Summer Scramble

IMG_0747Moms everywhere across the U.S. do the summer scramble.  The summer scramble happens regardless of the age of your children.  Summertime means it’s time to dust off the activities director hat, and start planning!  We find camps, plan vacations, and make sure to find family time…but what do we do in the gaps of all of that.  The gap filling is what I am calling the Summer Scramble!  I’ll be very upfront and say this post will be filled with Oklahoma specific ideas of things to do to fill in summer gaps between large scheduled events, but most of these ideas will cross state lines and could likely be applied anywhere.

Also, in full transparency, my lists are geared towards older kids and early teens…may even be a little boy biased.  There are lots of great resources on things to do and programs for younger kids…the ease of lists dwindles as the kids get older.  Just food for thought, drive time can be excellent “check-in” time with your kids.  It’s super easy to let the kids plug in to device or music on a short road trip, but make sure to have a little time with them unplugged in the car…that’s where I’ve had some of my best conversations with my kiddos.  So, without further ado, here are a couple of just bare bones lists to hopefully help get you through the summer scramble.  And by the way, I’m not even touching food places…there are lots of  fun, funky little restaurants and sweet treat spots all over the place…encourage your kids to do some research on a new place that they may like to try out.  It’s a fun way for you to teach them practical research skills…just a thought.  Ok….lists!

IMG_0119Outdoor Fun

  • White Water Bay – OKC
  • Safari Joe’s (formerly Big Splash) – Tulsa
  • Frontier City – OKC
  • Zoo – Tulsa & OKC
  • River Country Water Park – Muskogee
  • Honor Heights Park – Muskogee (public pool is really good here and you can rent paddle boats for the pond, plus great picnic areas)
  • Riversports – OKC (rafting, tubing, ropes course)
  • Pool at Shangri-la Hotel – Grand Lake
  • Flying Tee – Tulsa
  • Top Golf – OKC (these 2 are fun even if you are not a golfer)
  • Putt-Putt Golf
  • Tulsa Raceway Park & The Midnight Drags – Tulsa (check website for schedule)
  • Bass Pro Shops Catch and Release Fishing Days – Tulsa & OKC (check website for schedule)
  • Myriad Gardens – OKC (way cooler than you’d expect)
  • Semi-Pro Baseball Game – Tulsa & OKC
  • Semi- Pro Soccer Game – Tulsa
  • Boat Ride on the Riverwalk – OKC
  • Segway tour  – OKC
  • Float the River – Talequah
  • Hike Wichita Mountains – Lawton
  • Festivals – Tulsa (International Balloon Festival, Bixby Green Corn Festival, Porter Peach Festival)
  • Drive some of Route 66 (find Instagramable images from this iconic route)

IMG_0599Indoor Fun

  • Trampoline Parks – Tulsa & OKC
  • iFly Indoor Skydiving – OKC
  • Laser Tag – Tulsa & OKC
  • Main Event – Tulsa & OKC
  • Rock Climbing  – Tulsa & OKC (indoor rock walls)
  • Andy B’s – Tulsa
  • Escape Rooms – Tulsa & OKC
  • Aquarium – Jenks
  • Bowling – Tulsa & OKC
  • Discount Movies – Tulsa & OKC (check movie websites for discounted days)
  • Woolaroc – Bartlesville
  • Marlin’s Mansion – Ponca City
  • Philbrook Museum – Tulsa
  • Gilcrease Museum – Tulsa
  • OKC National Memorial Museum – OKC
  • Museum of Osteology – OKC
  • National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum – OKC
  • Oklahoma Science Museum – OKC
  • Oklahoma Museum of Art – OKC
  • Oklahoma Natural History Museum – Norman
  • Roller Skating – Tulsa & OKC
  • Pole Position – Tulsa & OKC (indoor go kart racing)
  • Dave & Busters
  • Air & Space Museum –  Tulsa

While definitely not a complete list…I hope this at least gets you thinking about some of the fun stuff our kids can get into this summer!  Get out and be an explorer in your own backyard.  Living in a town outside of the two biggest metro areas in Oklahoma gave me a new appreciation for all of the great things this state has to offer that we so easily take for granted.  What are some of your families summer favorites that get you through the lulls in your summer schedule?

Girls Trip Ideas And Tips For Planning One

RMPDE9743 (1)If you are a girl and you do not have a couple of girl friends that you want to go escape real life with for a few days…you might reconsider your friendships.  I have been incredibly lucky and blessed with some amazing girl friends!  Women I have connected with in different ways for different reasons.  And, I think I could easily say that I would travel with each and every one of my friends and maybe even some that I might throw more in that acquaintance category.  Finding travel buddies can be an interesting dance…finding places to travel with them, can be almost as tricky!  So, in this post I hope to give you some ideas of where to go, the type of gal pal to take with you, and some tips that might make group travel just a little easier!

The idea of getting away from dishes, drama, and drudgery is appealing to most women.  So, the thought of a girls trip with friends is usually a no brainer.  The tricky part is working time into your schedule and not breaking the bank in giving yourself a break!  When things are important to us, we usually find a way to make it happen.  When you and your girl friends start imagining the possibility of a girls trip…it usually starts with very big, and very exciting plans…by the end it has whittled down into something fun and manageable and perfect for your group!  A girls trip can be sooooooo many things!  I’ll break down some ideas into categories, and hopefully get your wheels turning for your own girls trip excursion.

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Theme Trips.

Wine Tour.  This is one of those options that I think, the more the merrier!  Wine tours can be easy get-aways with large groups.  Most wine regions in the U.S. are like Disneyland for adults.  So, many options…you can cater this type of trip any way you like…and you could easily make it an annual trip, and not have the same experiences twice.  The most well known wine region is of course Napa Valley, but there are lots of regions in the U.S. making good wine.  In the same area as Napa is Sonoma, other large wine regions are Willamette, Oregon and Yakima, Washington.

