Category Archives: tips

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! 

 

Don’t Buy Gifts That Suck

As of the writing of this post (in mid-October), it has been holiday shopping season since roughly three months ago.  One may think that the propensity of retailers to start the gift buying frenzy off earlier and earlier would result in fastidiously chosen alms of holiday joy. Yeah, not-so-much. This year I implore you, use your time wisely… don’t buy gifts that suck

True story, three years ago I received exactly eleven scented candles as holiday gifts. Either I really need to step up my housekeeping game or these people needed to stop phoning it in. So, in the spirit of actually wanting to unwrap gifts received, I have agreed to write this post that is sponsored by uncommongoods. (disclosure: I am only accepting their money because I can actually use it to buy the things from them that I had already planned on purchasing – don’t tell Ri she’s getting that F-Bomb paperweight.) 

I started buying gifts from uncommongoods a few years back when Marc asked for rocks for his scotch. Yeah, actual rocks not ice. Turns out there are soapstone rocks out there that chill your scotch without diluting it. Well, now it turns out pretty much everyone knows that but a few years back it was just my man and uncommongoods. Turns out they have like 425 (or a few less) versions available online and in their catalog.  This year I may have to get him a hand-painted Bocce Ball set because he is Italian and I don’t by gifts that suck. 

 

Two years ago I stopped stuffing stockings. Why? Because, nobody stuffed mine, dammit! I mean the kids are now old enough to know that there isn’t a jolly elf out there paying mom and dad’s credit card bills. This should lead one to conclude that when the stockings of everyone but mom are brimming with goodies, it is time to step up to the plate. 

This year I’ll make it easy. I demand wine soap, coasters made from old LPs (and used on my good table!), Yoga Joes and a Moscow Mule Carry-On Kit for all my long-haul flight needs be stuffed in my stocking.  See, it really is not that hard to find something cool. So say it with me people… don’t by gifts that suck! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Could Q Have Designed the Moto 360?

How could would it be to have your own version of Bond’s Q? I mean really, who couldn’t use a gadget guy hold up in a secret lab creating super cool tech to make you even more awesome? Through my collaboration with Verizon I got a chance take what I’ve deemed Suave Spy Gear befitting – the Moto 360 2nd Gen Smartwatch – for a test drive. 

moto 360 smartwatch review

Moto 360 Smartwatch Review

First off, the gadgets that Q designed for Bond were always stylish. An Aston Martin complete with a bar and rocket launchers… that’s just plain sexy. By that measure the Moto 360 Rose Gold watch for the ladies fits the bill. It’s sleek and the neutral tons make it work with just about any outfit.

The cool factor gets a bump from the ability to use apps that customize the face. Choose something more traditional {as seen above}, find a face with artwork from famous designers, or use your own photos. There are even interactive options.  The motion activated face is really cool too. “Hide” what you’ve got going on as the face dims when your wrist is in a flat position. Flick that wrist and the face comes to life right where you’ll see it.  Very Suave Spy cool.

All that said it is a little big measuring in at 11.4mm. But hey, it’s a statement piece.

One of the other qualities of Q created gadgets is their ability to appear as one thing while having other hidden functions. The Moto 360 does that best with its fitness tracker. No more need to have both a watch and my Vivo Fit on one arm.

The fitness tracker in the Moto 360 (Moto Body) tracks all the typical stuff; heart activity, steps, total calorie burn, running, and heart rate. I wish it tracked sleep. 

Moto 360 smartwatch face app

Moto Body has a great analysis tool that keeps me on track. I also like that it’s compatible with MyFitness Pal. I’ve long been a fan and user of this app and all my data from Vivo had to be manually input.

I love the talk-to-text feature, mostly because I feel so very Spy-Girl when I talk to my watch. Yes, I’m a nerd. I own that. Like with any other talk-to-text platform this one can be a bit tricky. Nobody wants to send a client a reply that says, “Let’s move our meat up to next week.” Yep, that happened. Ugh.

Things I really loved include; alerts for incoming calls, texts and email, calendar reminders, GPS, and the wide variety of available apps. My banking app is even Moto 360 compatible.  The charging dock is small and easy to use. Wearing the watch means less having to hunt around for my phone.

Along with the good there was some not-so-good. The battery drains really quickly. I haven’t been able to wear it for more than a day without having to recharge. In the month or so that I’ve been wearing the watch it has had several bug issues and crashed a few times. That said, Motorola was quick with the fix. I wish there were a way to manually input text. Using the search feature is cumbersome. So much so that I just gave up. The leather band isn’t very durable, but I’m sure you can find chic replacement bands.

moto 360 smartwatch review apps

Is the Moto 360 Smartwatch worthy of Bond? It’s certainly better than an old school watch for making tech-life easier. Were Q to get his hands on it, it could be essential spy gear. For now it’s certainly great for mom-life.

