choice, decide what attractions are “must see”… all of this before you even go!

2. Hotel

Since you’ve done all your research now, you know that staying onsite at a Disney hotel comes with a few unbeatable perks:

  • Extra Magic Hours – early entry or late stay at the theme parks
  • Transportation – free bus, monorail and boat system … If you stay offsite, be prepared to spend $17/day to park
  • Fast Pass Plus bookings – you can book your Fast Passes 60 days in advance, rather than 30 days you get when staying offsite
  • Magic Express – shuttle to and from the airport, complete with luggage delivery to your hotel room
  • Immersion in the Disney bubble – your hotel is themed and you never need to leave the magic!
  • Convenience – staying onsite allows for parties to more easily split up for scheduling around the needs for different family members – Dad can hop a shuttle and go back to the hotel with the baby for the afternoon nap while Mom takes the older kids on Space Mountain.

Can offsite be cheaper? Can it be more appropriate for your family if you have different needs? Absolutely. But be sure to add up all the extra costs and consider the importance of convenience.

Goofing around at Value Resort Pop Century - features a giant foosball table! Starts at $95/night in off season.

Goofing around at Pop Century – the hotel features a giant foosball table! It is considered a Value Resort and starts at under $100/night in the off season!

3. Park Tickets

Tickets are sold in both day passes and multiple days and of course the more days you stay, the cheaper the extra days get. Currently, one day will cost you $105…but two days is $192.  The price per day starts to significantly drop after 4 days – a 5 day ticket works out to be $63/day, or $315 total. So what you’re saying is Disney wants you to stay longer and buy more Mickey Pretzels? *gasp* Yes.

3b. You can add a “Park Hopper” option to your ticket for anywhere from $50 (1 day) to $65 (5+days) so you can go into more than one park in a day. If you do not add this option, you cannot go into both Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom in the same day on one ticket. Park hopping is a personal preference, but with the introduction of Fast Pass Plus, I have found that it is often not worth the money for ME. But you and your family may love hopping around and just doing a few rides or attractions before moving to a different park. Or if you are only at Disney for a few days, park hopping is the best way to squeeze more into your trip. Plan out your days and go from there to decide whether it is necessary.

4. Dining Reservations

It is a rare day that you can walk up to a sit down (table service, in Disney World lingo) restaurant in Disney World and eat a meal without waiting. In all the times I have gone, I can count on one hand the times in the last five years that I have been able to quickly get a table at a restaurant in the parks without a reservation, and all those occasions felt like miracles. There is an online reservation system as well as a phone number that makes it easy, and you can do it 180 days out from your hotel reservation. And 180 days is necessary if you are going during a peak time, or if you are trying to get one of the high demand restaurants (Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, etc).

I cannot stress this enough: Make reservations. The LAST thing you want is a hungry toddler (or a hangry mother) and nowhere to sit down, enjoy some air conditioning and relax with some Mickey-shaped food. Nothing ruins vacations faster than being hungry.

Mickey-shaped food tastes better. #fact

Mickey-shaped food tastes better. #fact

5. Fast Pass Plus

SIGH. I don’t love the recent changes and can probably write an entire list of what I dislike about it the new program, but I’ll stick to the facts for now:

  • Fast Pass Plus allows you to reserve attractions and entertainment in advance. For instance, you can book a Fast Pass for Space Mountain and you will get a window of time in which you need to report to Space Mountain, skip the regular (stand by, in Disney lingo) line and ride.
  • Or you can book a Fast Pass for the parade, and you get seats within a small cordoned off area where you can see the parade and not be continuously and purposely nudged by  a stroller in the back because you’re 30 and maybe it’s as important to you to see as it is the toddler and the toddler’s Mom is resentful that you thought to get your spot on the sidewalk 35 minutes before she strolled over.
  • Guests are limited to three pre-chosen fast passes per day and can only be used in one park. One additional Fast Pass can be booked AFTER you have used up all three of your fast passes. You can book your Fast Passes online, on the My Disney Experience app, or in the park on the day of your visit.
  • Even though I have found several problems with the Fast Pass Plus system, using it is an absolute must and be sure to book them before you arrive.

6. MagicBands

MagicBands are Disney’s version of the ultimate Key to the Kingdom. Your MagicBand is your park ticket, hotel key, Fast Pass Plus reservations, Disney Dining plan, and you can even link a credit card and pin to it so you don’t have to carry anything into the parks. You can program a pin when you get there for the credit card, but don’t worry – the actual band contains no personal information – it has an RFID chip inside. You will get to choose your MagicBand color when you book your onsite hotel and it will be shipped to you for free before your vacation – otherwise you can purchase a MagicBand in the park if you would like to.

My yellow MagicBand, self-decorated with a Sharpie to support my Bruins!

My yellow MagicBand, self-decorated with a Sharpie to support my Bruins!

