Category Archives: advice and tips

Holiday Tech Gifts

When I was a kid the day the Sears & Roebuck Wish Book arrived in the post was nearly as magical as Christmas morning. My brothers and I would fight over who got it first. By the time November rolled around, that book was more marked up than a NYC subway station circa 1978. Toys. All the glorious toys!  Kids don’t want toys anymore though. At least mine don’t. Now it is all about holiday tech gifts. 

While I may wax nostalgic for the days of Barbie dream houses, sniffable Strawberry Shortcake dolls, and Shrinky Dinks I think my kids are onto something.  Holiday tech gifts certainly have more longevity than those pieces of plastic I burnt into my mom’s favorite cookie sheet. 

This year we have three teens and a grownup (chronologically, at least) to shop for. The fact that they’d rather have tech than toys these days actually makes the shopping a bit more simple. So does my brand partnership with Verizon as a member of their #VZParent program. It helps to know some experts, eh? 

So, what am I shopping for this year? Lucky for you, my offspring are in agreement that blogging is lame. This allows me to freely share the awesome I’ve found for them. 

Apple TV

Back in the day, my dad used to my dad used to make my brothers and I adjust the set-top “rabbit ears” on the tv to get a good picture. Streaming is how it’s done these days, folks. I know my oldest would love the 32GB, 4K awesomeness of Apple TV. With voice control by Siri, I also know that my grandson, who is expected to arrive this Spring, will never have to adjust an antenna. Heck, he’ll never even know what that is! 

Price = $179.99 with FREE shipping

JBL Link View

My youngest daughter is twelve this year and she has her first boy band crush. Ugh. Let me take a moment here to apologize to my parents for 1981 Duran Duran and my steadfast belief that John Taylor would fall in love with me instantly if only they’d fly me to London so we could meet. That said, they never had to deal with YouTube. 

Her band is on an infinite YouTube loop. I think she’ll love the 8–inch, high–definition touchscreen on the JBL Link View. She’ll probably dig the Chrome Cast feature and other bells and whistles. I KNOW she’ll love JBL’s signature stereo sound and bass. Me? Well, that’s another story. 

Price = $249.99 also with FREE shipping (I dig free)

Phones. Phones. ALL The Phones!

Would it be too much of a pun if I said getting your kids a phone, phoning it in? Yeah, I crack myself up. My kids? They crack phones up. My youngest son currently holds the family record for shortest time owning a phone before cracking the screen. THREE DAYS! 

So, I’ll be buying a phone or two. Right now the kids are all asking for the iPhone 10. I’m more into the Google Pixel. The camera on that thing is just sexy. I’ll likely end up with our tried and true Samsung Galaxy. I have the S9+ and it is awesome. 

I’d list a price but since there are tons of holiday tech gifts deals this time of year I’ll just say, shop around. 

Tablets

My oldest daughter is in college. She has also been a bookworm pretty much since birth. A new tablet in on her list and mine. That way she can pop it in her bag and head to class without lugging around a weighty laptop or tons of books. 

There are tons of cool tablets out there for everything from reading to gaming, streaming to actually studying 

VR Gear

Okay, it’s time to come clean. I buy VR gear for them but it’s actually for me. I LOVE me some time in virtual reality. I loathe roller coasters in real life but give me one with a VR headset on and I’m IN! I’ve used VR for everything from playing games to watching NetFlix, shopping to even planning trips. 

Though the price tags on some of the really cool stuff are quite a bit higher than the 5-buck Shortcake doll I got for Christmas, I feel like the kids will get more out of stuff like this. They’ll certainly last longer than the scent on that silly doll. 

 

 

 

 

so your kid wants to play the violin… now what?

Your kid came home with a gleam in their eye, rumpled paper in hand, informing you that they’d be taking up an instrument. So did mine. In fact, all four of my kids have come home with that same gleam at some point! Each time they did there was the accompanying dread. What instrument would they choose? Please, no drums! How quickly would they lose interest?  Once they settled on something, say the violin, how does one even go about choosing a violin for a kid? In other words, my kid picked a violin? Now now what?!

Let’s start this little chat out by saying that I come from a very musical family. My formative years were filled with my dad’s music. He was in a band when I came along. In retirement, he’s back in a band. Both my brothers play, the older one is rather gifted. Me… we’ll if you give me a sack I could carry a tune in it. The only instrument I play to any level of aptitude is the radio.  

That said, I always wanted to play. Longed to, in fact. I love music, I just wasn’t suited to playing it myself. I got my mom’s word gene, the music one skipped me. Though I can share that when it comes to playing the theme song from MASH on a clarinet, I totally channel Glenn Miller. 

