Teen Tech Travel Tips

Teen Tech Travel Tips

FTC Disclosure

This is a sponsored post.

When it comes to traveling with teens, I’m sure I’m not the only parent who stresses over what they pack and the rate at which they pack. While BabyGirl is diligent and usually creates a packing list, sometimes she begins to over think what she needs. I remember doing the same thing when I was a kid, so I give her some leeway. On the other hand, when it comes to packing her tech it becomes a game of ‘didja’ – ‘didja’ bring the backup battery, ‘didja’ pack extra earphones, ‘didja’ make sure you have the right cable?

It probably doesn’t make sense to have a tech ‘go bag’ for the kids if you don’t travel extensively, but I’ve found that it’s important to start good habits early. We need to get teens thinking about what they need to keep their tech useable on the go. They’re likely used to grabbing their phone and going since smartphones today tend to have 10+ hours of battery usage. And even if they’re running low they likely have a friend who has a charger or they’re at school and have access to a charger.

While we may have some of the extras to keep the phones charged, sometimes we don’t. And with families often having different types of devices it’s possible we don’t have everything for everyone.

  1. Provide them with a tech travel checklist – this is good for everyone in the household because even those of us who are experienced packers often forget something. If they’re responsible for packing their tech, helping them be successful and avoiding stress while the family is on vacation is a parenting win!
  2. Get them their own accessories – while this may not be possible for everyone, if parents have to share chargers, backup batteries, extra lenses, headphones, fitness trackers, or other basic accessories this can be stressful for everyone. This can eliminate the ‘I thought you packed it’ conversation when something can’t be found. It also means that when your phone is running low you don’t have to share your powerpack or give up the only power cord. I recently got a cable that works with both the Apple lightening and the micro USB cable, (affiliate) mainly because I have both Android and iOS devices. I can’t tell you how many times it’s come in handy to have a cable that can work for either device.
  3. Label their tech – It doesn’t have to be obvious and in-your-face, but if you have more than one of the same thing being able to tell them apart is important for everyone. Even something as basic as a phone cable can be personalized with tape or a dab of nail polish. Of course, this won’t help get the item back to you if it’s lost but to keep things that look alike sorted is one less headache. I like to get each person their own color or style of phone cable charger. While the ones that come with the device are always best, there are so many great color and style options to help personalize the tech. When it comes to labeling in case of loss, I like BoomerangIt. I’ve been using their labels for well over 10 years and while not everyone will think to return a lost item, if there is an easy way to return it the likelihood of getting it back increases. I’ve also used Mable’s Labels to add a name since kids tend to have very similar items.
  4. Clean their tech – When was the last time you cleaned your phone or the accessories? Yah, I don’t remember either. Which is what prompted me to list this here. We all know that sometimes when we travel we get sick or are near people who are sick. And we set down out devices on tables, or even the floor, that may not be the cleanest. With tech you need to make sure you use something that won’t ruin it. I like PhoneWipes (affiliate link) because they’re good for other things but I know they won’t mess with my tech. This is also a great time to clean up the device to free up room for photos and videos or new apps.
  5. Have a ‘go bag’ just for them – While it may seem easy to have them throw everything into their backpack or other carry-on, having a smaller ‘go bag’ will help them keep everything organized. With multiple cables, chargers, headphones, and accessories, if everything is in one place it helps not only to find things when you need them, but when it’s time to pack up at the hotel they know where everything goes and can become familiar with what’s supposed to be in there so they don’t leave things behind. Together with the checklist of what they should have, it’s a great habit to start. I’ve always used makeup bags for my tech, mainly because years ago they were one of the few non-black bags I could easily and inexpensively purchase. There are many other options now, but I still think makeup or dopp kit bags are a great size and come in great color and design options.
  6. Use a bluetooth tracker – This is kind of an extension of the ‘label it’ suggestion. I have used the Tile for quite some time, and I actually have several other brands of bluetooth trackers that I actively rotate. Even if the kids aren’t prone to losing or misplacing things, stuff happens when we travel.

So there you have it, 5 (ok, 6!) simple tips to help you help your teen manage their tech when you travel. What else would you recommend?

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Turning a Dream Vacation to Israel into Reality

Bat Mitzvah Israel

I like to think I live “in the city”, but the reality is that I live in the ‘burbs. How do I know this? Easy, I drive everywhere. There’s no walking to the market, which I call a store because it’s not quaint and stocked with food fresh from the farm this morning. There’s no bumping in to friends while on a stroll. I don’t stroll. If I’m out walking, I’ve got my headphone in and am exercising, not strolling. And there surely isn’t casually grabbing a coffee since there’d be a weeks’ worth of texts just to plan a 20-minute coffee.

Paris Flower Shop


Jerusalem Shuk


Israel Juice Stand

But I wish I lived in the city. Spending time in Tel Aviv, where people were meeting for coffee all hours of the day and night, or in Paris where it seems that 20-steps from your quaint city-center flat is a flower stand filled with fragrant and beautiful buds, or even in Jerusalem where the market was bustling and filled with fresh goodness row after row, has me longing for that vibe. And while a grand summer vacation is fabulous, the reality is that summer is usually one big staycation. And I’m using staycation very loosely.

