New Year’s Reflection and Goals for 2021

Wow!  What a year it has been?!  I cannot believe how quickly life as we know it has changed within a matter of months.  So many of my goals were quickly thrown out the window with social distancing and so many of us spending months at home.  Before writing this post, I looked at last year’s goal post for 2020.  I was unable to cut my screen time for obvious reasons, but I was able to return to my walks not missing a day for several weeks at a time in the spring.  Now it is time to reflect on the unexpected, but positive things from such a negative year. 

Milk Tea With Mandy-Asian Drama Review Blog

After a few months of working from home, I had consumed so many Chinese and Korean dramas!  (It is amazing how much more time I had without the 50 minute total commute.)  For a while, I had wanted to have a place to share my thoughts on them.  That unique interest gave birth to my quarantine passion project.  I titled it Milk Tea With Mandy based on my favorite Asian treat!  It has been connecting with other like-minded fans on my Instagram.  

Me with my favorite Asian treat milk tea!

Don’t Tell Maw Maw Podcast

My second quarantine passion project came later in the year.  My best friends Leah, Katy, and I have discussed the possibilities of beginning a podcast for years.  Fall ushered in another desire to create something new and we decided it was now or never.  We decided to call the podcast Don’t Tell Maw Maw and focus on our southern roots growing up in a modern world.  We post new episodes twice a month with some bonus content.  Find the podcast here or wherever you prefer to stream podcasts!

Stream our podcast on Apple, Stitcher, and even Spotify!

Your Newest Outschool Teacher

It has taken about 4 months, but my Outschool schedule has begun to really pick up.  Outschool has allowed me more freedom in my teaching hours and now I teach students on three more continents!  VIPKid is still one of my companies, but I am looking forward to the flexibility Outschool provides.  Want to learn more about Outschool?  Read my review here

Road Tripping Instead of Jet Setting 

Ed and I were supposed to travel with his parents for a friend’s wedding in the U.K. September 2020.  That trip has been postponed and we came up with an alternative.  We decided to head out west instead of mourning our missed trip.  The trip was a success and we saw some great friends!  The highlights were staying in a bus, going to Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant in Vegas, and hiking Sedona with our best friends.  I am happy we embraced the alternative for an unexpected adventure.

Enjoying our vintage bus in Mancos, Colorado.

The Shed Kittens 

Everyone knows about my cute, little hedgehogs that brought some smiles to my social media friends.  Last December I noticed a small tabby cat eating out of our outside cat’s food bowl.  First, I assumed she was someone’s cat in the neighborhood so I chased her off.  She did not move on and continued to hang out on our porch.  Affectionately, I began calling her Little Kitty and tried to get her to trust me with the hope of getting her fixed.  This took over three months and by the time she would come to me willingly she was very pregnant!  Vets were only doing life saving procedures so she gave birth to kittens in late April.  We found four kittens in our backyard about a month later.  I fell in love with them and ended up keeping two of them.  Charlie Boy and Hey Hey and their mama are now members of the family.  

Our two new family members Hey Hey and Charlie Boy!

Another Year of Blogging

This year has been one of my bests with posting content.  Although, I did allow myself to just work on meeting my basic needs and focusing on my mental health throughout the summer.  Despite this, I do feel I turned a corner when it comes to my content and creating more unique posts focused on my personal mission to promote mindfulness as well as my home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  With that in mind here are my top 3 posts from 2020.  

20 Things to Try in 2020-I did not realize that I would end up trying some of these because I was working from home for three months. 

Finding Yourself Abroad-This post made me relive all the emotions that go through me living abroad.  I hope it was found helpful to other hopeful expats.  

How to Part with Books-This is something I have struggled with for years.  I was able to make headway on this in 2019 and happy to share how I did it with you.  

Some Big Changes 

I do plan to pick up some of the goals I had from last year with unplugging, being healthier, and growing my relationships.  However, there are several big changes coming down the pipeline in 2021.  

-I will begin teaching less VIPKid January 2021 in order to get more sleep and have more availability with Outschool.

-Begin a Masters of Library and Information Science program in order to have more opportunities in the future as a supervisor over a library or special collection. (If I get in!)

-Growing my new projects like the podcast and launching my Gulf South History blog titled A ‘Sip of History.  

I hope that these things are possible while I continue to write and create.  In the meanwhile, Happy New Year!  

Looking forward to a great new year! Hopefully!

What content would you like me to cover in 2021?  

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Ways To Make Thanksgiving 2020 Special

I have simultaneously yearned for the holidays and dreaded them in 2020.  It seems like we can all use some cheer and uplifting thoughts the holidays often provide.  But the world is still battling COVID-19 and the holidays fall right in the middle of flu season.  It has put into question whether I should participate in big family gatherings putting maw maw at risk or meeting up with friends who have traveled from other COVID-19 hot zones to be home for the holidays.  This is not the place to answer those questions, but I would like to give some positive suggestions for a Happy Thanksgiving during these crazy times.  

Way to Make Thanksgiving 2020 Special
No reason not to enjoy some good Thanksgiving food pandemic or not!

Cook a Classic Family Recipe 

Whether you are gathering with the whole clan or just your household you can still cook something wonderfully delicious.  Think back to some of your favorite Thanksgiving dinners that you shared with loved ones.  Do you have a treasure troth of recipes in grandma’s kitchen drawer or a well loved cookbook with notes jotted in the margins?  If not, ask around to older family members to see if they have any recommendations.  Take these suggestions and recreate a delicious pecan pie or oyster stuffing.  

If your family does not have any Thanksgiving standbys, use this year as an opportunity to find some.  Scour Pinterest and try out your own test kitchen.  I also recommend any of these vintage cookbooks that I use as a starting point as well or check out some from the Dewey Decimal 641.5 section of your local library.  

My current podcast with besties Leah and Katy delve into deep discussion on Thanksgiving food traditions in this week’s episode! Find it here!

