Should You Rent A Vacation Home?

A soft breeze dances through your hair, bringing with them the briny scent of the sea. Echos of crashing waves mix with the songs of seagulls as you dig your toes deep into warm sand digging for that cool spot beneath. There is nothing like beach life. If you’re planning this year’s escape to the shore, you should be thinking about renting a beach house.

Yes, I am advocating turning your back on turn-down service, giving up housekeeping and traveling concierge free.

I’ll give you a moment to get over the shock.

Wild Horses of the Outer Banks -Renting vs Hotels - Beachfront Stays

When the suggestion of renting a beach house in lieu of hotel was first made I scoffed, openly. My memory of rented beach houses involved condos packed in like sardines along the California coastline, and inhabited by Frat Boys, drunken twenty-somethings, and transplanted surfers. Nope, I was sticking to Egyptian cotton sheets and room service, thank-you-very-much.

Then I started to do a little research. As it turns out there are plenty of perks to beach house rentals:

  • There aren’t many hotels that offer on the beach (not just beachfront) properties. Renting a home can give you “total access” that is well worth the price tag.
  • Should you have more than the ‘standard’ 2.5 offspring, like I do, the cost of beach house rental can actually work out to less than the cost of a hotel.
  • There is something relaxing about having a kitchen to cook in, rather than eating out for every meal.
  • You can save money by having meals at home. (see above)
  • If you shop right, there won’t be a Frat Boy in site!
 

A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

You do have to do some leg work though. We started renting beach houses four years ago. Resources are leaps and bounds above where they were then. Sites like Airbnb, Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), FilpKey, and HomeAway make finding the right house both easier, and not. You really have to know what you’re looking for when you wade into these waters.

Consider This…

How close is the beach? If you have to schlep your kids and gear a mile to get to the sunny shore, you might want to reconsider.

Is the beach access public or private? Public beaches tend to be more crowded, but also have several points of access to the shore. Private beaches can be less crowded, yet can also be harder to get to.

 Lifeguard on duty? Be sure to check with your rental company to see if your beach has Lifeguard service. If it does not, be sure to have a plan for water emergencies.

How do you access your beach house? See “Know The Road” below for why this is an important consideration.

Be sure about the type of beach you are visiting. More info below.

Get a detailed outline of what amenities are included in your rental. Do you need to bring towels, kitchen utensils, laundry items, toiletries? Where is the closest place to restock, if you need to?

What other activities are available beyond the beach?

Get to “know” who you’re renting from. There are a lot of large rental companies that offer amenity packed, “tracked” homes which could be a perfect fit for you, or not. There are also tons of independent home owners and smaller rental companies that offer more personal service. Know who and what you’re dealing with.

Don’t see photos that show you want you want but you really like the ones you see? Ask for more. We failed to do this with last year’s rental and ended up with a “beach” that was really just a corner of sand off the retaining wall of the property. The owner was a Real Estate broker skilled in using adjectives to disguise the shortcomings.

Know The Road

This applies mostly to beaches on the East Coast of the United States. I don’t recall beaches in on the West Coast or in my travels in Europe, where you could drive on the beach. There are hundreds of properties in North Carolina alone that are accessible only by four wheel drive vehicles.

Lesson 1: Four Wheel Drive (4WD) and All Wheel Drive are not the same.

Lesson 2: When the sign says “Only Four Wheel Drive Vehicles Beyond This Point”, pay attention. It isn’t a suggestion. When staying at a 4WD accessible home, we  personally helped a couple push their Prius out of the sand. Each day brought a new crop of cars stuck in the sand. The cost of having your car towed back to the road can be upwards of $250.  

Lesson 3: Bring quarters and a tire gauge. You’ll need to air-down (let air out of) your tires before hitting the beach. When you come back to the paved road you’ll need to put that air back, facilitating the need for quarters at the air pump and a gauge to make sure you get it right.  

Be Sure About The Beach

As I mentioned above, doing your research can help you avoid getting stuck in a corner (literally) One summer we rented a gorgeous home in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The beach was beautiful but brutal. The shore was rocky to the point of being nearly impossible to traverse, the ocean floor – even worse. This was a shock for us, and for our feet which were not protected with water shoes.  Be sure to ask the rental owner about the condition, size and location of the beach relative to the home.  

Read The Fine Print

Rental homes come with contracts, most written by legal types who love to play the word game. You know, the one that makes you go cross-eyed and sign just to get away from the monotonous gobbledygook. Force yourself to… Read. It. All. Then ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Never send cash or a check – ever. If the owner isn’t willing to take the hit on the measly credit card fees, that should be a red flag.   

 

 

 

Good Morning Sunshine!