Food Tour.  Find a couple of your foodie friends and get to eating!  This type of trip can be easy with a small group of  3 or 4…large groups can be nightmares for dining out.  Just a few foodie spots for thought…New Orleans, Portland, ME, Portland, OR, Charleston, Austin are all great regional food destination.  I’d also throw cities that have major culinary institutes in the mix…New York, Los Angeles, Napa, Las Vegas, and San Antonio.   These are huge cities that you will see in other lists as well, but the food scene in these places are amazing!

Retail Therapy Tour.  Who doesn’t love a little retail therapy? No retail therapy list would be taken seriously without NYC.  Most people would never associate Honolulu with shopping, but it totally is a shoppers paradise!  Other ideas…Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, and of course the Mall of America in Minneapolis.  Pay down your credit card balances and then grab a couple of girls that know how to shop til they drop!

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Relaxing Trips.

Spa Retreat.  There are amazing spas all across this great country!   Arizona is loaded with them…Pheonix, Scottsdale, and Sedona are all great spa vacation getaway destinations.  Napa, CA has great spas.  If you are a mid-westerner like me, you’ll be happy to hear that a spa in Lake Austin, TX makes many, many top 10 spas in the US lists. Do a little research, I’m sure you can find an amazing spa retreat not to far from where you live!  Bring your friend that loves to be pampered or is a little into alternative medicine with you here!

Beach Vacay.  Easy, breezy, and beautiful!  Grab your swimsuit, your weekender bag, and your best girl friends and head to the beach.  Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Punta de Mita, anywhere in the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, or South Carolina…just book it and go!

The Great Outdoors.  Lots of women find hiking, horseback riding, skiing, and other outdoor adventures relaxing.  I get it!  Just being in the great outdoors surrounded by fresh air and out of the chaos of the city can be super relaxing.  A few unconventional girls trip ideas…National Parks in Northern California or Utah, hiking in Colorado, Arizona, or Arkansas, or go work a dude ranch in Montana.  Grab you workout buddy for this trip.  No doubt these would be memorable get-aways!

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Big City Living.

There are plenty of big metropolises to visit in the U.S.  The draw of the big city vacations is that they often offer a wide variety of activities, which can be useful…especially if the group is large.  Again, a quick easy no-brainer list…NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Miami, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas!  Bring your walking shoes and your credit card…you’ll need them both!  This trip is for your trooper friends…the girls that are up for anything!

Posh, Over-The-Top.

Thought I’d throw this in there just for fun.  With enough time and money anything is possible…charter a yacht in the Caribbean or Croatia, rent a penthouse in NYC, how about an oceanfront beach house in Malibu…there’s always Paris, the Tuscan region in Italy, or Santorini!  When one of you girls gets something in this category planned…count me in!!!

IMG_3046So, hopefully by now I’ve gotten your girl trip wheels turning…let’s talk about how to get it planned out!  As in all things, communication and flexibility are key if you actually want to make a girls trip happen.  There is no “right” time.  You just need to pick a date that is far enough in advance of everyone’s schedule that the trip ends up being almost the only thing on the schedule, and then let life work itself around your trip!  It’s easiest to let one person be the “lead point”, otherwise there is too much confusion.  Make sure to pick someone who has great communication skills AND THE TIME to invest in keeping the trip organized.  Delegation skills are also sometimes useful for your “lead point”, just make sure that if a task is delegated that the info goes back to your lead to communicate out to the group…I promise it just makes it easier!  I’ve recently come across an app that I seem to really like that is for group travel.  It’s a place where itineraries, reservations, and expenses can all be easily found and tracked.  It’s called Coordin8.  It’s a little work on the front end, but I think worth it for what it provides.  A couple of thoughts for good measure…large groups require more advanced notice and more planning.  I know that’s a no-brainer statement, but if you have never traveled with a large party, it’s something you have never even thought about…I promise!  I’m all for preparedness and schedules…in fact, I love structure!  But, make sure to schedule in some downtime and BE FLEXIBLE!  Also, if there is something you really want to do…speak up, and vice versa.  Things can get sticky in group travel.  Girls trips go so much better when we drop our expectations about the place we are going or the plans we’ve made, and are so much more enjoyable when it becomes more about spending time with dear friends and just having an experience with them that you’ve never had before!  Make sure to set at least a “ballpark” budget before you book anything.   You want everyone on the same page on approximately how much they will be responsible for.  Spending more does not always directly correlate to a better trip.  There are lots of ways to travel on the cheap if money is tight.  An amazing girls trip does not have to be anything extravagant…in my opinion the most important thing to have for your girls trip is a comfy place to hang out!  If your traveling somewhere by plane, 4-5 days is the sweet spot as far as longevity of the trip.  If by car, 2-3 is usually plenty of time to catch up, reconnect, and not break the bank!

There are lots of decisions to be made.  All of those decisions about how you will get there, where you will stay, and what you will do will all unfold as you whittle your wants down to the perfect girls trip for your group!  Half the fun is planning and just having something to look forward to other than what you’re going to make for dinner and who is picking up the kids from soccer!  Text your best girlfriends and get something on the schedule…I promise you will not regret it!!

Just for fun I’ll throw in some good shoe options for girls trip travel!  If you’ve ever tried to walk the Las Vegas strip or vineyard fields in heels you know that shoes can make or break your trip!  And, you are not allowed to take ugly shoes on a girls trip…these things are important people!

Vineyard Shoe Optionsherehere, and here.  It’s agriculture ladies…heels are no bueno here!  But you still need something nice for amazing dinners out!

