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Friday, July 29, 2016

Mrs. Lo's Top Family Vacation Tips

MRS. LO’s TOP SUMMER VACATION TIPS - Poof!  And just like that, our 16th trip to Kennebunkport, Maine is in the books.  Vacation weeks do seem do fly by a lot more quickly than other weeks.  Since we do travel quite a bit, I have put together my top Vacation Tips for traveling with your Family this Summer:

8.  DO WHAT YOU LIKE - that may sound obvious but it is important to find something the whole family enjoys.  I have friends who love camping but I just can’t rough it in the woods.  Similarly, we love Disney World but I have friends who would rather chew cud than visit Disney.  To each his own!  Take your time exploring and researching on the internet and in person.  When you find something you like, remember, if it ain't t broke, don’t fix it.  That’s why we are in our 16th year returning to Kennebunkport, we absolutely love it!

7. PACK LIGHT - the more experienced the traveler, the lighter their luggage.  Most people tend to overpack, some wildly.  When I lived in Spain, my friends and I traveled all over Europe with just a small backpack.  When my husband and I spent 3 weeks in the Greece, island hopping, all we had were carry ons.  To this day, we all travel by air with one carryon each.  We never have to wait for our baggage, or pay for it, and getting around is a breeze.  Whatever you plan on packing, you can probably cut it down by 75%.


6.  BUILD UP TO IT - when the kids were younger, we only took vacations in places we could drive to.  Eventually, the trips got longer and we built up to taking our youngins on the plane.  First to Disney and then on longer international trips. I have never been a big fan of babies on planes.  The altitude really does hurt their ears, which, of course leads to crying.  But there’s always that exceptional baby that loves to fly!

5.  LET THE KIDS HELP PLAN THE TRIP - nothing makes kids more invested in a trip than being in on the planning.  Disney does a great job of letting you plan everything, from lodging to meals to rides, in advance.  I sit down with my kids and make a Bucket List of things we want to do on every trip.  This trip’s Bucket List included going to all 6 beaches, kayaking, paddleboarding, golf, biking, fishing, hiking, and going to some of our favorite spots, like Ben and Jerry’s in town.  We didn’t do everything on our list but we did almost all of everything; and the kids enjoyed being able to put a big green checkmark next to items on our Bucket List as we completed them.

4.  LIGHTEN UP ON THE SCREEN TIME THING - we usually try (unsuccessfully) to limit our kids screen time.  We don’t own an X Box, play station or any video games (so they play video games on their tablets). But when on vacation, we let them do what they want.  Yes, both my kids were walking all over Kennebunkport trying to capture different Pokemon Go characters.  So were lots of other kids.

3.  BANG ON BUDGET - don’t blow the budget to go on vacation.  Set up a vacation club savings account so you can pay for your vacation ahead of time.  While on vacation, set a budget and stick to it.  We rent a house in Kennebunkport, which has to be paid for well in advance of coming up here.  Once we get here, we buy groceries and grill or cook at the house.  The only time we went out to dinner this week was when we had burgers at the Dine In Movie Theatre.  Nothing ruins a vacation like coming home to credit card bills.   

2.  CREATE A NO WHINING ZONE - whatever gripe anyone has, just Let It Go!  Really, you’re on vacation, that’s not the place for whining and complaining.  Somebody stole your parking spot?  Oh well, guess they're just faster!  The person you asked to take your family photo also took a picture of his thumb?  Hey, I have fun editing photos!  It’s amazing what an adjustment of attitude can do.

