Visiting Iceland in Winter

How many travel blogs have you stumbled upon in your quest to figure out if visiting Iceland in winter is a good idea? I’d love to tell you that you’ve finally found the post that will answer all your questions and ensure that you have a magical trip. Here is the thing though, I had no intention of visiting Iceland in winter… until I did, sort of

In our family, we aren’t big on big gifts to mark occasions like birthdays or graduations. What we are big on is escaping whenever a good excuse can be found. So, when my husband’s big Five-Oh rolled around, he asked for an epic trip to Iceland. 

I started plotting and planning well in advance and then life happened. Our planned Spring expedition soon became an early Summer aspiration.  Before I knew it, Fall had rolled into town and we had yet to get our tickets booked. 

Like any good one-time-award-winning-travel-blogger I scoured the interwebs in search of last-minute trip ideas. Right around the time that I’d annoyed every travel writer pal of mine with copious questionings, I tossed out any idea of a well-planned trip.

I hit the book button on tickets through WOW airlines and contacted a homeowner on Airbnb. Nothing like phoning it in for the half-century celebration of the birth of the man who makes my every day an adventure, huh? 

All of that lack of planning had us touching down in Keflavik on a late November morning around 5 am. It also meant that we happened to embark upon our Icelandic adventure in the midst of a freakish cold snap that had the average temperature hovering somewhere around, oh… say thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Thus we were for all intents, visiting Iceland in winter. 

Cold though it was, it was none the less magical and amazing. More to come on all of that and some planning advice for those who hope to do better than aspire to be me, in a future post. For now, I will let photos tell the story. 

 

 

5 Myths About Taking The SAT

I’ll admit it’s been a minute since I took the SAT.  If I recall correctly, taking the SAT was nearly as stressful as figuring out the proper hair-to-aquanet ratio.  Things hadn’t gotten much better by the time my two oldest kids were ready for the test.  The good news for today’s college-bound kids is that things are changing. Changing in big ways.  I’ve partnered with the College Board on a series of sponsored content geared toward helping students and their parents navigate today’s SAT. 

5 Myths About Taking The SAT

questions and answers on taking the SAT

Myth 1: Taking the SAT later in the year means getting harder questions.

Truth: The College Board ensures that every version of the test is equally weighted in difficulty. 

Myth 2: Leave a question blank if you aren’t sure of the answer. 

Truth: Taking your best guess is the best practice. The SAT no longer deducts points for guessing. 

Seems my Dad’s old theory of always choosing “C” if you didn’t know the answer, holds some water now. When in doubt… Charlie out!  

Myth 3: You only take the SAT if you’re hoping to go to an East Coast college. 

Truth: The SAT is accepted by all College entrance exams. In fact, colleges and universities don’t have a preference for other tests over the SAT. 

Myth 4: SAT prep classes are very expensive.

Truth: The College Board has partnered with the Khan Academy to offer Free, personalized Offical SAT Practice. 

Myth 5: Don’t take the SAT twice. 

Truth: 2 out of 3 students actually improve their scores when taking the SAT more than once. 

five myths about taking the sat

How many of those myths did you think were truths? These days it’s not your Mama’s SAT, folks. Have questions? Email me or tweet them using #ChoosetheSAT.  

In the next installment in the series, we’ll explore ways to help students with SAT study and prep. You may be surprised by what is not on the test anymore, I sure was.  

Note to parents: If your child hopes to take the March 2018 SAT, the deadline for registration if February 9th, 2018. I know getting those dates right and not missing deadlines was an issue in our house. Get more info on registration here.  

5 Ways to Stay Productive When Snowed In

5 ways to stay productive when snowed in

It’s happening again, my friends. Weather Prognosticators are all aflutter with “news” of impending doom in the coming days. Could we be in for another snowmageddon? Maybe a reprisal of snowpocalypse? Shall snowzilla himself rise once again from his frozen lair to reek havoc? 

In anticipation of yet another storm system of epic proportions, I’ve revived this post as a public service. Here are my tried and true; 5 ways to stay productive when snowed in.  

5 ways to stay productive when snowed in

 

1. Stick to a Schedule

Hold yourself accountable for how time is spent. You may find that getting things done isn’t quite as hard as you thought.

Getting out of bed at 11 am is perfectly acceptable. You’ll still have time to binge-watch Netflix and finish off an entire bag of Cheetos. If you schedule smartly, wine time will come even sooner than you’d hoped.

2. Let Yourself be Creative

Feel like you’re always rushing through the work that needs to be done and just have zero time for any creative outlet? Use this time to allow some reconnection with your creative side. This sort of cathartic activity can help boost productivity.

