Back To School Tech: Do Your Kids Really Need It?

Gone are the days of Pee Chee folders and rad book covers of our youth, my friends.  Our kids need back to school tech.  And you do too. Now that we have that question answered, let’s talk about the why what and how much with a little help from Verizon, my brand partner for this post. 

I can clearly remember the first year that tech became part of our back-to-school shopping list. That year I had kids in high school, middle school, elementary and preschool. Looking back, I’m sort of surprised I made it through that year. The pickup lines alone should have done me in.  

It started with cell phones for the older kids. Soon though the middle h showed a penchant for art and a teacher told us we should consider a digital sketchpad.  We made that purchase and never regretted it. As the kids started to travel, find their love of reading, started to become explorers, tech came along for the ride. 

This summer Verizon asked me to join them at their Baltimore destination store to host a discussion for parents that focused on back-to-school tech.  The best part? I got to talk about the products I love most of all and how they help us manage school, sports, travel and family time. 

Since you couldn’t be there, I thought I’d share my top four picks and why I love them so. 

Top 5 Picks for  Back To School Tech 

Google Home (mini)

If you’ve ever gone hoarse from hollering at your kids to get to the dinner table, found them playing a game rather than doing research on the laptop, or had family arguments about the atomic weight of slime, this is the gadget you need. It’s sort of an all-in-one family helper. 

Kids can google topics without jumping on a device that may distract them from the work that needs to be done. It works as an intercom system and media player in your home. And, if you were the type of parent who might want to just drop in on the sly to see what they’re up to in their room, you can do that too. Not that I do… nope, not me.  

Samsung Gear VR 

I. Am. Obsessed. With. This. It started out as my own personal Netflix home theater. Then it became a fun way to laugh at people as they tried to play AR games that had zombies chasing them. Then things changed. 

The youngest came home with an assignment on the galaxy. After having to paint foam balls to look like planets, three times before her, I just couldn’t get excited about doing this again. We were fiddling around with our VR and found an app that allowed you to play around in space. This changed everything! The assignment went from boring and repetitive, to immersive and engaging. 

Since then, we’ve taken a ride through the human body to see how platelets and antibodies work. Done a report on glaciers after zooming across, around and THROUGH one. I honestly feel like AR is the future of learning and these types of gadgets will soon become back to school tech must-haves. 

Nest Home Camera

Our oldest is a Marine and traverses about the planet doing hero stuff. The next one down is 19 and a continent away at college. But, we still have two at home, even when we aren’t home with them. The Nest Home Camera gives me so much peace of mind and lets me almost be there, even when I can’t. 

The Nest is more than a nanny cam. It is a two-way communicator. When the kids get home they walk up to the Nest, setting off an alert on my phone. I can then pop in and ask them how their day was. We chat, they show me their classwork or the dog. They like to put the dog up to the Nest and see him look around frantically trying to figure out how mom got in that tiny box. 

Nest does double duty as a home safety device too. Oh, and I can also drop in to see what they are doing when they aren’t looking for. Not that I do that either… nope, not me. 

ASUS ZenPad Z8s 

They want an iPad, you want to pay the mortgage. The ASUS ZenPad tablet is the compromise. It has what they need, fast processing, great connectivity, a plethora of available apps. Paying less than $300 for it will make you feel like you got the gold star. 

Verizon Smart Family

Smart tech can be the tool that helps bring your family closer together. In a time where we are worried about how healthy it is to be too connected when we face the argument of how much screen time is too much, Verizon Smart Family can be that tool for you. 

I love it because;

  • I can set up different content filters for each person in our family
  • Setting turn-off times for the wifi means I don’t have to keep changing (and forgetting) the password to be sure that the kids aren’t on their devices past bedtime
  • I always know where my kids’ devices are with location tracking… find the device you typically find the kid, right? 

Though I must confess I miss some of the simplicity of my back to school days, I’m also really into all the cool ways technology is transforming the learning experience of my kids. That said… 

Also… Pee Chee folders forever! 

 

Honeydew Melon Mojito

Honeydew Melon Mojito 

Ah, summer. I love this time of year. The lazy days. Fresh veggies and fruits. Day drinking, I love you most of all. Mix up a Honeydew Melon Mojito in replacement of a traditional margarita and hello, summer!