Bring a Game the Whole Family Will Enjoy 

In recent years, one of my many cousins on my dad’s side would have a game for us to play at Christmas.  The game they had would be able to accommodate some of the younger members of our family to our oldest.  I would think of these games with slight annoyance, but now I would love to spend this kind of time with my family without worrying about current events.  Make this Thanksgiving to make some new memories with a fun new game for the whole family.  The smartphone games like cahoot are fun, but keep in mind Great Uncle Bob may not be able to work his iPhone.  

Here is a list of possible games.

Apples to Apples

Game of Things

Uno Attack

 Exploding Kittens

Conduct Interviews of Older Relatives 

If you are fortunate enough to safely visit your elderly relatives I recommend using this as an opportunity to conduct video or voice recorded interviews with them.  2020 has taught how quickly things can change, and there is no guarantee these family legends will be around next holiday season. You have all you need to interview them in your back pocket!  No special equipment needed other than a smartphone with enough space to record the interview.  Using voice memo is another great way to save these stories that does not take up as much device space.

There are easy ways to get decent light and sound in your interview.  Place them in front of a window that has a lot of natural light.  Also make sure to minimize background noises like television and radio sound.  Create a list of questions before-hand so they are less likely to go off on tangents.  Always begin with the basics including their name, birthday, place of birth, and other important biographical information.  

If you have relatives in care facilities not allowing visitors see if a staff member can conduct the interview.  Another option we did years ago with one of my great-grandmothers was to give them a journal of questions and have them write their answers in the book.  Then the journal can be scanned and printed for other relatives.  

Here are some questions for family interviews. 

Find a Cute Way to Record and Display Gratitude 

Some years during our Friendsgiving feasts, we would go around the table and say what we were most thankful for.  It was nice to reflect on the year and more recently I record monthly gratitude in my planner.  I now wish I had used Thanksgiving to practice gratitude since a young age.  Now there are so many cute ways for the whole family to record gratitude.  The Turkey on the Table is one example of a way to bring gratitude practice into your home.  I loved hearing about its development on the podcast Say It Southern when they interviewed founder April George.  

If you are crafty, there are plenty of other options that can be created by raiding art supplies you probably already have at home.  

Way To Make Thanksgiving 2020 Special
Be thankful for more than just the food!

Take Polaroids 

I got my Fujifilm InstaPix a few years ago, and I am still obsessed.  It is such a fun way to record the moment and have something tangible in hand.  I have made a point to use the modern-day polaroid at kid’s parties, Christmas gatherings, and even one slumber party flashback birthday.  The cartridges are a little pricey, but more reasonable if purchased in multi-packs.  I also love the border options of different colors and patterns.  

If you already have one of these, bring it along to Thanksgiving and take your own Kodak moments.  Another option is a portable photo printer that will print directly from your smartphone.  

If You Have to Social Distance—Go Online!

Even if the idea of being socially distant from family is sad, find a silver lining in the availability of technology to us these days.  There are so many virtual meeting options now that are totally free!  I have managed to be a part of an Instagram video call with 6 different teachers.  Facebook messenger also has a similar service.  Skype can be used for free if you are on FaceTime with one other person.  Of course, Zoom has a free version that allows about 30 minutes for free.  Best of all, Zoom conferences can be recorded for both video and audio!  (Another way to complete a family interview.)  

Screen sharing and marking features on Zoom can allow for a family picture slideshow or even a round of virtual Pictionary.  Don’t forget Netflix watch parties if you want to enjoy your favorite Christmas movie early with the entire family.

Enjoy the Leftovers After All the Fun 

One tradition my family had that I now do with my husband’s parents is enjoying a second meal of leftovers.  We do this the night of Thanksgiving since we usually eat the ‘big’ meal for lunch and have all day to get hungry again.  It was always just as fun for me to enjoy the leftovers and some I find more enjoyable the second time around.  (Turkey and cranberry sandwiches, yes please!)  Take some of these ideas and think of ways to make this Thanksgiving one to remember for a different reason other than the one we had the pandemic.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition? 

Ways to Make Thanksgiving 2020 Special
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Pandemic Road Trip Tips

With the pandemic continuing around the world, air travel continues to be considered with more scrutiny.  Ed and I included had to forgo our normal travel plans this year for a social distanced road trip for our August-September vacation.  This is the longest road trip we had completed together since 2015 when we drove to the Florida Keys and then later that year to Yellow Springs, Ohio.  Turns out we actually had a lot to relearn and rethink our tricks when it comes to a successful road trip.

Thinking of everyone out there who will probably be taking to the road instead of the air for holiday travel this year.  Here are some things tips gathered from our recent  7 state road trip.  

Pandemic Road Trip Tips
Our trusty car at Garden of the Gods in Colorado

Clean Your Vehicle Inside and Outside 

It is nice to start with a clean car when packing and driving for hours.  Take a morning to wash, vacuum, clean mats, and wipe your dash.  Ed had deep cleaned my car before our road trip.  This was nice since it got filthy from all the outdoor activities and dusty roads on our trip.  Think of how much time would be lost packing the car if there were hundreds fast food bags.  

Service Vehicle 

Road trips will add miles of abuse to your vehicle.  This is essential not only for practicality, but safety as well.  I took my car to the dealership for an oil change the week we left.  This was great because the dealership also gave my vehicle an evaluation by checking everything from windshield wipers to battery power.  It is also important to know the status of your break pads, and tires.  If your oil change place does not do this, find a place or mechanic who does.  Bonus:  Being up to date on tire pressure and maintenance will also save with better gas mileage!  

Create a Sanitization Bag With Car Kit

Along with jumper cables and a flashlight, consider the current state of things.  Think of needing to sanitize your Airbnb and what you should do after learning a gas station bathroom.  I thought of this before our trip and gathered the following:

*Big bottle of hand sanitizer (The pocket sizes won’t make it through the whole trip!)

*Roll of paper towels

*Bleach wipes 

*Plastic gloves

*Extra face masks  

*Toilet paper 

*Wet wipes (Like Dude Wipes)

*First Aid Kit 

Consider Packing Less

Even though you do not have the 50 pound or carry on limits implemented from airline companies, you still have space restrictions.  Even less space is available when adding passengers to the trip.  Some may also need to make room for presents being transported or a pot to fry turkey if you are from our parts.  This trip, we really considered the amount of liquids we packed.  We found medium sized shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste.  This was more than enough to cover our 2 weeks out, but did not take up as much space as the bottles in our shower at home.  Also consider using soft sided bags that can be stuffed in nooks and crannies around the vehicle.  

