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View from Museo Casa Blanca, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Have you ever experienced a time when an unexpected trip came up, and it was better than anything you could have planned? This was precisely my situation not too long ago.

I am a ridiculously proud Mom of 3 confident, intelligent, beautiful, and unique children, each possessing exceptional abilities and natural talents.

My oldest daughter Brenna has many gifts, including her love of adventure. She can't get enough of experiencing different cultures, meeting new people, exploring, getting inspired...soaking it all in.

Recent examples in just one year:

~At age 20, pick up and move from Wisconsin to New Jersey herself? Ok, she's in.

~Quit her crappy café job and land a fantastic position in Manhattan? Yup, that's her.

~Get a new apartment and drive a U-Haul truck through New Jersey? Oh yes she did!

(if you've ever driven in that area...the traffic is horrible, trust me)

So when she told me she was planning a trip to Mexico for her 21st birthday, I wasn't surprised.

For various reasons, she was coming up short on people to go with her; life happens, right?!

As we were talking about it one day, I offered to come with her (not that she would want to spend this special birthday with her old Mom). Let's face it, I'm all for having cocktails on a beautiful island with my fabulous daughter, but I had doubts about keeping up with this energetic young woman.

Anyhow, if you know me, you know I enjoy planning and being prepared. Trips, events, parties, you name it. I had about a month or so to prep for this particular trip. For some, this is plenty of time; however, I hadn't traveled that far before, nor to a place where English is not the primary language. Thank goodness my daughter speaks Spanish! Yes, Puerto Rico is an American territory, but from what I understood, most speak Spanish. (As it turns out, most of the time, Spanish was the primary language...thank goodness for Brenna!)

After doing a little research and talking things over with Brenna, I started putting together a list of items I needed to purchase. Some of them made the trip, and some didn't.


1-Stronger Sunscreen

Ok, folks, this 52-year-old skin has seen some sun, but the intensity of those rays so close to the equator is something else. I used SPF 50...the ocean said, "uh, nice try, that's not going to do it." I did reapply often, but SPF 100 would have been better.

As I was looking for a product to recommend, those at SPF 100 have more harmful ingredients.

Sun Bum is reef-friendly and vegan, with many products that fit the bill. I will be using SPF 50 or 70 in addition to a beach shade (more on that below).

Of course, there are other brands and choices: mineral, zinc, etc.; choose the product that works best for you.

2-Travel Hair Dryer

Our charming hotel did have a hairdryer; however, it had seen better days. Thankfully my hair enjoyed the humidity; it was curly and did its own thing. "Island hair don't care," am I right?!

This little beauty is a perfect size and even comes with attachments...a hair diffuser is a curly girl's best friend.

3-Better Liquids Containers

I was trying to save a buck and some space (geez, those travel bottles are significant) by using hotel shampoo, conditioner, and body wash containers from a previous trip. That did not go well; shampoo was everywhere.

Next time I'll use these small glass pots. They'll stay closed, use less space than the typical travel bottles, and last forever.

4-Collapsable Cooler

Beach-side is my favorite place; bringing a few cold beverages and snacks is a no-brainer. We didn't have a cooler, so we made do with one of those cheap plastic ones from the corner store. It served us well; however, it didn't last and had to be thrown away.

I would have preferred to bring a collapsible cooler to be used at home as well.

This one looks sturdy, has excellent reviews, and could be used as a personal bag on the flight. There are a bunch of other models out there to suit your needs.

5-Beach Shade

As mentioned above, the Caribbean sun is radiant, soul-quenching...and intense. By day three, I was sunburned, but there was no way I was staying off that beach. There was no shade, and no amount of sunscreen was going to help with the sting of those rays. I wrapped up in Brenna's pretty sarong (think superhero style: draped around my shoulders and tied around the neck) and my baseball cap for protection.

What I really wanted was a beach umbrella or tent. I've found a lovely, affordable, portable beach shade here. It's definitely on the list for our next trip!

As a side note, many hotels have umbrellas available for use. It's something to consider when booking lodging, although I wouldn't have traded our hotel for another.


