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Career & Resources, Family, Health

Why Limit Happy to An Hour: One fun interview

When I started this blog I was most excited about interviewing people about a range of topics from building their businesses, to tips on how they implement special things in their life that would benefit others, to general philosophical views on happiness and personal inspiration. I’m so excited, because today I’m sharing an interview with Brian, who shares his life with Tommy, and both are a couple of fun guys from North Alabama. When the blog first began, I had people that I know tell me that they would be the absolute best people to interview. They’ve been together for fifteen years and today they’re talking about a range of things, including their background, their spin on Dubsmash videos, their fun Christmas card tradition and how they stay positive.

Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

Tommy and I are both from North Alabama. Tommy is from Decatur and I’m from Moulton. Although we didn’t meet until college at the University of Alabama, our parents only live about 10 minutes apart. Tommy went to a city school and I went to county high and he’s two years ahead of me in school.

Tell me something unique about your upbringing.

Hahaha, neither of us feel that we had a truly unique upbringing. Both of us had amazing childhoods! Something we have in common is that our parents are still married. Tommy’s until his mother passed away and mine are still going strong! In this day and age, that is something that not everyone can say; not that it’s a positive or negative, it’s just a fact about us. Also, we both were able to know and spend time with all four of our grandparents and those memories are such a treasure!

Tell me a little bit about your daily grind.

Our days start early and finish late! Through the week, we wake up at 5 am, go to boot camp with Erin at 4 Shore Fit, back home to shower, grab lunches, and head to work; we own a hair salon. We work from around 8 am until about 8 pm, then head home to tidy up the lunch dishes, wind down for a few minutes with conversation about our day, and hit the bed as close to 9 or 9:30 pm as possible! On the weekends, we generally host company at our home or are out of town. Our shared hobbies include travel and entertaining. On those random down-time weekends, you’ll always find us by the pool or at the beach, Kindle in hand; we’re both avid readers! We don’t even own a TV, our house is filled with music from the moment we wake up until we go to bed.

People generally see you as a positive person. Where do you think your positive attitude stems from?

Having a positive attitude is a conscious choice! We wake up every morning with a purpose to be positive and share that same feeling! We also surround ourselves with people who share our same outlook- your vibe attracts your tribe! Life happens to everyone, but our reactions are what make us who we are and Tommy and I choose to be happy, positive, and outstanding! We’re the Sunshine Boys!!

Tell me a little bit about your relationship with Tommy and how that came about.

Tommy and I met in college and had a brief fling, but after college, I went back to North Alabama and Tommy stayed in Tuscaloosa. We would bump into each other periodically over the next ten years, in the mall, at a restaurant, anytime Tommy was home for the holidays. Then, one fall, I saw his sister and brother-in-law (whom I also knew) and passed my phone number along, asking them to share it with Tommy. I was planning to be in Tuscaloosa for a wedding and thought we could meet for drinks- no big deal. Tommy called and mentioned that he’d be in near my home in Decatur before the wedding and asked if we could get together then and of course the answer was yes! It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and I was working late at a salon there, Tommy was doing dinner with his family and we agreed to meet afterwards. I get to the meeting spot for dinner and grabbed a table for four (Tommy said that his sister and brother-in-law wanted to come along). The two of them arrived just after I did, then another guy and his wife come in a pull up a table to join us- which turned out to be Tommy’s brother and his wife- then a cute blond curly hair gal comes in a sits down with us (Tommy’s sister from Memphis)- and finally, Tommy showed up, apologetic with good-natured laughter. HIS WHOLE FAMILY IS CHAPERONING OUR FIRST OFFICIAL DATE! But it all turned out as it should and that evening is our anniversary; we haven’t been apart since and we’re going strong 15 years later!

How do you and Tommy hold each other accountable for taking on a more positive spin for life?

We hold each other accountable through conversation and commitment, especially since we don’t have the distraction of TV. We do find that it allows us more face-to-face chat time and those moments and conversations are when we reaffirm our desire to be beacons of light and hope and kindness to everyone we encounter! Each weekend, we do long walks around our neighborhood or at the beach and just chat about the world and everything in it. Sometimes our conversations are light and sometimes we solve all the problems of the world; we can be very philosophical!