Call Banks and Credit Cards

Even just crossing state lines can cause cards to be flagged for possible fraud.  Actually, my only time my credit card was flagged for fraud was for a suspicious Maryland Hotel charge.  (It was fraudulent and the company quickly called me.) My husband’s debit card was paused when being just 2 states away.  So save yourself the trouble and call your card companies ahead to let them know your travel plans.  The side of a highway in middle of nowhere Texas is not conducive to getting your bank card working again!

Make a Road Trip Meal Plan

We made a point not to go crazy eating out on the road.  In order to make use of our AirBnb stays we also used some of their kitchens.  I had our meals for our first 3 days mapped out as well a extras.   Ed got very creative making tacos on the roadside and reheating beef he vacuum sealed for a fancy livable bus meal.  Some things we used this past trip were chicken salad, pimento cheese, and buffalo dip with croissants.  Noodle bowls from the Asian store that were tasty and unique.  We snacked on pre-bagged hard boiled eggs as well as fruit.  Think of what makes your family happy and think if you can adapt it to the road.  

Drink Plenty of Water!

You still need to consider basic needs, even when on the road.  Take care to drink plenty of water.  It is expensive to buy bottled waters at every stop.  So we bought two 1 liter jugs of water to refill our insulated containers up front.  We bought another big jug mid trip and refilled in places where the tap water didn’t taste too funky.  Remember, dehydration is no fun with 8 more hours on the road.  

Create an Easily Accessible Snack Bag

Since we had so much food that was made for meals we had multiple storage containers.  There was a Rubbermaid container in the back with a Yeti Cooler.  I then took my Vera Bradley tote that fits behind our seats with ready to grab snacks.  That is where the quick grab snacks lived like granola bars, nuts, and fruit gummies.  However,  be careful, little hands could grab them and overindulge in the back seat.  (My friend shared this as personal experience!)

Pandemic Road Trip Tips
Iced coffee is always a welcome road trip treat.

Hide a Treat

I try to find reasonably healthy snacks that are filling so we do not consume too many empty calories. For all the good intentions, one still gets a craving for something too salty or sweet.  Planning for this, I packed us a box of Reeses Pieces and peanut butter M&Ms respectively.  Halfway through this past trip as the desert sun scorched down as we drove between Las Vegas towards Phoenix we were struggling.  So then I launched myself towards the back of my Nissan Rogue and retrieved our treats.  This lifted our moods without ordering from the Dairy Queen at the next gas station.  

Plan for Losing Signal

We normally stream our road trip directions and entertainment.  This past trip signal was lost at least 40 percent of the time on the road.  So it is important to plan ahead.  Get some old school audiobook CDs from the library or download them to your phone.  Also plan to download music and podcasts in order to have remote access when signal is weak.  Directions are just as important in order to not miss important exists and turns on the road.  Take screen shots or go old school with atlas.  You can go further with printed directions a la old school MapQuest.  

Anticipate Delays

Even with best laid plans road trips take forever.  Each day, we seemed to need an extra 2 to 3 hours when taking in stops.  It is always imperative to stop to use the restroom, eat, and get gas.  We sometimes knock this down by leaving at night.  There is also traffic from construction, accidents, and rush hour in big cities.  So when creating a timetable, keep these in mind.  I sorely regretted forgetting time changes as well on the way back causing us to roll into San Antonio, Texas after 1 A.M.  

Life is a Highway, But Still Stay Safe

There is a lot going on during the holidays.  Stay mindful of the hazards on the road from weather to Christmas trees not tied down well.  Some pre-planning, cleaning, and check lists can help ease some of the travel stress.  Be mindful of your schedule and keep hydrated. I hope these tips were helpful for you during these weird times.  Safe travels!

What are your road trip tips?

Pandemic Road Trip
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Podcasts, Videos, & Books Oh My! Gulf Coast Halloween Content

Throughout the years, I have not made a secret of how much I love Halloween.  It has always captivated my quirky nature and big imagination.  My younger Halloweens were celebrated with parties hosted by my parents including hayrides.  As a teenager, I still dressed up and enjoyed the edge of supernatural in the air.  For most of my adult years, I began to throw the elaborate costume parties with decorations executed to my yearly themes from Voodoo Shoppe to Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.  

So as soon as I feel a breeze of cool air that can hint at Fall weather, I begin gorging on Halloween content.  Living in these times I have found more things than I could ever get through in a season.  I particularly love the things that nod to ghosts of my childhood as well as vintage Halloween Americana.  So in the ‘spirit’ of the season here are my favorite bits of entertainment that focus on Gulf South and state of Mississippi Halloween themed enjoyment.

Gulf Coast Halloween Content
Classic magnolias and oak trees shading the Old Biloxi Cemetery.


Podcasts have become a great way to ingest a lot of content quickly while I walk, drive, or chill on the porch.  I have found so many great ones over the years and shared them in two different favorite podcast posts.  However, I direct my attention towards creepy stories and Halloween history come October.  Here are my favorites…

Haunted Places 

This podcast covers ghost stories from all over the world in a narrative format.  Transport yourself into each story in order to enjoy the tales.  There are over 140 episodes as of writing this post.  So here are my Gulf South recommendations from the show archives:

Manchac Swamp

LaLaurie Mansion

The Myrtles Plantation 

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar 

Marie Laveau’s Cottage


This one goes past just ghosts into tales of the supernatural and unusual.  This podcast and book was adapted into an Amazon Prime Series a few years ago.  It’s creator Aaron Mahnke is still keeping the podcast current creating new tales bi-weekly.  Check out the episode #40 where he visits Marie Laveau in New Orleans.  

