My Review of FamZoo – An Allowance and Finance Education Solution for Families
Looking for advice and ideas on how to make more out of giving your child a weekly allowance or to reward them for meeting goals or doing chores? Look no further than FamZoo.com.
FamZoo is a great solution for families to handle this time-honored tradition. Not only does it provide a great, easy-to-manage system for giving your kids money, it teaches financial literacy, and encourages charitable giving.
Here’s a quick summary of the features that make this a great option for families with kids:
At its most basic level, FamZoo is a MasterCard debit card for each of your children.
The card is the same as many bank-issued debit cards/ATM cards.
When you order the cards, each kid over the age of 13 years old can get their own name on the card.
Kids younger than 13 years old get their parent’s name and their name on the card.
The parent’s transfer money into a FamZoo account and then it can be distributed as required either automatically in regular intervals (such as for an allowance) or as the parent authorizes.
There is a web-based and iOS application that parents can use to setup accounts, transfer money to kids’ cards, and keep track of transactions/spending.
Savings and charity accounts can be created. Parents can decide on an “interest rate” for their child’s savings account. (The parent pays the interest, but the kid learns about the value of saving.)
When a child earns money, some of it can automatically be diverted into the charity or savings accounts. Parents can setup a “savings match” program if they like.
If a debit card is lost, there’s a checkbox in the app/web account that can disable it instantly.
Since it’s a debit card, and you set the pin, the possibility of theft / fraudulent use is minimized. It is easy to order replacement cards and to transfer the money on the old card to the new account.
Debit cards also mean no chance of accidently going into debt, late fees, overdraft fees. The money that you put on the card is all that is available for your child to use.
The debit card is on an ATM network (MoneyPass), so your child can withdraw cash as needed (from the available balance on her card).
Watch the video below to learn more about how FamZoo works:
SEE MY LIST OF 33+ IDEAS FOR KIDS’ BIRTHDAY PARTIES IN ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD BELOW
Are you looking for a great place to host your child’s birthday party?
There are so many choices, but unfortunately, many parents return to the same old places again and again – for example, bounce houses.
Below you’ll find some other party ideas that may be a bit more creative. Please note that this is my own collection of birthday party place ideas – no business have paid to be on it. The list contains links to party favor ideas which are sponsored by and link to Amazon.com.
This list of birthday party ideas is mainly for people who live in or near Anne Arundel County, but if you live elsewhere, there are probably similar places near you!
The the Whole Foods in Annapolis has a closed off kitchen area where they hold classes and parties. The kids will get a cooking lesson and learn about the store. If you’re looking to hold a baking birthday party, this is definitely the place. When I attended a party at Whole Foods Annapolis, we made guacamole in a bag, which was great for a party for 6-year olds. Older kids can make more serious culinary creations. Unfortunately, not available for toddlers. Location: Annapolis
Looks like a blast. This venue doesn’t really have a reservation system, so you just show up with your party and have a ball. This would be especially good if it’s a last minute party. There will be plenty of fun and smiles. Location: Crofton Party Favor Ideas: Balloon Racers, Balloon Helicopter Racers
Craft parties (Ages 4-10): Have your party at Michael’s Craft Store. Michael’s provides a party room where your group can do a craft together. Location: Bowie, Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Hanover
Jewelry Making at Twisted Bead and Rock Shop (Ages 5+): The twisted bead is located in Edgewater and has jewelry making options for all ages. Location: Edgewater
Paint Parties (Ages 5+): Muse Paintbar in Annapolis hosts kids parties where they can paint on canvas or glasses. The painted masterpiece is the party favor. Location: Annapolis Towne Centre
Is your child a cat lover? (Ages 7+) Have a birthday party at Kittens in Cups on defense Highway in Annapolis. Cafe setting with a dozen or more cuddly cats to play with.