As I was missing the seemingly ease of the city-dwellers life, I shared that I wish I had the ability to just walk past a flower stand and within minutes carry out a beautifully wrapped bouquet. Stopping at the grocery store and browsing the industrial flowers just doesn’t have that same feeling. The PR team at ProFlowers noticed my public lament and offered to help me recreate that feeling with one of their beautiful tropical floral arrangements. Within days the flower shop came to me in the form of a large box dropped off by UPS. Inside was a little slice of Tel Aviv, Paris, Jerusalem, and Dublin.

Jerusalem - Hawkins Trip 2015

Instantly my house was filled with the scent that made me think of the flower shop on Rue Cler in Paris. The bouquet added just the pop of color to remind me of the little vases on the tables in the cafés along Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. One bouquet had all of us talking about our trip, thinking about the local resorts and their huge arrangements in the entry, and feeling like “the rest of summer” was, at least for a short time, a little staycation at home.

As we traveled around Israel this summer, we hear a lot of people refer to our trip as “a dream vacation” and “once in a lifetime”. I sure hope not! While it did take a lot of planning and saving, I definitely want to do it again. And again. And again. I hope. To lots of different places. Once I knew we were having a girl, I knew about 12 years later we’d be having a Bat Mitzvah. These don’t sneak up on parents. I had a plan A and a plan B for BabyGirl’s Bat Mitzvah, because my grandma would be 93 and I’m not naive to what that could mean. When my grandmother passed away at the end of 2013, the plan B Bat Mitzvah planning was kicked into high gear. As far as Bat Mitzvah’s go, having one is Israel isn’t all that much of a stretch. While not uncommon, though, it’s not all that common either. But I was going to do it.

Jerusalem Family Vacation


Haifa Vacation

I know people who will take a cheap flight to Paris for the weekend. Or go to Iceland for a few days to catch the Northern Lights. Few people, though, ever say, “hey, let’s go to Israel next week”. And while it’s an absolutely gorgeous place, the reality is many people are scared off by the news stories. For me it wasn’t a hindrance. I’d spent weeks in a bomb shelter when I was in Israel back in the mid-80s. I knew the situation of the 2014 summer wouldn’t last long. And if it did, well, that’s what travel insurance is form.

This idea of a “dream vacation” escapes me because my grandparents traveled extensively, so I knew that the world was out there waiting for me. I feel that it’s my job to give that same sense of wonder to BabyGirl. CycleGuy didn’t grow up with his family spending a month in China, weeks in Greece, or making several trips to Israel and Egypt. And while it didn’t take much convincing, there was still some apprehension. Israel does not have the same draw, or at least  it did not before our trip, as Paris or London or Dublin.

Planning a trip of this magnitude isn’t easy. If it were “just a trip” I may have felt like there was more room for chance. Ask any parent planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and you’ll understand the need for orchestration. However, big dreams don’t become reality without a little bit of extra work. All that work was worth it! Now, to dream more big vacation dreams. And you? Get to dreaming and doing too!

What’s your dream vacation? How are you going to make it a reality?



What To Do If You Only Have One Day In Dublin

Visit Dublin

On the way back from Israel, in an effort to ease the transition back home, we stopped in Dublin. Neither CycleGuy nor I had ever been to Dublin, except for the several hours we spent in the airport on the way out to Israel. In planning the trip, I didn’t want to bypass the opportunity to visit Ireland even if it meant we’d only be there for a day.

I researched the city and discovered that is it very walkable and it’s home to a number of sites that would be interesting for kids and adults. There would be something for all of us and with summer temperatures in the 70s it would be perfect weather for us after the warmth of Israel.

While we arrived late and left early, spending two nights at the Doubletree on Burlington Road, we really only had one day to explore. What we quickly discovered, and heard time and again from our taxi drivers, was that we’d need to plan a return trip to explore Dublin a little more and get beyond the city to enjoy more of Ireland. Dublin offers everything you’d expect in a major modern European city, but, time and again I heard that the “real” Ireland could only be experienced by visiting the countryside and smaller cities and villages around the country.

The hotel I chose was more of a default because I used hotel points and the location I really wanted was booked. While not as convenient, the Doubletree on Burlington Road is an “American-style” business hotel and offers amenities you’d expect while traveling in the US. If you’re looking for something more of an “Irish experience” this is not the hotel for you. For us, though, it was acceptable. One major downside (and evidently common in many of Dublin’s hotels) is the lack of air conditioning in all the rooms. While you shouldn’t normally need a/c, when it’s unseasonably warm and humid and you’re not used to sleeping with the room temperature near 80°F having central air is important.