Mississippi Paranormal and Cryptids Podcast 

This brand new podcast has begun creating episodes just in time for Halloween 2020.  Yours truly personally knows one of the hosts and is familiar with their former group.  The hosts Chris, Terry, and Bobbie were once part of a paranormal investigative group that looked into Mississippi Gulf Coast hauntings.  They discuss ghosts and other phenomena as well like BigFoot.  I enjoy their banter and listening in to their opinions of the great beyond.  Especially, the local spin on the Gulf Coast’s more shadowier residents.

Gumbo Paranormal

This is another very local focused podcast that discusses topics related to ghosts and paranormal along the southeast.  They actually discuss the Pascagoula Alien Abduction of the 1970s in detail in their earliest episodes.  Episode #16 also discusses the haunted books housed in Local History and Genealogy at the Biloxi Public Library.   There are many episodes that take place in the South!. 


My best friend at The Muddy Mermaid recommended this one on our recent road trip.  I thoroughly enjoy the host’s voice and the different stories from listeners aired each episode.  They all cover a different personal haunting experience.  Some do not indicate where the story takes place, but all are entertaining.  Listen through their show archive and find the most spine tingling one!

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Each October the wonderful hosts both past and present make a batch of Halloween themed episodes.  They range from goofy like the history of Candy Corn to the macabre of unsolved murders.  They have also been posting previous episodes on Saturdays as well that fit the topic.  Carl Tanzler’s Corpse Bride from October 2017 was particularly freaky.  They also have a 2 part series on the Building of Disney’s Haunted Mansion which happens to be my favorite ride at Disney.  I can’t wait to see what they have planned for 2020.   

Halloween Podcasts
Above ground mausoleums can be found on the Mississippi Gulf Coast too.

The History Chicks-The Marie Laveau Episode 

The episode # 89 is about Voodoo Queen of New Orleans Marie Laveau.  Growing up next to New Orleans, she is a legendary figure being so revered that many pay their respects at her tomb in St. Louis #1 right outside the French Quarter.  (Myself included!) I enjoy the intensely researched episodes and the variety of sources referenced in their show notes.  This was particularly great with the topic being one so close to home.  

Listen and read their resource list here!


Haunted Mississippi Gulf Coast by Bud Steed

Now, I must mention this book with reservation.  The positive side of this book is every story included is from the Gulf Coast and many are well known here.  (For example, Rock-N-Roll Graveyard and Beauvoir.)  It is part of the Haunted America series from The History Press.  Although the author came to the Gulf Coast for research, he is not from here.  So I think there is something lacking in this book.  There is such a richness in our histories and stories.  To me, there is no better place to find that than in our ghost stories.  

So my recommendation is to check it out, but look further on your own. 

Ghosts!  Personal Accounts of Modern Mississippi Hauntings by Silvia Booth Hubbard

I like this book so much that I accidentally ended up in 2 copies!  (I found this to be the case in my massive book declutter of 2019.) Published in 1992, it is an oldie, but a goodie.  The stories “The Boy in the Yellow Shirt” and “Sanctuary for a President” are both set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  They are written by the people who experienced them, and are short reads.  

The Haunting of Mississippi by Barbara Sillery 

The Haunting of Mississippi is another broad anthology of hauntings.  It also includes tales from Beauvoir.  However, it also has a story about Pascagoula’s Singing River.  

Jeffrey Introduces 13 More Southern Ghosts  by Kathryn Tucker Windham

Kathryn Windham grew up in southern Alabama and is known as a notable folklorist and storyteller.  After discovering a ghost she named “Jeffrey” in her home, she began to write a series of southern ghosts stories.  In total, Windham wrote over 7 different books full of ghosts stories.  Her Mississippi collection includes Nachez and Vicksburg hauntings.  However, her 13 More Southern Ghosts has the story “The Harpist of the Gulf” a popular tale set in Gulfport at a house that used to stand on Highway 90.

Sadly, Mrs. Windham is no longer with us, but she has a lasting legacy on the internet. Check out this interview of Kathryn Windham discussing her thoughts on her book series.


American Horror Story: Coven

The cast of American Horror story spent season 3 in the Big Easy.  The series followed a group of young witches training in the picturesque Garden District Mansion.  Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie also made appearances.  It is one of my favorite seasons of American Horror

Bonus:  Want some more New Orleans screen time?  Check out Scream Queens as well.  It was filmed in the Garden District, but is definitely pretty ridiculous.  

True Blood

Based on the wildly popular book series, HBO adapted this show back in 2008.  (Does that seem like a long time ago to anyone else?)  It is set in a small Louisiana backwater town and follows a host of supernatural creatures from vampires to werewolves and everything in between.  It is pretty raunchy, but so entertaining!  Currently, True Blood is streaming on Hulu.  


The Skeleton Key 

This 2005 Kate Hudson film was a great homage to the eerie tales that come out of Louisiana swamps.  It also has elements of hoodoo and voodoo that is so much part of the folktale landscape.  

One Last Haunt 

I hope you find these suggestions enjoyable leading up to Halloween!  This list is not meant to be complete, but a highlight of my favorites.  Feel free to research and look further.  The Gulf Coast is a tapestry of colorful tales that is as much part of our heritage as a spicy batch of jambalaya.  Keep an eye out, you never know what you will find under the moss covered oak trees.  

What Halloween content do you enjoy?  

Gulf Coast Halloween Content
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Finding Motivation In Uncertain Times

For 6 months, I committed myself to posting bi-weekly on My Sassy Starfish.  I decided it was do or die with my dream of sharing my content with the world.  It took great perseverance to carve out time in my work schedule, but I made it happen.  Then Covid struck.  My library sent me to work from home, and I continued to teach online early in the morning.  I found myself with more time than I have had in almost 2 years!  My last motivation took a nose dive simultaneously.

This is when I began lying to myself believing I would take care of how projects and get ahead on this whole blogging thing.  Maybe even launch a few more ideas I had.  Well, that all proved to be lies I told myself.  I found anxiety, lack of motivation, and a general malaise for over 2 months until I was able to return to my daytime job.  

I know what I was experiencing was not uncommon.  All my friends and family mentioned feeling some form of depression and lack of motivation.  Month’s later, I am just now finding some desire to create and hustle again.  Here are some ways that I dug myself out of this rut and began looking forward again.  