I understand you have a ritual for drafting up your Christmas cards each year. Can you tell me a little bit about that ritual?

Christmas cards are a big deal to Tommy! It’s something he looks forward to doing every year! We also work hard to be inclusive of all of our friend; we send Christmas cards, Hanukkah cards, Kwanzaa cards, Solstice cards, and Thinking of You cards. Receiving a card that lets others know we appreciate how a person celebrates the holiday season is exactly what is special about that time of year! We start writing the cards in August, collecting updated addresses, and sorting our list. This all happens on the beach or by the pool and some people have even commented about finding sand in their card! And to commemorate the season, we HAVE to sip on Poinsettias (champagne and cranberry juice) while all of this is happening!

You have a reputation for your humor. Tell me about your dubsmash videos and other things you do to keep things light and upbeat.

Our Dubsmash videos are a highlight of our life together! (PS- the Elvis version was linked for Memphis followers but follow their account for more videos). Laughter together and my persistence for prefect videos makes our dubs shine. We share the spotlight, sometimes the background dance moves can overshadow the lead performer! We take requests and if we go too long without posting a Dubsmash, friends always comment on how these funny snippets of our life are missed. We have been told that we make people’s days and how often they share them with others. We’ve done them by the pool, on vacation, in the car, on a walk, with friends- basically everywhere!! That app is endless hours of fun and excitement! We will think of a singer or a band and just have a weekend of dubbing with them.

Are you intentional about your interactions with others? Do you have a philosophy on the mark you hope to leave on others?

I can’t say that we actually and intentionally deliver happiness on others, we just simply try to share in our own passion for life and living each moment to the fullest. We saw a cocktail napkin once that said “Why Limit Happy To An Hour?!?” and took it to heart!

Any favorite shows, podcasts, books or music that you’d like to share?

As I mentioned earlier, at home our music choice is generally background, upbeat sound, but when we run our 5Ks, we have definite anthems we like to pace ourselves with. Working in a salon, our days are filled with conversation and pop hits so at home it’s a bit more subdued. As far as books go, we love to read for escapism and pleasure. Everyday life is real enough, when reading we look for adventure and get-aways. We love books that invoke emotion within us- laughter, tears, joy, peace- emotions are a gift, and we like to show and share ours freely!! There is a fabulous book by Giovani Livera called ‘Live a Thousand Years: Have the Time of Your Life’– we’ve both read it and do try to stay on point with the message of the book. It’s all about moments and experiences. We also share the book ‘The Five Love Languages’ by Gary Chapman with friends and clients often. It’s about how we each share and receive love, and how we aren’t all the same, but when we know another person’s love language it makes the communication so much more fulfilling!

Anything else to share?

We are currently working on being present in the moment, whether it be by ourselves, with just each other, with a group of people, or one-on-one with someone else, just focusing on that moment and the task or activity at hand. People truly appreciate conversations where you actually look them in the eye, don’t think ahead on the conversation, smile, and give them your full attention. When alone, we try to keep our mind focused on what we are doing at that particular time and enjoying the experience of it. For example, gardening is so much more fun when you put your full mind, body, and soul into what you’re planting. I guess you could call it mindfulness- that’s our new focus!

Career & Resources, Family

This Mom of 3 heads to China Each Day

Today I am interviewing Hope O’Briant. She recently moved with her family to New York, but she’s originally from the small town of Milan, TN and spent most of her entire childhood there. She has an interesting new job that allows her to support her families’ schedule and I thought it’d be fun to share her story for those readers out there that are looking for a similar, more flexible work schedule.

Hi Hope! Tell me a little bit about your background.

I am new New Yorker/city girl! I spent nearly my entire childhood in the tiny town of Milan, TN where my dad is still an optometrist and mom was a special education teacher before leaving that profession to run my dad’s office.

I moved to Oxford, MS for college at Ole Miss and then to Memphis for law school where I stayed for nearly 20 years.  We recently moved to NYC for my husband’s job, he’s in the financial industry. He’s been wanting to make the move to NYC for at least the last couple of years.

Our middle child, Lily Brooks, is a professional actress and was ‘Matilda’ in the US tour of the Broadway show ‘Matilda the Musical’. I am not a big fan of cold weather so I was a holdout.  After Lily Brooks finished her run as Matilda, my husband said it was time for the move and I realized it was time for me to let go of things I love and find new things to love, because a move to NYC was truly the best thing for the majority of our family.