With a late arrival, our only desire was to find a place where CycleGuy could get a pint of Guinness. I don’t drink beer, and for the most part neither does CycleGuy. But Guinness is his beer of choice, and as I’ve been reminded many times Guinness is not beer. Thanks to Yelp I found that there was a well-rated, yet historic, eatery within about a 10-minute walk. Situated on Upper Baggot Street, Searsons has been in business since 1845. In Dublin, especially, you won’t last long if you’re not a place where locals dine. The historic building has been renovated and reflects a modern Irish charm with a pub-style front and a family friendly open-kitchen dining area in the back.

First order of business was to get CycleGuy his birthday Guinness. Just a few days earlier he spent his birthday partly in Jerusalem and partly in Paris. But this pint was what he was really looking forward to as his birthday gift to himself. Searsons did not disappoint. Great service, delicious food, and a relaxing atmosphere that was the perfect welcome to our short stay in Ireland.

Bright and early on our only full day in Dublin, we headed out of the hotel toward St. Stephen’s Green. About a 15 minute walk from the hotel, our cab driver from the airport told us that it’s an easy walk and given all the one-way streets probably just as quick to walk as it would be to drive. Being that the Doubletree is not in a heavy tourist area, it was a lovely walk in a more residential part of Dublin with plenty of  “Good Morning!” greetings from the locals.

St Stephens green

St. Stephen’s Green is the city center park in the heart of Dublin. Dating back to the mid 1600s, the park was originally the grounds of a church. Thanks to the generosity of Sir Arthur Guinness, in the late 1800s the park was deeded to the city for all to enjoy. The 22-acre park is home to beautiful gardens, parks, and memorial sculptures.  As we walked through there were people hurriedly walking to work, kids laughing at the playground, landscapers tending to the gardens, and the sounds of the city beyond the walls softened by all the trees. While we didn’t spend much time in the park, it’s definitely a place to visit while you’re in Dublin. It’s the largest of the many city-owned parks. And while some may argue whether it’s the nicest in town, it certainly is the place where the idea of public green space in Dublin originated.

From St. Stephen’s Green, we walked down Grafton Street, Ireland’s world-famous shopping area. Historic buildings line what is now a pedestrian area, but instead of old businesses or government offices you’re in the heart of the shopping district. With iconic Irish businesses tucked in between the newest and most popular international shops, Grafton Street could easily be in any major city around the world. We didn’t spend much time here since we only had one full day. However, we did stop in to the family run R & C McCormack jewelry shop to buy Aunt Zoni a souvenir.

Grafton Street

Our first destination was Trinity College, which is near the other end of Grafton Street. The historic college was top of our list because BabyGirl loves visiting libraries and I had read that Trinity College boasts one of the Top 10 libraries in the world. There’s not a lot to see at Trinity College, but it’s a destination for many who visit Dublin because it houses the famous Book of Kells. An active university, Trinity College, is like a page from Harry Potter with its historic buildings, lush green spaces, and beautiful Old Library. While the Book of Kells is the main reason visitors are at the College, for us it was the grandeur of the Old Library. For 26€ we signed up for the student-led guided tour, which includes admission to the Book of Kells at the end. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and is quite informative not just about the history but also about the student’s perspective on the current experiences.  Many people were bypassing the tour and heading straight to the Book of Kells. While the Book of Kells was interesting, for most kids it’s just an old book under glass in a darkened room. For us, our destination was the Long Room in the Old Library. Dating back to the early 1700s and lined with magnificent sculptures of the world’s most famous writers and philosophers, for our book-loving BabyGirl this 200,000 volume working library was heaven. While she enjoyed the Book of Kells exhibit and seeing the Book of Kells itself, the look on her face and sparkles in her eyes she had standing in the Long Room is what vacation memories are made of.

Dublin Trinity College Long Room

Dublin Trinity College Long Room Hawkins

Dublin Trinity College Hawkins

Trinity College

Next stop on our “Dublin in a Day” was lunch at The Pieman Cafe in the trendy Temple Bar section of the city. The brightly-colored storefront welcomes you to a small shop serving homemade savory pies. If you’re not into meat pies, they also have traditional Bangers and Mash (and from what the gal said they also do a vegetarian pie). For about €8, cash only, you can enjoy a traditional lunch with your choice of pie, a side, gravy, and a cold drink. It’s a hotspot for locals, who easily recognize the few tourists who stop in.

