Budget-Friendly Travel: The Great Smoky Mountains

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Cade’s Cove

Budget-Friendly Travel: The Great Smoky Mountains

Witness and I recently traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains with our two friends M+S. It was definitely a fun trip, and one that I would be willing to make again, especially since it was a budget-friendly one! For two adults, the trip cost about $475 including the cabin, gas,
food, snacks, and souvenirs for our family back home.

Our Journey to the Great Smoky Mountains
The drive took about 9.5 hours from Chicago, IL. Witness and S took turns driving, and the trip went by pretty quickly with games, snacks, and music. I had packed breakfast and lunch the night before, so we ate as we traveled. We left at 7:30am (about half an hour later than expected), so we arrived at the cabin office at 5:30pm. We didn’t realize there was a time change between the states, so if you’re making the drive from the midwest to the south, make sure you calculate it in.

Travel + Food
There are roughly 589 miles between Chicago and the Smokies. Roundtrip, gas cost us a total of $83.55. Use this site to get calculations on your road trip. We took M+S’s cozy and gas-efficient Hyundai Elantra. We did have a little trouble packing everything into the trunk, but it was enough room for the four of us. If we had decided to bring another person or animal (like Cashew), a rented vehicle would have been the better decision.

We went shopping at Walmart and HMart for our groceries. The total cost for four days of meals and drinks was $216.33. If you want to save money, buying groceries and cooking is the way to go, even though it may be a bit of a hassle. It cost us $13 a day to feed one person on the trip, and we ate like kings!

Cabin: “On Eagle’s Wings”
We decided to book the cabin in Tennessee through Jackson Mountain Homes. Our cabin was called “On Eagle’s Wings” and nestled within the the Smokies in Gatlinburg, TN, the Gateway to the Smokies. The cabin had two decent sized bedrooms, both with king-sized beds. There were three full baths, a hot tub (yes!), an outdoor grill, two patios (with porch swing), an outdoor table set, pool table, kitchen utensils, (free) soap, movie room, fireplace and towels provided. Both couches could also turn into beds, so technically we could’ve had two more couples join us. The grand total for the four nights and three days was $462.85. We got one night free because we were visiting off season. Each couple paid $231.42; not a bad deal for a home away from home!

Ramsey Cascades
After a filling dinner and some star gazing on the deck, we went to bed. The following day, we decided that my first hike ever would be an 4 mile hike up to Ramsey Cascades. According to nps.gov, “Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park and one of the most spectacular. Water drops 100 feet over rock outcroppings and collects in a small pool where numerous well-camouflaged salamanders can be found.”

I wouldn’t suggest young children or people too out of shape (like myself) to take the hike up, especially if it’s your first time. It was quite difficult, challenging, yet rewarding. I would suggest you bring snacks, lots of drinking water, and a nice pair of hiking boots. Every time we climbed a mile or so, we’d meet a few hikers coming down from the cascades. Each one would tell us, “It’s hard… but it’s worth it.” Take a look for yourself!

Ramsey Cascades

We also saw some wildlife on the trails. This deer caught us staring at its cute curiosity.

Cade’s Cove
The following day we were all pretty sore. So, after taking some pain killers and allergy meds, we drove an hour to Cade’s Cove. Instead of walking trails, we decided we’d let the horses do it instead! We visited the Cade’s Cove Riding Stables. It was highly rated and an incredibly informative guided trail. The rate is $30 per person, and tip is appreciated!

After riding, we drove along the Scenic Drive, capturing gorgeous photos of the mountains plastered onto the backdrop of the beautiful blue sky. There was a lot of history regarding cabin life and the settlers who first made Cade’s Cove their home. We were also able to see a herd of grazing deer along the valley. Although we didn’t get to see any black bears, it was a beautiful and relaxing way to end our trip to the Smokies.

We had a great time at the Great Smoky Mountains with M+S. When you’re traveling, make sure you bring a spontaneous spirit, food + water, and great friends to make memories! Have you ever been to the Smokies? What did you do when you visited?