Whipping up voodoo dolls in disturbing likenesses to friends who live in Arizona and find it humorous to point out that 71°  is their typical winter day is not only creative but therapeutic. As you stab pins into the little sucker remember that summer is coming.

3. Stay on Top of Small Tasks

The volume of laundry that needs to be done when there are 30 inches of snow on the ground can be staggering. Tossing those soggy items into the wash right away will keep them from piling up and sucking valuable time from your day.

Alternately, if they do happen to pile up just toss a clean, dry blanket on top of them. Climb into your Snuggy {we both know you have one, no judgment here} and nap. Repeat items in step one to maximize effectiveness.

4. Exercise

Even a short workout can help you focus, stay on task and get things done. Not to mention it is good for your all total sense of wellbeing when stuck indoors for several days. 

Might I suggest a power walk from the sofa to the fridge and back?

5. Take Time to Organize

Countless studies have proven the beneficial impact that organization can have on your health, productivity and overall happiness. Use some of this time you’ll be stuck at home to organize your workspace, clear out your email, cull the clutter and tackle the organizational tasks you just don’t usually have time for.

An organized bar and/or wine cellar will help you ensure that you never find yourself short on stock… you know, in case the blizzard of the freaking century hits!

 

 

 

Is it just a Blue Christmas?

Is it Christmas blues or could it be depression

Sometimes signs are all around us and yet seeing them is difficult. The holidays can be a time of mixed emotion for anyone. For those of us who serve, those feelings can be compounded. Sadness can hide in the glow of holiday lights and loneliness most certainly lurks in places far from home. So, how do you tell the difference between a Blue Christmas and depression?

If you’ve been around here much you will likely know that I’m a Navy veteran. You may even know that I have a son currently serving in the Marine Corps. What you likely don’t know is that I suffered from my first bout of depression while I was on active duty.  

Because I have the unique perspective of someone who served during a time of war, having been a military spouse, and now being a Marine mom, Med-IQ reached out to me for help in spreading the word about how to recognize the symptoms of depression – or major depressive disorder. Through this sponsored post I hope to shine some light on the signs of depression and dispel some myths along the way.

Looking back I wish that I’d understood that what I was going through wasn’t just homesickness. I wouldn’t have put so much blame for my sadness on being half a globe away from home. Maybe I’d have recognized that it wasn’t all Bing Crosby’s fault even though every damn time I visited the chow hall that December, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” seemed to be in an endless loop – that is just cruel! The truth was I’d been spiraling downward far before that holiday season began.

With the benefit of hindsight and talking with Dr. Leslie Citrome, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at New York Medical College, I now understand that I’d been experiencing some of the signs of depression for months. I now know that things like changes in sleep patterns, pervasive sadness, loss of interest in things once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating and feelings of hopelessness are all signs of depression and not just the blues – Christmas or otherwise.

I served in the early nineties, a time when seeking help for mental illness meant an almost sure smudge on your record. Even if I’d known that I was going through was depression, I would never have sought help in that environment. The good news is that these days the military has gotten a bit better at allowing active duty members to seek mental health care. A bit.

There is still a long way to go. While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is getting more attention, the fact is that those with PTSD tend to also suffer from depression. The two are not one in the same. Those with PTSD have higher rates of anxiety, are more irritable and have more difficulty sleeping, which can also mean that the signs of major depressive disorder go undiagnosed. PTSD and depression often travel together. 

Knowing the signs to look for can help us distinguish the difference between just having a Blue Christmas – which let’s face it, the holidays aren’t the same when you serve – and suffering from depression. Recognizing a bout of homesickness from the beginnings of an illness is only one part of the mission. We all need to do a better job of dispelling myths that create a stigma around those who suffer from mental illnesses because ignorance can be costly.

Though rates of suicide in the military have decreased since an all-time high in 2012, the rate at which members of the military take their own lives still far outpaces that of the general public. In my own military family, we’ve experienced two suicides attempts in the last year. One successful and two too many.

 

The truth is that if you have major depressive disorder, you are sick in the same way that someone who has cancer, diabetes or heart disease is sick. There is nothing defective about you. Whether it is genetics or environment that caused your illness, you didn’t bring this on yourself.

Those of us who serve have had each other’s backs time and again to complete the mission. I’m asking that we do the same in this mission of spreading awareness. Knowing the enemy is the first step. Med-IQ, in conjunction with Dr. Citrome, has developed a quick and confidential survey to learn how much we as a military community, as caregivers and even as civilians understand about depression.

