Commencement

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Last month, I had the awesome privilege of attending my own commencement. It was amazing, rewarding, and adequately laden with pomp and circumstance. But let me set the stage of how I even got to that point. My career for the past 16 years has been stay-at-home-mom, a role of which I am very proud. It has and continues to be an honor to serve my family and be available for cleaning, meal planning, field trips, sick days and vacations. I suppose since my time at home has been sprinkled with countless fun volunteer hours and valued time with family, I have never regretted the decision. In fact, I often think about how fortunate I am that my husband literally kills it at being a software sales director which provides me the opportunity to dabble in things like room mom leader, school board member, at home sales, helping out friends with their kids, and home projects. When I first started this blog, we were in the sweet spot of homeschooling our two kids. Let me just say: It. Was. Awesome. We loved it. We took our own field trips, traveled when we wanted to, and did pretty much whatever sounded fun, after schooling was complete, of course. However, there came a time with high school approaching when we realized that private Christian school was going to a better option. So with the kiddos gone all day, I suddenly had a little more time on my hands (not much, but a little). One thing that was kindled during our homeschool stint was my desire to learn. Teaching requires learning first. And that I did: I learned about American history, how to diagram sentences, the phases of the moon, and I even brushed up on my Algebra. All of this reminded me that I really do love the art of learning. So, in the summer of 2014 I decided to go back to school. I had completed all but approximately 50 credit hours of a bachelor’s degree in business so I thought with two years of hard work, I could actually get that diploma. I applied to Liberty University’s Online Program and before I knew it, I was enrolled in my first class, Statistics (yikes). After a warm up of only two classes that fall, I chose an aggressive route and took four classes during spring semester. The classes were somewhat staggered but still, it was a full-time schedule.  The whole family was geared up for mom’s new scheduled like I was about the run a marathon. Comments like, “We can help with things around the house mom!” and “Honey, I can help get the kids to/from school when I’m here,” were signs held on the side of the race route cheering me on through the grueling run. Summer came and I was on a roll. I took another full-time load even through three weeks of vacation and one week of a youth event that we attended, for which I graciously accepted planning the group travel portion. Nonetheless, I was determined at this point because I realized if I keep this up, I’ll finish before Christmas. Crock-pot creations were my family’s source of sustenance and the gym provided me with an acceptable level of sanity as I forged ahead through discussion board posts and peer-reviewed articles. October came and I was now starting the last eight weeks of my degree completion program.  It was like the last mile of the race and I was nervously excited. I got my second wind and the last thing I needed was a bum knee or a steep hill to discourage me. Wouldn’t you know, one of the two remaining classes was the pebble in my shoe. A challenging and persnickety professor, a few tears resulting from a computer glitch, and group work with folks that weren’t as zealous as I was about finishing almost halted my stride. More about the professor later. The last assignment about sucked the life out of me but I was able to complete it, albeit exhausted and ready to throw income statements and APA format out the window. I pressed the submit button one last time, played my theme song (Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”) on my bluetooth speaker in the kitchen and my whole family was dancing with me. It was over…I crossed the finish line with my arms high in the air!

Fast forward to Spring, 2016. Liberty only has one commencement ceremony a year: in May. I almost didn’t attend but potential future regret of not going was my motivation to be there.  So, my family and I packed up and spent the weekend in Lynchburg, Virginia.  We even took our daughter’s sweet friend who will be a student at Liberty in the fall.  It was quite an experience.  Liberty should be commended on their attention to detail. There was never a point in time that I didn’t know where I was supposed to go and what the next event was.  Every graduate was treated with a congratulatory gesture wherever we went. Interestingly, I had the chance to meet that tough professor (who was actually a really nice person) and mentioned to him that I considered his class as the most challenging of my workload. He congratulated me for hanging in there and getting an A (He actually remembered me?).  I also met a fellow mom who followed a similar path and was celebrating with her family as well.  But the highlight hands down was the processional.
My family got IMG_7997 (1)savvy (see how I threw that in?) and sat in the unpopular visitor’s side of the stadium. Just a little secret: they were the best seats in the house. One, they faced away from the sun and two, they were right up front. I could almost high-five them as I strolled by. I spent my high school years as a band member who played “Pomp and Circumstance” every year at graduation. But hearing it being played as I entered the stadium was a feeling like no other.  My cheeks were hurting from smiling. I felt like a kid at Disney World wondering if it was real or just a dream. We had great speakers that included Willie Robertson, Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn (I know, right?). Rashad Jennings was our keynote and he nailed it by delivering a powerful and compelling message. In the end, hearing my name called among the thousands was the epitome of accomplishment. It took me 27 years after graduating high school to reach this milestone. This moment made it all worth it.

