Category Archives: Ireland

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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Where to Stay in Dublin – The Fitzwilliam Hotel

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelDublin, Ireland is a unique city where old and new, history and innovation blend in a harmony rarely found in any major metropolitan city I’ve visited. The options for entertaining oneself are endless, as are the places to rest your head. When I’m asked where to stay in Dublin, the answer is easy – The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

I’ve stayed in countless hotels around the globe and learned that all of them can be measured by four things; location, amenities, staff, and value. Here is how The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin measures up…

Location, Location, Location!

The Fitzwilliam sits at head of Grafton Street directly across from the famed St. Stephens’ Green. A large section of Grafton Street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic and features endless options for shopping and dining. Though I will say that I wasn’t so impressed with the stores… what American wants to go to Dublin and shop at the Disney Story? Not this one. 

Far more alluring was the ability to walk – literally across the street– and into St. Stephens’ Green. If you didn’t already know, this public park was the model for New York City’s Central Park, and I’m sure countless other public squares. One of my favorite areas in the park is the gardens around the Caretaker’s Cottage, which is directly in front of the Fitzwilliam.

Saint Stephen's Green Caretakers CottegeThe DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) tram stops within walking distance of the property. There are taxis galore in the area, as well as pedicabs and horse drawn carriages (take one to the Guinness Store House for a fun twist.) Concierge will happily help you with securing a bicycle if you’d like, though the streets are quite busy – I’d fall and need stitches!

Amenities

Sure there is a gym, doesn’t every hotel have one these days? What the Fitzwilliam has that most don’t, is Spirit. Part salon, with a little bit of spa, Spirit ascribes to a wonderfully holistic and natural approach to beauty services. Treat yourself.

Not many hotels can boast three excellent on-site restaurants, let alone one with a Michelin star. The Fitzwilliam can.  Thornton’s is fine dining at its best, thus the star. Citron is a more relaxed, yet still upscale dinning experience that boasts some modern twists on Irish classics. Their Celeriac soup is simply divine! Pop into the Inn on the Green for a great breakfast, or a lovely lunch in this cozy place that makes you feel at ease. Note: the charcuterie plate is HUGE! 

Any good hotel, in my book, must have a fabulous bathtub and plush robes. Not having this can be a deal breaker. The bath at Fitzwilliam was a deal maker!

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThere is also a wonderful tea available seasonally on the balcony that overlooks the city.  Free (reliable) wi-fi and in-room safes that are large enough for a laptop are both pluses.

Staff

Here is where the Fitzwilliam sets itself apart. From the doormen who take the time to ask you where your day is taking you with sincerity to a concierge staff who call your room to ask how they can help make your stay even better, to the housekeeping staff that leave lovely notes, this place makes you feel so very welcome. Many a hotel will send up a welcome amenity. At the Fitzwilliam we got a delivery of Dairy Milk bars and crisps with a note from the front desk telling my daughter how those where their favorite childhood treats.

Get to know the concierge while you’re here! These folks are gems, working with them is akin to having your own private guide to all things you love that can be found in Dublin. Seriously, this is a service they should charge for – I’d pay. 

Each and every staff member we encountered was warm, helpful and never overbearing, which speaks to the earnestness that takes this from hotel to a fond memory and a place you long to return to. 

“Some places you stay. Other places stay with you.” ~Me

Value

The Fitzwilliam is a luxury property, and the price tag reflects that – our stay in the off-season and was £395 per night. That said, the location, and service were well worth the price. Being so centrally located, you need not spend extra money on getting around. Having the concierge as your guides is a huge service, adding to the value.

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThe Fitzwilliam is also a member of the Preferred Hotel Group – their iPrefer program is one of only three hotel loyalty programs I personally belong to. Why?  Their points add up fast, you always get free wi-fi, early check-in and/or late checkout, and they take the time to learn your (and your family’s) preferences ensuring that they follow you across all their member properties.

Ireland Road Tripping (in pictures)

More than just about any other place in the world the Emerald Isle makes for a driver’s delight. Last spring I had the joy of driving my dad and oldest daughter from Dublin to Westport and back. Memories were made. Songs sung. Food devoured. A few unexpected detours taken.  Endless pictures taken Ireland road tripping.

Snapping photos is one of my favorite things about any trip. From monuments to meals, I take pictures of everything. Yes, it drives the family nuts — sometimes.

