November 20, 2014

Life, Lately

The last few weeks have been spectacularly overwhelming, but mostly in a good way. There have been articles to write, deadlines to meet, general shenanigans with the kids to be had. It's Fall bordering on Winter here, so while there's less time spent outdoors, there's an entirely new dynamic playing out inside. We're tweaking it here and there. 

The BIGGEST goings on around these parts occurred this past weekend, though. My older sister, nephew and my little brother drove in from SC to visit me! It was about a 17 hour drive and the first time they had ever visited me since I've lived in the Midwest. I've been out here since 2006, so you can imagine how over the moon I was that they came. I mean, it's one thing to hear about my life via sporadic phone calls or FB messages, it's another thing entirely to stand in the kitchen where I cook meals every day or drive the backstreets I take to go into town. In an odd sense, it's almost a validation of sorts. Here I am, this is my life. 

We played games late into each night, examined bits and pieces of our collective past and laughed. Oh, the laughter. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. When they left early Monday morning, I felt very sad. Sort of lost, really. Sometimes, it's very difficult to live so far removed from family. When I left at 18, I didn't think about that. I didn't weigh the pros and cons, I simply wanted out. Having the boys and having experienced many holidays and birthdays separately from everyone has in essence, created that well that now needs filling. 

The Midwest is beautiful in its own way, but I want to go home. Not necessarily back to Charleston, but close. Perhaps North Carolina? I've always loved it there. And then maybe for the first time, I can finally settle my roots. They've been unsettled for far too long. 

I'm really thankful that they came to see me. It filled my well for a bit and reiterated what I've been feeling for quite some time. 

Home is important. Family is home. 


November 6, 2014

The Question of 30

A few nights ago, I was at a party for a local magazine that I freelance for and our editor asked us to provide a brief introduction along with a story of what we were doing the year we turned 30 in celebration of the magazine turning 30 next year. "I know a few of you aren't 30 yet, so just tell us what you hope to be doing when you are," she followed up with. I listened as each person before me spoke and tried frantically to think of what I would say about 30 when my turn came. 

The truth is, I'm a little afraid of 30. Not because it seems old-hell, 50 doesn't even seem old these days- but because I'm finally in a place where life is starting to make sense. 27 has been very eye-opening in so many ways. I've learned so much about who I am and who I'm not, understanding and vocalizing my needs, grasping the power of no. The boys and I have the small people routine down pat. I know my place, equally needed and independent of. This doesn't mean I've suddenly got it all figured out and know the answers to all of life's questions, but things are steady. They're level. I'm sort of awesome at being 27 and I've no doubt I can maintain my awesomeness for another few years. But 30? All bets are off! ;)

Landon will be 6! He'll be starting first grade. Ryland will be 5 and in Kindergarten. They'll be gone all day. That's it, the end. My routine with smalls will be over and in the blink, I'll be mothering tweens. Someone hold me. Not just that, but Chris will probably have gotten another promotion and we'll probably have moved again and there will be new schools, upheavals, new friends to make, old friends to keep. And somewhere along the way as everyone else is growing physically, educationally and career-wise, there will be me trying to figure out where I stand in all of it. It's simply too much to think about right now. 

When it was finally my turn to share, I said that I hoped I'd have published my first book by 30. It was the best answer at the time-the most hopeful one, for certain- but not the truest answer. The truth is that I honestly don't know where I'll be at 30. There's a lot to live between now and then, even though it's only about 2 years away. The truth is that I can only really answer for today and possibly tomorrow. 

And maybe that's enough.


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For my over 30's: Did you look forward to turning 30? Where were you in life then vs. now?
For my under 30's: Are you looking forward to 30? Where do you hope to be? 



October 27, 2014

Finding the Meaning



you know, grey mornings spent by the lake are perfect for brooding. if you should ever find yourself in need of a good brood, i can point you to some key locations. i didn't intend to find myself staring wistfully across the water while the wind pushed me on my swing. but some things transpired between getting out of bed and escaping to the lake and so there i sat rather melancholy, thinking. 

one of the traits most find both challenging and alluring about me is that i'm a bit of an old soul. i wax poetic and speak philosophically and am deeply rooted square in the middle of everything. i can't pick sides, i can't be righteously angry, i can't close the metaphorical door or burn a bridge. most is seen through my eyes in shades of grey, in underlying potential and what ifs. i derive meaning in everything. and i look around and all i see is the opportunity to learn and grow and understand. 

so many are jaded. they no longer look to the sky or feel the wind or smell the rain before it falls and believe that all of it serves a purpose. all of it is extraordinary and meaningful. the stars mean something. the moon. the sun. the planets. the boys racing their bikes home after school. the woman out for a nightly jog. the man standing in line at the grocery store. the girl evaluating her self-worth in a mirror. and maybe some don't see that. but i do. 