Finding Motivation In Uncertain Times
A little encouragement can be found if you take a look.

Start With Small Victories

Good habits are not built in a day, but the first step can being right away!  I found myself happier and more motivated when I completed one simple task I set to do.  For example, clearing off a cart in my office that had papers to be filed sitting in piles.  Taking time to write in my journal, even if it was just one entry.  Cooking something different or trying to make my own bubble tea.  

So think of something in the morning that will make you feel happier or more in control.  Then just focus on that one thing until it is complete.  It helped me feel encouraged and plan other small goals.  

Recreate a Familiar Routine or Ritual

The ultimate indicator of how productive we can be is found in our daily routines and rituals.  Rituals are things you do that make you feel calm and at home.  For example, making a pour over cup of coffee and completing a devotional.  A routine is something with do with barely thinking about it like your night time skin care regime with creams and rash wash.  My routines were the first thing to go without my normal strict 50+ hour a week work schedule.  

This caused me to be useless and watch a lot of television when I wasn’t teaching or working on my day job responsibilities.  Also the blog quickly suffered and so did my personal hygiene.  After about 2 months of this, I began returning to my department after my approval and reconstructing some of my routines.  I began with my post teaching routine of making breakfast and fixing my lunch.  Then I was able to begin walking my normal time of later evening instead of randomly throughout the day.  When this happened, I began to be more productive at home even though I was spending less time there.  

So pick something that makes you feel useful whether it is getting dressed, doing your nails, or whatever else in order to recreate some normalcy.  

Re-Evaluate How Your Meeting Basic Needs 

Even though your home, consider your daily habits that effect your health.  I found myself anxious and having itchy skin that was driving me nuts.  This was surprising since I was at home not dealing with stressful situations.  But the uncertainty was driving me crazy.  So I began focusing on my gut health with probiotics, fermented foods, and clean eating.  This helped along with long baths with epsom salt to unwind.

Think about things you have been doing since the pandemic.  Are you drinking too many sodas instead of water?  Eating too many unhealthy snacks?  Watching too much television?  If you think of some unhealthy habits, focus on breaking them!  Then you can think clearer and feel better in order to make a crack at your goals.  

Finding Motivation in Uncertain Times
Try a week of healthy eating.

Read or Listen to Something Motivational

The best thing that I did to get myself situated was reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.  This book is about the science and studies focused on creating good habits and breaking bad ones.  It is a quick read and there are plenty of audio summaries available as well.  While reading this, I began formulating ways that I can become the builder of my own habits.  

If you can’t get a copy just yet due to whatever reason.  (I had to wait a few months on the hold list for my public library.)  There are plenty of podcasts like Rise and others that have been discussing this topic.  You can also go to YouTube for some positive encouragement as well.  I have also found a lot of support and help on the app Marco Polo from friends I reconnected with during the pandemic. 

Start Using Your Planner Again

I didn’t crack mine open for weeks during all this.  It felt very futile since I knew my VIPid schedule daily and had a quick list of library tasks.  However, when I began using it again for planned trips to my department and the weekly goal setting tab, it helped me feel normal again.  Even if it is just things you hope to do that day, write them down and see if this becomes self-fulfilling.

No reason your planner needs to be a wasted purchase!  

Finding Motivation In Uncertain Times
I made a point to crack open my planner at least once a week.

Don’t Feel Guilty

I found that as I talked to friends and co-workers, is that we have all been experiencing this malaise and lack of motivation during the pandemic.  So don’t beat yourself up about it all.  Find a way to chip away at the boredom, sadness, or depression.  Call a friend, take a walk, or even just brush your teeth.  If I can do you it, I know you can too!

How are you finding motivation again? 

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20 Things To Do With a Library Card

There is no question that I love the library.  I have enjoyed libraries since I was a child, and have worked in some kind of library for over 10 years.  There are so many things that I can enjoy for free! (Well technically for a fraction my taxes I am paying anyway.) It always makes me sad when people comment libraries are obsolete or ask if I think they will be phased out.  Actually, libraries are adaptable as much as funding will allow.  There is also a whole population of  residents without a personal computer or internet at home.  There are homeschooling moms using the library system to supplement their class library.  People looking for new jobs on the free internet and cheap printing.  Still the key to all these services is still a valid library card.

September has been Library Card Sign-Up Month in 1987.  There are so many things to use your library card at the library.  Since social distancing, many systems have beefed up their electronic offerings and made them easier to access without even going into the building.  In honor of National Library Card Sign-Up Month, here is my list of my favorite uses of library cards

There are tens of thousands reading possibilities at your local library!

Here is my list:

  1. Read a bestseller.  **May need to put your name on the waiting list, but that way you can read it without forking out 20 dollars for a hardback. 

2. Check out free audiobooks on CD to enjoy on the road.

I enjoy checking out CDs and streaming audiobooks for FREE from the library!

3. Find more recipes in their cookbooks than Pinterest. 

4. Skip the rental fees and check out movies on DVD. 

5. Satiate your child’s need for a new bedtime story with picture books.

20 Things To Do With a Library Card
Endless bedtime story material!

6. Learn a new language.  **Some libraries have app subscriptions to Mango as well as CD guides.

7. Research your family history

20 Things To Do With a Library Card
Family books, indexes, guides, oh my!

8. Find instructions for your next DIY project from macramé to carpentry. 

9 . Take sample tests of GED, SAT, TOEFL, and others. 

10. No need to pay for Skill Share or Master Class if your library has its own service. 

11. Download eBooks using OneDrive or Hoopla.

12. Enjoy some fresh music.  

13. Binge watch series you can get on Netflix. 

14. Plan your next vacation using their travel guides. 

20 Things To Do With a Library Card
Use some of these to figure out what’s for dinner!

15. Read about healthy habits after a doctor’s visit. 

16. Gaze at new magazines.

17. Use a sewing machine or cake pain from physical check out.  ** Libraries have begun holding unique items that the public requests for short term and one time projects.  