1-Compact Beach Towel

With our primary focus being the beach, I wanted a towel that would be compact for packing yet large enough to lay on or wrap up in.

This one was perfect. It is compact, an ideal size for my needs, and pretty cute. It doesn't soak up water, but that wasn't my main concern, so if you're looking for a more traditional towel, this one may not be for you.

2-Compression Socks

I hadn't used compression socks in past travels and wished I had (cankles were an understatement). This time I decided to give them a try. This set, I found, had good reviews and a lot of options. They helped keep swelling down, and my legs felt energized, especially since my return layover wasn't a layover. I had about 45 minutes to get my butt to the gate; they were boarding when I got there, so I had no extra time for stretching my legs.

If you're thinking, "no way am I wearing those nasty, ugly, pasty, tan socks," you will be surprised. Nowadays, there are so many cute ones to choose from I had a hard time deciding which color and design to get.

Note that they have different compression strengths, pick the ones that make sense for you.

3-Personal Bag for the Flight

A few years ago, I was planning a trip to Florida for a women's retreat, then Covid hit and put the kibosh on traveling. I had a brand new personal bag intended for that trip; now, I could finally pull it out and give it a whirl.

It's safer than juggling all my stuff and keeps everything secure. The bag is deep enough for a purse, water bottle, two books, a sweatshirt, phone charging cords, a few snacks, sunglasses, Chapstick (SPF 30), reading glasses (plural, as I tend to misplace), and jewelry bag that I didn't trust leaving in my checked carry-on (and I still had room for more!).

The model here is slightly different than my bag and would be a great option.

4-Small Liquids Containers

Earlier I mentioned the failure of my hair conditioner bottle. I had a solution for other liquids that worked pretty well. I only needed a few days' worth of liquid foundation, face lotion, and hair styling products. After looking at what was available in stores and not needing a new travel kit, I decided to use small, round, leakproof plastic craft containers. They worked pretty well; one cracked but didn't leak. I used a few of them for non-liquids like face and brow powder.

5-QR Reader

Ok, this one isn't a product; however, having a good QR scanner on your phone is necessary these days. We ate out quite a bit, and only one or two restaurants had menus handed out; even the little mom-and-pop places had QR codes at each table.

My phone doesn't come with a QR reader; I had an app loaded before the trip for shopping, which ended up having many ads, so I chose a different one. In the end, it makes for a smoother dining experience.

Our trip to Puerto Rico was beautiful; I may never have gone if not for Brenna. Her adventurous heart is contagious; we're already planning our next journey.

Whether you're traveling near or far, on a tropical beach, or at the local swimming hole, it's necessary and safe to be prepared.

Happy Travels!

Tried and true vehicle organizing tips, tricks, & products that work.

We know the internet is plumb full of vehicle organizing options; bins, nets, pockets, you name it. However, the key to having things tidy and where you can find them is observing your habits and rhythms and letting them guide you. It doesn't pay to have a fantastic new trunk organizer if you don't like to use it, right?

If you know me, you know I love a road trip, and you also know that I love being behind the wheel. There's nothing wrong with not driving, except I'm an antsy passenger and get bored quickly. Reading feels rude; same with being on my phone unless we need to Google something. Google is just the best. I remember my first experience with the world wide web and how exciting it was to plop in a question and get an answer. Aaaaaahhhh, happy sigh.

Anyhow, I mention the road trip thing because one of my organizing services is removing (at least one) load of donations, recyclables, and trash daily.

Clients are delighted when they don't have to deal with the stuff they are ready to release. Helping them get to this point is hugely satisfying and a fulfilling emotional payoff at the end of the day. A full van is a happy van.

So what this means is that my sole vehicle, a gorgeous mini-van, is set up to be multifunctional, quickly transforming from a personal traveling van to a business van.

When I'm on the road for fun, I must ensure I'm ready for my clients quickly and efficiently.

Isn't she a beauty?

Prepping the van for a client is more than ensuring it's unloaded and cleaned up. Things are set up so business and personal receipts and notes, for example, stay separate.

I'm usually working solo, so keeping items handy is also essential.

Let's see if my tips, tricks, and products work for you.

