Category Archives: family travel

Chrysler Pacifica: A Minivan for Anti-Minivan People?

This post is sponsored by FCA US; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

I am not a minivan person. This is exactly what I said when I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing the Chrysler Pacifica. To me minivans are clunky, chunky, boxy and just don’t get me excited about driving. I like to drive. I like a car that has some oomph, style, and maybe just a touch of sexy.  So, not a minivan.

I also like a challenge and after learning that Car and Driver ranked the 2017 Pacifica as the number one pick in the category I thought I’d take this one on.  After a week-long test drive I hoped to answer this question;

Is Chrysler Pacifica a minivan for anti-minivan people?

Minivans do rise to the top of the list in one really important category; safety. The Pacific holds the crown in this category with somewhere around 100 safety features including lane departure warnings, a very impressive surround-view camera, forward-collision alert, and parking assist (perfect for lousy parallel parkers like ME!) Does it make me a bad mom that safety isn’t my only consideration?  I get that it should be, but… I want to enjoy the ride too! 

The Fun Factor

If I could design a family crest it would half to have some sort of road trip reference. We’ve gone from beach houses to cabins atop mountains, hotels big cities to tents the middle of nowhere, and four wheels took us most of those places. Keeping everyone entertained is key to a successful road trip and Pacifica truly has something for everyone in this category.

Any car, in fact most cars these days, can have a DVD player. Chrysler’s Pacifica goes far beyond this with a suite of interactive games (no wifi needed), wireless and USB port compatibility with nearly any device, available satellite radio and more.   

Our family put Pacifica through the paces on our annual Holiday Hot Cocoa Rally. Every year we pile into the car with full thermoses, fresh cookies, and wrapped gifts for charity. After stops to drop off gifts, it’s a marathon of holiday lights, tunes, and memory making. After all it is the most wonderful time of the year, right? 

The Pacifica did a great job setting the mood with a really impressive sound system, heated seats and steering wheel. Where the car truly stood out was in its ability to allow you to configure the seating with one-hand operation stow-and-go in the second row seats. That feature turned the car into a cafe, theater, and arcade all in the space of one evening!

Even this non-minivan person was impressed with how this was so much more than a ride. I will say that with all the tech and features included in model we test drove, I can see it taking some time to learn how to optimize these options. I’m not sure if Chrysler dealers offer an in-house “How To” session but if they do I’d highly recommend availing yourself of this education. 

Bonus Smart Features

When it comes to life in cars, my kids have what I can only think is destructive power on par with a tornado. I can leave the car wash with a sparkling clean ride and within an hour of picking them up it looks like a band of gypsies have taken up residence in the back seat. That’s on an average day. The force is increased immeasurably when we’re on an epic eighteen hour jaunt from Maryland to Louisiana.   Add to that our new furry family member; Gordon the Frenchie (who has white fur, what was I thinking?!) and keeping a clean car is a pipe dream.

Then came Pacifica’s built-in vacuum cleaner. Pure BRILLIANCE!

Some other great bonus features to the model we drove, included;

  • a panoramic roof
  • touch-free trunk door operation
  • second level rear storage
  • heads-up display for navigation, trip tracking, systems alerts and more

Plus, it makes for a pretty sweet break room when you’re working events on the go… or trying to get five minutes of kid-free time in your day.

Final Analysis

There is no denying that the Chrysler Pacifica has some really amazing features. You’d be hard pressed to find a car that offers more in terms of being family-friendly and offering cutting edge safety features. The tech integration makes a mobile lifestyle both fun and productive.  As a family ride, the adaptability is unbeatable.

So, did the Pacifica make a minivan person out of me? Not-so-much.

While it’s packed with awesome options for safety, storage, and entertainment, it still drives like a minivan in my book. The body shape is sleeker than most but still a bit boxy for my tastes and the profile sits a bit low. I like a higher ride if I’m not in a performance car.

Being that we have a big family and love us some long drives, I may have to ponder on this just a bit longer. Were I to wake up on Christmas day and find a big red bow festooned Pacifica in my driveway I wouldn’t be disappointed.  If Ryan Gosling were in the passenger’s seat… Hey Minivan Girl!

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Follow Your NOLA (a love letter to New Orleans in pictures)

Follow Your NOLA

For some, there are places in this world that call to them even if they’ve never been. I’d always thought that was the truest definition of wanderlust, a need to go places we’ve never been. A recent trip to New Orleans changed my perspective. If ever there were a person in this word for whom the tagline Follow Your NOLA applied that would be my youngest daughter. 

From a very young age, maybe about six or seven, she’s been fascinated by New Orleans. One might think that came from tales of my travels, but no. Long before my first visit she’d seek out shows on the History Channel or Discovery that talked about the folklore, food, and stories that cling to this city like so much Spanish Moss. It was actually rather sweet to sit huddled on the sofa and shiver at the tales of The Myrtles Plantation. Frankly, I was nearly as enamored.  

