so your kid wants to play the violin… now what?

Your kid came home with a gleam in their eye, rumpled paper in hand, informing you that they’d be taking up an instrument. So did mine. In fact, all four of my kids have come home with that same gleam at some point! Each time they did there was the accompanying dread. What instrument would they choose? Please, no drums! How quickly would they lose interest?  Once they settled on something, say the violin, how does one even go about choosing a violin for a kid? In other words, my kid picked a violin? Now now what?!

Let’s start this little chat out by saying that I come from a very musical family. My formative years were filled with my dad’s music. He was in a band when I came along. In retirement, he’s back in a band. Both my brothers play, the older one is rather gifted. Me… we’ll if you give me a sack I could carry a tune in it. The only instrument I play to any level of aptitude is the radio.  

That said, I always wanted to play. Longed to, in fact. I love music, I just wasn’t suited to playing it myself. I got my mom’s word gene, the music one skipped me. Though I can share that when it comes to playing the theme song from MASH on a clarinet, I totally channel Glenn Miller. 

When the music gene that missed me started to show up in my kids, I was so proud. My amazing humans could do this music thing! We made it through each of them taking up with recorder, most of our hearing intact. Then came the violin and some struggles.

When the folks from Yamaha reached out to ask if I’d be interested in helping parents learn more about choosing a violin, I was totally up for that. Yes, this is a sponsored piece but it is also something I really wish had been out there when we were learning all the things… the hard way! 

Things to Know About Choosing a Violin

Choosing a violin is not the same thing as choosing a violin shaped object

Trust me, I love finding a great deal. When we found a $45 violin on Amazon it was a thrill. The rental place wanted that much a month! What we received certainly looked like a violin. Did it play like one? No. In fact it was so difficult to tune, string and even play that in the end we ended up with a rental contract and out more than that $45. Lesson learned; beware the violin shaped object!

Renting doesn’t make as much sense as you think

When the oldest came home with that gleam the rumpled paper in is hand was a rental agreement. Our school system doesn’t supply instruments. We figured he’d lose interest in a month or so, which made renting seem to be the sensible choice. 

What we ended up with was a contract that got us a more than gently used instrument. The violin is a delicate thing, keeping it in good shape makes a big difference in how it plays. How it plays makes a difference in the level of joy your child may get from learning to play. 

Buying can seem a steep price to pay at first. For us, we had three more kids who might take it up at some point, so the cost savings was clear. I’d say that if you buy and have just one kiddo, see if they shop you purchase from has a buy-back program. This could make both budget and musical sense. 

Enlist expert help 

I can not stress this point enough… when choosing a violin for your kiddo, expert help is key! I’m not saying you have to spend four hours in a showroom with a guy who works on commission but certainly don’t try to go it alone. Yamaha has a great tool on their website specifically designed for families. 

The Violin Finder can help you with everything from fit and sound to the brand that will work best with your child’s skill set. Our youngest son is 6 years into playing and as he has grown so has his violin. I had zero clue that we’d need to level-up as he grew up. Yamaha has helped us figure these things out. 

Let it be fun

Yes, they’re going to need to practice and sometimes that means butting heads. Two of my four didn’t really stick with playing music because practice just wasn’t their thing. The other two found fun in not just choosing a violin but exploring their musical gifts. Honestly, I think fun is the deciding factor. Let them enjoy the process, even if that means noise cancelling headphones for you. 

 

 

 

Getting Your Child A U.S. Passport When You Are The Custodial Parent

We travel, like a lot. It’s kind of our thing. When this show began to hit the international road though, there were few bumps. One of the biggest was figuring out how we’d go about getting a US child passport when I was the custodial parent and my ex-husband lived on the other side of the country.

Sharing that experience made the story that follows among my most visited posts. I’ve updated it with a few new details and am posting again in hopes of helping out where I can. If you have questions, let me know. I’ll try to answer them or at the very least, point you in the right direction. 

getting a US child passport when you are the custodial parent

When my eldest daughter turned sixteen, we gave her two options; Have the traditional soiree known as the, “Sweet Sixteen” party, or take an epic trip. It was no surprise that a child who wants to major in International Studies chose the trip. What did surprise me were the hoops we’d have to jump through getting a US child passport. 