Indoor pool parties (Ages 2+) There are many places in Anne Arundel County where you can hold an indoor pool party. For example, at Kid’s First Swim School in Severna Park you can hold a party for about $250 for an hour of swimming and an hour of room use. There are also other venues that offer kids’ pool parties. For example, the North Arundel Aquatic Center is a great choice. They also have a party room and very reasonable rates for large parties. This is a great birthday party place for toddlers, but usually the parents are going to have to swim with their kids. Location: Severna Park, Glen Burnie Fees: $225-$350 Party favor idea: Goggles and water toys
Rock climbing parties (Ages 5+) There aren’t any notable rock climbing facilities in AA County. If Laurel isn’t too far away, consider a party at ClimbZone. The place is really fun with some very creative climbing walls including a giant book shelf and “Mount Rushmore”. You may want to check with the Pip Moyer Center in Annapolis, as they do have a climbing wall there. Also, see Big Vanilla, below. Location: Laurel
Severna Park Gymnastics does great parties for kids. Works well for girls or boys. Also, in Severna Park is We Rock the Spectrum, a perfect place for a birthday party for a child with autism…their value proposition sounds great: “Finally a Place Where You Never Have to Say I’m Sorry” Location: Severna Park Party Favor Ideas: Ribbon Wands, Necklaces
Build-A-Bear (Ages 2-7) – Kids of love Build-a-Bear parties. The location in Annapolis mall does a great job with parties. Consider having snacks in the food court area before the party. Location: Annapolis Mall
Bowling parties (Ages 5+) Bowling parties can be fun, but I would caution parents to steer towards older kids with this idea. Even with bumpers, the game can be frustrating for younger children. Definitely go for duck pins if possible. Although they are relatively rare, the bowling alley in Severna Park still has them. By the way, the Severna Park alley is a great environment and kids older than 7 are sure to have a great time there. My only complaint about this place is that the food choices just aren’t healthy. For example, their popcorn is full of chemicals. If you have a party here, you aren’t allowed to bring in your own food except for a cake. Glen Burnie also has a duck pin alley. There are certainly other bowling alleys in Anne Arundel County such as Crofton Bowling and Annapolis Bowl, but no duck pins there. Location: Severna Park, Glen Burnie, Crofton
Ice skating (Ages 5+) The Piney Orchard Ice Arena is a great place for a birthday party year-round. Great deal! They have a party room upstairs, and accommodate quite a few people with skating for $200. For kids who don’t know how to skate, they have “walkers” to help them on the ice. Nice place. In the winter, there’s also the Glen Burnie outdoor ice rink. Location: Odenton, Glen Burnie
Music Birthday Parties (Ages 2-7) – School of Rock in Gambrills and Arnold offers music birthday parties. Location: Gambrills, Arnold Party Favor Ideas: Inflatable Guitars
Paintball (Ages 8+) Paintball parties can be lots of fun…there is a great paintball venue in Pasadena called Paintball Sports and Supply (Curtis Bay). Location: Curtis Bay, Md
Horse center parties (Ages 6+) Morningside in Annapolis offers birthday parties for your horse-loving child. Location: Annapolis
Terrapin Adventures (Ages 6+) (301-725-1313) This is a tree-top adventure park located in Savage, MD (Howard County). This place is really fun, and would be an especially good party in late spring or early fall. Location: Savage, Md Party Favor Ideas: Tickle Plant Seeds
Dave and Busters (Ages 4+) Dave and Busters in Arundel Mills mall is a very popular party venue. Kids will have fun, but usually very busy there. Location: Arundel Mills Mall
The Melting Pot (Ages 7+) This is a great place to have a party with a small group of your child’s friends. This place is always a hit. Parties here are probably going to take at least 2 hours, so just collect parent’s mobile phone numbers and text them when dessert arrives to pick up their kids. Location: Annapolis
Have a Lego birthday party (Ages 5-10) – Brikz for Kids -You’ll need to provide a space for this party, but this is definitely a cool way to go. Location: Crofton, Annapolis
Fire house birthdays (Ages 3-7) Consider having a birthday party at one of the firehouses in Anne Arundel County. These parties are exciting and fun, plus it is a wonderful way to support the local volunteer fire departments. For example, see the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company website. Location: Odenton and other fire houses in Anne Arundel County
Pottery Party at Clay Bakers (Ages 5-10) Clay Bakers on Main Street in Annapolis is a great place to hold a birthday party. You’re guests will be able to socialize together as they paint mugs, plates, etc (whatever the hold chooses) and then they will be able to have their creation as a party favor memory (there might be a few days before they have a chance to put the items in the kiln). This is a great place for a party! Location: Annapolis
YMCA (Ages 3-10) – YMCA (formerly Big Vanilla) has a variety of parties including dance, martial arts, swimming, cheer leading, tumbling, and rock climbing for kids. Even if you’re not a member, I believe you can still have a party at this venue in Pasadena, Maryland. Location: Pasadena Party Favor Ideas: Sports Mini-Stress Balls
Chuck E Cheese’s – I am not the biggest fan of Chuck E Cheese, but I know many families like it. There is a location in Glen Burnie. Token prices are low—maybe around 20 cents each depending on which package you get.
Baseball Park Birthday Parties (Ages 6+) – Obviously these three aren’t in Anne Arundel County, but an unforgettable birthday could take place at Camden Yards or Nationals Park. Another option, just as fun might be a Bowie Baysox birthday. Location: Baltimore or Bowie
Lady Bug Kid’s Glam Spa (Ages 5+) – Hold a princess party with manicures, pedicures, and more in Crofton. They have a party room, a stage, a candy bar. Sounds like a great place to hold an amazing party. You may also want to check out Pig Tails and Crew Cuts in Annapolis for a variety of parties for girls and boys. Location: Crofton Party favor idea: Clip on colored braids
Wiggle Room – Located in Crofton, this new 3,800 foot indoor play space hosts fun parties with free gourmet coffee for the adults. Location: Crofton
Bonus idea: Kids love to take photos of themselves with funny props and goofy expressions. Add a photo booth to any party for added fun. Sure to please kids of all ages. I’ve had good experiences with Shelly’s Sweet Photo Booth(410) 961-2983.
These notebooks put a new twist on taking notes in the more traditional way with pen and paper, while at the same time not being as onerous as using a tablet computer to take handwritten notes.