18. Plan a party from beginning to end including decorations and finger foods. 

19. Research something you find interesting.  

20 Things To Do With a Library Card
Libraries now have all this online!

20. Make a hold or request list of items you want so you can always have something to enjoy.  

Keep In Mind 

Every library has rules pertaining to obtaining a card.  My system requires recent residential proof with a date stamp and a government/state issues ID.  (I.E. a recent bill mailed to your home with your drivers license.). Some have rules limiting first check out.  Check your local libraries website or call your local branch.  This list is by no means exclusive.  There are so many services available depending on population, community requests, and administration.  Go ahead and enjoy our very own adult Reading Rainbow.  

How do you use your library card?  

20 Things To Do With a Library Card
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Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

My Outschool Review

In the throws of self-isolation, many of my online teacher friends began buzzing about a ‘new’ company.  I say ‘new’ because it’s been around several years, but has boomed like crazy since this revolution of digital learning happening in these uncertain times.  It is called Outschool.  This company began for supplemental home school instruction.  Now the demand for online educators has boomed so now hiring with Outschool has too!  

I was at first very skeptical, after trying to find several online teaching companies the past few years.  All, until this summer, ending with disappointment in failed launches or hiring freezes.  Foolishly, I thought some other paths had opened only to be frozen along with many hiring opportunities due to COVID.  At this point, in my worst slump since quitting public school, I made an account with Outschool.  

I am happy to report that it is slow going, but has been a teaching Renaissance for me.  

Giving Dino a break for self-created classes on Outschool!

What is it?

Unlike many popular online education companies, Outschool is an American company.  That’s right, all help and troubleshooting is coordinated in the good ole USA!  It also hires all teachers as independent contractors.  However, the perimeters are much more flexible than VIPKid and many other companies.  For example, if you have to cancel, you simply offer to reschedule or refund your students with no effect on your employment status.  

Outschool launches all classes through zoom on their learning website.  It also provides a space to advertise classes, promote yourself with a teacher profile, and refer students as well as other educators.  They take 30 percent of profits from each class that is turned around to maintain the platform as well as advertise teacher classes with Facebook Ads.  Teachers are paid weekly via PayPal.  

The World is Your Zoom Classroom: Customization of Courses

It is first important to understand that the teachers create their own classes on Outschool.  So unlike following a designated ESL Curriculum you can teach whatever you have experience or expertise.  This company is so much more than ESL.  Classes come in all forms from painting nails to book clubs.  

Getting past the course content themselves, teachers get to choose the amount of students in each class, the ages, the price, times, and even length.  They can pre-record content for a flex class or host a one time 30 minute story time.  The coursework team at Outschool does approve each class or give recommendations to edit the class before approval.  They will also give a recommendation on price versus length, etc.  

Outschool Pros  

The biggest pro for Outschool is all hours in a day or night can be used as teaching times.  While many of the students are American, they have a base of students all over the world.  This was such a draw to someone who has been waking up between 3:30-4:30 AM for over 2 years.  

The opportunity to cancel classes without penalty is also a big benefit.  They even allow teachers to set cancellation policies for students as well in their class!  There is also no minimum or maximum limit to teaching hours.  

Outschool Cons

My biggest con with Outschool is all the course prep needed to create a class.  From concept to creation, it very well could go unpaid without students enrolling.  I will be the first to say only one of my 4 created courses has had students enroll.  However, I am once again the new profile in a sea of amazing teachers.  

I also think the course scheduler is a bit clunky and you need to take great care when scheduling classes close together or on the same days.  

As I mentioned above, it is great to have more class time availability.  However, this still does not mean that classes will book during these times.  I am still working a day job at the library, and can only teach weekends and evenings.  Trying to schedule at these times has not been successful for me.  

Ready To Get Started?  Here’s How! 

A teaching license is not required for Outschool.  However, it is important to have expertise in what you will teach.  So if you grew up in Brazil, you probably have the skills to teach beginner and intermediate Portuguese.  There is a demand for arts, science, and many other specialties.  

Outschool hiring process has become longer than it was back in spring of 2020.  My hiring process took about 2 weeks in June.  It entails filling out an application with your experience, classes you can teach, and other general biographical information.  Then you will film a 3-5minute demo.  If you pass this stage you will be asked to fill out a background check.  Once the background check is approved, you can create a one time class for approval.  If you do not pass, you will be given tips and allowed to try again.  

Have more questions about the hiring process?  Contact me!  I will be happy to refer and guide you through the process.  

My good friends Lauren and Lisa have some great resources available as well.  I have linked them below.  

Lisa’s blog posts

Lauren’s YouTube Videos 

But What In the World Will I Teach?!

What to teach is a bit overwhelming to decide when starting out.  I floundered around for a few weeks after getting hired wondering where to start.  It is worse if you have a variety of degrees, work experiences, or interests.  It is important to have a general idea before applying in order to recommend classes you would like to teach in the application process.  

I began by writing a list of possible ideas and things I have taught in the past.  Then, I took a look at the weekly parent request list on the Outschool website.  (You can look without being on the platform here.). 

Once you create an account, you also get a parent account whether you have kids or not. I look to see what is available as well using my parent account.  This way I can see if I am duplicating multiple classes or can put my own spin on some topics floating around.  

I decided to begin with my roots as a school librarian and created a class featuring my pet hedgehogs and a story.  I call it Hedgehog Story Time.  My other classes include a chat about Siamese Cats (inspired by a parent request and my 2 new Siamese mix kittens), a genealogy research class, and a basic ESL practice class.  

The more classes I create, the more I think of and hope to launch seasonal specific classes from October to December.

Still lost?  Check out Teacher Michael’s podcast episodes about Outschool and Lisa’s great blog post about coming up with class ideas.  

Poster for one of my current Outschool classes!

Let Your Learners Benefit Too

In closing, I not only invite my fellow teacher friends, but students as well.  Here is my referral link to get 20 dollars off your first lesson!  Take advantage of all the talented teachers and creative courses for every interest.  If you don’t see it, I recommend you request it!  

What are your Outschool questions? 