sometimes when i tell people this, they look at me like i'm crazy. but what i think they're most afraid of is really opening their heart to it. i've written about it before, but humans are afraid to be human. it's terrifying to set aside the armor every morning and choose to approach life unguarded. i know, because i make that choice every day too and typically, i choose to be open. the toughest days are those when sharp words are slung in regards to my nature. those are the times i just want to close up shop. take down the "open" sign, lock the doors and blend in with the busy, careless crowd outside. you see, when you choose open, you're also choosing pain and loss, but at least you're not choosing regret and i personally think that's the worst one to live with every day. regret over what could have or should have been said or done, had you only been open to it. 

it's no secret that i carry my heart on my sleeve. that i think "it is what it is" is said when people are afraid to dream of something more. yes, there's got to be some practicality- but the best part of life is the unguarded enthusiasm we approach it with. the passion, the fire! i don't want to survive, i want to live. 


a dreamer, even as a kid



call it a coping mechanism from a less than stellar childhood. call it naiveté. dismiss it if you wish. but i refuse to stop believing that it all matters in some small way. that my presence here on earth interconnects with so many other parts that i cannot possibly fathom. that i am more than just a collection of molecules. i have a purpose and that purpose is to continue shining like a lighthouse. To continue dreaming and loving. 

I encourage you to do the same. 

October 14, 2014

A Comprehensive Guide to All-Inclusive Resorts

Keeping in line with yesterday's post about our trip to Mexico, I wanted to go a little more in depth about all-inclusive resorts and what that really means. We had never done all-inclusive before and while I had read bits and pieces about it from reviews online, I still wasn't 100% sure what to expect. Would there be hidden fees once I got there, on top of what I'd already paid for the package? What was the deal with resort "coupons?" Etc, Etc. 

To help those that might be planning/looking forward to their first all-inclusive stay, I put together some information with what I experienced. So here we go!



What the Package Price Includes
- Cost of room and taxes
- All meals on resort premises
- 24 hour room service
- Domestic, Imported and Premium Brand Drinks
- Minibar stocked with variety of beverages such as water, juice and beer
- Water and land activities
- Day and night entertainment
- 24 hour front desk
- Fitness Center

What the Package Price Does Not Include
- Spa Treatments and services
- Items in the gift and souvenir shops
- Any off premise excursions or activities
- Parking Fees 
- Photography services on the premises
- Gratuities

Room
Most all-inclusive resorts have complimentary in room safes and we were required to put our passports in them. It's typically located in a small closet. You make the code and set your valuables in there. No big deal. We stayed at Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun and I really liked the layout. It was spacious, the minibar was restocked every day and housekeeping was always on top of it. One day, we found a "do not disturb" sign on our door that we hadn't put there and because of it, housekeeping had passed us over. But one word mentioned to the guy in charge of stocking the minibar and housekeeping came right over to clean up. Also, if I could recommend one thing to you about the room, it's this: Get the swim-out. Can't tell you how nice it was to simply walk out of the back door in our room and step right into the pool. 

Meals
Some resorts have special rules regarding the restaurants you have available. A few reviews I read said that they were only allowed to eat at a place on a certain day or a certain number of times before they had to go to a different one. We didn't have that problem, so I can't verify that. But you'll want to check with your resort to make sure. Each restaurant will have a dress code, typically casual elegance which is long pants, collared shirts and closed toed shoes for the men and pretty much anything besides shorts and flip flops for the women. The menus aren't huge, but sufficient. When it comes to the wine menu, understand that some are part of the package and some are not. Prices will be listed next to those that aren't and will be charged to your room. 

Breakfast was buffet style, but there were a ton of options. Something to note here: They will have scrambled egg trays that you can scoop from, but if you prefer scrambled egg whites or other types of eggs, visit the omelet station and ask the chef there. They'll make you whatever you want. I didn't find that out until the third day and up until then, had been pretty disappointed with the lack of egg whites.

Water and Land Activities
This applies to non-motorized water activities. Kayaking, Sailing and Snorkeling are among that list of inclusions. 

Resort Coupons
The most questions people seem to have are with resort coupons. Your resort will give you a certain dollar amount in hotel coupons which you can use on spa services, upgraded wine, a romantic dinner for two and towards the gift/souvenir shop. Our resort gave us $200, but only a certain amount of that could be applied in each category. We could use $40 each at the spa, $10 towards an upgrade of wine, etc. Honestly, resort coupons are sort of a ripoff. These extras are already largely overpriced from the start, so using coupons towards it doesn't make that big a dent or even "save" you money. In my opinion, it's a gimmick to make you feel like you're getting a good deal. 