Once rested and nourished, it was off to CycleGuy’s choice of Dublin historical sites, the Guinness Storehouse. Said to be Dublin’s top tourist attraction, it was on our list because CycleGuy is a Guinness guy and loves history and this combines the two. The tour is self-guided and does not include any part of the working brewery. Children are welcome, and if you go up to the Gravity Bar there are soft drinks available. The tour was interesting and filled with history of the city, brewing, and the Guinness family. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish along the several floors of displays, but leave plenty of time to enjoy the Gravity Bar at the top. Besides having a much-needed cold drink, the view is extraordinary.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Cathedral

While quit a distance from the Temple Bar area, we chose to walk the nearly 2km to the Guinness Storehouse. Along the way, we stopped at the Dublin Castle, passed several wonderful public art sculptures, grabbed a pastry at a local shop, saw the oldest building in Dublin – Christ Church Cathedral, and enjoyed a sunny (and unusually warm to the locals) day in Dublin. It’s a very walkable city, so if the weather is nice enough put on your comfy shoes and walk along the picturesque streets of Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Gravity Bar

We grabbed a cab back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner. We decided to stay nearby the hotel and find another place where the locals eat. Canal Bank Café was highly recommended by a number of locals we asked, and lucky for us it was just a few minutes walk from the hotel. With a focus on fresh ingredient, Canal Bank Café was a delicious end to what had already been a perfect day in Dublin. The wait staff was friendly and attentive, the seating cozy but not uncomfortably close, and the menu inviting and mouth-watering. I had a salad that was being featured and it was filled with fresh, local ingredients and tasted like it was just picked and made moments before being served. The restaurant is known for it’s Buffalo Chicken Wings, which may seem a bit odd for a local Dublin joint. We ordered some because it was something that reminded us of home and after three weeks of travel we were missing home. Let’s just say that if you stop in to Canal Bank Café make sure you get an order of the wings.

As we headed back to the hotel, we talked about wanting to come back and see more of Ireland. The people are warm and friendly, there’s an Irish pride that is shared freely, and so much history and beauty to explore. Stopping in Dublin was definitely a great way to end our trip, even if it was a short visit.

The next day CycleGuy headed to the airport for an early flight. Although it was colder and rainy, much more typical weather I was told, BabyGirl and I ventured out to the Natural History Museum. Free to the public, it was a fun way to spend our morning instead of being holed up in the hotel.  There were several floors filled with animals of Ireland, as well as many from nearby countries. It was quite fascinating to see animals that we’re not used to seeing.

Our flight home on Aer Lingus allowed us to enjoy a little more of the Irish hospitality. Can’t say enough good things about the flight attendants in Business Class. And what’s extra cool is that in Dublin, US Customs has a Preclearance program so you go through customs in Dublin and when you land in the US it’s just like any other domestic flight so you’re on your way quickly.

Dublin US Customs Preclearance

So, if you’re heading to Dublin I hope this gives you an idea of a few things you can do while you’re there. If you have the opportunity to do a one-day stopover, say “yes” and enjoy some of the highlights the city has to offer. Dublin is welcoming, friendly, offers wonderful historic sites and modern spaces, and a dining scene to enjoy.


Take Sound On The Go With Ultimate Ears Boom Speaker

Ultimate Ears Speakers

FTC Disclosure

I grew up in the era of the boom box. If you don’t know what that is, it’s that giant portable stereo John Cusack held up in the movie Say Anything. If you’ve never seen Say Anything, you really should. Not just for the boom box scene, but it’s a really great movie.

Anyway, teens and young adults in the 80s rarely went anywhere without their boom box. Then the Sony Walkman came along and made listening to your own music portable. I still have two Sony Walkman players. I don’t use them, but they are filled with so many memories.

Today, with smartphones it’s easy to carry our music with us.  The problem with that has been the lack of shareability. Sure you can crank up the volume and put your phone in an empty bowl to act as an amplifier, but who carries a bowl around with them? And while it works to some degree, the lame factor is quite high. And if you’re a parent of a tween who wants to be cool with her friends, a phone in a bowl is not going to do it.

As a Verizon Insider, I was sent the new Ultimate Ears Boom 360º Sound portable wireless speaker to take for a techdrive. Perfect timing for many reasons. Out of the box, the speaker was ready to go in under 5-minutes. I like to work in quiet, but CycleGuy always has something on in his office so we set it up there and he was listening to podcasts and music in no time. As he was heading out of town, he tossed the speaker in his bag because he hates the quiet of hotel rooms, and it’s also a speakerphone so he can use it for phone calls using the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or his Kyocera Brigadier.

Ultimate Ears Boom 360

With Spring in bloom, we’re spending more time outside. In the past we’ve relied on the house speakers, but then we’re kind of stuck having to be near where they’re mounted. Problem is I rearranged our outdoor seating and the sound doesn’t reach the new area very well. The Ultimate Ears Boom speaker was exactly what I needed. It’s designed for any lifestyle, which makes it great for me and my family.

UE Boom Speaker

One of the coolest features, though, is the Alarm. It’s a newer feature that was an update to the app and I’m pretty sure I’m never getting the speaker back from CycleGuy. With all the traveling he does, this new Alarm feature may be his new favorite reason for taking the speaker with him. I know that it’s coming with us to Israel this summer!

So whether it’s for the office, out by the pool, at the beach, or pretty much anywhere you want great sound, the Ultimate Ears Boom is a must-have accessory. I have the Blue Steel color, but it comes in nearly 20 different colors and patterns. Priced at $199 and available from Verizon Wireless or from the Ultimate Ears website it’s a good value for the versatility it brings. These would make a great gift for someone heading off to college or even a recent college grad. Great for work AND play!