I find it interestingIMG_7976 that a graduation ceremony is called commencement despite the fact that the celebration is a result of the end of something. The end of campus living for traditional college students. The end of countless hours of research. The end of writing papers. The end of four years of homework, tests and life lessons. Yet, it really isn’t the end. It is only the beginning. It is the commencement of something greater. It could be a new career or possibly more education for some. Either way, it is definitely not the end. Similarly, this sleeping blog’s awakening is the commencement of something more. More travel, more adventures, more life! Thank you for your patience while I took a detour. I’m glad to be back and excited that you are here to take this journey with me!


Asheville for the Holidays

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Biltmore ChristmasThe holidays are certainly busy enough for everyone, but if you are considering a quick getaway to escape the madness, Asheville, North Carolina may be your destination.  This eclectic city, located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina, is only about a four hour drive from the Atlanta area.  Exploreasheville.com describes the city as “edgy, artsy and inviting.”  I can’t think of a better description.  If you are taking the family, a hotel will probably be your best bet.  The Country Inn and Suites Asheville West, ranked #3 on tripadvisor.com, and near the Biltmore Estate has the amazing price of $82/night mid-week in December.

1900 Inn on Montford

1900 Inn on Montford

If this is a romantic getaway for two, you may choose to stay in a bed and breakfast.  The 1900 Inn on Montford has a $166/night price tag and boasts excellent traveler ratings.  Visiting the Biltmore Estate for its 39th annual Christmas this year will probably be the highlight of your vacation.  You can purchase tickets in advance to get a discount of as much as $15. Prices are a bit higher through December and weekends are the busiest so reservations are required.  A “Candlelight Evening” ticket costs extra but, according to visitors, is well worth the price.  If you plan to return to the estate within the year, an annual pass may be worth considering.  Sometimes the Biltmore offers upgrades to your admission for an annual pass making it very affordable.  Perks are listed on biltmore.com and include, among other benefits, free admission for children 16 and under.

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate

While I usually recommend booking travel during the off season for better rates, Asheville has an awe inspiring atmosphere during the holidays that is unmatched.  Since the trip can be done economically with excellent mid-week hotel rates and advance purchase of Biltmore Estate tickets, Asheville is sure to become an affordable annual tradition.


Disney Must Have! Using Touring Plans

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  • castle

Are you planning a trip to Walt Disney World soon?  If so, I’m sure you have discovered that it is a nice chunk of change.  This is no weekend getaway.  Whether you are taking the kids or not, you want to arrive and hit the pavement with a plan.  Enter, this amazing website: touringplans.com.

A Disney must-have!

We have taken three trips to Disney World in Orlando all with a definite plan of attack and couldn’t have done it without touringplans.com.  The site is an extension of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World“.  The book is the ultimate planning tool for anyone taking a trip to the famed vacation spot.  I highly recommend reading this book and prefer the paper version simply because it easier to refer to than the Kindle version.  However, the website and app alone will help you tremendously in a pinch, especially if your trip is already planned.

Touringplans.com offers a subscription for $11.95/year.  Coupon codes can be found on retailmenot.com.  You also get a discount if you bought the book (it must be the current edition so no going to the library to get the discount!)  The subscription also includes free access to the app (iphone, android, etc.) which is a priceless tool while at Disney.