I harbor zero delusions that I’m anything more than marginally passable as a photographer.  In fact, there were times before the advent of smartphones and mobile editing apps, that i was famed for lopping off heads. The wonderful thing about Ireland is that it’s pretty much impossible to take a bad picture. It’s just that beautiful.

Deep greens, hauntingly beautiful ruins, even overcast days can’t cast a shadow on the beauty here. There is simply no better way to see – and photograph – Éireann than from it’s winding roads.

Ireland Road Tripping (in pictures)

 

We traveled the width of Ireland – from Dublin to Westport– in a quick five-day jaunt. The nice thing about this route was that it was certainly less traveled than say the Great Atlantic way in the north or the winding roads of the southern coast.

If this is your first time Ireland road tripping – or driving on the “wrong” side of the road– it’s a great place to start. Lots of history, cute small towns and villages, great if you’re in search of antiques and certainly picturesque. One thing I will say is that planning your stops for gas needs to be done in advance. There were a couple of times there that I wasn’t sure if we’d see anything but rolling green hills and sheep. There were also a few petrol stops that didn’t have gas. Gads!

Part of the adventure though is in the getting “lost” and seeing what you find.  It seems that nearly every town, village and county in Ireland has it’s own art and history. Getting lost in that was the best part of the adventure. That and trying to interpret pictograph road signs. 

Is road tripping something you enjoy? Where is your favorite place to roam?

 

 

HELP! I’m ALONE in a Foreign Country and My Phone Won’t Work #truestory

How to get global cell service BEFORE you goIt was a warm and sunny January in Jamaica. Well of course it was.  I’d arrived at the airport in Kingston, but the people who were supposed to meet me were nowhere to be found.  Alone in a foreign country, in strange town, I did what anyone would do. I pulled out my phone. I was wholly unprepared for the obnoxious klaxon of  the “No Service” signal that greeted me. Cue the panic…

Help! I’m ALONE in a foreign country and my phone won’t work!!

Even though I travel quite a bit, somehow I hadn’t thought about global service in Jamaica. Maybe I’d been distracted by daydreams  of white sand beaches and rum punch. Who could blame a girl?

I spent nearly an hour waiting for my travel companions to show, then caught a cab to the hotel we were staying at. While I was winding through the streets of Kingston with a taxi driver who could moonlight as a historian – thoroughly enjoying myself – my family were back stateside growing increasingly worried about the lack of call from me. 

Once in the hotel there was a land-line and the bill to go with it.. gah! I got in touch with my family, all was well. It was on that trip that I decided that I’d rather pay for global service than ever end up stranded alone with no phone again. 

Things have changed a bit since my semi harrowing experience in Jamaica. Verizon (my carrier) no longer causes shell shock with that “no service” noise. In fact if you haven’t added international service before your trip you can still call within the country you’re in to reach their Call Center and get that your international all hooked up.

A few months ago I took my oldest daughter on her epic 16th birthday trip to Ireland. Before (like months before) we headed out I made sure to do my research and get both the best and most flexible global plan I could. No way I was going to pay over a hundred bucks for two weeks of service!

With the help of the friendly folks at Verizon I paid less than $40 up front and when I got back there was ZERO sticker shock. I had voice, text, and data with a bill that ended up being a whopping $3.78… YES that period is in the right place.

My poor Dad, who tagged along on this trip, wasn’t so lucky. The global portion of his bill was nearly $200.  I felt so bad for him! Nothing can tarnish great travel memories like getting hit with a huge bill one you get home.

I thought I’d reach out to my pals at the Verizon Buzz crew and see if I could get some useful 411 on going global with your gadgets – no one should ever be stuck in a foreign country without a cell phone… or worse, stuck with an enormous bill when you get back! Here is some of what I learned; 

4 Ways To Go Global with Verizon Plans

International Preferred Pricing

This is the plan I used in Ireland. There are two tiers to choose from, each has a per-line flat fee. What you pay for voice, text and data varies by plan.

per line              voice & text                                     data

International Travel Preferred Pricing with Verizon

note: there are also International Preferred Price Plan options that allow you pay $50 per line and get 250 MB of data, or $85 for 250 MB of data as well as 250 minutes of voice, 250 minutes of text and unlimited incoming texts.