7. Packing

It occurs to me as a write this that I should probably also do a list on what I personally pack for a Disney vacation. But I’ll give you the basics:

  • At least two pairs of comfortable, worn-in shoes: You’ll be on your feet more than usual and your feet will thank me when you are able to switch up the footwear. I routinely walk 15,000 steps in a Disney day.
  • Rain gear: If you want to buy a quality $10 Mickey poncho at the park for the inevitable afternoon shower or water ride, knock yourself out. I’ll be buying several from the dollar store that I can immediately throw away after the shower ends and I’m walking around in a portable sauna. Have you ever tried folding up a wet poncho? Buy one you don’t mind tossing after Splash Mountain.
  • Gum: If gum is a must, then pack your own. It isn’t sold at Disney because gum on the ground is so not magical. Which reminds me – don’t throw your gum on the ground. It isn’t magical at Disney or in the parking lot when I step on it and curse your inconsiderate existence.
  • Food: Yup, you can bring it into the parks. No glass containers or alcohol or the normal no-nos…but you absolutely can bring in your kid’s Goldfish and make them happy.
Dole Whip with Rum...in the rain...in my $1 poncho.

Cheers! Dole Whip with Rum…in the rain…in my $1 poncho.

8. Be Prepaaaarrrrreeed.

I know. I already told you to do your research. But it feels right to start AND end this list with that sentiment. If there is one thing you take from this post, it is that you absolutely cannot expect to “just wing it” at Disney World and still have a magical time. Every moment you spend planning will be worth it when you have those park maps memorized, a lovely buffet lunch with Mickey and you’re skipping to the head of the line with your Fast Pass.

Here are some blogs and sites that I have found helpful in the planning process:

Pin this image to share my list!

Pin this image to share my list!

And my final thought –

Remember the importance of expectations and what it means to be on vacation. You will not fit everything in on one visit. Absolutely impossible. Prioritize and plan accordingly so that you can have a fun, relaxed trip!

What’s your number one Disney Planning tip? Have a trip to Disney World planned soon or know someone planning one? Share this list!

 

**All prices quoted for tickets and parking are subject to change**

TV Series – Too Little…and Too Late

The television upfronts were last week and new shows were announced while old shows were cancelled. And it got me thinking – what favorite shows of mine have been cancelled too early…and which have stuck around a season or three too long? And, as usual, when I am talking television around here, two rules apply: 1) I am only talking about shows I’ve watched and I can’t possibly even cover all of those so I’ll choose the ones that stood out to me 2) Spoilers seem reasonably inevitable, but I’ll put a *spoilers* next to the show’s name if I say something specific about a show.

Too Little:

Veronica Mars

I didn’t watch this show live but watched later via Amazon Prime instant video and couldn’t believe it was cancelled after three seasons! It was so good! So good, in fact, that a public crowd campaign managed to finance a Veronica Mars movie that was released last year in order to tie up loose ends. And it was great. Now if they could just get started on my Gilmore Girls movie, mmmk?

Lie to Me

Lie to Me was a crime drama that focused on a consulting group that assisted law enforcement by examining micro expressions and body language for signs of falsehoods. I thought it was brilliant and very informative. A great cast and well done story lines that were cancelled far too soon.

fictional characters

The Newsroom

Well-written and fascinating to watch, the Newsroom depicted a fictional news station and its anchors. The writers wove real life events into the drama, examining how a studio and anchors would handle reporting the news of events such as the death of Osama Bin Laden. I knew it couldn’t last forever with big names like Olivia Munn and Jeff Daniels, but three seasons left me wanting more. Below is the opening scene of the show, a video (HBO language, FYI) that quickly went viral:

Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23

Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 lasted a mere two seasons but I thought it was funny and quirky. Krysten Ritter and James Van Der Beek (as himself) were hilarious and I was surprised the show was cancelled so soon. My guess is that ABC just wasn’t the right fit for the show and it would have done better on Fox (New Girl-style) or Netflix/Hulu.

Too Late:

How I Met Your Mother *spoilers*

Ugh, the ultimate example of a show that lasted two or three seasons too long. I talked about the finale here, and emphasized that part of the reason the finale was so bad was because the entire final season was undone in the first 10 minutes! Let me get this straight – you’re going to do an entire season of episodes based solely on Robin and Barney’s wedding, and then in the final episode have them get divorced? What a waste of time.

Grey’s Anatomy *spoilers*

You may remember when I talked about Grey’s Anatomy breaking up with me? Well, I have stayed true to my word and haven’t watched an episode since they killed off McDreamy. Not because I was such a huge fan of Patrick Dempsey, but more a huge fan of happiness and I think that show has jumped off the happy train and into the pit of despair. My prediction is that the show does not last more than another season, possibly two.