There are a few things that raise the value of this system:
The spiral-bound notebook is made of paper-like plastic, rather than regular paper. This is great because it means that if you use the readily available Pilot Frixion Pens or Markers, anything written on the pages can be easily wiped away clean with a damp paper towel. So basically it means you can reuse the notebook over and over again. I love the feel of the special Pilot pens on this surface. It is smooth and fluid. I also appreciate the fact that the notebooks have some pages that use dots instead of lines. I prefer this because makes it easier to use the paper for a wide-variety of notes including drawings and landscape notes (as opposed to portrait) which definitely has come in handy.
There are two sizes available: 8.5″x11″ and 6″x8.8″.Although there is a cool-factor to having the smaller size, I’d recommend going with the letter-size book. It’s slightly more expensive, but the added utility makes it worth it.
Before you wipe away your notes with a wet cloth, you can use the Rocketbook app to photograph your work and automatically file it up to one of several services including Google Drive, DropBox, and Evernote, or just email the notes to yourself or a designated email address (perhaps use Gmail’s “+ addressing” as part of a filing system).
The app includes handwriting recognition that incorporates artificial intelligence to improve the results. I have been using this feature and I must say it is pretty good–not perfect, but my writing certainly isn’t either. What it gives you (for now) is the ability to make your notes searchable once you scan them and email/file them in the cloud. That’s a huge step forward, and it’s definitely a welcomed feature.The notebook’s pages have a 7 symbols at the bottom of the page that when checked tell the system where to send your notes…You define the symbols in the app…that way, if you check one or more of the symbols, the app will automatically know where to email or upload your notes. Otherwise you have to do it manually once you’ve photographed the pages…kind of a waste of time since it can be automated.
These two parts taken together mean freedom for people like me who need to take lots of notes and actually keep track of the resulting work for future reference.
Here are a few points that may help you understand the way you can make use of the Rocketbook system:
The Rocketbook system let’s you work in a nonlinear way–since the notes will be sent to the cloud, you don’t necessarily have to use contiguous pages to track the same topic–you just have to send the right pages to the right place in the cloud and then possibly further organize them from there.
You may want to consider adding a pen holder to your Rocketbook. Or you may want a full portfolio – these are very nice – be sure to pick one that’s the right size for your Rocketbook!
If you don’t plan to fill the notebook before you photograph it, or if you need to erase some notes but aren’t ready to erase others, you’ll need some sort of system to identify which notes have already been photographed. I keep it simple–I just use the upper right hand corner of the page to put the date and circle it after I capture the page so I will know it’s safe to erase.
There are a wide variety of Pilot Frixion pens and markers available from retailers including Amazon.com. They come in different colors, sizes, and tips.
I learned from the “A Life of Productivity” blog, that it’s better to use the Pilot Frixion 0.5 tipped pens–they dry faster and obviously don’t make your writing as thick. This solves a problem that I have also noticed: it takes a few seconds for the ink to dry on the page–I’ve definitely smudged a few notes with the default 0.7 pen that ships with the Rocketbook. I have a few of the .5 tipped pens, and it is clearly an improvement. I also appreciate the fact that I can take up less space with a fine tip.
Rename your files when they reach the cloud. For instance with Google Drive, you would want to rename them and possibly move them into a more precise folder.You will want give the files some kind of descriptive name to help you to know the contents of the notes and the order that they’re meant to be read. If you always write about a particular subject, you may be able to leverage the symbols system to always file particular types of notes to a particular place/folder…so that can save some time.
The Rocketbook people also have another notebook that is possibly more well-known than this one called “The Rocketbook Wave.”It is cool in that you erase the notebook by microwaving it, however it may only be able to be used a few times.Aside from that, the idea behind the notebook is basically the same as the Rocketbook Everlast.
One final tip: The day is going to come when you’re going to make a little mistake in your notebook and you’re going to want to erase. It would be simple to just use the eraser that is on the other side of your pen. Don’t Do That. If you do, you’re going to mess up the coating on the notebook. I know it’s a pain to use a damp cloth to get to just one small area of the notebook, but still don’t erase the regular way. If this comes up for you alot, you might find something like this aqua eraser which could work in some cases.
Stickers like post-it notes seem to mess up the notebooks. It’s unfortunate because one thing that’s missing is a good way to bookmark or divide up the Rocketbook…but try to avoid putting these to use in your notebook.
There are many options for preschools in Howard County, Maryland.
Finding the right fit can be difficult. It is not always easy to know which school to trust with your young children. You want to find a school with smart teachers who will be able to recognize your child’s talents and skills and bring them up from there.
Preschool should be fun, but hopefully your child will be involved in both learning fun and play fun, or both.
To help you with finding the best preschools, I have created a list of some of the top pre-K / preschool programs in Howard County.
Note that some of these schools have pre-K for various ages younger than 4, in fact some of them may be able to take kids that are younger than 1. If I don’t mention which age the school starts, please contact the school.
Also, the schools below have not paid me to list them. I have handpicked them. If you know of one that I should be aware of and possibly mention here, please submit a comment.
