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Step and Stride Review






While we were on the road sometime last summer I received an email about a shoe company out of Manhattan that made shoes for babies, toddlers, and children.  When I checked out their lookbook, I knew that I just needed a pair for my almost walking 9 month old.  I replied to the company and they were ever so generous enough to send me not just one but TWO pairs of shoes for my little guy to try out.  When they arrived I was giddy because they were super stylish, which is sometimes hard to come by when purchasing baby items.  What did Oliver think?





Well, it was love at first sight.  He felt like such a big boy in these shoes! As soon as I slipped the shoes on my little guy I new we'd be customers for as long as I could shove his chubby little feet into Step and Stride shoes.  So what are their best features in my opinion?  Besides the trendy look, I love the semi-soft soles and velcro closures.  They fit snug enough to offer some support, but the softness allows for comfort and ease of walking.  Another great feature is the removable inner sole.  This allows the shoe to grow with your toddler.  I give these shoes my full on approval and we will be buying some more in the very near future.




Disclaimer:  I was provided with a free/discounted product for my honest and unbiased review.  All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by the developing company and/or its affiliates in any way.


Christmas in Italy: Milan and Lake Como




When: December 2016

Where: Milan; Malgrate; Lecco; Lake Como

Hotel: Hotel Griso

When Todd told me he needed to go to Italy for a last minute meeting with a collector, who had just purchased a large piece, there was only one way for me to respond..."when are we leaving?" Within two weeks, Todd, me, and the two boys were sitting at the Miami airport waiting to hop on a plane to Milan.  With all the traveling we have done since O was born, none have included flights.  So this was not only his first airplane ride, it would be his first time overseas and in a foreign country.  Not bad for a 13 month old.  I was very apprehensive to fly with him on my lap because, well, it's just not fun to be squished into a small space for eight hours regardless.  Add in a newly walking toddler and let your imagination run wild.  I must say, however, he did exceptionally well.  Like freakishly well.  We took off (a bit late of course) and within an hour he was conked out across Todd and my laps.  {Quick note about the financials of this last minute trip: we found an amazing deal...our tickets were around $550.00 per person (O was free on our laps and Sir's ticket was around $430.00) and the hotel was running an amazing deal.  We used Google Flights for our plane tickets and just picked the best dates to fly since we were somewhat flexible and we used Expedia to find our hotel deal.}  We arrived in Madrid, Spain for a quick layover before heading off again to Milan.  The Madid Airport is really great for families.  They have several play areas throughout the terminals, which were helpful for keeping the jet lagged kiddos entertained for the few hours we were there.

MORE COMING SOON!


Chicago Summers

When: Every year since 2009

Seeing as this blog is relatively new, but we've been going to Chicago every summer for the past seven years, I thought I would give you all a quick catch-up post as to why we spend so much time there.


When I first found out we were going to Chicago for one of Todd's art shows, it peaked my interest.  I had never really cared that much about going, due to my ignorance of the city.  It was only after I had taken a course at my university on modern architecture that I finally realized how incredibly awesome Chicago was and what a deep history it had.

When we arrived, it felt like an oasis in the middle of, well, the midwest.  It was much larger than I had imagined and fully functioned as a cultural capital.  I immediately fell in love.  It turns out, the city reciprocated by falling in love with Todd's sculpture and has been an extremely lucrative market for him, leading us to return summer after summer.  Over the next six years, I had gotten to know the city.  Here are some of my recommendations for first timers or for veteran Chicago vacationers who might want to venture off the Magnificent Mile for a while (though, you should spend some time there too!).

Lincoln Park Zoo and Botanical Gardens - This zoo is outdoors and free.  It is a great place to spend the day as there are lots of exhibits/habitats and restaurants.  You must also stop at the botanical gardens that are just north of the zoo.  They are also free and its a great place to see many different types of plants.

Chicago Art Institute and Gardens - The Art Institute really is a must see.  Flanked by two large Lion Sculptures and located right off Michigan Avenue, the Art Institute is .  The gardens are simple and perfect.  They are one of my favorite places in the world.  The museum itself houses a large collection of permanent works and brings in special exhibits often.

Navy Pier - Touristy with lots of family fun and food.  You just can't go wrong visiting here...be sure to grab a bag of Chicago's famous Garrett Popcorn and take a spin on the Centennial Ferris Wheel!

Grant Park - Large park centrally located between Lake Michigan and the city's skyscrapers.