 1.  TAKE A SOCIAL MEDIA BREAK - unless you’re writing a Travel Blog -- which I do for fun because I love to write and I love to travel  -- you can post your fabulous vacation photos to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook when you get back.  While it’s great to interact with your friends on social media, it’s even better to give that a break until you get back.  Focus only on your family during your family vacation.  Your spouse and kids will notice and will be thankful, believe me.  Because Family Vacation time is a precious commodity and you only have a finite amount vacations over the course of your kids’ childhood.
I hope everyone gets to go on a great Family Vacation this Summer!  Next up for us:  Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic; and then a jaunt to Cape Cod in August.  
Have a great day everyone and, as always, remember to count your blessings! <3 Mrs. Lo (Photo of the sweet little 3-Bedroom house we stayed in this week, just across the street from the Beach) www.LoBiondoPage.Blogspot.com 

Punta Cana: a Mrs. Lo Travel Blog

have traveled to dozens of countries and the Dominican Republic is one of my absolute favorites.  Our most recent trip was to Punta Cana, currently one of the hottest spots in the Caribbean.  Forty years ago, this part of the DR was all jungle.  The development began in 1970 and got going when Club Med put in a hotel.  In 1984, a real commercial airport was built in Punta Cana and development began in earnest.  There are now 162 resorts in Punta Cana, with an average of 5,000 travelers per day coming through the airport.  

    We stayed at the beautiful Ocean Blue and Sands Resort, an all inclusive resort located right on the beach (this is a key thing to look for in a resort -- some resorts, like the Hard Rock, are a pretty good distance from the beach), with 8 restaurants, 10 bars, 2 pools, a theatre, casino, and lots of water activities.  We were able to use our Disney Vacation Club membership to stay here, meaning we did not pay for the lodging, just the food and the airfare.  (We have a lot of Disney Vacation Club points, which is how we are able to take 5 - 6 family vacations a year).

    I would highly recommend a family, couples or even solo trip to Punta Cana.  If you book a trip, here are a few things to know before you go:

 1. PACK LIGHT - I know I say this all the time, but you really don’t need anything more than a carry-on.  It makes traveling so much easier.  For a trip to the DR generally, you will need swimwear and coverups, some shorts and shirts, and some resort wear for dinner.  Check the dress code before you go.  For instance, the restaurant on the beach, which we favored, required a shirt and pants/ or dress (full coverage)  for breakfast.  However, you were free to stroll into the lunch buffet at the same place in your swimsuit.  Go figure.

2. BRING A PEN AND TEN’S - this blog assumes everyone has their US Passport and knows the rules of international travel.  Here are a few extra tips.  Bring a pen in your personal bag.  You need to fill out the customs forms (“no, I’m not bringing livestock into the country”) on the plane and they don’t provide you with a pen.  Having these forms all filled out on the plane saves a lot of time.  There is also a $10 per person fee to enter the country and they don’t take credit cards.

3. ABOUT PESOS - the Dollar is very strong right now, and if you exchange dollars for pesos you will get a lot more bang for your buck.  I exchange at the ATM in the airport.  You will pay a $5 fee but you will get the best rate.  There is a huge transaction fee everywhere else.  Of course, since the dollar is so strong, everyone wants you to pay in dollars.  But since you can get 45 pesos for One Dollar, I like to do the exchange.  If you are staying at an all inclusive, you will only need money for taxis, tips, souvenirs, and excursions.  A good tip would be 250 pesos ($5.55 ).  

4. THE LANGUAGE - I always speak Spanish when I am in the DR or any other Spanish speaking country, because I love the language and I am like to speak with the people and get all the nuances.  However, you need not speak any Spanish at all, everyone at the resorts speaks enough English to do their job, and the concierges are very fluent in English -- and often several other languages. 

5. OUTSIDE THE RESORTS - unless this is your native land, don’t be wandering outside the resorts without a guide.  There is a lot of poverty and poverty makes people do things to survive.  You are perfectly safe at your resort and on an expedition but you want to stay in your lane.

6. ALL INCLUSIVES - depending on your resort, your all inclusive will generally include unlimited food and beverages (which alcohol is included is resort specific), unlimited room service, towel service, use of the beach cabanas, transportation by golf cart or trolley around the resort, the nightly shows, and certain water sports.  Kayaking and snorkeling were included at our resort.  The catamaran was an extra fee as was the banana boat, surfing and parasailing but it was all on property and very reasonably priced.