The Paper Shuffle

After multiple attempts at keeping paperwork organized, this simple and cheap monthly bill organizer keeps things tidy. It's slim and fits on top of the armrest console, right next to my arm, and it is easy to grab. Leaving it open to the current month makes it even more convenient.

I write a small note on each receipt indicating the project/client/purpose; it then gets placed in that month's pocket.

This is not used for actual bookkeeping; it keeps receipts and notes from going all over the place.

A Great Bin

One of the newest additions to keeping the van orderly is a container usually used in the home. Unfortunately, there's a big space on the van floor between the driver and passenger that had turned into a dumping ground. It was driving me crazy, so this is my solution:

Each section holds things upright and ready for me to grab. Bags of gum and mints

in the front, notepads, pens next, sunglasses, toothpicks, etc.

It's been pretty great; there's still enough room next to it for a canister of compostable hand wipes and my umbrella.

Be Prepared

A few of my organizing business items you may want to consider having onboard:

This folding dolly/cart has been a back saver for sure! Especially handy when moving my oldest daughter and out of dorms and apartments.

It's kept folded flat in the cargo area out of the way

The 3rd row of seats is usually kept folded with a moving blanket covering

the entire cargo space. It's been great for keeping small items from falling in the

cracks and tracks and keeping things clean. It doubles as a cushion for

fragile items like t.v.'s, and when it's ready for a cleaning, I pull it out and shake it off...easy peasy!

Two folding 4-foot tables. These make organizing a space a breeze. When we are

ready to organize, let's say, a kitchen, we pull everything out, sort, edit, and manage as we put items back. Counter space runs out quickly; these tables are perfect for more surface area yet small enough for tighter spaces.

A small tool bag loaded with the basics fits easily in a side compartment in the rear because you never know.

  • Hammer-with a short handle, nothing too serious

  • Tape measure-a good one that doesn't bend a lot

  • Screwdriver-I like the multi-tip ones for general-purpose tasks

  • Essential screws and nails for hanging up pictures, art, or whatever

  • Small level-gotta, make sure things are straight!

  • Vice grip-needle nose is my fav.

  • Pliers-a pair that fit my hands well

  • Painters tape-awesome for putting up wall art, shelves, and pictures.

  • Duct tape (of course)

  • Pencils-good for making discrete lines and markings

  • Two flashlights and spare batteries

  • Permanent marker-you never know when you'll need one.

An emergency bag sits down in the armrest console.

  • Band-aids

  • Triple antibiotic ointment

  • Gauze pads

  • Medical tape

  • Matches in a waterproof container

  • Note pad and marker in a plastic baggie

This particular armrest console is quite deep, which is nice because it's close. However, if you need anything, it's dig-through-until-you-find-what-you-need time. I didn't find an organizer for this particular area that suits my needs, so it's perfect for rarely used items.

I purchased a tray organizer specific to my van; it sits in the top of the armrest console, holding smaller items like napkins, extra pens/pencils/markers, tire gauge, etc.

The van's massive user guides have been relegated to a space in the rear, out of the way, yet still available if needed. This has freed up a lot of space in the relatively small glove box that now contains napkins, straws, sauce packets, etc., for the navigator to hand out.

Well, if you've gotten this far, you realize this might be more like a bunch of lists than a blog... But, I can't help; I love a good list...and here comes another.

There's stuff I have in the van just because I drive a lot, like the emergency kit, and there's a gallon of drinking water onboard as well.

The following few items are for comfort and ease.

Keepin' it clean

A small garbage can sits directly behind the front row in the middle of the floor. After trying multiple garbage bags and systems, even those hooks that hang off the back of the headrest, this works the best for me so far. It's short and square to reduce sliding around. I've considered using velcro to secure it to the floor to help with what movement does occur.

Crud Mat's

Yup, that's right, crud mats. Between having a detached garage in Wis. weather and my habit of being tough on vehicles, I knew that the van's standard floor mats would need an upgrade. I chose Weathertec because of the great reviews; they have held up to the hype.

Need Some Shade?

