Out with Mommy

Labor Day weekend is the last chance for a summer bash before fall sets in and weather gets cooler, so celebrate the end of a great summer season with a barbeque to remember.


Up on My Grill

If you have been thinking about replacing your old rusted-out grill, Labor Day weekend is a perfect time to find end-of-season deals. The centerpiece of any barbeque is the grill, so treat yourself to a great grill you will want to use year-round like the Weber Genesis E-330, a built-to-last beauty that will light up any backyard. In either a copper, crimson, black or green finish, it looks as hot as its sear station burner cooks. This sturdy welded tank-of-a-grill features aluminum end caps for durability and a porcelain enameled lid with a built-in thermometer for precise temperature grilling. The cast-iron cooking grates retain heat and cook food evenly, while precise controls allow grill chefs to turn up the high heat to perfectly sear steaks, roasts and chops. The Genesis E-330 starts up easily with an electronic ignition system, and a fuel gauge accurately measures how much propane is left to eliminate the guess work. Handy stainless steel side tables with integrated tool hooks flank the grill for food preparation, and ample under-grill storage offers space for BBQ tools and accessories. Features three internal burners, and a side range-top style burner, 38,000 BTU per-hour input. Home Depot, $799.99.


The Perfect Burger

If you thought there are just a few ways to cook burgers — rare, medium and well-done, the Bib Book of Burgers by master grill chef and New York Times best-selling author Jamie Purviance offers 151 burger recipes that will keep you grilling until next Labor Day. Along with beefy treats like the classic Route 66 burger with mayo, ketchup relish and shallot sauce; the big-eater Extreme burger made with two Worcestershire sauce-infused patties and heaped with spicy guac; and the gourmet delight Fontina-Stuffed Burger topped with arugula and prosciutto and lemon-zest mayo, the burger tome features recipes for beef-alternatives including bison, poultry, lamb, pork and seafood and side dishes to complement burgers, along with grilling tips, burger bits such as a history of burgers. Available at Amazon, $9.99 for Kindle, $16.87 paperback.


Don’t Cook Alone

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, then you have a Siri sous chef to help you prep and grill your Labor Day feast, courtesy of SideChef, the step-by-step cooking app that guides cooks of all levels through recipes with voice-activated instruction, along with beautiful photos and plenty of delicious recipes provided by SideChef’s foodie blogger partners. The app allows you to follow along food-covered hands-free and even has idiot-proof built-in timers to keep you burning your BBQ to a crisp. Besides plenty of fun and exotic burgers, the app features plenty of grilling favorites, like Grilled Chicken with Herb Dry Rub, Grilled Halibut with Cherry Tomato and Corn Salsa, Grilled Eggplant with Sumac, Capers and Mint, and for dessert, Grilled Peaches with Ice Cream. The app can also make a shopping list for the recipes you choose with the right amount of food based on the number of guests. Download SideChef free at iTunes App Store or go to http://www.sidechef.com.


The last days of summer are here, so get on the road for a family final farewell to warm weather.  Stock up for your road trip with these 10 take-alongs for comfort and fun.

Hot Seat

Little ones may chill on the “are we there yet” mantra if they are sitting high and comfy on a rad booster, like the Olli in tokidoki pattern ($99). The award-winning cool seat is designed for kids 40 to 120 lbs and built with a comfort cube to eliminate “numb bumb.”  Its cover is removable and washable and it features a quick-release strap and carrying strap plus a cup holder.  It clicks in to vehicles’ anchor latch system for extra stay-put security.  Available in several kid-friendly patterns at major retailers or shop.clekinc.com.olli-tokidoi-all-over




For Your Entertainment Pleasure

Even if you’ve sworn never to make electronics your babysitter, long trips with kids in the car were made for headphones and tablets. The Note Galaxy Note 8  ($349 at Best Buy) is your portal for games, movies, music and ebooks which can be stored on its 16GB internal drive plus it can expand up to 64GB with a microSD card.  It comes with a stylus for writing, drawing and doodling on the HD touch screen.



Protect your tablet with an Otterbox case like the Defender Series ($69.95) with an armor-like shell that shields against drops and dust and features an integrated screen cover that guards against scratches and smudges.


Sharing is caring with the Wicked Audio Splitter ($9.99) which allows a second person to to plug in and share music with any pair of headphones or earphones and raise and lower their volumes independently.