While I still REALLY don’t like the cold weather, I do LOVE NYC and we are thankfully settled into this lifestyle.

I do NOT miss driving everywhere and adore the subway and endless cultural opportunities at our fingertips.



Tell me about your unique employment background.

I was an attorney until the birth of our second child when I moved to practicing on a contract basis and stayed home with our children.  When our 3rd child turned two years old, I quit practicing law and started a swim lesson business from my home.  I had taught swimming lessons in high school and had been a life guard.  Around the time I decided to stop practicing law, my dear friend, Erin Bladon, who had taught swimming in Germantown for 15 years, announced she was moving to Texas and I asked Erin who I should send other moms to when they ask about a good swim instructor.  She said, “Hope, you should take over for me.  You are a great teacher and would love this!”

I was reluctant because it had been so many years but I also had worked with my own children and other friends’ kids.  It seemed to be a gift and I was passionate about making sure children knew how to confidently swim and enjoy it.  I took my re-certification class and started teacher later that summer.  I have always been intrigued by marketing and worked hard to build Ms. Hope’s Summer Swim School through social media and staying true to my philosophy to give parents the tools/information to help their swimmers to safely and confidently succeed as happy swimmers.

I posted tips every day and shared as much as possible to help parents understand what their children were learning and ways to help them improve their swimming skills before and after my classes. My first goal was to make a difference in these children’s lives and I wanted the parents to know every trick in my book to help their children to become safe in the water. The business part was second.

When you moved to New York, what inspired you to start working again?

Well, NYC is super expensive and after getting the family settled into life here, I knew I needed to find part-time work. I am licensed to practice law in TN, MS, and AR but not NY, so finding an attorney position wasn’t likely.  I love to teach swimming but I realized it wasn’t exactly economically feasible with such limited access to pools.

A theater mom friend whose daughter was in the national tour of ‘Annie’ told me about VIPKid and how much she loved it.  So I thought I would give it a try and see if it fit my schedule. I needed something flexible because we have three children, two who I home-school and one who has auditions often at the last minute. VIPKid has been the perfect fit.

Tell us a little more about the VIPKid program and your daily work life.

VIPKid is a virtual classroom for Chinese kids (approximately ages 4-12) to learn from native North American English speakers. The company provides pre-made lessons for students with varying levels of the English language. Each class is 25-28 minutes long and you (the teacher) click through the lesson slides with the student via a video chat program.

The teaching schedule is based on the needs of the students in China. Right now peak times on CST (I’m on EST time) are 6am-8am and also Friday and Sat evenings. My typical schedule right now is Mon-Sun & Friday from 6am-9:30 am and Saturday evenings from 9pm-11:30 or midnight. There’s a shift in the summer which begins July 1st and lasts until September 1 when their schools starts again.  I hear the summer schedule can be as full as you would like.

VIPKid pays $14-$22/hour, depending on your experience, education, interview success, and work ethic each month. Since it is a Chinese company, the pay is a little different than what Americans are used to. Pay starts at $7-$9/lesson. Remember, each lesson is a 30 minute time block.  Here are some specifics of how the bonus pay works.

*Not showing up for classes and/or not fulfilling your requirements results in a pay deduction. That said, if you are committed to the job, don’t let this pay process concern you.

What are the requirements to start working as an instructor with VIPKid? 

The minimum requirements are to be a native North American English speaker (although you do not have to currently reside in North America), a Bachelor’s degree (does not have to be in education), and at least one year of teaching experience (does not have to be a formal public school teaching job). In my interview process I referenced my 8+ years of teaching swimming and my homeschooling teaching experience.  You don’t have to have a teaching certificate. You do need a webcam and very reliable high speed internet.

The lessons are all pre-made, consist of approximately 25-30 slides, and are based on the student’s current level. They are meant to be very interactive so you may be singing, playing charades, drawing, and otherwise having fun with the students. Teachers are required to have at least a white board, flashcards or letter magnets, and a plushy/puppet – all of which can be purchased very inexpensively at the dollar store, or “borrowed” from your kids.

What advice do you have for someone that would like to get started with VIPKid? 