Bryant Woods Montessori School – One of the best Montessori schools in Howard County. Education starts at age 3 and goes to age 6 in this school located in Columbia.
Glenelg Country School– Located in a rural area of Ellicott City, Glenelg Country School provides a comprehensive experience for kids. This is a college prep school that goes all the way from pre-K3 to 12th grade. They also offer a full-day pre-K4 program called Pre-K4 Plus.
If you like the idea of a private independent education for your child, Glenelg is definitely worth considering in Howard County. They have modern facilities and and a beautiful 90-acre campus. There are lots of enrichment activities for the preschoolers at this school.
Glenwood Country Day School – Campus in Woodbine in Western Howard County. If this is a convenient school for you, program for ages 2-5.
Public School Employees Child Development Program – This preschool is meant mainly for the children of Howard County Public School teachers and staff. Although Howard County Public Schools employees’ kids are given preference anyone can apply to send their kids here. The caveat is that Howard County School’s academic schedule is followed — so that means, for example, no classes over the summer.
On the other hand, if you want to send your kids to preschool but not over the summer, this might be perfect for you as you’ll find that many schools may not hold your place if you withdraw your child over the summer months. There are six locations in Howard County, all but one of them is inside of a high school, the other is at the Cedar Lane School in Fulton.
I love the idea of keeping track of my kid’s best memories, growth, and accomplishments with a digital record. Below are some ideas I use in hopes of creating future-proof records for family and friends to enjoy.
Conduct a yearly video interview with your child. We do ours every New Year’s eve. Sometimes it can be difficult to think of questions to ask. I always ask about how school was going, their favorite teachers and classes, but I like to include more philosophical questions as well. This year, I asked my friends on Facebook for help. I got some great ideas:
“Do you feel the movie Wonder Woman empowers girls & young women to be smart & strong?” (Jeff)
“Do you think Mariah Carey nails her New Years singing after last years debacle ??” (Tom)
“2017 was the year of the fidget cube, fidget spinner, slime, and squishies. Which was your favorite, and why? What do you predict will be the next kid craze?” (Jennifer S)
Heather: * What advice would you give your parents?
* What do you think you will be doing 10 years from now?
* Why do you like being your age?
* What is your happiest memory?
* Who do you like to hang out with the most?
* What is your favorite thing to wear?
“What traits do you value in your friends? What do you like about yourself?” (Mary Anne)
“If you could meet one person who would it be?” (Leigh De)
“What is your favorite meal, including beverage and dessert? “(Melissa)
“Are there any accomplishments that you will be striving for this year? “(Svetlana)
“What are your favorite words? Least favorite words this year?”
2) Like the other ideas, this isn’t original, but it’s a great way to keep track of your kid’s accomplishments–set up an email address on Gmail when they are born (may improve the chances of them getting something remotely close to their name. And whenever you have a thought about them, or they’ve reached a milestone, accomplishment, etc, you can email accolades and artifacts to that address. When they reach the right age, give them the username/password to the account. If you’re going to do this with Gmail, you need to use the Family Link feature. Otherwise, you’ll have an issue when you put in their birthday–you need to be 13 to have a full Gmail account!
3) Tag them in their Facebook photos. Eventually they’ll have an account and they can go through and see.
4) Take a yearly photo for a photo wall. The secret to this idea is to purchase a whole bunch of matching picture frames that you’ll store until they’re needed. Each year, take a photo of your child for the wall. This could be done by taking “the same” photo every year as they age, or by just selecting one or two of the best photos from every year to put on the wall.
5) Use Google Photos to Back Up Photos of Events and Great Times. Google photos is an excellent way to backup all of the photos you take, especially those taken with your mobile phone. Aside from being free, several other things make it great:
Any photo you take with your phone can automatically be backed up to the cloud.
Google has done an amazing job of making the photos searchable–you can search for things that are IN the images (that you haven’t tagged with text)…want to find photos of people on the beach? Just search for beach. Want to find photos of people on the beach wearing sunglasses? You can search for that too.
Google’s photo assistant will automatically gift you with animations and videos. It will even find similar photos of when your kids were younger and create a new photo that shows the old picture and new picture side-by-side. It also makes videos about my kids…since it knows their faces, it finds pictures of them and puts them together in a video with music and transitions (it also recognizes family pets–I get an occasional “meow movie”).
6) Use Google Photos to Back Up Art and Writing – Google Photos is also a great way to backup your child’s artwork, writing and other school projects.
If you’re like most parents, it can be difficult to part with the various schoolwork projects your child brings home. On the other hand, after you have accumulated boxes and boxes of art, it becomes a bit of a space issue, and perhaps in some cases a fire hazard.
Snap a photo or two using your phone’s camera or using Google’s special app just for taking photos of documents. If it happens that the item in question was created digitally, just make a folder in your Google Drive to house it. Eventually, you’ll want to just share that Google Drive directory or photo album with your child’s Gmail account (when they finally have their own.)
tldr; The Ecovacs Deebot N79 is a worthy robotic vacuum that may not be as smart as some of its competitors but it definitely has a great feature set and does an excellent job of its primary job–it is a really good vacuum.
