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V4K’s Favorite Travel Apps

19 May

As of today, here are our favorite travel apps:

1. Kayak – easily compare multiple travel sites at once and also save favorite searches.  We love the calendar that tells you the history of fares for your destination.

2.  TripIt – the PRO version is heaven for business and vacation travel alike.  TripIt will scan your email for travel confirmations and automatically add them to your itinerary.  TripIt keeps you informed of flight delays, directions…it’s fantastic!

3.  It Happened Here – a VERY cool app that brings a city’s past to life by providing descriptions of the most interesting events that have taken place at or near your location.

4.  Open Table – the easiest way to make restaurant reservations…period.

5.  InnTouch – looking for the quaint inn or bed & breakfast?  This is the app for you.

6.  Virginia is for Lovers – the official travel guide for Virginia.  Customize your travel based on your present or future location.  You can also subscribe to special offers via text message.

7.  Virginia Wine in My Pocket – THE guide for traveling Virginia’s wine country.  Great “Best of” recommendations – including those that might not be so kid-friendly!

8.  Virginia Map – yep, that’s what it is…and more.  This is a new (and free) app from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency’s Virginia Geographic Information Network.  Not only do you get the roads throughout Virginia, but also aerial photography, parks, rivers and lakes.

9.  My Little Suitcase – a kids travel app where they get to pick where to go and pack for their family vacation.  Developed by parents, this app is colorful and fun and will keep the little ones occupied!

10.  Postman – forget the hassle of buying postcards, writing them out, stamping and mailing via snail mail!  Send an instant postcard, designed by you (or your kids) in the forms of an SMS or email message.  Grandma will be so excited to hear how the vacation is going!

11 Ways to Protect Your Child’s Online Reputation

7 Mar

We all know that the way our children communicate now and will communicate in the future differs greatly from how most of us communicated growing up. Many children today have never picked up a traditional, land line telephone and said, “Hello?”. They learn about what is happening in the world around them from the internet instead of a newspaper or magazine.

Along these lines, it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children the proper use of technology and monitor their child’s online activity. The excuse of, “I don’t understand all of this technology” is irresponsible and careless. Protecting your child’s online reputation should be just as important as washing their clothes and making sure they eat their vegetables. Here are a few tips to help:

1. Register the domain of your child’s name and renew it every year.

2. Set up a Google alert for your child’s name as well as any common misspellings of the name.

3. Google your child’s name on a regular basis and monitor what comes up in the search engines.

4. Teach your child how to use their technology tools and take the role of a leader. Sit down at their computer every couple of weeks and clean it up, keep it updated, etc. Same thing with their cell phone.

5. Teach your child how to avoid getting a virus on their computer.

6. Require access to all of your child’s online accounts. Explain to them that having online access is a privilege and you trust them to make good decisions; however, it is also your responsibility as a parent to fix something if they (or one of their friends) make a mistake.

7. Show your child examples of the proper and improper use of social networking sites. Explain to them how what they post is permanent and could hurt themselves (or others) if they aren’t careful.

8. Don’t prevent them from using technology. Today’s children will need to be proficient in technology and communication in order to succeed in school and their chosen career. Because of how fast technology grows, many careers that will be available in 10 years don’t even exist today.

9. Have your child use a screen name other than their own when online. Help them choose an online id that is generic, unassuming and unspecific. Avoid using their name, location and anything that could be used to identify them or their age. For example:
No: ashleybaker123, dallasgirlashley, ashlovesjustinbeiber
Yes: summer321, riverdesert, greengrass3

10. On sites that require a “real” name, (such as Facebook), consider using a modified version of your child’s name (such as an abbreviated name or a middle name).

11. Do not use your child’s name online either. Use a nickname instead when mentioning something about them or posting a picture.

FREE Admission to US National Parks This Weekend!

11 Aug

Time to put on some comfortable walking shoes and explore a few of our beautiful National Parks and Historic Sites this weekend!  August 14th and 15th, 2010, admission fees are waived for all National Parks.

In Virginia, we are very fortunate to have a great number of National Parks!  From the Appalachian Trail to the Yorktown National Cemetery, there is sure to be something for your family to explore and enjoy.

A few of our favorites that you might not be familiar with:

George Washington Birthplace National Monument – Westmoreland County, VA
Orignial birthsite with Memorial House in the background. George Washington, America’s first and greatest hero, was crucial to the establishment of the United States as a nation founded on the principles of liberty. George Washington Birthplace preserves the heart of the Washington lands and a memorial plantation. Here, in the peace and beauty of this place untouched by time, the staunch character of our hero comes to the imagination.DirectionsOperating Hours & Seasons
Green Springs – Louisa County, VA
??? house in Green Springs Green Springs National Historic Landmark District encompasses over 14,000 acres in the piedmont of central Virginia. The homes and farms are a continuum of Virginia rural vernacular architecture, reflective and respectful of their location, preserved in their original context with little alteration. Here the landscape has been enhanced, rather than despoiled, by the presence of civilization.DirectionsOperating Hours & Seasons
Claude Moore Colonial Farm – McLean, VA
Claude Moore Farmhouse Step back in time and experience life on a small farm in northern Virginia.  Living history programs and demonstrations offer a glimpse of what life was like for a poor farm family, just before the Revolutionary War.DirectionsOperating Hours & Seasons

Taking the Train in Virginia

18 Jul

I was practically raised in an airport.  Well, not really, but for a large part of my life, I have spent time in the airport.  My father worked for the FAA and after I graduated from college, I became a Flight Attendant.  Needless to say, I have always been partial to flying….until recently.