These are my angry eyes, Shonda!

These are my angry eyes, Shonda!

Gossip Girl

Six seasons of hearing that signature sign off, “X-O-X-O, Gossip Girl” while four seasons probably would have been enough. Several of the actors and actresses abandoned ship themselves by the fourth season – producers probably should have taken a hint. In fact, that applies to most shows…when a lead actor leaves, usually its time to cancel. This fact applies to Scrubs, The O.C., Two and a Half Men, That 70s Show. Shows that have managed a few (or more) seasons after they’ve lost a leading star? Grey’s (but that reign is over, in my humble opinion it can only last so long), Criminal Minds, The Office, SVU.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Fifteen seasons and the original CSI managed to outlast all of the spinoffs but it probably should have been finished years ago. The show was finally cancelled after this season, with the announcement that a two-hour television movie will air in the fall to wrap up the show with appearances by the original cast members.

CSI

Alright, those are some of my favorite shows and ones I think were cancelled too early, as well as those I think hung on a few years too long. I can’t recommend the “Too Little” series enough as pretty amazing weekend binge watches!

What shows do you think were cancelled too early? Too late?

Pin this image and share my list with your Pinterest followers!

Pin this image and share my list with your Pinterest followers!

Affiliate Links: If you click on the photo of the show, it will take you directly to Amazon to purchase the first season on DVD. It doesn’t cost you anything more, but helps me stay an affiliate of Amazon.

 

Friday Five – May 1, 2015

Friday Five

Happy May! Can you believe it’s already May? It’s my birthday month!

1. Oodles of Zoodles

I have been spiralizing up a storm since getting my Spiralizer last week and I’m happy to report they’re delicious! This tool is both super easy to use AND clean which means I think it’s the greatest thing ever. I am way less likely to use a kitchen gadget if it is hard to clean, I hate that. And I am happy to report that Josh enjoys zucchini noodles, though we’ve been easing them into the menu by combining them with a few cheese tortellini! Keep an eye out for an all Spiralizer themed List in the future!

20150422_182804

Here’s the one I bought:
Paderno World Cuisine A4982799 Tri-Blade Plastic Spiral Vegetable Slicer

2. The White House Correspondent’s Dinner

President Obama gave his usual speech to kick off the dinner and he did not hold back! Honestly, watching the entire thing is worth it. It’s hilarious, self-deprecating and the satire is spot on. But it’s 21 minutes so I completely understand most people don’t have the patience for that length of a video so here’s a two minute highlight reel. Everyone’s got two minutes:

View the entire speech here. It really is worth your time.

3. NFL Draft Day should be a National Holiday

I love Draft Day! It means football is creeping closer and that’s always a good thing. Plus, I root for a team that manages to always do great things on draft day, which is nice. If you didn’t stay up for the last first round pick yesterday, the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots selected defensive tackle Malcolm Brown. Great pick.

NFL

4. Cat friends vs. Dog friends

This YouTube has been around a while, but in case you missed it…here’s a look at what it’s like to have a friend that acts like a dog versus a friend that acts like a cat!

5. Shut up and Dance!

I love a good dance movie. It all started with Save the Last Dance, which Megan and I saw at least three times in the theater in high school. But the love continued with Center Stage, Step Up and the cinematic classic You Got Served. Below is a mash up of scenes from different movies (not just “dance” movies) where the main characters dance. I guarantee it will make you smile!

 

Are you ready to jump on the Zoodle wagon and buy a Spiralizer?

More importantly, are you ready for some football?!

Friday Five – April 24, 2015

Friday Five

 

1. Starburst Jellybeans FaveReds

You guys. You can buy a bag of Starburst Jellybeans that are only the red flavors – watermelon, cherry and strawberry. Best invention ever. Just wanted to report on my excitement.

Starburst Jellybeans

 

2. Cats Playing Patty Cake

Crazy cat lady alert! This is worth a watch just for the funny voice overs.

3. 90s Disney with 90s R&B

The perfect mash up – Disney songs and 90s R&B songs. Well done.

4. Pandora’s New Commercial

Ohmygoodness did Pandora get this one right! They blindfolded six kids and told them to find their Moms. It’s adorable.

5. Grey’s Anatomy

Grey’s broke up with me last night. I had thought this season was too sad and I was getting a little bit exasperated because it felt like the writers needed some more sunshine in their life – so I was contemplating a break up myself. But they beat me to it. Nothing left for me to see there and I predict many viewers will agree. I don’t want to watch the aftermath of this because I find nothing enjoyable about watching that level of grief and sadness. You can make good television without it. And I am purposely not posting what happened, in case you have taken a vow of social media/television/radio/internet silence and haven’t heard what happened…though I am impressed if you watch the show and haven’t heard/seen/read about it!

Bones

How was your week? Are you still recovering from Grey’s?