Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Solo Vacations: Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid to Take One

"I love to travel!" In my experience, this a sentiment that many people express but fewer actually take the initiative to plan a trip. Money, time off of work, family obligations, or fear of leaving the comforts of home are usually the reasons that hold many back. For me, it was lack of a travel companion (for all of the reasons just mentioned) that was making me hesitant to take the trips that I'd always wanted to take. But why, exactly, was I reluctant to travel alone? Was I afraid I'd be unsafe? Was I afraid to dine alone? Was I afraid I'd be bored without anyone to talk to? After asking myself these questions I realized, that with proper planning, there really wasn't any actual legitimate reason I couldn't or shouldn't travel alone!

traveling alone

I've been lucky enough to have traveled extensively over the years and have taken some smaller road trips within the country by myself, but had yet to travel internationally alone. A few months ago I decided it was necessary for my mental health to escape the long, cold New England winter by heading somewhere tropical over April break. I was also looking forward to having some time to read, relax, and recharge away from my house and the never ending project 'to do' lists! So, I booked my first solo international trip to the Dominican Republic!

The Logistics
Book ground transportation in advance
Look for a small resort

One of my colleagues mentioned she had booked a trip for her family to the Bahamas through Cheap Caribbean so I decided to take a look there as well. Because I was traveling solo, I wanted to stay somewhere all inclusive so I didn't have to leave the resort for every meal or really for anything at all. I ended up finding a great deal that included roundtrip airfare, lodging, food and drinks at the VH Gran Ventana Beach Resort in the Dominican Republic. When booking the trip, Cheap Caribbean also had the option of paying for transportation from the airport to the resort. I would highly recommend this as it took away any of the uncertainty of trying to arrange ground transportation and traveling alone while in a foreign country. As soon as I left the airport, the transportation company had clearly marked signs and I took a small van with a few others vacationers to our respective resorts. It was really easy, safe, and seamless!

The resort itself was the perfect place for a solo traveler. It was small, which made it feel safe both during the day and at night because I didn't have to walk a long distance to access the beach, the pool area, or the dining room/restaurants. I spent most mornings on the beach, then after lunch, headed for the pool! There was entertainment at the resort each night, which was right next to the main pool area so again, I didn't have to walk far alone at night! Choosing a safe place to stay (be sure to read lots of reviews) and planning your transportation in advance will alleviate some of the hesitation/fear that comes with traveling alone.

The People
Vacationers are friendly
Book excursions early

Whenever I've traveled alone, there are usually so many opportunities to meet and connect with other people. I have found this to be true on any of the solo trips or outings I've taken. It seems that people on vacation are usually very excited and interested in hanging out with people from all over the world- chatting about where people are from and usually finding lots of commonalities. My trip to the Dominican Republic proved to be no exception as I met lots of people from all over. There was the woman from the Bronx who was sharing the shuttle bus to the resort, a mother-daughter duo who I ran into all over the resort throughout the week, the couple I met on an excursion who actually live in the next town over from me in Maine (I'm telling you, it's such a small world), a group from Germany who I hung out with at the pool, and even a group of teachers from Canada, one of whom recognized me because she follows me on Instagram and happened to be staying at the exact same resort!!

Booking excursions is a great way to meet other people as you are usually put into a small group and are sort of 'forced' to talk! It's even a great idea to take an excursion toward the start of your trip because you could end up meeting a group of people you can then hang out with the rest of the week, if you so choose! I met another woman who was traveling solo who ended up hanging out with a group from Canada for most of the week as they were all on an excursion together and were staying at the same resort. I took a city tour of Puerto Plata part way through the trip and met some really fun people! So, while you may think you'll feel lonely if you travel alone, you will most likely meet more people than you could imagine, some of whom may become life-long friends and travel buddies!

The Benefits of Solitude
Set your own agenda
Build confidence
Reconnect with yourself

While it's great to meet new people while traveling and it's always fun to take a trip with friends and loved ones, one of the benefits of solo travel is you are free to make your own agenda and can elect to NOT talk to or meet other people as well! I decided when I wanted to eat, when I wanted to skip out on the evening entertainment and go to sleep early, what excursions I most wanted to take, and whether I wanted to be on the beach or poolside...I made my own agenda with no one to please but myself!