Ignore Those Who Say Differently And Take Your Kids On Vacation

Family Travel

At the end of January I saw an article on Facebook about travel destinations you shouldn’t take kids. I didn’t think much of it because I agree that there are just some places you shouldn’t travel with kids. I would never think of taking my daughter to a popular spring break destination during spring break. Not because I’m opposed to spring breakers, but because it won’t be fun for her. Or us. And that charming B&B? Not for kids. Not because they’re hooligans or wild beasts, but because there likely isn’t anything there for them and their boredom is not good for them, their parents, the other guests, or the B&B staff.

Evidently, though, the article garnered a great deal of feedback. Many of the comments seemed to miss the point. Or so I thought. I didn’t see the article as telling me I should never vacation with a child. And even if it did, I would greatly disagree. See, BabyGirl has been traveling with us since she was a baby. What I never did, though, was assume that travel with her would be just like it had been when I was single or married without children. That’s the key. Kids change everything, we’ve heard it before. And, for the most part that change is pretty awesome.

However, when you travel with your kids (or in my case, just one child) you have to think very differently. You can’t expect to smoothly push a stroller around ancient cities with cobblestone streets, narrow passageways, and pre-historic sights. I wasn’t a stroller user, but when we travelled while BabyGirl was still in a car seat we have a car seat/stroller combo. It wasn’t always easy or convenient. But I knew this going in and I didn’t expect others to accommodate me when this was not their choice. Parents with kids, even tiny babies, know that there is a level of unpredictability that ranges from ‘I can handle that!’ to ‘Mary Poppins would quit on the spot’. If you expect to find world-class medical care within a mile of your second-world accommodations you’re delusional.

Travel with kids, like pretty much anything with kids, requires thoughtful consideration. Whether it’s a staycation or a trip across the globe, kids should be able to go and everyone still have a great time. It’s wrong to think parents of small kids should only have the option of not traveling or leaving their kids with someone else. Parents know their kids best. And while I do question the parenting choices of people who are pushing a stroller with a sleeping kid, or better yet a screaming kid, at 1am down the Las Vegas strip or from attraction to attraction at Disney, I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t vacation with their child. Make different choices, yes. Hunker down until their child is “old enough”?  No.

Every family is different, and I think if you’re able to navigate the complexities of traveling with a child you should. What I don’t agree with when it comes to vacationing with children is that my vacation should suffer because of another family’s choice not to manage their children or expectations. Parents can’t take your new double-wide stroller on vacation during peak time and expect for others to be patient while they figure out how to get the over-size contraption onto a bus without taking out the kids because “they’re tired”. Parent’s can’t travel to a foreign country and expect to find their child’s favorite food and when they can’t expect others in the restaurant to be understanding of their screaming child.

Vacations should be fun for everyone. The people who work at our destinations should want to help us create a great experience. Others who meet up and interact with us shouldn’t feel like we’re ruining their vacation. Yes, things happen and plans go awry. Luggage isn’t delivered, hotel descriptions are not accurate, travel guides aren’t forthcoming. But things go wrong all time. I’ve changed hotels with my daughter because the walls were paper-thin and just because babies get hungry and cry and I have to be up at 2am to feed her doesn’t mean everyone else in the hotel does too. For me, waking up several times at night to feed an infant is normal. My normal, though, may not be your normal.

Now that BabyGirl is almost a teen (my how time flies!), there seems to be a consensus that there are no limits to traveling with her. That’s not the case either. There are plenty of places I don’t think are appropriate for her to visit. Traveling with kids provide them with wonderful and amazing opportunities. But, becoming a parent is not a prison sentence requiring to stay within the confines of your home until your kids are “old enough”.

What are your thoughts on traveling with kids?


On Choosing Israel To Celebrate Her Bat Mitzvah

Israel Bat Mitzvah

This year BabyGirl becomes a Bat Mitzvah. In fact, according to the Jewish calendar she has already become a Bat Mitzvah. At the age of 12, a Jewish girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah, literally “daughter of mitzvah”. It means that she is viewed as an adult with regard to mitzvah observance. This is the more technical side of this ritual coming-of-age event, while most people are more familiar with the public celebration and commemoration.

When I was 12, it took many conversations with my grandparents to finally get approval for me to have a public Bat Mitzvah ceremony. My mom worked at a reform temple but we were what I’ve come to call “conservadox”. My grandparents were orthodox for much of their life, but by time I lived with them they were much more conservative-leaning. Still, they had not fully embraced the idea of my having a Bat Mitzvah. It was when we moved to California and I went to Hebrew School at the temple where my mom worked that I wanted to be part of what all my friends were doing.

At the end of the conversation I was able to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony; but it had to be Havdalah, the Saturday evening service that marks the end of Shabbat. I would still be able to learn to read Torah and prepare the Haftorah but there would be limitations. Something was better than nothing. That’s how I looked at it. At least I would be up on the bimah leading the service and my friends and family would be there to celebrate with me. Family. An extended family that came together for this very important day in my life.