6 Financial Tips for People in Their 20s

Your 20s are a time of discovery, identity, and formation. You’re learning about the real world outside your campus bubble; you’re a real, human adult. You’ve graduated, landed your first job, and are making a pretty decent living. Here are a few financial things to keep in mind while you’re still young (as it won’t last for eternity):

  1. Invest in Your Future (Old, Retired) Self
    • 401k: Often times, companies will match your investment by 3-5%. Take advantage of your company’s match, and start investing in your future now. Compound interest exponentially grows in time, so if you can afford it, make sure to get Father Time on your side. Invest when you’re young.
    • If your company doesn’t offer a 401K or something similar, invest in a Roth IRA. These accounts “enable you to save money into an account you have paid taxes on already, whereby you benefit from growth free of more tax implications. Moreover, when you withdraw your money at your retirement, you pay no taxes.”
    • Check out this link on the Best IRA Providers.
  2. Save 10-30% a Month
    • And yes, your retirement savings are included. This may be difficult with student loans, new Yeezys, and Apple Watches, but those who save tend to be those who accumulate the most wealth. Why? It’s pretty simple. Save money, and you don’t spend it on useless frivolities.
    • One way to do this is to stop your binge-watching and eating, and pick up a side gig. Whether it’s tutoring or getting gigs on Fiverr, get to work while you can! If you’re talented in makeup, nails, and have a decent personality, start a YouTube channel or blog and provide tutorials. Use your time wisely, especially in your youth.
  3. Keep an Emergency Fund
    • If it costs you roughly $3,000 a month to pay for rent, groceries, insurance, and that gym membership, make sure you have an emergency fund up to 3 times that amount. That’s approximately $9,000 of emergency funds, and the more the better. Life happens, and you never know what will happen tomorrow. Embrace the motto #YOLO, and save your $$$ to live a life that’s free of financial curve-balls.
  4. Get a Point-Earning Credit Card
    • During our wedding planning, my fiance and I made over $1,000 by, in essence, planning and spending for a wedding. It was ridiculous how opening up a credit card like the Chase Freedom or Sapphire could allow us to gain bonus points for travel, restaurants, and entertainment. It was definitely one of the smartest choices I’ve made in my 20s.
    • Another thing that I have is a Target Red Card. If you love shopping at Target, get 5% off every time you shop! And if you fill prescriptions on the regular, every 5 fills you get another 5% for a day. The Red Card in conjunction with Target’s Cartwheel can save you a pretty penny.
    • But always remember to pay off the balance for each of these! Don’t get yourself into (more) debt!
  5. Have a Budget
    • This doesn’t particularly work the best for me (as I am very much a sporadic and emotional buyer), but I’m working on it. I have an amount I save with my income, and I tend to spend the rest depending on my mood, hah. My husband has a set amount he uses for the week. He even breaks it up into days, calculating how much he should be spending on his lunches. He’s basically my math hero (since I studied English).
    • There are apps like Mint which can automatize payments and keep you on task of saving for that extra purchase. If you have a Chase account, there’s a free program called Chase Blue Print that helps you plan to pay down debts and gives you a clear picture of where you’re spending your money.
  6. Take Risks
    • If you have a consistent income, take risks with investments. One practical way to do this is through buying a home. Right now, it’s a buyer’s market. That means, you get more bang for your buck. Research all that you can, but in the end, you’re ultimately not in control. So take the risk. Try the more aggressive investment, buying that new place, or opening that business while you still can manage to fall, get back up, and try again. And for all the 90s kids, hum this song to yourself: Aaliyah – Try Again.
    • One thing you need to remember is that in actuality, you are still young. You still have room to learn, grow, and thrive. You’re in the process of meeting your potential, and at times, you’ll have to step outside your comfort zone to get there. You don’t have any real responsibilities like a child or helping with your parent’s retirement… so the possibilities are literally endless.

Hopefully those tips were helpful to the wary twenty-something year old. Which ones are you already doing? What else have you found helpful during this transitional time?

10 Tips to Plan Well for Your Substitute Teacher

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I’ve been subbing for the past four months, and here’s what I’ve learned so far. I like teachers who are detail-oriented, organized, and (overwhelmingly) over-prepared. Teachers, imagine being put into your sub’s shoes. Can you imagine being thrown into a den of 25+ hormonal adolescents who act as wolves in sight of prey?

For those teachers in need of a sub, here’s how to avoid a mess and retain your subs for all future sick, professional development, or “teacher ditch” days:

  1. Lesson Plan & Attendance
    • I love lesson plans. I love organization. Most teachers cannot survive without either. Classroom instructors have had the whole year to figure out what their students are like and how to teach them effectively. Subs have exactly 45-50 minutes to do that. Be nice; leave a lesson plan for your substitute.
    • I also appreciate it when classroom teachers leave general knowledge and tips on fire drills, tornado warnings, and with the recent turn of events, school shootings and lock downs. It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed, but make sure you put emergency instructions it in your general sub folder so your admin knows you’re prepared for all situations.
    • Make sure you address student attendance! How can the students learn if they’re not in class? Prepare printed rosters for the sub to deliver to the attendance office or give detailed explanations for how to do it online.
  2. Expectations for the Students
    • Once upon a time, there was a teacher who left a set of expectations and objectives for me, and it nearly made the substitute cry tears of joy. She gave her clear communication for what the classroom guidelines were and her expectations for the sub as the adult in the room. The students knew what was expected from them, and it made it easier to know how the classroom teacher usually runs the classroom.
  3. Seating Chart
    • Every time I sub in a new classroom, I get asked, “How do you know all of our names?” And to that I respond, “I just know.” But realistically, I only know because great teachers leave a seating chart or create “name tents” (tri-folded piece of paper with student’s name) for me to read. I usually take notes about talkative students and those focused on being quiet and doing their work so having the names are helpful to connect, even though you may only see them for 45 minutes. The thought goes a long way.
  4. Student Helpers, Troublemakers, and Helpful Teachers
    • Some teachers leave a list of good and bad apples of the classroom. This allows for your sub to be attentive to those who have a tendency to break trust and integrity while their usual classroom guardian isn’t around. Taking a lesson from Santa Claus and having a list of naughty and nice informs subs to know who to trust and know when the student may be taking advantage of the sub.
    • A short list of 2 to 3 teachers and their locations can also be helpful, especially when it’s the sub’s first time in the school. This allows the substitute to build some camaraderie with teachers, build rapport, and not screw up your lunch duty/supervisory/advisory periods.
  5. Schedule
    • Teachers, leave your class schedule with times and endings to each of the school periods. This is self explanatory, so substitutes don’t need to keep asking their students when the period ends.
    • It can also be helpful to leave a heading in your lesson plan regarding times and subject matter. (Examples below)
      • Period 1: Advisory: 9:00am-9:45am
      • Period 8: 8th Grade Language Arts: 2:00pm-2:45pm
  6. Extra Copies
    • Does your copy room have a code to get in and make copies? Your sub probably doesn’t know that code. Make sure you leave enough copies for each of your classes. Include extras for absentees who didn’t attend school, otherwise, you sub may be scrambling to find where they can get those assignments.
  7. Create a Key
    • Sometimes students need a little guidance on how to to each problem. You as the classroom teacher know this. Leaving a key and allowing the sub to have the answers gives them room to be a teacher like yourself. When I’ve been given answer keys, it’s easy for me to walk around and inform students when they’re on the right track. It also gives me room to correct and help them get the correct answer.
  8. The Just in Case Assignment
    • Sometimes the students are incredibly focused and quiet, and they finish quickly. In preparation for those times, make sure that you leave an additional assignment, worksheet, or set of instructions to lead and facilitate the remaining 10-15 minutes. If you don’t want to leave your kids to have 15 minutes of unorganized, free time, plan ahead.
  9. Rewards or Hard Candy
    • In addition to expectations, you can also leave rewards. Let the substitute know that you’ll reward your students for doing what’s expected of them the following day, or leave tangible rewards for the sub. Some classrooms have team names and points, fake money, or candy to give as rewards. This gives substitute teachers something else to work with.
  10. Be Positive
    • Leave a positive note just to make your substitute feel prepared for the day. Let them know you think they’re going to do great, or say something about having a great schedule. Your substitute is never a robot, rather a person with feelings, principles, and a life. Never forget the common ground on which we meet as humanity.

What are some other tips you’d give teachers as subs or yourself as a teacher? How do you plan for your absence? Let me know in the comments below!



6 Steps to Being a Successful Paraeducator

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Hello there,

For the past few days, I subbed as a paraeducator… I didn’t actually know I’d be serving in that capacity until I got to school the first day… but I’m always down for new experiences. I went to the same school for three straight days, so it was beneficial getting to know the people in the building. I got a job at the same school for next week! It pays to be present.

Here are three tips for future paraeducators:

  1. Know Your Role
    • According to Google,

      “A Paraeducator is defined as a school employee who works under the supervision of teachers or other professional practitioners. Their jobs are instructional in nature and they provide other direct services to children and youth and their families.”