You see I have the honor of being her custodial parent. I’m beyond grateful to my ex-husband for making the sacrifices he has, they’ve allowed me the joy of getting to watch her grow into the amazing woman I know she’ll be. He and I have made every effort to co-parent, which can be hard when you live on opposite coasts.

Bumps in the road, caused by the physical distance between her parents,  have been few and far between. So when it came to getting her passport, neither of us figured there would be any big issues. He’d sign a form, we’d go down to the office, she’d be ready to take off for Ireland.

BUMP!

It turns out that there are a number of extra steps in obtaining a passport for a minor child when their parents are divorced. Here are some of the questions we had getting a US child passport with only one parent available. 

How Long Will It Take?

At the time this post is being written, the average processing time for a passport book (just the book, not the card) is 4 to 6 weeks. You can pay for expedited processing, which will have the passport in your hand in 3 weeks. Need it faster? Go directly to an Agency office – not a third-party authorized processing location, like a post office– and you can have it in 8 days, pending approval of need. Generally this means there is some sort of extenuating circumstance, like medical need or bereavement. 

How Much Does It Cost?

For minors (under age 16) the fee for the first application is $95 plus a $30 processing fee. If you need expedited service that will set you back an extra $60. For the most accurate and up-to-date info on fees, be sure to use the calculator on the State Department’s U.S. Passports & International Travel website.  

What Documents Will I Need?

Since this post is specifically about obtaining a passport for a child who’s parents are divorced, I’ll address that.

  1. Proof of Citizenship: Certified U.S. Birth Certificate.  OR Naturalization Document, Certificate of Citizenship, Consular Report of Birth Abroad.  ORIGINALS not copies! You will get your document(s) back with your child’s passport.  
  2. Evidence of Parental Relationship – a document that lists you as the parent: U.S. or foreign birth certificate, adoption decree, divorce/custody decree.
  3. Photo Identification – for all parities. Make a copy of the front AND back of each ID. For example I made copies of her school ID, her father’s and my driver’s licenses.
    NOTE: If the parent who is not present at the appointment does not reside in the same state, you MUST provide TWO forms of ID for them. I missed this information on the website . As a result we had to make a second appointment which delayed things by two more weeks!
  4. Parental Consent – both parents must be present. Here is where it gets complicated for custodial parents (like me). If one parent can not be there you’ll need to have them complete a Form DS-3053: Statement of Consent. This must be notarized
  5. Passport Photo – here is a good resource for DIY passport photos if you’d rather not stop by say a CVS or Costco and have one “professionally” done.
  6. Application Forms – here are links to PDF versions of the forms DS-11 and DS-3035 Statement of Consent DS-5525  Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstance. note: all these forms are also available online at the State Department website. ALSO if you are filling the forms out by hand, be SURE to use black ink. YES, I failed to do that as well! 
  7. Passport Fees – See Above.

After a few hiccups, and maybe more than a full hair-pulling sessions, we got her all set to go. It’s off to Ireland for her first visit there, my third and tagging along will be her Grandfather, returning to his ancestral home for the first time. I can’t wait to experience the Emerald Isle through their eyes! 

As we all know, Government processes change often. I’ve provided these tips as a guide based on my personal experience. That said, be sure to double check with the State Department before applying for your child’s passport.

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Podcasts to Love: Sunrise In Your Pocket

Sunrise in Your Pocket. What does that even mean? Why should you care? That is how this joyful little podcast begins. Though those questions may sound a bit silly, or even cynical to some, I’ve come to find that both are actually profound in the most unexpected of ways.  The way host Elena Sonino encourages listeners to see those answers, is why this makes my Podcasts to Love list. 

