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Top 10 iPhone Apps for Vacation and Travel

Where would we be without our smartphones, right? This modern day convenience is an integral part of our busy day to day lives. This said, I would like to go over my list of the top 10 smartphone apps for vacation and traveling.

So you’ve packed and double checked your lists. The kids are packed, the coffee pot is unplugged and the only thing standing between you and your adventure is the open road. Use this app to not only find the best route but also to get some help from your fellow drivers along the way.

Waze App for Smart Phones

1. Waze App. This app is brilliant in that fellow Wazers alert each other of road hazards, accidents, traffic jams and even police. One of the best aspects is that you can see these hazards en route prior to coming up on them so, if needed, you can change your route to avoid these delays. This came in very handy while coming back from our Outer Banks vacation. The traffic around Virginia Beach is horrendous and gave us much hassle and delays on our way down. This app allowed us to take a different route to avoid the traffic jams and get home quicker.

The pros with this app is that you earn points and coupons as you send alerts along your route. It also points out gas stations. This app has a built in feature allowing the user to use it hands free which is a great safety feature is you are driving solo. It is important to remember that as the driver, this app works best if you have a co-pilot!

As with any app, there are downfalls and this app definitely does drain your battery. If you have it plugged in to your car that will be alleviated.

Yelp App for Smart Phones

2. Yelp. This app gives you the ability to rate shops, gas stations, restaurants, pretty much any place that is a public place. You can see what other people rate the same places you frequent. If you have bad service, you can register that online to alert other people. Great service can be rewarded with a positive review, which I highly recommend doing.

This app comes in quite handy when you are traveling and are not sure where to eat or trying to decide between two places. I use this app quite frequently, even while shopping at home. I think you will find it quite useful also.

3. Instagram. This app is a great way to share your photos with friends while adding some cool effects and flair. You can set the privacy so only your friends are able to view your pics and it’s a fun way to see what your friends are up to. You can comment and like photos also, which is a nice touch. It’s a little addicting, but in a good way.

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4. Star Gazer. This app is too cool! You can go out at night, find a star and it will tell you what that star is! You just zero in on a star, click on it and it gives you that planet or star’s name. Here are some really cool features that I have used and found immensely helpful. You can also have the app on in your house and it will still tell you where the stars are – through your ceiling. This allows you to search for a particular star or constellation and then go out and impress your kids, making you look like a genius! “Hey kids, check this out!” as you point the phone at precisely the correct direction and show then why the Big Dipper is named the Big Dipper. For those of you with less imagination, it also “becomes” the constellation, which I found incredibly impressive.

One last feature was the icing on the cake. I had heard on the news a couple weeks ago that you would be able to view the Satellite in the sky at 9:15. I was able to look for this with my app, locate the satellite – even when it was not visible, I knew it was circling the earth and was currently below me! I brought the kids out onto the deck, spotted the satellite, which appeared to be a fast moving plane, touched the circle which confirmed it was the satellite, even showing the satellite symbol on the screen! Win! Win in my book!

This would be especially useful at the beach, or while camping. The idea of being in your tent while it downpours (or is that just my luck?) and being able to still show the kiddos the stars above them is pretty awesome.

5. Quick Scan. This free app allows you to scan a bar code or a QR code and it gives you more information. With these codes popping up everywhere, this is one of the apps that actually works! I had another on my phone that did not perform when I needed it to. This app works perfectly. Also a great app to check if that souvenir is really worth it. We were able to scan a much desired item that my kids were “needing” only to find it on Amazon for half the cost.

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6. Flash Light. I know this one may seem corny, however, I use this free app weekly. The flash light gives off a very powerful light and has different settings, including an emergency setting allowing you to choose how often it flashes. We used it on the beach when we forgot our flashlights and wanted to see the crabs. We have used it in the car while we were unpacking to make sure we didn’t forget anything. We have used it when we were leaving to check under beds to make sure nothing rolled out of sight only to be left behind and ultimately be terribly missed.

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7. If you are flying, the airplanes have apps that are a lifesaver. My kids recently went on their first flights to Walt Disney World with Grandma and Grandpa. Yes, I know – they are the best. My husband and I dropped everyone off at the airport, I managed to not cry in front of the kids which was not easy for me and after breakfast, I had to keep my mind busy to keep from worrying myself sick.