    • A certificate or license can be obtained for this position, but it is not often required.
    • Know that you are support to the classroom teacher’s main objectives. You are an extension of the classroom teacher or administrator’s hands and feet.
  2. Introduce Yourself
    • Introduce yourself to the secretary, classroom teachers, and principal. Use a firm but friendly handshake. Let them know you aren’t a stranger in their classroom. If you do a good job and like the school/staff, leave a calling card in case they may need future subs.
  3. Be Willing, Present, and Ask Questions
    • From taking the job, to escorting a student to the office, be willing and available.
    • Ask the secretary and the classroom teacher about the particular students that you should be focusing on. There are usually 3-5 students that may have IEPs (Individualized Education Program) or need some more attention in addition to the main classroom teacher’s instructions. The school won’t expect you to know everything, but do your best. It’s always nice having an extra adult in the room to maintain an environment conducive to learning.
  4. Walk Around the Classroom
    • Even if he/she isn’t “your” student to focus on, do your best to help them if they seem lost. Thirty kids to one teacher can be tough ratio at times.
    • There were a couple instances when more than just “my” students needed help. In those cases, I just walked around the whole room and picked out those key students (students who have a tendency to cause distractions). I then focused on getting them to work. If the alpha male of the pack is working, the other students may also follow in turn.
  5. Be Patient and Compassionate
    • There are students who may be autistic or have issues focusing. If that’s the case, be patient and walk them through the steps. Think back to times when adult figures helped you through your problems, and pay it forward to the next generation.
    • If you don’t find yourself to be a patient or compassionate person, then I highly recommend that you reconsider your career choice. You may not belong in education, and that’s okay. There’s a place for all of us, just take some time to find yours.
  6. Follow Up With the Secretary
    • The secretary is usually the gatekeeper to the ins and outs of the school. Let him/her know how the day went and if you enjoyed it, that you’d like to return again. They may even give you another job, so make sure you make friends in high places!

Thanks again for reading and joining me onpagetwo! Let me know what you think of the list and what you’d like to add!

With Love,




5 Tips for New Substitute Teachers


Hello there,

Just for some background, I received my Bachelor’s in English Secondary Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I completed this degree in the Spring of 2012. I took some time off to pursue dreams in singing, song-writing, and performing. I did exactly that for the next three years whilst managing restaurants, salons, and tutoring on the side. I believe those three years of separation from teaching made me grow tougher skin.

Yesterday, I subbed for the first time, and I wanted to share that experience with you and to my future self. It was a 7th grade English classroom in a population demographic that is 65.9% White/Caucasian, 43.6% Hispanic/Latino, 7.4% African American, and about 5.4% Asian American.  I taught and supervised 7 periods: 3 regular, 2 gifted, and 2 supervisory hours. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as nervous and worked up about teaching as I had been when I student taught. I was happy to see the progress.

Here is a compilation of tips (from subbing workshops, teaching experience, and reading up on the internet) that future subs should keep in mind to have a successful day of substitute teaching:

  1. Get the Job
    • Stay up late or wake up early – check Aesop or be ready to receive the 5:30am wake up call to save those kids from a dreary day without their beloved teacher.
    • Once you get to the school and you like what you see, ask to see if they have a preferred sub list. It can be as easy as asking a question.
  2. Be on Time, and Be Open to Help
    • Get to the school at least 15 minutes before the written or stated time. 1st period usually begins after the start time stated on Aesop, so you’ll have additional time to explore and review the lesson plans if you’re early.
    • I was technically done after 7th period, but I went to the Main Office and let them know I’d be down for anything else they needed me to do. Schools need all the help they can get.
  3. Be Present and Fully Engaged
    • Learn the secretary’s name, as he/she is often the gateway to more jobs, positive recommendations, and knowing the ins and outs of the school.
    • Eat in the teacher’s lounge to get to know the other teachers, especially if you like the school.
    • Ultimately, making connections with the employees can possibly get you more jobs at that school.
  4. Manage the Classroom
    • Take attendance, and do it extraordinarily well. How can they learn if they are not present? It may be difficult remembering names or faces in a short period of time, but make your best effort. Often times, teachers will add “student helpers” or “star students” that will aid you in that quest.
    • Students need guidance and guidelines. They need to know your standards. Since you’re the adult, you make the rules.
    • If the teacher doesn’t state anything about group work or partnering up in the lesson plan, make sure it’s absolutely quiet in the room. It’ll make your life easier.
    • DON’T SIT IN ONE POSITION THE WHOLE TIME. Walk around; let the kids know you’re being serious about your guidelines.
    • If some banter breaks out in a corner of the room, nip it in the bud. Take out the seating chart, and call their names out. Let them know you see them and that you’re keeping them accountable to the standards.
    • Don’t just sit, read the paper, and play Candy Crush. You’re being paid to work and supervise the future of America. Don’t be selfish; invest in the next generation.
  5. Write a Letter to the Teacher
    • Let the teacher know how his/her students were. I listed each teaching period and detailed bullet points, both positive and negative, about the students of each period. They’ll want to know how the students were, especially if they were outstanding.
    • This letter will allow the teacher to see you were serious about following her directions and meeting the learning objectives.
    • Leave a business card with updated information so that they could personally contact you to get things done.

I hope that was helpful to you, either as a substitute teacher or classroom teacher. Let me know what you think about the list and if you’d like to add anything. Thanks for joining me onpagetwo.

With Love,