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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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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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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Exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland: Rural Charm and Hospitality

Exploring Saint Mary's County Maryland

One of the pitfalls of being well-traveled is a tendency to look too far beyond your front door. Truth is any new adventure, no matter how near, is still worth having. Embracing that idea is how I found myself a few hours from home exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland.

Much of the county is dotted with bucolic encampments of cattle and fields of corn. Formerly a seat of tobacco cultivation, some of that land has been converted to wine production. Which brings us to our first stop, a winery!

Port of Leonardtown Winery

This small winery boasts a bevy a awards and accolades for its small batches of surprisingly sophisticated {surprising to me that is because much of my experience with Maryland wines has fallen a bit short of a trip to Montepulciano} wine. Setting it apart from most wineries is the fact that Port of Leonardtown is a cooperative of growers. Each producer tends to their growth and harvest, the bounty is then turned over to an in-house vintner. The resulting product is uniquely, Saint Mary’s County Maryland.

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Just outside the tasting room is a small park with a beautiful, copper roofed gazebo. Making this stop family-friendly. Wine + Family Time = Bonus

Up next, I go back to the Navy…

Patuxent River Naval Air Museum

Have you ever walked into a place you’ve never been before and been overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu? … all over again. This is that place for me.

The lobby of the newly redesigned museum is designed just like a hangar bay.  A bay that was so reminiscent of the one I worked in daily as part of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two known as the Circuit Riders back in my day. Standing at the wheel of a vintage Navy helicopter that is the focal point of the room, completed the sense of having been there before.

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Tucked along side the helicopter you’ll find a brief history of naval aviation dating back to the days of the brothers Wright and forward into space travel. It’s both an informative and adventurous visit when combined with a stroll down the tarmac outside the building. 

You’ll find historical and unique aircraft along that tarmac and even a very cool prototype or two. There are hands on exhibits and flight simulators as well.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to share this part of my history with our kids. They’ll have some epic fodder for essays this school year, for sure.

Historic Leonardtown

While we’re on the subject of time travel, fans of Marty McFly and Doc Brown will fall in love with the historic section of Leonardtown. Standing in the town square it’s as though you’ve stepped back in time, or onto a movie set.

Red bricked buildings boast painted marquees of businesses long gone. Quaint shops and small eateries line the cobblestone streets. At the center, a town square dedicated to Leonites who’ve served their country, completes the Mayberry-like vibe.   

One of our favorite stops was Heritage Chocolates – for obvious reasons… like, um… handcrafted confections of chocolate covered bliss. Bonus points for the entertainment value of watching someone making these sweet treats – I-Love-Lucy-Style.

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The historic jail is a must-see for history nuts, like us. Hold up behind the stone walls of this small building is a chronology of crime and punishment, the history of a local doctor and philanthropist and a treasure trove of period items donated by residents for the preservation of the town’s history. 

Into the paranormal? Fancy yourself a bit of a ghost hunter? Be sure to make time to learn about Moll Dyer, her rock and the rumors of witchcraft that still linger in the air. 

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Where to Stay 

Where you stay can be the biggest factor in the success of nearly and adventure. On our Saint Mary’s County expedition our base camp was perched on a tiny strip of land just big enough for two way traffic and buildings (mostly on one side,) called Saint George Island. Just driving to the Island Inn & Suites is an adventure as the tide laps at the grass that hugs the road. 

Hospitality here is the hidden gem of Saint George. The staff is warm, welcoming and excited to share their home with you. Borrow a beachcomber bicycle for a ride down to the park at Piney Point or take to the water with one of the kayaks they offer. Our favorite activity was watching the sun set from the balcony after a walk down the boat pier behind the hotel. They also have a public fire pit and will even supply wood and marshmallows for roasting. 

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Saint George Island is fairly isolated, but that is part of the charm. You won’t find a grocery store or gas station on the island but both are easy driving distance. Next door to the hotel is The Ruddy Duck a nice little eatery offering local favorites and some very good craft beer, which by far makes up for the lack of “night life” on the island. 