Beach Shoe Optionshereherehere, and here.  It’s the beach!  Don’t be overdressed!  Cute, comfy and casual is key!

Great Outdoors Options:  herehere, and here.  Functional, comfy, then cute in this category!

Big City Options:  herehere, and here.  Any kind of fashion slip on sneaker will do here…your feet will thank you!  Save your heels for dinner!

Safety Tips For Your Girls Trip

My generation (Gen X) and any generation of women after me has been told…you are capable, you can do anything you set your mind to, you don’t NEED a man for anything.  And, while I absolutely believe this is true, I do believe that in some ways women have to work smarter and harder than their male counterparts.  There is a huge movement in the travel industry for solo female travel.  While some women must travel solo for work or some choose to travel solo for pleasure…myself…well, I whole-heartedly believe travel is best when it’s shared!  All of that said, there are some smart things that women should be doing in their travel, be it solo or with a group of gal pals, to make their trip safer and therefore more enjoyable.  Safety should be a priority in travel, period.  And that safety begins in the planning phases before you ever spend on dime on booking your trip!  Here are 5 tips that I hope help your travel safety game.

Research

This one to me is a no brainer.  Do your homework…gather information on where your going..especially if it’s out of the country.  Check The State Department for travel advisories.  Other good resources to check out…read reviews on Trip Advisor, find Facebook travel group…they are everywhere, general travel and travel specific to where you are trying to go.  Do you follow someone on Instagram that lives where you want to travel?  Send them a message, most are more than happy to give you the inside scoop.  My point is, it’s so easy to gather information…you just have to look.  Figure out what part of town your hotel or AirBnB is in.  Will you be able to safely travel to and from your accommodations to the things you want to do while you are there?  Will you be using public transportation?  Figure out your safest means of getting around.  Check with your accommodations to see if they offer in room safes.  Having a safe inside your room is a must.  Lastly, spend the extra money to be safe. If you are traveling solo or with a small group of girls, spend the extra money to stay in a safer location, in a place that offers valet service…if you can’t afford to spend the extra $20 here and there for your safety…you probably need to save a little more before you go.  DO YOUR RESEARCH!  You might find that you enjoy the research part almost as much as the trip…almost.  Often times the research part will get you even more excited about your upcoming excursion.

Don’t Travel With Valuables

In all transparency, I struggled with this one for years.  I had some jewelry that hubs had bought for me that I never wore unless we went somewhere fancy…which generally only happened on vacation.  I left this jewelry in our hotel safe once.  My heart sank so low, I felt like I was going to puke.  The jewelry was bought for me on our very first trip together…so not only would it have been an expensive loss, but it also was an irreplaceable memento from a very special trip.  I did recover the jewelry, Thank God, but I learned my lesson…don’t pack anything that you can’t live without, and make hubs take me to nice places at home so I can wear my “good” jewelry!  I understand that sometimes you can not avoid traveling with valuables.  In those cases, make sure to pack them in your carry on, not your checked luggage.  Always keep them on you or locked up in your room safe.  There are lots of good travel bag options with anti-theft type features like this cross body bag, this messenger type bag, or this cute backpack.   All of these options are slash resistant and come with RFID technology to keep your credit card information safe!

Blend In

When traveling alone or in a small group, try to blend in.  If you can’t blend in do your best to not stand out!  When I travel without hubs I leave my designer purses, clothes, and accessories at home!  I don’t even take my designer dupes with me.  Designer dupes have gotten really good, and it’s hard to tell the difference from a glance, examples herehere, and here,  which is great at home…but I don’t want to give the appearance that I have more than what I actually do on the road.  Part of your pre-trip research should be about how you should dress and pack for your vacation.  Being overdressed or underdressed paints an unnecessary target on you…unless that is your goal.  On my last girls trip to Grand Cayman my friend and I were slightly, and I do mean very slightly, overdressed for a very casual dinner out at a place that the locals frequent.  We were enjoying our dinner when we were approached by a couple of pirates…yes, I said pirates.  WJOKE1050

The pirates ended up being harmless enough, but they definitely had us on high alert!  Couple of things about unwanted attention.  If you are out, and for any reason you feel uncomfortable make sure that you can be seen and heard by others.  Speak louder, so that others around you can hear what’s going on.  Don’t be afraid to say no or hurt someones feelings by  declining a drink, help, or unwanted attention.  In this particular situation, I had my eye on both pirates, our personal belongings and the waitress….who I made eye contact with frequently.  Being cautious is not rude…it’s necessary.  No one has ever died from hurt feelings.   That being said, if my friend and I would not have been overdressed for this establishment, we may have gone unnoticed, and may not have been the recipients of some unwanted attention by a couple of guys who were clearly bigger than us and knew the area much better than we did!  Do your homework, and blend in!

Technology…The Blessing And The Curse

Technology is truly the double edged sword in every occasion!  That being said, when traveling alone or with a small group, check in frequently.  Schedule check-ins, or make sure to let someone know when you are leaving your accommodations, where you are going, and how long you expect to be.  I do this whether I’m going shopping. out to lunch, or doing something more adventurous like hiking, zip lining, or going on a boat tour.  If you are traveling internationally make sure that you add international service to you cell plan.  Most companies will charge you a certain amount by the day for data and cellular use…but having access to data while traveling is vital anymore!  Make sure to have at least 1 portable charger.  Other options are here or here.  Technology can not help you if you have no juice!  There are plenty of location finder apps like Find My Family, that you can share with loved ones not on the trip with you.  But, as I said technology can also be a safety hang up.  Technology can be a huge distraction.  Distracted individuals can easily be taken advantage of.  DO NOT BE DISTRACTED BY YOUR TECHNOLOGY!  If you get turned around or flat out lost, slip into a store or a coffee shop to use your phone to get your bearings.  Remain cool and confident and let Google Maps save your booty somewhere outside of absolute public scrutiny.  Let your technology help you, not hinder and distract you.