My daughter asked for a robotic vacuum cleaner for her 9th birthday. (Looking for better gift ideas for a gifted and talented student? [Opens in a new window]) A strange request, but my wife and I were talking about getting one anyway, and the birthday wish was the push we needed to finally look into it and make a decision as to which robot vacuum to purchase. There are several competitors, and among the competitors there are different price points and features. It was difficult to decide.
We mainly considered the Roomba and Ecobots offerings. They seemed to get the most favorable reviews. We were especially interested in the Roomba model that Costco sells (Not a member of Costco? See my review!), but since we weren’t really sure how much use we’d get out of it, we didn’t want to shell out nearly $400 for it. So we decided to look for something cheaper.
As we looked at the various models, we considered whether they would be able to interoperate with our Google Home, whether they had the ability to mop the floor as well as vacuum, and how well other reviewers received the devices. We eventually settled on the Ecobots N79 and purchased it from Amazon. We loved the fact that former Roomba owners endorsed it, and were sold when we read the review from the woman who left her sliding glass door open and found it outside dutifully cleaning her patio until it got stuck in some lava rocks.
The Deebot N79 was easy to setup and get it going. It comes with a charging station and a tool used to clear hair, etc, from its rotating brush and to clean off the filter intake. The first time we ran it, we were extremely impressed, if not a bit mortified by the amount of cat hair and crud it picked up before heading back to it’s charging station about an hour later. We don’t keep the tidiest house, but we do vacuum and we didn’t think there would be so much invisible debris. It didn’t stop there though. It’s holding tank was stuffed full the next few times we ran it–I am sure it sucked up an entire cat’s worth of cat hair…and much more. To be fair to us, the robot is able to slip under our sofas and is rather persistent about trying to get into various corners we may often miss.
Certainly, one of the things we like about this model is that it has a low profile so it can get under the sofas. It also can slip between our dining room chairs which means it does a decent job of cleaning up after dinner. It has side-brushes that stick out and sweep crumbs into its rotating brush path (also a distinguishing feature as many of the competing units don’t use a spinning brush). We also like the fact that it can be programmed to start automatically at a certain time of day either via the included remote control or from a free Android/iOS app which can trigger a vacuuming from anywhere you have an internet connection.
The Deebot N79 seems to be very durable and determined to do it’s job. I really like the fact that it is really easy to change and clean it’s brushes. Even the main roller brush has a compartment that easily snaps open, so it makes it easy to clean off hair that gets wrapped around it etc (and they also include a tool that helps you cut off hair without taking out the brush too. Also, it is no problem to change its air filter–again you just snap open a chamber on the dirt collection box and you can just put in a new one.
As you can tell I am genuinely happy with our purchase, however everything isn’t perfect about the vacuum. Unlike some of its competitors this device is rather dumb. It runs in random patterns and redirects itself if it approaches something it can “see” in its path such as something tall like a wall, sofa leg, a person or the top of a staircase. It doesn’t always see things ahead of time but if it runs into something it is a relatively harmless bump that turns it around and sends it in another direction.
While some of it’s more expensive competitors can map your house and know which areas it has done recently, this one is clueless. Still, in an average session, it seems to find its way all over the place. So even though it doesn’t have all the smarts, its cleaning algorithm seems to get it around to enough places so that it is still effective. It handily gets between our hard wood floors, our area rugs, and the shag carpet in our bedrooms–this is something that apparently can’t be said of certain competing robotic vacuums.
This review would be remiss if I didn’t include a sort of warning for new owners. You kind of have to “clean up” for this robot if you want to get the most out of it and/or don’t want to risk certain belongings getting chewed up by it. We’ve had two occasions so far where this became an issue. One time it made it’s way into our bedroom and found a dress that was touching the floor in the closet. It did manage to suck it into it’s brush and apparently tried to get away with it. It didn’t end very well for the dress. The vacuum’s consumable side brush got a bit torn up in that tif as well.
Another time our indoor welcome mat got sucked in and dragged around until the robot stopped and shut itself down. This probably wouldn’t have happened, but our mat had become a bit disheveled. The point is that you have to get certain things out of the robot’s way or it is going to try to “neutralize” it. So before you decide to buy one of these, look around your house and think about what may need to be picked up before vacuuming. If you have chairs whose legs are too close together, that could also be something you’d have to move out of its way if you’d like it to clean in that area.
This should be obvious, but the robot can’t go down stairs by itself. So if you have a multi-level dwelling, you will need to physically move the robot yourself and turn it loose. It won’t be able to find its way back to the charger if you do this, so it will eventually just die someplace and let out a sad beep to make you aware of its failure. Certainly it is worth the effort to move it to another level for a while and let it do its thing while getting a break from the usual scenery.
There is another odd foible about this vacuum that I would like to mention. You can use the app to schedule vacuum sessions ahead of time at different times of day/days of the week, etc. It isn’t that much work, but in an instant, your schedule can potentially disappear. If for some reason you decide to use the robotic vacuum’s On/Off switch to toggle the power–something that there is rarely a valid reason to need to do–your schedule will be toast. That makes absolutely no sense and I hope they will fix the problem at some point.
