Category Archives: advice and tips

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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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?

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! 

 

Visiting Annapolis, Maryland with Kids

Annapolis Maryland

Sometimes Spring Cleaning means dusting off an old post that somehow people are managing to find. One of the top searches here at The Nugget has always been; what should I see when visiting Annapolis, Maryland. Funny that I happen to live just a few minutes away.  Wait… does that mean the internet is stalking me? 

From the halls of the United States Naval Academy to the quaint City Dock, and dozens of points in between, Maryland’s charming and historic capital makes for a perfect day-trip (or longer) with the family. 

U.S. Naval Academy Museum

 Moon Rock housed at U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland

 This hidden gem of a museum welcomes over 100,000 visitors from around the globe every year. Located in Preble Hall on the gorgeous grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, the museum offers two floors of exhibits about the history of sea power, the development of the U.S. Navy, and the history of U.S. Naval Academy. Exhibits include artifacts from historical figures, battles, and events. Touch a piece of the actual U.S.S. Monitor, read letters penned by Admirals and presidents, see sand from the island of Iwo Jima as you take a walk through the history of our Navy – and country. There is even an actual moon rock donated to the museum by Apollo 14 astronauts. 

The best part? Admission to the museum is FREE!

Address:  118 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21402. Phone: (410) 293-2108. Website: www.USNA.edu/museum  Hours: Monday – Friday from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm

Annapolis City Dock

Visting "Ego Alley" at City Dock in Annapolis Maryland

Rest here for a spell and have Alex Haley “read” your kids a story. The author of “Roots,” is immortalized in a sculpture that invites you to listen at his feet. I took along some books to read to my kids and soon found I’d started an impromptu story time for a few others.  Directly behind Mr. Haley is the City Dock Market House. Inside you’ll find food stalls serving up seaside favorites, and day-trip delicacies like famed Maryland Crab cakes and decadent gelato, perfect on a warm, sunny day. Walk off some of those calories with a stroll down “Ego Alley” where beautiful pleasure boats are docked. 

Don’t forget to bring along a little something to feed the ducks!

Parking: There is metered parking near City Dock, you’ve got great luck if you can snag one of those. If not, the Noah Hillman parking garage is just off Main Street in the Historic District at 150 Gorman Street.

Chick & Ruth’s Delly

Famous "Ben Cardin" Double Ruben at Chick & Ruth's Delly Anapolis Maryland

Speaking of eating! I say -with some authority as both a traveler and a foodie – that everyone MUST make the pilgrimage to the Delly at least one time (if not dozens.) Don’t let the cramped quarters, a layer of grease or the fact that they call it a “Delly,” deter you. Chick & Ruth’s is a Maryland institution for good reason.

  • Crab Cakes as big as your head (okay, maybe a little smaller)
  • Matzo Ball Soup any Bubbe would envy
  • House-made dill pickles, a complimentary treat you’ll pucker up to
  • A huge of menu items to choose from – many named after the local politicians who come down the street from the Capital Building daily
  • And the famed Colossal Challenges like the SIX POUND SHAKE (no really, it’s six pounds of milkshake) infamously conquered by Adam Richman of “Man vs Food” fame

Address: 165 Main St, Annapolis, MD 21401. Phone: (410) 269-6737. Website: www.chickandruths.com 

Pirate Adventures of the Chesapeake

Ahoy all ye adventurous scallywags! Really, what trip to a historical port city like Annapolis would be complete without a pirate adventure? Mysterious messages in bottles, hidden treasure and an epic adventure await those who embark upon a voyage aboard  The Sea Gypsy. This fun, family-friendly ship sails from Annapolis Harbor seven days a week during the summer months and on weekends through October 26th. Your ticket to ride will cost you $20 for those over three and $12 for those under. 

Be sure to arrive early to get gussied up in pirate finery!

Address: 311 Third St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 263-0002. Website: www.chesapeakpirates.com 

Annapolis Maritime Museum

If you’re making Annapolis a stopover during a trip to DC you might think you’ve been museum-ed out, but trust me you’ll want to make room for one more – THIS ONE! Why? Because of the hands-on history lesson, your family will get. This small museum is set on the picturesque mouth of Back Creek, with a unique view overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The museum takes advantage of the fact that it is housed in the last oyster-packing plant in Annapolis, engaging visitors in a fully interactive experience that takes them on a journey through the role that the water and they oyster industry played in the shaping of the area. You’ll also learn about the ecology of the area through an 850-gallon aquarium and exhibits that highlight the importance of conservation efforts.