Millennium Park - Located just north of Grant Park and includes a large water sculpture [Crown Fountain], amphitheater, playground...there's also a climbing wall and miniature golf at the neighboring Maggie Daley Park.

Field Museum - The Field Museum is one of our family's favorite spots in Chicago. It's one of the USA's premier natural history museums and a must see. Say 'hi' to Sue for me!

Shedd Aquarium - The Shedd Aquarium is educational and fin...I mean fun, especially if you have a budding marine biologist in the home.

Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour - One of the first things Todd and I do when we go to a new city is a hop on hop off bus tour.  It's such a quick and easy way to get your bearings and learn the basics of the different neighborhoods.

Magnificent Mile - Shopping anyone? Situated on the north end of Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street is the Magnificent Mile where you can find designer stores from Burberry to Prada and some of the city most famous landmark architectural gems.

Architectural Tour - Speaking of architecture.  This tour is a must do for anyone who is removing interesting in Chicago's architectural landscape and history.  We've done this tour more than once as it is fun for the whole family because it takes place on a boat on the Chicago River.  Some tours will even take you out onto Lake Michigan.  They even have evening cruises with fireworks!

Tiffany Dome in the Cultural Center -  This is one of my personal favorites.  Inside of the Chicago Cultural Center right of Randolph Street you will find this architectural beauty.  It's free and well worth a visit.

Things I still haven't done...yes, after seven summers (and some fall and winter trips stuck in there somewhere) I still have so much I want to see.

Alder Planetarium
Willis (formerly Sears) Tower Skydeck
Untouchables Tour
Jane Addams Hull House

Do you have anything to add to the list?  Any more recommendations for me?  Please let me know in the comments!





The Casa Monica Resort - St. Augustine, FL

St. Augustine, Florida, USA



Introduction

Situated in downtown St. Augustine, the historical Spanish city on the East coast of Florida, the Casa Monica Resort and Spa is a luxurious retreat for the entire family.  Our family stayed here in late summer because my husband had to meet with a few clients in town.  We had spent most of the summer camping and visiting National Parks, so this hotel was a nice change of pace for us.  The architectural detail and exotic overtones of the Casa Monica are warm and inviting and I definitely recommend this hotel for anyone visiting St. Augustine.



Rooms

After arriving and valeting the car, checking in was a breeze.  The staff was polite and efficient; two qualities I look for when traveling with or without my family.  We quickly headed up to our room.  It was spacious and had views of the pool and Flagler College.  We were placed in a standard room with just one king bed because they had booked all of the doubles.  I was okay with this because we didn't have a doubles guarantee...we were just hoping they would have one available.  The hotel sent up a complementary crib for O, but he refused to use it.  The king bed worked for us.  It certainly wasn't the first time the kids slept in our bed.  The room decor was luxuriously decadent with a velvety headboard, dark leather chairs, thick drapery, and intricate carpet design.  The bathroom was clean and modern (always a good thing) and larger than I expected.  There wasn't a bathtub, but the shower was a decent size.  A bathtub is something I prefer because of the baby.  They offer a variety of suites and premium guest rooms, as well as the standard that I just described.  Perhaps when we go back we'll try out one of the other room types.  The children bounced around the bed a bit while Todd and I got ready to go to an event at the Lightner Museum, which was located directly across the street.  The location of the Casa Monica couldn't have been more convenient.