Here are a few amazing perks of being a subscriber:

  • Touring plans.

touring checklist

This may seem redundant but this is the heart of the program.  Touring plans are literal step-by-step guides to seeing everything the park has to offer in a logical, efficient way.  If you follow the guide, you will find that you actually have free time to re-visit attractions or even enjoy a break or a meal instead of falling into the hurry-up-and-wait vortex.

 

  • Crowd calendar.

crowd calendar

I remember when we planned our very first Disney trip, it took me several schedule revisions to decide which day to see which park.  I based it on so many things but the one thing I didn’t know was crowd level.  This site takes care of that.  They can tell you statistically what parks are best to visit (and which ones to avoid) for ANY particular day of the year!  Yep, that’s right…any day!  They have gathered enough research to know exactly when parks are busiest and vice versa.  To make planning even more precise, you can put in future dates according to your trip to check park volume before you even leave your house.

  • Wait times.

epcot wait times

Who really wants to spend a day at Disney waiting in lines?  Right, nobody does.  This eliminates the guessing.  This section of the app allows you to check the current wait time for any particular ride/attraction in any park.  Have you followed your touring plan and want to ride something in another part of the park?  Check the wait time and head on over to the ride if the wait time is acceptable. If not, wait a while and check back.  Lines change literally by the minute.  This tool will be addictive!

  • Member forum.

The app also allows you to post questions on a forum which are usually answered quickly by other eager members. Read a few posts before you post one yourself.  There’s a jargon you may want to learn by navigating around the forum to make your question(s) concise.  But don’t worry, it’s ok to post in just plain English!  The members are all Disney fans and are extremely helpful.

As you become more comfortable with the app (which won’t take long), you may even help the site by posting actual wait times while you are in the park. Don’t feel pressured to do so.  There are plenty of members that contribute but doing a few may give you the satisfaction of contributing to a site that has transformed your vacation.  It’s up to you.

You may wonder, if people are all using the touring plans‘ tips, then won’t there be a bottleneck?  Heavens no.  That would assume everyone is at the same park on the same day with the exact same family make-up.  Also, since the amount of people who actually use touring plans is such a small percentage compared to the amount of guests at Disney, it won’t be an issue.

Lastly, don’t get to obsessed with following everything perfectly.  Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a step.  Give yourself and your family some freedom to enjoy your vacation.  Keep in mind that you’ll definitely get the most for your money by being an efficient guest.  You may even feel as sense of pride as you pass another family who are staring at their full size paper map wondering what to do next.  But don’t forget to allow yourself to be a kid again in the happiest place on earth.  You can surely soak it all in with a tool that will allow you to hop on Splash Mountain with a 10 minute wait mid afternoon.  Now if that’s not savvy, I don’t know what is.

 


Inspire.

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Inspire.  What in the world does this have to do with a travel blog?  Everything.  To be inspired you should be available, unrestricted, and free from distractions.   Travel should be inspiring.  It should allow you to take it all in, enjoy the trip alone or with others, and return feeling refreshed with a new outlook.  Whether on a road trip, relaxing by a palm tree at an amazing resort, or taking in snow-covered evergreens on an easy green ski trail, I find myself reflecting on life and searching for inspiration. Sometimes, my mind considers current dilemmas:  “I really need to paint that extra bedroom.  What should we do for kid #1’s birthday?  I must do research on how my family can eat healthier.”  Good intentions and sometimes lofty goals.  But more often than not, my thoughts are directed elsewhere:  “I love it here; I wonder what a condo would cost?  What would it be like to live here?  Where can we go in a few months when the weather changes?”  That’s the inspiration that confirms my love for travel.  My goal is to inspire you to love it too.  This may be through proper planning suggestions, tips for taking in culture, or just ideas that are economical that allow you to take that trip on a budget.  So, be inspired today.  Make a list of places you want to visit.  They may be trips abroad, magical family vacations or simple weekend getaways.  No matter the adventure, start saving, planning, and preparing now.  Who knows, you may just find the inspiration you are looking for.