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Why did I start a blog?

The short answer: I need something to do during my downtime.  

The long answer: I am looking for some purpose. I do a lot of interesting or cool things and I travel frequently. I originally wanted to start this blog to share my travel experiences only: specializing in the short trip. While the idea of spending months at a time traveling the world can be appealing, I don’t quite have that appetite or ability.  

I work a full-time job and consider travel to be a hobby.  

I was stoked! I couldn’t wait to share my experiences, planning techniques, budgeting strategies, favorite happy hours, most lovable cities, and everything in between. 

However, once I sat down and starting writing, I found it was more difficult than I anticipated. And I kind of stalled on my new project. 

Fast forward a few weeks. My brother, David, was (re)starting his website to share his photography. In his bio he states “This site will allow me to track my progress as I post current photos while simultaneously giving me a chance to reflect on my past as I post older photos.”. I thought that was awesome. He can look back on all his photos, see his progression, and share with our family (we have a big one!). I felt so satisfied – and it wasn’t even my website! 

So that’s when I decided to (re)start my blog idea. The purpose will be to track my life as I post current photos/stories/findings/activities/whatever I want. Maybe I will eventually find a “theme” and I will find some direction. But for now: 

I love sharing, I love my family, I probably love my life. I can write about whatever I want – so I will! 

Massive Endorphins

When I started running 6 years ago, I used an app to track my route, mileage, and pace. I liked it because I could see my progress each week.  

My brothers David and Tommy were doing the same thing at the time, except they used a different app than me: Endomondo 

Endo, short for Endorphins; and Mondo, meaning enormous or huge.  It allows you to easily track your route-based sports activities such as walking, running, biking, hiking, kayaking, etc. You can also track your statistics (how many workouts per month, fastest pace, etc). And you can put in specific details that are relevant to that particular workout.

Endomondo was different because it had a social aspect to it. Once I switched over to Endomondo, I could see David and Tommy doing their runs and workouts. I found it really inspiring. It made me motivated on the days that I felt lazy.  

Soon, our other siblings joined, and cousins, and boyfriends and girlfriends, etc. Now we have a whole network. 

We started hosting seasonal and monthly challenges. “Most minutes worked out” “Most calories burned” “Highest number of workouts” are our go-tos. Each challenge, there are always a few people who are slacking and clearly aren’t trying (I have been in that group before). But for each challenge, there are also 3-4 people duking it out for the top spot.  Yours truly has won a handful of them.  

We also use the feature of “peptalks”. We (for the most part) try to use the app in real time, with no backlogging. So if I open the app, I can see Kimberly kayaking, in real time. The peptalk feature lets us encourage each other as we are doing our workouts. So I can ‘comment’ to Kimberly’s kayaking, saying “Go go go go go” and she will hear “Go go go go go” through her phone.  

Once you have completed a workout, you are able to upload a photo if you want. I really like this feature. It lets me see what others saw on their run, or during their snorkel. Living in Orlando, I never see hills or mountains or snow, much less work out on hills or mountains or in snow. I love sharing, so it makes sense that I would love to see what they all share. 

During and without challenges, I love the app. I love being able to see what my siblings are doing. I find it interesting and it gives a feeling of connection. Over the years it has definitely motivated me more. When I am feeling dumpy and go for a walk, then someone comments with “Nice bell shape route”, it makes me feel better. Plus it is a really sweet bell shape 

The one thing Endomondo is missing: teams. We want TEAM challenges. This would add so much comraderie and bring a new (fun) element to the app! 

 Bob Endomondo: if you’re reading this…. BRING BACK TEAMS 

What a Universal Studios stilt audition is like

and my tips to nail it

First: you have to secure your audition appointment time slot. This is done online. And the slots fill up quick. Be ready and logged into you audition page the moment they open it up. One time I was in the Bahamas at a beach bar, and the Halloween Horror Nights audition time slots opened at 4pm. I paid for the wifi just to be able to get on. If I would have waited until I got back from my trip – there wouldn’t have been any more times available. It’s that aggressive.  