We have the flight numbers and airlines for the flights. That is when I discover that United’s app is a lifesaver! After you put in the information, you can actually watch a digital plane on its flight. I breathed easier and knew when it crossed state lines. Here was the coolest part about this app. When the plane landed, the plane actually turned directions on my app also as it was taxiing to the terminal.

8. Gas Buddy app. This app allows you to find the cheapest gas in your area. This app really does depend on the kindness of strangers. You can also report prices of gas stations around you, allowing you to get your name entered for prizes. Necessary information that let’s you save money and possibly earn a prize. Me likes! And with gas prices, I will take a price break any way I can get it!

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9. If you like to check out the local shops and goods, it is always fun to check what the locals are selling in their own backyards. I am always checking Craigslist. This app has helped me score some great finds and being able to brag about how I found my vintage, rare bullet planters while on vacation makes my story even more satisfying to retell!

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10. Local apps. I highly recommend checking out and searching for local apps in the area you are going. Most cities and vicinities, in an effort to gain more traffic to their local neck of the woods, are creating really informative, easy to use apps that allow you to check out the local scene without looking like a tourist. By doing a little bit of snooping prior to your trip, you will already know which beach is the best because it is secluded and therefore less crowded and off the beaten path, that the pier down the beach from you offers $.10 shrimp from 5-7 on Wednesdays along with a kids’ menu and where to get the best prices on locally made art.

These are just suggestions. They are always evolving and growing. What are your go-to apps for travel and vacation? Please let me know! We all stumble across that must-have app and then wonder how we got along in life without it. If you could only choose 3 when traveling or vacationing, which 3 could you not leave off your phone?

Summer Camp Prep

Even though as I type this, the forecast is bleak and snow is on its way, I am still forced to think ahead to summer camp for my children.  While some people may be on top of things and able to know what weeks during summer months their children will and will not be attending the summer camp of their choice, some of us are not so clairvoyant.

This post should help you (and me) prepare ourselves for the onslaught of summer childcare plans that are going to come full force in the next months.  There are lots of options for those of us that have school age kids.  The hard part is knowing where to look and when to sign up!  The following are possibilities for you to explore so you can make the best choice for you and your family and do it within the (generally very early) time frame.

YMCA Day Camps – These camps are set up by your local YMCA and give your child the chance to be outside and explore nature all in a nurturing, caring environment.  Generally, these camps have a very early signup and you have to pay a deposit for each week your child(ren) will attend.  The deposit then goes toward the rest of the tuition which is due prior to that week – generally one or two weeks earlier.  The really nice part is that these camps have care before and care after for an extra fee.  Most, if not all of them also offer swim lessons.

My kids went to Y Daycamp last year and they loved it!  Our experience was very positive and we will probably do the same this summer.  You can check out the Y camps by visiting http://www.ymca.net/find-a-y-camp/.  Once there, you can type in your zip code and see if your local community offers a summer camp.

The Y summer camps also offer overnight camps.  This could be a really fun experience if both your child and you are ready for such an experience.  I went to an overnight in the third grade for girl scout camp and still remember that week to this day!  This might be a possibility you want to explore for a week – if you feel like you are ready for it.  If you are ready, do you think your child(ren) is ready?

Some other options to explore include local daycares.  Even thought these are for preschoolers, most offer school age children classes and activities during the summer months.  This is especially useful if you have a preschooler that is already attending that school.  Who doesn’t like one drop off?  The downfall is that sometimes your older child feels embarrassed that they are attending a “preschool” for their summer.

There are always bible camps held during the summer.  These are fun and filled with activities.  They generally only last a week or two, however, so you need to know ahead of time what those weeks will be to plan accordingly.  You also want to make sure what the times are.  In my experience, they are not an all day camp.  As such, be prepared to make arrangements for before and after, as they will probably only be from 3-5 hours per day.  Signups for these are also fairly early.

Your local rec centers offer some really focused classes that you and your child(ren) may be interested in.  Anything from art,  science, math or even engineering classes!  Your child’s budding interests will be sparked during these intense sessions.  Again, these are generally only a week or two.   Most offer before or after choices, but don’t always count on it.  The pros of doing something like this are the experience.  Your budding artist or scientist can really hone their craft, or at least try something new.