It seems to me that if the app in your phone knows what the schedule was, it could easily re-download it to the vacuum’s memory at next opportunity. But for now, if you toggle the power on the vacuum, and return to the app, your schedule will also be removed from there…and you’ll have to recreate it. Rather a pain.
In spite of that and the above detractors, I definitely do recommend this vacuum. At the price, you probably won’t have an easy time finding something that is as reliable and capable. Don’t take my word for it, you’ll definitely want to have a read over the other reviews on Amazon.
If your family is like ours, we eat lots of fruit and vegetables. We especially like to buy fresh organic fruits and produce when possible, but we also like to keep the costs under control.
Below are my top recommendations for where to buy produce, plus some bonus tips on how to get great veggies for lower prices in Maryland. Read further for some great kitchen gadgets to help you make the most of your produce:
1) You can subscribe to a weekly fruit and vegetable box delivery. We’ve been using Hungry Harvest to get weekly organic deliveries. The company drops the box on our porch every Friday. We can pick the items we want to have in our box week by week.
This particular company says they give you cheaper prices because they deliver “ugly” fruits and vegetables. We haven’t really found this to be the case for the most part for our organic box. We suspect it may be more likely that we’d get less attractive fruits if we subscribed to their non-organic offering. Sometimes we do see things in the box that are a bit undersized, but mostly it’s just the normal stuff you’d get in the supermarket. (And some things you wouldn’t find there at all.)
Often we get unusual fruits and vegetables that you don’t normally find in regular grocery stores. Things like sunflower greens and fresh bay leaves. Again, we get these by choice — you can select the items you want for each delivery.
Hungry Harvest has a warehouse near me in Jessup and they employ local drivers to drop off the fruit and vegetable boxes in each neighborhood. I spoke to our driver today and she said it’s really exploding in popularity.
Each produce box you get comes with a gel ice pack. So if you decide to order from Hungry Harvest, be sure and save your ice packs and return them…just leave them on your porch on the drop off day and the driver will get them. They prefer them to be thawed out and dry.
One of the great things is that they stock lots of organic fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen. Availability varies from store to store, but at the Costco in Columbia, MD they reliably have organic bananas, gala apples, “power greens” (Kale, spinach), and frozen organic corn as well as pineapple and various berries.
Another great thing about Costco is that it is more Earth-friendly to purchase in bulk. I highly recommend Costco for everyone, you don’t have to purchase very much food there to make up for the membership price. Find a Costco location near you.
Green Onions at a Maryland Asian Market
3) Shop at Asian or International markets. There are many of these in Maryland. One of the better ones is Lotte, but also in Laurel there is the Super Best. We are always surprised at the cheaper prices at Super Best–but note that we tend to find that the items we buy there need to be consumed quickly as the cheapest items tend to be near the end of their shelf lives.
There are plenty of other Asian markets around…for example H-mart and Lotte in Ellicott City/Catonsville. And my current favorite Great Wall in Catonsville. You won’t find very much in the way of organics, but you will find a huge, unusual variety of fruits and vegetables and they’re suspiciously cheap. For example 3 bunches of green onions for $1. If you live in Columbia, you may want to visit La Mart. To find your nearest Asian market, just Google Asian Market in your city/state.
3) Get your fruits and vegetables wholesale by the case. Wholesale fruit markets aren’t for the faint of heart. You need to have time and a sense of adventure to make this happen, but it definitely does pay off. In Jessup, Maryland there are two places where consumers can go to get wholesale produce at the central distribution point.
That’s right you can go the place supermarkets and restaurants get their fruits/vegetables and save. Below is a video that explains what to do if you decide to go to the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market – Conowingo Drive, Jessup Maryland. Note that when you go, you should probably expect to pay with cash and you’ll have to stop at a guard gate to explain what you’re doing there.
If you’re mainly interested in organic produce, you’ll want to visit Class Produce. Class Produce isn’t far from the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market, but it is a bit easier to access. Class does take credit cards and my experience with the staff there is that they are very helpful and welcoming to families who want to purchase wholesale.
It is very important to note that you really need to place your order ahead of time. Visit their website to get more information and to request a current price list. They are located at 8477 Dorsey Run Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401 in an industrial area. (410) 799-5000. PRO TIP: For the freshest perishable fruits and vegetables (ie-berries) arrange for pickup on Mondays or Tuesdays. It seems that Class produce and other wholesale sellers get their deliveries late Sunday nights, so it’s strategic to pick up your fruits and veggies early in the week to get the freshest foods possible.
4) Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or “farm share”. Local produce is delivered to your home or central location at predetermined intervals. This is a great way to get super-fresh food and help keep local farming viable.
A great example of a well run CSA program is Gorman Farm, which is kind of on the border of Columbia and Laurel. You have to be on the ball to get into a CSA program–there is a window of time when you can sign up each year and generally there aren’t many openings because of course the farms don’t produce an unlimited amount of fruits and vegetables each year. There are lots of these but here is a list that the Washington Post provided a few years ago.