When the music gene that missed me started to show up in my kids, I was so proud. My amazing humans could do this music thing! We made it through each of them taking up with recorder, most of our hearing intact. Then came the violin and some struggles.

When the folks from Yamaha reached out to ask if I’d be interested in helping parents learn more about choosing a violin, I was totally up for that. Yes, this is a sponsored piece but it is also something I really wish had been out there when we were learning all the things… the hard way! 

Things to Know About Choosing a Violin

Choosing a violin is not the same thing as choosing a violin shaped object

Trust me, I love finding a great deal. When we found a $45 violin on Amazon it was a thrill. The rental place wanted that much a month! What we received certainly looked like a violin. Did it play like one? No. In fact it was so difficult to tune, string and even play that in the end we ended up with a rental contract and out more than that $45. Lesson learned; beware the violin shaped object!

Renting doesn’t make as much sense as you think

When the oldest came home with that gleam the rumpled paper in is hand was a rental agreement. Our school system doesn’t supply instruments. We figured he’d lose interest in a month or so, which made renting seem to be the sensible choice. 

What we ended up with was a contract that got us a more than gently used instrument. The violin is a delicate thing, keeping it in good shape makes a big difference in how it plays. How it plays makes a difference in the level of joy your child may get from learning to play. 

Buying can seem a steep price to pay at first. For us, we had three more kids who might take it up at some point, so the cost savings was clear. I’d say that if you buy and have just one kiddo, see if they shop you purchase from has a buy-back program. This could make both budget and musical sense. 

Enlist expert help 

I can not stress this point enough… when choosing a violin for your kiddo, expert help is key! I’m not saying you have to spend four hours in a showroom with a guy who works on commission but certainly don’t try to go it alone. Yamaha has a great tool on their website specifically designed for families. 

The Violin Finder can help you with everything from fit and sound to the brand that will work best with your child’s skill set. Our youngest son is 6 years into playing and as he has grown so has his violin. I had zero clue that we’d need to level-up as he grew up. Yamaha has helped us figure these things out. 

Let it be fun

Yes, they’re going to need to practice and sometimes that means butting heads. Two of my four didn’t really stick with playing music because practice just wasn’t their thing. The other two found fun in not just choosing a violin but exploring their musical gifts. Honestly, I think fun is the deciding factor. Let them enjoy the process, even if that means noise cancelling headphones for you. 

 

 

 

Getting Your Child A U.S. Passport When You Are The Custodial Parent

We travel, like a lot. It’s kind of our thing. When this show began to hit the international road though, there were few bumps. One of the biggest was figuring out how we’d go about getting a US child passport when I was the custodial parent and my ex-husband lived on the other side of the country.

Sharing that experience made the story that follows among my most visited posts. I’ve updated it with a few new details and am posting again in hopes of helping out where I can. If you have questions, let me know. I’ll try to answer them or at the very least, point you in the right direction. 

getting a US child passport when you are the custodial parent

When 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 US 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 some of the questions we had getting a US child passport with only one parent available. 

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 $30 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! 

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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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! 

 

Visiting Annapolis, Maryland with Kids

Annapolis Maryland

Sometimes Spring Cleaning means dusting off an old post that somehow people are managing to find. One of the top searches here at The Nugget has always been; what should I see when visiting Annapolis, Maryland. Funny that I happen to live just a few minutes away.  Wait… does that mean the internet is stalking me? 

From the halls of the United States Naval Academy to the quaint City Dock, and dozens of points in between, Maryland’s charming and historic capital makes for a perfect day-trip (or longer) with the family. 

U.S. Naval Academy Museum

 Moon Rock housed at U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland

 This hidden gem of a museum welcomes over 100,000 visitors from around the globe every year. Located in Preble Hall on the gorgeous grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, the museum offers two floors of exhibits about the history of sea power, the development of the U.S. Navy, and the history of U.S. Naval Academy. Exhibits include artifacts from historical figures, battles, and events. Touch a piece of the actual U.S.S. Monitor, read letters penned by Admirals and presidents, see sand from the island of Iwo Jima as you take a walk through the history of our Navy – and country. There is even an actual moon rock donated to the museum by Apollo 14 astronauts. 

The best part? Admission to the museum is FREE!

Address:  118 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21402. Phone: (410) 293-2108. Website: www.USNA.edu/museum  Hours: Monday – Friday from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm

Annapolis City Dock

Visting "Ego Alley" at City Dock in Annapolis Maryland

Rest here for a spell and have Alex Haley “read” your kids a story. The author of “Roots,” is immortalized in a sculpture that invites you to listen at his feet. I took along some books to read to my kids and soon found I’d started an impromptu story time for a few others.  Directly behind Mr. Haley is the City Dock Market House. Inside you’ll find food stalls serving up seaside favorites, and day-trip delicacies like famed Maryland Crab cakes and decadent gelato, perfect on a warm, sunny day. Walk off some of those calories with a stroll down “Ego Alley” where beautiful pleasure boats are docked. 