Common Sense

Ah, the dying art of common sense.  This will be my catch all category of things that are just good to be aware of, or ideas you might want to give a try.  Never travel with original copies of important documents except for your passport.  Make 2  copies of things like passports, insurance cards, important phone numbers and credit card info.  One copy can stay in the safe in the room, the other can stay in your purse or day bag.  Another idea for this is to make a document or take pictures of these items and save them to a cloud, like Google Docs or Dropbox.  Then, you can have access to them even if all of your physical information gets taken.  Always keep a little bit of cash stashed back at your accommodations…keep it in the safe, or some suggest stuffing it in socks or in the bottom of a tampon box, just somewhere that isn’t obvious.  I think travel insurance can be a good idea, especially for international travel.  Policies are cheap and there are several good companies out there like Travel Guard or World Nomad.

As for personal safety items…pepper spray is allowed in checked baggage as long as it’s under 4 fluid ounces.  Items like a personal alarm or a whistle can be life saving!  I know that there is a stigma with selfie sticks, but there is an element of safety that comes with not giving you phone to a stranger for that perfect instagramable picture.  Lots of women whether single or married wear fake wedding rings as an easy deterrent for unwanted attention.  Be mindful of how much alcohol you consume.  Also, if someone wants to buy you a drink, get that drink directly from the bartender.  Stay in control.  Most of all, try to use some common sense, trust that feeling in your gut, don’t put yourself in isolated situations…meaning, stay with crowds, don’t sit on the empty train car or in the part of the bus that isn’t crowded.  There can be safety in numbers, even if they are not your numbers.  Do all that you can to put yourself in good situations.  Do your homework before hand, and then go and enjoy your trip!

I hope these 5 items have brought some awareness to you, and that they get you thinking about  incorporating safe habits into your travel!

Girls Trip Guide to Grand Cayman

CKLYE9715Sometimes you just need a girls trip.  In a family full of boys, I’m always outnumbered…so when we travel as a family I’m often the activities director, and those activities do not include shopping, working on my tan, and laughing until I cry.  On family trips I’m in MOM MODE…y’all know what I’m talking about.  I love being a mom, and I cherish our family trips.  But, there is something so enticing and energizing about grabbing a couple of girl friends and just being women for a few days…not moms, not wives, not girlfriends, not activity directors, not chefs, not chauffeurs…I know y’all understand where I’m coming from.  This momma was in NEED of a girls trip, so I called up a couple of my gal pals, Amy and Somer,  and we got one on the books!  The trip changed a couple of times from our original idea, but that is life these days.  (I’ll soon have a new post about how to organize a girls trip.)  We settled on a relaxing beach trip to Grand Cayman.  Grand Cayman is a small British Owned Territory south of Cuba and east of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea.

QDXME2111Grand Cayman’s most popular beach is Seven Mile Beach.  This beach has held the honor of The Caribbean’s Best Beach on more than one occasion.  It’s a public beach and you can walk the entire stretch no matter where you are staying on the island.  As you can probably imagine, most of the resorts and hotels are located along Seven Mile Beach.  My friend Amy and I stayed at the  Westin Grand Cayman.  I mentioned another friend earlier, Somer, she had something very important come up and ended up canceling last minute…we missed her dearly, but understood why she couldn’t come.  After lots of text messaging back and forth, Amy and I decided we really just needed a break!  We had both just had lots of chaos in our lives recently, so we just wanted a short little to vacay to decompress and unwind.  So, the gorgeous oceanfront location of the Westin Grand Cayman was perfect for our trip

Grand Cayman is a super easy, short flight from the Mid-West.  The flight cost is roughly the same as a flight to Mexico.  Mexico was actually one of the options we had thought about going to, but he State Department had put out a travel advisory for Mexico, so we switched our trip to Grand Cayman.  With the price of the flight being approximately the same…if you are looking for somewhere beautiful and beachy, and way less crowded…Grand Cayman might be a good option for you too!

IMG_E4084 (1)Let’s talk deets!  Where to eat and what to do on Grand Cayman!  Restaurant options on the island are plentiful and plenty good!  And, with Grand Cayman being a port stop for lots of cruise ships there are tons of activities and water sport options to choose from.  My friend Amy is a total foodie!   If you have a foodie friend that loves to travel, these type of people make for amazing travel buddies!  Food is culture!  It’s one of the ways we experience new places…be it a new region, new country, new island.  Food is the great connector, at least it can be…eating is something every single human does….it’s one thing we ALL have in common.  I have to say that my most memorable meal was our Sunday Brunch at the Westin at Ferdinand’s.  In all transparency, hubs and I stayed at this Westin in Grand Cayman about 6 years ago…and the stand out of that trip was also this Sunday brunch!  So, I could not wait to share it with Amy!!!  If you click on the link you will see the basics of the menu, but that does not even begin to describe or do justice to this brunch.  Truly, only one word could describe it and that is EPIC!!!  The food is amazing.  They have it set up in a way that delights your senses, not does not overwhelm you…and with the shear amount of food being offered at this brunch buffet, that could very easily happen.  I happen to love seafood…it’s one of the reasons that I like to travel out of landlocked Oklahoma.  The brunch buffet offered a carving station that had both roast beef and a whole roasted red snapper, there was a sushi station, a shellfish station, and prepared fish dishes in warming trays in another area of buffet.  Seriously, this brunch is a fish lovers dream.  It also had lots of dishes for folks just wanting breakfast that is a little “extra”  if you know what I mean…pineapple pancakes, orange juice french toast, a parfait bar, and the most gorgeous dessert bar.  My foodie friend and I tackled the desserts in a very strategic manner!  Top all of that off with champagne or a mimosa…heavenly!

