Tag Archives: Eileen Ogintz

Eileen Ogintz Takes The Kids To Cuba

“06880” is a huge fan of Taking the Kids. That’s Westporter Eileen Ogintz’s website, jam-packed with information, insights and tips on everything family- travel-related. From spring break getaways to “do millennials families travel differently than everyone else?”, she’s your go-to/how-to guide.

I don’t have kids — and if I did I’d think twice about traveling with them.* But I’m always fascinated by what Eileen writes. I was particularly intrigued by her recent post on Cuba.

She was one of 700 passengers on Adonia, the first ship in a new Carnival brand devoted to immersive and impactful travel– and the first American cruise ship to dock in Havana in nearly 60 years. Lots of children and teenagers were on board.

Adonia passengers line the deck as the ship enters Havana harbor.

Adonia passengers line the deck as the ship enters Havana harbor.

Eileen says: “I’ve learned first hand that encouraging kids to be global citizens, to be comfortable outside their own comfort zones, helps them navigate unfamiliar and difficult turf in their lives as they grow up.”

She notes:

Cuba programming is a work in progress. As required by the United States, Americans traveling to Cuba must participate in 8 hours of approved “people-to-people” experiences daily (that doesn’t leave much time for Cuba’s beautiful beaches). Some P-to-P programs are excellent, others need work.

Eileen met the manager of a new private restaurant, and visited a unique private hair salon/art gallery/museum devoted to the history of barber shops and hairdressing.

She concludes:

It isn’t difficult, particularly if you speak Spanish to interact with the Cubans as they couldn’t be more friendly and eager for anything from candy to pens. You should feel safe bringing the kids here.

A classic Cuba photo: American kids from the Adonia surround a classic American car.

A classic Cuba photo: American kids from the Adonia surround a classic American car.

The Adonia is not a big ship (the Havana dock can’t accommodate anything bigger yet). It only has a minuscule pool, no waterslide or kids club, no casino and the internet is spotty. That doesn’t seem to faze anyone on board in the least, especially not the kids…

“Children are the future,” Papito the Barber said. “We want to see enterprise between the United States and Cuba. “We are very different cultures,” he continued, as today’s children get to know each other and focus on their similarities rather than their differences, “they can tighten the bonds between us.”

(To read Eileen’s entire story, click here.)

*That’s a joke! Based solely on the woman who sat next to me on my flight this past Saturday, with a 2-year-0ld and 10-month-old. She started drinking as soon as she could (10 a.m.), and spilled wine all over me shortly before landing.

Among the friendly Cubans: this young boy, holding an American flag.

Among the friendly Cubans: this young boy, holding an American flag.

Westport Fresh Air — Available For All

Eileen Ogintz and Andy Yemma’s first experience with a Fresh Air Fund child was not fantastic.

Their 2 oldest kids were away at camp. Their youngest did not want another older child in the house, just when she could have her parents to herself. But Eileen and Andy hosted the girl the next year too.

Years went by. Last spring Eileen — a syndicated columnist and national expert on traveling with kids — was interviewing Fund officials. They mentioned that 800 — 800! — youngsters still were not placed.

She and Andy quickly agreed to host 2 boys — both 12 years old. That’s the hardest age group to place. But their own 3 kids were gone. Elaine and Andy had plenty of room.

And Camp Mahackeno took both boys into their day camp, so Eileen could work.

Oh, yeah: Mahackeno took them for free.

Jason (left) and Enesi, enjoying themselves.

Enesi was a 12-year-old Albanian. He’d been in the US less than 2 years, but his English was flawless. He was open to every new experience: kayaking, fishing, eating crab cakes.

Jason — the middle of 9 children, with an absent father — was tougher. Still, Eileen says, “in the end he really opened up and enjoyed himself.”

Enesi returned for Thanksgiving (and made pumpkin pie). Both boys will be back for a 2nd summer this year.

Hosting the Fresh Air Fund children was easy, Eileen says.

The first night, Andy dusted off 2 old bikes. He challenged the boys to make it up a steep hill. They gave up.

The next night they went out on their own, and made it. The proud looks on their faces were matched only by the smile Andy wore.

Another Fresh Air Fund scene: The Filchock girls (center and right) and Essence, playing at the beach.

The next weekend — the last — Eileen and Andy took Enesi and Jason to Mystic Seaport and Aquarium. They played with a Beluga whale, and tried oysters for the 1st time. Their eyes were wide.

Eileen realized something too: “These kids don’t take those experiences for granted, the way ours might.”

The Mystic trip was special. Most of the time, Eileen says, they did not organize big events.

“We hung out. We went bowling. We watched movies, and the kids played Xbox. We had lunch at Shake Shack. They liked hanging out with our dog.”