When I told my students I was taking this trip alone, many expressed that they could never do that because the thought of dining alone and having others 'judge' them was too embarrassing (I think they may have some negative school cafeteria experiences)?! I feel like many adults let the fear of being judged by others hold them back from experiences as well. Why not dine alone? Why not travel alone? In my experience, most people aren't feeling pity for you they are actually envious and impressed with the choice to travel and experience life solo! In fact, whenever I told my colleagues and friends about my solo trip to the Dominican, almost all of them were like "What? That's awesome! Good for you...I'm totally jealous!!" Not a direct quote, but the sentiment was usually the same nonetheless.

Most people who I met while on vacation assumed I was there 'with my husband' (which I guess maybe I should take as a compliment?). I would just politely correct them (or sometimes just nod politely) and go about my business! Dining alone was no problem...I even met a stray cat who I fed some delicious mahimahi (true story)! The other diners were not judging me, in fact I'd say it's pretty narcissistic to think that in a dining room full of 100+ people, any of them were paying attention to me, so there's really no need to feel self-conscious. In fact, dining and traveling alone only builds self-confidence!

The other benefit of taking a trip alone is time to read, reflect, and do some things to feed your soul. I chose a variety of books (self-help, memoirs, and fiction) all of which offered introspection and relaxation. I watched the sunset, fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves, and reflected on the goals and dreams I have for my life. I'm not sure one has as much time to do these things when traveling with others. Solitude offers a unique opportunity for calm and connection with oneself.

As I was posting stories from my Dominican vacation on Instagram, I received so many messages from women asking if I was traveling alone (not in a creepy way but more in an inquisitive way), then expressing that they had always wanted to do the same but felt too nervous to do so. I'm truly hoping that you've read this post and will feel confident and inspired to book that solo trip! With some proper planning (or even no planning but just winging it if you're brave like some of my super adventurous friends), the willingness to strike up some conversations with new people, and the desire to reconnect with yourself, you'll end your trip with lots of new memories and certainly feeling a new sense of confidence! What are you waiting for??

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Teaching Financial Literacy Part 3: Lesson Ideas

This is the third and final post in a series I've written about teaching financial literacy in the secondary classroom. PART 1 gave an overview of the units in the semester course I teach and PART 2 is a list of helpful financial resources for students in the classroom and beyond. I've been asked to present a workshop at the Maine Jump$tart Coalition "Fostering Financial Literacy in Maine Schools" conference, which provided just the motivation I needed to finish this post!

Today I've put together what I hope will be a helpful compilation of my favorite assessments & activities that I've actually used in my classroom! I've created many of the items below from scratch, and as such they are really tailored to my units and my students. Teachers, you can download the items via the links provided and amend them to suit your needs (they are saved as Word documents as it's what was easiest for me). These resources are for personal classroom use only and shouldn't be sold. If they are linked or shared, please give credit! Be kind and thoughtful people! 

Budget Project: 
Students are asked to create a budget based on a minimum wage income. They must apply concepts we've learned throughout our budgeting unit to calculate their monthly net income, find an apartment within their budget, and grocery shop and meal plan with healthy food options. If the point of minimum wage is to live a 'decent life', one should be able to find a decent place to live and eat healthy foods on that income. This project leads to a lot of great discussions about life on minimum wage. The project descriptor can be found here.

Identify Theft Public Service Announcements:
This group project asks students to first research some common methods thieves use to steal identities then create a short PSA video. The projector descriptor can be found here.

Consumer Savings Flyers:
Students are asked to research ways consumers can save money on their everyday expenses. I've broken the research topics into four categories, dividing up the students so they aren't all choosing the same topics to research. Students then create flyers with main ideas and elaborate on their ideas in a voice recording formatted into a QR code and placed on their flyers. They walk around and listen to one another's flyers, getting tips on how to save money! The project can be found here.

Egg Hunt Trivia:
This can really be used with any topic and any subject. Place vocabulary terms on slips of paper and put inside plastic eggs. Hide the eggs around the classroom and watch your students go crazy! Once they all have eggs, have them open and provide the definition for the term before claiming their prize.

Name Brand vs Store Brand Taste Test:
Within our budgeting unit I do a lesson on whether or not it's worth it to spend extra money on name brand items instead of store/generic brands. I show a slideshow with some overview information on why there's a price difference and then we do a taste test. Students walk around the room tasting the name brand and the store brand versions of various foods and guess which is which, also denoting if they really had a preference or could taste any difference. We also discuss the fact that many generic medicines and cosmetics have the exact same ingredients as their name brand counterparts. The worksheet I have the students use for this activity can be found here.