Don’t forget to bring along a little something to feed the ducks!

Parking: There is metered parking near City Dock, you’ve got great luck if you can snag one of those. If not, the Noah Hillman parking garage is just off Main Street in the Historic District at 150 Gorman Street.

Chick & Ruth’s Delly

Famous "Ben Cardin" Double Ruben at Chick & Ruth's Delly Anapolis Maryland

Speaking of eating! I say -with some authority as both a traveler and a foodie – that everyone MUST make the pilgrimage to the Delly at least one time (if not dozens.) Don’t let the cramped quarters, a layer of grease or the fact that they call it a “Delly,” deter you. Chick & Ruth’s is a Maryland institution for good reason.

  • Crab Cakes as big as your head (okay, maybe a little smaller)
  • Matzo Ball Soup any Bubbe would envy
  • House-made dill pickles, a complimentary treat you’ll pucker up to
  • A huge of menu items to choose from – many named after the local politicians who come down the street from the Capital Building daily
  • And the famed Colossal Challenges like the SIX POUND SHAKE (no really, it’s six pounds of milkshake) infamously conquered by Adam Richman of “Man vs Food” fame

Address: 165 Main St, Annapolis, MD 21401. Phone: (410) 269-6737. Website: www.chickandruths.com 

Pirate Adventures of the Chesapeake

Ahoy all ye adventurous scallywags! Really, what trip to a historical port city like Annapolis would be complete without a pirate adventure? Mysterious messages in bottles, hidden treasure and an epic adventure await those who embark upon a voyage aboard  The Sea Gypsy. This fun, family-friendly ship sails from Annapolis Harbor seven days a week during the summer months and on weekends through October 26th. Your ticket to ride will cost you $20 for those over three and $12 for those under. 

Be sure to arrive early to get gussied up in pirate finery!

Address: 311 Third St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 263-0002. Website: www.chesapeakpirates.com 

Annapolis Maritime Museum

If you’re making Annapolis a stopover during a trip to DC you might think you’ve been museum-ed out, but trust me you’ll want to make room for one more – THIS ONE! Why? Because of the hands-on history lesson, your family will get. This small museum is set on the picturesque mouth of Back Creek, with a unique view overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The museum takes advantage of the fact that it is housed in the last oyster-packing plant in Annapolis, engaging visitors in a fully interactive experience that takes them on a journey through the role that the water and they oyster industry played in the shaping of the area. You’ll also learn about the ecology of the area through an 850-gallon aquarium and exhibits that highlight the importance of conservation efforts.

An afternoon at the Annapolis Maritime Museum is FREE family fun!

Address: 723 2nd St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 295-0104. Website: www.amaritime.org

Galleries, Eateries and Shopping… Oh, My!

Down Town Annapolis Maryland

My kids happen to be gifted browsers. They love to shop. It may be genetic. Annapolis is a wonderland for those who love to stroll in and out of shops and galleries, searching for treasures and inspiration. Though there are some chain stores to be found on Main street, they are outnumbered by smaller, more unique and locally owned boutique stores. Annapolis boasts a thriving art community and you’ll find a number of places that feature locally produced items. One of our favorite shops is Annapolis Pottery. Though not all of their items are produced locally, 95% of their products are produced in the U.S. and many of them are sourced directly from the artists who produce them. 

Hungry? Annapolis is the place to be! I polled the kids for recommendations. Here is what THEY recommend;

  • The Iron Rooster – Red Velvet waffles with fried chicken… I think we’ve said enough here.  Oh wait, they also crush the cocktail game and have amazing farm-to-table options too. 
  • Miss Shirley’s Cafe – A Baltimore staple now found in Annapolis, my kids would hurt you to get at a stack of their lemon-blueberry pancakes
  • Chick & Ruth’s Delly – They’re begging for that 6-pound shake, but happily settle for pizza bagels make on fresh, full-sized bagel halves and burgers from the kid’s menu that are big enough for a grown up. You’ll never leave this place hungry! Plus their kid’s menu prices hover around $5!

Parking: There is both metered parking and several public parking garages, as well as valet service at City Dock. You can find a map of the garages here.

Up next… where to STAY in Annapolis if you aren’t lucky enough to live 20 minutes away… or even if you are… hello staycation!

 

(photo credit – Annapolis Waterfront m01229)