Now, I have a daughter who has become a Bat Mitzvah and it’s her turn to stand up and take her rightful place among the many strong, generous, kind, brilliant, and giving Jewish women who have come before her. Only now there is no family to come to town and fete her milestone. And there isn’t a class of peers who are part of “the circuit” that is the bar and bat mitzvah season when you’re 12. Instead, we are an unaffiliated Jewish family. I say unaffiliated but that’s not really true. No, we don’t belong to a synagogue per-se. But we are part of our local Chabad.

That came to be because of my grandmother, of blessed memory. She was involved in their Smile on Seniors program and during her final weeks I had the good fortune to see why she chose Chabad after she moved here. But now she is gone. A year ago. Yet I still need to give my daughter her special day even though our family is now just the three of us. While there is very extended family, the reality is that other than her dad and me there would be no other family. Which is why we’re going to Israel.

In her final days, my Grandma’s had me assure her that we’d make a Bat Mitzvah celebration for BabyGirl. We talked about going to Israel and as she shared stories of her and my grandpa’s several visits a smile came to her face and her eyes began to tear. She knew she wouldn’t be there, yet she knew that going to Israel was the right place for Baby Girl’s Bat Mitzvah.

So Israel it is! When I tell people we’re going to Israel I get that look of “are you crazy” coupled with “that’s so amazing”. And to tell you the truth it’s a bit of both. Yes, it’s a crazy idea to plan a bat mitzvah in Israel when you know no one there and are not doing one of those package deals. But at the same time it is so amazing to be able to do this for my daughter, for my family. It will be a bit bittersweet, although I’m sure I’ll look out among the people of Israel and know that we’re exactly where we should be for this special event.

If you’ve been to Israel and have suggestions, let me know. Planning a trip like this does, as they say, take a village.

Image Credit: imnewtryme (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) graphic added


6 Reasons To Choose Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort for Your Disney World Vacation

Sheraton Vistana Villas

For our annual summer pilgrimage to Central Florida one of the toughest questions is whether or not to stay on-site at Disney World. There are many options for both, but there are pros and cons that need to be weighed in determining if you stay on-property or off-site when you visit Disney World. Things like getting a rental car, paying for parking, and the logistics of getting around. And, while some people would never stay off-site and others would never stay on-property it’s a decision I go through every year.

We’ve stayed on-property many times and know which options work best for us if we do. Our favorite place to stay is the Grand Floridian. We’ve stayed there a few times and it’s always worked out well for us. But this time we’d be splitting our visit between Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando. This was our first visit to Universal Studios and while we knew we would be staying on-property because we were attending the Family Forward retreat at the Loews Portofino Resort our time at Disney was much more leisurely.

Having been to Disney World many times, the introduction of the new Fastpass+ system, BabyGirl being older and having a more active role in our planning, and the need for space, this year we chose to stay off-site at the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort. Since off-site resorts can be a bit of a hit or miss proposition I researched every review site before making the decision. And we were definitely not disappointed.

Sheraton has a number of resorts in the area, but this one worked best for us based on price, location, and amenities. The big winner was being able to get to 2-bedroom villa that was in our budget and within our “no more than 10-minutes away” criteria. No, 3 people don’t really need a 2-bedroom villa. Especially when I’ve read about 5 people staying in some of the smallest rooms at the value resorts. But, vacations are highly personal and what works for my family may not be what works for others. For us, though, having a big place – it was 1,100 square feet – gave us all the space we wanted.

So why would we need 1,100 sq. ft. for a vacation? It definitely wasn’t a matter of need, more like want. And here’s my 6 reason we chose Sheraton Vistana Villages Resorts.

Sheraton Vistana Review

1. 2-Bedroom Villas – It’s OK to stay in a standard hotel room for a few nights. But for 10 nights? After awhile we all want out own space. Also, when BabyGirl goes to bed, CycleGuy and I are able to stay up late and work without bothering her. It’s also easier to get ready when you have two bathrooms!

2. Convenient Location – We were within our “less than 10-minutes” area, meaning we could get to any Disney Park, Downtown Disney, and the Disney Water Parks easily. The resort is also within a few minutes drive of grocery store, drug stores, shopping (hello Outlets!), and restaurants. It’s also convenient if you’re splitting your visit to other attractions in Central Florida.

3. Free WiFi – Connectivity is now a must rather than a “nice to have”. From BabyGirl wanting to stream movies, to CycleGuy and I still needing to do work, having complementary WiFi is just one less thing to worry about. And, unlike some resorts that say they have “free wifi” but charge a daily resort fee (that is not optional!), Sheraton Vistana Villages has no resort fee or other hidden fees.

4. Full Kitchen – This is a biggie for us. We’re breakfast people. Not going out for breakfast, but making breakfast kind of people. We don’t do this as a cost saver, rather it’s more of a convenience. When we hit the parks we don’t want to spend an hour of time grabbing breakfast. We’re fueled up and ready to keep up with crazy coaster tween the moment we arrive! Sheraton has everything you really need in a kitchen. It’s not fully stocked like home, but for a home-away-from-home for a week or two it’s pretty darn good.