After my first trip to NOLA when she was eight the fascination grew. I think she wore beads and a mask to school for a week. Her room began to take on a distinctly French Quarter vibe and by the time her ninth birthday rolled around it was clear the theme would be… Big Easy. 

 I’ve often wondered over the years if perhaps she was drawn to this city not by wanderlust, but by something deeper within her. In my travels, I’ve become certain that there exist in this world people who are simply old souls.

These people seem to have deeper connections to places, customs, and cultures than most of us do. They needn’t have grown up near or been raised within the places and things they love. They are simply a part of them no matter time or distance. My daughter is an old soul and New Orleans her muse. 

She recently celebrated her first double-digit birthday. How? With a trip to her city. 

Never have I seen such instant love. The child who is usually first to start fussing about long walks, couldn’t sit still. She nearly prowled the streets of the French Quarter. Night fell and she lit up like one of the gas lamps that dot the streets. She savored every spice (even tried alligator) lingered to look at every piece of art, got her cards read and sang Ella Fitzgerald songs on street corners with bands from around the globe. 

This is her city and she is its child. They belong together. Here is a short love letter to New Orleans in pictures that she chose. 

Stay tuned for full articles on food, music, history and the unique culture of New Orleans (penned by me) for A Cork, Fork & Passportand Skimbaco Lifestyle

Laissez les bons temps rouler, mon amis!  

 

Global Cookie Recipes from Omni Hotels

I first published this post last year, but with the holidays fast approaching it felt like the perfect time to dust it off and share again. Okay, so maybe I had to dig up the recipes as part of my nefarious plot to score the top spot at this year’s cookie exchange. Either way this one is a win, win!

Taking a recipe with you is the best sort of travel souvenir. It lets you recall the memories with all your senses. Omni hotels are bringing it all back with some great global cookie recipes and personal stories.

Dulce De Leche Snap Cookies“This family recipe stems from growing up with my grandmother in a small village off the coast of the Pacific, a few hours from Acapulco. She was a great cook and baker. Everything that she produced was done from scratch including one of the main ingredients that was used for this particular cookie, the “Dulce de Leche” which was made from sugar cane molasses.” ~ Executive Chef Gabino Acosta, Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas

Dulce de Leche Snap Cookies

8 oz Sugar
5 oz Brown sugar
0.03 oz Salt
12 oz Shortening
4 oz Butter
4 oz Whole milk
.5 oz Baking soda
22 oz Molasses
20 oz Bread flour
20 oz Cake flour

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cream together sugars, salt shortening and butter till smooth and soft. Dissolve baking soda in milk and add to the mix. Add molasses. Sift together flours and add it to the mixer, slowly till smooth. Roll 1.5 ounce balls, then make the dough in the shape of mini bowl. Scoop the Dulce de Leche into 0.8 ounce. Add the Dulce de Leche into the dough, close it and shape the cookie in 2 inches rounds. Freeze the cookie dough for about 20 minutes, and bake them frozen 8-10 minutes at 325 degrees.

Amaretti Cookie RecipeIn my husband’s Italian family, Amaretti cookies are a holiday staple. I’ve been asking my mother-in-law for her recipe for years. Like the mom on Everybody Loves Raymond she always seems to be unable to find it or recall it from memory when I ask. Our cookies are either shipped by her, or store bought… until now!

Amaretti Cookies

12oz almond paste
2oz egg whites
¾ C powdered sugar
½ C granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Put the almond paste in the bowl of your mixer and, with the paddle attachment, paddle to break up
3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix to form a sticky dough
4. Scoop the cookies with a cookie scoop (or alternately just scoop with a tablespoon) and roll into a ball. Place the balls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Slightly wet your fingers in warm water, and press the cookies down using 2 fingers (you want to see the finger marks)
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until just starting to show color

“The holidays always remind me of baking with my Italian Nana. We would make pies, rolls, and cookies. The first thing she ever let me do in the kitchen was whip the cream for the pies, and every year when I am making my holiday desserts and whipping that cream, I think of being a little girl baking with my Nana.”  ~ Pastry Chef Kristina Kent, Omni Dallas Hotel

Omni has put together a great collection of global cookie recipes that you can enjoy at their hotels, or visit their Pinterest page to find some to try at home!

Disclosure: This post is NOT sponsored by anything but kiemy taste buds and love of trying new recipes. I was not compensated in any way. We do love to stay at Omni hotels – Berkshire in New York City is our favorite – because they always treat everyone in your family like you’re in theirs.

 

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Loews Loves Pets (and it’s a mutual thing)

Do you travel with your fur family members? If you’ve undertaken the task of even looking into doing so, I’m sure you ran into the same issues we have; outrageous fees, no facilities  or simply no pet-friendly room at the inn. There is hope fellow pawrents. Loews Loves Pets… and it’s a mutual thing. 

Loews Loves PetsIn the fall of 2015 we lost a beloved family member. Don Sonny Corelone Di Paola ascended the rainbow bridge after nearly fifteen years of joining us at the table for meals, napping on baskets of freshly folded laundry and a life-long refusal to own the fact that he was born a feline rather than human or canine. This cat growled at the doorbell and insisted there be an extra chair at the table for him though he never ate morsel.   