Maybe I should start this post with a little bit of catching up. Two  years ago, somewhere right around this time in fact, I shuttered the doors of the small marketing business I’d been running for over a decade. Though I loved what I was doing, there was something missing both in my work and my personal lives. Cliche though it may seem, I needed a better balance in my life.

In my mid-forties, two kids grown and on their own, two edging ever closer to the leaving leaving the nest, menopause looming, I was feeling a bit lost.  It was time to find myself again. That started with a job change. 

I took a leap into the world of wellness at the urging of an amazing physician, who after over twenty-five years in primary care and  seeing two daughters through college and into adulthood, was herself making a change by moving into restorative medicine. Together we opened two new businesses. One is a holistic approach to wellness and weight loss, called BeBalanced. The other is a medical practice called ACRM.  Here we focus on wellness, especially in women,  through an east-meets-west philosophy that addresses the whole person; body, mind, spirit and more.  

It hasn’t been easy. If I’m being truly honest, it has been really hard. The rewards though outweigh the challenges… on most days. It was on one of those challenging days that I found Sunrise In Your Pocket.

Sunrise happens after its been dark all night… ~ Elena

Surprisingly,  even when you spend your days helping others feel better you can end up feeling a bone-deep exhaustion that can spiral into losing your own way in the journey.  For me veering off the path manifests as losing motivation. questioning what success means and if I am even capable of being successful at all.  

The first episode (listen to that here) of this podcast I listened to Elena say, “… We don’t actually have to see a sunrise to know that it is there. We can count on it happening everyday because we know it will. Imagine having that sort of faith in yourself. “That hit me like a bolt of lighting. Do I lose my motivation or is it my faith? 

I think what I love most about this podcast so far is that it isn’t some  cliche, self-help, find-your-why, hustle, breathe and you’ll have ALL the answers, thing. It is an honest take on how we can find our way. As Elena puts it.. 

I’m a life coach and I’m about to tell you that… forget all the self-help… we sometimes need people to hold our hand or help us get out of our own way. ~ Elena

Come listen with me. Do you have a podcast you love? SHARE! 

 

 

24 hours in philadelphia

24 hours in PhiladelphiaSometimes you just don’t have the tip time for that epic trip to Tahiti. Don’t let lack of time keep you from exploring. This year we’ve added quick trips of 12, 24 and 48-hours to our itinerary of larger expeditions. It’s a great way to feed that wanderlust and get to know a few places you might never have considered. We kicked things off in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), followed that up with a fun 24 hours in Philadelphia.

The City of Brotherly Love with all its history, art and yes… cheesesteaks, is just a short two-hour drive away from our homebase. Honestly, proximity was the first factor in choosing this destination — that and a weekend binge watching session of the Rocky film.

24 Hours in Philadelphia a city rich in history and unique architecture Figuring out to do with just twenty-four hours was a bit harder. Philly is a city with over twenty neighborhoods and districts, each with their own distinct personality. We decided to start with a small bite and focus our first 24 hours in Philadelphia on the Center City district and some of the historical charm of the City of Brotherly Love.

Historically Speaking

philadelphia secrets of the liberty bell
Independence National Historical Park
Go see the Liberty Bell. It may sound cliche but it really is a pilgrimage every American should take. We were surprised at how close you can get to it, like “NO! don’t touch the Liberty Bell” close. The Park Rangers onsite are like your own personal tour guides, ready with all sorts of information on how your third grade teacher got the whole story wrong.

Is it a crack or was it a repair? Is there more than one break in it? Get all your burning bell questions answered. Warning: your kids might know more than you do.

Lest you think it’s all about the bell, it isn’t. The bell is housed behind velvet ropes in a small museum that features artifacts and interactive exhibits chronicling the American journey toward liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from the revolution to today.

6th St & Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | Monday – Sunday 9:00 am through 7:00 pm | Free | website

24 hours in philadelphia city hall

Independence Hall
Across the cobblestone road from the Liberty Bell is Independence Hall, also a must see. Do note though that entry into the complex requires a ticket. These tickets are limited daily and grant entry on a timed-entry basis March through December. While you wait for your entry time take a look at the building right next door that housed our first Supreme Court.