Just having their own bedroom was an experience. Enesi sleeps in the living room with his sister.

Fresh Air Fund hosts Sophia and Zachary Lomnitz (from left), with JJ at Compo.

“The whole point is for them to have a vacation,” Eileen says. “We sometimes think we have to entertain our kids all the time, and vacations have to be special. They don’t.”

Like typical 12-year-olds, Andy says, “they were always hungry. After the 1st day we figured we should cook extra portions for dinner. They’d devour what we served, and be hungry for more by 10. Eileen fixed double-egg sandwiches every morning.”

With summer approaching, Fresh Air Fund officials are once again scrambling to find hosts for all their kids. Eileen has become a passionate advocate for the program.

“Honestly, I don’t have a lot of patience for people with big empty houses and a lot of time, who say they can’t make room for a kid like this. It’s only for a week.

“When we asked Enesi what he’d be doing at home he said, ‘sitting on the couch watching TV. It’s really boring.'”

Jenna Barcello (left) and Kaiya, having fun last summer.

And, she adds, “Andy and I have gotten as much or more from the experience as the boys. It was terrific being able to help Jason come out of his shell, and see Enesi be so enthusiastic about canoeing for the first time.

“Sure, I had to buy more food. But having them wasn’t really a lot of work at all. I wish more Westport families — especially empty nesters — would consider hosting a child who otherwise would sit in a stuffy apartment, in front of a TV.

“This is a perfect opportunity to pay it forward.”

And, Eileen adds: “You don’t have to take 12-year-old boys.

“There are plenty of 7-year-old girls out there too.”

(For more information on becoming a host family, call Martha Mintzer at 203-226-6627, or email martha_mintzer@yahoo.com. Click here to learn more about the Fresh Air Fund.)

Eileen Ogintz Checks Bag Check Fees

On Sunday, travel writer Eileen Ogintz made “06880” for shepherding 7 ABC House boys on a weekend trip to the Hilton New York Penthouse.

This morning it’s for her crusading work against airline baggage fees.

Today’s New York Times Business section “Itineraries” column highlights the Westporter’s experience with one of air travel’s most nagging issues:

Eileen Ogintz

Mrs. Ogintz was helping her daughter, Melanie, move to Colorado for college in the fall of 2009 and quickly discovered that the price of hauling the baggage across the country was almost as much as buying another ticket. “I would have easily spent hundreds of dollars” getting six bags from Westport, Conn., to Denver, Mrs. Ogintz said. That was when she discovered that Southwest Airlines did not charge for the first two bags.

So rather than fly out of La Guardia Airport in New York, as she originally planned, Mrs. Ogintz, her husband and daughter drove an extra 25 miles to fly out of Hartford. “We were able to check all six bags for free between the three of us,” she said.

Mrs. Ogintz, a blogger who specializes in travel, has been writing and campaigning against the fees ever since.

After describing other creative ways to surmount baggage fees — and congressional proposals to alter them — the Times story concludes:

Mrs. Ogintz said many passengers had become so frustrated that they would be willing to pay a higher fare to avoid the fees.

“It’s not a question of money,” she said. “People are just fed up with being nickeled and dimed.”

From ABC House To The Penthouse

The world knows Westporter Eileen Ogintz as a talented travel writer. Her  popular blog, Taking The Kids, chronicles the challenging/funny/eye-opening experiences taking her own 3 kids everywhere from Disney World and Yosemite to Alaska and Europe.

Last week, 2 posts described her travel adventures with 7 other Westport kids: residents of A Better Chance‘s North Avenue home.

The 7 teenage boys — outstanding students from economically disadvantaged areas across the country — attend Staples. Scores of Westporters augment the program in many ways, from tutoring to driving to offering “host homes” on weekends.

Eileen decided she’d share a prize — winning a weekend stay at the Hilton New York‘s 5-bedroom penthouse — by showing off the city’s many treasures to the ABC kids.

The ABC House students at the 9-11 Memorial.

The 2 days included Alicia Key’s Broadway play “Stick Fly“; a family-style dinner in the theater district, and visits to the 9/11 Memorial, Chinatown and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Also along: a 9-month-old (the houseparents’ younger child), and a 60-plus chaperone. But the itinerary had something for everyone. And staying in the Penthouse — with a library, living room with a baby grand piano, and access to the Executive Lounge — certainly helped.

“Stick Fly” — about an upscale African American family gathering for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard — discussed family issues like parents playing favorites, children unable to live up to parents’ expectations, girlfriends’ difficulties assimilating and class issues — that “can play out in any family,” Eileen writes.

Because the family is black, the play had special resonance, she notes. The ABC students were treated to a special behind-the-scenes tour afterward.

In Chinatown, with housemother Desisree and her 9-month-old daughter.