7. EXCURSIONS - the off property excursions are an extra charge.  Sometimes we like to go all over the country with excursions, this particular trip we wanted to relax.  We did however, visit Hoyo Azul and the kids went on a Snuba dive (cross between scuba and snorkeling).  You can also visit Sanoa Island, go in dunebuggies, go ziplining and visit dolphins and aquariums.

8. FOOD AND DRINK - the food at our resort was outstanding.  We tried almost all of the restaurants.  Our hands down favorite was the Villa Marina as it was located right on the beach.  There is a sitdown breakfast, breakfast buffet, lunch buffet and sitdown Dominican dinner.  We also enjoyed the Hibachi Japanese restaurant, Italian restaurant, the Steakhouse and the Mexican restaurant.  Mike’s Coffee Bar was a coffee lover’s dream and is said to have the best coffee in Punta Cana, along with desserts.  All of this is part of your all inclusive fee.  The theater shows were akin to shows on a cruise ship, some are better than others.  The Dominican show was fabulous, with some of the best costumes and bachata dancing I have ever seen.


9. HAVE FUN!!  Punta Cana is not like Santo Domingo or even Puerta Plata, where there are lots of historic sights from the 16th century, and beautiful cathedrals and architecture to see.  Punta Cana is not a town.  This was pure jungle 40 years ago, and it was called Punta Borracha (Drunken Point).  The developers changed the name and eventually it became a Beach and Resort mecca.  Trust me, you’re not missing anything if you were to sit on the beach, read and occasionally swim or snorkel.  The entire economy is built on you, the valued guest, having a good time, relaxing, and coming back.  So Relax and Enjoy one of the most beautiful spots on earth!

Have a great day, everyone and, as always, remember to count your blessings!  Mrs. Lo (photo from the beach in Punta Cana).  If you click on the blog, there are more photos from our trip! www.LoBiondoPage.Blogspot.com


Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer Days in Maine 2016

Our Summer Days in Maine - We just arrived at our beach house for the week, here in Kennebunkport, Maine. This is our 16th summer in a row coming up to “the ‘bunks.”  I truly can’t believe it has been 16 years!  It seems like just yesterday we were packing precious little Baby Christian into his carseat to come up here for the first time. But in fact, that was August of 2001. Neither of our kids can remember a time when we didn’t go to Maine during the Summer.  I often blog about the importance of creating and maintaining traditions for your kids and grandkids.  It’s 
more than just a fun thing to do, it’s actually a building block for raising happy and successful adults.  (A great read if you have time is "The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness,” by Dr. Edward Hallowell). 


There have been a lot of changes over the years --but some things about our trip to Maine have remain steadfast traditions.

The first summer we came up to Kennebunkport, we only stayed for a long weekend.  We couldn’t afford a suite, we were lucky to pull off a single hotel room.  We took the door off the closet and created a “nursery” for Christian (we put it back on before we left, we’re not the Rolling Stones).  Somehow, that will forever be known to our kids as the year we “put Christian in the closet on vacation.”  We were still building our careers and I was only working part-time as a young lawyer, so it was a financial stretch for us to stay in such a “fancy” place, even for a few nights.

We made it work and we ended up falling in love with the six beautiful, pristine beaches of Kennebunkport, with our favorite being “Mother’s Beach.”  We simply adore this sleepy, quaint New England village where cars actually STOP when you're in the crosswalk; and life moves at about the pace of fictional Mayberry.  We vowed to come back every year.  We came home, learned to cut coupons, collected loose change and started a vacation club account.  Our ultimate goal was to be able to travel the country and the world with our family.

By the time Michael was born, in 2004, we were able to rent a house a few blocks from the beach.  Michael was just 5 months old when he first came to Maine.  Four-year-old Christian towed him around in a little red flexible flyer wagon, which we continued to use as “beach transportation” for many years.  Yes, that was the year that I forgot to pack Michael’s clothes and had to run out to the mall for baby clothes (hey, everybody makes mistakes, don’t judge!)

