Travel – Know Before You Go

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​It may be the aspect of traveling with children, but I have always found that planning for a vacation is practically a full time job, and if you already have a full time job, whether that’s out of the house or in the house, it’s even worse. I have also found that it doesn’t matter if the vacation is a weekend, a long weekend, or a week long holiday. It still takes the same amount of work for the preparation of a short time away or a long rest.

Some items may seem obvious, but we’ve all gotten halfway to our destination and wondered about leaving the stove on, and that thought continues over the entire course of the vacation regardless of how many times we absolutely, positively know that we turned off the oven. One way my family avoids this is that we get our coffee and morning drinks out of the house. NO COOKING! No oven, no stove top, no toaster, no coffee maker. No argument.

Our last three vacations have been to foreign countries (twice to Canada and once to the United Kingdom) and those take on slightly more planning prior to leaving. I’m including those details to eliminate missing items. As you read this (and other writings that I have on traveling), you’ll weed out what you don’t need or will not use, and hopefully you’ll comment on things that you did need that I haven’t included. I love the community we have here online so we can collaborate and advise each other. We are in a wonderful time, and we should embrace to positive aspects of it. This networking and sharing is one of those positive things.

We have three children and the youngest are teenagers. While they are certainly [th] more independent [th] and actually better able to help with packing than they were during their elementary years and younger, it is almost more work to get them ready for a vacation. They never think they need as much as we parents think they’ll need…like underwear and socks. Some people do laundry on vacation; I do not. I prefer my vacations to be vacations.

Where to start?

1. The first thing is to use timers for lights so they go on. Many of them can be set to go on and off randomly. Another option is to set one to turn one off in one room and then turn the light on in another room, so you’re showing movement as well as the lights aren’t in a set pattern.

2. Hold your mail. Do not let your mail pile up on your front porch or in the mailbox. You could have your neighbor collect it for you or you can go to your local post office or set it up online to stop your mail until you return. They will deliver it on the day you request. Go to usps.com, click on Quick Tools, and then click Hold Mail.

3. Same for your newspaper delivery.

4. Unplug your toaster oven and your other electronics that aren’t quite off when they’re “off”. Some of those items are computers, wifi routers, remote control televisions (who doesn’t have these?), chargers that are not being used. Mentally walk through your house and figure out which plugs need to be unplugged.

5. Set your thermostat higher. We usually set it for 79/80F in the summer and lower it to 65F in the winter.

6. Do you have pets? Will they be coming with you? Will you be kennelling them?

7. I go to Starbucks on a regular basis, and have their card. Will I be able to use it in Canada? I couldn’t use it in the UK, so I left it home. A small thing, but I still need to find out.

8. Will you be driving? Even in the UK, we rented a car and drove. Will we be using the rental company’s insurance or your own? We couldn’t use our own in the UK, but we can use it driving in Canada, including using a rental car. However, we did need a special insurance identification card for use in Canada (Canada Non-Resident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card). This can be obtained from your insurance company.
9. Cell phone service. The last time we went to Canada (2015), we were in Niagara Falls and for the most part, our phone calls and texts bounced off the Buffalo cell towers so we didn’t pay roaming charges. Now, for the most part, roaming charges don’t exist in North America; at least with Verizon Wireless, Canada and Mexico are included in our regular wireless plan, so no roaming, no long distance, no fees. Check with your carrier.

10. Call your bank about using your credit and debit cards. You will be able to use them, but you’ll have to notify most banks so they don’t flag your cards as stolen. This is important even if you don’t leave the country. If you live in New York, and you’re visiting San Francisco, your card will be flagged and if it’s the weekend it will take time to sort out. There may also be usage fees. Again, check with your bank.

11. Currency Exchanges can be done at airports, most large banks, and AAA offices. Often, however, they need to be ordered and will take a few days to receive. There are more than likely fees.

Mental Health Monday – Avoiding Politics

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Politics are everywhere these days. I’m a political junkie, and even for me it can be a little exasperating. In the US we have an unhinged narcissist who can’t control his Twitter fingers and the media who used ot have journalistic integrity churning out pieces on his nicknaming habits, no follow up questions for outrageous lies, and more twattle than I thought humanly possilble. In the UK, Brexit is a disaster, no one gave a thought to Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Theresa May has resigned. The EU is in the middle of elections and fascists are everywhere. The Austrian government has basically fallen apart. And of course, there’s Iran and North Korea.