520 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | Monday – Sunday 9:00 am through 5:00 pm | admission – free | website

The Franklin Institute

Befitting its namesake this place is packed with ways to discover through science, history and art. It is an interactive, hands-on wonder of enormous proportions. So big in fact, that we choose to save exploring here for another visit and opted instead to visit the Benjamin Franklin Memorial which is housed here.

The Memorial is open to the public when The Franklin Institute is open and visiting it is free. There is a multimedia show – Benjamin Franklin Forever – that is a great start for getting to know this founding father and his impact on the world.

222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 | Monday – Sunday 9:30 am through 5:30 pm | $19.95 adults, $15.95 ages 11-3, under 3 – free | website

24 hours in philadelphia pubsWhich Hotel?

Few things can turn a trip into a nightmare quite as quickly as like a lousy hotel where your family doesn’t feel comfy and taken care of. While I’ve no problems with ‘sleep and go’ hotels, when it comes to bringing the kids I’m willing to pay a bit more in hopes of ensuring we all sleep happy – hello, room service. Having stayed at well over a thousand hotels around the globe – with and without kids– I’ve found that mid-to-upper level hotels are best with the kiddos in tow. Why? To put it simply, you get what you pay for.

Hotel Palomar

This chic, upscale hotel made Condé Nast Traveler’s list of the top 20 Mid-Atlantic hotels. Impressive, but little guests are far more impressed with the fact that they can request a companion gold fish to keep them company in the room during your stay. Oh, and they also have a nightly wine reception – for free.

117 S 17th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 | website

 

Loews Philadelphia

Located inside the nation’s first skyscraper, the Loews Philadelphia Hotel has got some great views of the city. Walking through the lobby and common spaces is like getting a mini history lesson. That said, the rooms themselves are updated and modern. The pool and excellent room service from the on-site restaurant make for an all around great stay. Kids love the fact that they get their own welcome goodies at check-in and can have even snag board games and toys from the kids’ cabinet to use while they visit. You can even bring along the family pet – they’ll get a goodie too!

1200 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 | website

Beyond the Cheesesteak

Philly is paradise for the adventurous Foodie and their family. In fact, there is such a cornucopia of delight to be dug into that we may just have to do an entire feature on food alone. For now though here are some mouthwatering places to fuel your historical rediscoveries.

Reading Terminal Market

A crowded, loud, garishly lit slice of Foodie paradise. So much more than an indoor Farmer’s Market this historical building houses an endless array of fresh, local, artisianal, ethnic and just plain yum.

24 hours in philadelphia reading terminal market

Despite its porcine name, Tommy Dinic’s Roast Pork makes a mean cheesesteak. Not in the mood for Philly’s signature sandwich? No worries. Roam the rows of stalls featuring the heady aromas of everything from Jamaican Jerk to Indian spice. Dig into some Dutch, Polish, Mexican, Italian, Irish…. you get the picture, this place is packed with flavorful adventure.

51 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA | website

Marathon Grille

This locally owned group of eateries started out as a 10-seat burger joint and has grown into the ultimate spot for casual comfort food with a modern twist. The owners have a passion for supporting local by both buying from urban farms around the city and operating there own.

Have a Thanksgiving Dinner plate, some house-made Moroccan meatballs or treat yourself to decadent french toast stuffed with marscapone and berries. They serve breakfast all day and make a mean organic cocktail that pairs perfectly with a laid back brunch.

1818 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA | website

Where, When and What to Avoid

Tour Buses – Though it may seem tempting to grab one of those hop-on-hop-off bus passes you’ll find being promoted on nearly every corner, don’t. You’ve only got 48 hours in Philadelphia’s Center City District and this is a city that features more public works of art than any other. You’ll miss so much of it – including dozens of murals — if you whiz by on a bus rather than stroll the streets and discover.