The keys to summer camp sanity is simple:

1.  Plan EARLY!

2.  Figure out vacations – not just your own family vacation.  You also need to get with Grandmas and Grandpas and find out what they are doing, if they also do vacations with the kids.  Get all of these dates down on paper.  Both Grandparents, if applicable.

By doing this, you know what weeks you don’t need to worry about.  Now you can focus on the weeks you need to find stuff for the kids to do while you work!

I always have a goal of only needing three weeks a month for summer camp.  After I get vacation dates cemented in stone, we figure if there are going to be any long weekends, etc.  This gives us an idea of what we still need to do.  Because we are in a more organized state of mind, we are now able to see if any specialized camps might work for the kids.  While this might not seem like a big deal, it really is!  This small amount of planning on your part can really make the difference between being able to have your kid do a one week (insert specialty here) camp, and realizing too late that you missed the deadline!

My suggestion to you is make your calls to grandparents NOW.  Figure out your vacation schedules NOW.  Start researching the possibilities of where your kids might go NOW.  The deadlines approach quickly – generally in March.  April at the latest.  Be prepared to fill out applications and put down deposits in either March or April.

Now that you have a better idea of what you need to do, get on it!  Time’s a wasting!  You can do this.  Think of all the fun you will have this summer and all the memories your kids will cherish.  Good luck and happy Pre-Summer!




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Top Ten Ways to Add some Mid-Century Style on a Budget

With the popularity of Mad Men has come a new found love of all things mid-century.  For those of us that have loved it all along, we found that this resurgence has brought more than just an appreciation for clean lines and hairpin legs – it has also brought a huge price increase!

With some planning and know how, you can not only long for that Baumritter, you can have it too!

1.  Don’t over-estimate the want ads!  Craigslist is a bargain hunter’s paradise for mid-century design.  I scored an amazing hutch for $20!  It is not only beautiful, but it completes my kitchen’s 1950’s vibe with style.  Think outside the box when checking Craigslist, Ebay or Etsy.  Not everyone is the best speller.  The bad part is it is much trickier to find a good deal online.  The good news is, it is still possible – it just takes some savvy knowhow and patience.  When I am the lookout for a particular item, I check daily and have lucked out by finding that treasure shortly after it posts.  My level of persistence is not to be taken lightly!

2.  Don’t knock off a knock off!  Who wouldn’t want an original Eames rocker ?  We all would.  If you have your heart set on having a vintage piece, be prepared to pay a very hefty price tag.  If you love the look but are not a purist, don’t discount the quality and design of a non-pedigree piece.  I have an Eames rocker that makes me happy and looks amazing in my home.  Do I care that it’s a knock off?  No!  I just know that it is the same design and so incredibly comfortable and such a conversation piece.  I love it on every level!

3.  Shop Locally.  Not only is this good for the environment as I am sure you have heard, your town probably has some great local shops that you didn’t even know about.  I was checking craigslist and came across some local listings, uncovering local gold mines in my own back yard!  In Columbus, Ohio, I found The Boomerang Room, one of the best local shops for mid-century modern merchandise at very reasonable prices.  There is a distinct MCM community right here in Columbus, Ohio that I didn’t even realize existed until I went out looking for it.  My point is, don’t discount shopping locally.  You just might be pleasantly surprised!

4.  Estate Sales and Garage Sales.  The kids and I have made a Saturday habit of checking garage sales and estate sales.  We have come across some real treasures.  Again, I tend to find these sales (with pictures listed) on Craigslist.  I can’t stress enough the importance of the web.  By knowing a little something about mid-century design, I know what I am looking for while perusing these sales.  The important thing is, I have done my homework so I have a fairly good idea of what is rare, and what is probably a knockoff, so it doesn’t warrant a high price tag, etc.

I scored an amazing Tony Paul table at an estate sale for a steal!  I didn’t actually know the name Tony Paul, but I did recognize the table from my Dwell and Atomic Ranch magazines.  I always loved the look of this particular small table and here it was staring me in the face!  After some back and forth with the estate sale person, I walked away with three stacking tables and one Tony Paul table originally priced at $95 that I scored for the low, low price of $35!  Score one for Kelly!