YIHGE6277Some of the other amazing meals we enjoyed on the island were at Morgan’s Seafood RestaurantCatchPepper’s Bar & Grill.  I would highly recommend Morgan’s and Catch for more upscale dining.  Pepper’s had amazing jerk chicken, which the Caribbean Islands are known for…it has a dive bar feel and is a local hang out for sure!  Morgan’s is an ocean to table, casual gourmet restaurant.  It has a cozy atmosphere, and it’s right on the water…I loved the British West Indies feel that the bar area had and their wine storage area was impressive as well.  We had great food and impeccable service.  Grand Cayman Travel Tip – Make sure you know which Morgan’s you are going to before you get in your taxi.  There is more than one Morgan’s and they are not even remotely close to each other!  Catch is another amazing seafood restaurant on Grand Cayman.  It’s another dockside eatery with an amazing menu and an impressive wine list.  Grand Cayman is an international destination, so you see more variety in the types of wines and alcohols served there.  Catch is upscale with out being snotty or pretentious.  Good food, great service, amazing views…you can’t ask for much more than that.  I have a food must do on a girls trip…find a dive bar type place with good food and good music.  All the locals said Pepper’s Bar & Grill would foot that bill.  Amy and I really wanted to try something “jerk” while we were on the island.  Jerk is a Caribbean blend of spices.  The jerk chicken at Pepper’s did not disappoint!    I’m a baby about hot foods, so I was concerned that the jerk seasoning might be too much for me…but it was flavorful without heat…so, so, so good!  As for the rest of the food at Pepper’s…eh…stick with the jerk!  They did, however, have an amazing drink called the Pepper’s Punch…it was yummy, in a very girly fruity kind of way!

RMPDE9743 (1)As for activities, there are plenty of things to do on Grand Cayman.  There are things like Turtle Town and Stingray City…submarine tours and jet skis and snorkel tours.  Scuba diving and snorkeling is really what Grand Cayman is known for.  For this girls trip, we were really just looking to relax.  So, our entertainment was more about not having to go, go, go and do, and less about booking endless activities to keep us busy.  We were more than happy to have what I loving call a “slug-day”.  We rented a cabana at the beach in front of our hotel, and literally did nothing…all day….you should absolutely try it…it’s amazing!  The Westin Grand Cayman has about 4 different types of cabanas…the one we chose had a hammock…which I stumbled in and out of multiple times throughout  the day.  The cabanas offer cozy lounge chairs, shade, and a call button for service if you should need anything, like lunch or a drink.  Taking that day to do nothing was exactly what both of us needed!  During our extended weekend, we did book a sunset catamaran cruise with Red Sail Sports.  Red Sail Sports had representatives on site at the Westin that could book any kind of excursion you might want to go on…be it snorkeling, a bbq cruise, or a trip to Stingray City to swim with the stingrays.  Our sunset cruise was perfect…not overcrowded, the waters were super calm, and there was just enough wind to bring the sails out to full mast.  It was spectacular and one of the more memorable things I’ve done on a trip thus far.  Amy and I also went shopping in the capital city, Georgetown.  Georgetown is full of jewelry shops!  Need a Rolex, a Breitling, a new piece of jewelry from Cartier?  This is the place to get it!  In Grand Cayman, certain luxury items are duty-free…jewelry is one of those luxury items.  I was not in the market for any jewelry, however, while walking around Georgetown we did see Atlantis Submarines.  We were able to book and go on a semi-submersible boat tour.  It’s a glass bottomed boat where the hull sits about 5 feet below the surface of the water.  Wow, the reef around Grand Cayman is fully breathtaking!  I would highly recommend an Atlantis Submarine tour to anyone that visits the island.  They have several tour options…even a submarine tour at night!

REPME9303The beaches and the waters of Grand Cayman are gorgeous.  With amazing temps and views like these…it’s a girls trip dream get-a-way.  I hope I’ve tempted you to plan your own girls trip to Grand Cayman…just a few days away in the sun, with a girly fruity drink, an appetite for amazing food, and lazy days to reconnect with yourself.  Relaxed and refreshed ready to come back and give your best to your family, your friends, and even your work.

Girls Trip…Because It’s Cheaper Than Therapy

NIOVE4415Destruction brings about change.  Sometimes we are ready for it, sometimes we are not, but the outcome is always the same…change.  As I’ve gotten older, I find change more difficult, and absolutely necessary.  Want to lose 20lbs…something has to change.  Want to lift heavier weights…something has to change.  Want to be a better cook…something has to change.  Want to be a more understanding person…well, I’m not sure that anyone consciously thinks about that part…but when changes happen…hopefully, understanding and maybe occasionally wisdom are byproducts of the change.  I’m a person who has had some significant changes in my life, both good and bad.  All have changed the filter in which I view my life in some way, shape, or form…and all have broadened my understanding, expanded my grace (eventually), and most have increased my wisdom to some degree.  Some change is good and easily accepted, and some change is good and we fight it tooth and nail.  Sometimes it can be really hard.  I’ve been a little absent in my posts because of some hard changes, and I’m not trying to be cryptic…no one died, no one is divorcing, no one has had catastrophic health issues come up, but nonetheless, this particular change has been hard and I’m not fully ready to share…hopefully, I’ll be ready one day, but now is not the time.

While this girls trip to Grand Cayman had been planned months in advance, the timing of the aforementioned change and the timing of the trip was just what this girl NEEDED.  There is something about sunshine filled days and being at the ocean that absolutely centers me.  Like, it’s super crazy…I have an autoimmune condition that always starts the process of subsiding when I’m at the beach…stress make the condition flare up…so I physically see changes when I’m at the beach for any length of time.  Crazy, right?  And what a great excuse for me to tell hubs it’s time for a trip to the beach???