Dining

Immediately after checking in and dropping our luggage off in the room, we headed back downstairs to explore the lobby area and treat ourselves to the complementary Sangria offered to us at checkin.  For happy hour at the relaxing Cobalt Lounge, the hotel served a buffet of tapas for $10 per person.  A fantastic deal in my opinion, especially for the quality and variety of food.  We finished our complementary sangria and decided to order another.  Our waitress informed us that the "paid for" sangria was much different with better quality wine and liquor.  Indeed they tasted much better than the "free stuff" but it beckons the question: why not just offer the quality sangria in the first place, especially if it is a representation of the quality of the hotel and restaurant?  We left the hotel and enjoyed an event across the street at the Lightner Museum.  We would have explored around the hotel more if the weather allowed, but we were exhausted from the heat.  By time we left the museum it was getting late enough that we needed to head back to the room and settle the children.  This meant one thing: room service from the exquisite Costa Brava for dinner.  If you know us personally, you'd know that we are room service aficionados.  It's kinda our thing.  The Costa Brava offers a gourmet Mediterranean cuisine.  We quickly chose our meals: seafood chowder and burrata with heirloom tomatoes for me; Todd ordered a chicken, mozzarella, and pesto panini; and Sir went with chicken tenders; we also decided to order a specialty cocktail because it sounded irresistible...a strawberry with muddled mint white sangria.  The food arrived in a timely manner, but unfortunately they didn't bring me a spoon for my soup.  I wasn't being picky either; they didn't bring us ANY spoons.  I immediately called down and they said it would be up right away.  I ate my burrata and it was divine.  No spoon arrival yet.  I drank my sangria and it was also divine.  Still no spoon.  I watched my husband and child apologetically eat their dinner.  Still no spoon.  I was officially irritated and ready to call back down with some not-so-nice words when the sacred spoon arrived.  I probably should have sent my now very cold soup back, but I was so tired and hungry I relented.  Annoyed as I was, that was seriously the BEST cold chowder I have ever had.  It was creamy and rich with deep, layered flavor.  It was served with a crostini that somehow remained mostly crunchy and included a hot pepper, which added the perfect amount of heat against the creaminess.  Oh, how I wish they had brought me a spoon earlier - imagine the palatable possibilities with that soup.  The next morning we grabbed breakfast from Cafe Cordova.  Some Starbucks coffee, a blueberry muffin, an egg white wrap, and a grilled sandwich with cheese and chorizo were shared among the four of us as we people watched through the glass window looking onto the street.  Perfection before noon.








Activities

The Casa Monica offers a luxury spa, close proximity to the pristine beaches, a beautiful pool with cabanas, and an in house art gallery.  It's best asset is the location.  It is nestled in historic downtown St. Augustine, where you will find cobblestone roads, bars and pubs, and historic buildings and attractions.





Family Thoughts

I wouldn't say this is a "family hotel" but it was certainly family friendly.  There were other children around and the staff and other guests were perfectly polite to us.  I would love to go back without children to enjoy the relaxing romantic atmosphere of the Casa Monica, but I'm not sure if Sir would let Todd and I go alone.  He absolutely loved it there.

Scotland: Highlands and Lowlands

When:  Summer 2013

Where:  Carrutherstown; Spean Bridge; Inverness; Skye; St. Andrews; Edinburgh

Hotels: Hetland Hall Hotel; Spean Bridge Hotel; Abermar Guest House; Ailsa Craig Hotel





After leaving York, England, our family continued north into Scotland.  Our first stop was in Carrutherstown just outside of Dumfries.  We were arriving early so we had planned to go to the Cream O'Galloway Farm.  This was a true highlight of our trip.  We had really tried to integrate some child friendly activities into our holiday, but this excursion was centered around Sir.  We signed up for an ice cream tasting, which was a blast!  We also spent time roaming the farm grounds and exploring their extensive indoor and outdoor play yards.  An overall great experience and highly recommended.  After arriving at our hotel (Hetland Hall) in the afternoon, we spent some more time outdoors.  We met a sweet couple from Blackpool, England who were also on holiday.  The man made us chuckle by making fun of a Scottish accent in his less than distinguishable Blackpool accent.  "How can you understand anything they say!" he said.  Following our encounter with the other guests, we retired to the dining room where we enjoyed a truly proper Scottish dinner.  I ordered the haggis, which was prepared perfectly and isn't near as exotic in flavor as I might of expected.  Sir enjoyed a not so traditional child's pizza.  I can't for the life of me remember what Todd ordered, but I'm sure it was just as delicious.  I must admit, to the Blackpool couples' delight, I had a rough time understanding our waitress through her accent, but her mannerisms were polite and she was a doll to my son.

The following morning we enjoyed a full Scottish breakfast.  I can honestly say that as delicious as it was, I didn't think I would ever be able to eat breakfast again after finishing it.  Over previous last week, we must have squared away tens of thousands of calories in the form of breakfasts and my arteries were bulging at the seams. I was done with breakfasts...at least until the next morning.  We set off again and were to meet my mother, aunt, and uncle at a castle I had insisted on seeing just a few hours north of where we had spent the night.  On our way, we decided it was much too out of the way for us because we were to carry on up to Spean Bridge for the night and we were honestly exhausted from the whirlwind of our vacation so far.  We pulled over into a small parking lot in a little town to make a phone call to my mother.  We were hoping to catch her before she made the turn towards the castle so that they didn't go out of their way either.  She and my aunt and uncle had flown into Edinburgh that morning from Ireland where they had spent the previous week.  As we were pulling over I got a call from none other than my mother.  She immediately started carrying on about how they were exhausted from the last week, she had fallen into a river and got extremely sick and that my aunt had the flu.  She insisted that there was no way that they could meet us at the castle and apologized.  I told her that we too were exhausted and didn't want to go and that we would just meet at Spean Bridge Hotel.  She asked where we were and I told her name of the little town.  Lo and behold they had just entered the town and pulled off into the exact same parking lot we were in!  We were still on the phone when they pulled up next to us!  I was a sight to see!  What fun it was running into them there.  After our greetings we all grabbed a hot coffee at the cafe near by and took in the sights.  Scotland is truly beautiful.