5.  Vintage Communities.  Because my husband and I both love the mid-century modern look and design, we tend to find ourselves stumbling across our local shops specializing in these wares.  A couple weeks ago, we came across such said shop.  After having an amazing discussion with the shop owner, we bought the most amazing lamp and some great 70’s leather jackets.  He also gave us a postcard for an annual 2-day sale specializing in mid-century!  How amazing that we happened across this shop when we did.  We are so going to this sale!

6.  Antique Stores.  Even though you are not shopping for your average victorian era antique, you can usually find a mid- century nugget of gold (maybe a Knoll or a Wegner) nestled back in the corner.  You have to keep your eyes open to find it though.  It’s usually sensory overload in places like that.

7.  Grandparents’ attics.  Remember when you were young and first moved out of the house and everyone was trying to pawn their furniture onto you they no longer wanted?  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?  Depending on the household, you can score big with some of these hand me downs.  Take a gander in Grandma’s attic or basement and you might find some marvels straight from the set of Mad Men.

8.  DIY.  The amazing thing about furniture designs from this era is the craftsmanship.  We have some Lane Acclaim tables that are so well crafted, they put modern day furniture to shame.  They are not ridiculously heavy, so they are easily rearranged at will, unlike those horrible, heavy, pressed wood tables of today.  The point is, there are some items from this time period that can be recreated with modern pieces.  Simply marry an existing table top with spindle or hairpin legs and your old, worn out table takes on a whole new life for very little investment and time on your part.

9.  IKEA.  This company is known for its innovative designers and smart, Swedish design, much like the turn of the century designers and their no-nonsense, ground-breaking designs.  The best part is that Ikea has very reasonable prices.  While you may not want to furnish your whole house with IKEA wares, you can add some wonderful touches to really make your room design pop at very reasonable prices!  Check out this Karlstad sofa and their amazing hanging and floor lamps.

10.  Minimalism.  You don’t need everything in your house to be a period piece.  With some planning and a couple well placed designer pieces or knock off designs, you can accomplish the look you are trying to achieve with little investment.

Still need some inspiration?  Here are some iconic pieces from that time period that truly are timeless.  Let me know what treasures you have found to add to your collection.

For more inspiration, here are some great blogs specializing in mid-century design.  Enjoy!

http://retrorenovation.com/

http://www.tonypauldesigns.com/blog/

http://modernfindings.com/

http://midcenturyliving.blogspot.com/

http://www.nopatternrequired.com/

Update to the Best Toys Guide

Happy Holidays!  I hope you all had a loving holiday filled with family and friends.

So, Santa brought us a Guess Who by Hasbro.  What fun!  Turns out Grandma and Grandpa bought one for the house, my aunt bought one for her house for the grandkids.  Cousins bought the game.  The list goes on.  We bought the version that comes with two sheets – one people and one animals.  We can then go online and download more sheets to print ourselves.  How fun is that?

We have played this game way too many times to count since Christmas day.  We play it almost every day.  This of course got me thinking of numerous other versions that currently only exist in my head.  I am working on a template where you can download your own clip art, photos or whatever you want so the “characters” would be endless!  The only thing holding you back is your imagination and your printer!  I will post as soon as we get it worked out.

We have been having so much fun with our Crayola Crayon Maker!

pouring the melted crayons into the molds

We made custom crayons for all the kids in the family as a present to them.  How cool is that?  I cannot stress how much fun this thing is and fairly easy.  The worst part is cleaning out the metal tray.  I have a wooden stick I used for my cuticles that works like a charm because of the flat end.  I get the dried, melted wax off with that and it’s on to the next color combination.  We advise using numerous smaller pieces of contrasting colors, rather than longer pieces.  Doing so will lend you a more marbled, tie dye look.  Tres Chic!

crayons starting to melt

Here are pics of each part of the process.

Start to finish takes about 20 minutes if I remember correctly.  The longest time is the cooling period, in which you cannot open the lid to remove your newly formed crayons.  This is obviously for safety reasons so that nobody burns themselves and then whines that they managed to burn themselves on a toy.