I’ll confess, I’ve never been a big fan of the margarita. In my humble opinion one should always drink good tequila. Why then cover up the flavor with sour mixes and artificial junk? Now a spritz of lime, a little aloe juice and simple syrup, I’m all about that! Heck, I’ll even go for some grenadine and orange juice. AKA sunshine in a cocktail shaker. 

Give me a mojito though and I’m a happy girl. The signature cocktail of Cuba pairs perfectly with spicy or cool flavors of the season. 

My twist on the Cuban favorite cuts out the sugar and replaces it with the refreshing sweetness of the melon. Feeling adventurous? Try a sweet and spicy flavor mashup by rimming your glass with  Pico Diana chili powder candy.

Growing up on the Mexican border in Southern California Pico was a snack staple. We’d sprinkle it on mango, over oranges, and yes, on melons. Don’t let the term “candy” fool ya though, this stuff is spicy!

Whatever you’re drinking, I hope your season is sweet. Cheers, my friends!

Honeydew Melon Mojito
Honeydew Melon Mojito
Serves 1
A refreshing, sugar-free twist on the signature cocktail of Cuba.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1.5 Ounces White Rum
  2. 1/4 Cup Honeydew Melon
  3. Juice of 1/2 a lime
  4. 2 Large Sprigs of Fresh Mint
  5. Ice
Instructions
  1. Place ice, melon and the leaves of one sprig of mint into blender. Blend until smooth. Place mixture in a cocktail shaker with lime juice and rum. Shake well. Pour into glass (margarita classes work well) and garnish with melon ball and mint sprig.
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

12 hours in Williamsburg BrooklynGetting to know a city is rather a bit like dating. That rush when you find the first thing that grabs your interest. The thrill of newness. Then settling in a bit to really connect on a deeper level.  Every relationship has it’s highs and lows. And then there were those 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

When it comes to New York City, Brooklyn in particular, I’ve a bit of a matchmaker. My husband is a Brooklyn native, born and raised. It wasn’t until after we moved from California to Maryland that I ever set foot in the Empire State. Over a decade later, I’m still enamored of something in each of the five boroughs.

Like anyone when they first start seeing someone, I typically refuse to hear anything bad about my new beau. When dear friends {also life-long New Yorker’s} lament the loss of ‘authenticity’ in their city, I simply turn a deaf ear.  Sure the traffic is lousy and stuff is expensive, but even high-maintenance relationships can be fulfilling

Did Big and Carrie teach us nothing?

Banksy Street Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkOne of the best ‘dates’ I’ve had with New York was 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My eldest daughter came along to meet my muse. We walked for miles, enjoyed outstanding food, fed our artistic spirits, shopped, talked and mingled with the locals. Here are a few things that can’t be missed if you’ve only got a few hours to fall in love. 

Brunch at Marlow & Sons

Fresh. Local. Artisanal. Check! This place is a bit of farm-to-table meets french bistro, though the food is decidedly Americana with a modern twist. The menu changes daily, which makes it  a culinary adventure whenever you go. The baked eggs with ham and chickpeas was a favorite. A perfectly baked egg is an art form.

The Pink Olive

Stationery is my kryptonite. I can’t pass up pretty paper. The Pink Olive is a gift store that has the prettiest of paper, and more. I could have spent the kid’s college fund on tea towels, candles and Salt Road handmade taffy.

Brooklyn Bowl

Classic bowling alley with a trendy twist, like Chesterfield leather sofas and award-winning eats. We stopped in for a quick match {doesn’t take long for me to bowl a few frames of gutter-balls} in the early evening, just after it opened at 6pm. It was quirky, but fun. I can see how it becomes a hot-spot for the grownup types after dark. They feature live bands as well.

Mast Brothers Chocolate Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkMast Brother’s Chocolate

I’ve long been a fan of Mast Brother’s handcrafted, high-quality, responsibly sourced chocolate bars. When we stumbled upon the shop as we explored, the heady aroma of cacao drew us in like a siren song.

More than a retail location, this is also the factory and bakery. Bags of raw cacao beans line the worn wooden floors. Beautifully wrapped, uniform-sized bars are laid out on a weathered table under harsh lights. They look more like stacked books than decant chocolate. An expert in all things cocoa nib hovers nearby ready to answer questions and hand out small samples… oh yes, there are samples. 