5) Shop for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. There are a few farmer’s markets around Howard County that have fairly decent variety and prices. Locations sometimes change but for instance the Howard County General Hospital and the Miller Library are two reliable places to find markets. Here is a resource with an up-to-date list with hours and days (typically farmers markets take place once per week in the specified location). PRO TIP: One great thing about Farmer’s markets is the ability to actually talk to the people who grew the crops. This means that often you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how pesticide-happy the farmer was when growing them–often you will find a farmer who is actually using organic farming methods but who hasn’t yet been certified in organics and that can lead to significant savings.
Bonus Tip: Not-So-Cheap Fruit and Vegetable Options: Grow your own. Ok, this isn’t directly buying fruits or vegetables, and it can in fact be expensive rather than cheap, but it is fun, educational and great exercise to have a garden.
This year we got 3 Aerogardens hydroponic systems, so we’re growing year round now. At the moment, we are raising Italian herbs (parsley, thyme, mint, two kinds of basil…and had the cat not eaten it, we would also have chives), roma tomatoes, and chamomile. Miracle Grow is the manufacturer and they definitely do make it easy.
Unfortunately, even though the plants don’t need any herbicides or pesticides (since they’re grown indoors), the required nutrients that you add to the water isn’t organic. We aren’t that concerned about this, but I am trying to determine whether there is an organic substitute we can use. Having said that, we REALLY love the Aerogardens. My favorites are the tomatoes and basil. The basil grows like crazy!
There are different price points for getting an Aerogarden. The Aerogarden Elite takes 6 seed pods, and gets great reviews. There is also a 9-pod system that may be worth consideration, especially if space is not an issue.
Bonus #3 Also in the expensive rather than cheap column, but worth it is a trip to Larriland Farm in Northern Howard County to pick a variety of fruits and vegetables. They have apples, peaches, broccoli, kale, spinach, melons, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and more. Check their website to see what is ready for picking.
BTW, Larriland Farm uses “integrated pest management” which they say means that they use much less pesticides than a typical farm. I have spoken to them about this several times and they say that they mostly only use pesticides when they have severe problems. It may not be organic farming, but at least this sounds like a huge improvement over the norm. You can read about how Larriland uses this system here. There are many pick your own farms throughout the USA–here is a curated list.
BTW, here are some of the gadgets I recommend that are great to have in the kitchen when cooking with produce:
Looking for ideas for what to do with your kids when schools are closed for special days off in Howard County during the 2019 – 2020 school year?
Here are a few of the organizations that I know of that can provide care and learning during days off such as spring break, fall break, teacher in-service days, and other days off during the school year.
Howard County Conservancy – [2021-2022 registrations are open] Great camps my kids really enjoy these. Beautiful locations in Elkridge and Woodstock. For example, this year, on the break for September 30, 2019, they have a reasonably priced called “Gardens Galore” that seems like loads of fun!.
Club Science Kids – [2021-2022 registrations are open via Howard County Recreation and Parks] I love these camps and so do my kids. Great organization. Your child is going to have a great time and they will learn some STEM! Camps are located in various places including the Maryland International School in Elkridge.
Active Kids Camp – [2021-2022 registrations are open] They have a variety of sports camps. You may need to look around their site for this year’s camps.
Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts – Located on Dobbin Road, this venue has after school programs and camps for middle and elementary schoolers.
Howard County Schools – Howard County Schools may offer sports camps on days school is closed. Check their website for schedules and locations.
Silver Knights Chess and Programming Camps – They offer camps during Spring Break only in Howard County (last year at the Roger Carter Center in Ellicott City). Check the link above to see if they have added any local day off camp programs as they have them in some locations.
As a parent, I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did. Screens have invaded the minds of my two girls, and I needed to get control over it. Since my kids switch between a few devices and types, I needed to use a combination of things to reign this in. Here is what I was up against:
Mobile Phones – My kids both have mobile phone devices from Republic Wireless. That means they can use either mobile data plans or WiFi to access the internet. I needed to be able to control the apps they use, the time of day they can use them, the websites they visit, and be able to update the time they can use these devices as needed, such as when the schedule changes temporarily or to reward good behavior.
Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets – The cost of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets is so low (especially on Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday or if you get a refurbished unit) that we got one for each of them. They also got Amazon Freetime Unlimited for Kids so they do lots of reading on the devices. But they also spend time doing other things including using some educational apps that I recommend anytime, and some not-so-educational things, like watching Rhett and Link videos on YouTube.
Chromebooks-I LOVE chromebooks in case you were wondering. They are quick, virus-free, and reliably do what they are designed to do–run a chrome web browser and Google Docs. Unfortunately, the parental control options are quite limited, so this required some thought.
The parental control that works for us
Given the mix of devices above, there isn’t one complete solution. Especially because of the mobile data on the kids’ phones, I needed to come up with something extra for that, but here is what works in our household:
Google WiFi – I have to say I am very pleased with Google’s WiFi product. It was easy to setup and depending on the size of your home, you can add additional “nodes” around the house to get full coverage–it sets up a mesh network around your home very easily. You can purchase either one node at a time or buy them in sets of three. Three will do quite well for most medium and larger homes. Once you’ve setup your Google WiFi, you control it through an app on your phone. Among other things, that app allows you to easily pick out devices on your network and schedule the time they are able to access Wifi. For most of the things my girls do on their Chomebooks, Phones, no WiFi means things aren’t going to work. They definitely won’t be watching videos on YouTube for example if they have no WiFi. This takes care of alot of the issue, but not all of it.