As our hearts began to heal, we  found there was room behind the scar tissue. In the spring we welcomed Gordon von Ottawa du Barkhimedes (a eleven-week old French Bulldog) to our family. Gordy is our first dog as a family. 

Being cat pawrents really never put a kink in our travel style. Aside from the occasional jumping into an open suitcase and refusing to budge, they pretty much could care less if we were head out-of-town without them. I’ve my suspicions that there may have been some wild feline soirees going on in our absence.  

As newly minted puppy familiga it became rapidly clear that Gordo was going to have to earn his travel wings. We started him out with his first trip to NYC as soon as the vet cleared him to be social. The guy road tripped like a pro from day one. I think he may have learned bye-bye faster than sit!

Travel with DogsWe learned, “I’m sorry we don’t allow pets,” even faster. When we did find hotels that would welcome Gordon our bill would shoot up an average of $100. Ouch! Adding insult to financial injury, that green bought you exactly nada beyond allowing the dog in the building. Then we found Loews Hotels! 

As hotel chains go, Loews has long been one of our favorite. Why? Service. Loews takes attentiveness to the next level.

Staying at the Loews Regency New York a few years back I mentioned at check-in that my husband and I would be enjoying our first kid-free getaway in over two years. When we got back to our room after an afternoon in the park there was a bottle of wine and some sublime chocolates waiting alongside a note telling us to enjoy ourselves. When we stayed at Loews Grand Pacific – where I made it abundantly clear that I was the family Harry Potter nerd – the concierge spent a good twenty minutes giving me all the insider tips on navigating the nooks and crannies of Diagon and  Knockturn Alley.  Alohomora big time, fellow Potter heads! 

The most abundantly clear example of the unique, genuine and warm welcome at Loews (that seems to be a corporate philosophy)  came when we brought Gordon along to celebrate Lil Nugget Number 4’s big tenth birthday.  Let’s back things up just a bit…

Em is our youngest. She started planning her tenth birthday, along with her gallery opening and Oscar acceptance speech when she was about three years old. Where some girls her age love Barbie she loves her travel journal, glitter isn’t her thing but a good hotel bathrobe is (she has a collection.) It really wasn’t a huge surprise when in lieu of a birthday party she asked for a bubble bath, room service and taking Gordon to a hotel.  

The bummer of having a late-summer birthday is that travel isn’t quite as doable. The upside for us is that we’re surrounded by great staycation destinations like DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Another huge plus is that Annapolis is rated one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.  The trifecta of birthday awesome for Em is that there is a Loews in Annapolis. Which brings us back to where I started telling you about what makes Loews hotels so unique for families that travel with fur family in tow.

Now back to where we were…

Checking in at Loews Annapolis is more like being welcomed home. Yes the floors are polished marble, walls are hung with nautical themed works of art and fragrant arrangements of flowers abound, but there is zero pretension. How can one be aloof when they melt at the sight of a puppy? That’s exactly what the front desk staff did when Gordo walked in the joint.

Loews Loves PetsThe blue carpet rolled out for both Em and her fury lil bro. She got birthday hi-fives, well-wishes and covert questioning about what her favorite treats are. He got a welcome goody bag packed with handmade treats, his own Loews water bowl, accident bags and even a sparkly bit of bling for his collar.

Yes, we were hosted guests of this particular Loews but this sort of welcome is the norm not the exception. When you pay to bring your four-legged family along Loews makes sure you get value beyond a room at the inn. 

That hospitality and attention to detail, in my experience, applies to all guests at every Loews. Every time we’ve been guests the staff has always asked if we were celebrating anything. If we were, they’d make sure to celebrate along with us by sending notes, treats or just remembering every time you passed by in the lobby.

Loews Loves PetsWhile chatting with the staff at Loews Annapolis I made mention that Em’s last birthday was New Orleans themed. Not sure why the kiddo is so enamored with The Crescent City (she’s never been) but she is. Her room is decorated with masks, fluer de lis and street signs from the French Quarter. He asked if we’d stayed at the Loews New Orleans. I didn’t even know there was one (travel blogger, fail.)

That night when she and her pup were snuggled up after an epic round of Monopoly, I booked her first trip to NOLA. Knowing there would be a Loews to welcome us, I couldn’t resist. We’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the Big Easy and bringing Gordon along!

Loews Loves Pets - Hotel room birthday sorieeWhen you find a place that feels like home, you know you need to be there. Thank you Loews for hosting this one stay, but even more for giving us more reasons to travel with the WHOLE family!

If you travel with fur family in tow, stay tuned for our article in the holiday issue of Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine. We’ll be dishing on more tips for travel with pets including how essential oils can make it easier for everyone. Check out the autumn issue that’s live now. 

Loews Loves Pets 

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

Getting your child a passport as the custodial parentWhen 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 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 are some of the questions we had, answers to which came in the form of a lesson learned.

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 $25 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! 

Note: 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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