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5 Great Mississippi Gulf Coast Farmers Markets

Now that summer crops are starting to appear, it is time to shop at my favorite places… farmers markets!  I love going to see what produce and food is available in order to plan my menu for the week.  Sometimes I am surprised by a delicious drink or snack.  It is also a great opportunity to get my hands on delicious local honey and pickles.  During the summer and fall months, I make a point to visit a farmer’s market at least once a month.  Now that social distancing is becoming a little less strict, I recommend visiting your local markets.

Here are my top 5 on the Gulf Coast.  

5 Great Mississippi Gulf Coast Farmers Markets
Love scoring local honey at the farmers market!

Florence Gardens Farmers Market 

Location: 12321 Preservation Dr. Gulfport, MS 39503 

When: First Sunday of Every Month 1-4 P.M. 

This one is hands down my favorite Farmers Market on the Gulf Coast.  They only have it a short time once a month, but I try to go each time.  I find a variety of snacks, vegetables, homemade goods, and even meat.  I usually get Mrs. B’s Honey and buy some of the most delicious egg rolls.  (We affectionately call her the Egg Roll Lady!). Booths change from month to month so it is always a surprise who you will find.  

5 Great Mississippi Gulf Coast Farmers Markets
Enjoying some delicious egg rolls!

Biloxi Farmers Market

Location:  Under I10 Bridge Howard Ave. Biloxi, MS

When:  Every Tuesday and Thursday 6 A.M.-4 P.M. 

I often pass by the market on my way to work and see a good number of vendors each week.  The market also is able to continue rain or shine since it is covered.  Sometimes Main Street Biloxi has bands or events during this time as well!  This is a great place to check for live plants as well as produce.  

Ocean Springs Fresh Market

Location: 1000 Washington Ave. Ocean Springs, MS 39564

When:  Every Saturday Mornings 

This is a great place to spend Saturday mornings.  (When you are done, you can enjoy the shops in downtown Ocean Springs.)   Ocean Springs Fresh Market has much more than just produce.  There is fresh baked goods, beef jerky, and more.  Keep track of new items on their Facebook page.  

5 Great Mississippi Gulf Coast Farmers Markets
You can find more than just produce. Be on the look out for sweet treats!

The Pass Market

Location: War Memorial Park Pass Christian, MS 39571

When: Saturday Mornings (Call the City of Pass Christian for Specific Times) 

Forever and a day ago, Leah and I participated as vendors in this market!  On Saturdays, Pass Christian hosts a market at War Memorial Park.  This one has more crafts and art than the other markets on this list.  However, there is food and produce as well.  This market is weather depending so check the radar before going!  

Farmers Market at Long Beach 

Location: Town Green Jefferson Davis Ave.  Long Beach, MS 39560

When:  Saturday Mornings 8 A.M.-12 P.M. 

I  visited this one awhile back, but hope to go by again soon.  (Working almost all Saturdays puts a damper on Farmer Market times!)  I see they have Serious Bread as a vendor as well.  This is a local bakery that has a delicious selection of bread, muffins, and cookies.  Their flat bread is often fought over!   The market is also located next to one of my favorite coffee shops Bankhouse Coffee. 

Honorable Mention:  Woolmarket Produce 

Location: 8416B Woolmarket Road, Biloxi, MS 39532

When:  Monday-Saturday 9 A.M.-5:30 P.M. 

If you need a more flexible time for buying local produce, I recommend stopping at Woolmarket Produce stand.  They are friendly and have a variety of seasonal vegetables and even free range meat.  Woolmarket Produce also helps me get my fancy pumpkin fix in the fall and even sell fresh cut Christmas trees.  They are also located next to a snow cone stand too!  

5 Great Mississippi Gulf Coast Farmers Markets
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Why I Love Farmers Markets

Shopping at Farmers Markets is a great way to support both local growers and reduce your carbon footprint.  A lot of produce at these markets travel a shorter distance and reduce the use of gas used in transport.  It is fun for me to look at the face of the person who grew the vegetables and fruit.  I hope this summer I can score a few yellow watermelons and plenty of local honey!  

What do you like to buy at Farmers Markets?  

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Mindful Thrift Store Shopping

One of the reasons I needed to discard so much stuff over the years was my propensity for thrift store shopping.  I would buy stuff as I quickly lost weight moving between 3 different sizes within months.  There were times that I would buy books or clothes to flip on Etsy or Poshmark for extra cash.  Not to mention my book hoarding habit and inability to stop myself from buying vintage dish wear.  Not to mention the cheap prices and half off days!  

However, when I was packing up to leave for Vietnam, I realized that I had gone overboard in stuff! There were over 8 bags of clothes, 20 boxes of books, and enough random things to fill a storage shed.  So since retuning stateside, I have taken time to really consider what I am doing with thrift shopping.  Here are my tips to be an effective thrift shopper without going overboard like me!  

Mindful Thrift Store Shopping
One of my many thrift hauls.

Before Going Plan Your Purchases

For years, I would visit the local thrift store at least 1-2 times a week.  Each trip I would come back with something random.  (Seriously, who needs bedazzled tacky Christmas shoes or a crystal cream pitcher.)  Now, I go with a plan.  If I need some work outfits, I only look for those items and try on options that work.  I do not go in to aimlessly wander anymore.  If you are looking at books, I recommend having a few authors or titles that you want and only purchase those if you are lucky.  

Take an Inventory 

A lot of us have an Achilles heal when it comes to purchasing. Some of us it is shoes while others are hand towels.  Before going to the thrift store take inventory of what you already have.  Ask yourself how many unread books you have on your shelf.  Take a look at dresses in your closet that you rarely wear.  If you need to, make a post about it in your bullet journal or in you phones notes app.  Also ask yourself how much space you have left for your collections.  

Mindful Thrift Store Shopping
Did I really need that many pants!?

Are You Really Saving?

 Saving money is a big benefit of thrift store shopping in the first place.  However, if you shop without begin aware of prices and volume you can be losing money.  Some items are overpriced for being new.  Especially name brand purses and other high end items to discourage resell.  It may be possible to purchase something in better condition for a cheaper price online.  Also, think of the wasted money if you never use the item.  I had several tops and outfits that I realized I never wore when purging to become an expat.  It is much more cost efficient to have a capsule wardrobe and limited to purchasing clothes randomly.  