Though it may not be a place that gets huge marque in the travel space, exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland is certainly worth the trip. 

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Glamping at Firelight Camps (Ithaca, New York)

There comes a time in life where once must face certain truths. Revelations like; I’ll never enjoy eating foie gras, will not willingly jump out of a perfectly good plane and camping is better suited anyone but me. Now glamping, that is a different story. 

Yes, the woman who spent her childhood summers in a musty old military surplus tent, reveled in solar showers, and would never dream of an RV has become tent-adverse and is raising hotel kids. In fact, during one stay at a lovely Residence Inn in Charleston, North Carolina, the youngest picked up the room phone and was appalled to learn there was no concierge. 

Frog Pond at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkWould I ever be able to show them the joys of camping? Did I even want to? I mean, solar showers sort of suck. Maybe easing them in would be the key… or not.

The teen daughter and I set out to test this theory with an epic road trip to Upstate New York, where we’d be guests at Firelight Camps in Ithaca for a glamping experiment. Would she survive without bell service… and, um… electricity?

I’ve written about Firelight Camps and the whole glamping trend before, but I’d yet fully experience it for myself. {I doubt a pop up tent in a suite at the Four Seasons counts.}  

firelight camps Ithaca new yorkFirst impressions count, and Firelight’s first impression knocks it out of the park, as it sits on the grounds of the La Trouelle Hotel – a quaint resort with some beautiful architectural features.   The camps themselves are behind the hotel, which is a little disorienting at first.

Once you make your way down the the “lobby” tent, where you’re greeted by not only chic-camp decor but a friendly host, the “awkward” wares off.  Our host welcomed us with local wine, gave us the lay of the land.. where the bath house is {a real bathroom, with real showers and even a sauna}, what was available on-site, and what wasn’t. There is no electrical outlet in your tent. That said, there are battery operated lanterns that light things up fairly well and do double duty as USB chargers.

Glamping at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkThe lack of outlets fades away the minute you step inside your tent and see the REAL bed – with actual sheets, and pillows you don’t have to blow up! Each tent also features a balcony with chairs and a table. Ours looked out over a small ravine and was the perfect spot for enjoying tea with the birds. 

Though there isn’t room service, you can make reservations at the steakhouse that is also located on the property. We choose to head into the town of Ithaca, which is just a short drive away from camp. Ithaca is absolutely charming, and the foodie scene is strong. We had the best meal at North Star Pub {recommended by our host} and enjoyed watching a parade that was part of the city’s annual festival with a theme of “Better Together” celebrating the artist in everyone.

Back at camp, the fire surrounded by a luxury seating area blazed as craft cocktails where whipped up and deep conversations had. There was a fierce game of horseshoes going on as well. Gourmet S’mores? Yeah they had those too.

The bed was sublime. The only bug we encountered was on the outside of the tent, and try though he might, he wasn’t getting through that canvas. Thank god! The frogs sang us to sleep from the nearby pond. 

In the morning we noshed fresh fruit, pastries, and locally produced yogurt topped with the famed granola made by chef/owner Emma Frisch who also happened to be a finalist on Food Network Star Season 10 and is the owner of Frisch Kitchen.  Not your typical hotel breakfast, for sure.

Luxury Glamping Touches at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkSo how did Firelight do with the teen? She really enjoyed the bed, got over the no electricity thing, and says that she wants to hike nearby Buttermilk Falls – this from the kid who says “Ugh, nature… it’s all over me!” That I’d have to credit our host with, he was very enthused about all great hiking in the area.

There is a certain serenity to Firelight that I’ve not found at “traditional” camp grounds. While families are welcomed with open arms, I’d caution that this isn’t a place for the rambunctious. That said, it’s perfect for a family like ours who is looking to break out of the suite life and get back to nature without having to sleep on the ground… or use a solar shower.

 

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