Now, while I do not believe that you have to have something catastrophic happen to you to NEED a girls trip…I do believe that there are times when we just want to get away, and then there are times when we NEED to get away.  Although, with over scheduled lives becoming the norm, I think that the line between want and need is becoming blurred…often times we are so busy being busy that we don’t recognize that we need to “schedule” in a break for ourselves.

Life happens.  Life is happening.  We can all come up with a million different reasons to not make whatever recharges our battery a priority.  You CAN NOT fill from an empty cup.  The laws of sewing and reaping are biblical and unbreakable.  If you are sewing busyness, you will be busy.  If you are sewing happiness, that happiness will be reflected back to you…if your so busy that you are unhappy…well, it all makes its way back around in the end.  The more time that I spend with my girl friends, whether on a girls trip or at a coffee shop, I see this more and more.  The human experience, life, happening to all of us.  We all have struggles and setbacks, of course non of those make social media appearances, and we all have triumphs and victories…some big, some small…but all worth sharing with your good girl friends, who will cheer you on, or help you pick up the pieces.  What I love about a girls trip is that time seems to stop, and what I mean by that is the busyness stops, the thousands of seemingly endless and unimportant decisions that we instinctually make, stops…we get a chance to live in the here and now…and enjoy it, laugh until we cry, feel deeper, be vulnerable, be crazy…just be!

Have you ever planned a girls trip?  Have you planned a girls trip with girls who have families?  It’s complicated!  This girls trip started off with me asking two of my friends if they wanted to try to go to the Kentucky Derby!  How fun, right?  It then switched to a couple of days at one of my favorite properties in Cancun, Mexico.  And it ended up being just two of us in Grand Cayman!  Stuff comes up…you just roll with it.  I see funny memes all the time that show the inception of a girls trip and how everyone and their brother is in on the trip, and as the date approaches or if deposits are due, the group keeps dwindling and dwindling, and by the end…there is only 1 girl left committed to going on the trip.  In the next blog I’ll get down some details about the how to’s of planning a girls trip, and give some details about how and why this trip had so many changes.  Also, I’ll have some safety tips for traveling as a woman, by yourself or in a small group.

This post was more about giving a reason for my absence and letting you know I’m back at it…full of good travel info and cute, funny stories to whisk you away, even if it’s just for a few minutes of your day.

Family Ski Trip Money Saving Ideas And Prep

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Almost yearly, hubs and I take The Things skiing.  This is easily Thing 3’s favorite trip of the year, as he fancies himself a mountain man,  dreams of living in a log cabin somewhere remote…which if you know this child, you know how much he talks…this would never really work out for him I’m afraid.  All the boys love this trip and we’ve been going to the same mountain for 7 years, so they know the mountain and the area like the back of their hands.  In this post, I hope to give you a few tips and tricks that could save you big money in the long run, and a little money in the short run!

Ski/Snowboarding trips are expensive…there is no way around it.  Lift tickets are expensive, equipment is expensive, lodging is expensive, even food costs are high.  The first time hubs and I traveled to the Vail Valley in Colorado, we were hooked!  This area of the Rocky Mountains is just breathtaking!  Most pictures can’t even do it justice.  Anyway, the first time we went to the area we bought into the Vacation Ownership condo unit that is in our network because we just knew that the boys would love it, and that they would want to ski and snowboard at least once a year…if not more.  I’m so glad we bought in when we did…the inventory at this particular property is sold out now, they do not even an option to buy into this property anymore.  Let me get to my couple of points here…

Tip #1.  If you have a place that you love and you know you want to return to yearly…invest in a property there…be it a timeshare, or a condo or vacation property.  This is a save money in the long run tip.  The prices for lodging in most of your popular vacation areas is never going to go down…it usually increases year over year.  So, if you know that you will want to come back somewhere year after year, make the investment early…then, as soon as you know it, you’ll have the property paid off, and will enjoy your trip that much more because you are no longer paying for accommodations.  We go the Vacation Ownership route because we usually have the property paid off in around 5 years, sometimes more…but, we made the same payment for 5 years, it didn’t increase…and now we get to enjoy it forever…it’s ours…we own it…we can deed it over to our kids when we die and they can continue to use it.  Not all “timeshares” are created equally.  This works for us because we are not interested in becoming landlords.  We do not want to mess with the upkeep and rental headache of owning our own condo or house in a place that takes 12-ish hours to get to, nor are we interested in paying a managing company to manage a property for us.  You could make money if you bought something and listed it on Air B&B when you are not using it, but it’s not a guarantee, and while we talk about this idea frequently, we just don’t have time to do this kind of investing.   So, long term savings accommodation tip…invest in accommodations of your own if you plan to return to a particular location year after year.