Amid this frenzy, I offer five ways to bring your blood pressure down and cope with the news of the day, no matter your normal comfort level:

1. Turn it off. Turn off the television, turn off your phone notifications, take a break from Twitter.

2. If you must stay on Twitter, only read Lin-Manuel Miranda exclusively. He is positive and uplifting and always says the one thing you needed to hear. Monday through Friday, he has Good Morning and Good Night tweets for his followers.

3. Read a book. NOT The Handmaid’s Tale. NOT 1984 or Lord of the Flies. Try Bill Bryson. Or James Martin, SJ. Or Becoming by Michelle Obama.

4. Treat yourself to a movie. Avengers: End Game is still in theatres. Other options: A Dog’s Journey, Aladdin, Detective Pikachu, and in the coming weeks: Men in Black and Toy Story 4!

5. Try a new podcast: The Hilarious World of Depression with John Moe wherever you get your podcasts. I listen on Player.FM.

Writing Advice BONUS: 25 Excuses Not to Write

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One of the prompts in this season’s memoir writing workshop was to think about all of the excuses we make to NOT write; to avoid the writing that we love so much. This list is not all inclusive, but this is what came forward for me on this topic. What are some of your excuses not to write? Continue reading

Books I’ve Read in 2018

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What follows is a list of all the books I’ve read in 2018. You can find them all through Google or your local library. Most of them were library books that I borrowed as e-bookis on my Kindle. The library is a great resource and it’s free!

I am currently reading four books; two will go into the 2019 “pile” and two are meant to be finished today, having read them daily throughout 2018:

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

 Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling​

Women of the Bible: A One Year Devotional Study by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda

Continue reading

Travel – 15 Quick Tips When Visiting Belfast, NI

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Recently, an acquaintance of mine left for a trip to Ireland on a group tour. Her travels were taking her to Ireland as well as Belfast in the North and as far north as the Giants Causeway. She had been asking for advice, and I thought it would be helpful to share some of those tidbits here.

1. You will not receive a bag with your purchases. 

Not even at the grocery store. You will need to bring your own reusable bag or pay 5p to receive one. I did notice that there weren’t plastic bags swirling around the streets in the breeze.

2. Bring an umbrella and a lightweight jacket.

We visited in August, and we wore our jackets every day. It was colder than I expected. As for rain, it will rain every day. Sometimes it’s no more than a mist that you would feel at a waterfall, but we had at least two downpours, and without an umbrella, we would have been soaked to our skin.

As I joked with my brother-in-law: Ask yourself if you’re still in Ireland. If the answer is yes, then you need to bring your umbrella.

3. Across the street from City Hall in Belfast is a large information center with great pamphlets, maps, and a gift shop. If you can’t get to that one, try and find an information center before you start wandering around. They are very helpful. Visit Belfast Welcome Center.

4. Around the corner and down the road a tiny bit is Carroll’s, an Irish gift shop with clothes, magnets, mugs, candy, everything and anything at a price range that makes something affordable for everyone.

5. The candy selection is amazing.
Even if you find something similar to what we have in the States, the use of local water and milk in the candymaking makes it spectacular.

6. Toffee. Eat all the toffee.
We can’t get good British toffee in the States. It is my go-to when I can get it.

Also, eat all the cheddar. 

7. Visit Titanic Belfast. It is an incredible museum dedicated to the building of the Titanic. I think they did a really wonderful job balancing their pride for building the great ship and the respect for the lives lost in the disaster. They also have plenty of on-site parking at a reasonable price, a cafe, and a gift shop.

8. St. George’s Market.

9. Botanic Gardens. One word of warning, there is very little parking in this area.

10. Wear comfortable shoes. There will be a lot of walking regardless of your prime mode of transportation.

11. Download maps to your smartphone or prints them out. If you can’t do that, get them right away, especially street maps, if only to get your bearings. We tend to drive in circles the first couple of days.

12. Carry cash. The general consensus is £200 to start and then use an ATM as needed.

Visa and MasterCard are taken at most places. 

Notify your bank that you will be traveling and for how long, so they don’t freeze your cards when you need them. (This includes your Debit/ATM card as well.)

From personal experience, I would not recommend Discover. In the two weeks we were there, we found two places that took them. Not even the petrol stations did.

13. £ Stores. Poundland, Pound World, All for a £. The same as our dollar stores, but everything’s £1.

14. Petrol is in litres; road signs are in miles. I have no idea why. If you find out, please let me know.

15. Leave space in your case to bring things back without having to pay baggage fees.

Titanic Belfast. Museum. (c)2018