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Giving Back: Verizon Military Mom

Giving back is something most of us can agree is an important part of living a fulfilling life. From the simplest gestures of kindness to monumental acts of gratitude our shared humanity grows richer and more meaningful. That meaning is why I’m proudly partnering with Verizon for the third year to show thanks through their Verizon Military Mom program.

I can still remember stepping off the CatB flight and onto the tarmac in Rota, Spain. I was 19. It was hot and humid even though the sun was near setting.

This was the first time I’d been so far from home and there wasn’t exactly a welcoming party waiting as I walked into the nearly empty terminal. All I wanted to do was turn tail and head home to my mom. I’d never doubted my choice to join the Navy… until that moment. What I wouldn’t have given to be able to pull out a cell phone and call my mommy. But, it was the early 90’s and cell phones were still just a Star Trek fantasy.

Over the course of my time in the Navy letters and rare phone calls, care packages and VHS tapes from home got me through. Most days we were too busy to think too much about home, but home was always there thinking about us. What military moms do is truly a special thing. It ripples through the relationships of those we hold dear and those who serve beside us.

Flash forward a few decades and my eldest son would be the one to serve on foreign soil. He’d get there not by plane but onboard a ship as a member of a Marine Corps wing unit. I was a wreck even though – or maybe because I knew- what he’d be doing. Six months or more at sea and in other countries was almost more than this momma’s heart could take… but I’m a Military Mom. I am part of a long line of strong women who support those who serve. Plus I technology has my six.

While he was deployed our Verizon connection paired with our smartphones (I’ve bought the man-child no less than four phones since he joined the corps) kept us connected in a way my mother never had. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her!

We texted photos and pictures using the Whats App. He recorded videos for me and I’d get huge “dumps” of them when he’d get somewhere that had wifi. I’d even follow along using news alerts setup to see where his carrier group was. The highlight of his tour for me was “going” to Sydney, Australia with him. I got to see so much of the world because we were connected. I also got to see gorgeous views of Sydney harbor from the hotel room he got just so he could sleep in a normal bed on shore leave!

On that deployment, he also went through one of the hardest things those who serve face. He lost Marines from his unit. It was heart-wrenching as a mom to know he was going through this. As a veteran I felt it even deeper as those men were my shipmates too – we may have served in different eras but we are all part of the same family. To be able to be there for him, on a call, via text, in a video I could record and send him, was priceless.

This month Verizon is saluting and giving back to moms like me, moms who do so much more than I do, for our service to those who serve. They recently honored 15 military moms with $1,000 shopping sprees to get technology that will help keep them connected to their loved ones and their extended military families.

One truth I left my military service knowing was that not one single person, in any branch of the military, serves alone. Our loved ones, friends, families and our military moms serve along side us. A huge thank you goes out to every single mom out there that gives so much so that we may all have what we do. And to the team at Verizon, thank you for recognizing the service and strength of these women!

Plan Your Next Trip with Instagram

Instagram Travel Planning Instagram has always been great for making mouths water. It’s a great place to daydream about far off places too. But can you use it for Instagram travel planning? Yes! Here is how I’m using it to plan our trip to Iceland. 

Instagram Travel Planning

Step One – Follow the Right Folk

There seem to be nearly as many junk accounts on Instagram as there are stars in the sky. Look out for perfectly shot photos that are so amazing they’d easily be found in the top travel magazines. That’s not to say that there aren’t completely legitimate Instagram accounts out there that take amazing photos, but just to keep an eye out. If a “gramer” posts that they’re lounging in the crystal blue seas of Tahiti one day and two days later they say scaling Machu Picchu, it’s a safe bet they aren’t actually doing those things and may not be the best resource for your Instagram travel planning.

Quality accounts that are actually the resource you’re looking for usually are also great story tellers. That personal connection to the photo and the story that goes along with it is why I follow these types of accounts and also why I find them the best resources for using Instagram to plan trips.

One of my favorites – both for his photos, stories, and honest take – is Matt Long of @landlopers

 

As the owner of three Siberian Huskies it’s always with mixed feelings that I approach dog sled experiences. On the one hand I love being around dogs almost more than anything else but part of me worries about whether or not the experience is an ethical one. With dog sledding the only real way to know is by visiting and almost right away I knew that Valentijne Beets’ company Bear Hill Husky was the real deal – no one cares THAT much about their dogs if they don’t treat them well. Located right outside of Roveniemi, Bear Hill has dozens of Alaskan Huskies in their kennel and it was 5 of these hard working dogs that took me out into the chilly woods of Finnish Lapland today. I love dog sledding because of how quiet it is. Mushing through the snow, the dogs clearly love running more than anything else and the only noise is their fierce panting. It’s a beautiful way to be a part of nature without loud motors or anything else around. It’s also one of the best ways to experience the amazing landscapes in northern Finland without leaving a trace. #nbeFinland

A photo posted by Matt Long (@landlopers) on

 

 Accounts that curate content from others, I’m on the fence about. These accounts tend to be fairly high up in searches because they get tons of likes and interaction. Who doesn’t like to  be featured? It’s awesome. Why they aren’t my favorite though is the lack of story. Often it’s just the where and who of the photo. You can always track back to the original post and draw inspiration and information from there. 