Second: you show up on your date/timeslot and wait in a long line. You will sign in and get a sticker with your audition number on it. This goes front and center. The judges only know you as ‘372’, not as ‘Emily Bain’. I always put mine at the top of my tank top, centered. You will stand with a lined backdrop and get a body-length photo taken: a la prison lineup. Height is uber important to every role. 

Third: once your section of numbers gets called in, usually in groups of 20 or 25, you will get placed in rows of 5. The judges will ask a simple question or give you a phrase. Everyone goes one-by-one, stepping forward when it’s their turn and answering the question/repeating the phrase. Depending on the audition, you may get asked to answer a question or you may get told to “get people excited saying ‘happy mardi gras’“. My examples include:  “My name is Emily, and my favorite movie character is Ferris Bueller” or “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!!” (with big open arms) 

This is a type-out. They need 13 females with an athletic shape who are tall and have big energy. (As an example.) You either make the cut or you don’t. Out of thousands of auditioners. 

Fourth: if you passed the first round, now it’s time to put on stilts. Get your shin guards on and go pick out a pair of stilts. Sometimes they assign them to you based on your height. I typically prefer this way. Not all stilts are created equal. Then climb up on the scaffolding and strap them on. It usually takes a few minutes for everyone to get them on but be quick so you can- I learned is the important part after my second audition- START PRACTICING. While Suzy over there is still sitting messing with her straps, you can be walking around, practicing squats, getting a feel for your borrowed stilts, and getting comfortable. Once I picked up on this tip it helped my auditions (and my confidence) a LOT.  

Fifth: you’ll get put into rows of 3 and given instructions on what to do. Three at a time, you will make your way across the stage/gym/open area. You will walk to a certain spot, and back. Then the next row of three will go. Then the next. When your row is up again – you will now walk backwards across the gym. Then when you go again, it’s skipping with your left leg leading, then your right leg leading. Then grapevine with left leg and grape vine with right leg. Then Parade-turn left and Parade-turn right. Etc etc you get the drift. A bunch of movements across the floor. At the end you will squat, then squat with right left, then squat with left. It sounds weird until you see it. This form of ‘squatting’ is actually how we bend down and say hi to you, shake your hand, take photos, etc.  

Sixth: wait. You will get an email at some point weeks later saying if you were cast or not.  

I went to an audition once where we had to learn a dance routine between steps 4 and 5. It was challenging. But I just smiled and faked it. They want people with excitement. To this day every time I hear ‘Shut up and Dance’ by Walk the Moon, those eight 8-count moves come back to me.  

I also had several auditions where they asked if the women would show their stomachs (if they were comfortable). The Mardi Gras auditions in particular. Some of those costumes are on the showy side. They need a certain look to fit them. It never bothered me. I get it – it’s a performance with expensive costumes. 

Step 1.5 should also get a mention: look your best. Curl or straighten your hair, wear form-fitting or tight clothes. Put on a full face of makeup. FULL face. You want to look your absolute 10/10. I went to a stilt workshop once and one of the presenters said she always looks for people who took their time to get “Stage-ready”, even though it’s a simple audition. I can appreciate that. 

I’ve had some great roles over the years – both stilt and non-stilt. I used to think I wouldn’t audition again. I felt satisfied with my performing time with Universal. However lately I have been missing performing, I love doing it! So we will see 

“Fifi goes to bed at 8pm so I need to get on this flight” … and other reasons I use to get upgraded

“I am not feeling well today and I really need to stretch out”

“My brother is home from the military after being in Afganistan”

“I’m trying to surprise my mom”

“My brother is getting married”

“My wedding is tomorrow”

“My sister is getting her Masters”

“I feel sick”

“I worked the last 16 hours and it was a nightmare”

“I’m a Browns fan”

“I’m an aunt for the first time and my niece goes to bed soon”

“My parents are stranded after being hit by Hurricane Maria”

“It’s my birthday”

“It’s my brother’s birthday”

“It’s my brothers’ 21st birthday”

“My cat just passed away”

“I just bought my first house”

“I have a migraine”

“I haven’t seen my boyfriend in 3 weeks”

“I’m homesick”

“I really need a win right now”

“This is my first transatlantic flight”

“My brother is home from the military” (… I’ve used this one quite a few times…)

It’s all about net gain. So if I can get on a better flight, with a shorter layover, and free champagne, all while being moved to business class… I’m 100% going to go for it.