The last time my son and I flew together, he was “selected” by TSA for inspection.  Yes, my 7 year old son who has been flying without terrorizing since he was 3 months old.  Between that and now having to pay for luggage to be checked, I’ve become very frustrated with the whole flying experience.

So, when we decided to take a trip to New York, we opted to take the Amtrak train.

The booking experience was quick and painless online.  With our AAA discount, the tickets were only $177 round trip for the two of us to travel from Lynchburg to Penn Station on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional.

While we arrived at the train station about an hour prior to our train departure, we learned as other’s arrived that it is really not necessary to be there so early.  We also learned that while Amtrak has a very liberal baggage policy, it’s best to pack a bag that’s easy to manage as you need to lug it onto this train yourself.

Our seats were spacious and comfy with lots of legroom.  We were both excited to see an electrical outlet next to our seats for all the electronic “toys” we had with us.  We didn’t use those toys for the first few hours though as the scenery heading north through Virginia was beautiful.  We passed pieces of history where there once was a thriving train industry.  We climbed mountains and crossed scenic rivers.  As we approached Washington DC, we had a great view of the Washington Monument.

Unfortunately, as we headed further north, the scenery became, well, not-so-scenic.  At that point, we headed to the dining car where there was a nice assortment of pre-made food at very reasonable prices.  In addition, I was able to get work done (thanks to my wifi card – Amtrak does not have wifi service on all of their trains) and answer business calls.  G had a great time watch videos, playing games and took a long nap.

Our trip to NYC took about 7 hours.  Overall, we found it to be a very low-stress and pleasant experience.  I hope to see Amtrak expand service to others areas in the Commonwealth – especially those areas that were once thriving railroad towns.  Beginning July 20th, Amtrak will begin daily round-trip service between Richmond and Washington DC.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is currently subsidizing some of the Amtrak routes in Virginia.  If the trains meet ridership goals, then service will continue and possibly expand.  Per recent news releases, expansion plans include Hampton Roads and Roanoke markets.

Here’s to the Heroes – FREE Admission to Busch Gardens Williamsburg

26 May

Throughout 2010, members of the US military and up to 3 of their dependents can get a free, single day pass to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg as part of their Here’s to the Heroes program.  To register, click here.    It is not necessary for military dependents to be accompanied by the service member (but they must be accompanied by someone over the age of 18).

We are proud to salute the men and women of our armed forces and their families. Throughout 2010, members of the military and as many as three direct dependents may enter SeaWorld, Busch Gardens or Sesame Place parks with a single-day complimentary admission.

For your service and sacrifice, we thank you.



Abingdon, Virginia and a Few Steps Back in Time

15 Feb

Abingdon is one of Virginia’s best kept secrets.  Unfortunately, our most recent trip didn’t last nearly long enough to fully enjoy all Abingdon has to offer.

First of all, I recommend splurging and staying at “The Martha” aka The Martha Washington Inn.  This historic inn was built in 1832 and has been a private residence, a women’s college and a civil war-era hospital as well as it’s present use as an inn.  The inn’s library, with it’s fireplace and overstuffed leather couches and chairs, is a perfect place to curl up and read one of the many wonderful volumes available.   The staff was very attentive and kid-friendly.

One of the highlights of Abingdon is the Barter Theatre, established in 1933.  The Barter Theater is the State Theater of Virginia and puts on many performances for children.  Reserve your tickets in advance as many shows sell out.  If you are not able to get tickets in advance, I was told by a local that if you show up at the box office 15 minutes before the show starts, they will release tickets for those who have not shown up.

We had a wonderful dinner at The Tavern.  Again, reservations are recommended.  The Tavern is the oldest building in Abingdon and well worth a peek inside.  They do not have a children’s menu, but are happy to accommodate children with smaller portions of menu items or chicken fingers.  The owner’s attentiveness was most impressive.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to see all that Abingdon has to offer.  We look forward to going back and checking out the museums, festivals and more of the hidden gems here.

Why Parents Need a Kindle

18 Dec

First, let me start by saying I do not make any money off the sale of Kindles.  I am writing this post because I truly believe that this is a great tool for all parents.