 

A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

Take Pictures

Not just great shots of the sun rising out of the waves, or the kids lounging on the deck. Take photos of every room when you arrive. Make sure they are time/date stamped (any smartphone has this option) and do the same when you leave. We’ve only had one property take anything from the security and cleaning deposit. We were charged for a broken fixture that wasn’t broken when we left. Oddly enough, this was the same property with the bite-sized beach.

Yes, there is a lot to consider when renting a vacation property. That said, of all the travel we do – and we DO – rental homes from the beach to Tuscany, have been among some of our favorite stays.

photo credit: Podere Salicotto
photo credit: Podere Salicotto

Oh, did I just drop Tuscany on ya? Stay tuned for tips on renting villas and townhomes in Europe!

Foodie Nirvana Found: Iron Rooster, Annapolis

Crispy Pork Belly Fried Green Tomato Lettuce and a Poached Egg the BLT & E at Iron Rooster, Annapolis, MarylandHave you ever stood in a gallery staring at an amazing piece of art, all the while wondering where the artist’s brain was? What was the thought process behind that bold stroke of crimson that feathers into a wisp of grey so soft it breaks your heart? I get that way about a poached egg.

Okay, so maybe there was a dash of hyperbole in the whole egg thing there. Truth be told though, I often wonder what inspires an amazing dish. What was it that compelled that first cook to wrap a jewel of honeydew in a salty ribbon of prosciutto? Brilliance often defies logic, but boy can it taste good.

Behind the brick facade of a historical storefront in the charming market place of downtown Annapolis, Maryland brilliance is in the baking, on the flat-top and in the fryer. Here Foodie Nirvana can be found on a brioche bun, slathered in garlic aoili, and topped with a poached egg.

After an afternoon of blissful indulgence in the form of crispy pork belly and fried green tomatoes, chicken fried to perfection then seated upon a pedestal of golden waffles and enrobed in velvety gravy that would earn my own granny a smack in the mouth, I had to know more about the artist (chef) behind this study in indulgence.

Iron Rooster Annapolis Elevating Comfort FoodKyle Algaze, is the genius behind Iron Rooster. The former General Manager of The Breakfast Shoppe, where he won many awards in the area including “best breakfast in the state of Maryland” as voted by Rachael Ray Magazine – Kyle balances life as the father of two with running a restaurant that elevates comfort food to an art form.

Kyle took a quick break from the handmade pop-tarts (no concrete masquerading as frosting here) to dish with me.

What is Scrapple anyway?! (Wait, do we want to know?)

Some things are better left unsaid, but we serve it crispy and let the guest do the rest. It is a VERY popular menu item. We call it Pennsylvania Caviar.

Note to self: Don’t ask for caviar in Philly.

How do you top your waffles?

With fried chicken and black pepper gravy, of course (Chicken and Waffles).

Cheeky Monkey, he knows I meant… how do you “out do” those pillows of perfection.

What food do you refuse to eat?

Ketchup….I don’t like to even touch it. Ironically, my son puts ketchup on everything…literally everything.

Your favorite cookbook, is?

Heritage by Sean Brock (Husk Restaurant in Charleston). It’s low country comfort food, and very thought provoking.

I failed to mention that I’m a cookbook hoarder and he’s just become an enabler with this one.

Best cocktail you’ve ever had? Go!

Angels & Demons at Level in Annapolis: (Herradura Silver tequila, St. Germain, micro cilantro, habanero pepper, lime, agave). The name says it all.

Iron Rooster Resturant Annapolis Maryland Ephemera

There are great vintage “family” photos on the wall in the women’s restroom, people you know?

No, we do not know any of the women pictured in the restrooms (the men’s room has pictures as well). But the building is haunted (it was built in 1906)…so you never know if they come out at night.

Thanks Kyle… now back in the kitchen!

Here is my take. Is it worth it to make a trek into Annapolis if you live in DC? Yes. Does traffic and parking in the area suck? Also, yes. If you’re visiting Annapolis from out of town should you go anywhere else for brunch? NO!

You’ll find Iron Rooster at, 12 Market Space, Annapolis, Maryland. The price-point runs from about $9-$15. They have an amazing mixology menu as well as great options for kids – I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive. I like a cocktail with my PBJ. Wait, that may not have been my point.

Though the place is often busy, it never seems cramped and the staff is always welcoming. I suggest making a reservation though. See if you can get seated upstairs, the view is almost as incredible as the Red Velvet Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich. 

 

 

Essential Oil Sage Tea for a Sore Throat

Sage and Citrus Essential Oils Tea For Sore Throats

I’ve come to the conclusion that I live in a 2,800 square foot petri dish. Oh, it’s not so bad in the summer or even in spring, but come winter germs swarm the place like biblical plague. At some point sucking on zinc lozenges, rubbing oneself with camphor goop, and crossing of fingers starts to lose it’s effectiveness. So, now what?