Tip #2.  Purchase, do not rent, your own ski/snowboard gear.  This is another long term savings tip.  This was the second smartest thing that we did the very first year we took the boys skiing.   This investment has worked particularly well for us since 2 of the 4 boys were basically done growing.  I’ll admit that we had that strategic advantage there, but even still…I’ll break down some costs so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.  If you were even going to just go skiing/snowboarding twice ever in your life…it would be a better value to buy your equipment than to rent it.  My hypothetical scenario will be for outfitting a junior skier.  If I rented skis for a junior skier on rentskis.com, it would run around $50 a day…that is for skis with bindings, poles, boots and a helmet.  If your junior skier skied for 6 days like mine typically do you’re looking at $300.  To purchase skis, a good pair for non-expert skiers, runs around $150, bindings $75, poles $20, boots $120, helmet $50.  Buying the equipment will run you around $415.  So, the roughly $115 difference should easily get you 2 to 3 ski seasons out of the equipment…that’s actually going to save you anywhere from $175-$600 in the long run!  The equipment that we have purchased the most of over the years have been boots…darn kids never stop growing!  Lots of junior equipment and even clothing have the ability to expand!  The first pair of boots that we bought for Thing 4 lasted 2 seasons because they had the ability to expand.  Thing 4’s skis and bindings lasted 3 seasons!  We definitely got our money’s worth out what we bought.  As an extra bonus, when you own your own equipment you don’t have to waste a day of your vacation getting fitted for your rental! If this has your wheels turning and you are not sure that I am the expert, check out this article from SkiMag here.IMG_E0685Tip #3.  Buy your lift tickets online at least 2 weeks prior to your trip.  There is no advantage or disadvantage to buying it more than 2 weeks out, but less than 2 weeks out you lose out on discounted pricing.  We just purchased out lift tickets last week for our spring break trip this year…by doing this early and online we saved a little over $1100.  Cha-Ching!!!  If you know that you will be skiing more than once in a season, the best value is a season pass.  Where we ski it’s called an Epic Pass.  It’s a great value that comes with perks like buddy passes and no restricted days, and gives you access to something ridiculous like 61 ski resorts.  As the ski season approached the price of the Epic Pass increases…best time to buy for the upcoming season is at the end of the current season.

Tip #4.  Stay in accommodations that have a kitchen and bring your own food.  This is an easy way to save money!  Meals out are expensive and meals on the mountain are like meals in an airport…rediculously expensive!  Before our yearly trek to the mountains, we meal plan and freeze a couple of our favorite crockpot meals to take with us.  Most days we eat lunch on the mountain or in one of our favorite restaurants in the village.  Often times, lunch is a cheaper meal than dinner, and our boys are often more hungry during the hours that they are snowboarding than when we are finished for the day!

The bring your own food tip is by far my favorite tip for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s a money saver, but the best part is that if you have meal planned, and put your dinner in the crockpot before you leave to hit the slopes for the day, when you get back to your room after skiing/snowboarding you can take a shower, throw on your jammies and just be done for the day, with a great meal ready for you with little to no work!  We are all usually exhausted after a full day on the slopes and want nothing more than to just go back to the room to veg and relax and rest up for the next full day on the slopes!  We bring lots of pantry staples with us…anything we need that is non-perishable for our crockpot meals, and lots of snacks for the snack hounds!  There are a couple of restaurants that we like to eat at that are not in the village of our ski resort.  Those places are our dinners out.  On those days, we try to do a bigger, later breakfast and tell the boys that they can heavily snack that day…so they usually stuff some snacks in pockets and somewhere along they way they grab a bottle of water and something light from Starbucks or somewhere on the mountain where they can sit down for a couple of minutes to take a break. (Side note: Starbucks has a great app where you can load money or gift cards directly to the app. All the boys have this app, and it enables them to pay for their purchases from their phones. Which means I don’t have to worry about making sure they have cash on them, I only worry that they don’t drop their phones while they are on the ski lift! 😉)

IMG_1575Speaking of dinners out…make sure to make your reservations before your trip if you are Tripping during popular vacation times…winter break, spring break, Thanksgiving break…any school break.  People are vacationing more and more.  I’m afraid that gone are the days when you could just wing it at a restaurant for dinner with no wait times.  We live by the make your reservations early rule, especially because often we are considered a large party…Trip Advisor and Open Table are two apps that make making a reservation super easy.

I think the moral of my ski trip money saving tips is to PREPARE. This trip will be expensive no matter what, but if you know it’s going to be something that you do at least yearly, invest the money up front.  Year 1 will be the most expensive, but if spend the money early, it has the potential to save you big time for years to come!  I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite crockpot recipes to use on this trip or just an evening at home.

Pot Roast Sliders

Easy Chicken Tacos

Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Soup

What are some of your money saving ski trip tips?                                                               Or what is one of your favorite crockpot meals?                                                                   I’d love to here from you!

Are you curious about the way we travel and what Vacation Ownership is?  Ask away and/or click here to gather a little information.

Magnolia Market From A Part-Time Fan

IMG_3035A little over a week ago, I went to visit Magnolia Market down in Waco, TX with two of my oldest and dearest friends…I kind of hate using that term, oldest and dearest….makes me feel like I’m calling my friends old, however, when you’ve been friends with someone for 30-ish of your 40 years of life…it just is what it is…old and dear!  I think I can safely say that this road trip down I-35 was way more about just hopping in the car for road time with no distractions and less about the actual destination.  I’m not immune to the “love all things Joanna Gaines” movement in America…I am just not her…so, as much as I’d like to pretend that I could possibly just go and buy a few items from the Magnolia Market, place the items in my home and magically think that I can pull her esthetic off…well, I’m not that good…and I’m ok with that.  We all have our strengths…decorating is not mine!  But, the trip was just the excuse that us girls needed to get together, celebrate a birthday, and just reconnect with each other.  I’m telling you right now, it’s therapeutic to be with your people…the ones who have been witness to ALL the parts of your life…that know you at your core.  Our friendships and relationships get lost in our day to day hustle and bustle, or in being a mom, or a wife, or girlfriend, or being a (fill in the blank with your profession).  I will shout it until my dying day…travel gives you the opportunity to step away from all of that and just be.  You don’t have to go to some far away magical place (although it doesn’t hurt)…you just need a break from your daily distractions and time to focus on the things that are important to you…like your friendships, your family, your relationships.  Ok, I’ll hop off my soapbox and get down to the reason your here…All things Magnolia Market!