An afternoon at the Annapolis Maritime Museum is FREE family fun!

Address: 723 2nd St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 295-0104. Website: www.amaritime.org

Galleries, Eateries and Shopping… Oh, My!

Down Town Annapolis Maryland

My kids happen to be gifted browsers. They love to shop. It may be genetic. Annapolis is a wonderland for those who love to stroll in and out of shops and galleries, searching for treasures and inspiration. Though there are some chain stores to be found on Main street, they are outnumbered by smaller, more unique and locally owned boutique stores. Annapolis boasts a thriving art community and you’ll find a number of places that feature locally produced items. One of our favorite shops is Annapolis Pottery. Though not all of their items are produced locally, 95% of their products are produced in the U.S. and many of them are sourced directly from the artists who produce them. 

Hungry? Annapolis is the place to be! I polled the kids for recommendations. Here is what THEY recommend;

  • The Iron Rooster – Red Velvet waffles with fried chicken… I think we’ve said enough here.  Oh wait, they also crush the cocktail game and have amazing farm-to-table options too. 
  • Miss Shirley’s Cafe – A Baltimore staple now found in Annapolis, my kids would hurt you to get at a stack of their lemon-blueberry pancakes
  • Chick & Ruth’s Delly – They’re begging for that 6-pound shake, but happily settle for pizza bagels make on fresh, full-sized bagel halves and burgers from the kid’s menu that are big enough for a grown up. You’ll never leave this place hungry! Plus their kid’s menu prices hover around $5!

Parking: There is both metered parking and several public parking garages, as well as valet service at City Dock. You can find a map of the garages here.

Up next… where to STAY in Annapolis if you aren’t lucky enough to live 20 minutes away… or even if you are… hello staycation!

 

(photo credit – Annapolis Waterfront m01229)

SAT Stress: Are You Causing it?

SAT stress is a thing. You may even remember being stressed out about taking the test back-in-the-day – I do. In this final installment of my series partnered with The College Board, we’ll explore SAT stress.  

Test-related stress was nearly debilitating for my oldest daughter. She was an excellent student and a hard worker who enjoyed learning. When it came to taking tests though, her high school years were rough.

Around test time, this bright child would suffer from worry, even dread. While I knew she’d do great, she often was convinced she’d fail, and that caused me to stress, too. It became an endless loop of anxiety for us both.

Her stress was more extreme than most, falling into a category that qualified as test-related anxiety.

She isn’t alone in this. Some estimates suggest that nearly twenty percent of students will suffer from this type of hyper-stressed state. The good news is that we learned some great techniques for managing test stress that might help both you and your teen, avoid some SAT stress, too.

Relax

Okay, I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but in all honesty, it can be tough to do. Both my daughter and I (and her three siblings) found meditation helpful. Before you think I’ve gone ’round the twist into a cloud of patchouli oil, go check out HeadSpace.

HeadSpace is an app that guides you through 10-minute meditation sessions, no oils required. Also, no chimes, chanting, or bells. These simple meditations feel more like a modern adaptation of age-old, proven techniques.

Get Out!

Sometimes you can study too darn much. Getting out and leave the test materials behind. Nature can work wonders on stress of just about any kind.

Laugh

Not only is laughter great medicine, but it is kryptonite to stress. A good giggle decreases cortisol, a hormone your body produces as a buffer against stress. It also increases immune cells and antibodies that fight infections. That is great news for SAT takers because who wants to take the test sick, right?  

Own What You Know

I think that sometimes the biggest stress around taking the SAT is that it just may seem overwhelming to prepare for at first. Maybe studying smarter, not harder is the way to go?

The College Board offers free prep with Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy.  Your teen can link their College Board and Khan Academy accounts to get personalized SAT practice to help your student identify the areas and skills they need to strengthen. That can allow them to own what they know and focus on what they need to sharpen.

Insider Tip: Now that the SAT no longer penalizes students for guessing, they didn’t stress about that anymore.

Be Prepared

Know what you can and can’t take along with you, and be sure you have everything you need. When I first took the SAT, I forgot pencils. Yes, the one thing you 100% need, I forgot. Talk about stress-inducing.

Put together an SAT go-bag with everything your student will need to have with them at their testing site. Sort of like we did back when they started school.

Insider Tip: the registration deadline for the March 2018 SAT is looming! Register February 9th through the 28th, 2018. 

If you’re schedule-challenged like me (seriously, I’d forget my kids’ birthdays if they weren’t in my phone) be sure to note the deadlines for SAT registration, your test location, date and time. I suggested custom wallpaper or at least a sticky note on the fridge.