Thanks to my pal Barb – brilliant blogger, awesome travel companion, and a ringer for any scavenger hunt- I’ve started to explore the world of essential oils.   Oh, what a world!

There are people out there who freely espouse their views on the ability of essential oils to treat everything from a bug bite to a mangy cat. (cue: put Windex on it) I pretty much just thought of them as a great way to make it smell like I’d just cleaned house. A diffuser being a nice edition to that homey feel of home. Turns out, I was wrong. 

Yep, I just publicly admitted to being incorrect. Take a screen shot NOW!

Somewhere in all of this my Italian mother-in-law gets some credit as well. She’s always “prescribing” one herb or another. Ah, but she never figured out sage could help with a sore throat. One point for me!

Putting on my Professor Sprout hat here for a little lesson in herbology. Sage or (Salvia officinalis) has antibacterial qualities. For centuries it’s been used as both an astringent, and anti-inflammatory. When you’ve got a sore throat you’re likely dealing with inflammation, maybe even a bit of bacteria. Salvia officinalis to the rescue with an herbaceous, fragrant, easy to make tea! 

Sage & Citrus Essential Oil Tea (For Sore Throats)
Serves 1
Essentials Oils make this DIY tea a perfect salve for a sore throat.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
2 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
2 min
Ingredients
  1. Sage - 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped. 1 teaspoon dry
  2. Citrus Essential Oil - 2-3 drops
  3. Honey 1 teaspoon
  4. Water
Instructions
  1. Bring water to a boil. Steep sage in water for 2-3 minutes. Add honey and oil(s). To keep the full, healthful effects of the oils, you don't want to over-heat it.
Notes
  1. Honey is essential as it helps coat the throat. If you can't have honey, replace it with agava nectar. You may also add 1 to 2 drops of sage oil if so desired for a stronger tea. Don't want to drink the tea? Allow it to cool and use as a gargle.
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/

Note: Most natralpaths and traditional doctors warn that sage tea should not be used by expectant mothers or those breastfeeding.

Visiting The 9/11 Memorial with Kids

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids Times Square. Central Park. The MET, MoMA, and Guggenheim. Manhattan certainly isn’t short on memorable landmarks and iconic attractions. Taking in a Broadway show might mean prepping the kids on theatre etiquette, but how does one prepare the family for a visit to the 9/11 Memorial? How young is too young? What do you tell them about that sunny day in September when the world came crashing down in a cloud of concrete dust and shattered aircraft?

Tough questions, all of them. Do I have the answers? No, not really. Only you can answer for your own family. What I can do is share what I know, and our family’s story in hopes that you’ll find some guidance in it. I will say that even if this post answers none but one question, it should be, “Go. When it’s right for you. Go.”

The first thing you should know is that visitors are admitted to the 9/11 Museum on a timed-entry. You may arrive at 10:00 a.m. and not be able to get a ticket that lets you in until two hours later. Plan for this. My advice is to stop at the memorial first, get your tickets to the museum, and then go explore the area. You’re within walking distance of Battery Park, always a great destination for families.

Once you enter the doors you’re shuttled through a TSA style entry process, complete with bag x-ray and metal detectors. There is a coat check area where you’re encouraged to leave bags and belongings that may get in the way of the crush of people joining you on the journey. Do this, you’ll be glad you did.

Visit the website before you go, they provide all sorts of resources and support for families visiting with children. There are also docents on-site who are happy to point you to resources housed at the memorial.

Steel remains of the girders that once held up one of the Twin Towers. Viewed from between the Freedom Tower rises like a Phoenix from the ashes.
Steel remains of the girders that once held up one of the Twin Towers. Viewed from between the Freedom Tower rises like a Phoenix from the ashes.

In the museum, there is one exhibit that clearly states it may not be appropriate for younger children. Here you’ll find first person audio recordings, see video (some graphic – these are tastefully hidden behind blinds), artifacts, and vignettes displaying everything from the dust covered clothing of a store front frozen in time on that day, to a recount of the first terrorist attempt on the building in 1993.

In that room is were our personal story begins.

My husband is a Native New Yorker, born and raised. His first real job out of college was working as an Import Specialist for the U.S. Customs Service at the World Trade Center.  He was at his desk in 1993 when a bomb detonated in parking garage.

For him this place is so much more than “Ground Zero”, it represents a chapter in his life. One he talks about often, remembering with fondness some of characters he worked with, his city as it was before, and after. With every trip to Manhattan, when we’d pass by the cordoned off remains of the twin towers, the kids would ask him to tell the stories.