I travel alone quite often. Both for work and fun. This is fine with me because anyone who has ever flown with me, doesn’t like to. With one exception. There is a saying of “Find someone who wants to leave as far in advance for the airport as you do and they will become your soulmate”. Adam, hi! 🙂

Classic Emily-style is to show up at the airport at 7:35 for an 8:00 flight. Unfortunately, this has caused me to miss flights, miss connections, show up late to things, etc. However, “the last guy on the plane lands at the same time as the first guy on the plane” -me.

Out of necessity from the above, or simply because I wanted a better experience, I have learned how to finagle my way onto earlier flights, and bigger seats, and signature wines. All I do is pick an excuse (I try to use honest ones) and be very, very, very, very nice and compassionate with the agent or representative. I will make a bit of small talk. Joke a little. Lighten the conversation and try to be more interesting and likable than every other customer they have dealt with today.

I’ve gotten free drinks, better seats, moved to first class, free flight changes, extra snacks, access to the lounge, and my personal best: my own lie-flat sleeping pod.

It’s all about the approach, the execution, and of course: the excuse.

(shoutout to my sis-in-law for the idea for this post)

Nobody cares if you steal from self-checkout

I work a one or two nights a week at a grocery store. I needed something to do after my day job. Going home, eating dinner, and watching TV wasn’t doing it for me FOUR DAYS IN A ROW. Sure I’d go to happy hour or run errands or stop at Target, but I don’t have that much money to go spending every single night of the week. I was getting antsy and bored.  

So one or two nights a week you will find me as the self-checkout person (cashier?) at a local grocery store. It’s the perfect gig for me. I get to be nice, talk to people, do easy work, and have no stress.  

As a self-checkout cashier, I do what you would expect: help customers who are having issues with the self-checkout. “Place item on the scanner scale” “Cashier will confirm your birthday” “Item not found” or  “Please wait. An associate will be right with you” are some of the frequent issues. And trust me, there are constant issues.

As friendly and helpful as I am, I do not scan, bag, or tell you your total. It’s not my job, and honestly, am too busy. I have four checkouts to watch, and I’m only one person. (Sometimes I’m not even there. I’m taking out the trash or collecting carts. It’s an important job.) 

Imagine trying to go through self-checkout with a FULL CART of groceries, in a tiny bagging area, a machine that’s yelling at you, and no idea how to ring in your bananas or broccoli. As a grocery store, there is obviously produce being bought. And people who come in shopping for their large families. And folks with broken arms. And people who just got out of work and just want to buy a bottle of wine. Not that these people can’t operate the self-checkout, but it can be cumbersome, overwhelming, and daunting. I’ll be the first to admit that. And I know customers get frustrated or even retaliate.  

My grocery store isn’t paying Suzy Smith to work for them. Suzy has never had any training on how to ring in navel oranges (3107). Suzy doesn’t know that avocados are by the EACH and not by the POUND. Suzy doesn’t know that the UPC for Tabasco doesn’t work, and it needs to be typed in manually. It’s not Suzy’s job to know or do any of those things.  

I like to believe that people are good, and they aren’t trying to steal. Most of the time their error is just an honest mistake. Let’s go back to Suzy. She puts all three avocados on the scale and hits the “Avocado” button. One avocado at 72 cents. Suzy thinks the scale weighed her 3 avocados and puts all 3 in her bag. Even though she only paid for one.  

Did Suzy do it on accident or on purpose? We may never know.  

I know that people steal. I am certain that it happens on my shifts right under my nose. And there’s not much I can do about it. “I didn’t know.” “I thought it scanned” “I hit the button on accident”. I’m not going to argue with Suzy about how she didn’t know that a DING (a scanning error) is different than a BEEP (an item scanning twice). 