Minimum Wage Socratic Seminar
This is a great discussion based assessment that asks students to use knowledge from lessons throughout our money management unit to prep for a Socratic seminar (student led discussion). Students conduct research on the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage and we also watch the 'Minimum Wage' episode of the docu-series '30 Days'. The assessment descriptor can be found here and the Socratic guide can be found here.

Ivory Tower Socratic Seminar
At the end of our 'Funding your Future' unit, students watch the film Ivory Tower about our nation's post secondary college system and asks 'is college worth it'? Students then prep for a Socratic seminar by completing this response guide.

Financial Qs Speed Dating Activity
For this activity students sit in two rows facing one another and randomly choose a question out of a bowl in front of each pair. They have about two minutes (or however long you want to give them) to discuss the question before one row of students gets up and moves one seat over, facing a new partner. Then a new question is chosen by each pair and they discuss. Repeat! The questions I use can be found here.

Financial Interview
At the start of the semester, I ask students to interview an adult about their experiences with money and finances. After they've all completed the interviews, I have them share the responses on chart paper all around the room (one piece for each question). If someone has already written a similar idea, students are asked to put check marks next to the idea, which helps us visually see the most popular and similar responses amongst all of the interviewees. This is a great activity for setting up the important financial literacy skills we will learn throughout the semester. The interview questions I use can be found here. Please note, I also teach a 'citizenship' unit in this course, so a few questions pertain to that topic.

Valentine's Day Romance Scams
On Valentine's Day this year I did a lesson on the most common types of 'romance scams' and how to avoid them. We read a couple articles and also watched a few YouTube clips from the Dr. Phil show on of unfortunate people who were victims of such scams. Next year I may have students create their own Valentine's cards featuring common romance scams and then have them give the cards out to their classmates! The video about romance scams can be found here and the article we read can be found here.

Dave Ramsey Video Roulette
When we have extra time, we like to go on YouTube and watch clips from the Dave Ramsey Show. I let the students vote on which clips they want to view next from the 'suggested videos' that pop up on the side bar. It's a fun way to hear a variety of financial issues as well as Dave's no nonsense advice!

Online Simulations
Two online simulations that my students love to play are SPENT and PAYBACK. The first challenges students to make it through the month without going broke after having lost their job/home and tackling all the challenges life can send their way. The latter asks students to make a variety of financial choices as they navigate their way through college. We usually play both of these simulations as a class because it's fun to discuss which choices they want to make and why (majority vote determines which choice is made).

NextGen Personal Finance 'Budgeting with Roommates'
NGPF is one of my favorite resources for lessons and activities and a favorite of my students' is their budgeting with roommates activity. Students work in small groups and each take on a fictitious persona as they try to collectively make decisions about who will take which room, pay which bill, and create a workable and fair plan for living together. They have so much fun with this activity and I love listening to their discussions and rational for the choices they make!

Unique Scholarships 'Oprah Moment'
Who can forget the moment Oprah gave a car to every member of her studio audience?! Well, I don't have that kind of budget to work with, however, during our unit on the cost of college I print off a whole bunch of unique and unusual scholarships onto small slips of paper, then tape the pieces of paper under each seat in my classroom. In the middle of my lesson on financial aid, I tell the students they've all "won" a scholarship (make sure the use appropriate air quotes) and ask them to look under their chairs. They each take turns reading and sharing the weird scholarships they "won". It's a fun and silly way to break up the lesson and to reinforce the idea that there really are so many scholarships out there for just about everyone! The scholarship list can be found here.

Teaching financial literacy can be so much fun and really offers a lot of opportunity to be creative and ask your students to apply what they're learning in a variety of ways! As always, if you'd like to keep up with my daily adventures in teaching and home renovating, you can find me on Instagram @craftyteacherlady! 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Home Renovation Update: 1 Year Later

I can't believe it's already been a year since I moved into my fixer upper! In some ways, the house has completely transformed and yet there still seems to be so many little 'to do' items left on the list (like installing baseboard trim, changing out all the brass door knobs and hinges, and replacing the outlet and radiator covers). The bigger projects completed included a new kitchen, new half and full bathrooms, refinished hardwood floors upstairs, new laminate installed throughout the main floor, new lighting, and new paint inside and out. I hope to write separate posts with more details for each room in the house like I did for the master bedroom-the first room to actually be completed so I could have at least one pretty, comfortable, renovation-free place to seek respite while the rest of the house was in shambles. For now, here are a few transformation photos of each room to mark this special one-year renovation anniversary! You can find many of the items seen in the 'after' photos on my Amazon Favorites page. Hopefully this makes it easier to 'shop my house'!
DIY Home Renovation Projects

The Kitchen/Dining Room
What was once two separate spaces, the kitchen and dining room became one when a wall was removed. This not only opened up the space for entertaining, it also allowed for more light in the kitchen since the dining room has three large windows. 