Mast Brother's Chocolate Shop Brooklyn, New YorkA stop here is much like a visit to a museum with friendly docents ready to teach you all about their passions.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten

You like live music? Dig elevated pub grub and a good beer? Go HERE! The vibe here is so nostalgic that you can almost feel the wraiths of early German immigrants to America float among the hops hung to dry from the rafters over your head.

Gritty without being grungy, and featuring excellent German fare as well as a few distinctly American offerings, this is a great place to grab a meal. If you can’t get seated in the open-air biergarten {or if it is a tad too chilly} ask for a window seat. The people watching is as good as the food.

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brookly - BiergartenUrban Market of Williamsburg

At the end of the block – a short walk from Marlow & Sons in the shadow of the Williamsburg bridge– is a foodie nirvana called Urban Market. If you want to taste all the flavors of Brooklyn from Little Italy to China Town this is the place.  Plus there is a parking garage here that doesn’t cost you a mortgage payment.

Park, explore, come back and shop before you leave. We grabbed bread, local cheeses, some french pastries, and the best cocktail bitters outside of my own homemade. {I’m modest like that}

What cities have you fallen in love with, and why?

12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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Lighthouses & Sunken Submarines: St. Mary’s County, Maryland

What is it about lighthouses that sparks such fascination? A romanticized notion of the lonely keeper of the flame. Perhaps it has something to do with a mix of quite heroism and tales of the sea. Then again it could just be all about the view.  I’ve set out on a quest to visit the lighthouses of Maryland to try and answer that question. 

Up first is a unique lighthouse with some hidden treasure you won’t find anywhere else. 

Piney Point LighthousePiney Point Lighthouse

Do you imagine a lighthouse as a towering presence standing watch at the water’s edge? Me too. In fact I’d always sort of thought there was a height requirement. Which when I stop to think about it makes no sense. As long as the view is unbroken, the job gets done.

The Piney Point lighthouse isn’t even the largest structure within the historic park in which it resides. It sands only thirty-three feet high.

“…and though she be but little she is fierce.” ~Hermina

Opened in 1836 the lighthouse stands watch over the Potomac River. In the course of its service (it was decommissioned in 1964 by the US Coastguard) the lighthouse and its adjacent quarters were occupied by twenty-one Keepers and their families. Four of those keepers were women.

Some of these women were spouses, trained in their husband’s profession out of necessity. Lighthouses tend to be placed in remote areas where assistance was often hours away. Wives served as backup keepers. Following a ship wreck, Mrs. Goeshy (wife of one of William Goeshy – Keeper in 1939) swam repeatedly out into the water to rescue victims. She may have actually been one of the Coast Guard’s first, famed rescue swimmers.

Who knew lighthouse keeping was a beacon for feminism? I sure didn’t.

I’d also no clue that there was a German U Boat sunk in the waters just off the coast from where the lighthouse sits century. That’s one of the amazing facts that had our entire family’s rapt attention when we toured the Piney Point Lighthouse, Museum and Historic Park with historian and former Park Ranger, April Havens.

One could say that U-1105, or the Black Panther, was one of the first-ever stealth submarines. Commissioned 1944 she was outfitted with a synthetic rubber skin over her hull. One of less than ten in her class U-1105 was turned over to the Allies after the war. The intention was to bring the Black Panther to the United States in order to study the unique radar/sonar blinding technology.  Ah, but the sea had plans of its own.

On day four of U-1105’s journey from England to the States, she was caught in a hurricane while surfaced. A section of the submarine was ripped away by the force of the storm causing it to near keel over. A portion of the synthetic skin lost to the sea. After what research that could be done was completed the sub was scuttled in the Potomac River in St. Mary’s County Maryland in 1949.

The Black Panther sunk 91 feet in 20 seconds on that day. The boat was quite literally lost, for decades. In June of 1985 divers rediscovered the wreckage. Today U-1150 stands as Maryland’s first historic shipwreck preserve.

These enthralling tales are just two of the many we learned from during our visit to the Piney Point Lighthouse.

