Merlino & Gonzalez - September 2021

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In mid-March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic walloped the U.S., Statista released its estimates for college attendance in 2020 and beyond. It predicted 19.75 million students would show up for college in 2020, but it could be wildly wrong. Since that report came out, the pandemic has shuttered schools and disrupted the college application process. Online learning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but in 2020, it will be the new norm for many colleges. That challenge, combined with the overall mood of uncertainty in the U.S., just might lead to a record high number of kids choosing to take a gap year. According to Forbes magazine, gap years were already trending by April, even though “traditional” gap year activities like travel are off the table. The concept of a gap year thrills some parents and terrifies others. On the one hand, a year away from school can be a good opportunity for teens to gain independence, learn new skills, and figure out the future. On the other hand, there’s always the chance that a break from school could cause teens to waste their time or decide to defer college forever. If you’re a parent who’s worried about the latter, share these five tips with your child. If they play it right, their “year off” might turn out to be their most productive year yet. Tip No. 1: Go to work. Work experience is always a good thing, especially if it’s in your child’s eventual field of study. Encourage your teen to take this opportunity to give their “dream job” a test run. They may find it isn’t for them and save them thousands in tuition. Internships are also a good option. If online learning wasn’t the motivating factor behind your child choosing to take a gap year, you can suggest that they explore remote options through platforms like and

Tip No. 2: Learn something new. Usually, travel and cultural immersion are go-to gap year strategies for learning new things. However, your kid doesn’t actually need to head to Spain to learn Spanish — their fluency will be just as valid to a future employer if they pick it up from Duolingo. Additionally, YouTube video tutorials and online certification programs can lay the groundwork for any number of valuable skills, including coding, furniture building, and medical work. Tip No. 3: Start an online business. If your teen has an entrepreneurial spirit, encourage them to use their year off to start a business. Etsy is a great online platform to sell handmade items, and if they’re passionate about a craft, like writing or website development, they can conduct their business entirely online. Who knows! With a year of effort, they might make some money, and even if they don’t, they’ll learn something and add a line item to their resume.

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all the laundry you won’t have to do anymore. And the fridge will be fully stocked without ravenous teens emptying it regularly! But before you drop your child off at college or their new home, make sure they can manage laundry, cook basic meals, and keep a tidy space. Some basics to cover include the difference between hot and cold wash and how to make scrambled eggs. Make a Budget Living as a broke young adult is almost like a rite of passage to “real” adulthood, but you can make this experience easier just by opening that often taboo door and talking about money. Explain the processes or budgeting systems that work for your family and guide your child through their potential living expenses. Try test runs so they understand how much they will have to spend on necessities, like groceries, hygiene items, and gas.

Congratulations to parents sending their children off to college or “the real world” this year! Parenthood is not for the faint of heart — from toddler meltdowns to angsty teenage years, you might be counting down the days to an empty nest.


Yet, that doesn’t make your child moving off to college any easier.

Fear not, for you can help your child live more independently at college in many ways and give yourself peace of mind knowing that your baby is going to be fine. Prepare Legal Documents Once they turn 18, your child is no longer under your care — legally speaking. You can no longer make decisions for them, including medical decisions, should they become incapacitated and unable to make their own decisions. Connect with a trusted attorney to create medical and financial powers of attorney that give you these rights. (Just consult with your child first before doing so!)

Cover the Household Basics If there’s one thing to look forward to, it’s Pro Tip: Before your children take off, don’t forget to schedule one more dental appointment! You can even set up recurring appointments during breaks to ensure their oral health is never compromised. A Cameo for Every Occasion


In 2020, everyone was stuck indoors, leaving many people from the entertainment industry wanting to connect with fans but lacking their usual mediums to do so. The answer? Cameo — a platform on which you can contact actors, comedians, athletes, influencers, and other celebrities to create customized greetings for your favorite people or even yourself. Feeling down lately? Maybe you need a “pep talk” from the famously lazy, shrewd Councilman Jamm from “Parks and Recreation.” Or maybe you need a few kind words from Fran Dresher (“The Nanny”) or Sarah Palin! No matter what your budget is, you’ll be able to find a celebrity to meet your needs. The app is pretty straightforward: Once you’ve chosen a celebrity, you’ll fill out a request form and describe what you want your Cameo message to be (up to 250 characters). After you’ve paid and the request is put through, the Cameo talent will have up to seven days to accept or deny your request. After it’s accepted, the celebrity will record the video, and Cameo will send it to all of the phone numbers and email addresses associated with your request. From there, the video is free to keep forever and share however you’d like!

As you can imagine, Cameo has been a huge help for lesser-known actors, comedians, athletes, and many more during the pandemic — as well as for the fans commissioning their messages! In 2020 alone, Cameo had over 10,000 new celebrities join the platform and paid out over $75 million to its creators. Want a celebrity to support your product or nonprofit? They can do that too! With Business Cameo, you can get a public figure to talk up your mission, services, product, and much more, although it’ll come at a higher price tag, and you’ll only be verified to use it 30 days after recording. Your favorite celebrities can also attend live events with Cameo Live! No matter the occasion, we’ve enjoyed watching the different Cameos people commission for their loved ones. Check it out at to give it a whirl.