5. In-Villa Laundry – OK, this may not be a big seller but I hate taking a ton of clothes when I travel. With many airlines limiting bags (we fly Southwest so it’s not really an issue – love you SWA!) so you may have to consider doing laundry. I’ve never been a fan of laundry mats but I’ll do ’em if I have to. Having a washer and dryer in the villa is so convenient. I was able to wash clothes without worrying that someone will steal my things or having to camp out in an icky laundry room for a few hours.

6. Housekeeping Optional – this may not be a big deal for most, but for us it was good to have the option. If daily housekeeping (they’ll still give  you towels if you need them) isn’t your thing there is a discount provided. Some people don’t like other people coming in to their hotel, even if it’s to clean up. And for most of us, we don’t change out our linens daily and don’t need it done when we travel. Yes, I love being taken care of when I travel. And I’m not about to take a bunch of extra time to play housekeeper. But if you’re doing to decline daily housekeeping why not get some benefit. Right?

Sheraton Vistana Villas Review

There are plenty of other reasons, like the multiple pools, fitness center, free parking, market, restaurants, and on-site spa. I liked having the gated entry. It was nice to “come home” at night and be welcomed back. Few places off-site are going to compare to the Grand Floridian, and I hear that a few times from BabyGirl. But she liked having her own room and it feeling more like home. We get up early to hit the parks so having a place to relax and get a good night sleep is important.

Next time you’re starting to plan for your trip to Disney World, Universal Orlando, Sea World, or any other destination in Central Florida, check availability at the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort. We’re pretty picky and if both CycleGuy and BabyGirl say they’d stay again, then it’s a winner!

Image Credit: Starwood Hotels & Resorts (because I was lame and didn’t take any decent photos!)
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. And even though there is no requirement I tell you this, I just want to make it clear.


Create The WOW – Parenting On A New Level

Create the WOW

As summer was coming to a close for most, my family and I headed out to Florida for our pilgrimage to theme park central. As someone who has strong memories from childhood, it’s important for me to help create opportunities for BabyGirl to make her own memories.  As an only child, BabyGirl is often required to be more grown up. It’s one of the reasons why theme parks are a “got to” vacation spot for us – because it’s a place where everyone gets to be a kid!

Part of our trip this year included the Family Forward retreat because I thought it would be great to learn how to better communicate as a family. At the kick-off, Jyl Johnson Pattee, founder of the Family Forward retreats, mentioned a phrase that really stuck with me throughout the entire weekend – Create the Wow! When I heard it I wondered who has time to “create the wow” except on special occasion or when you really want to make an impression. But soon I realized there was more to it.

Making Barilla Pasta Salad Family ForwardFirst, “create the wow” means different things to each of us. Just ask your kids! Sitting at lunch, which was sponsored by Barilla, it was fun to hear what kids from various families though could be done to make meals at home more special. I think most parents were surprised that it didn’t involve fancy food, elaborate meals, or over-the-top desserts. I heard things like have a picnic in front of the TV, use a table cloth, have a taco bar, and eat dessert first. Really? These are so easy! We can all easily “create the wow” at mealtime at least once a week!

Second, “create the wow” can easily become a family mantra or way of doing things. Kids need to be involved in creating the family dynamic and, unfortunately, they’re often left out. I know for me it’s easier to do things myself or make plans while BabyGirl is at school or one of her classes. Plus, I like doing “surprise” things for her. But at the retreat I realized that while my surprises are fun they may not be her idea of fun.

Give Kids the WorldThird, sometimes “wow” moments come from doing things for other people. As part of the retreat we were given the privilege of learning first hand about Give Kids the World, a family oriented village with a single goal – to give kids with life-threatening illness an opportunity to be a “normal” kid. Even if it was just for one week. The vision of one man, Give Kids the World gave me, CycleGuy, and BabyGirl the opportunity to see that doing for others – even in a small way – gives you a sense of “wow” and appreciation for what you have. It brings perspective that can get overlooked.

Adopt A Pilot SWAFinally, while not the motto of Southwest Airlines, a sponsor of the retreat, it was clear from the presentation by the two pilots in their Adopt a Pilot program that it’s part of why the program exists. Reaching out to the local community is important to many companies. But with Southwest it’s not just a company philosophy backed by money. It’s backed by employees who take their time to go to schools to get kids excited about science and math, staying in school, and studying. Yes, it’s fun and the kids love learning how airplanes work and what it’s like to be a pilot. But it’s a “wow” moment for many of the kids. And for the pilots too. Learning new things is a great way to bring WOW into your life!

I imagined I’d learn a lot and have fun at the Family Forward retreat. I didn’t realize it would have such an impact on my parenting. Being a mom to an only child has its own challenges. One of my biggest challenges is to make sure BabyGirl gets to be a kid and not a mini-adult. So this idea of “create the wow” really works to get me thinking about making sure she still gets to be a kid.