Piney Point Lighthouse

Tips for visiting the Piney Point Lighthouse Museum & Historical Park

Start at the Museum – There is surprisingly a lot of ground to cover here in the way of things to see and learn about. The main museum is self-guided with lots of vignettes to read through in a small space. They score bonus family travel points for having a small Kiddie Corner with activities for the littlest kiddos.  

Ask Questions – When you head out to the marine portion of the museum you’ll have a guide. These guides are experts with a passion for the history of Piney Point. Asking them questions makes the visit all the more an EDventure. Be sure to ask about the torpedoes! 

Bring a Picnic – The museum sits on a coveted water-front. All that gorgeous beach you pass on the way in with cute decor and colorful beach chairs is private property. Can’t stop for a snack there, but there are a dock, picnic tables and a small stretch of sandy beach at the museum.

Great for Kayaks – There is a public peer to launch your kayak from for free. The parking is free as well. The launch closes at sunset but if you let the staff know what your plans are they can make arraignments.

Hit the Gift Shop – Not only are there cute, crafty and even beautiful treasures to be found in the shop but spending your money here helps support the preservation efforts.

Sand Lot by Spike Gjerde

UPDATE: With the 2018 reopening of this hip spot in the sand off the Inner Harbor, Sand Lot by Spike Gjerde is reported to be upping their game with improved menu options and live music. We’ll report on the results soon. If you’ve been and want to share your thoughts and/or images, let us know. 

Is the coolest pop-up in Baltimore a home run or a ground out to second? We’re adding our review of Sand Lot by Spike Gjerde to the lineup so that you don’t miss it before it closes this season. 

I love Baltimore. There, I said it.  

History, art, sports, sailing, the food scene, there is just so much to dig about B’more.  J’dore! 

Sand Lot by local culinary heavy-hitter, Spike Gjerde,  is the hottest pop-up eatery in Baltimore this summer. Naturally, that meant we had to go check it out.

The name is an homage to the baseball history of the town that birthed The Great Bambino and the best damn sports flick ever – The Sand Lot!  

The Lot (venue)

Gaint Jenga, bocce ball courts, sidewalk chalk, beach chairs, strings of lights, hammocks, and SAND. The vibe is decidedly summer and certainly cool. 

From the shiny Airstream serving as the bar to the cargo container kitchens, the laid-back feel is fun and inviting. Hip menials, cocktails in hand,  toss cornhole bean bags. The high chair crew climbs through cargo nets waiting for their corn dog delivery and it works! 

The Lineup (menu) 

Don’t expect Woodberry Kitchen. The summer vibe extends to the menu which I can best describe as ballpark chic. While some dishes are certainly elevated it is still pretty much street food –  which I don’t mind but wasn’t expecting. 

Corndogs with Ranch – Strike

They weren’t impressive at all and serving them in a pool of ranch didn’t help. Even the 10-year-old was unimpressed… with a corndog! 

Pulled Pork Nachos – Walk-Off Double

The meat had a deep layer of flavor, owing no doubt to being smoked. The sauce was flavorful but not a huge wow. Combining the meaty favorite with crispy chips was a texture win.

Crab and Corn Fritters with Pepper Jam – Sacrifice Fly 

 Spike is well-known for keeping it local at all of his restaurants. Makes sense that crab would make the lineup at the lot. These fritters showcased very little of our iconic blue crab. Maybe understandably so since they were very small. The saving play here was an outstanding pepper jam that was the perfect pitch of sweet and spicy.

Smoked Meatballs – Home Run! 

OMG! Seriously, my mouth is watering at the mere mention. Mr. Gjerde, I’m not sure what you did to these but they are good enough to kick a vegetarian off the wagon.  

 

The Scorecard 

Food = Hit or miss but for the most part it is a solid Double 

Location = It isn’t the easiest place to find but I feel that sort of works in their favor. I’d say this is a 1 Run Single to Left. 

Atmosphere = Between the cool reclaimed vibe, the unique seating options and free activities (hello, bocce on the beach!) they get a Walk Off Homer. 

Family Friendly Score = Grand Slam! Pets welcome, lots of free activities, finger foods, and the best place to catch a Charm City Sunset, it’s a total win! 

Sand Lot Baltimore vs Pizza Delivery on a Friday Night – 10 to 0 

 

 

 

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