We spent a fun two nights in Spean Bridge, a cute little village town.  There they have a Woolen Mill, hiking trails, and a famous World War II memorial.  It's known as "the crossroads of the Highlands" and is a great base for touring out to other parts of Scotland.  Following Spean Bridge, we ventured even farther north into Inverness.  Inverness felt like a city in the clouds.  It was beautiful and had a very magical feeling to it.  On our way there, we drove through some of the most awesome mountains in the Highlands and made our way out to the Isle of Skye because we just had to give it a visit being so close.  Our drive out there was rather terrifying because of the winding roads and the whole not-being-used-to-driving-on-the-left-side thing.  But, oh, it was worth it.  I felt as though we were driving through a land that was otherworldly.  We only spent one night in Inverness, making sure to walk around the city and take in as many sights as possible.  We had a strange run in with a group of people that had clear intentions of wanting to mug us, so we were left with a bad taste in our mouths for the town itself.  My mother was accosted at the ATM and they same person ran up to my son!  I had to jerk him away from the person.  My husband was not around but soon emerged from a shop.  When I told him what happen we looked around for the police as they had been monitoring the road we were on.  The whole aura of the town changed in that instance and felt empty to me...literally and figuratively.  The people on the streets cleared out quickly when the police came through.  Our walk back to the Bed and Breakfast was eery and methodical.  Todd walked about 50 feet behind my mother, son and I to make sure we weren't being followed.  We spent the rest of the night enjoying the Abermar Guest House and awoke to a wonderfully prepared breakfast.  I'd like to go back a record over that experience with some better ones, as I'm sure this was a strangely isolated incidence.

From Inverness, we headed back south stopping at a few distilleries on the way.  We drove through St. Andrews, which is a historical city (what's not?) with some great ruins.  We explored Ravenscraig Castle and spent the night in Dundee. We enjoyed dinner at a retro cafe on the water and dipped our toes in the River Tay (an inlet of the North Sea).  An early morning out brought us to Edinburgh where we spent the remainder of our time.

Traveling Family Blogs

When Todd and I decided to start traveling full time (with a home/studio break every so often) we did lots of research on other families who traveled with children and worldschooled.  I found solace in these other families' stories of adventure and trial and error and they helped immensely in assuring me that this was the right decision for our family.  Here are some of the amazing blogs written by amazing people about their experiences in world travel.




edventureproject.com {Written by a mother and traveler who worldschooled her children.  She offers some amazing educational resources and tips.}

edventuregirl.com {Blog by a young woman who grew up worldschooling, so her blog reflects worldschooling from a first hand perspective.}

worldtravelfamily.com {Family of full-time travelers with two young boys.  They are a true inspiration for me because Sir, our 8 year old, is close in age with their children.}

bucketlistfamily.com {Their children aren't old enough to worldschool yet, but they are a philanthropical family that travels full-time.}

raisingmiro.com {About a mother and son duo who left the United States to travel full-time and learn through experience.}

I add to this list often, so please check back for more.  If you would like to add to the list, please comment below.  Happy trails!

Spring Fling through the Northeast

When: Spring 2016

Where: Richmond, VA; Washington DC; Philadelphia, PA; New York, NY; Charleston, WV

Hotels: Omni Richmond Downtown; Roosevelt Hotel New York

We are always taking spontaneous trips throughout the U.S. because of Todd's art, and this spring was no different.  A collector of his in NYC needed a piece delivered to his AMAZING penthouse apartment in downtown Manhattan -- (yeah, I'm jealous too), and another collector who had bought a piece a few weeks earlier needed it delivered to Philadelphia.  Now, of course we use freighting and other pack and ship companies to send most of his work to collectors, but these two pieces were very large and who gives up a chance to go to NYC? Not me, at least.