Over the past 15 years, we founded our own law firm, a full-service Mediation Center, and some other businesses.  We have sold some of our businesses but have kept the main ones, the law firm which bears our name, the Mediation Center and the travel agency.  We had some failures, which we learned from, and forged on.  Over time, we have both worked very hard and achieved enough success to allow us to pursue our passions: traveling, rowing, sailing, and private Catholic schools for our kids.  We otherwise live very modest lives.  We live in the same home we bought when we married 18 years ago.  We spend almost nothing on things that are important to other lawyers, like cars, clothes and jewelry.  I have always said, I'd rather have a passport full of stamps than a house full of stuff. 

We now go on several vacations a year, with our time in Kennebunkport still being our special time together.  The first thing we do when we arrive is park the car, pile out and head straight to the ocean just to feel the waves at our feet and our toes in the sand.  We have been to many beaches, from Hawaii to the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, but there's nothing quite like our favorite New England beach and the aromatic salty air.

Every summer, my first task is a big grocery run, which is necessary with all rental houses.  I started out being able to walk to the little grocery store in town with the red wagon and haul back enough food for the week.  At some point, I had to start driving to the local supermarket.  Now, I take Michael and head for the giant Hannaford two towns over and we each fill two shopping carts.  

Dinner is easy.  Anthony grills just about every evening and the rest of us make the sides.  Every morning, I get up early to watch the sun rise.  I like to sit on the beach with my cup of blueberry coffee and greet the glorious day all by myself.  Eventually, I head back and make blueberry pancakes for my hungry boys.  We like to pack up sandwiches to take to the beach.  We basically walk out the door and plant ourselves in the sand and surf for the day.

 Our days are pretty simple -- we spend them at the beach.  I do like to get in a few of our other favorite activities -- the rides and the Boardwalk in Old Orchard Beach; kayaking on the Kennebunk River; hiking the Rachel Carson Wildlife Preserve; and of course, the intown narrated Trolley Ride (I often know more about Kennebunkport than the trolley driver -- and I do not hesitate to correct him or her  -- much to my children’s chagrin).  The kids spend pretty much the whole day boogie boarding, body surfing, fishing and building sand castles.  The first time Christian was able to boogie board on his own was a major victory, complete with hundreds of photos and videos.  Anthony and I used to go in the waves to “lifeguard” him.  Now both of our kids can entertain themselves in the water or out.  One summer, my heart was in my throat as I watched little Michael go INTO a wave and not come out right away; I didn’t see my older son either.  But that was because Christian had gone in to retrieve him.  Michael was able to swim back on his own with Christian kind of pushing him from behind.  Five minutes later they were both back boogie boarding like nothing had happened.  It's good to know your kids have each other's backs.

For 15 years, we only went out to eat at one restaurant -- Bartley’s Dockside Restaurant, which not only had the best lobster and blueberry in town, they accepted us with open arms when we first came in with babies.  Of course, they were best known for being a favorite eatery of the Bush Family; the Bushes have a compound here in Kennebunkport.  We were pretty disappointed to come up this year and find out that Bartley’s had been sold to a restaurateur from Booth Bay Harbor and had been replaced with an upscale Italian place.  We haven’t been interested in going out to dinner since then, although we have had lobster roll for lunch in quite a few locales. (Hint:  the best food in town is often found at a food truck and Kennebunkport is no exception.  Check out “Ocean Rolls,” the oldest working food truck in the US -- dating back to 1961 -- currently, it can be found at the corner of Ross Road and Route 1 in Kennebunk.  Great prices and delicious lobster rolls!)  We also enjoy local community theatre in town.  This year, we will be going to the free outdoor Shakespeare Festival.  