Have you ever thought about this concept of “create the wow”? How would you “create the wow” in your family?

Adopt A Pilot image courtesy of Southwest Airlines


5 Vacation Memory Lessons From A Tween Traveler

Vacation Memory Lessons

I remember one vacation from my childhood, a trip to California with my grandparents. That family vacation was everything to me, not just when I was 7, but for many years to come. Even today it takes me back to 1977. vacation memories

So when I became a mom I wanted BabyGirl to have more than just one vacation to shape her childhood memories. About a year ago, as I talked to her about memories from our recent vacations I learned a big lesson. My desire to make memories for her, no matter how big or amazing or magical or fantastical were just that. My vacation memories. She needed to make her own vacation memories and instead of trying so hard I needed to let go.

5 vacation memory lessons from a tween

  • Kids will remember things differently than parents but it’s supposed to be that way.
  • A child’s idea of fun may not be the same as mom and dad.
  • Memories are personal and can come from experiences both big and small.
  • Parents’ joy and excitement, as well as my other emotions and feelings, shape the memories others make.
  • Kids aren’t thinking about making memories, they’re just trying to have fun in that moment.

Tween Vacation Collage

Out of the mouth of babes, yes? These kids are so much smarter than we give them credit. Shared experiences can turn in to memories. But as a parent my job is to provide opportunities to create memories, not to force my ideas of what should become her lifelong childhood memory.

Tween Statue of Liberty Selfie

Here’s to superhero families and childhood memories to last a lifetime!


5 Ways To Help Protect Your Identity When You Travel

Ways To Protect Identity

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for LifeLock.

Just 10 years ago, if you headed out-of-town for work or vacation only a few people knew. Today, it’s likely most of your co-workers, friends, and family know everything about your trip. Unfortunately, it’s also very likely many strangers do too. And while it may not be intentional, we exchange so much information online in general conversation that we forget there may be others “listening”.

In addition to the time-honored tips our grandparents passed down – stop the newspaper and mail service, let a trusted neighbor know you’ll be out-of-town and to keep an eye on your place, and get some timers for the lights – there are many other ways to keep your personal information safe while traveling. It’s no longer just a matter of someone physically breaking in to your home that we need to be concerned with. Each year millions of people experience some sort of data breach related to mobile, online, or credit card use.

Whether you are heading out-of-town for work or play, by plane or car, add these 5 tips to your travel checklist and gain some peace of mind.

Check your social network settings

Of course you want to share updates about your life with your close friends and family. But social networks can change settings without you knowing. Before going out-of-town, double-check your settings to make sure you have the privacy you are expecting. It’s also a good time to talk to your kids, if you have them, about what they should and should not be sharing.

Find your phone

Almost every mobile phone platform and provider offers some type of app to track your phone or shut down your phone if it’s lost. Don’t make it easy for anyone to gain access to your private information and stored passwords. Before you go is a good time to look over what is needed if your phone is lost or stolen, especially if you are going out of the country.

Be aware of unsecured WiFi

Free wifi often sounds like a good deal. And, for the most part it is. But unsecured internet connections at hotels, museums, airports, or other public spots can be a way for unscrupulous people to gain access to your data, passwords, or other private information.

Safeguard your credit cards and identification

It’s tempting to just leave your wallet or purse in the drawer as you head down to the pool, but use the hotel safe. It’s easy to leave your credit card on file at the hotel or bar, but always ask if you can just charge it to your room or pay as you go. It’s more convenient to throw your wallet in the little bin at the airport security checkpoint and send it through the scanner, but keep it in your larger bag if you can. Know where your ID and credit cards are at all times.

Turn off your home wi-fi

While it’s not always possible to turn off your home wi-fi due to alarm connectivity or having a house sitter, if there is no reason to keep your wi-fi active then turn it off. It’s one less access point to your information. If you must keep it connected, make sure you are using a very strong password and, if possible, hide the connection so it’s not visible to anyone with a wi-fi enabled device.

Identity theft is a top consumer threat that targets people of all ages. There are ways to monitor your identity, depending on your level of need. The LifeLock Site offers many resources to help you determine how to best safeguard your identity as well as providing educational tools to teach your children about keeping their information secure.

Stolen Identity BookIf you’re more of a book reader or want to share information about protecting oneself against identity theft, Stolen Identity: What Anyone with a Name, Birthdate and Social Security Number Needs to Know Now is an excellent resource.

If monitoring your accounts is something you’d like to learn more about, visit the LifeLock Site and compare their product offerings. LifeLock Junior is specifically designed for advanced monitoring of your child’s personal information. If you decide identity theft protection services are for you, visit the LifeLock Site and use LIFELOCKSAFETY for a 10% discount. Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. Learn how to protect yourself and your family, especially while you’re out working hard and enjoying life!

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Disclosure: This is a compensated conversation on behalf of LifeLock. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”