A large windshield makes for a lot of sun that bakes the heck out of the van. I've used the removable accordion folding shades and the pop-in collapsible ovals, which are a pain.

I now use a retractable shade that suction's to the windshield securing the base on one end, with another suction cup on the opposite end for the expandable shade to hook onto:

Seat Relief

As wonderful as my van is, the driver's seat is not super comfortable, which I found out pretty quickly...ouch.

Less than a week after purchasing my brand-new van, my youngest daughter and I drove it from Wis. to Fla. for a three-week vacation. Oof, did my rear ever feel that road trip? I even purchased a cushion, delivered to our destination, to try and help a girl out. It was ok, not great, but better than nothing!

Since that trip, I've used a flat fabric cushion that does the trick. Not super thick, just enough.

Keepin' It Secure

With all of the hauling I do, it's good to have several sizes of bungee cords tucked away in the back. Bungee cords are like duct tape; it's always good to have some around.

In the end, when organizing your vehicle, or any area of your world, it's essential to start the process by taking a moment to consider what makes sense in your life; pay attention to how you do things, your habits, and patterns. Then find the products and tools that work as an extension of who you are.

Whoo-hoo!! It's finally time to get back out on the water!

Our Wisconsin spring temps have been a little rocky lately but that hasn't kept us from heading to the river.

I was commenting this to a friend recently and she mentioned she never knows what to bring.

Over the years I've come up with a pretty decent list of items to bring on your average day of recreational kayaking.

My first suggestion is to use a dry bag. They are affordable and really nice for your need-to-stay-dry stuff. A good place to stash it is on the floor of the boat, in front of your feet.

What to Pack

Sunscreen: This one is pretty self explanatory, just make sure you re-apply often and don't forget to put some on your hair part.

Lightweight long sleeved t-shirt: Good for layering on a chilly morning or afternoon.

Garbage bag: Always be responsible for what you bring on the river. You won't find garbage cans along the way.

Rope: This is a new one for me...I should have been packing this one for a looooong time now. It's great for helping stranded paddlers...ahem...not that I know anything about that.

Phone: We all know this is a risky one, if you bring a phone the best place for it is in your dry bag. I've tried one of those "waterproof" phone bags and it just didn't work well for me.

Snacks: Easy foods to pack are granola bars, apples, cheese sticks (best in a cooler), nuts, etc.

Make sure you pack some kind of's easy to get dehydrated.

First aid: I pack a small baggie with bandaids and wet wipes.

Small multi tool: You never know when you might need to get a soda bottle open, cut some rope or some such task.

What to Wear

Sunglasses: A lot of shades get donated to the river gods. If you're going to wear your fav's, consider using a gator.

Hat: A little extra sun protection can't hurt and it'll help keep you cooler or warmer depending on the day.

Shoes: Choose shoes/sandals/etc. that stay on for those sandbar breaks...picture flip flops stuck in the muck.

Tops and bottoms: Chances are you will get, at least a little bit, wet. Whether you wear long sleeves, short sleeves, pants, or shorts, choose fabrics that dry easily...chaffing from wet, heavy clothes is not fun.


Seat cushion: Kayak seats are not necessarily comfy...just sayin'.

Life jacket: This is required by law so don't forget to have one available for each person in the boat.

Cooler: You have a few options. A smaller lunch type cooler will do for snacks and a few beverages. Most Kayak's have a hatch and/or storage area to put this type of cooler.

Is a floating cooler a necessity? That depends on who you are ;) After years of using some so-so coolers, I finally found one that is awesome!! This floating cooler holds a lot of ice, snacks, beverages, and stays cold the entire day plus. It's called a "CreekKooler", there are 2 different sizes Google will take you right to them.

If you use a "CreekKooler" tie it sort of close to the back of your boat to reduce drag and make it easier to steer. You may need to experiment with the length of your tether. It does take a bit to get used to but is totally worth it.

Well, that is pretty much my list, I hope this is helpful for the beginners out there or those of you that needed a few more ideas.

There's all kinds of products available on the market, once you've been out on the water a few times, you'll know what works for you.

Be safe, be courteous, and have a great day out on the water!

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