Crayons cooling in their molds

Holiday Time Savers

I think I speak for most everyone when I say, Christmas cards are adorable.  I love getting them in the mail.  It makes it seem more like the holiday season has arrived when I open my mailbox and there are bright, festive cards from loved ones inside, right?  Years ago, I was really on top of things and even managed to hand deliver my cards on Thanksgiving to my family.

This both impressed them (Kelly, I don’t know how you do it!) and delighted me as I saved a small fortune only having to mail to friends.  As the years passed, and apparently so did my focus, I found cards to be such a hassle!  I had long since given up on getting the kids’ pictures taken professionally as this generally ended in tears and frustration.  I would snap pictures through out the year and generally took a great picture of them that I would send as our Christmas card.  Pretty brilliant, right?

Well, yes.  IF they get out in time to be delivered before the holidays.  The last couple of years I decided that if they get it by the 24th, I am doing good.  But I always longed for the more organized, timely me of years past.  Reminiscent of the Ghost of Christmas past, I was doomed to repeat my current, lame ways unless I put forth some effort.

Years back, I was organized.  I mean really organized.  I had a packing checklist that I developed after countless trips home where I forgot something, or sometimes numerous things.  Along these lines, I typed everyone’s addresses into a label document so all I had to do was print them out, slap them on the cards and voila! my cards were ready to be sent out in no time flat.

I even had adorable clipart that I aligned so it would print on the labels.  First, you printed the sheet with the clip art; next you printed the formatted addresses on the same sheet.  I even had my own Christmas labels for return address labels.  I tried to take the stress out of a nice holiday tradition.

I panicked this year, when I realized all of my addresses were gone!  I looked everywhere in the computer and sure enough, I still had my address labels and the clip art, but none of my friends or family’s addresses.  I buckled down and retyped them, saving them for next year.

I suggest you do the same to save yourself some hassle in the coming year.  Now that I have them saved, as I get new addresses, or someone moves, I simply go into my document and either edit or add the address, save and I’m good to go!  As I receive new cards I quickly add those addresses into my document.  Here are customizable christmas labels for the clip art if you are interested.  I know it’s a lot in the beginning, but it saves so much time in the future!  It really is worth its weight in time.  This also lets you know exactly how many cards you need so you don’t have to guesstimate and inadvertently leave someone out!

Let me know if you have any holiday time savers.  Goodness knows we can all use some!

My Best Toys Gift Guide

In honor of the holiday season, I am sharing some of the best presents we have experienced in our household.  These are our experience or opinions, as my daughter’s birthday is in November.  I hope this list gives you some good ideas in case you are having a difficult time deciding this year.

My kids are art fiends, so when we saw the Crayola Crayon Maker at the store, we knew it was a must have.  I also thought this would probably be one of those hard to find gifts, so I got this in early November.  My daughter got this for her birthday, so we have already played with it.  How awesome!  You put in your bits and pieces of crayons and presto, change-o you get brand new swirly crayons.  Coolest present ever!  Seriously though, this is a must have for the art lover on your list!

Another winner is the Lego Master’s Builder Academy.  We recently went to a Lego KidsFest, where the kids got to go to a session with a Lego Master Builder.  While at this session, we learned more about this cool set that .  It comes with a detailed design book with diagrams and building tips to build a model.  It also has an exclusive Minifig, which is sought after by collectors.  Kits 2-6 are available for purchase to build upon the skills learned in the last kit.

We have a lot of techies in our household.  One of the games I was impressed with is Scribblenauts.  This really innovative game is a unique puzzle/action-platforming game for Nintendo DS/DSi in which solutions to challenges faced in-game literally take shape out of the words and phrases that the player spells out.

Another game we love in our house is Little Big Planet 2.  This game allows the gamer to create scenarios that can be shared with friends and rated.  More importantly is the creativity of this game.  The adorable sackboy is the main character that can be individualized and saved.  This game is an adventure, a creative joy and won the Game of the Year for the original Little Big Planet.

A classic game that is hours of fun is Guess Who by Hasbro.  At Thanksgiving this year, we re-discovered this classic and had some amazing family memories.  I highly recommend this classic.  They have the original version, electronic versions, and even travel versions.  This game is sure to make game night a hit in your house too!

Please let me know what toys made your nice list this year.