Tech for the Trip

For the armchair tourist in all of us, hook up SlingTV ($299) on your home entertainment system before you leave so you can tune into whatever is playing on your home TV from a laptop, tablet or phone.  Placeshift your TV and launch the Slingplayer app on your device and control your TV like you were sitting in your living room at home, no additional subscriptions required.  It even works internationally and anywhere there is an Internet connection.  Available at slingbox.com.


Work, Synch, Play

Even if you must take your work along, you don’t have to lug a laptop.  Tote the slim Nokia Lumina 2520 ($499, or $299 with AT&T contract) and its companion keyboard ($149) which features two USB ports and adds up to five hours extra battery life.  This quick-charging tablet powers up 80 percent in one hour and then is ready to create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on the go. Synch your email and calendars with Outlook. And with up to 64GB of expandable memory and OneDrive, you can save your documents and pick up where you left off whenever you want. And with 4G LTE connectivity for a super-fast experience, you can spend more time out and about.Nokia-Lumia-2520-jpg

Here Comes the Sun

Don’t let sunburn ruin your last days of summer.  Cover up with sun protection that won’t wear off, because you are wearing it.  UV Skinz UPF 50+ sunwear for the whole family is fashionable and comfortable in dozens of styles for everyone from baby to mom and dad.  Whether snorkeling or surfing, UV Skinz has an outfit for that, from hoodies to aloha print shirts and bucket hats.  Available at uvskinz.com.


Bee Prepared

If anyone along on the trip has allergies or special medial needs, pack along needed supplies, like an EpiPen or inhaler, in cute cases by AllerMates  ($17.99) that kids don’t mind carrying along.  The cool and colorful cartoon designs suit kids tastes, and the insulated cases are free of BPA, phthalates, nickel and latex and contain an emergency contact and medications info card.  Available nationwide at CVS, Kmart, Walgreens and allermates.com.


One for the Road

Avoid traffic and hit the road when the roosters crow, but don’t skip the day’s most important meal.  Take along liquid breakfast to-go, Naked Juice Protein Zone, a satisfying smoothie that serves up plenty of protein and fiber.  Stopping for meal breaks can slow you down, so pack along refreshing nutrition you can drink down, like loaded-with-veggies Naked Juice Green Machine.  Take in a meal or snack every 3-4 hours to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and your energy levels soaring, and stay hydrated naturally with Naked Juice Coconut Water, straight from Mother Nature and chock full of electrolytes and available in flavors like pineapple, mango or peach.  Available at grocery stores nationwide.



Naturally Refreshing

Stock your cooler for the car or beach and keep that bikini bod year round with stevia-sweetened Zevia, the all-natural alternative to fattening sugary carbonated drinks.  Available in 15 flavors, these sparkling refreshers have zero calories and no artificial sweeteners. Available in grocery stores nationwide including Whole Foods, Kroger, Safeway and Target.



jump highTrampolines are rebounding as the must-have backyard accessory. Back in the day, trampolines had the reputation as too dangerous for even insurance companies to cover, and they lost favor among parents. Today, trampolines are springing back, thanks to new designs that make them safer than ever.

Jumping on a trampoline is not just fun for kids, it is great exercise and a way to develop coordination and athletic skills. In fact, just 10 minutes of jumping on a trampoline is equivalent to a 30 minute run.

Still, trampolines have their perils. The likelihood of a severe head injury is higher on a trampoline than in a car crash, and each year over 105,000 kids are sent to hospital because of trampolines. These statistics mostly owe to either misuse or old-style trampoline equipment.

Proper enjoyment of a trampoline includes one participant jumping at a time. So much for those trampoline parks, where kids go wild — which is why many of these parks have waivers requiring parents to sign away all liability. The most common other reasons for trampoline injuries are collisions with hard parts, such as springs, which are the main mechanism for bounce on a traditional trampoline.


Many manufacturers are building safer trampolines. One company, Springfree Trampoline, touts their product as the world’s safest trampoline, thanks to its unique design that eliminates 90 percent of the impact areas on traditional trampolines. Instead of springs, a metal frame and rigid enclosure, the Springfree trampoline uses fiber-glass rods, a soft-edge and flexible enclosure. Springfree was created by an engineer and father of three, Dr. Keith Alexander, following 14 years of injury-prevention research, and has been recognized by The Parents’ Choice Foundation as the safest trampoline and received several awards, including the U.S. Children’s Product of the Year Award, the Family Choice Award, and Recommended Children’s Toy Award.assembly - ribs

Even with a safe design, children can still get injured using a trampoline, so the following precautions are recommended:

• One jumper only – butting heads with another jumper could result in serious injury
• No flips – most trampoline injuries result from landing on the head or neck
• No other objects – Empty your pockets before jumping and do not play with balls or other toys on the trampoline
• Supervise – prevent horseplay by watching children at all times
• Stay clear – do not allow children to go underneath the trampoline or lean on the enclosure
• Safe clearance – locate the trampoline away from walls, trees, etc.
• Secure it – lock the enclosure when not in use to prevent unauthorized jumpers

With safe practices, jumping on a trampoline is terrific full-body exercise for the whole family, on at a time of course.


open enrollmentSome life changing events are good — like the birth of a child or marriage, but some are not so good, like the loss of a job or divorce. The one thing that all of these events have in common is that they qualify you for open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as Obamacare. Life qualifying events that change your insurance status make you eligible to get enrolled in one of the plans in the Marketplace.
This is great news for anyone who needs insurance and is eligible to enroll. While the news may have painted the program as having a myriad of options which may seem confusing to some, there are many resources available to assist those who want help deciphering what ACA means to them and what plans would be best for them, depending on their family situation and other factors.
A go-to site for anyone who might want to enroll come November, when open enrollment begins, is http://www.getcoveredamerica.org.
There are also many online chats and even YouTube videos to make sense of it all.
If you have an uninsured friend or family member, let them know that insurance is important—and affordable. Encourage them to visit GetCoveredAmerica.org. They may qualify to enroll now if they’ve experienced a “Qualifying Life Event.” If not, tell them to mark their calendar for November 15th, 2014 — that’s when the Marketplace opens again for 2015 coverage. Help is available if they have questions.
Don’t delay. Open Enrollment does not last forever. To clarity, Open Enrollment is the period of time when you can enroll in a health insurance plan in the Marketplace and check to see if you qualify for help paying for your insurance.

The great news is that more than half of all uninsured Americans can get covered for under $100 a month. And for in five people, who have already signed up, got help paying for their insurance.

Open enrollment for 2015 starts on November 15th, but certain changes in your life, called “qualifying life events,” could allow you to get covered through the health insurance marketplace now.
GetCoveredAmerica can answer questions about qualifying life events. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) remain available to everyone eligible throughout the year. But people can also enroll if they’ve had a “qualifying life event” — meaning they’ve gotten married or divorced, had a baby, adopted a child, placed a child up for adoption, moved residences, gained citizenship, left incarceration, graduated from college or lost their health coverage. In most cases, once such an event occurs, a person has a 60-day window to get coverage.
For your specific qualifying life event, check out these resources:
o Getting Married: https://www.getcoveredamerica.org/after-i-do/
o Having a Baby: https://www.getcoveredamerica.org/happy-mothers-day-to-new-moms/
o After Divorce or Job Loss: https://www.getcoveredamerica.org/life-hands-lemons/
o College graduation: https://www.getcoveredamerica.org/congrats-grad/

Enrolling is easy. Visit GetCoveredAmerica.org to learn how to enroll in health insurance and to get answers to common questions. The site’s content is also shareable via Facebook and Twitter at Facebook/GetCoveredAmerica and Twitter.com/GetCoveredUS.
Financial help is available. In fact, over half of Americans under 35 could get covered for under $50 a month! More than half of all uninsured Americans can get covered for under $100 a month. And 4 in 5 people, who have already signed up, got help paying for their insurance. Use the “Get Covered Calculator” to see how much help you could qualify for to cover your monthly insurance cost. http://www.getcoveredamerica.org/calculator/
If you get stumped with your application, local help is available. Use our Get Covered America 101 page (http://www.getcoveredamerica.org/get-covered-101) to find answers to the most commonly asked questions, or our locator tool to find an expert who can help. By entering your zip code, you will get the names and phone numbers of experts who can help you complete your application and understand your health insurance options. http://www.getcoveredamerica.org/locator/

For epicurean kids, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar unveiled its new children’s menu last month, with smaller portions of some of their most-famed dishes, like smokey friend chicken, and the PCB (Plan Check Burger) Jr., sans onions. The ambiance of this bar and restaurant is decidedly grown-up, but even after 7 pm on a Sunday night, the place is crawling with young kids, out with the ‘rents for a family dinner.friedchick800pickles800

While the kids menu throws in one can’t-miss favorite of grilled cheese, the other offerings are suited for kids who have a bit more adventurous palate. My seven-year-old son went for the BBQ chicken stix, which are definitely not your typical chicken fingers.

stix800 These tender and tasty skewers, swathed in tangy BBQ sauce and sprinkled with crunch cheddar ban bacon bits, presented in a mini iron skillet on a bed of fries, were just to my son’s liking, though for those who prefer breaded nuggets, these fingers would have gone untouched.
While the kids menu is called such, even the drinks — fountain soda, lemonade, or iced tea, eschew the usuals — juices and milk, and are served in a tall narrow glass — no plastic sippy with a straw here. For sure, this kids menu is not your standard, and like the atmosphere — a bit noisy, hip and happening — the menu is exciting enough for adults, but tame enough to appeal to kids.