I’m not saying I let people steal, but I’m saying that the self-checkout person is not going to block you from leaving the store, or call you out, or demand to see your receipt. Most likely we are busy with the next wave of “Item not found” “This price is wrong” “Please hand ID to cashier” and “Scan your bonus card now”.  

(Should you steal? No. ) 

Fun things from my self-checkout career:

  • I’ve had people tell me they don’t have their ID (when buying alcohol), “I didn’t think the self-checkout would ask” 
  • I actually had a woman one time get mad at me for NOT ID-ing her.  
  • I’ve had people ask me “Can you run back and get me some garlic hummus, I forgot to grab it” 
  • “Can you just scan and bag everything for me?” 
  •  “How come it didn’t take my coupon?” after paying. And not informing me or the machine that they had a coupon in the first place. 
  • “Is this thing on?” 
  • “Do you work here?” 
  • “How will the scanner know the price?” 
  • “Do you need to be 21 to buy beer at these?”
  • “Do I pay at the beginning, or the end?” 
  • “What kind of fruit is this?” (holds up random item) 
  • “Is the self-checkout stealing all my credit card info?” 
  • “Am I being recorded?”
  • “How did you install all these?”
  • The best is when the customer starts telling me how terrible self-checkouts are, that I shouldn’t have so many at my store, and I should get rid of them all and hire more human cashiers. ‘You’re right sir, I personally selected all these checkout machines to go RIGHT HERE. So let me personally rip them out of the floor and throw them in the dumpster for you.”

How we fly for free

Travel reward-based credit cards have always been on my radar. Find the right one, and the perks can be great. For me that was either the Chase Sapphire credit card or the Southwest credit card.  

Cue a great promotion by Southwest. Spend $x in 3 months, and get 30,000 points plus Companion Pass (your guest flies for free with you). It just so happens that when this promotion was announced, I had to have surgery…. for exactly $x !  

I applied for the card, got approved, and scheduled my surgery for a week later. This qualified me for the 30k bonus points, plus Companion Pass for Adam.  

Since then, Adam became an authorized user and we dump everything onto the card. Points collect each time we use our cards – no matter where we use it. Groceries, electric bills, bar tabs, he even pays his rent on the card, shopping, car insurances, healthcare… everything. We have racked up tons of points over the last 11 months. We even qualified to get Companion Pass for next year also! Meaning he will be able to fly for free all of 2020 as well.

We also know how to cash in on double, triple, and quadruple points. Southwest has partnerships with certain retailers, so whenever we purchase anything online, we go through the Southwest Shopping Portal.  

Example: I had to buy a new garbage disposal. It was $233. I bought it online through a retailer that had 4x points. So I got 233 points for using my card + 932 (233 x 4) points for shopping at that retailer. Giving me 1,165 points total. For that one purchase.  

So how does that equal free airfare?

An average round trip ticket can cost anywhere from 2,000-14,000 points.

So for example, I purchase a ticket to St Louis for only myself for 6,000 points. Then I add Adam to my ticket via our Companion Pass. And bam! Two roundtrip tickets to St Louis.   

I chose a Southwest card because I fly with them frequently, and I have some brand loyalty. So far this calendar year Adam and I have flown for free to: 

  • Washington DC (and I had enough points to bring an additional friend!) 
  • New Hampshire 
  • New Hampshire again 
  • Costa Rica 
  • Boston 
  • Grand Cayman 
  • New Hampshire a third time 
  • St. Louis 

I’m not writing this to be braggy. I just want to help everyone learn about ways to travel for less. It does take a little bit of work. But once you have a system going, its easy to maintain. 

There are people out there who open multiple cards, and merge points across accounts and brands, and use business cards, etc. There are a million ways to get a million points. I’m not quite there yet. This is what works for us!  

8 cities across 3 countries for 2019!

Indiana Jones knows Japanese

Earlier this year, three of my brothers, my sister, and I went to Tokyo for five days. I took lots of pictures but never put them anywhere. I’m posting them here with a small learning of mine.  