Screen Time – I really like this kid-supervision app. It is installed on the mobile phones and works on Android and iOS devices. It allows us to set a limit for the total amount of time the kids can spend on their phone using apps. You can restrict app installs, and set limits for specific apps. You can also use this app to schedule the time the phones can be used.
There is an easy “pause” button that allows you to turn off access on the kids’ phones–great for dinnertime. When you click it, you can set the amount of time the phone will be in pause mode. You can also add time if you like. In fact, one great feature is that you can setup tasks that. The app costs about $4/month with discounts for multi-month purchases.
Kid’s FreeTime App – This is specific to the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets. It is more difficult to use than the ScreenTime app mentioned above, however the basic version is free and included with the Kindle Fire Tablets. It limits time in apps, and also prevents kids from installing their own apps or books. The Kid’s FreeTime Unlimited add-on allows kids to choose their own books and movies based on Amazon’s pre-selected titles that it feels are okay for children.
It’s easy to go to the usual suspect restaurants such as Friday’s and Red Robin, but there are other great restaurants that you and your kids may enjoy. Below find a few of the favorites my family enjoys.
Cava Grill (Columbia) – This is currently my favorite fast-casual restaurant. They offer Greek food Chipotle-style. You and your family get a healthy meal and they have great beverages such as cucumber mint or rosemary blackberry.
If the line is long, don’t worry, it moves fairly quickly and even if you have to wait 10 minutes or so, it’s worth the wait. Kid’s meals are available. It may be a small stretch for some kids to enjoy the food here, but it’s fresh, delicious, and high quality.
Check out the menu and location. There are several other options in that shopping center just in case (Noodles and Company, Chipotle, Modern Market, and Jimmy Johns).
Chipotle (Columbia) – I always enjoy a meal at Chipotle. If your kids like Mexican food, especially burritos or quesadillas, they’ll like it here. Conveniently located right next door to Cava Grill off of Dobbin Road in Columbia.
Cheesecake Factory (Columbia) – Aside from the obvious desserts, there are some healthy options here. Kids enjoy the atmosphere and love checking out the cheesecake case and whip cream dispenser behind the counter.
Noodles and Company (Columbia) – If you’re feeling like pasta, this is a great choice. Also in the same shopping center as Cava Grill and Chipotle.
Jason’s Deli (Columbia)- I like the menu at this restaurant in Columbia. There is plenty of good quality food and even a salad bar. I always enjoy going here and my kids do too. The fact that they offer free soft-serve ice cream cones is a fantastic bonus.
Uma Uma (Ellicott City) – We enjoy Ramen Noodle Night at home, and certainly do like to go out to a restaurant that adds an authentic experience. Really the only thing on the menu here is variations of Ramen Noodle soup, and there isn’t really a kid’s menu, AND you won’t find much in the way of your typical dessert items either, but still a great experience.
Having said that, I’d have to warn you that this could be a bit risky with some kids. The food here is different, and your child at least needs to like soup with noodles to like this place!
Eggspectation (Ellicott City) – Lots of great food here including healthy smoothies and foods. Definitely more than just breakfast though. Open for dinner. Check for a Groupon.
Great Sage (Clarksville) – Get your vegan on. Nice atmosphere for kids and families. Great menu. Nice staff.
Seasons 52 (Columbia) – Upscale. Great food quality in a cosy atmosphere. Good for older kids. Might be “too much” for younger kids. The dessert’s here are terrific. I recommend the pecan pie glass.
Maggiano’s Little Italy (Columbia) – Upscale Italian. Nice atmosphere, decent kids menu (provided your kids like pasta). Sometimes they even have classes for kids on Saturday mornings.
Silver Diner (Columbia or Greenbelt) – Silver Diner has been around the Maryland-DC-VA area for decades. And lucky for us, they finally have a Columbia, MD location near the Costco and Lowe’s. Silver Dinner offers a great farm-fresh menu and has some more unusual options for kid’s meals. In my opinion, they have one of the best kid’s menus of all… and it is a fun, traditional diner atmosphere.
Bonus 1: Toby’s Dinner Theatre – This can be a great experience for kids, depending what’s playing. They change the offering regularly, so if the show isn’t specifically a kid’s show, your best bet would be to “Google” it to see what other parents are saying. The food at Toby’s is “okay” buffet food. It’s underwhelming to say the least, and I’ve never felt the urge to go back for 2nds. That said, this can be fun and enriching.
Bonus 2: The Meadows Custard – This is a well kept secret in Hickory Ridge. Amazing custard and Italian Ice. Better than competitors. Highly recommended.
Looking for great educational gifts for kids? See my list of over 70 handpicked gift ideas for birthdays, Christmas, and Hanukkah.