Step Two – Hashtag Searches

Yep, this is the most obvious place to start. Search for the place you’re planning to visit. Not all of what comes up in that search is going to be what you’re looking for. Um, bikini-clad babes standing in the middle of a fjord don’t really help much. There will be some good stuff in there though. Keep a list of things that spark your interest.

Narrow your search with hashtags for the cities you’d like to visit. This is a great way to find unique things off the beaten path as well as get a feel for how crowded {in my book that’s the measure of whether it’s worth it or not} popular places may be. 

 

#ship in the #frozen #fjord at #Akureyri #iceland. My first post with @ambercharrison

A photo posted by keV (@macrotech2) on


Step Three – Click on the Location

Next to whom you follow this is one of the best tools for Instagram travel planning. Actually, it may be even more important because the results you’ll be getting will span a spectrum of experiences.

For example one of our favorite places to eat in Washington, D.C. is Le Diplomate. When you click on the location in this photo I took of the world’s most amazing profiteroles, you can see where the restaurant is located on the map Instagram provides. Say your goal is to stay as close to those profiteroles as possible, you can plan your stay in that area.

 

Great way to end a lovely meal. Profiteroles, cafe Vietnamese, and my guy at @lediplomatedc

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola (@dipaolamomma) on

Some locations listed are simply the cities. Which is great too! We’re pretty familiar with New York City, my husband being a native. That said, it’s a BIG place… big apple if you will. A city that is always changing, adding new things to experience.  

I found one of our more unique stays through Instagram – the Hotel Bellclaire where Mark Twain once lived. It’s off the beaten path in a great residential area that’s a short walk to Central Park and pretty much across the street from the Beacon Theater.

Step Four – Stalk Brands

Airlines, hotels, attractions and even your favorite luggage brands are almost all on Instagram. Why should you follow them, they rarely follow back? One word – SAVE. Many of these brands will post information on discounts, special offers, flash sales and from-time-to time even offer exclusive deals to their followers on Instagram.

So when you start planning your next getaway look beyond the booking sites and tip websites, dig in and start Instagram travel planning.

 

Death of a Mom Blog

“…Her feed is filled with pretty objects like cooling pies and evergreen sprigs tucked into apothecary vases, with hardly any chaos in sight.

This is the “mommy Internet” now. It’s beautiful. It’s aspirational. It’s also miles from what motherhood looks like for many of us — and miles from what the mommy Internet looked like a decade ago.”

A decade ago? Decade?! In the vanity of my aging, it was that word that stuck in my craw when I first read Sarah Pulliman Bailey’s piece in the Washington Post. Did this blogging thing start that long ago and has it really changed all that much? Am I that old? 

In answering those questions, and actually reading the rest of the article, I had to accept a few things that were frankly, a little hard to swallow.  Could holding a mirror up, answering those questions, also mean the death of a mom blog, this blog?  

I sort of fell into blogging. While listing to the radio during my daily route as chauffeur to four kids, one in middle school, one in elementary school, one in preschool and one still on the boob, I caught a segment about technology that featured a popular blogger. Blogger? Um, what is that? I honestly had no clue, there weren’t any bloggers on Sesame Street after all so why would I know? 

That day I went home and Googled the term. What I found out was that a blogger was just a person with a keyboard and a penchant for over-sharing. Hey, I could be a blogger. The next day I was. And I loved it to the point that I’d sometimes post several times a day. If I couldn’t have actual adult conversations with actual adults in the real world, I’d take to the interwebs! 

Somewhere along the way, I found my voice and my community. And then, I lost it. 

In those early days, it was mostly about the kids because, well, having kids makes most everything mostly about them. But, it wasn’t always. Some of my more popular posts came from series I ran like, Fit Pitchin’ Fridays and guest posts by guys during Manuary. Somewhere along the way, I started to talk about what it was like to live as an expat and to travel with kids. That may be where things started to change. 

I began to make money from the words I’d share, the pictures I’d take, and the skills I’d been building. This blog would take me across the globe, into the White House, onto the pages of the Washington Post and USA Today. It would open doors and give me and those that read this blog glimpses into places rarely seen.

Somewhere along the way, I lost that sense of community, my voice – though still honest – wasn’t as open and unedited as it used to be.  The blog had become business, and that isn’t a bad thing just something different from what it began as. 

The only thing that is constant is change ~ Heraclitus

I’m guilty of sharing an edited life, online. I take beautiful pictures of food in a kitchen that is part of a house that is nearly always a hot mess. I brag about my kids but I no longer believe that the ultimate measure of my success is how well-adjusted my children are. I go to amazing places and take shots with a very narrow lens. I eat too many carbs, drink too much cheap wine, and have a wardrobe of yoga pants that have never seen a minute on the mat. I curse like a sailor (because I was one, so I get a pass there) but fuck if I’ll do it in writing. I hate that my husband is aging better than I am while I have watched hair fall from my head only to migrate south, taking up residence on my upper lip and chin. 