For the of-age crowd, the upscale comfort food is divinely satisfying. The portions may seem small, but the food is filling as it is scrumptious.

chips800The sweet potato waffle fries, made with beef tallow, pop with flavor as vivid as the bright orange color, and the smokey fried chicken earns its reputation as mouth-watering — one of those dishes where you take a bite then your eyes go wide when the flavor saturates your soul.
The cruller donuts are the final treat to finish off such a delectable meal. The cinnamon-coated dough twists come with a dipping cream sauce and cream mousse along with banana slices for the ultimate donut fix.
Plan Check Bar + Restaurant is smart to be so different from its neighbors. It’s not what you would expect in the middle of LA, which makes you wonder, “Where else could you go for a meal like this?” The answer is nowhere I can think of. And that makes it even better.

The crowd is eclectic. In addition to the sprinkling of families, there was a large contingent of stylish (assume gay) men, attractive single men and women at the bar. Prices are reasonable, with burgers and sandwiches $12 to $13, and other entrees from $13 to $16. Some of the snacks and apps are particularly unique, such as the selection of pickles and a wire basket of exotic veggie chips with avocado dip.

Plan Check, which takes its name from its original location across from the Building and Safety Department, where architects, engineers and the like would lunch while reviewing plans for permitting. Two current locations are at 351 N. Fairfax and 1800 Sawtelle in LA. A downtown location on Wilshire is due to open soon.

There’s a lot of ballyhoo about Southern California theme parks being the best in the nation, but as an Los Angeles replant and frequent visitor to all the usual suspects (Disneyland, California Adventures, LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, Six Flags, etc.,) I believe Busch Gardens  in Williamsburg, Virginia, can hold its own against the park super powers.

Ride of My Life

On a recent trip back to my home state of Virginia our family of two adults and two six-year-olds planned a two-day visit to Busch Gardens in historic Williamsburg.  My childhood memories of the place are still fresh.  I recall riding the famed Loch Ness Monster when it opened in 1978, and the fear in my heart as a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace played softly over the stereo system as my brother and I waited in line.  My parents refused to go on this crazy upside-down looping roller coaster over a pond of water.  I thought my folks were being wimpy and lame, in the day.

flying machine

So here I was some — choke — 36 years later, looking at the twisting interlocking loops and the 130-foot drop above the park’s Rhine River, I tried to beg my son — the only one of our party eager to brave this beast — out of going on this ride.  He was steadfast.  So I waited in line with him hoping for the ideal situation which thankfully presented itself.  Another boy, a bit older and much taller, was also seeking a buddy to ride in the two-seater car with him.   Away they went, eyes wide with trepidation.  A few minutes later, the laughing boys arrived back at the station screaming, “We want to go again!”

Even on a mid-summer day, in July, we were able to ride again and again on our favorite rides.  This was something that we had found impossible at SoCal parks, where even with a Fast-Pass, if you can figure out the system, you are lucky to ride any of the premium rides more than once in a day.  Perhaps it was the horribly humid Virginia summer heat that kept tourists away, or the economy that is still not recovered enough for many families to spring for the admission price ($72 for 10 and up, $62 for 9 and under), but we found the crowd, even at peak times, to be manageable, and I dare say pleasanter than at left coast parks, possibly owing to the polite and genteel nature of folks south of the Mason-Dixon line.


Into the Woods

Besides quick-moving lines for rides, another recommender for Busch Gardens is the lush environs.  Each time I visit Northern Virginia, right off the plane at Dulles Airport I am always immediately struck by the difference in vegetation. The thick woods of green trees and fields of green grass and farms along the roadside are a sight for dry eyes accustomed to the dusty expanses of cacti and other succulents and the non-native palm trees of LA.  Busch Gardens has somehow preserved this dense greenery even at the center of the park. Roller coasters zoom through them, tug boats chug beside them and the train that circles the park lumbers around these shady forests of old-growth trees, which are an enchanting retreat from the sun on hot days.