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! 

2016 kia sorento SXL AWD (review)

It’s a funny thing, how different the lives of our kids can be from those we lived as children. For example, my offspring have zero clue what a hand-me-down is. My first car was one, and yet my husband and I are still on a quest to find the right brand-spankin-new car for our teen.  I call this the, up hill in both directions’ effect. Always wanting better for our kids while continually reminding ourselves how we never had it so good. Ha! 

Collaborating with Drive Shop has allowed us to do a few extended test drives – one week or so– for cars we’re considering. The latest ride to go through the paces was the Kia Sorento SXL AWD.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD Review

First let me start by saying that I completely get that this car isn’t exactly what most would think of for a 17 year-old. I’ll go a step further and say that part of me is green with envy at the thought of my kid driving a shiny new set of wheels all decked out with nearly every bell and whistle you can imagine.

Here is the thing, it seems the kiddo has her heart set on a couple of colleges in the frozen North. Like… way north! So having a car that can handle both harsh winters and ski gear could be a plus. Also, she’ll be home for well over a year so this is going to start off as a family car. That brings us to this 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review – and spoiler alert this one tops her list so far.

Is It Big Enough for 5?

Driving around town it certainly felt like it fit the bill. It has tons of leg space and three rows of seats you can configure to your needs.

That configuration ability is a saving grace as the rear cargo space is nearly non-existent. As we’ve done with all the cars we’re testing though our Drive Shop collaboration, we took this one on a road trip for a real test.

2016 Kia Sorento XSL AWD reivewThree hours – and enough in tolls to nearly make a car payment— later, we landed in the Big Apple. Packed into the Kia were not only bags for a family of five, but also our newest fury family member, Gordon Von Ottawa du Barkimedes a.k.a Gordon the Frenchie. I swear this dog has more gear than all the kids combined. All that fit easily into this car. 

Major points in the roominess category and extra props for the panoramic sunroof that makes you feel like the space is even bigger.

Best Safety Features?

Three words… Electronic Stability Control. Driving in harsh winter weather is about more than scraping ice off off the windshield. My first winter on the East Coast Maryland got hit with an epic storm. After three days being snowed in when I finally ventured out I took a epic skid on black ice. It was terrifying. If my kid is going to drive in the Tundra THIS is the must-have safety feature.

This model also boasts Side Curtain airbags in the first and second row seats and my other must-have feature, lane departure warning. I have to tell you, going back to a car without lane departure warning is tough. It’s like walking a tightrope without a net. Seriously, how is this not a mandatory feature?

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review of tech

Let’s Talk Tech

Hands down the tech in this car is the reason it makes the whole family’s short list. As you might expect the kids were stoked about the plethora of power outlets for their gadgets. We aren’t talking just a couple of old-school cigarette lighter style outlets that need an adapter.

Just about every seat has a USB port nearby. There is even a rapid charge USB port in the center consul. The real swoon inducing moment was finding the AC plug! I’ll admit it takes some getting used to how it works – plug, turn, push – but man what a great option for a family on the go.

Telematics. Know what that is? You need to. It takes the rear camera concept and turns it into an all-around view from above. I am the worst parallel parker in history – or I was until Telematics. 

Infinity surround sound was made for satellite radios and people who love to drive. Or in my case mothers who like to cruise the pickup line at school with the base cranking on some Jamiroquai. The kids totally loved that, not-at-all.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review safety feature

Gas Mileage

Every rose has it’s thorn my friends. You might find yourself getting poked by a few at the gas pump. While we aren’t talking Hummer-bad gas mileage here we aren’t exactly in hybrid land.

I drive a minimum of fifteen miles a day and with an average of around 19 miles to the gallon… ouch. The Sorento did do better on the highway clocking in at about 24 mpg.

Price Tag

The 2016 Kia Sorento follows on the heals of it’s older brother , the 2015 winner of the JD Power “Highest Ranked Midsize SUV in Initial Quality” and the price tag reflects that champion lineage. That said, with all the tech, safety and luxury features {hello Napa leather cooled and heated seats and surround view monitor} I’d say it’s still a good deal.

The 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD we drove came in at $45,600.00

Lifestyle Points

50/50 fold third row seats. Panoramic sun roof. Kickin’ sound system and tech galore made this ride score super big in the Lifestyle category.

 

Having the roller coaster all to yourself.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

We trekked to, from and around New York without one single, “She’s touching me.” That alone puts this one high on my list. I may not let the teen abscond to college with it.

Do you have a teen driver? What are you looking for in a car for them? I’d love some advice!