Don’t Create Unfinished Projects

It is easy to walk around the thrift store and find a wave of possibilities in the goods.  That beat up book self could be perfect with chalkboard paint.  Maybe you can find a part online to fix the record player.  However, this is an easy way to accumulate a ton of incomplete projects.  (I am also bad about this!) If this is a problem for you as well, I recommend limiting yourself to one thrift store project at a time.  Allow yourself a new purchase only when the previous one is finished.  

Avoid Going If Necessary 

This is what I have resorted to the past year and a half.  I have stopped going in order to avoid spending anything and use things I already own.  This has also helped me focus my spending on brands with lifetime warranties and better quality.  I also look for brands with proven eco-friendly practices.  There is also a possibility of me making a dent in my to be read pile of books.  (Well I would like to think so.  One can wish right!?)

Mindful Thrifting
You don’t want to end up in this situation when it is time to move!

Think Before Thrifting

There are still so many benefits to thrift store shopping for your wallet, fundraising, and your carbon footprint.  I still love catching a beautiful and unique item hidden on the ‘junk’ shelf in the back.  However, take some time to think about the things you need and your goals for your overall lifestyle.  While thinking of this article, I found a few great articles here and here about “mindful thrifting.”  I encourage you checking them out if you want to explore this topic further.  

How do you decide what to purchase at a thrift store?

Mindful Thrift Store Shopping
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Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Products for Sustainability and Saving Money

Today’s topic is related to Earth Day celebrated last week and the launch of my best friends new blog!  I want to welcome Leah to the blog world!  Check out her new website focusing on lifestyle and sustainable living called Muddy Mermaid.  Each week she will give tips on how to live more sustainably and include a weekly “Meatless Monday” recipe.  So to reflect her niche, I have created a list of items that are more sustainable for the environment and money saving. I have tried most of these items, and look forward to reducing my carbon footprint this way.  

Although there is a small investment up front, they can save a ton in the long run.  

Products for Sustainability and Saving Money

Water Bottle with Fruit Diffuser 

This was one of my first sustainable purchases after coffee tumblers and insulated water bottles.  I got these containers to make my own fancy waters for detox and to kick my soda cravings.  Every night I would cut up some fruit and herbs and place them in the basket inside the bottle and let the water ‘marinate’ overnight.  So instead of having fancy fruit drinks in single use bottles, try making your own flavor concoctions.  

Bento Lunch Containers 

I have used divided lunch containers for years to encourage myself to bring my lunch to work.  This way I can avoid fast food and unhealthy choices.  The little divisions remind me to segment out a small amount of meat, some fruit, and more vegetables.  If it helps, there are so many varieties on the market available in any color or style imaginable.  Score cheap ones online or at discount stores like Marshals.  

Beeswax Wrap

These are the coolest things!  They can be used as replacements for plastic wrap, sandwich bag, and snack holders.  What amazes is me that they are reusable.  There are also crafty people on YouTube that sew and customize their own styles.    

Reusable Plastic Bags 

I noticed these on a rack the last few times I was able to go to Target. (So maybe 6 weeks ago?)  They are a thicker plastic and can be washed.  Choose a variety of sizes to fit all of your snacks.  Considering the average American uses 500 ziplock bags a year according to One Green Planet.  That is a lot of baggies!  Think of how much you can reduce that waste by putting your carrot sticks in reusable bags.  

Salad Dressing Containers 

This also helps me facilitate my own lunch.  These petit containers are perfect for salad dressing, sauces, graded Parmesan, and more.  They easily wash and keep me from putting too much dressing on my salad.  They seal well as well, and I do not have issues with their contents spilling into my lunchbox.  

Iced Coffee Bags

This was a recommendation from Muddy Mermaid herself!  These are a great way to create your own coffee shop style cold brew.  There is some trial and error to get the perfect balance of ground coffee to water.  Also, make sure to use filtered water because mine turned out funky from the tap.  This saves to go cups and money throughout the summer.

Reusable Pod Coffee Filters

Many of the little Keurig pods are not recycled and to straight to the landfill.  I realized this awhile back and recycle mine.  However, I still feel like this is not enough.  So I bought a reusable cup that I can easily fill with my own favorite ground coffee.  Not too difficult to clean and way cheaper than a 20 dollar box of k-cups.  

Shopping Bags

Reusable bags are something you more likely need to remember instead of buying.  We all have extra bags from giveaways, conferences, marathons, and other events.  Repurpose them at the grocery story instead of using plastic bags.  If you purchase a sturdy bag you may need less little bags.  For a long time, I carried a collapsible tote in my purse fo such occasions.  Think of all the sea turtles that could be saved!  

Micro-Fiber Face Towels

I received these as a gift and they have replaced 80 percent of my cotton swab single uses.  Instead of cotton swabs, I use these clothes for micellar water, toner, and witch haze.  Then I wash them hot to sanitize them.  They do great with makeup remover as well easily pulling off mascara.  They are small and great for travel.  Save even more money by buying them in multipacks.  

Period Cups 

Trying out this one for the first time took some nerve.  I debated it for awhile and still have mixed feelings about them.  However, they are well recommended and save a tone of waste in feminine hygiene products like pads.   The are basically a plastic cup that can be cleaned and boiled between uses.  They take some practice to get the hang of, but they are a great option if you are looking to try something cheaper and less like a diaper in the future.  

Rice Heating Pads

I use these in place of icy hot muscle strips.  They go in the microwave for a few minutes and last for awhile.  You can make your own or buy them online in any color or size.  I use a save that is about 12 minutes long and 4 wide.  I usually have 2 that I can put in areas that are aching.  They are also super cozy during cold winter nights.  

Where Should I Go From Here?  

This is just a small sampling of items that can be used to save money and live more sustainably.  There are things from bamboo toothbrushes that last longer to produce bags out on the market.  Now you don’t have to try all the things at one time, but incorporate them as needed.  The money and environmental savings can be big.  

What products do you use to replace stuff you normally throw away? 

Products for Sustainability and Saving Money
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Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.