This survey does not collect your personal information; it is completely confidential and secure. It is a quick (10 minutes tops) and easy way to help us help each other. You could also win one of 10 $100 VISA gift cards for your participation. To keep your response confidential and still participate in the drawing, simply email surveydepression@gmail.com and let them know you’ve completed the survey and would like your shot at winning. START YOUR SURVEY

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, don’t think you are alone. There is help out there. Veterans and their families can reach out to ptsd.va.gov . If you believe you are suffering from holiday-related depression, visit the Mayo Clinic for resources. Also, avoid Bing Crosby at all costs, haha.

 

I was compensated by Med-IQ through a grant from Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. and Lundbeck to write about depression awareness. All my opinions are my own.

*These links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any healthcare provider or practice. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

Is Travel Elitist?

This post has been brewing (festering, if I’m being honest) for nearly a year now. I’m not sure why it has been so hard to write. I feel very strongly about the point I hope to make yet still, the words haven’t flowed.

It all started when a stranger on social media accused me of being an, “out of touch elitist with no ability to understand that most people don’t enjoy the privilege of being able to travel.”  My knee-jerk reaction was a mix of anger and bewilderment. Months later I feel myself still struggling with a question… is travel elitist?

Let’s start with a little context. The comment was in a forum where the topic of discussion focused on traveling with family. In retrospect, I believe their reasoning may have been to point out to the group that not everyone has the means to plan a trip around the globe with children in tow.  Point taken. Honestly, I don’t have the means to do that either!

Wouldn’t we all want to be able to do that? The truth is nearly none of us can or ever will. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still go places. Maybe that is the crux of the issue. Perhaps it isn’t that travel is elitist but that one’s definition of it can be.

Travel has looked very different to me at many stages in my life. Growing up there was a period of several years where the state we lived in teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. My father, an employee of that state, lost his job and was without work for a longer time than my family was equipped for.  Young parents to three small children, my mother and father had to scrape to pull things together often finding that ends still wouldn’t meet.

Still. We. Traveled.  

Mom would raid the garden, bake some bread, fill a canteen and off we’d go. Be it to the next town over by car or on foot into the wilds of the high desert, we went places.  Years later, when finances had improved, we’d embark on a cross-country trip by train. I was probably around ten and to this day I vividly remember most of that adventure. Seeing America glide by as the sun rose and set is where my insatiable wanderlust took root.

cathedral doorway Harlem, New York

Many years later my military service would take me far from home, a nineteen-year-old living in a foreign country a world away from all she’d known.  I didn’t just explore, I thrived. Travel became a need, not at want. 

The small town where I lived in southern Spain served as a base camp. From there I’d adventure into Morocco to ride camels by the sea, to Portugal where I’d eat the best meal of my life for less than three American dollars, into small towns and bustling cities I’d wander, get lost, find myself and go again spending more time than money.  

As began my own family travel just naturally became part of our fabric. When there wasn’t enough change under the cushions of the sofa to put gas in the car, I’d pick up a Lonely Planet guidebook and we would mind-wander together. Growing up my kids loved our semiregular Travel Nights at home. They would pick a place they wanted to see and I’d make them research the area, find out what made it unique and build a list of the things they’d like to do there. We’d find music from that culture and cook dishes that you’d find there.  We couldn’t afford to get on a plane and go to Germany, so we’d bring Germany to us.  

None of that early travel was made possible because I had means, it was because I was open to seeing travel as more than a hotel and a passport.  I truly believe that your definition of what it is to travel plays a big role in how accessible it becomes. 

Now that I’m all grown up (yeah, right) traveling to far off places is easier.  My job as a freelance travel writer has helped facilitate adventures beyond both my wildest dreams and my budget. Because of that work, I was able to take my father back to the country his family came from and yes, we stayed in a five-star hotel… because I worked hard for it and that hard work gave me the privilege to do this. How is that elitist? 

blue sky day on the Chesapeake Bay

A desire to see and experience as much of this world as I can, has forced me and my family to give up more things than I’d ever imagined I might consider going without.  In return, it has given us back more than my wildest dreams. My hope is that making my kids travel when what they really wanted to do was play little league or have a dog, will help them see the world though eyes of compassion and have a healthy sense of our contentedness to each other and our planet. 

To that person who felt compelled to say what they did I say, go somewhere, anywhere! Hop on a bus, take a walk to the next park over, visit the library and grab a book about a place you long to see. I know it isn’t always going to be easy and may never get to that place, but you will still have gone somewhere, seen more and learned more. Then I’d challenge them with one question… is travel elitist? 

Travel. Eat. Drink. Write. REPEAT