While our family is always impressed with the impeccable upkeep at Disney parks, Busch Gardens truly earns its 23-years-running accolade as the nation’s most beautiful theme park, as voted by the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA).  Adults can appreciate the quant reproduction of Europe as represented by nine villages in six countries, and kids will find the grandest assortment of thrill rides along with kiddie rides to satisfy every age and degree of daringness.  We all do love the wonderful “experiences” at Disney, but for older kids who really want to have their cranium shaken, Busch Gardens has it all — the soaring Apollo’s Chariot hyper coaster, the snow monster floor-dropping Alpengiest, the insane 205-foot free-falling Griffon, and the Verbolten autobahn racetrack coaster for starters.  Then there’s DaVinci’s Cradle, which I boarded thinking it was a mild-mannered giant swing to soon realize this massive raft-like ride was working its way up to a full circle rotation that left me wondering what sort of engineering feat enabled this contraption to stay standing while subjecting us and its foundation to such a magnitude of centrifugal force.  We also loved the scare of Curse of DarKastle which was like Disney’s Haunted Mansion on 3D steroids.

Hot Enough for Ya?

On boiling hot days like when we visited, the park has misters to cool off visitors, and there are splash and soak rides, like Escape from Pompeii, Le Scoot and Roman Rapids that provide relief, but in the case of weather, the SoCal parks win, as even when it hits triple digits it never feels hot and sticky like an East Coast summer.  Speaking of attractions where the West wins, Busch Gardens’ Europe in the Air simulator ride is a poor imitation of Soarin’ Over California, the latter which I could ride all day, and the former which literally made all of us nearly lose our lunch from motion sickness.


During our visit we got treated to Star Spangled Nights, a fireworks display after dark that added extra excitement to our evening experience.  The park hosts several special events like this year round, including an extraordinary holiday light display during the park’s Christmastown winter season event.


bed dining room sitting room

History Repeats Itself

Of course, Busch Gardens’ Old Country pales in comparison to the surrounding city of Williamsburg, which includes Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown.  Visitors who come for the theme park should book at least a couple of days to explore this amazing throwback to our country’s earliest days with exhibits that show what life was like as early as 1607 when the first Virginia settlement was founded.

There are many places to stay in Williamsburg, and because it is a terrific place for recurring vacationers many time share developments offer affordable extended stay accommodations.  Just a few minutes away from the park, we discovered a spacious and comfortable townhouse at Kings Creek Plantation, where we had all the amenities of home in a two-bedroom, two-bath unit which included a living and dining area and a fully equipped kitchen.

Our stay was two days and one night, which was not nearly long enough to explore the tip of the Historic Triangle and all the offerings of Williamsburg, but it’s reasonable to say that this destination has been standing beautifully preserved for centuries, and it will be there for us for our next visit, which we will definitely make soon.


Krazy-Glue-for-Crafts-and-Small-Home-RepairsAs I watch the preview screeners of Ray Donovan (don’t worry, no spoilers), I am fascinated by the concept of the “fixer.” This is the person that makes everyone’s messes go away and repairs anything that goes wrong. I find this ironic, as this is how my son regards me. I am the fixer around my household. Not only do piles of clothes and toys magically find their way back into their places (yes, of course I make him clean up his own messes, but let’s be realistic, sometimes you just don’t have time for the clean-up-for-one-minute -play -for-two pace of a child helping neaten up a room), but in the tragic case of a toy breaking, I am the Godly fixer.
It is I who welds the Kragle, of LEGOLAND the Movie, but in a good way. My best friend and hero-maker in my house is Krazy Glue. The feared tube of my youth, that Mom warned me could stick my fingers together forever, is now the tool that saves the day when my son’s beloved toys snap in half, lose a piece, or otherwise fall apart in this day of Made-in-China toys that inevitably my son loves more than the well-made and precisely engineered and more expensive toys that I buy him and would prefer for him to make his prized toys.
I have recently added new firepower to my arsenal of Krazy Glue WMD (Weapons of Mass Construction) the Ultra Thick Gel craft Krazy Glue that has the same hang-from-your-hardhat-on-a-steel-beam strength but in a no-run gel that bonds to ceramic, plastic, wood, porcelain metal, leather rubber, vinyl, etc., but also features a special formula designed to delay skin bonding. So see Mom, I won’t permanently be giving the Spock sign, if I act fast enough.
I relish my role as the fixer, earning my son’s eternal appreciation every time I return a once-broken toy to him mended and (almost) like new. I may not tote a baseball bat, but I am a thug when it comes to all things broken around my house, and I am proud to be able to bring out the Krazy to make it all better.

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