IMG_3040I mean, super fan or not super fan, the Market is just cool!!!  And in typical Joanna Gaines fashion, every detail has been meticulously thought of!  It’s a beautiful shop, the esthetic of the whole compound is amazing, and all of it has good flow!  It’s everything that you would want to make the drive to Waco for.  On the property is the Market, a bakery, the famous silos, Magnolia Seed & Supply, and a large lawn with picnic tables and front porch swings.  Magnolia Market is in Waco, Tx, which about an hour south of Dallas.  Waco is a college town, so basically, you go to Waco either to visit Baylor University or Magnolia Market.  I think the Gaines’ knew this and they wanted make your trip to see them worth your while…so, like the amazing hosts I assume that they are,  they invite you into their market, feed you, and give you a place to sit down and partake in a meal, a snack, or just enjoy being there…because honestly, it’d be a bummer to make the drive to see them, be in and out of the store in 20-30 minutes and then be back on your way.

IMG_3041The market is crowded!  Amazing, but definitely crowded.  The research I gathered before the trip advised to either be there right when they open or just about an hour or two before they close.  The bakery opens at 7:30am, the market opens at 9am, and everything closes at 6pm. And, nothing is open on Sundays!  My friends and I got there at about 3:30pm on a Saturday.  Everything was still hopping at this time…the store was shoulder to shoulder and the bakery line was wrapped way around the building and down the block. I think the way to do this trip properly…is to come in the middle of the week, and start early.  Do breakfast at the bakery (there are very few other options in town, more on that later) and then hit the market as soon as it opens.  The market is fabulous and rather large. There is just so much to see, and if you’re like me…I like to take things in as a whole. Like I said, I’m not a decorating guru by any means.  I can’t just look at one item that I like and go…yeah, I can do something with that.  I need to see the whole vignette, and then try to figure out if I can afford the whole thing! Ha!  One super cool feature in the Market though is that they have a shipping station right inside the building!  Talk about convenient!!  No detail left out!

KEIUE0035As for the rest of the Magnolia experience, I was not about to stand in line for 40 minutes for a lemon lavender cupcake or chocolate chip cookies at the bakery. I am fans of both of these items, and from what I understand these are the two most popular items in the store…but I wouldn’t wait 40 minutes on anything…so we passed up the Silo Baking Co.  IMG_3050We did, however, hit up the food trucks.  My research pointed all signs to Co-Town Crepes…it was “meh” at best.  We didn’t want to spoil our appetites for dinner so this was the only truck out of the 7 possibilities that we tried.  I was underwhelmed to say the least, but the idea that you can grab a quick bite and enjoy the Magnolia experience at a picnic table on the lawn is quite nice.

IMG_3046So, here’s my real take on it.  Am I glad that we visited Magnolia Market?  Yes, I was curious enough to want to visit, and I’m glad we did.  Would I go back?  I would go back if someone invited me to go with them.  I would not go back because I thought it was the greatest place in Texas and just had to go visit again.  Is there anything else to do in Waco?  There were a handful of really cute boutiques.  Most close at 6pm just like Magnolia Market, and very few are open on Sundays.  What would I do differently?  As I stated earlier, my best guess would be visiting right when they open on a week day. I probably would stay in Dallas for a couple of days instead of staying in Waco. Then just tack Magnolia Market as a quick day trip or outing.  Anything surprise me about Waco or Magnolia Market?  Waco has some super cool art murals on their buildings downtown…like an absurd amount for the type of town I think it is.  And, I was impressed with the amount of jobs that I’m sure that Magnolia Market has brought to the area.  How was parking?  We were able to find parking really easily…not sure if that is normal or not…but there were plenty of parking lots around, and there is also a hop-on/hop-off trolley that is super easy to use.  There is info here on parking and the trolley.

As for the rest of our girls trip weekend, it was so fun!  We had big plans for Waco…I mean any town that basically shuts down at 6pm is perfect for a group of mommas, right???  We checked in to our hotel after we left Magnolia Market…the plan…rest and freshen up just a bit, grab some tacos and margaritas and just see where the night takes us.  And, with this group, there is no telling where that might be!  Well, let me tell you, it took us to CVS…in our comfies.  In our younger days, it would have taken us country line dancing or cruising or truth be told,  a softball field…but we are moms now….we are tired…and we covet our downtime where we are not making 1,000 decisions for everyone in our household including ourselves!  So, we hit the CVS for facial masks, and readers (ya know, those cheater glasses they sell at drug stores), and girl scout cookies…tis the season!  We went back to our room got in our pjs and proceeded to put on our masks and munch on girl scout cookies and laugh until we cried!  We got caught up on apps we didn’t know we needed like “LiketoKnow”, and people we should be following on Youtube and Instagram and shows we should be watching on Netflix…it was all make-up how-to’s and the newest skin care treatment that we should be using to get rid of all the impending wrinkles.  It was like we were 16 again…all things hair, make-up, and boys, or in our case…husbands.  Hehe!

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The next morning we got up and tried to have coffee at Common Grounds.  It looked super cute and rustic.  But….it wasn’t open!  What kind of a coffee shop isn’t open in the morning????  So confusing!  We scratched that idea for good ol’ IHOP because there were no other options…like none! We did hit a Starbucks on the way out of town for coffee to go.  Our trip felt a little short sided on the shopping end of things…so on our way back home we made a pitstop at NorthPark Mall in Dallas.  We don’t have a Nordstrom in Oklahoma, so of course we had to go there!  A couple of hours and a couple hundred dollars later and we were back on the road. Girl time, In and Out Burger, and a little shopping…that was pretty much the perfect girls trip for us!  We have vowed to try to take a quick girls trip at least twice a year….such good therapy!!!  I can’t wait for our next trip!

What’s your perfect girls trip look like?