We have a few other vacations planned over the year: the Dominican Republic, Cape Cod, San Francisco, Hawaii, Disney's Grand Floridian, and Vero Beach, Florida.  Not to mention Christian’s college visits.

It took a lot of perseverance, hard work, and belief in ourselves to get to the point where we can travel freely with our family.  And it has all been worth it. There's nothing we'd rather do than be together as a family.

 Have lots of fun this summer creating your own Summer traditions, whether it’s time at the beach, camping, backyard campfires, or outings at the park.  Whatever it is, do it as a family.  Because one minute you're putting your kid in his car seat-- and in the blink of an eye, your kid is taking turns driving the car to Maine.

Have a great day everyone and, as always, remember to Count Your Blessings!  <3 Mrs. Lo 


  For more of the Mrs. Lo Blog, visit  www.lobiondopage.blogspot.com

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happy Fourth of July from Mrs.Lo

I just love everything about the Fourth of July, it’s such a HAPPY holiday!  The whole point is to love and celebrate America.  And we do that best by loving God, country, and gathering our families around.  It’s a time to enjoy barbecuing, appreciate our unprecedented freedom, fly Old Glory and swath ourselves and our homes in red, white and blue.  And I love all my family’s great traditions and memories from past years.  If I had to identify one single favorite memory, I guess it would be the Jello.  More specifically, the red, white and blue Jello Flag cake I made with my grandmother for years, and that I now make with my kids.

    My grandmother had a big beautiful Victorian home in the village of Cold Spring.  Talk about all American. This was before everyone from NYC discovered Cold Spring and the only ones who hiked Breakneck mountain were billygoats.  The village of Cold Spring had (still has) a little gazebo where there would be a band in straw hats playing patriotic songs.  Families would bring down picnics and camp out all day on the Hudson River, fishing, barbecuing and enjoying the live music.  

    The absolute best Fourth of July ever was 1976,  I was eleven years old and it was our nation’s Bicentennial.  That was the year the historic Tall Ships, replicas of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, sailed up the Hudson River from NYC.  It was so incredibly thrilling to see the tall ships after hearing about them from months, and then they actually docked in town.  I didn’t think that life could get any better.  And then I remembered,


    We still had the Jello Flag Cake to eat  It was the first year that Nellen (my grandmother) had let me take the lead on making the Flag cake.  She had the recipe memorized and she sat on the kitchen stool and told me what do to.  It is made of red and blue jello, Sara Lee pound cake slices, cool whip, strawberries and blueberries.  We had made it the night before and carefully packed it in cardboard, waxed paper and a portable ice chest (now known as a “cooler”).  And it was absolutely perfect. As the sky turned to dusk, my brother and I got our jars out to chase fireflies (we always let them go after a few minutes).  Then my parents got out the folding lawn chairs from Montgomery Ward and we settled in to listen to the band play Philip Sousa and patriotic tunes.  We were pretty sleepy but we woke up quickly when the fireworks went off.  Ooooo.  Ahhhh.    

    Looking back, it has always been these simple pleasures that have been the absolute best and the most memorable.  We now have our own tradition with our kids.  While Newburgh doesn’t have a small town gazebo or a party on the green, there are plenty of area fireworks to watch.  However, we find that we prefer to just be home with family and friends to barbecue.  One thing we do like to do is get out on a boat -- this year, it is a sailboat -- and watch the fireworks on the Hudson River from the boat.  It’s the best seat in the house.  And right after that, we get out our new fangled “ice chest” and dig into my kids’ favorite -- the Jello Flag cake.  

    Some 240 years ago, regular folks just like us laid down their lives and fought and suffered so that the “colonies” could have independence from an unjust King.  As a matter of fact, George Washington spent a good deal of the latter part of the war right here in Newburgh, and you can (and should) visit Washington’s headquarters often.  I know I do.
    There’s no wrong way to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Love God, your country and your family.  And if you want to make yourself something nice, I highly recommended a jello flag cake -- Mrs. Lo 
www.LoBiondoPage.Blogspotcom