I thought these stories would be enough for them, they’d understand when we went, know why it was important to go. I was wrong. Even I was unprepared. Honestly, I don’t believe anyone could ever be prepared for this place.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids
Steel support with “signatures” on it from first responders and recovery workers. To the left, one of the original foundational walls from the towers.

As you descend into museum itself the air starts to shift. An escalator moves visitors downward, passing below the remnants of steel girders that once held up one of the towers. You’re deposited into a concourse where a timeline of the events of September 11th, 2001 begin to unfold in a multimedia presentation. Never have I been in a space with so many people and so little noise.  It is both comforting and unnerving. 

Here is where the questions from the kids started. We find out that the two youngest haven’t learned much in school about 9/11 and we’ve failed as parents in educating them from our experiences.  Yet, I doubt that anything we could have told them, or showed them, would have had as much impact as standing next to a crushed fire engine.

NYFD Ladder 3 sits as a moving reminder of those who went in, giving all to save others.
NYFD Ladder 3 sits as a moving reminder of those who went in, giving all to save others.

The kids knew daddy had worked here, they even knew that his friend Bob – who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald – passed away here that day. They didn’t know so many other things -what Bob looked like, his picture is here on a wall. We just didn’t talk about 9/11 that much. I’m sure some part of me didn’t bring it up as much out of respect for what it meant to my husband on a personal level. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I’m the daughter of a fire chief and can’t help but cry thinking of all the children of firefighters who lost loved ones that day. No matter the reason, we just didn’t talk about it – as a family.

Coming to this place gave us reason – permission – to talk, to cry, to join with the kids in wondering why. Because honestly, who can answer that question, no matter how old we are?

I’ve always believed that travel has a power to educate in a way that no textbook or lecture ever could. Being in the moment, at the site where history occurred, seeing artifacts in person, hearing the story from those who lived it, that is how we learn. It is the gift that travel gives us, that this place gave to my children.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial with Kids So if you ask me if you should take your kids to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, I’d have to say yes. Though I’d also tell you that you know your family best, share with them before you go. Find a way to have the hard conversations that will help you tell your own story.  Tell the story. Our children must know, we must never forget.

 

365 Small Things

Waxing philosophical about the closing of the chapter known as 2014? Me too. Admittedly in years past I’ve been a tad bit snarky about the making of resolutions. The roots of my disdain for the public deceleration of one’s intent to “fix” things in the New Year may stem from my inability to waive away the cheese platter for more than a week. If I had a pound for every new year in which I resolved to lose weight… that would be great. Certainly better than the 10 pounds I’ve got now. 

This year rather than being crotchety, contrary, or committing to resolve nothing, I’ve chose to think small.

It seems to me that the bulk of resolutions made by the masses invovle some sort of commitment to ‘Self’. While I wholeheartedly agree that I can do with innumerable improvements, I also accept that those are going to take far longer than a twelve months. Why not try looking outside myself this year?

Something I’ve noticed in my decades on this rock hurtling in orbit around a cosmic bonfire, is that it feels damn good to make other people feel good. (Not, that… come on people, lets be adults. Okay, I giggled too) The great thing about this is that it doesn’t take much. Time, money, effort… not much.

Yes, this is not the newest of ideas. Random Acts of Kinds, The Happiness Project, The Hug Tour, 100 Good Deeds, and the whole Social Good movement – all awesome, all came before me. 

I tend to be a big thinker I want to do ALL. THE. THINGS. That desire eventually gets me mired down in details and – to be honest – I don’t end up getting much done. What I need some small, with a dash of that not much of any of those.

Here is the plan: find some small thing to do each and every day of 2015 that makes someone feel happy, supported, appreciated, puts a smile on their face, makes them laugh themselves into tears, or gives them that extra boost they need.

Totally. Doable.

Along the way I’ll post a few photos on Instagram using the hashtag #Small365, if you’d like to follow along… or hey JOIN IN!

Small 365 Do ONE Thing a day for someone else

If you have a really lousy day, or an epically awesome one, know someone who needs a nudge to bring out that gorgeous smile, or that quite super hero that needs a spotlight, Let me know! I will be thrilled to send along some ‘Small’. 

Kicking things off early, let me start with a Thank YOU.

I’ve been spewing my random wordage all over this blog for over ten years. Some of you have been with indulged me since the very beginning. Others may just be taking their first spin on my personal tilt-a-whrill. Each and every one of you that stop by, read a post or two, leave a comment, enter a giveaway, like a pin or pic, pop in on Facebook or Tweet with me have given me a gift beyond measure – your time. For that I am thankful beyond expression. Which is saying something when we’re talking about a girl who suffers from chronic wordiness.

 

I have four kids and an opinion.