I originally wanted a Kindle for purely selfish reasons.  I had visions of myself curling up on the couch and ordering a great book and reading it instantly.  But, things changed when I pulled the Kindle out in a restaurant while waiting to have dinner with my family.

My son had gotten bored waiting and like most children, was starting to get antsy.  Just to entertain him, I pulled out the Kindle and we started searching the store for children’s books.  He picked out a book from the Junie B. 1st Grader series and well, the rest is history.  In the morning, he brings me the Kindle when he wakes up and asks me to read to him.  I keep it in my purse all the time now and whenever we are waiting or have the time, we pull out the Kindle and can just pick up where we left off.  Best of all, when we finish one book, it takes (literally) 30 seconds to get another loaded onto the Kindle.  He actually has stopped bringing his DS and/or portable DVD player when we travel since we have the Kindle.

The Kindle is very thin and lightweight.  It features Whispernet to connect directly to the Amazon store and does not have a monthly fee.  The children’s books are about $2-$4 each and do not expire once you load them.  My son is easily able to follow along as I read to him and he loves pushing the “next page” button.  The children’s books we have loaded have a few illustrations as well which are very clear on the device.

Something I thought was all about me has turned into a great bonding experience for parent and child.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Why Mom’s Need a Kindle“, posted with vodpod

What to do with all that Halloween Candy???

1 Nov

I’m not sure about you, but at our house, we have Halloween candy overload.  Between the left over candy we had for trick or treaters and the candy acquired through the various events we attended, we are a dentist’s worst nightmare waiting to happen.

Even though there is zero nutrient value to most of this stuff, it does seem kind of wasteful to just toss it.  I decided to search for a few ideas of what to do with your leftover take….

1.  Save some colorful candy for decorating a holiday gingerbread house

2.  Have your child leave 1/2 of their candy for the “Candy Fairy” who will come at night to take the extra candy and deliver to children who couldn’t go trick or treating.  Consider leaving $1 under the pillow for this effort.

3.  Donate to the local fire department, police department or library.

4.  Donate to the local YMCA or Boys/Girls Club

5.  Save some for an advent calendar

6.  Send it overseas for the troops.  Once place is the Army Medical Center in Germany (thanks Aunt Nancy USA!):

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center 
ATTN: MCEUL-CH/Chaplains Office 
CMR 402 
APO AE 09180

7.  Donate to a local food bank or homeless shelter (they do appreciate being able to offer treats)

8.  Save and freeze the chocolate for baking and cooking add ins (such as cookies and ice cream mix ins)

9.  Take it to work and give it to the receptionist to keep the office candy jar filled

10.  Wrap some up in green/red cellophane or bags and save for Christmas treats

Go Pick Your Own in Virginia!

13 Jul
By Casey Williams

By Casey Williams

Have you had sticker shock lately at the produce prices in the grocery store?  Have you seen the prices of blueberries lately even though they are “in season”?

In the spirit of going green, spending more time with family and supporting the local farmers and economy, why not try picking your own?

My favorite site for finding pick your own produce is:  Pickyourown.org.  The site is filled with not only places to pick all over the world, but also tips for preserving and canning your harvest.  Thanks to this site, we have been able to enjoy family-time throughout Virginia picking our own fruits and vegetables.

Best of all….KIDS LOVE IT!  Here are a few tips to make your pick-your-own trip a success with the kids:

  1. Try to pick early in the morning.  It’s not too hot nor too crowded.
  2. Cover the kids with bug spray and sunscreen before going.
  3. Some pick-your-own farms offer containers, some don’t.  Bring a sturdy plastic bucket for the kids to use and hopefully, that will avoid any spills and tears.
  4. Let them eat as they pick!  Ask if the farm uses pesticides and if not, let the kids indulge.
  5. Plan ahead what to do with the harvest and let the kids help.  Some items, such as blueberries, can be put in plastic bags and frozen for later.  Something as simple as a scoop of vanilla ice cream with “their berries” on it can make a child light up with excitement.
  6. Teach the kids what vitamins are in which foods.  They love this stuff!  Before you know it, they will be telling you how they can see better because they ate 3 carrots or that they grew because they ate an apple.

Here is a list from the Pickyourown.org site of the farms in Virginia:  http://pickyourown.org/VA.htm

Fishing with Kids

18 Jun

andy and opie taylorWe have all seen the introduction to The Andy Griffith Show…Opie and his Dad walking down the lane, fishing rods in hand…..Americana at it’s best.

There has been a resurgence in the popularity of fishing. It’s affordable, easy to do and kids love it!

From aa-fishing.com come the following recommendations for fishing with kids:

Courtesy of aa-fishing.com

Courtesy of aa-fishing.com

Remember to plan the fishing trip around the kid’s interest level, not yours.  Also, kids want instant gratification.  They don’t have the patience to just “fish”; they want to “catch”.  No matter what the catch, make a big deal out of it and watch their eyes light up!

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