  • Find a mentor to help you
  • Do your homework
  • Practice, practice, practice for your interview demo lesson and mock lessons

A fellow theatre mom helped me along the way and I know it made all of the difference.

This isn’t a traditional classroom setting.  My friend Sarah says it is 1/2 teaching and 1/2 acting or improv and she is completely right! You have to use your hands to act out a lot to help the child learn. VIPKid has grown so rapidly that their founder is SUPER concerned about finding quality teachers who can adapt to the online classroom style that VIPKid demands. They want positive, encouraging, friendly teachers who make this fun for the children.


I am sure the students appreciate your teaching heart so much; what are you learning through the program?

I have REALLY REALLY missed teaching my swim babies. Ok, so I know most weren’t really babies, but I saw each sweet student as my own and I miss their smiles, their victories and being able to feel like I was making a difference by using the gifts God gave me.

I love being able to be goofy and make these kids smile and help them learn in a fun way. I love to help them learn and watch their victories just like I could with my swim students. Most of the Chinese students’ school atmosphere is usually the traditional and a very regimented Chinese mindset so VIPKid wants very positive, encouraging, fun teachers to help the children love to learn English.

What type of qualities do you think it takes to work for this program?

Patience is KEY, lots of energy, great listening skills, the ability to be super goofy to get a smile and not care how silly you look. Being sincere and encouraging is important. Most of the Chinese children see us at 7, 8, 9 or even 9:30 at night when they have class during the week. A lot of these children wake up at 6 am with a school day that runs up to 10 hours, and they have even more lessons after school with a LOT of homework. It is our job to help them enjoy learning at the end of a long day, and most of the time that takes just a little effort to be goofy to get a smile from them.

Are their opportunities for advancement or expansion with the program?

Occasionally VIPKid offers additional positions to teachers who have been around for a while. Typically, these are Practicum Evaluators and Teacher Mentor positions. Contracts last 6 months at a time, and teachers have an opportunity to receive a raise when their contract is renewed, based on their performance during the previous contract period.

There are also a LOT of options for bonuses and incentives. For example some teachers have received bonuses for their 3 month anniversary, substituting, working during the holiday season, referring “amazing teachers,” and if a new student signs up after taking a trial class with that teacher. Every month VIPKid seems to offer some sort of competition, bonus, or incentive program.

Anything else?

People may be interested to know that VIPKid pays once a month via direct deposit by the 15th of each month.

If you’re thinking about applying, I would LOVE for you to use my referral link OR referral code-033FLQ.

VIPKid encourages current teachers to help new teachers with the process by rewarding us with a little extra bonus each month. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested and would like coaching through the application process or a mentor once you get started with the program.

So far it has been a wonderful journey for me!

Thanks Hope! What an inspiring career you have had fulfilling so many children and clients with your energy and passion in all these fields. And what a fun and interesting new job you have! 


From a Father’s Perspective

I married my husband  Daniel 13 years ago, we’ve been together for 15 years, and  prior to having kids I never had a doubt in my mind that he would be a good father. He’s patient and intentional, and seeing him interact with my kids inspires me to be a better parent. I thought, what better way to celebrate Father’s Day than to interview him about being a dad. Here’s his take on parenting. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

Did you always think you’d be a dad?

I knew I wanted to be a dad but I also knew I needed to be more mature, so I could be the best version of myself for my kids. That maturity took some time which is why I will be the almost-60-year-old dad at my daughter’s high school graduation- Oh boy!

What’s one of your favorite memories with your dad?

I remember going to Birmingham Barons games at Rickwood Field with my Dad, Uncle and Cousin Free. That’s where my love for baseball started and continued to flourish; my dad was my little league coach. Growing up, I remember it was such a great feeling I would get when I’d make a play and get to look over and see how excited my dad was for me. It was a special thing that my dad was, not only passionate about me, but just as excited for all the other kids on the team.

What’s one thing that’s surprised you about being a dad?

I guess some things do surprise me, but not by much. It feels pretty natural.

What is your favorite thing to do with the kids?

Finding different ways to make them laugh. There is nothing sweeter than to hear that laugh.

Do you have a technique that you use for toddler tempers?

I try to reason with them. Disclaimer: Don’t do that, it doesn’t work.

What are you most looking forward to doing with your kids?