Your Older Parent and Driving

When Should You Take Away the Keys?

on the side of the road, or anything else that isn’t the road, you have yourself a huge red flag.

For your parents, driving likely provides a huge connection to the outside world. Hopping in the car to do grocery shopping or to visit grandkids offers independence and freedom that people don’t want to surrender. But when is it time to take away the keys for an older adult’s safety and the safety of others? Due to age or health concerns, there may come a time when older adults are unable to safely operate a vehicle. There are a few signs you should be aware of.

Poor Eyesight

Have you noticed that your parent has trouble seeing, either up close or at a distance? This is a obvious indicator that their eyesight needs to be checked, and unless the problem is fixed, it may be time to hang up the keys for good.

Delayed Responses

Driving Mistakes

If your parent seems to be slower to respond to stimuli and unexpected events, this can be an early sign of how they may respond on the road when unexpected situations arise and they need to make a quick lane change or slam on the brakes.

If your mother or father begins hitting curbs, backing into things, swerving in and out of lanes, or just generally practicing poor driving, it is time to gently talk with them about your concerns and how they might need to stop driving before someone gets hurt. This may not be an easy conversation to have with your parent, but it is important to make sure that they are no longer driving if or when the symptoms arise. It is vital that drivers are competent and that they ensure the safety of everyone who is on the road.

Distracted Driving

With age, multitasking gets more difficult. If you notice that your mother or father seems too focused on car features, passengers, things

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Tip No. 4: Reach out to role models. Teens are not too young to start networking. Whether yours wants to be a welder, a professor, or a geologist, there are likely people in their field whom they admire. If your kid seems stuck in a rut, suggest they reach out to their idols or join a group of other young people with similar interests. On the off chance they hear back from a giant in their field, they’ll make a priceless connection, and their peers may soon become their colleagues. Tip No. 5: Develop a self-marketing strategy. According to the Student Conservation Association, 92% of kids who take a gap year do it in order to “gain life experiences and grow personally.” That personal growth can be valuable. If your teen knows their strengths, weaknesses, and how to represent themselves well, they will have a leg up in a job or fellowship interview. Before your kid goes back to school, you can sit down together and discuss how they’ll talk about their gap year and market what they’ve learned. Your teen doesn’t have to tackle all of these tips at once, but if they follow even one of them well, when they do head back to school, they’ll be wiser, more well-rounded, and better prepared for the next challenge.

Inspired by

Celebrate the end of summer — and peach season — with this simple and tasty peach cobbler!


• 1 cup milk • 4 cups peaches (fresh is best!) • 1 tbsp lemon juice • Ground cinnamon or nutmeg to taste

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter • 1 cup flour • 2 cups sugar, divided • 1 tbsp baking powder • Dash of salt


1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, add butter and place in oven. Remove when melted. 2. In a large bowl, combine flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt. Then pour in milk and stir until the mixture is smooth. 3. Pour the batter over the melted butter, but don’t stir! 4. In a pot, bring peaches, lemon juice, and remaining sugar to a boil. Stir constantly. 5. Pour peaches over batter, but once again, don’t stir! 6. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg, then bake at 375 F for 45 minutes.



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5 Tips for Leveraging a Gap Year Page 1

Things All Students Need Before Moving to College Want a Celebrity to Celebrate With You? Page 2 Should Your Older Parent Still Be Driving? Easy Peach Cobbler Page 3

Nothing to See Here: Mystery Spot Tourism Page 4

Nothing to See Here


The most famous mystery spot is in Santa Cruz, California, but it has cousins in Oregon, West Virginia, and Michigan. Each one is inexplicable — drawing thousands of people every year to come and spend their tourist dollars. And for many, the whole thing is just one big hoax, designed to take in suckers and generate cash. Although Santa Cruz has the most visitors, it was “inspired” by the Oregon Vortex, which was a spot that had odd occurrences “documented” back to the early frontier days. From a mining office sliding off its foundation to the high presence of optical illusions, the Vortex was the home to some odd events. Naturally, the thing to do was build a structure there and start taking people’s money! It’s not a coincidence that these locations began to pop up at the same time as the average American got access to automobiles — “roadside attractions” of all kinds have been the rage since people began to tour America by car, and it’s pretty clear that, real or not, these mystery spots fall into that category. That’s why many of them have updated over the years to suit

changing tastes — such as the Michigan St. Ignace Mystery Spot’s addition of zip lines and other attractions.

And unlike many other roadside attractions, mystery spots continue to draw attention. Something in the American psyche loves the idea of the paranormal; Google “Europe mystery spots” and you’re likely to discover lists of unique vacation destinations. Perhaps they recapture the “paradise is just over the hill” mystery that in part drove colonization of the American West.

Or perhaps it’s all a bunch of hooey. The best way to decide, of course, is to visit one of these mystery spots for yourself! 4

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