The Living Room
 This is the room that really 'sold' me on this house. I saw so much potential in the fireplace and built-ins. It's a large room, great for entertaining, but somehow it also feels cozy. The biggest transformation was definitely painting the fireplace and adding faux shiplap to the walls. Wall color in this room is Repose Gray by Sherwin Williams.

The Bathrooms
Both the full bath and the downstairs half bath were complete gut jobs from floor to ceiling. Wood plank walls & beadboard were added as well as new vanities and lighting. Both rooms still need some finish work, including caulking, painting, trim and replacing the radiator covers. Vanities are the 'Newport' Home Decorators Collection from Home Depot. I've also found a similar option here

Half Bath

Master Bedroom
As I mentioned above, I set to work on the master bedroom right away because I wanted at least one finished space while the renovation chaos was happening in the rest of the house. Wall color is Window Pane by Sherwin Williams. Head on over to this post to see more photos and details of this space. 

Guest Room
This house actually has 4 bedrooms so I have lots of space for two dedicated guest rooms and a craft room! I've only decorated one guest room so far...the wall color is one of my all time favorites- Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams. I also incorporated a lot of antique and thrifted finds in this room! 

Craft Room
Although I plan to add a fun rug, install the radiator covers, and actually arrange the gallery wall (rather than just randomly throwing in some frames I already had), my craft room is coming along quite nicely! Both the table and dresser were thrifted finds that I repainted and I also painted and reupholstered the chair from a thrifted find! The wall color is Repose Gray by Sherwin Williams. 

Exterior Projects
The outside of the house was painted in Pussywillow by Sherwin Williams with a minty blue color for the doors called Palladian Blue by Benjamin Moore. While I really wanted to add a farmer's porch to the front, it just wasn't in the budget. I did have the front door replaced and added new moldings around the doors. The lighting on the exterior was also updated from brass to galvanized barn lights. Those small changes were relatively inexpensive ways to improve the overall curb appeal. I have plans to paint the concrete front steps as well as the covered side entrance porch. But, those project will have to wait for warmer weather! 

Looking back on all of these 'before' photos reminds me just how far we've come...and by 'we' I mean both the house and myself. In this house I've tackled so many new projects that I had never done before including building custom pantry shelves, installing a plank wall, and attempting to refinish hardwood floors (it did not go well...but I'll save that for another post)! I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment whenever I tackle something new, and I think that's why I enjoy renovating so much. I also really enjoy the creative process of seeing past the mess and envisioning how to turn a house into a home! I can't wait to see what this place looks like in another year!

Catch me over on Instagram to see what project I'm currently tackling!

Stylish and Affordable Lighting Options

It's been one year since moving into my little fixer upper and in that time, A LOT of decisions have been made. There were flooring choices, paint colors, bathroom fixtures and of course, lighting. Since the entire house was/is being renovated, I spent a lot of time searching for stylish but affordable light fixtures. I ended up purchasing most of my lights from Amazon because I found they had a wide variety of options at budget-friendly prices!
affordable lighting options

My aesthetic is sort of a combination of "industrial-meets-vintage-meets-farmhouse" so in other words, pretty eclectic! I wasn't afraid to mix metals, either, so I've got a combination of brushed nickel, flat black, and galvanized metals throughout the house.

galvanized barn light

Most of the lights I ended up purchasing were flush mount or semi-flush mount since I had relatively low ceilings. Below is a roundup of some of my favorite light fixture finds. Click on the numbers below to take you directly to each source!
affordable lighting options

industrial lighting options

1      2       3      4     5     6     7     8     9     10     11     12     13     14     15     16     17     18

If you'd like to see more frequent home renovation posts, please feel free to check me out on Instagram! You can also shop some of the favorite items in my house on my 'favorites' page!
Happy Renovating!