I really just want to let them find their passion and try foster that passion. When you see a kid start to put so much effort into something and really start to grind toward that goal, you want to do everything you can to help them realize their dream.

Thanks Daniel! He gets to spend Father’s Day bonding with my daughter this year; my son and I are out of town. I know she’s over the moon to have some quality time with her daddy. He didn’t mention this as being his biggest surprise about being a father, but I bet he’s surprised about how many times he’s had to climb up to the roof to grab toys our kids have thrown up there!



Toddler Boot Camp: One Fun Aunt Lives to Tell Her Story

My son is four, and he has been going to visit my sister, Erin, and her husband Justin, since he was two. So far these visits have been working out, and people often comment about what a fun aunt my sister is and how creative she is at finding fun ways to entertain a toddler. We even joke about how she needs to start a kid’s camp, and her Facebook comments have hit an all-time high for photos featuring my son in his element during his stay with her [I’m not gonna lie, some comments are from jealous adults  asking for permission to join her camp]. She’s great about going out of her way to make the weeks she spends with my son very special, tailored just for him, and inclusive of all his favorite things. I asked her to share her experience and tips for running a toddler boot camp.

I heard you run a camp for toddlers (wink, wink). What made you decide to keep your nephew for spring break and during summertime?

My nephew, Graham, lives far away and I don’t get to see him that often. Since the day he was born I wished he lived closer so I could have a relationship with him. I’m fortunate enough to have a week off every four weeks and I thought it would be a perfect time to spend some quality time with him.

You have a plan when he comes to visit. Tell me about your goal for the week.

Graham goes to school everyday when he is at home, and I know that kind of schedule can be taxing on a kid of any age.

My plan involves relaxing with him in the morning. We take our time eating breakfast and getting ready, and then we get out of the house to do something fun and exciting the rest of the day.

Is there anything that worried you the first time you kept your nephew?

I worried that he would miss his parents and want to go home. Since he lives seven hours away, getting him back home wasn’t really in the cards for us, but surprisingly he has always been comfortable being away for a week since a very young age.

How do you decide which places to explore?

I see stuff that my friends do with their kids (posts on Facebook) and save them on a list for the next time my nephew comes to town. I look at my local city kid’s activity page (Pensacola With Kids Facebook page) for ideas as well. It usually has events that are going on each week so I can plan accordingly.

What are your top three favorite places to take/top things to do with a toddler?

  1. The beach! I love the beach and so does he….it’s a win, win!
  2. The bounce house (in Pensacola). It’s not necessarily MY favorite place to be, but I love seeing how happy he is when he’s there and it seems to really get all his energy out, which means an extra-long nap in the afternoon.
  3. The zoo. As an adult you just don’t go to the zoo and I hadn’t been since I was a kid. Even I enjoyed seeing all the animals and riding the train.

What do you pack for your outings?

Healthy snacks and bribery snacks. Also a change of clothes.

What is your success criteria for the week?

I like to make sure we meet up with other kids, try a few new places/things, and of course I have a personal goal to wear him out.

For the meet up with other kids, we try to schedule a play date with my friends who have kids at least once while he’s with me for the week. Trying new activities can be a struggle, since Graham usually wants to head back to the places where we’ve had so much fun already.  He usually ends up loving the new places too, once I talk him into going.

Do you have any rules for your camp?

No whining, no hitting, say please and thank you.

What are the top three most requested snacks at your camp?

Cheetos, Orange Chips (Doritos), gummys, jelly beans, and mac and cheese.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing with your nephew next time (or when he gets older)?

I can’t wait until he is old enough to take him to a water park, bowling, putt-putt golfing, and roller skating. I know his Uncle Justin is looking forward to teaching him how to surf.

Thanks Erin! Erin’s camp is expecting a brand new camper in August, the month she will be welcoming her new baby girl. My hope is that if you’re a parent, you consider letting a fun, responsible and capable family member take your kids adventuring! If you’re a fun and energetic family member to a kid, take the opportunity to treat them to their own special day or week!

What are your tips for fun things to do with kids?