**VIP! Make sure that you present your coupons at time of service. Do not save them for checkout on your last day. They will be charged to your bill and they are very strict about the coupons.**

Things to Ask About & Keep in Mind

- Transport to/from airport (No one told us that there was no complimentary shuttle. Arrange with your travel agent or locally for a van or taxi)

- Daily Hotel Use Fees (Some resorts charge approximately $25 a day just for staying at the hotel. Ours did not)

- In Room Calling Coverage (Do they offer free US/Canada calling? What is the International rate per minute? This might be less expensive than adding coverage on your cell phone)

- When packing pre-trip, triple check that you have all of your necessities, such as sunscreen. Or you'll end up paying $26 like we did for a bottle of $3 sunblock. In fairness, we brought sunscreen, but ran out on the third day and had to buy more. Talk about sticker shock!


I think that pretty much covers it. If you've gone all-inclusive before and have anything to add, leave it in the comments below for others who might need it. Overall, we really enjoyed our experience going all-inclusive. I'd highly recommend it to anyone! Tomorrow, I plan to do a review of our specific resort so stay tuned!

October 13, 2014

Five Reasons To Go On a Kid Free Vacation

(As if you need a reason-much less five, right??)

There is a time for family vacations and a time to drop the kids with their grandparents and haul ass in the other direction. We were extremely fortunate to be able to have both this year- our family trip in May and a "just us" trip last week to Mexico. October 18th will make five years that Mr. B and I have been married and we never had a honeymoon, so it all clicked together quite nicely timing-wise. 

At first, I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to last an entire week without the kids. We've never both been away from them for that long, so it was a little daunting. But after doing it, I can tell you with 100% confidence that it should be a necessity every year. 

Here are the top five reasons:

1. Stress Free Traveling
Okay, maybe not entirely stress free, but any veteran parent can tell you that stress takes on an entirely new meaning when traveling with kids. Especially, little kids. Lost sippy cups, fully stocked diaper bags, feeding times, nap schedules, battling boredom, bedtime struggles...need I say more? But when you're traveling sans kids, the world suddenly feels a little more peaceful. All I had to worry about during our trip was confirming times for flights/transport and what new alcoholic beverage I was going to try next. (spoiler alert: one of everything! ha) We ate whenever we wanted, slept when we were tired, laid around and did absolutely NOTHING. And it was good, friends. It was good.





2. Meals
Speaking of eating whenever we wanted, eating whatever we wanted was a luxury we indulged in thoroughly. Landon is a super picky eater. There wasn't anything I saw on the menus at any of the restaurants we visited, that he would have eaten. We got to try new food. There was none of that, "I need you to take a bite. Just try it. You have to at least try it!" Also of note, there was no getting up to retrieve fallen cups, discarded straws, clean up spilled water and milk and no having to entertain anyone while we waited on the food to come. There was however, candlelight, conversation and no 
rush.

 
Mayan Pork Tacos w/ Homemade Tortillas



3. Enriching Experiences
On our third day in Mexico, we traveled through Yucatan to the Chichen Itza. It took 2 1/2 hours to get there from the resort we stayed at. On the way, our tour guide explained interesting facts about it, recapped the history and shared old photos. Once we got there, the walking portion of the tour was another 2-3 hours in 93 degree heat with 100% humidity (no joke). Followed of course, with a Mayan lunch. The kids would have hated the entire thing! The travel time, the heat, all of that walking. It would have been a miserable time for all of us. But Mr. B and I, we thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved learning about the history and feasting on Mayan and Yucatan Pork Tacos with homemade tortillas. 







4. Couple Connection
"Experts" say all the time that couples should make their relationship priority ahead of the kids. In the daily goings-on, that can be difficult at times. Hell, it's hard to even have a conversation at times without having to try to talk over the sound of the kid's random demands. (We're working on that bit, though. Save it for another blog post!) Date nights are nice, but sporadic and two hours here or there to have a quick meal alone doesn't always cut it. Taking time away helped. Being "just us" again. 





5. It's Good For the Kids
If you had asked me pre-trip how I thought the kids would endure a week without us, I would've hemmed and hawed a bit. I hoped they would be okay. I wanted them to have fun. But I wasn't completely sure that they wouldn't have epic meltdowns and think we abandoned them forever. Being with family helped that, I'm sure. They were TOTALLY fine! Sure, they missed us a little, but they had fun! The world kept turning-it did not screech to a halt simply because we left the vicinity. And honestly? That was really, really comforting to find out. 




I know it's not always possible financially, professionally or even medically, to take long periods of time off or fly out to other states or countries. But even if it's a night or a weekend in your own home while the kids stay with family. Or if you're like us and don't have family locally, but within a few hours distance, consider making the trip, dropping them off and staying in a B&B for a weekend. Any way that you can make it work, you should really try. It's worth it, I promise! 







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