Chain Restaurants – Philly is so much more than a cheesesteak. There is a blossoming farm-to-table movement that lives alongside small Mom and Pop eateries that have been serving up flavor for decades. Seek them out, they aren’t hard to find. Taste the adventure!

48 hr in Philly - Em at National Guard buildingPhilly is a city of celebrations. From Independence Day to their famed Flower Show, there is almost always something going on. Check the Visit Philly website before you go to be sure you won’t be headed there along with a few million others. Ugh, traffic.

Been to Philly? Live there? What are the ‘can’t miss’ sites we should see on our next visit?

Kimpton Mason & Rook DC: Review

Come to DC for the Smithsonian, the tidal basin, and history. Stay a little longer to get the true feel of a city as complex as the political ideologies that built it. 

DC’s Logan Circle is an area in flux. Gentrification has arrived but has yet to rob this enclave of all of its charm and mildly edgy personality.  Seems fitting that Kimpton hotels, known for their eclectic cool, have moved into the neighborhood offering up vintage style and artistic expression at; Kimpton Mason & Rook.  

An unassuming, almost austere, exterior hides a beautifully curated interior that echoes the days of Don Draper and mid-century design. Earth tones, abstract art and a to-die-for sofa dominate the lobby. A nightly free wine reception completes the Man Men vibe. 

Rooms are appointed with small details and custom experiences. Want non-feathered, yet soft and fluffy pillows? They’ll be sure you have exactly what you need to rest your best. 

One touch that struck me was the lack of copious amounts of tiny bottles of toiletries.  Hello, green travel! They’ve opted for full-sized containers in the shower or near the amazing tub. Why is that a big deal? Just think about it. Most hotels have a minimum of five small bottles of assorted products in them. Use a bit (or none) and the next thing you know, it ends up in the trash, and eventually in a landfill somewhere.  Good on ya, Kimpton. 

The mini-bar is stocked with actual healthy snacks in addition to the junk and it’s priced at not so bank-breaking rates. Sneaking off for a grown-ups getaway?  Um, there is a treat in that mini-bar that is perfect for couples. (wink, wink) 

“Living Room” area of the Premier Spa Suite we stayed in during our Kimpton Mason & Rook Staycation

Mason &  Rook goes out of its way to support artists and makers. Borrow one of their Shinola bicycles (shout out to Detroit) and peddle down to the Australian embassy a few blocks away to say,  G’day.  Talk the concierge into telling you their favorite places to hang out. That’s how we were introduced to Studio Theatre. 

As far as makers go, Sarah Rosner head Mixologist at Radiator the on-site eatery, is whipping up can’t-be-missed art in the bar. Her take on a Seelbach graced the pages of Imbibe and is just the beginning of the alchemy she is capable of.  Go have a drink with her, you won’t regret it! 

As for Radiator itself, I’d skip it. Logan Circle has any number of options that are more creative and flavorful. Stroll down a block or two and have some Ethiopian or swing into our favorite brunch spot in all of DC (maybe all of the East Coast) Le Diplomate.  Yes, it’s a chain and in most cases, I’m fundamentally opposed to these, but they won me over with their Café Vietnamese and eggs vol en vent. 

DC is a town where polls outnumber pools. Swimming spots are few and far between and those hotels that do have outdoor pools tend to be much on the anticlimactic side. Mason & Rook’s rooftop pool has a reputation for being one of the best in town. I’ve yet to experience this but plan to rectify that this summer.

Kimpton Mason & Rook Top Tip

Be sure that you’ve signed up for Kimpton Hotels rewards program. This isn’t one of those wait-till-you-have-fifty-stays-before-you-get-a-reward programs. With your very first stay you can take advantage of their Raid The Bar reward offered to Kimpton Karma members.  

The vintage design of Kimpton Mason & Rook DC is befitting of this city that plays home to so much history.

Having taken up the practice of yoga recently, I really appreciated the addition of a yoga mat in our room. It rounded out the personal attention and attentiveness that I believe truly makes this hotel a perfect destination for enjoying both this unique neighborhood and the city itself.  

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