Career & Resources

Renting your Home Online: One Homeowner’s Experience

A few weekends ago my family and I met in Birmingham, AL for a few days. It’s the perfect meeting place halfway between Memphis and Pensacola. I was especially excited to pick out our AirBnb house.  I chose the “Cozy House on the Bluff”, a house described to be located in Bluff Park, atop a more mountainous area, perfect for six people, and not far from a popular mall with lots of shopping and restaurants. The weather was giving us a spring tease and the picture of a porch overlooking a large-sized backyard caught my attention and I knew I had to scoop it off the market for our fun weekend away.

We had a chance to enjoy the yard before we left.

We had a convenient check-in and once we were all settled, and noticed the especially well-kept cabinets and organized drawers, we couldn’t help but wonder more about the rental process for someone who resides in home when it’s not rented. Erica, owner of the “Cozy House on the Bluff” and native of Birmingham, AL, was kind enough to share her experience with me.

Q: What made you decide to start renting your house through AirBnb?

I try to travel frequently and often use AirBnb, Inc. myself, so I decided to start hosting to help me save for an upcoming trip to Thailand. Once I got into it, I realized I’d have the money saved in no time & could also start planning some home renovations.

Q: How long have you been renting out your home?

Not long at all! I’ve been hosting since December 2016.

Q: How often do you rent your home?

When I started to host I figured I would wait to see if it was even worth doing. Once I got the first booking they just kept coming in! Who knew a Birmingham suburb would be so popular? I rent at least every other week, but lately it’s been almost every weekend. I even have some week-long bookings coming up.

My son enjoying the hammock in the backyard.

Q: Where do you go when your place is rented out?

One of the reasons I knew I would be able to host is because I have several homing options when I have guests. I usually stay a few minutes away with family, and in some instances I have been out of town myself.

Q: What do your friends and family think about you renting out your home?

Most people I talk to think it’s a great idea. My brother-in-law is even considering renting out a room in his house to enjoy a little extra income.

Q: What are some of the strangest things people have left after their stay?

Luckily, no one has left anything strange. All I have come across so far are socks and food left in the fridge.

Q: What are some of the strangest questions people have asked or requests people have made?

I haven’t had any super strange requests, yet. Most of my guests have come to the area to see family. I do have a pending request from someone to barter services. The proposal came from photographers and they are offering pictures in exchange for two nights- I’m still undecided!

Erica’s cozy porch

Q: Have you met any interesting people through this experience? Have you ever kept in touch with any of them?

I’ve had all kinds of different guests, everyone has been very respectful, but no one I’ve kept in touch with.

Q: Are there any hidden perks to renting through AirBnb (besides the rental money) that someone may not have considered?

There are some tax write offs available (mostly items you buy for guests). I’ve had a few guests leave me gifts too!

Q: What’s the thing that worried you (or still worries you) the most about renting out your home?

There are lots of things that make me a little nervous to rent out my house. For starters, I live in a family-friendly neighborhood, so I’m always worried that guests will not be respectful of the neighborhood. My neighbors are aware that I rent out my house, so at least I’ll know if something happens. I also get worried that I’ll come home and my house will be ruined, thank god for insurance! It does bother me a bit that people sleep in my bed and I thought that might be a deal breaker, but I’ve been ok so far! It helps that I use different linens and comforters than those I provide for my guests.

My son snuggled up like a bug in the “Cozy House on the Bluff” bed.

Q: What surprised you the most about renting your home through AirBnb that you may not have known or thought about before you started?

I was surprised how easy it is. AirBnb handles all the financial components & really all the host does is accept inquiries and get the house ready. The biggest issue when I come home is doing laundry. I hate folding laundry and making beds!

Q: What you would tell someone that is interested in participating in AirBnb?

I would recommend double checking your insurance policy. I had to add a policy for short-term rentals so that guests would be covered. Also, be sure to look into tax information for your state. Alabama already takes out occupancy taxes, so I don’t have to worry about that, but that’s not always the case. I would also tell them to leave their house the way they’d expect a rental to look. I want to go somewhere that is comfortable! And somewhere that has coffee, because I don’t want to go straight to the store when I travel.

My husband and I enjoying a little coffee on the front porch.

Erica has a dog and she encourages her guests to bring their furry friends with them by making her home dog-friendly with dog toys and a backyard a dog could dream about.

Thank you Erica! I want all the drawers in my home to be as neat and tidy as the ones at her place. 

Have you used AirBnb? Would you ever consider renting out your home?