Mexico & Canada

We’re heading to Canada in a few days, and it’s a good thing I’d reached out to Verizon for this info, we may have had another Jamaican Indecent on our hands.  I set up global service for three phones for $45. That gives the hubby, the teen and I each 100 minutes of talk and 100 texts. Any parent of a teen knows that is a huge deal when texts could otherwise be .99¢ each. I get the shakes just thinking about how much that could cost! 

per line                           voice & text                           data

Mexico and Canada international cell service with Verizon

Pay As You Go

Not sure where your travels will take you? Don’t think you’ll need that phone too much when you get there? Pay as you go pricing could be exactly what you’re looking for. Be aware though that this can be pricy. Voice starts at 99¢ a minute in Canada and Mexico and can go up as high at $2.99 a minute. Text and data pricing varies by country, but there are 140 countries with lower, “Preferred Pricing” options. 

Cruise Ship Rates

Here is where I leave you, or at least it’s an area I have zero experience with.  I’ve never been on a cruise ship that wasn’t docked right here in the good Ole US of A, thus never had need of a service like this. That said, I’ve a number of pals who dig the cruise thing and tell me that getting reliable data, and even voice service can be not only rough, but expensive. As it turns out, Verizon is the only carrier that offers a package that provides data, voice, and text for ONE price! So if you’re into cruising pop over to Verizon Wireless and see what’s up. Click on “View Cruise Ship Coverage” for a list of cruise lines available.   

Insider Tip: Verizon Wireless is offering a special promotion through their FREE Wi-Fi Connect app that allows you to connect to select wi-fi hotspots while traveling helping you get more bang for your buck.

Have you ever found yourself stranded somewhere without a means to reach someone at home? I’ll bet there are some funny stories out there. Do tell!

 

* (**) be sure to check with Verizon Wireless directly to verify plans and pricing, as well as any restrictions that may apply. 

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less! 

 

 

B&Bs of Ireland: Hounslow House

Ireland's Most Charming B&Bs - Hounslow House, Fore, Castlepollard, County WestmeathRoom service, concierge, spa treatments, there is no denying the attraction of a good hotel. That said, the one thing that even the hotel with an in-room cappuccino machine will never have is the feeling of being welcomed home that you get from a great Bed and Breakfast (B&B). Our recent return to Ireland uncovered some of the best B&Bs we’ve ever stayed at.

Finding a good – let alone outstanding – B&B can be challenging. Do you trust the reviews on Yelp or Tripadvisor? Who exactly are you sleeping with (um..  rather who’s running the place you’re sleeping at?) Having the right tools at hand can make all the difference in finding the perfect B&B for you.

Wait, I have to share a bathroom with strangers?!

If you happen to be heading to Ireland, the best tool to have in your search is Bed and Breakfast Ireland. Their search feature goes so much deeper than location. You can search by activity, amenities, room types, and so much more. Including ensuite bathrooms you won’t have to share.

Homemade Scones & Jam at Hounslow House B&B Fore, Castlepollard, County Westmeath IrelandThe site has a “Short List” feature so you can save potential locations, saving time and sanity in the process. The Irish Tourist and Northern Irish Tourist Board also certify the B&Bs found on the site and most have profiles of the proprietors as well.

The Best of The Best…

Some places you stay leave such an impression that you’ll undoubtedly carry that memory with you. Hounslow House in Fore, Castle Pollard, County Westmeath is one such place.

Nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills of deep beryl green, Hounslow House is a gem. The resident welcome party – in the form of a very friendly Irish Setter – eagerly awaits disembarkation from your car. Equally as welcoming (though I might not suggest trying to pet them) are proprietors, the Healy’s.

The Fore Crosses stand sentury on 10km of roadway, beared witness to religious persecution during penal timesGrainne Healy is a veritable expert in local history, which serves her well as a teacher at the are primary school. She also whips up amazing scones – until her’s I’d always thought of a scone as sawdust in the shape of a biscuit. 

The front of the house features a huge picture window that overlooks the countryside as well as the ruins of Fore Abbey below. Resident equine ambassadors – Orlando and Zsa Zsa – were always game for a photo, while the chickens provide excellent fresh eggs for the outstanding full Irish breakfast you’ll enjoy included in the price of your stay – which can be as low at €70 (or around $80.)

Ruin of Fore Abbey sight of the 7 Wonders of Fore Castlepollard, County Westmeath, IrelandTake tea with Grainne and let her fill you in on the history of Fore Abbey, regale you with the tale of the 18 ancient stone crosses that dot the roadside near the B&B, and be sure to ask her where the best hiking and fishing can be found. She and her husband are quite the outdoors people and a priceless resource for getting the most out of your time in this breathtaking region rich in natural beauty and history that you’re not likely to find in typical travel guides.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path but that’s part of it’s indomitable charm.

Official Ambassador of Houndslow House