We packed up our SUV, dropped our puppies off at my parent's house, and set off!  The most brilliant part of this whole trip was that we coordinated it with our best friend's annual Kentucky Derby party that they hold in Charleston, WV at their beautiful, expansive, estate home.  It's an event that we never miss. So off we went! We started our trip by staying at our family's house in Gainesville, FL for a relaxing few days before heading north to Richmond for an overnight.






We arrived at the lovely Omni in downtown and were greeted by friendly staff who were very helpful. I'm sure they saw the tiredness on my face as I schlepped out of the car.  We stay at Omni Resorts often and are never disappointed, so this time was no different.  We arrived late and were leaving early so couldn't take advantage of some of their amenities.  Instead we hunkered down in the room, ordered WAY too much room service, and ate in the comfort of the warm robes.  And might I add that the food was delicious; even more so probably because we had been in the car all day and needed something other than granola bars.






The next morning we headed toward Philadelphia, with a side trip to Washington DC.  We had pulled Sir from school for this little venture so I wanted to make sure to add in a few historical way points to impress his teacher; not really, though.  As far as I'm concerned children learn through travel without specific instruction, but since I'm a historian I couldn't really pass up the opportunity.  We only had a few hours in D.C. so we only got to visit the Smithsonian gardens (around the Smithsonian Castle), and we walked over to the Washington Monument and the White House.  I was slightly annoyed because Sir was literally complaining the entire time we were there.  "I can't walk!" "Mom, I'm so tired!" "I don't even care about anything anymore!"  Now, this is unlike him so I should've suspected something was wrong, especially when the tears started to flow, but instead I reprimanded him.  "How could you not care?!"  "Do you know how lucky you are?!"

We made it back to the car.  As I was setting the GPS for our next stop, I turned around and saw Sir sleeping in the back seat.  His eyes were sunken in and his face was very pale.  I motioned for my husband to look and we both made a face that said: "I think he's really sick...oops."  I woke him to take his temperature; it was 102 degrees.  My heart sank.  Guilty mom moment number 1,276,987 set in.  We drove off to Philly, while the boys rested in the back seat.  I was hoping O wouldn't get it either since he was only 6 months old and still vulnerable to so much.




After delivering the first sculpture to the clients in Philadelphia, we checked into our downtown hotel.  We always try to stay near the action, so to speak, especially during our short stays.  This allows us to see things without having to pack up the circus.  There was a Chinese Lantern Festival being held just a few blocks away and I couldn't resist not going.  On our walk to the festival we stumbled upon Benjamin Franklin's grave.  The cemetery was on the plot of land adjacent to the hotel.  It was closed, but we peaked through the gates and had a look.  It opened again the next morning so we went back before we made our way out of town.  We also checked out the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  It was another successful run (literally) through a city.  MORE TO COME!








We arrived in New York City to your typical crazy traffic and jaw-dropping architecture.  Cities breath such life into me.  One of my favorite things to do is sit at a cafe or restaurant and people watch while sipping on a drink.  It gives me so much energy to create, write, or do anything, really.  Surprisingly, it's the same level of energy I get from spending time alone in nature.  I think I like the extremes of our society, in a way.  There's one place I don't feel comfortable, and that's suburbia...it's a secret (not so secret) fear of mine.  We found street parking near the hotel, which was quite lucky.  We were going to valet park the car later after Todd met with his collector and delivered another sculpture. 

We checked in to the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown and Todd left for his meeting.  I was going to take the kids for a walk around the streets or maybe pop into a cafe, but by time I got ready, they had both fallen asleep.  Sir was clearly not over whatever he already had, and I was pretty sure O had caught whatever "it" was.  By time Todd returned (geared up from his meeting and ready to hit a restaurant for a late dinner) the kids were still sleeping.  I doled out the Tylenol and we ordered room service.  We've become quite accustomed to room service so we didn't mind, but it's always a shame to give up a night out in Manhattan.  The food was superb, of course, and Sir even managed to eat dessert before passing out again for the night.  In the morning, we made our way over to the Today Show for a morning segment and then heading out of the city.  We make out way to NYC a few times a year so it wasn't too horrible only getting to spend one night there, though, I always like staying longer.











After leaving NYC we drove to Charleston, WV to spend the weekend with our friends.  On Saturday we celebrated the Kentucky Derby by betting and dancing the night away at their epic annual derby party.  It was so much fun getting to hang out with our friends and other groups of people that we only get to see once a year.  Unfortunately, Todd caught the frightful sickness that was plaguing the children.  I managed to get it on our drive home, but that didn't put a damper on the memories we made during our spring fling through the northeast!