I am not perfect. My life is not a curated Instagram feed. I suffer from so much self-doubt that I could probably use some therapy.  All of that said though, I still love this blog and hope at least a few of you will keep reading even through a few sponsored posts and a whole lot more unedited me. 

On the Eve of History

Loitering low on the horizon, casting slowly spreading embers, the sun has begun to set. It sets on a day that will never again be. On a world that will change forever come tomorrow. Tonight we sit on the eve of history, the sun glowing brilliantly upon us all in equal measure. 

I rarely use this space to talk about politics – unless it’s in the form of championing veterans causes or prodding you to think about ways to do social good – but today the sun sets. Tomorrow Americans head to the polls to cast their ballots in an election that, no matter the outcome, will be historic. I’ve a few things to say about that. 

In life choices must be made, the consequences lived with. Some of those choices lead us to wonderful things like love, puppies and winning lottery tickets (not that I’ve ever chosen one of those, dammit!) Others choices can take us down some dark and winding roads. The one thing all choice has in common is that it is something that must be decided upon from within. 

Though we may tell ourselves that we’ve been forced into making choices, the simple truth is that just isn’t possible. You choose. Yes, you may have had to make some pretty crappy choices, but in the end the choice was yours to make. My opinions, what your partner says, brow-beating by the media, none of those truly matter in the end. Choice is a solitary endeavor. 

This is the bedrock of democracy. One person. One Vote. Your choice. 

Those who live in democratic societies have been given a rare gift of choice. We are allowed a voice in the shaping of the country we live in. That isn’t to say that our voice is often heard, that we always get what we want, or that our countries conform to our ideals. But, we do have a choice. One that a large swath of humanity does not have.

I can’t say that I joined the Navy to defend your right to make choices. At nineteen I was mostly just looking for a way out of the one-tumbleweed town I grew up in, and to escape some of the youthfully irresponsible choices I’d made.  Again, I chose. 

That said, I can tell you that seeing places during my service and in my subsequent decades of travel, where many choices were denied to women, those with little means, those who love differently and entire ethnic groups lit a fire in me to exercise my right to choose whenever I could. Not just vote but to choose the type of person I wanted to be, the types of people I wanted to lift up and admire. I understood that by doing this I may have an impact on the world I’d one day hand down to my own children.  Again, my choices. 

Tonight we sit on the eve of history. Tomorrow I’ll go to the polls and take my children along to witness history.  No matter the victor tomorrow, my children will know that I made a choice. I can only hope the majority of us choose wisely. 

What Makes it a ‘Travel’ Blog Anyway?

The heart beat quickens. A quiver runs through your being. You’ve a bag at your side, a ticket in hand. That first step toward a new discovery has been taken and the thrill is an inescapably rapacious. You are a travel junkie.  And I sympathize. 

what makes it a travel blog
take the world with you wherever you go

Of late in groups I belong to, across small tables laden with half-drunk coffee, in checkout lanes and on welcoming sofas I’ve experienced a marked increase in conversations about travel blogging.  Some are of the mind that to travel you must have a dogeared passport filled with ink blotches blending together into barely readable smudges. Others are a little more philosophical about it. They subscribe the idea that the minute you set foot outside your comfort zone, you’ve gone somewhere. Per usual, I seem to fall somewhere in the middle. 

When I started writing this blog years ago it was a whole different being from what it is today. And yes, a blog is a living thing. You might even have guessed that simply from the title. Let’s be honest, I totally get that “Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom” doesn’t scream travel blog. 

Much like travel itself, blogging – or writing of any sort– is a journey. In the early days I wrote about the chaos of life as a mother to four with an ever lessening grasp on her sanity. At one point I had children in high, middle, elementary, and preschool all at the same time. To wine or not to whine… that was the question. Often times the answer was, both.

In sharing those stories of maternal struggles and the rare triumphs, I found not just an audience but a community. What I didn’t find as much of, was a reason to talk about the things I got excited about, that I loved doing. Which pretty much mirrors the experience of any mom with younger kids. 

What, mom wants to do something other than feed us and drive us around? NO WAY! 

and then they grew up…

One day things got easier. The kids could all use a toilet {if not always managing to flush the damn thing – seriously, I must have failed at potty training these people} and the world was our tidy bowl. 

what makes it a travel blog
oh the places we have gone. now to go to all the rest!

I’ve always been a wanderer, never liking to sit still for long. I was – and am – sure there something new to see if only I could get there. Now I could take the kids along, make travelers out of them. And I did.  So I started blogging about it – after all this was always a blog about ME! Give me a minute, have to adjust my tiara.

Okay, maybe it’s about more than me. I’d like to think that the two people {not related to me} that read every post have gotten a little something out of it. Maybe it was that sense of community from the early days, or the inspiration to visit one of the places I’ve fallen in love with. Either way I know one thing for sure… the journey continues and I plan to enjoy the ride.

Come along with me!