Tokyo was my first time traveling to a “English isn’t very common”-speaking place. Everywhere else I’ve been either spoke Spanish, or had English as a second language/taught in schools. When I landed, I was almost caught off guard. All the metro signs were in Japanese. The ATM was in Japanese. At Disney Sea, the rides and safety instructions were in Japanese. Menus were in Japanese (we did a lot of pointing to photos, totally guessing what we were ordering). It might sound naïve: “Duh Emily. You’re in Japan. They speak Japanese.” and perhaps next time I will download the Google Translate app beforehand. But adjusting wasn’t hard. Communication is communication. It was a really valuable experience. Konnichiwa.  

Cats don’t get high…they just get higher

Cats don’t get high; they just get higher 

This is the content I know everyone has been waiting on. I (really my boyfriend and I), adopted a second cat. So far, he’s been great. Cuddly, loving, content, cute.

the new buddy, Neelix.

However, my resident cat, Minnie, who I’ve had for 12 years, isn’t being as cute. It’s been about a month, and she is still a little hissy, and swatty. This past weekend she starting stalking him with the sole intent of messing with him.  

Minnie

Things weren’t *terrible*, but they definitely weren’t great. Honestly, I was probably more stressed than any of the cats were. Action had to be taken.  

After some research, my boyfriend decided we should get pheromones a try. Pheromones are “a type of chemical communication that all cats use to interact with each other and the world around them. The “messages” are released from special glands around their bodies.” The idea is that the pheromones we buy will mimic the pheromones that cats emit when they are feeling calm. It works on cats’ brains to calm them down and help relieve stress and anxiety.  

We got 2 plug-in wall diffusers. I installed them at 9pm on a Sunday. By Monday morning, I could tell a noticeable difference. By Monday night, Minnie was starting act with her normal habits and mannerisms.  

It’s not quite perfect yet (she chased him earlier today after he sneezed), but it’s much better. It’s not making her high, its mimicking calm-feeling pheromones. Besides, cats don’t get high, they just get higher.  

Save the animals… and myself

For the month of November, I decided I wouldn’t eat meat. Eggs and dairy were okay, but no beef, chicken, or seafood.  

Two things sparked this: 

  1. My athletic performance is plateauing. And I know it is diet-related. I am lifting heavy at the gym; I am getting stronger while my pant size is getting smaller. But I am not getting what I want. In a word: diesel.  
  1.  I got some bloodwork done a few months ago and to no surprise, I had high cholesterol. It runs in my family, so I knew this moment was coming. Instead of asking me about my lifestyle and offering suggestions to help manage my high cholesterol, my doctor at the time wrote me a prescription. I will let you do your own research about statins. But it was a no-go for me. I’m 33 years old. I knew there were better and healthier ways to tackle this. 

So I said good-bye to cream cheese and replaced it with ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!’. Ditching sour cream was easy, I just started buying the non-fat version. Eggs became egg whites. Vanilla yogurt became non-fat greek yogurt. Bacon I never ate anyways so that was easy. Cheese is a slower journey. I’m taking baby steps. In addition to all this, I started to become mindful of my saturated and trans fats. 

I also got a new doctor. Shoutout to my sister for the doctor-searching recommendations. New doc confirmed that a statin wasn’t needed, and that I’m doing all the right things.  

I did some brief research on plant-based diets. I knew this was a “thing” but didn’t know much about the effects or long-term health implications. Turns out meat can increase risk of heart disease and stroke. Meat takes a huge amount of energy to break down. Meat can increase inflammation, increase recovery times, decrease stamina. It takes more effort to produce meat than plants, more resources are being used up.  Again – I will let you do your own research. I work for a restaurant, not a hospital.  

I decided to go for it. I eat a lot of chicken, but not seafood or read meat. So, it’s not like I was a huge carnivore to start with. Because of this, I wasn’t expecting it to be too terribly difficult. So far, it hasn’t been. With the exception of a GIANT CRAVING for a Shack Burger the other day.  I’m pretty proud of myself. I use an app to track my workouts (actually 2 apps), so I am looking forward to comparing October to November. I go in for bloodwork again in December and am also looking forward to comparing those results as well (if one month actually does anything). I will keep you posted! 

Of course I chose to do this the same month as Thanksgiving…. oops.