The Tenement Museum also resonated with the ABC House teens. The 1863 apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working-class Irish, German, Italian and Jewish immigrants who, Eileen notes, “faced challenges we understand today: making a new life, working for a better future, starting a family with limited means.”

She tells her blog readers:

Every one of our boys’ parents are immigrants — from Africa, Mexico, Jamaica and Trinidad, from other places….What makes this museum so interesting is experiencing the apartments of those who lived here and hearing their stories. The saddest, we agreed, was the young German mother whose husband went to work one day and never returned — just as her great grandson failed to return on the day the Twin Towers fell.

It was a long but exciting weekend. The boys passed on the offer of a movie at night, preferring to hang out in a Penthouse in the middle of Manhattan.

ABC House students relax on the "Stick Fly" set, with Westport program co-founder Lisa Friedland.

What a memorable experience for the A Better Chance students. Westporters embrace these outstanding young men. And — thanks in part to this remarkable program — ABC graduates will one day be in a position to provide similar opportunities to the next generation of bright, curious, talented teenagers lucky enough to be in programs like this.

Dressing Room Gets A Dressing Down

Several area restaurants offer discounts of up to 20% to Westport Country Playhouse subscribers.

There is only 1 restriction — as very disappointed Westport resident Eileen Ogintz found out Saturday night.  Here’s her story:

Our mistake was not reading the fine print.

As  Westport  Country Playhouse subscribers, we’d  gotten a brochure with local restaurant discounts — a good marketing move, we thought, to encourage us to eat out  nearby  before attending a play.  All we needed was to show our tickets in order to get a 20 per cent discount at The Dressing Room, La Villa Trattoria,  Manolo,  Matsu,  Rizzuto’s, Tavern on Main or Thali.

In this economy,  local restaurants need our business, and we need to watch what we spend on dinners out.  This seems like a win-win.   We’d enjoyed dinner at Thali before the last Saturday evening performance we’d attended; this time we opted for The Dressing Room next door to The Playhouse — in part because our daughter and her boyfriend had given us a gift certificate there.

But we didn’t read the fine print that said the offer is only good at The Dressing Room Tuesday through Thursday.  None of the other restaurants impose such restrictions.   Our apologetic waiter indicated many weekend  Playhouse goers  are as surprised as we were to learn the discount they expected wouldn’t be honored.

The haughty restaurant manager wasn’t the least apologetic, though she did give us the 20 per cent off “this one time” when we complained, ominously adding she was going to “mark our profile” in their computer.  I didn’t know if I was supposed to be worried or why.

By that point,  I knew I didn’t want to return any time soon.  I even posted a message to that effect on Facebook, prompting a call from my son who wanted to know what had prompted my ire.

“We’re doing the Playhouse a big favor,”  the manager insisted as we left.

Frankly, I thought it was the Playhouse  doing the Dressing Room the favor.  The restaurant wouldn’t even be there without the Playhouse and the  original support of the Newmans,  I thought.  (Paul Newman’s name figures in some of the menu selections, in fact.)

And without  Paul Newman and especially Joanne Woodward,  of course, the  Westport Country Playhouse wouldn’t  be the wonderful community resource it is for all of us today.

On Saturday night, The Playhouse was full.  The Dressing Room wasn’t.

The Recession Is Over

Forget housing starts, GDP and international durable goods orders.  Don’t worry about CD rates, or those pesky unemployment figures.  As 2009 ends, the news is good:  The recession is over.

Trust me.  I know.  I rely on a foolproof method:  Post Road traffic.

For decades, I’ve been able to tell when school is out.  Driving around town is a breeze.  I could roll a bowling ball down US1, and not hit a soul.  Christmas, February vacation, spring break — it was always the same.  Everyone was somewhere else.

A year ago, everything changed.  The Great Recession spooked us all.  Like endangered turtles, we retreated into our shells.  No one went anywhere.  People who had never not been elsewhere during a vacation learned to love Blockbuster and the Bow-Tie Cinema.

But at holiday parties this month, I sensed a change.  Folks talked eagerly of upcoming trips to Utah, Europe, Bonaire.

Well, Bonaire to you too.

They weren’t kidding.  Saturday — the day after Christmas — Westport was like a ghost town.  Just like 2007, I drove where I wanted, parked where I pleased, even went to the CVS lot and lived to tell the tale.

You heard it first on “06880”:  The recession is over.

And you can take that to the bank.

(Of course, the recession never slowed some people down.  Westporter Eileen Ogintz described some of her family’s best trips in 2009 — including Aspen, the Grand Canyon, California, Alaska, the Cayman Islands and (for her daughter’s Staples graduation gift) Tahiti.  It should be noted that Eileen is a professional travel writer who specializes in “taking the kids.”