Category Archives: Travel Tips

Lighthouses & Sunken Submarines: St. Mary’s County, Maryland

What is it about lighthouses that sparks such fascination? A romanticized notion of the lonely keeper of the flame. Perhaps it has something to do with a mix of quite heroism and tales of the sea. Then again it could just be all about the view.  I’ve set out on a quest to visit the lighthouses of Maryland to try and answer that question. 

Up first is a unique lighthouse with some hidden treasure you won’t find anywhere else. 

Piney Point LighthousePiney Point Lighthouse

Do you imagine a lighthouse as a towering presence standing watch at the water’s edge? Me too. In fact I’d always sort of thought there was a height requirement. Which when I stop to think about it makes no sense. As long as the view is unbroken, the job gets done.

The Piney Point lighthouse isn’t even the largest structure within the historic park in which it resides. It sands only thirty-three feet high.

“…and though she be but little she is fierce.” ~Hermina

Opened in 1836 the lighthouse stands watch over the Potomac River. In the course of its service (it was decommissioned in 1964 by the US Coastguard) the lighthouse and its adjacent quarters were occupied by twenty-one Keepers and their families. Four of those keepers were women.

Some of these women were spouses, trained in their husband’s profession out of necessity. Lighthouses tend to be placed in remote areas where assistance was often hours away. Wives served as backup keepers. Following a ship wreck, Mrs. Goeshy (wife of one of William Goeshy – Keeper in 1939) swam repeatedly out into the water to rescue victims. She may have actually been one of the Coast Guard’s first, famed rescue swimmers.

Who knew lighthouse keeping was a beacon for feminism? I sure didn’t.

I’d also no clue at there was a German U Boat sunk in the waters just off the coast from where the lighthouse sits century. That’s one of the amazing facts that had our entire family’s rapt attention when we toured the Piney Point Lighthouse, Museum and Historic Park with historian and former Park Ranger, April Havens.

One could say that U-1105, or the Black Panther, was one of the first-ever stealth submarines. Commissioned 1944 she was outfitted with a synthetic rubber skin over her hull. One of less than ten in her class U-1105 was turned over to the Allies after the war. The intention was to bring the Black Panther to the United States in order to study the unique radar/sonar blinding technology.  Ah, but the sea had plans of its own.

On day four of U-1105’s journey from England to the States she was caught in a hurricane while surfaced. A section of the submarine was ripped away by the force of the storm causing it to nearly keel over. A portion of the synthetic skin lost to the sea. After what research that could be done was completed the sub was scuttled in the Potomac River in St. Mary’s county Maryland in 1949.

The Black Panther sunk 91 feet in 20 seconds on that day. The boat was quite literally lost, for decades. In June of 1985 divers rediscovered the  wreckage. Today U-1150 stands as Maryland’s first historical shipwreck preserve.

These enthralling tales are just two of the many we learned from during our visit to the Piney Point Lighthouse.

Piney Point Lighthouse

Tips for visiting the Piney Point Lighthouse Museum & Historical Park

Start at the Museum – There is surprisingly a lot of ground to cover here in the way of things to see and learn about. The main museum is self-guided with lots of vignettes to read through in a small space. They score bonus family travel points for having a small Kiddie Corner with activities for the littlest kiddos.  

Ask Questions – When you head out to the marine portion of the museum you’ll have a guide. These guides are experts with a passion for the history of Piney Point. Asking them questions makes the visit all the more an EDventure. Be sure to ask about the torpedoes! 

Bring a Picnic – The museum sits on a coveted water-front. All that gorgeous beach you pass on the way in with cute decor and colorful beach chairs is private property. Can’t stop for a snack there, but there is a dock, picnic tables and small stretch of sandy beach at the museum.

Great for Kayaks – There is a public peer to launch your kayak from for free. The parking is free as well. The launch closes at sunset but if you let the staff know what your plans are they can make arraignments.

Hit the Gift Shop – Not only are there cute, crafty and even beautiful treasures to be found in the shop, but spending your money here helps support the preservation efforts.

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.

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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Craft Cocktails: BTB Speakeasy

Craft cocktails are the hottest thing in entertaining these days. Beyond the handcrafted bitters touted by beguiling bearded hipsters lays a storied tradition of revival.  In the heart of Old Town Leonardtown, Maryland a nod to some of that history can be found behind an unassuming bookshelf in a charming little coffee shop – welcome to BTB Speakeasy.

BTB SpeakeasyThis quaint little cocktail stop lets you step back in time to an era when the Volstead Act had Americans crafting cocktails in bathtubs and whispering passwords through sound dampening doors.  As you slip past the bookshelf in the bright at cheery coffee shop (grab a one of their cookies to go – so good) the tones, seemingly even the time changes. The room is dark, the tables and chairs a hodgepodge, the bar lit with flickering candlelight.  The feel is decidedly clandestine. 

Bustling behind the bar are some gifted Mixologists – no bathtub gin here. Top shelf spirits come together with handcrafted syrups, bitters and unique techniques developed by co-founder and cocktail genius Brad Brown. Sitting next to a fresco of Al Capone himself, Penny, Brad’s wife and BTB co-owner, regaled me with stories of cocktail history and the inspiration that transformed a coffee shop into an homage nightlife under the eighteenth amendment. 

On a trip to New York Penny found her way into a speakeasy. Impressed by the immersive, fun, cloak-and-dagger feel of it she walked away inspired to bring that to life in Leonardtown. Helped along the way by Brad’s years in the bar/restaurant business and the artistic talents of a close friend who painted period murals for the walls, the duo brought a bygone era back to life. 

The space inside the speakeasy is snug with just a handful of tables that must be reserved in advance. Call ahead to reserve one and get the password of the day. Whisper that to the staff at the coffee shop counter or pickup the old fashion phone on the wall to connect directly to the back. You won’t get in without this information – after all you could be the Fuzz!

Dotted with antique shops, a wonderfully dusty used book and record store, vintage car museum, craft chocolate factory and historical landmarks, the Old Town section Leonardtown, Maryland feels as though it is frozen in time as well.  A stop at BTB Speakeasy (and Coffee Shop) is a great way to cap off a visit to Old Town. 

BTB Speakeasy’s Smoked Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 1 1/2 ounces Top Shelf Bourbon
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • water
  • Slice of orange and cherry to garnish
  • Maple Wood Plank

Brad’s twist on this classic cocktail is the smoking of that maple wood plank. You can find these at most big box or stores like Lowes. Light the wood and blow it out. Turn your highball glass over on top of it to capture the smoke. Put the sugar in a cocktail shaker, add bitters and bourbon. Muddle until the sugar is crushed. Top with water to your liking and shake. Turn your smoke-filled highball glass over and quickly add ice, pouring the cocktail over the ice. Garnish with cheery and orange. The flavor is incredible!

note: pay special attention to the “House Rules” at BTB Speakeasy. Also, if you wear a fedora you’ll get half off your first cocktail.